Later That Same Year...

Phew.

So, how did the election turn out?

Seriously, though.  How does two months go by and I not even notice?  I am too busy by half.  Wait.  That doesn't even make sense.

Well.

Just be happy that you don't have to look at Mr. Romney anymore.

It occurred to me last night as I was drifting off that I had just sent out my Christmas cards with my blog address at the bottom and that our friends all over the world were possibly going to click on to see more of my cleverness only to find the election was still going on.

Sort of like salt in the wound.

So I thought I'd better post.

Olivia and Ethan are on their way home.  I just heard the garage door.  It's a half day and our holiday is about to officially commence.  Caleb and Savannah of course go to real school and won't be home until after three and then party will really get going.  I can hardly believe we made it throught the semester.  The blessing of this tender mercy has been on the minds and lips of every prayer in our house the last few days.  We made it.  Thank you.

Now we have big plans for late nights and later mornings, puzzles and games, and kissing in the middle of the day.

Nothing could be better.

Merry Christmas.

Bombs Bursting into Tears

Turns out, the children may know the way to the park, but the way home is a little more sketchy.

Savannah got lost on her way home. She got hot and mad and made a stormy, dramatic exit.

And then got lost.

Which took the wind out of her sails.

I felt for her. Because I love a good dramatic exit myself, and it is shame to have it spoiled. All by yourself.

David found her tear-soaked face just one tree-lined street over.

She sobbed into my neck, and dang if it didn't feel delicious.

(And really, if you're going to be lost, this lovely little town of sugar maples and lawn ornaments is the place to do it. All's well that ends well.)

Speaking of spectacular endings, we went to a patriotic concert in the park before the firework show at Chippewassee Park. (I am so not making that up.) Could there be a more classically Midwestern thing to do? At the end of the concert they played all the songs of the armed forces, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Air Force. And as they did, in turn, little old men with their white hair and hunched backs rose out of their plastic and nylon lawn chairs to stand while we clapped.

And dang if I didn't start crying myself.

I wanted to clap all night, roar really, my thanks, my deep gratitude. I wanted to kiss each and every one of them.

And then we sang America the Beautiful, and I could only choke out the prayer at the end.

God has shed his grace on all of us.

The Long Overdue Update

There is no good place to start.

Let me sum up.

For a long time it felt like we had been forsaken.

For a long time it felt like we had been left alone.

For a long time I had to force myself from fear to faith, at first at the start of every day, and then at the start of every hour, and towards the end at the start of nearly every other minute.

But then, just at the moment of great alarm, salvation arrived.

Last Monday, David dressed in his new shirt and tie and drove to a new hospital and started his new job.  That same morning, after I ironed his shirt and kissed him goodbye, I met the moving trucks at our new place and started the overwhelming job of setting up house.

Savannah says that's my new favorite word.  Overwhelmed.  I said, "What do you mean?"  "Well, now you say it all the time."

Well.

The other day we had a family meeting.  I tried to tell the kids how I was feeling.  I told them it was like I was digging out from a mudslide while it was still raining.  Ethan looked outside.  To see if it was raining.

Nevermind.

So, we are starting over.  New job.  New house.  New ward.  New friends.  New schools.  New streets and grocery stores and doctors and gas stations and banks and post offices and when I drive down the street I don't know what's going to be on the next corner.  I've been to the grocery store twice and got lost coming home both times.

It won't take long I tell myself.

What's not new?  The weather.  After all those plane flights and hotels and tempting views of some gorgeous eastern rivers, the place prepared for us was on the other side of the valley.  Just an hour up the road.  No one was more surprised than I.  And I wonder when I will learn that I am not in charge.

For the record, there are joys to this new life.  My favorite:  that particular joy of greeting your husband at the end of the day.  I'm in the kitchen starting dinner.  He walks in in his shirt and tie.  Hey you.  And then a little passionate necking.  (This never gets old.)

And what I think about most as I sort and unpack and hang and rearrange, is how Sariah made a home out of a tent and how when she was unpacking carpets and dishes and liahonas out in the desert she might have used that word "overwhelmed" too.  And how even though it might not make much sense to me now, the Lord knows what he is doing.  He has a plan.

Even in the middle of the desert.

Manna, Again

I noticed today that I've written so few posts this year, that my Christmas letter is still at the bottom of the page.  

Pathetic.

I keep thinking that at some point I will have something good to share, something exciting to share, something different to share.

But the limbo continues.

Every week at church people come up to me to ask for an update.  And they are always disappointed.

Imagine how I feel, I think.

