He Stood Tall

I have allowed “life” to get in the way, but today I am putting “life” in its place and taking the time out to pay tribute to a great hero. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a tragedy to cause us to see all of the blessings in our lives. If only we could see without the tragedy. Maybe then, we could share gratitude and reflect upon the blessings before it is too late.

We lost a man who stood tall in the eyes of countless people. I wish I could have told him that he was one of my true heroes. I feel ashamed that I never took the time to let him know just how much I looked up to him, and how much he influenced my life. Perhaps that is the message–take the time to tell a hero just how much they mean to you.

Albert Einstein once wrote: “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” Jesse Kingston lived that quote every day of his life, because he was just that–a miracle.

When Jesse looked in the mirror, he did not see a tall man, but when the rest of us looked upon him, we saw one of the tallest men to grace our midst. I was privileged, like so many others, to witness many, many instances where Jesse stood tall. He reminded me of the true definition of courage.

I will never forget the blessing it was to participate in “Trek” and watch Jesse out walk us all, even though it took him three steps to our one. I remember collapsing into my sleeping bag that first night of Trek, and feeling so tired. My feet were covered in blisters, and I was tempted to complain until I thought of Jesse, and his brother Chuck. They never complained. If I was so tired, I knew they were three times as tired. Suddenly, I didn’t feel quite so exhausted, and my feet didn’t hurt quite as much. The next day, I tried to walk just a little bit faster.

For many years, I stood back and watched as our community was blessed over and over again with the opportunity to serve Jesse and to be served by him. I witnessed young men hurry down a trail from a hike, so that they could run back up and carry Jesse’s pack, or even carry Jesse on their shoulders. I sat back and watched as Jesse was one of the first at every service project.  I sat back and watched as Jesse came every Sunday, without complaint, and brought the Sacrament to my parents. He always grinned and told me he was happy to do it. I sat back and watched on the day Jesse stood the tallest–it was the day he stood behind the pulpit as a missionary. He shared his testimony with all of us of the truthfulness of a gospel he devoted his life to. He stood tall as a true servant of our Heavenly Father. He worked hard, he laughed hard, and he made life for the rest of us just a little brighter.

I hope Jesse knows how tall he really stood. I hope Chuck knows how tall he really stands. I hope their whole family knows what an example they are to all of us. Our lives have forever been changed. I hope we can all follow in their footsteps, and live each day as if it were a miracle. I hope that we can all stand just a little bit taller.

He Has My Back

Despite my personal mantra of: “Go, Do, Be…You and Me” I have caught myself repeating another phrase more often than not: “Really? Really!?! Wow.” It is not a phrase of excitement, but rather a phrase of shock or incredibility. Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t handle one more thing? Or, have you ever been completely blown away by life, itself? That’s kind of how I’ve been feeling lately. Today has been another one of those “really?” days.

I wonder if that is how a bug feels when they see the sole of a foot coming down to squish them. I can almost hear a little squeaky bug voice saying: “reeeaaaallyyy???” I am making a personal vow right this second to never step on a bug again! (At least not on purpose!)

So, despite my “really?” day, I thought I could turn it around by writing about one of my favorite heroes. I take this hero for granted, and it is not good. He has had “my back” for a very long time, and I really need to let him know that all of me, not just my back, is very appreciative. I’m referring to my husband of almost 19 years now.

Some of you know our “story,” but I need to tell it again just so I can have a cheesy grin cover my face. The story, itself, can turn a “really?” day into a “really!” day. It actually did more than 19 years ago, and countless times ever since!

We were both missionaries in the Italy, Catania Mission. Don’t even think for one moment that we had a mission romance! On the contrary! All I had heard about the whole first part of my mission was how wonderful this particular Elder was. It didn’t help any, that I kept hearing about him from other sister missionaries! To be honest, I was quite sick of him before I had even met the poor fellow. Then, to top it all off, he was at a zone conference we attended and had brought homemade chocolate chip cookies for all of the sisters.”Really!?!”

