Many of my favorite memories from growing up involved Christmas. It was such a magical time of year, when the house would be filled with the delicious aromas of baking, the tree in the front room glistened with silvery tinsel, my mom’s throaty vibrato rang through the air, joined with old songs from Bing Crosby and Karen Carpenter, and the anticipation of wonderful surprises to come kept me from sleeping late into the night. On Christmas morning, no matter how impossible it may have seemed, I always awoke to a house which felt different than it did on any other day of the year. There was a trace of magic which lingered, suspended in the quiet, hazy light of morning which rested promisingly on our bulging stockings.
Another year, another Christmas Eve, and Santa has once again visited our house. Today as I watched my children dive into their gifts from friends and loved ones, their excited laughter and energy lingering long after the last paper package was torn open, I thought more about why Christmas was so special.
A visit from St. Nicholaus has always been something which I could count on, both when I was a child and even now, as an adult. It is something to dream about and hope for. And it is something that happens every year, no matter what our family’s circumstances may be.
There is a special kind of magic in the feeling of confidence in a tradition. There is also a special kind of magic in the feeling that anything is possible. Growing up, my dreams were only limited by my own imagination. My most elaborate of wishes may not have come true, but enough of the ones that really counted had, including some which I didn’t even realize that I had. Even more important to a sensitive, introspective child like myself was the fact that it didn’t matter whether or not I had been an angel all year, because Santa still believed in me. He saw the goodness in me and loved me for who I was.
When I was six or seven years old I learned a lesson about Santa Claus which I would never forget. We were at my grandma’s house for the holiday. My little sister and I slept in the basement in one of the guest rooms. I was so excited, wondering what Santa would bring me that year, that I snuck up the steep staircase to take a peek. I cringed at every creek on the stairs, my heart racing so fast that I almost gave up, wanting to turn around and go back to bed. But I was determined to finish it. Stealthily I made my way through the kitchen, weaving through the dangerously loud array of dining chairs on wheels. Finally I made it to the front room. It was very dark, except for the faint yellow glow from the nightlight which my grandma kept on in the kitchen. It was just enough light.
There, on the brown and gold patterned couch, rested my stocking with my name in felt block letters, and next to my stocking was a pair of beautiful white roller skates. I was so excited I wanted to try them on right then, but I knew that I had already accomplished what I set out to do. I had seen what Santa had brought before anyone else in the house did.
The way back downstairs was quick and uneventful. It seemed strange that it had been so terrifying only moments before. I lay in bed for a long time after that, listening to my little sister’s quiet breathing. I wanted to wake her up, to tell her what I saw, and share in my initial excitement, but something held me back. Something felt different, but I couldn’t say what it was.
Christmas morning dawned bright and beautiful, with fresh white snow covering the ground, begging to be played in. My sister woke with the usual excitement and glee, but I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm. She scrambled up the stairs, my parents groggily following after her. It was time for the big reveal, when we finally got to see what Santa Claus had brought us. Not wanting to disappoint, I pretended that I was just as surprised as my sister at finding the matching skates. I touched them quietly, noticing for the first time that they had bright red laces and little rainbows on the sides. But I envied my sister’s enthusiasm at the discovery, and finally realized that I wished I hadn’t peeked the night before. Some of the magic was gone, and I couldn’t get it back, no matter how happy I was about receiving the new skates.
I learned a lot about Santa Claus and magic that Christmas morning. The magic of Christmas is not in what gifts you receive under the tree, although they certainly make it more fun. The real magic is in the anticipation, the childlike yearning and hope for the impossible, and the final realization that a lot of the magic comes from within yourself, in how you love and serve others.
I have always lived in a very religious home. I was raised with the firm knowledge and conviction that the true purpose of celebrating Christmas is in honor of the birth and life of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We talk about Jesus every day in our home. We pray in his name, we try to say and do the things which he would have us do, and we try to emulate his immeasurable love for those around us.
Some may find that this firm conviction to honor the birth of Jesus Christ comes in conflict with the world’s interpretation of Old St. Nick, but I do not. On the contrary, I feel they are very closely related.
If a child can believe in magic and a world where wishes can become reality, then it is easy to believe in miracles and relying on faith that all will be made right in the end, even though life feels far from perfect. If a child can believe in the constant love of the grandfatherly figure of Santa Claus, then it is easy to believe in the profound and unchanging love of a supreme and perfect Father in Heaven. If a child can recognize the happiness felt upon receiving a gift, then it is easy to recognize the joy and love which can be spread to those around them through thoughtful acts of service.
Now it is Christmas night. And although we did not experience a white Christmas, it was magical just the same. It was spent with family and loved ones, with fond memories to be warmly tucked away within my heart. My floor may be covered in new toys, discarded packaging and paper, and a stack of used Amazon boxes to be recycled, but there are sweet and contented smiles on my children’s faces as they dream of the limitless possibilities of what next year will bring.