And so, fundamentally, things are still the same.  David is still looking, I am still praying, the kids are still hoping that at some point their parents will wake up and return to the present.  But life also goes on in its dependable, inexorable way.

Caleb's science fair came and went.  The snails were examined under his microscope and then met their ignominious end in my large soup pot.  His conclusion?  Plastics are very bad news, especially if you're a mudsnail.  Not so great for humans either as it turns out, and so we've started a slow, steady purge.

My painful root canal came and went, thanks in part to a friend who intervened at just the right moment.  I was nearly out of my mind with pain and had lost all ability to reason well.  By the time the endodontist saw it, I had a very nice abscess coming along.  I begged for death.  Instead he prescribed two hours in his chair and a round of antibiotics.  Delightful, with more dental work coming next week.

David's surgery came and went.  Without complication.  Thank heavens.  He has been happily eating whatever he wants for two weeks now with no problems whatsoever. 

David and I came and went back east for second interviews and a "get-the-wife's-approval" trip.  We found a charming community, six inches of snow, a job that David was made for, as well as a terrible longing to be settled and employed.

Other job opportunities came and went, a few of them more painful to see go than others, but we move forward believing we are being led to "the right place."

I had a few speaking assignments that also came and went.  One day I went to the temple with such a long list of things I needed help and inspiration on, I thought the Lord would turn me away at the doorstep. 

I'll be honest.  Most days I vacillate between terror and calm, fear and faith, abject discouragement and happy optimism, and all that before I've even had my shower. 

But it's the limbo, the monotony, the waiting, the every-minute slow crawl of the clock towards the unknown future that is the hardest.  It's given me new appreciation for the children of Israel who complained that yeah, the Lord was providing for them, but couldn't he please provide something different.  And this makes me humble and repentant. 

And also, acutely aware of the miracles.

A couple of days ago I was standing on the banks of the Susquehanna, a river I never imagined I would have the opportunity to see in person.  A couple of nights ago I was eating dinner at a tavern in Delaware with some of our dearest friends in all the world, stunned to be sitting across a scarred wooden table from them.   A couple of mornings ago sat on a 727 next to my husband and as I watched him preparing for his upcoming interviews I thought I had never loved him more, that maybe I was just beginning to understand marriage for the first time in my life.  It was a revelation.  And a couple of evenings ago, as I knelt next to David in a strange hotel in a strange town on the other side of the continent and begged for blessings, I remembered Nephi's words that the Lord is mightier than all the earth, then why not this, and I felt the sure witness of those words as strong as I ever had before.

None of which would ever have happened without leaving the fleshpots of Egypt in the first place.

I see that now.

There is no other way, afterall.

Ahem. A Note and a Letter

the new Jackson County temple, in an early 2011 gloaming 

So I'm sitting here eating my three-minute-egg, that techinically went closer to four minutes this morning.

(Rats.)

But that was because I got distracted reading all your kind comments from yesterday (or the day before...I've lost track now) and it made me a little wistful (gosh I love that word) and the tiniest bit weepy from all the good wishes.

But I also realized I owe you a note of explanation.

David did get a job offer in Missouri (or Misery as Olivia has renamed it).  This was a "get the wife's approval" trip to see the town, look at the schools and the neighborhoods, wander around and see if I could picture us in the library or on the baseball diamond or sitting on a blanket next to the river.  And also, to hopefully get some answers from heaven.  Nothing has been finalized.  We haven't accepted or turned down.  We are thinking and praying and vexing and venting and making "decision matrixes."  (I am so not kidding on that last one.  Heaven help us.)

So.  Mostly I've been wishing that I was either Brigham or Julie Brilliant Beck.  I could use a vision about "the right place" or the enviable skill-set of being able to receive revelation.

But yesterday on our way out of town, David and I stopped at the Liberty Jail.  There is maybe no place in the world better to go when you think you've got it hard.  It puts everything in perspective pretty quickly.  Talk about trodding gladly into the night.  We sat in the semi-darkness listening to the accounts of the saints leaving their prophet in the worst of conditions while they trekked through the dead of winter with their little children, and wept.  For their faith.  For their sacrifice.  For their example.

And now for the letter.  (Those of you who already received our Christmas letter this year can stop right here and go do your grocery shopping.  Could you do mine too while you're at it?  Shopping (of any kind) is always my Waterloo.)  For those of you who are not on my mailing list, I am posting this Christmas letter here for you and also (mostly) for my record.  I know it's late.  I know we are past tidings of great joy and on to resolutions and new beginnings, but I'm posting it anyway.  The picture I am posting with it did not go out on our Christmas card, but it is a picture from a story I tell in the letter.  And I'm including it, again, for the record. 

