Monday, September 30, 2013

Heaven is Here by Stephanie Neilson

“It's a beautiful heart, not a perfect body, that leads to a beautiful life."  If you haven't read something great in a long time, something beautiful, pick up this book and read it.  The couple days it takes to read this will change your life forever.  The subtitle of the book: "An incredible story of hope, triumph, and everyday joy" sums up the entire book.  Each time I put the book down, I left feeling that hope, triumph, and joy.  Stephanie's words reminded me of all those things that I know...that there is a greater plan for us all.  That no matter what trials come our way, the most important things carry us through -- faith and family.  That life is so much more than what we see in the mirror.  

“Your heart matters most, so be gentler and more patient with yourself, and their hearts matter most, too, so be kinder and more compassionate to others.” 

National Microcephaly Awareness Day

Today is National Microcephaly Awareness Day.

What does that mean to me?

It means that a little over 7 years ago I was blessed with an amazing little girl who would face many challenges.  Words like diagnosis and prognosis became a part of my nearly daily vocabulary as I wondered about these things myself, but also as I answered people's questions.

This day means that I have a daughter, my sweet dear Samantha, who has a head smaller than average...much smaller than average...but whose rosy smile and bright blue eyes take up her entire face!  What a blessing.  What a gift.  It means that people can see angels, miracles, and a glimpse of eternity through those eyes and smile.

It means I have a daughter who does not speak, which can be difficult.  But because of her lack of words, she also isn't limited by words.  I have a daughter who can speak directly to people's hearts.  Words don't get in the way of her communication.  And her message is simple.  She teaches sermons about love, compassion, patience, a loving Father in Heaven and a truly empathetic Savior who has experienced it all on her behalf -- on all our behalves.  She teaches about faith, hope, family, and reminds us that life isn't as complicated as it sometimes can seem.  It's all pretty simple when you cut the fat.

This day to me means Samantha.  Today, many people who love someone with microcephaly are wearing yellow.  I love that.  Today, I'm wearing Samantha.

On my arms when I hug her,
On my hip when I carry her,
In my hands when I brush her hair to the side,
On my legs and feet when I watch her struggle with each step and think about how easy it is for me to even stand,
In my heart...because she's my baby girl and will always be my baby girl.

She motivates me to be better.
She inspires me to try harder.
She is my constant reminder of where I want to be...and she's helping me get there.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Micah Turns One -- Part 1

On September 11, Micah turned 1.  One.  ONE.  That is so crazy to me.  Where did this year go?  His birthday was on a Wednesday this year....most inconvienent.  Marcus doesn't get home from work until later on that day, but we did want to celebrate.  Plus, Analisa was leaving to head back to BYU the next day.  So, celebrate we did -- minus Daddy.

Callie and I made cupcakes for Micah's little celebration.  
 At first, Micah was very tentative about eating this cupcake.

 But he soon realized that this cupcake was friendly and was waiting to be eaten.

 And crushed.

Happy Birthday Micah

At a year old you are walking...all over the place.  You love to climb up your little slide all by yourslef and then slide down.  You and Callie are great buds.  And you love being around Sammy.  You drink more milk than any kid I know.  You are obsessed with our ceiling fan.  You can sign "more," "milk," and "all done."  You love books and are one of the best sleepers around.  We love you kiddo.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ragnar 2013

I have said it before...I'm not a runner.  I really do respect runners though.  They are so disciplined.  My running looks more like a trot.  Furthermore, I really only run when I have something to run for.  When I was younger, I ran for a team...I ran after a ball, to kick it into the goal, or pass to someone so they could kick it into the goal (preferably someone from my own team).  But just run?  Blargh.

Now, I run for races.  It gives me a deadline and motivates me to get out there an do it.  And, over the years, I've come to like running a little bit.  I still have a long way to go.  I still don't love it, but I think I can one day.

Last weekend, I loved running.  Yes.  More than "like," I loved it.

A few months ago, a friend told me there was an opening on her Ragnar team.  What is it?  Ragnar, Napa Valley...the best relay race ever.  Starting from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and ending in Calistoga.  200 miles.


I was really looking forward to running Ragnar.  However, I was sorely unprepared.  I had wanted to run while I was in Utah, but it was so hot, I just couldn't.  (or decided I couldn't...whatever)  Shortly after returning from Utah, I hurt my back.  And not just a little.  For about 3 weeks, I was in extreme pain.  I was icing my back all day long, going to a chiropractor 3x a week, and still needing help to get up in bed.  After only 3 weeks, I was beginning to think that I would never feel better and would have to survive the rest of my life feeling pain.  Oh how my sympathy grew for those with chronic pain.

I wasn't able to run for a while.  And Ragnar was quickly approaching.  Before Ragnar, I was running a painful 13 minute mile.  I could barely run a mile straight.  My back had really taken a toll on me.  I told my team leader, Scott, that I'd be much slower than anticipated.  He didn't care.