I would say that Santa did his job well. He will always be welcome at my house.
Today has been a hard day.
I got the dreaded call when I was just about to put my leftover dinner from last night into the microwave at work during my lunch break.
"It's Elise," said the frantic voice on the other end of the line, Elise's sweet teacher at school. "She started seizing ten minutes ago, a really bad one. We gave her the Diastat (her emergency medication) at four minutes, but the seizure hasn't stopped. The paramedics are on the way."
"I'll be right there," I said, grabbing my jacket and my purse. My coworkers could guess what was happening. Unfortunately, this was not our first rodeo.
"Let us know how she is," they called anxiously as I ran out of the building and to my car.
As many times as I have run through scenarios similar to this, it never gets any easier. Sometimes it gets harder, as a matter of fact. The first time is such a new experience, with so many unknowns, that you have no idea what to expect. Then the fifth, fifteenth, and twenty-fifth time rolls around. By then you know too much. You know what is "normal" for your child, you know what to expect, and you know what you instinctively dread.
What if this is the last time she is able to come around afterwards? What if her brain and her functionality is fundamentally altered from this episode? How many seizures of this magnitude can a tiny body like my little Elise's put up with? What if they can't make them stop?
All of these questions raced through my head as I drove to the school, trying not to speed too much but knowing full well that I was at least 15mph over the limit. I couldn't help it.
Elise had just started to ease back into consciousness when I pulled up at the school. I talked about the recent changes in her medications with the paramedics, who believed it was most likely just her body trying to adjust to something new. I declined transport to the hospital, since she had only just seen her neurologist three days before, promising to call the doctor as soon as I got home. Then I signed a waiver and drove her home, watching her anxiously in my rear-view mirror, as she couldn't seem to sit upright and continued to lean awkwardly to the side.
Once home, I struggled to get her out of the car, since in her loopy, drugged-out state she was fighting me off, kicking and crying. I awkwardly carried her still battling sixty pound frame into the house. Exhausted and emotionally drained, I finally fell with her onto the carpet in the family room.
And then I cried. A lot. Big, ugly, convulsive tears that saw no end. Crying is rarely delicate and glistening, like it is in the movies. It's violent, wrenching, and all-consuming.
Sometimes it is hard for me to remember the advice a dear friend gave me twelve years ago after we received Elise's diagnosis of lissencephaly. She had already been dealing with the complications of severe seizures with her own daughter for four years. While I was in the drowning terror of the upcoming unknown I asked her, "How do you do it?"
"I have learned to just live through each day," she said simply. "I don't think about tomorrow, or five years from now, or how I will manage when she is twenty. I take a deep breath and get through one day at a time."
The advice is simple, yet profound. Focus on the task at hand and trust that you will be given the strength to get through what will come.
It was just last night that I attended a beautiful meeting with the young women in our ward, with the theme, "I Am His Daughter," meaning a literal and divine daughter of a Heavenly Father. Each young woman got up and briefly spoke on what projects and goals they have been working on this last year and what they learned from them. I spoke on Elise's behalf.
I told them of the strides that Elise has made this last year. How she can recognize her name when it is written out, How she loves to repeat the letter "E." How she loves her yoga class at school and laughs almost the entire time she practices.
And I told them of how regardless of how much or how little Elise has physically learned this last year, the most important thing was what we have learned from her.
I have learned of patience. I have learned of hope. I have learned of faith. I have learned of love.
After the program several people came up to me and exclaimed how strong I am. Their words were sweet and sincere and I thanked them graciously, but inside I was screaming,
"I'm not strong! I'm not brave or amazing! I am weak and I am tired! There are days that I wonder how I will ever make it through!"
As part of the program, the young women stood and sang a song together. They pulled a chair out for Elise to sit on front and center. What they sang was "I Am His Daughter." I posted a music video for the song below for you to experience it's profound meaning for yourself.
As the girls sang they carefully placed pictures in Elise's hands for her to hold. One was a beautifully framed image of the words, "I Am His Daughter." The girls started crying as they looked at this precious little girl holding those words, portraying the words that she physically cannot say for herself.
In the final chorus they placed a picture of the Savior holding a child in his arms and they sang these words:
"And when I'm feeling small,
And wondering if I'll ever, find courage to stand tall
Through His love I remember
There's so much more to me
He helps me see that I have so much to offer
I am His daughter
He loves me the way I am
He's my strength when I stand
He is my King, and my Father,
I am His daughter."
There wasn't a dry eye in the room.
After a bit more crying this afternoon, the tears finally began to slow down. Elise had gotten annoyed with me so she kicked me away, as if to say, "Come on, Mom! Get it together!" So I picked myself up and started the usual routine of making sure all of her needs were met.
A few hours later, she is now in the hyper stage of being drugged and is wreaking havoc on the house. She is still wobbly, but she insists on walking all over, pulling open drawers and cabinets, dumping items out of baskets and investigating the garbage can. I can hear her jabbering happily to herself as I sit here typing.