Dear Loved Ones,

Sometimes on date night, David and I wander through the bookstore.  (There is no better date, by the way.)  I start stacking books into my arms and breathing heavily, from all the lust and the effort, while David works his way over to the section where they keep the maps, and the travel guides, and the books with pictures of the hundred places you must visit in your lifetime.  I find him later with his best friends by his side--Frommer, Fodor, and Rand McNally.  By then we’re both aroused.

Over the years, David and his travel guides have led us around the entire continent.  This summer we made our way to Banff, and Michigan, and Florida, and California, and back again.  David had spent months planning and reading and mapping and dreaming.  He knew where to eat, where to sleep, where to lie all day and watch the sun turn our children into golden-brown donuts sprinkled with white-sugar sand. 

Then in September, David’s position at the hospital was eliminated.  We found ourselves in an unknown land without travel guides or map.  Where is Frommer when you need him?  When David walked in the door, his face white and grief-stricken, I knew what had happened.  There we were, without a light, without a map, without a sure destination.

We told the children the next day.  They all wept at seeing David’s broken heart.  In the weeks and months that followed they have cried for themselves as well.  For the first month or so, we sat around the dinner table and after we had supped, we would talk and cry, and eventually most of the kids would end up in my lap, sobbing their sorrows into my neck while the food dried on the plates.  Because in their heart of hearts, they knew what this meant…a journey into the unknown.

For years, they have climbed into the backseat of the car, trusting that David knows the way, trusting that he will get them where they need to be.  As for me, I sit in the seat next to David and watch his handsome face as we pass the high deserts, the low mellow plains, the lush green farms and wide barns along the way.  No need to watch the road.  David is doing that.  I sleep, I read, I talk, and he drives.  He knows the way.  In all the years of our roadtripping, I only remember once when he made a wrong turn.

We made him an office at home.  He started interviewing.  Now I pack his bags and he boards airplanes and together we pray.  For light.  For maps.  For a way in the darkness.

A couple of weeks ago Caleb needed a specific little snail for his science project, a snail that is found in the Colorado River somewhere south of the dam.  To ensure that collecting conditions were just right, we had to travel in the dark of night, a nine-hour roundtrip. Early one morning, while David packed the lunches and consulted on the morning hairdo’s and made sure Olivia didn’t wear too much eye shadow to school, Caleb and I left Flagstaff and headed out into the dark desert.  We didn’t know exactly where to look, we didn’t know what we’d find when we got there, and we didn’t know how we would manage to collect the snails if we found them.  As I drove along the dark highway, I prayed.  Help us.  Help us.  Help us find the way.  It felt impossible.  But, in the early morning light, we waded into the cold Colorado, the water swirling around our knees, and turned over rocks to find exactly what we needed.  As I stood in that river with my son, holding the heavy, wet stones in my hand, watching the sun rise over the vermillion cliffs and light Caleb’s head like a halo, I remembered Joshua’s stones:

That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?

Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.

And I started to cry.  Because He knows the way.  He has led us before.  He leads us now.  He will lead us always.  He knows how to pass over deep water.  His hand is better than a known way.  How many times have we been in the darkness, without a light, without a map, lost and admittedly afraid?  And he has brought us through every time.  He is the Repairer of the Breach.

There are days when the way forward seems impassable, as impassable as the Jordan River and the Red Sea and the whole Pacific Ocean.  There are days when the wilderness seems broader and wilder than ever before, when the darkness never looked so dark.  But even now, especially now, we recognize His tender mercies.  We are witnesses of His love.  He always makes a way for us cross on dry ground.  Whether we need snails or a job or redemption—from small to staggering, He provides every good gift. 

As I watch David stand on the bank of this new Jordan, the rest of us trustingly and expectantly looking up at him, I am reminded that at the time of Christ’s birth, probably nothing went according to Joseph’s plan.  From the miraculous conception, to the difficult journey, to the filthy stable, to the flight into Egypt, the ragged, dog-eared Fodor’s in his bag would have been useless.  And yet, God provided.  He knew more.  He had prepared a way.  The perfect way.  It is the same for us.  And when our children ask their fathers, What meaneth these stones?, we will tell them of the path he made just for us.  This season and always, we rejoice with the angels and cry out with the stones, that He is, indeed, “the King that cometh in the name of the Lord,” and the God of Israel and the whole earth.  He is our Rock, our Foundation, our Stone of Help.  Here we raise our Ebenezer, here by His great help we’ve come. 

With Love and Faith,

David, April, Caleb, Olivia, Savannah and Ethan

Never Forgetting

This one is for my family.  Every single one of you. 

But especially for Maika.