At the starting line with van 2.
Eric and Scott Summers, Christie Killen, Kari Carlson, me, and Beth Headly.
Van 1 had been running all morning, and we were waiting for their last runner, Jennifer, to come in so Beth could start off our 1/2 of the team.  Since I was the last runner in our van, I felt no pressure to be all geared up and ready to run yet.  
Ragnar came.  I bought my reflective vest, a head lamp, and a flashing back light.  I had snacks, 3 running outfits packed, iPod set...I was as ready as I could be.

Wine country.  It was gorgeous.  I appreciated the beauty of the landscape far more when the others were running.
That weekend was gorgeous.  It wasn't too hot.  We got plenty of rain.  And it was an all around good time.  I was pretty happy that my first run, 5.9 miles, was kept at an 11 minute mile.  My second run, at 4:30am, was a 10 minute mile.  I was pretty excited.  I was the last runner in our van, which meant we were able to go to a hotel and try to get a few hours of sleep before we had to run again.  My 3rd and final run was difficult.  It was only 5.5 miles, but I had a big headwind pushing against me, I was tired after not sleeping for over 24 hours, and I just didn't have the strength.  BUT, I did it.  I brought us home and it was exhilarating.  I loved it.  And I want to do it again!

Yeah!  Team "Running on Fumes" makes it to the end.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Instant Length

There's a misconception out there.  Just because a mom doesn't know HOW to do her daughter's hair, doesn't mean she doesn't WANT to know how.  

While I was in Utah this past summer with the kids for Sammy's therapy, Callie took swim lessons again.  There I met another mom who had adopted a few sweet little african american girls.  (When I say "a few" I mean 6.  She has 12 kids total!  She's an angel with a beautiful family.)  I noticed her girls hair and asked if she did their hair.  She did. And it looked great.  I wanted to come over and have her teach me a few things, but it just never happened.  But, she did tell me how she did it.  




I've twisted Callie's hair before, taught to me by a new friend Stacy, and it worked.  But I didn't do it often.  It didn't look like how I wanted it to.  But these girls...their hair was full and it looked great.  "These are yarn twists."  My eyes were opened and a new world lay before me!

When we got home, I tried it out.  Yarn twists, or yarn extensions, were fairly simple, but time consuming.  Taking pieces/chunks of hair, you twist it into the yarn.  It actually helps protect the hair, if done correctly and taken care of, by trapping in the moisture.  My first time was ok.  They lasted 3 weeks and Callie loved it.  Instant length.  Instant flipping of your hair.  Instant 2 years older!  (holy cow...she was no longer my baby girl)  Instant gratification, served.  But I knew I wanted it better and next time it would be. 

Callie wanted to have it done for her school pictures.  I was nervous about that.  Could I really make it look good enough for pictures?  I tried.  I took a break 1/2 way through while Micah was awake.  We resumed when he went down for a nap.  This time, she wanted it longer...and longer she got.  

This time, I wanted it a lot fuller, so I used smaller sections of hair.  It took a long time, but it turned out really well I think.  She loves it, and that makes me happy.  I was better at getting the yarn anchored down at her scalp, so hopefully it'll last a month and not just a few weeks.

 For 6 hours, this was Callie's position!  Watch movies, eat snacks.  It was a long day.  But worth it as I haven't had to "do" her hair for the past 2 weeks.  I moisturize it and have varied the style, but it's easy...pig tails, braid, ponytail, down, half up...whatever.  Easy.

I trimmed the extension twists so it's not really this long.  I thought I had a picture, but I don't.  It goes down to about her elbows.

There are so many different things I want to learn and try on her hair.  If she remains patient with me, I just may be able to learn more.  It's important to me that I can do her hair, that we can sit together and make these memories.  I want her to one day sit and do her little girl's hair and think of the hours we did it together.  I want it to be a good memory.  So far, I may be developing nightmares for her...but I'm pretty confident with consistency, it'll change.  I hope so at least!

But it's all because I so desperately love this little girl.  My little gem.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mr. Trouble

Micah is a delightful little boy.  But sometimes, he's just plain trouble (in the cutest most possible way!).

This morning, as I rushed to get Sammy and Callie ready for school, Micah roamed around.  Fantastic.  I love that he is blessed with an able body that gets him around.  That miracle isn't lost on me...something I don't take for granted.  BUT.  He's still a little rascal.

So, back to this he is, quietly moving about.  I notice he got into one of our lower cupboards, which is normally locked, and he has a pudding packet.  He was innocently shaking it and hearing the dry ingredients brush against the package.  Deciding it was safe for him to "play" with the pudding (why would I think that?), I continued to get Sammy's braces on.  Next thing I know, there is pudding all over the floor and on his face.  Really?  Yep, he bit into it and ripped a hole out of the package and it just poured out.

The picture barely shows what it looked like in person.  I couldn't get him to stand still.  I realize that sugar puts him into high gear pretty quickly!

1 point for childhood

Look at those chocolate outlined lips!
I love it!

Wahoo.  Chocolate at 7am.  Party!