I felt compelled to write down the barrage of feelings that overwhelmed me today. Maybe I just needed to get it out. Maybe someone out there needs to hear that everything is going to be okay, even when it doesn't seem possible. I didn't even know exactly how this post was going to end. I was so overwhelmed and distraught when I started writing, but now all I feel is peace.
I am struck with a deep and penetrating thought. Elise is beyond doubt a beloved daughter of her Father in Heaven. She is precious and perfect, a light to all those around her.
But so am I, for I am also His daughter.
I may not always be strong or courageous, but I am given strength when I stand. I am loved for who I am, with all my faults and weaknesses. I feel His love for me on a daily basis. And there is more to me than I ever give credit to myself.
Because I Am His Daughter.
A friend from work lives on a small farm. Among other animals, she has seven chickens. Every night as the sun begins to set, six of these chickens make their way into the coop where they are kept warm and safe, moving by instinct and without any coaxing from my friend. However, one silly chicken, Miss Gray, does not follow her fellow mates into the protection of the coop. She is a bit slimmer, so she is still able to fly a short distance. Every night she flies up to the top of the enclosure fence, where she perches for a moment, and then flaps down into the darkness of the forest. My friend has no idea where she goes or what she does all evening, but she always finds her the next morning back in the enclosure, rooting around the feed bucket.
Miss Gray may think she is having a grand adventure every evening. Perhaps she even thinks that she is getting away with something. But my friend knows that this is a dangerous habit. She knows that there are frequently cougars and other predators in the forest and that one morning Miss Gray may just not come back home.
As we are preparing our families to fight in this dangerous world which we live in, are we giving them the essential tools they need to be safe and kept from the prowling predators of sin, addictions, and pride? Are we helping them to understand how the gospel acts as a refuge from the darkness in the world?
In order to strengthen and protect our families from the pitfalls of the world, the First Presidency has recently suggested a focus for members of the church. It is “Strengthening faith in our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through Sabbath Day observance at church and in the home.”
One of the suggested topics, and the one which I have been pondering on for a while now is how to teach our children that the Sabbath is a delight.
In Isaiah 58:13-14 it reads, “If thou turn away...from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight,....and shalt honor [the Lord], not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord.”
How do we teach our children that the Sabbath is a delight? Rather than regarding our Sunday worship as a dreary obligation, how can we help them see what a blessing the Sabbath is to our souls? Here are my thoughts on what has helped me and my family take more delight in the Sabbath.
First is preparation. With two young children and a teenager still in our home, preparation at our house in most cases means PREVENTION. If we want to avoid tantrums, meltdowns or other unholy communications on a Sunday morning, we have learned that we need to do certain things. The little girls need to be bathed the night before. Church clothes must be found and chosen on Saturday evening, ensuring that everyone has something clean to wear, including all shoes, ties, socks and tights. We need to have a plan ready for the meals of the day, so I am not rummaging through the kitchen, pulling my hair out while the kids moan about how they are starving.
Of course, even though Eric and I know that taking care of these basic needs on Saturday is always a good idea, this does not mean that all these things are routinely completed. However, I know that when we are prepared, our Sabbath morning is less rushed and I am better able to feel the Spirit in our meetings and more prepared to partake of the Sacrament.
What sort of preparations would improve your family's worship on the Sabbath?
Set a Pattern:
Second is to set a pattern. A pattern is a model used as a guide, or a repeated design.
My mother is a quilter. She has spent countless hours masterfully assembling hundreds of quilts over the years. She has tried to teach me how to quilt, but I always struggle with the exactness of following the pattern. In quilting, a pattern must be followed exactly for the pieces to line up properly. I like to be creative and do my own thing, which means my cooking recipes are never the same, since I frequently throw in whatever ingredients strike my fancy, and I generally have an organic approach to the design of any craft projects I am working on. This creative, loosey-goosey approach does not work well with quilting, but this doesn’t keep me from reverting back to my old habits. I always seem to think blocks are lined up “close enough,” or I can fudge the seam allowance here a little, but the end result is always disastrous. What seems like such a tiny little deviation turns into puckered fabrics, blocks that are not square, points which do not match, and a pattern that is no longer recognizable. Then my mother makes me pick the whole thing apart and start all over again until I get everything lined up exactly.
When I was growing up, my parents set a pattern of Sabbath worship. Not only did this pattern help me, as a child, to know what their expectations were for our conduct, but I have found over the years that it has also given me a reference to look back on as an adult.
In our house on Sundays, I knew that the television would not be on, the laundry would not be run, homework would be put aside, and unless we were on our deathbeds, meetings were always attended. My mother would prepare a lovely meal, the nicest of the week. Church lessons were discussed over the dinner table, everyone would pitch in with the dishes, and my mother would dish out a special treat while we selected a board game. Sometimes we would pull out our various musical instruments and collaborate together on hymns, and sometimes the evening was spent in quiet conversation by the fireplace.
