Friday, April 3, 2020

Abe's Intermission

Abe is home!

Only not for good.

(At least I don’t think! The whole world’s gone crazy and every day is some new and unexpected surprise [which is an odd thing to say when every day is also ... monotonously just the same].)

But no no. Not home for good. “The best part of your mission is still to come”. That’s what our stake president assured him (as he temporarily released him the other night).

And while last year at this exact same time (when Abe had just opened his call to El Salvador; and we were eagerly filling our minds with facts about population size, and crime, and volcanoes; and confidently catapulting our assumptions about his time there forward two years) our plans did not include this strange pause: a world-wide pandemic, a military-style quarantine, a complicated evacuation from El Salvador, and him returned to us — temporarily and in a state of complete limbo and waiting (when will he be called back out? where will he go?) — eight months in to his two year mission. ...

It also didn’t include some rather shocking happiness!

Sunday night as Mike and I waited for Abe (in our car, in an airport parking garage, with hundreds of other missionary parents [requirements necessitated by COVID-19]), I was excited and anxious. And I recognized the amazing novelty of what we were experiencing. (Every time another missionary would come out we’d hear honks and occasional cheers along with calls of “What mission are you coming from?”. And we got to witness parent after parent leap from their car to hug their missionary. How often has anyone been able to be a part of such a huge number joyful homecomings!?) But for the past week, we’d had such a roller-coaster of emotions (the shocking news that Abe would have to leave El Salvador 16 months earlier than expected, the worries about how he would take the news, the anxiety over his well-being in the isolated quarantine conditions he was in, the unknowns as they struggled to arrange paper-work and buses and flights to move our missionaries out, the questions about what was ahead) that it was hard for me to know what to feel.

Only then ... we saw Abe coming! There he was! Our oldest son! Our first child! The minute I threw my arms around him all the worries and unknowns were gone! And there was only happiness! It really isn’t exaggerating to say that it was one of the happiest moments of my life. It really was! I had not quite expected such joy. It felt as if, when he left, a hole had been blown through me, and that, as time had worn on, I’d just become accustomed to living with a gaping wound. So much so that I almost forgot it was there. Until suddenly it wasn’t! The hole filled back in! And only awe over how good it felt to NOT be walking around with a hole through me.

My sister was expecting her son home from his mission the following day. When I called her, excitedly telling her HOW HAPPY she was about to be — happier than she even could anticipate or imagine up; she joked that it might be like going to see a new movie that the reviews have played up so much that, once you see it yourself, it only seems mediocre. But I assured her (and she discovered for herself I was right) that that wasn’t possible. This was more the type of thing like having a baby. When everyone promises you it will be miraculous and you will love this unknown soul so completely. There’s no way to overplay it. Because there aren’t words or expressions to begin to tell the actual thing!

I kept thinking of that quote — was it Maxwell who said it? — about our reunions here only being a faint shadow of our heavenly reunions. And I kept thinking of all the craziness in the world. And the worries we faced. And loving that such joy could exist amidst all of those things.

Of course life moves forward. The kids are growing accustom to Abe here again — and, no longer feeling a need for “best behavior”, they are returning to their comfortable tantrum-throwing and squabbling. And the usual stresses of life are wriggling their way back in. And it won’t be easy for Abe or us not knowing how long he is here or what we can or can’t plan on. It’s strange feeling sort of thrust back a year in time. Abe has been off in another country. He has learned a million new things. He speaks an entire new language. He knows and loves people and places we’ve never seen. And yet ... we are kind of in the exact spot we were at this time last year! Waiting for Abe’s mission.

The difference though? All the things we were together for last year during this time — General Conference, Easter, the cabin. They were all lasts. And they all filled me with this strange rushing-forward sadness. But right now? They feel not like lasts but like little gifts! I had no idea, last year, when I was marking these last traditions, that I’d get to watch conference with him or see him eating Easter treats with all his siblings this year!

In Abe’s letter about leaving El Salvador and coming home he said “It [was] just sort of surreal to me that this normal world existed all along even when I had left it behind and lived in the jungle taking bucket showers and using mosquito nets.”