First of all, one cannot get chocolate chips in Italy. He had to get them from the American Base. Second, he had to figure out measurements, etc. since they are all in metrics in Italy. So, to say the least–it was a very big deal to have made these cookies. I didn’t fall for it. I wouldn’t even eat one because I thought he was so cheesy. Really! Be a missionary, man!!!

Needless to say, I was mortified to find out that I would be spending the final 5 months of my mission with this particular Elder serving as both my District Leader and Zone Leader. Aaaahhhh!!! Talk about a bug about to be squished! The “foot alarm” was wailing in full glory for all to hear!

I wasn’t very merciful. In fact, I was down right difficult. We (or I guess, really ‘me’) wouldn’t share our contacts with him and his companion even though we had more than we could handle. We (or I guess, really ‘me’) would stay out past curfew every night even though there was a perfectly legitimate reason that resulted in many baptisms. (Which I argued about with this particular Elder over and over and up and down!) And, he was the one and only Elder that I ever lost my “non-existent” temper with. I totally railed on him over the phone. Let me add that there was a legitimate reason for this, as well! In my own defense, I had just gotten word that my blood was about to be spilled on Italian soil as a result of something he did! Really! I would dare say that warranted a bit of yelling, no? I mean, my life was on the line here, folks!!! No mercy. Absolutely, no mercy!

And then, transfers came up. I was being sent to a neighboring city. The “Elder” was still to be my Zone Leader and District leader, but what really killed me was that my companion and I had several baptisms in just a few days. Baptisms were a very, very big deal in Italy. They weren’t the most common thing around. Especially, if they were compared to olives or cheese. In that case, they were mere crumbs! And, because they were mere crumbs, our mission sent out a monthly news letter listing the baptisms that had occurred that month with the name of the companionship that had baptized them. It was kind of like rewarding a kindergartener with a million gold stars!

Now, I know that the missionaries really don’t convert people; the Spirit does. But…it was pretty darn cool to have your name listed in that monthly news letter. I had let “pride” get the best of me, and the only thing that mattered to me at that moment, was knowing that despite how hard I had worked with these “contacts” my name wouldn’t be posted beside the names of these baptisms in the upcoming news letter. Only my companion, and her new companion would get the credit. Really!?! Really. It hurt. It pained. It nearly killed me! In fact, I didn’t sleep at all the night before transfers. (Mainly, because the Spirit greatly humbled me!-Funny how that happens when needed!)

Despite that pretty painful humbling by the Spirit, I didn’t even want to look at the news letter when it arrived the following week. My companion eagerly snatched it up and quickly perused it. Then I heard her say: “Wow! Congrats on the baptisms!” “What baptisms?” I asked. (As if I didn’t know!) The baptisms you had last week! “Really!?!” I asked as I snatched the letter from her. Sure enough, there was the list of baptisms, and instead of 2 missionary’s names listed beside them, 3 missionary’s names were listed: my old companion’s name, her new companion’s name, and MY name. Cool.

Suddenly, I was very, very humbled again. I knew how my name got on that list. A certain Elder, who was a zone leader, had mercy (despite my lack of mercy). When he had submitted the list of his zone’s baptisms to the office, he had included my name with them. Ouch. He taught me what it meant to “have someone’s back.” He’s had my back ever since.

I have to admit that I turned down his first two proposals of marriage, and broke his heart. He never gave up on me, though. The third proposal, I asked him. He said: “Really?” I said: “Really!” I will forever be grateful that he was still a really merciful guy and said: “yes.” Oh, how I am grateful!

But-in my own defense, I must also say that he is the only guy I have ever taken chocolate chip cookies to. Really, that kind of thing is  too cheesy of a thing for a girl like me to do! But-I did do it for him when he got home from his mission. Hee hee. I really did!!!

So, that is how “really?” can be turned into a good “really!” And now, my not so good “really?” day, is now a much better “really!” day because I got to write about my favorite hero who always has my back. He really does.