Yesterday, I went to my mom's house to help sew quilt blocks into a tiny, pink and white quilt.  Meanwhile, my cousins and aunts in northern Utah and my cousins and aunts in southern Utah were doing the same thing at their mothers' houses.  We already knew the pattern.  Nine-patch and snowball blocks, this time in soft pink rather than blue.  Tragedy has come again.

For days I've thought my heart would break.

There at my mother's house with my fingers filled with fabric and my eyes filled with tears, I sat across from my Aunt Tori who read a text message from her daughter, Melissa.  Melissa wrote a note about how quickly our family can mobilize in a crisis.  If you want two hundred people fasting and praying for you within the hour, just call Aunt Jane.

We got the call on Saturday night.  And so we went to our knees.  All of us.  We gathered in circles in homes and in bedrooms all over the country and went to our God, for help, for miracles, for peace. 

By the next day, it was clear that we would need even more help, more miracles, more peace because Maika's little girl was taken home to heaven.  We went to our knees and cried.  It was all we could do in the face of so much grief and so much heartache. 

The day after that, we quilted. 

In that place, where the pain is so heavy and so hot, we try to comfort in the only way we know how.  One stitch at a time we try to bind up the wounds that cannot be bound.  One block at a time, we add our pleas for solace and our tears to hers.  In this small act of love, we try to to say:  See this?  In this snowball block, see that you are not alone.  In this nine-patch, see our love and prayers.  In this beautiful border, see us encircled tight around you.  See this?  In this finished quilt, see our faith in an eternal plan that is bigger than this terrible moment.  In this binding, see the sure hope of our covenants.

The fabric we used is called "Elizabeth's Letters."  It was designed by my Aunt Jill, who created a fabric line using a letter that our great-great grandmother wrote to her daughter when she left Switzerland for America.  The soft pink fabric in the quilt has the very words of that letter, in our great-great-grandmother's handwriting.  It was a letter written by a mother as her three girls left their homeland forever, unsure if she would see them again in the flesh.  It read in part: 

Memory and farewell words from your never forgetting mother.  This is written to you, Margritha.

If I didn't know that you are going to Zion, and also taking Zion with you, it would break my heart, but I know and am convinced that you are going to Zion.  Pray for the ones who stay behind...

A goodbye letter from a mother to her daughter, stitched into a quilt for another mother who must now say goodbye to her very own daughter.  Our hearts would break were we not convinced she was going to Zion.  See this?  In this fabric, see your heritage of faith in the face of loss and fear.  See this?  In the lines of farewell, see the evidence of your nobility, your bravery, your destiny.

This morning as I stood in the shower, I sobbed.  For my cousin's pain, for her unbelievable grief, for her unfathomable loss, for both she and her husband...the ones who stay behind.

And as I stood there crying, I remembered another letter.  One which my own grandmother had written as a farewell to each of us.  It was read at her funeral and these words came like fire to my heart this morning:

There is only one thing I will hate about leaving--I will hate to leave all of you here.  I will miss you so, but we will be watching over you and trying to help you over the rough spots.  My Dear Ones, I'm sure that many of you, or your little ones, will be tested sorely as the scriptures are fulfilled about the trials of the last days.  I can give you one bit of advice which I have come to love:  "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths."

Sorely tested, indeed.  Remembering her words only made me sob harder, because I could feel her love and care.  "Yes," I prayed, "help us over the rough spots."  I could feel heaven's hand and the powerful reassurance of eternal covenants.  I trust that the heavens are full of our "never forgetting mothers."  Those who see our pain.  Who see our grief.  Who try to help us over the rough spots.

This morning I begged heaven to send an army of angels.

I am certain I know who will be leading that charge.

The Rains Came Down

Have you been worried?

Don't worry.  We are still here.  (We have cupboards full of beans, remember?)  We are still happy.  (We have each other, remember?)  We are still believing.  (We have seen the hand of God too many times to forget, remember?)

Ethan came home from school the first day after David lost his job and asked, "Did Dad get a job?"

I smiled at him.  And told him it might be a while.

I am trying to tell myself the same thing.  And trying, hardest of all, to be patient. 

Last week we had a monster thunderstorm.  Hail, even.  Whole rivers coming off my roof.  And in the middle of it, I was a witness to this:

Shelter from the storm.

I know just how Caleb feels.  Unaccountably grateful.  For shelter from the worst of it, for the thought and the gesture most of all.  From several of you.  (You know who you are.)  I got a note just yesterday afternoon (thank heavens my cousins married so well!), when I was discouraged and depressed.  It was a balm, a solace, a pink-trimmed, plastic umbrella as the rains came down.