I’ve been thinking about that line. And his time away. And our reunion. And thinking about our Heavenly home. And how amazing that while we are here — figuratively taking bucket showers and using mosquito nets — that home still exists. And someday we will marvel that that familiar beloved place was there and waiting for us all along.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Starling Eliza Turns One

This little Starling girl! This little cherub! This little bird! This little waddling-about angel!
It never ceases to amaze me that a little tiny soul who just … wanders about the house, and cries to be held, and throws food off their highchair onto the floor, and gets into bathrooms and unrolls toilet paper rolls during a toilet paper shortage, and sometimes -- when being asked what a cat says, and after considering it for several moments -- says, "m-ow" … can be so enormously valued! 

And yet she is! She is! Has anyone ever, in all of history, been more loved? More adored? Has anyone ever been more important?
No. No one. I love this little being so completely and wholly.

One year ago I wrote this:

Every time I have a baby, I encounter a moment of panic where it seems the rough draft I have written for my life has suddenly been erased. Again. And no matter how frantically I scan the hundreds of empty pages in front of me, I can't see at all what happens next. But also, … there is this tiny, perfect person -- snuggling confidently into me as if I hold all the answers, and safety, and security in the world. And always there is love. So much. And that? Well, that seems like a powerful place to start. 

It was a powerful place to start. And a powerful place to continue. 

Happy one year little soul! You are an absolute treasure to me. (And I'm sorry you fell, on your birthday, and scratched your face on a metal bike basket that one of your siblings had carried into the house.)

But Also .... Don't You Have a Son ...

somewhere in the world? Far away from you? In the midst of all this craziness? Have you forgotten about him?

Ah yes. My oldest child. Oh no. He is not forgotten. With the rest of my children all safely gathered in, it is this child who occupies my prayers and thoughts most of all just now. 

A month or so ago I dreamt that Abe returned home from his mission. It didn't add up or make a bit of sense -- his having come home; he wasn't at the end of his two years; he was just right where he was in time in his mission. I don't recall consciously thinking, during my dream, that all the missionaries from his mission had gone home, yet that must have been the backdrop idea, because I did feel this overwhelming sadness that the light of all those missionaries was gone out of El Salvador. Abe was home. And I was grieving for El Salvador. 

I told Abe just laughingly on the phone that I'd dreamt he'd come home. And then we both forgot all about it. It was just a silly dream. How could it have anything to do with reality?

It wasn't until this last Sunday, when we got first official word that Abe would be coming home (and amidst the stress over both the current situation Abe is in, and the anxiousness over the disappointment he might feel with this news) that I suddenly recalled the dream. The scripture from Isaiah came to mind, "... before it came to pass I shewed it thee …", and I was reminded that the Lord knew of this long before He ever called Abe to El Salvador. We might have imagined up two full years in that country. But God already knew that this shift would be part of Abe's path. (This certainty sounded more straight forward and simple than it was. We have been through a whirl-wind of emotions the past few days.)

With current world-wide conditions, concerns over missionaries health, and the availability of health care in many countries, our church has determined it best to return most foreign missionaries to their home countries. Nothing like this has ever happened before, and thousands upon thousands of missionaries have been and will be impacted by this. Missionaries and all those involved in the logistics of arranging and rearranging all of their plans have been on my mind maybe more than anything else with this coronavirus pandemic. 

Once Abe returns, he will be quarantined here at our house for two weeks and then eventually reassigned in the US. I hope quickly -- and that he won't have to be in limbo with the future unknown for too long. But with missionaries across Northern America also being in quarantine, and with the vast numbers returning and awaiting reassignment, I have no idea how quickly it will happen.