“I love you very, very much.” — Just Nat

 

 

 

A Thankful Mother

Most little girls play with dolls and dream of being a mother some day. I didn’t. I played with Tonka Trucks (the kind that used to be made of metal, not plastic like the ones today). I dreamed of having a professional career, and if I ever did get married, my husband would be a stay-at-home dad while I brought home lots of money!!! Wow. Sometimes, it’s a real bummer when your plan doesn’t line up with Heavenly Father’s plan. However, I could never thank Heavenly Father enough for not letting my youthful dreams come true.

Despite my serious lack of skill in the raising of “dolls,” I became a mother. I never got the professional career, and I definitely haven’t brought home lots of money. But, I have to admit that one of my greatest accomplishments is having brought three great kids into this life. They are my heroes.

Today, I watched as two of our kids were inducted into the National Honor Society. (The third one would have been, but she isn’t old enough yet.) As I watched, I realized that I have taken my kids for granted. I need to stop doing that, and let them know how exceptional they really are. Not a day goes by that I don’t receive at least one compliment about my kids. I usually just play these compliments down, because I am very conscious of the trials kids can be in their parent’s lives. But, our kids truly are blessings.

The years have quickly passed. I have some grey hairs showing through, and if the need arose to chase one of my kids down now, I would never be able to catch them. But, along with the greying hairs and the sore knees, a deepening pride has taken its permanent place within my heart. I have cherished every moment that I have been blessed to watch them become the people they are today. They are truly exceptional, and bring me hope for all things good in the future. I hope I never let a day go by that I don’t remember to tell them:

“I love you very, very much.”

Just Nat

My Buddy, Tyler

I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes lately. I guess heroes can also be called angels. I want to spend the next several of my posts telling you about some of the amazing heroes in my life. Most of the time, when we hear the word: “hero” we think of a fireman, or Superman. Maybe, we think of Wonder Woman, or a police woman. The heroes I want to talk about are the everyday kind of folk that often get overlooked. But…they have touched my life forever, and made me try harder each day to be a better person.

Yesterday, I got to take brownies to one of my favorite heroes: my buddy, Tyler. Tyler had a rough time entering this life. His parents spent many, many months at the Ronald McDonald house not knowing from one day to the next if Tyler was even going to make it. In fact, Tyler actually died several times, but was thankfully revived each time. Tyler is now 17, but he has already had a couple of heart valve replacements, and many other surgeries. He just recently had surgery performed on the muscles behind his eyes so that he can focus better. I saw Tyler at church yesterday, and He looked like he had been hit in the face with a baseball bat a couple of times. I gave him a big hug and asked him how he was doing. His reply? “I’m just happy to be able to go to school and to come to church.” Wow. That put things in perspective for me. See, I was the one who had been late for church, and since I was sooooo late, I decided to skip all the meetings except for Sacrament meeting. Ouch. Tyler made me want to be a better person yesterday.

Tyler’s dad, Doug, and his older brothers have also been our home teachers for over 7 years now. We are very selfish and won’t let anyone take them away from us. Tyler’s older brother, Kevin, just passed away a year ago from Muscular Dystrophy. Kevin was my hero, too. Despite the pain he was in, Kevin always had a grin on his face. They never missed a month of home teaching. Because we have many steps coming up to our front door, Kevin’s Dad or older brother would carry him into our house and prop him up on the couch with pillows. Towards the end, Kevin would have a hard time getting enough air in his lungs to talk, but he would teach us a lesson, all the same. When it takes every ounce of breath that someone has in their lungs to say that the Savior lives, then those listening really know, that indeed, the Savior does live. Kevin knew the Savior intimately.

Kevin’s and Tyler’s dad is the kind of guy that everyone would want for their home teacher. So is their older brother, James, who is currently serving a mission in Alabama. Several Christmases ago, when my husband was out-of-town on business, the kids and I decided that we would get a Christmas tree on our own. Hey, I’m tough, remember? So, we went down to the local lot, picked out a tree, and with my he-woman skills, I hefted it up on top of our minivan and tied it down. I was pretty proud of myself.