These are my memories of Sundays. In the midst of our crazy, hectic lives there was always the respite of these joyful days spent together as a family.
Now that I have a family of my own and I know how difficult it is to replicate even ONE of those traditions, I can’t help but admire my parents and their continual commitment to rearing their children in the gospel. I’m sure that my siblings and I had squabbles, just like we did on every other day of the week. I’m sure there were times that the dinner was burnt, our meetings ran late, or our clothes were not properly pressed, but that is not the part that stands out in my memory. I just remember the feeling of great love and acceptance which was always present in our home, particularly on the Sabbath as we spent so much time together as a family.
What pattern do you want to establish in your home? What traditions or attitudes toward Sabbath worship do you want to pass along to your children?
My great-grandmother taught my mother that for every stitch you make with your needle on the Sabbath, you will have to pick it out with your nose in heaven. It may sound silly to us today, but it made an impression on my mother. To her grandmother, sewing represented work and the never-ending task of running a household. To my mother, it represents her dearest hobby, something which she passionately works on six days of the week. However, with her grandmother’s voice echoing in her head, she has never picked up a needle on Sunday, choosing instead to use her personal sacrifice as a sign to her Heavenly Father of how she loves and honors Him.
Of course, not all families are the same. The pattern you set for your family may be completely different than the pattern I set for mine. The only thing that matters is that our pattern is based upon the teachings of Jesus Christ. When we use these guidelines, in conjunction with the guidance from our beloved church leaders, the pattern we set for our families will be beautiful and unique, providing our family with confidence and protection for generations to come.
Make it Special:
Lastly, in order to set the Sabbath day apart from the rest of the week, think about ways in which you and your family can make the day special.
You can create family traditions.
A sister in our ward recently spoke about a tradition they do on Sundays with their two young children. Every week the children take turns selecting what activity they will do together as a family, and then they do it. It could be baking cookies, going for a walk, playing a game, or playing with Legos, anything they want. Their children look forward to Sundays all week, because they are actively involved in planning what special thing they will do together.
Another sister in our ward recently taught a lesson in Relief Society about family history work. As a result of studying and preparing for her lesson, she learned of all the blessings of protection and faith promised to families who do their family history work. She wanted that for her family, so she made a commitment that before she could take her weekly Sunday nap she would do family history work together with her teenage children for one hour. Although grumbling at first, her children soon jumped on board with doing the work and in turn developed strong and beautiful testimonies of family history work for themselves.
There are many ways that you can make the Sabbath day special in your home. Serving others, visiting the sick and lonely, and sharing time together in family gatherings-- all these things will help bring the true purpose of the Sabbath day into your home. I have often found that my most sacred and special moments are the quiet, gentle conversations at unexpected times with one of my children as we are reading, doing the dishes, or driving in the car. My testimony and love for my Savior grows every time I testify of Him. Create an atmosphere on the Sabbath where these opportunities can occur frequently in your home. Not only will your testimony grow, but your children will be strengthened in the light of the gospel and find true delight in the Sabbath.
What sort of traditions would you like to implement in your family? How would you like to set the day apart from the rest of the week?
A Sacred Sabbath:
Elder Russel M. Nelson taught: “Faith in God engenders a love for the Sabbath; faith in the Sabbath engenders a love for God. A sacred Sabbath truly is a delight.”
I love the opportunity which we have every week to step away from our normal labors and cares, and immerse ourselves only in the Lord's work. I feel strongly that the more we turn away from our own pleasures and focus on what the Lord would have us do, the more our families will be blessed. In Doctrine & Covenants 59:15-16 we are promised that "....inasmuch as ye do these things [Sabbath observance] with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances...the fullness of the earth is yours." Health, prosperity, and protection are all promised those who learn to observe the Sabbath with a willing heart. How could these blessings be anything but a delight for our families?
After pondering and studying more about the Lord's expectations for the Sabbath, I know that I feel a renewed desire to work a little harder, prepare a little more, and create Sunday traditions that my children will always cherish. I know that if I do these things, I can help my children truly delight in the Sabbath. They will then choose to stay within the warmth and protection of the chicken coop, rather than seek their own way in the dark and dangerous world. Instead of dropping in occasionally to nip a little morsel of truth like the unwise Miss Gray, I know that consistency in honoring the Sabbath will inspire our families to stay grounded, feasting on the words and promises from a loving Heavenly Father. Then the Sabbath truly will be a delight.
This morning I received news that a friend's husband passed away unexpectedly, leaving behind five growing children and a devastated wife. Amid the feelings of shock and loss, I couldn't help but contemplate my own mortality, my own fragile and human existence in this world. I began to think about what I would be leaving behind, my legacy, you could say.
If I were to be taken tomorrow, what would my legacy be?