Abe is currently in the midst of a 30-day military-style lockdown in Usulatan, El Salvador (several hours of bus rides away from the mission home or airport). With intense restrictions on going out (he hasn't been able to leave at all), and public transportation unavailable, I have no idea how or when Abe will get out. In Abe's mission, they have nothing, in their little cement homes, that allows them access to email, etc. so he has been able to communicate very little and has had very little to help them pass the time -- which has made me anxious over his well-being. They have one small flip phone between the two of them. We finally received his phone number and were able to talk to him briefly on Monday. The news of his upcoming departure had come as an enormous and wholly unexpected shock to him. I can't pretend to know all of his emotions, but I do know that in the midst of his distress, and with his family miles away and unable to be contacted, he knew where to turn for comfort. And he found it. (Learning to turn to God for support and strenght is, I suppose, in and of itself enough of a thing to make this entire mission worth it.)

Anyway, this is just … one of those things that you hear everyone around you going through. (Between ward members with kids on missions, siblings with kids on missions, and Abe's friends out on missions, it is a topic I hear being discussed all around me.) But when it is you and your child experiencing it, it feels so much more complex and huge and significant. Because it is of course. 

We will see what the next weeks and months hold!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


All the world has, in one brief moment, gone completely topsy turvy.

Only two weeks (and two days) ago we were gathered at church with our large ward congregation. There was no inkling, at least for me, that anything much would change. True, when I’d gone to the grocery store the day before, I’d seen that the rumors about toilet paper being sold out were true; but I still didn’t expect any major shift in life.

My kids headed off to school that Monday (as usual). I went to the store for a few things on both Monday and Wednesday (crowds were normal and, other than toilet paper, the shelves were stocked). I signed permission slips for upcoming field trips. And worked away on the Sunday School lesson I was scheduled to teach the following week.

But something flipped that Thursday. Announcements were made (no guests at our upcoming April conference, church for our congregations world-wild cancelled, news reports of more cases of COVID-19, and smaller group gatherings suggested) and, quite suddenly, everything went completely wild!

The media went into a frenzy (everything was Coronavirus). Even driving past our two local grocery stores on Thursday and Friday (only four days since life had seemed wholly normal) made me feel stressed! The parking lots were completely full, and friends were posting pictures of lines stretching to the back of stores. I could actually feel the panic and fear in the air, and I did not like it! It made things seem too out-of-control. And I admit that, for those first few days, I had moments each day where fear began to clutch at my heart.

Were people going to remain in this stage of paranoia and rid the shelves of food for months to come? Was this the start of a future destined to be filled with more such pandemics — some much more terrifying? Would my family face deprivations of other types in the years ahead? How hard would the road ahead be?

And I felt guilty too! Sure we had food storage, but not nearly as much as we should have! Why hadn’t I thought to store away more things? Why wasn’t I 100% prepared? I was an irresponsible parent!

Anyway, immune though I wish I’d been, the unknowns of the future did trouble me.

But then Penny and I ran to grab a few items at the store that Saturday — and it didn’t feel so apocalyptic as I’d feared it might. And we had church in our own little home on Sunday. It was peaceful and happy. (And I taught my kids the lesson I’d prepared for my Sunday School class all about the importance of not looking “beyond the mark” of Christ.) Mike reassured me (as he always can), and I talked with friends and family, and prayed my fears out, and slowly I began gathering my scattered self back to a solid place. (Though waking, a few days later, to an earthquake amidst all this global chaos was a bit alarming!)

But! I already know that, while the future is unknown to me, it’s not to God. He is never caught by surprise. He never thinks, “Shoot. I didn’t see that coming!” He isn’t at the mercy of disasters — in the earth or in our own lives — rather He works through them. And I’ve felt, in place of fear, a renewed ... I don’t know, excitement almost! Don’t misunderstand. I’m sorrowing and anxious over our current situation. The jobs lost and businesses impacted. The overrun hospitals and fearful people. It’s just I feel a determination and eagerness to continue taking on my life — whatever craziness or impossibilities or hardships it might bring. I believe I was prepared for them. That I knew and accepted them. These are the times I came here to live! It’s a little frightening having the responsibility for so many little people on my shoulders. But I believe this for them as well. And, more than that, I know we didn’t come simply to endure these hard things, but to be changed by them! To have doors open through these things that couldn’t have otherwise! Situations that will let us grow and connect and help in ways that would have been impossible through a life of predictability and ease.