At about that same time, Doug was sitting at work and had this overwhelming feeling that he needed to leave work early. Not knowing why, he stopped what he was doing and went out to his car. As he was driving home, he came up behind a minivan with a Christmas tree on top that wasn’t tied down so well. Hmmmmm. Funny thing, just as the Christmas tree slid down the side of the minivan, Doug realized who the minivan belonged to. He was our hero that day. He didn’t just stop and tie the tree down properly, but he followed us home, got our Christmas tree stand out of our storage, sawed the bottom off the tree, and made sure it was standing straight and secure in our stand. He would have decorated it, too, if I had let him.

Doug is also the kind of guy that showed up the night before every girls’ camp I have ever been involved in. He would walk right in and say: “its girls camp tomorrow, I figured you could use a blessing.” No wonder I was able to go days without sleep!!!

I’m so grateful for Doug, James, Kevin, Tyler and their whole entire family. I want to be just like them when I grow up. They are the kind of people who truly make life worth living. Heroes are the best kind of people in the whole world!

“I love you very, very much.” — Just Nat

Hilary Weeks

As most of you know, Hilary Weeks is my all time favorite. I have taken more walks than I can count the past many months, and every walk has been with her music. To me, she really captures what the gospel is all about. I’m not completely sure that my journey would have been as strengthening, if Hilary’s music hadn’t been along for the ride. So, for my post today, I want to paste a link to her newest music video: “Beautiful Heartbreak.” I was very, very  blessed to be at her concert the other night where she unveiled this video along with the new music from her recent CD. It was yet another “tender mercy” in my life. I hope it touches you as much as it did me. Thank you, Hilary, for being with me “Every Step” of the way.

One thing I’ve learned, is that we all have at least one sign we could hold up. We all have a story. Hopefully, we have all come through that story with added strength and insight. I hope we can all say that any heartbreaks we have experienced, were beautiful in the end.

“I love you very, very much.” — Just Nat

Quilted Comfort

Just before a particularly difficult day, I was admonished in several different ways to: “surround myself with support.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I feel much more comfortable being the one doing the supporting as opposed to being the one supported. I have a really hard time asking for help. I mean, really! I’m pretty tough and I kind of pride myself in that fact. But, Heavenly Father had some lessons in store for me. Imagine that!

When my mom passed away two years ago, some special sisters in my ward made a quilt for me and had all the ward members sign it. The quilt has become one of my most cherished possessions. I had wrapped it up and put it away for safe keeping, but it wasn’t very long ago when my thoughts were drawn to it. During a long and lonely night, I pulled it out and wrapped myself in its warmth and softness as I settled in for a storm of overwhelming emotion. I started looking at all the signatures, and messages of love that were written all over it. Once again, it was that message of “love” that started seeping into my heart. The sharp edges of the pain I was feeling started being sanded away. I felt “supported.” I felt warmth and comfort permeate from much more than just the softness of the material.

My thoughts turned to another time when Heavenly Father tried to teach me this same lesson. My husband and I were called to be a “Ma” and a “Pa” for our Stake Trek a couple of years ago. Can I just say: “Women’s Pull”? Anyone who has experienced a Trek, can relate to the impact of those two words.

Well, this particular women’s pull was just our practice one with only the leaders. I was being that “tough self” and was telling the sisters in my group that we were going to race up that hill and be the first ones to the top so that we could run back down and help the slower carts. You know, it was all about being that one who “supported” as opposed to that one “being supported.” I’m sure you can guess what happened. Yep. We got off to a quick start and were actually in the lead. But then, out of the clear blue, the wheel of our handcart got tangled in a sage brush. By time we wrestled with that cart and basically had to lift it up and out of the brush, we were completely exhausted and in last place. As we looked up the hill and realized just how far we still had to go, I don’t think there was one dry eye in our group. Suddenly, I felt very, very humble.