I know what I would like it to be. But am I doing all that I can to ensure my legacy will never be questioned? Will my children be able to say with confidence, "We do not doubt that our mother knew it?" (Alma 56:47-48)
Do my children know my testimony of a loving Father in Heaven, and in his Son, Jesus Christ? Do they know how the knowledge of who I am, a daughter of a supreme and divine Father, is ingrained in the very fabric of my soul? Do they know that this knowledge is the foundation of everything I know, and the guiding truth for everything I aspire to? Do they know how my love for our Savior, Jesus Christ gives me the strength I need to get up every day, to go through all the tedious motions of life, and never give up when life seems more than I can bear? Do they know how much I rely on the Savior's message of peace and hope every day, and especially when the blackest and most profound darkness has threatened to overcome me? Do they know how the Savior's light can conquer all-- darkness can turn to light, fear can turn to courage within, and despair can turn to everlasting happiness and peace?
Do my children know how much I love them-- how deeply, profoundly, and utterly I adore them in all their quirks, fancies, and imperfections? Do they know how proud of them I am, how much potential I see in each of them, and how I am constantly amazed at the people they are growing to be? Do they know how much I weep for them, pray for them, plead for them, fight for them? Do they know how much I see, and that through every heartbreak or struggle they face, I am in the background agonizing with them? Do they know how much I rejoice as I witness their growth, as they develop their talents, or courageously face their weaknesses? Do they know they are a piece of my heart and an eternal link to my soul?
I wish to leave a legacy of faith. I wish to leave a legacy of love.
Words will only get me so far, however. As vital as it is to hear it from my lips, my children must feel this legacy of mine through my actions, by the way that I live my life, by the principles and truths which I teach, and by the way that I serve others.
For now I will go say my prayers with them, hold them a little closer, and tuck them into bed a little more tenderly, clinging to the hope that my legacy will be etched into the center of their hearts.
For nearly two years I have not been able to eat wheat or anything containing gluten due to severe allergies. As a result of this, I have had to make other arrangements at church in order to partake of the sacrament. Every Sunday at church we follow Jesus Christ’s example which He set during the Last Supper. A worthy priesthood holder breaks bread and blesses it. We each partake of this symbolic representation of Jesus’ body and while doing so, we renew special covenants and promises which we made at baptism, to follow God’s commandments and always remember Him. We repeat the same process with water, as a representation of Jesus Christ’s blood, which was shed for each of us. It is a deeply symbolic and sacred part of our Sunday worship.
There are a handful of other people in my ward who have similar issues as myself with gluten intolerance and other dietary restrictions, so it was decided the best way to accommodate everyone’s needs would be to bless and pass a broken rice cake to those who are unable to partake of the bread. The young man passing this special tray knows who in the congregation needs the alternative sacrament and comes to each of us individually. The system typically works well. I am able to partake of the sacrament, and don’t feel that I am causing a serious commotion during this most sacred part of the meeting.
Today the meaning of the sacrament took on more significance to me in a way that took me by surprise.
I had not been able to partake of the sacrament now for the last three weeks. The first week was General Conference weekend, which meant our worship service was broadcast to the entire world from the church headquarters in Salt Lake City. We do not participate in the ordinance of the sacrament that week. The third week was stake conference, a more regional conference but still large enough that the ordinance is not administered. The week in between was the problem. For the first time, I was forgotten. I sat quietly, reflecting as I waited for the special tray to be brought to me, but by the time I realized it wasn’t coming the young men had already moved on to the water. I did not know how to bring the inadvertent omission to anyone’s attention without causing a scene. So I did not say anything. I took the water and tried to make my internal prayer even more meaningful. I thought to myself, what’s the difference? I got the water, at any rate, and my prayers were fervent and sincere. Surely that would be good enough. Besides, it was only one week.
But something was different. I did not feel it or consciously notice the absence until I woke this morning, my back seized in painful muscle spasms. I needed to stay in bed. Physically, the pain of moving around was excruciating. But I couldn’t stay in bed, no matter how much I wanted to. In an almost panicked resolution, I knew that I needed to go. I couldn’t miss another week of partaking of the sacrament.
My husband helped get the kids ready for church and kept asking, “Are you sure you want to go?” every time I cried out in pain. But I had to go. I cried all the way to church, struggling to stay upright in my seat as I drove. My son sitting next to me asked, “Why are you going if you are hurting that much?”
“I have to take the sacrament,” I wheezed out. I could only speak in brief intervals because talking hurt too much. I didn’t elaborate and my son looked confused.
At church I sat stiffly on my bench, waiting for the sacrament to be administered. My husband kept our young children from climbing on me after he saw the painful expression on my face. I just had to get through the first fifteen minutes of the meeting, since that was when the sacrament would be passed.