I hear often about how faith and fear can’t co-exist. And sometimes that makes me feel like a failure as if ... in experiencing fear and uncertainty I am somehow unfaithful or failing. But I’ve seen it differently lately. I’ve been thinking of Mormon 9:23 where Moroni says:

... Doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old, and come unto the Lord with all your heart, and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.

I used to always imagine some type of fearful cowering in fear OF God when I read that. But lately it feels different when I read it. It feels like it is saying, “Part of your mortal condition is to work things out with a bit of fear and trembling. But just keep coming to me with all of your heart. Keep working out your life and working through your fears before and with me and you’ll recognize more and more that I am guiding you and aware of you.”

And now, when I think of faith and fear not co-existing, I think of it, not as a reprimand for feeling troubled, but as a hopeful promise — as if He is saying, “Look, turn to me! I know you don’t see the steps ahead! I know you are afraid and feel incapable and worried over what hardships you might yet endure, but I see all the steps! I see and know where you will be in them, and I can slowly replace your fear with faith. I can begin filling you with hope and peace. It won't matter that you might have hard things to pass through. I can help you, over and over, to not fear them!”

That’s exactly what I’ve seen happen in myself these last two weeks. I have. I’ve seen my fear replaced with certainty of who I am and what I came here to do. The peace hasn't felt like, "don't worry, you won't have problems". That's not the peace He gives. Because that wouldn't be true. The peace is … that it's OK that I will; that I will never be alone and can face the future confidently. 

Anyway, as for the actual, daily circumstances around here:

All of my kids are on their second week out of school. In truth I will be surprised if they return this year. I’m guessing they won’t. Though I suppose anything could happen. And I hope they might. Daisy would love to still have her graduation and yearbook signings and so on! Right now the kids’ assignments are all detailed by their teachers online (though some are things we do on paper, etc.). I probably cried in frustration at least once each of the first three days as I tried to help multiple kids with school all while Mette, Hans and Starling cried for attention; and the house, that I usually tidy up after kids leave for school in the morning, fell into mess. And there are no longer any moments at all of semi quiet for prayer, study and reflection.

But! There are good things too! We can sleep in a bit! (Some of my kids leave before 7 a.m. for school.) Our morning scriptures and prayers are less rushed (and all together instead of done over and over with each departing group). I can actually sneak off for a run if I put my mind to it (as older kids are around to keep an eye on their siblings). And … I have so many kids that nobody is ever lonely — they all have friends (and occasional enemies) they live with. We’ve played games and gone on walks and baked. And it’s kind of nice being all together and not having somebody always off at track or piano or work.

Plus, we bought two baby pygmy goats! They really are the cutest things imaginable. Only nine days old today! We bottle feed them and they sleep snuggled together in a straw-filled crate in our kitchen at night, then romp about outside … and steal Shasta the cat's cat house and heated pad during the day. Eventually we will build a pen on Mike’s parents’ Logan land so they can keep weeds down up there. But for now, they are a happy distraction for everyone around here! Have you watched little goats run? There is nothing funnier or better. 

Life is good. And even though I was limited to four potatoes at the store today (haha), I did score two bottles of hand soap! So yes, life is very good! And I feel oddly eager to tackle whatever craziness might be ahead.  Early this morning, unexpectedly, a woman in my ward dropped a large pack of toilet paper (and a package of cookies) off on our doorstep. (Toilet paper she had to wait in line for! You can only get one pack -- by waiting in line! And she waited in line and gave it to us!) We are fine. And I could’ve waited in line once we needed it badly enough. But we do have eleven people living here. We go through that stuff pretty darn quickly. And, small as it was, it made me cry that, during a time of anxiousness, this woman would be thinking not of herself, but of me and my home full of people and of some way she might do some kind thing for us. I know. It's toilet paper. But it felt so much bigger because … it was just so nice! And this is what I want hard times and trials to do for me and for my kids — not turn us inward in fear and self preservation. But outward! In a desire to lighten the loads of others and encourage their hearts!

Anyway, a few last things:
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