"Oh wait Mommy, no party?  Why do you look so serious?"

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Sacred Day

I was in the delivery room with these fine ladies.

Picture from 2010.  Lindsey and her mom, Cindy.

It was a magical, surreal, beautiful, spiritual day.  When I met her and her mom at the hospital on September 10, 2011, I remember thinking, "Oh, please be born today and not the 11th."

I remember what I was doing 12 years ago on September 11.  I was serving a mission for my church.  I entered Andras Bacsi's home for an early dinner he was providing for us and he was watching the news.  I had only been in the country for a short time, so I was very unable to keep up with the Hungarian that was coming from the television.  I saw the plane crash into the first tower.  They kept showing it and my heart sunk every single time.  We sat and watched and I was so sad.  "This wasn't an accident" I told my companion, Sister Neal.  Andras Bacsi turned it to an English channel so we could understand what was going on, but even that early on, it seemed that they didn't know.  We turned the tv off and solemnly continued our day.  That night we knew plenty more details.  We were regularly stopped on the streets by Hungarians asking if we were ok, if our families were safe...the concern was so kind, sincere, and endeared me to them ever more.  Though I was residing out of the United States of America, my heart continued to be here.  September 11, which was once a day of sadness for me, turned into a sacred day when people from all over the world united together.  Admist tragedy, it was beautiful.

One year ago, Micah was born.  I was visiting teaching Heather when I received a phone call from my mother-in-law.  "Jenny.  Lindsey's in labor."  I was excited.  So excited.  Admittedly, I also had a pain in my heart for a friend who had just lost her own baby boy.  I felt like the timing was a little unfair to her.  Yet, here he was coming...and Lindsey was in labor.  I left the house, after exchanging rushed and excited hugs, set up what I needed to for Callie and Sammy, and headed 1.5 hours north to the hospital.  What a blessing to live so close to each other!  My friend, Amy, was watching Callie for me.  She called and I pulled over on the side of the freeway to answer.  Every time I pass that spot, I remember that day, that phone call, that moment.

I wasn't sure how it would go being in the hospital with Lindsey and her mom.  But it was amazing.  Nearly 12 hours of labor we spent together.  And, on September 11, 20112 Micah was born.  That day, a nurse told me that 21 babies had been born.  Twenty One!  I remember thinking that life really goes on.  And not in the trite way, "Life goes on, get over it."  No.  In the beautiful majestic grandeur of creation....tragedy will come, but life...beating hearts, first breaths, and new LIFE....continues.

Today will always be a sacred day to me.

A day the world pulled together.
A day a woman laid her pride, pain, and entire self on the alter.
A day she handed me her son.
A day Samantha and Callie gained a brother.
A day Marcus and I became parents to #3.
A day angels stood packed in that delivery room, so that all could only feel immense love.

A sacred day.

A day of sacrifice...and love.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Thoughts on Death

There are so many happy things I could write about.  I have cute pictures to upload, weddings, engagements, and fun projects to report about.  But tonight, and all week, my mind has been thinking about death.

A few weeks ago I attended a funeral of a beautiful woman who lived a full life and died from cancer.  While I was there, I saw a dear friend, sitting in the back, crying.  This seems normal.  We were at a funeral.  The difference is that this friend, who has had a larger impact on my life than she will ever know, was approaching the anniversary of the day her own son passed away.  Whether this is true or not, I don't know, but I imagined her heart bursting as she remembered that day.  And it broke my heart.

This summer while I was in Utah and was able to get together with some friends.  We talked about our special needs kids while we ate dinner.  On the car ride home, I was able to talk to another friend who lost her son ... two?  Is it already 2 years ago?  She was so open with me as I asked her questions about her experiences after his death.  I am so grateful for her example of faith and hope and love.  And that she was willing to openly talk to me about such a sacred thing.  Our conversation has stayed with me ever since.

Tonight I read about a family who just lost their son this past week.  And oh, my heart is aching.  And I'm not even the one experiencing this all.

All of these ladies have something in common.  Among other things, they all are faithful latter-day saint women.  They have testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  They put their faith in the scriptures, in the prophets, and in the Lord.  And when there is pain like this, I'm not sure how one survives without that faith.

Before Samantha was born, I took certain things for granted.  One of those was the resurrection.  I had always been taught, and believed, that because of Jesus Christ, we would all be resurrected.  It's a free gift.  It's not dependent on our righteousness or's a gift.  I accepted that as truth.  But when Samantha was born, and when I see her physical struggles and disabilities, her seizures and cramped limbs, I am so so grateful for the resurrection.  I'm so grateful to know that all of that will be gone and replaced with a perfected body.  And that we'll be reunited.  And I'm glad my friends know all this too...because sometimes we have to cling to those truths just to make it through the day.

And all of that helps me to remember that death isn't the's a change.  a transition.  And that death is only sad for those left behind.  And that this whole mortality's pretty temporary.  And thank goodness it is because there are going to be some great reunions.


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