We sang the sacrament hymn, and as I sang about the Savior and His atoning sacrifice, the words washed over me. His pain, the agony of both body and spirit, overwhelmed me with the thought of its magnitude. And as the young men proceeded to pass the bread around, distributing the emblem of the Savior’s body, I began to panic. What if I was forgotten again? Tears of worry and stress streamed down my face. I had gone through so much to be here today, but what if it was all in vain? Then suddenly my special tray was placed before me. More tears flooded my eyes as reaching out, I took the broken piece of rice cake, an emblem not only of Jesus Christ’s body but the ultimate symbol of His love for us. His love for ME.
I will never be able to fully comprehend what my elder brother and Savior did for me that day two thousand years ago while kneeling in Gethsemane. I will never have to feel as broken, hurt, or alone as He did while hanging on the cross. But I do get to experience how it feels to be so profoundly loved that He would endure all of that for me. As I sat on my bench this morning, with tears of gratitude and love cascading down my face, I realized that partaking of the sacrament did not just give me the opportunity to renew my covenants and resolve to do better. It gave me the chance to feel the Savior’s love for me in the most sacred and profound manner imaginable. He did this for everyone, yes. But even more significantly, He did this for ME. How could I ever let an opportunity pass to experience that love again and again, every week?
I left after the sacrament was administered, unable to sit any longer. But even though I was struggling with a painful situation at that moment, I knew that I was not alone. My pain, my hurts, my grief, my fears….all were known by a loving Father in Heaven. And that made all the difference.
Today was a very special day at church, one which we look forward to every year. The children of our congregation put together a program of music and spoken word, illustrating what they have learned through the year at church. It is always precious, with moments of hysterical cuteness nestled among tender truths shared through the eyes of the most innocent and pure. It is my favorite Sunday of the year.
Today's program did not disappoint. This year the children have been learning and gaining a testimony that our Savior, Jesus Christ lives and loves them each individually. It was a beautiful program, with heartfelt stories of how the children know they are loved by the Savior.
One song in particular was especially moving today. It was called "The Miracle," and lists the many amazing miracles which Jesus Christ performed while on the earth, but explains that the most important miracle is the supreme sacrifice he made for each of us. The words of the chorus are as follows:
"Jesus is the God of miracles,
Nothing is at all impossible to him.
But I know this above all miracles
The most incredible must be
The miracle that rescues you and me."
The song was beautiful and there was a strong feeling of the Holy Spirit present in the chapel, testifying of truth as the children sang. There was one tiny part, however, which brought tears to the eyes of everyone who listened. It was the sweet little ting of a triangle being rung by my 11-year-old daughter with special needs.
Elise loves music. As soon as the first note sounds, she is bouncing in her seat with the biggest grin across her face. She is mostly nonverbal, so Elise communicates with laughter, smiles, and swooping motions of her arms along with the music.
Today, however, Elise's voice was heard crystal clear along with all the other kids, in the form of a shiny silver triangle. Her teacher helped by holding the triangle and guiding Elise's hand with the striking wand, but it was clear that Elise knew she was making the beautiful sound. The grin on her face and the light in her eyes could be seen from across the room.
I couldn't help but think about what a miracle Elise is in my life, as well as the lives of those around her. She is a spot of sunshine in an often dark and gloomy world. The sound of her laughter and the feeling of her sweet strangling hugs can carry me through my toughest times. Just being near her makes my worries and stresses seem to melt away.
I am so thankful for a God of miracles. I know that He lives and loves His children. I see evidence of this love everyday when I look in my sweet daughter's eyes.
She is my little miracle.
Yesterday I posted about the nutritional aspect of my health changes and how my drastic change in diet completely turned my world upside down. As in everything else in life, once you start mastering one thing it is necessary to add upon it to make your life exponentially more miserable. To follow this need, I decided this summer to add a fitness regiment to my new healthy lifestyle.
For the first several months I just walked. Every day. Sounds easy, I know, but it was embarrassingly difficult at first. Eventually I felt strong enough that I was no longer dying before I got to the end of the block. It was time to step up my challenge.
I decided to try out the 21 Day Fix by BeachBody. It consists of a nutritional guidance plan, DVD's with different workouts for each day of the week, and an online support coach who keeps you motivated and accountable.
My first workout was a monster. I was sweating buckets and by the end of the 30 minute session my legs and arms were rubber. I was miserable for three days. I could feel the misery in my muscles every time I bent down to pick something up, stepped up into the car, or walked down the stairs. I learned firsthand what the expression to "shred" your muscles comes from, because it described exactly how I felt. I couldn't believe how badly I hurt. I wondered how I could possibly do this day in and day out. My body was simply not strong enough. I was not strong enough.
I don't know how, but I pushed through anyway.
The second week was a little easier. The more intense workouts were still difficult, but somehow it was more tolerable. By the third week, I felt fantastic.
I have just completed my second round of 21 days. I feel stronger every day. This does not mean, however, that everything has suddenly become easy. Some days I just don't want to do it. I'm tired, I have projects to work on, and the effort seems too much for me to bear. Last week, for example, was rough. A few of the days I didn't work out and my nutrition was junk. I stayed up way too late, not turning into bed until midnight. I literally lay in bed thinking of all the reasons why I shouldn't set that alarm to 5am so I could do my workout. And then I heard a voice in my head saying "If you're tired of starting over again, then stop quitting!" It was the voice of the woman in my exercise DVD's, Autumn Calabrese. I hear her saying it every morning, hammering it into my head as we are struggling to hold that plank for 5 more seconds, or push that sumo squat a few more inches lower. I set my alarm, did my 5am workout, and rocked the nutrition all day. Day Conquered.
Wherever you are on your own journey, remember that tomorrow brings a new day of opportunities and challenges, full of hope and sometimes heartache. It is a fresh start to reaching your goal, even when the road gets bumpy. I am thankful to be surrounded by supporters who encourage, rather than tear down my frequently wobbling wall of resolve.
Through this journey of ups and downs, I am discovering my deep inner strength. I am finding my true self that was buried so deep inside of me I had almost forgotten she was there. I am stronger than I realized, and more capable than I ever dreamed.
I've got this.
In October of 2014 I made a dramatic change to my lifestyle. After years of being plagued by extreme eczema and asthma outbreaks I decided to cut gluten from my diet. It was a difficult change for me. I was the poster child for a gluten heavy diet. I baked sugary goods several times a week. My go-to stress relief was a donut and diet soda. I ate out almost every day for lunch, sometimes even for dinner. And my waist-line was showing a significant roll. I was addicted to food and it wasn't a pretty picture.
The summer of 2014 showed a dramatic increase in uncomfortable symptoms. I was covered in eczema, an itchy, burning rash covering most of my trunk, thighs, and inner arms and wrists. My clothes and bed sheets were spotted with blood every day and I had hundreds of scabs scattered around my body in varying stages of infection and healing. I became paranoid that I would develop a Mersa infection and avoided public restrooms like the plague. I also avoided showing much of my body, as I was so self-conscious about the way my skin looked. That summer I also began to suffer from frequent asthma attacks, afflicting me daily. By October I was at the end of my rope. I was miserable enough to make the change that would dramatically improve my life.
Upon advice from my allergist, I cut gluten from my diet. The results were almost instantaneous. The incessant itching subsided and I was finally able to breath. After about four months on the diet I was feeling a lot better, but the rashes never really subsided. I would still get periodic outbreaks which I could not explain away. I thought that I must be unwittingly exposing myself to trace amounts of gluten.
A friend advised me to see a naturopath. I was reluctant at first. What could a naturopath tell me that my allergist had not? I was determined to find answers, however, so I booked the appointment. After a full blood work screening, I was told that I was allergic to about ten other items in addition to gluten, the main ones being eggs, milk, oats, citrus, certain nuts, yeast and vinegar. This came as a huge blow. How was I possibly going to find anything to eat? What would I live on? My options were limited and depressing, especially to someone who was so addicted to the satisfaction of food. I ate when I was happy. I ate when I was sad. I ate when I was stressed. I ate when I was bored. I ate to entertain myself. I ate to enjoy myself.
Making the change was not easy. In fact, it was a nightmare. I cried. A lot. Finally after looking at a million food labels in every grocery store I could find, walking away empty-handed and depressed, I gave up the search for anything packaged that I was used to eating. I decided to focus on foods that I KNEW I could eat: whole foods, no packaging, no labels.
I started to experiment with different foods, finding vegetables that I had never eaten before. I explored new ways of preparing meals, with different combinations of veggies, fruits, nuts, and natural oils. I discovered exciting blogs and websites with creative recipes and inspiring stories. Believe it or not, I actually started to have fun eating again. But this time I felt different. My relationship with food had changed. Instead of using food as a comfort, I was using it to fuel my body. I began to see a dramatic change in how I felt physically. I was giving my body energy and nourishment, instead of filling it with junk. I developed a new respect for what an amazing machine my body is. And I felt grateful to my Father in Heaven for creating such a wonderful tabernacle to house my spirit.
I have learned so much as I journeyed through this process. I have learned about self control, self mastery, and self respect. I have learned that I am strong and capable. I have learned that I CAN do hard things. And I have learned that I am totally worth all the effort!
I am madly in love with my husband. End of story. Period.
But it's not the end of story. I used to think this meant that I would never need to find another soul to talk to, laugh with, and confide in. However, because I DO love my husband and want to continue to have a healthy and happy relationship with him, I have come to the conclusion that A GIRL NEEDS GIRLFRIENDS. PERIOD.
Here are the reasons why.
1. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it hurts a whole lot less when it's coming from a girlfriend. If I was to purchase a new outfit and excitedly model it in front of my husband, I wouldn't want to hear that although my new aztec-patterned harem pants look pretty darn hot on the size 0 teenage model, on me the effect is a bit different, and I look as wide as the state of Texas. In fact, if he came out with that statement, I would probably have a mini tantrum and pout the rest of the evening, despite the fact that he had told me the truth and saved me the embarrassment of wearing it in public. My girlfriend, however, is a different story. Not only would she tell me the sad truth of my outfit's atrocity, which I would accept without question, but she would help me figure out a way to repurpose the fabric to make fabulous matching infinity scarves for me and my girls.
2. You can diet together. Or not. Let's face it, going on a diet is tough business. We all know that it's easier to face that challenge with a few companions to share the misery with. Girlfriends are perfect for that. Not only are they great as encouragement to resist temptations and cajole you into meeting them at the gym for that impossible spin class, but they are also perfectly skilled at reasoning and letting you eat that donut "because you earned it."
3. No one wants your man sitting through the latest chick flick, including your man. Even though you get to see the movie you want, it gets annoying and down-right infuriating to have to listen to him snicker and guffaw through all the best, sappiest lines in the movie, or even worse, have to translate the dialog of the period drama you have been waiting all year to see, because he insists that he cannot understand their British accents. It is much more enjoyable to cry, sigh, and laugh with a girlfriend who is coming from the same girl-zone as you are. Really, it's a win-win situation. You get to enjoy the movie and have fun with your friends, your man can sit home and watch the football game with a plate of nachos and sour cream, and you come home all ready to exhibit your romantic feelings for his stoic selflessness in encouraging you to hang with the girls for the night. This handy rule also applies to Broadway productions, symphony performances, operatic overtures, and modern dance theatrics.
4. Girlfriends are supreme sympathizers. The other day I was having a rough day at work. I was feeling sorry for myself because I only had a few minutes for my lunch break and my hands were fatigued and bothering me. I texted my husband to tell him my woes. His response: "Stop texting then." Men are good at solving problems. They pride themselves in being able to reassemble, reorganize, or rethink any problem that you throw their way. Unfortunately, as women, we don't usually want our problem fixed. It may even be unfixable. All we really want is someone to listen. Enter The Girlfriend. Girlfriends know how to listen. They know how to reaffirm that your feelings of frustration/fear/annoyance/worry/anger/embarrassment are valid and understandable. They would feel the exact same way. They would have done the exact same thing. And then they tell you a ridiculous story about when they made a fool of themselves in a situation which has no connection whatsoever to the incident you originally called about, which makes you laugh. Problem not solved, but you sure feel a whole lot better.
5. She knows you inside and out, and loves you anyway. It isn't always right away. Frequently we hide the parts we don't want anyone to know or see for as long as possible, but if your girlfriends are sticking around by your side for any substantial period of time, at some point they are going to see the real you. And I'm not just talking about the make-up free, ponies and grubbies kind of days. They are going to see you in crisis. They are going to see you in pure, hysterical joy. They are going to see you in all your fuming, exasperated glory at some point. It's only a matter of time. That's the true test of friendship right there. If they not only can tolerate your crazy moods and hair-brained ideas, but also join you and add their own version of silliness to the mix, you know that you have the genuine thing. We all need someone who can love us, understand us, and lift us up when we need the boost. Who better to do that than someone who has the same hormonally charged cycles as you do?
Girls Get It. Period. (Pun only slightly intended...)
I have been blessed with so many wonderful women in my life. Girlfriends have helped me through some of the most trying times that I have ever faced. I have had days where I felt all alone in the world, swallowed up in my grief or despair, only to be lifted up and delighted by a perfectly timed phone call from a dear friend, reminding me that not only am I NOT alone, but I am surrounded by love, acceptance, and understanding. That, in the end, is what it's all about.
So, who's up for a Girls' Night Out?
It is 12:30 am and I find myself sitting in front of the bright computer screen, my house completely quiet except for the occasional mumbling coming from my son's room, who has a tendency to talk in his sleep. It is one of my favorite times of day.
I love to smell the crispness of the air in the bluish light of morning. I love the fevered energy of the afternoon, when the world is alive and bustling. I love the mellow fire that dances across the sky as the sun begins its descent below the horizon.
But there is something about the night.
During the day I am able to feed off the energy that comes from the world around me to power through the many responsibilities that I carry. I am constantly distracted with the noise and demands of four children, a house that needs attention, a job that requires my complete focus, along with the deadlines associated with volunteer assignments from the kids' school and from church. My world is noise and bustle. Work and expectations. Busyness and emotional fatigue.
But at night it is quiet. I am alone with my thoughts. I can sit and dream, analyze and write, read and ponder, or just turn everything off, my mind included.
If the craziness of the day has been draining, the quiet of the night is like my personal pit stop.
Tonight I am handing my credit card over to the gas station attendant and proclaiming, "Fill it up! And don't you worry about any spills that might happen when you top it off. I know that I will need all I can get for the road tomorrow, and every drop counts...."
My name is Heather.
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