That women’s pull was one brutal experience. We were last, and it was another group of ladies (angels) that came back down to help us. I can still feel the burning in my legs, back and lungs as I think about it to this day. But, that wasn’t the worst pain. The worst pain was what I felt in my heart. I realized that I had been prideful, and that I had just been “schooled” by the Spirit. As our little handcart group got to the crest of that hill, we knew we weren’t going to make it. We honestly did not have any physical strength left and the cart started to roll backwards. If it hadn’t been for the “support” of the other ladies that came back for us, we would not have made it.

And so, on this first day of this “quest” I have undertaken to post every single day, that is my message. There is a time to support, and there is most definitely a time to be supported. Both times have a significant purpose in life. Both times, are laced with love, but give us a different perspective of the word. Even Christ, himself, would oft times surround himself with support. I have learned through this journey that by allowing yourself to be supported, you are blessed with a whole new dimension and understanding of the word: “love.” And, I have also learned, that just as you reach the crest of the hill, and your cart begins to roll backwards, Heavenly Father sends the angels.

“I love you very, very much.” — Just Nat

Another Year

Today is my 45th birthday. Wow. I still feel like I am 21. Good thing I color my hair now! A couple of my high school friends suggested a new idea for celebrating our birthdays. We haven’t been very good at following through, but here is the basic gist of the idea. Instead of celebrating with gifts, etc., the birthday person is supposed to come up with some idea for service. So, I want to start something and see what happens.

The past 8 months of my life have been an incredible journey. I have been faced with some of my deepest fears, and gone through some pretty rough spots. As I look back, I have realized that despite the difficulty of the path, there have been many miracles and tender mercies along the way.

At the very beginning of this journey, I was told several times not to forget to serve. I have found this to be a key in my personal growth and  healing throughout these past 8 months. My journey still is not finished. I don’t know how long I will be required to walk this path, but I thought I would incorporate my friends’ idea, and start blogging everyday about how I have seen God’s hand in my life, or the different ways in which I was able to serve and the way it touched my life as well as the life of another. I thought I’d share some lessons along the way, as well. However, I want to add a little twist to it, and see what happens. I have discovered along my way, that everyone has a story, or their own personal journey they are living. I have found that there is so much sorrow, so much suffering, and so much pain going on all around us. I thought that maybe, just maybe we could all help each other. That’s why I thought it would be cool if you all tried to share some of your daily experiences and stories of how you were able to lift another, or how someone was able to lift you. I thought with us all working together, that we could turn this blog into a site of strength for those who feel burdened and heavy laden. So, if you have something you would like to add or share, please feel free to leave as long of a comment as you would like.

My personal mantra the past many months has been: “Go, Do, Be…You and Me!” I had a good friend that used the saying “Go, Do, Be.” Chieko Okasaki, who passed away this year, used to point to the picture of Christ on her wall and say: “You and Me” before going out the door.  I combined these two sayings to form my own daily saying. I invite you to share my mantra. I invite all of us to: “Go, Do, Be…You and Me.”

I will try and blog each day. I realize that there will be some days that I just won’t be able to, or some days where I may just post something that may seem little to you, but may be something quite large to me. I will close each blog with a special “sign off.” During a challenging night a couple of months ago, I stared at the portrait of the Christ on my wall and hung onto the words that a friend had said to me once. Those words were: “I love you very, very much.” I have learned that the greatest healing power is love; the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ. “Perfect love casteth out all fear.” I have felt real fear this past year. Love has been the thing that has reached down to my very core, and enveloped that fear. And so, after every blog post, I will sign out with those words in hopes that they will reach your core and fill you with hope and peace. My hope also, is that those words will bring light to your life, just as they lit a dark night for me.

I invite you to make comments and share your stories and insights, your acts of service and service performed for you and help me turn my blog into a sight of hope, a sight of strength, and a sight of love. May it be a better year for all of us. May we be filled with the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“I love you very, very much.” — Just Nat

Witnesses

I taught Sunday School today on being “witnesses” of Jesus Christ. In closing my lesson, I shared a personal story that I thought I really should put into writing. As I sit here and think about it, I realize that this story took place 22 years ago to the month. I can’t believe so much time has passed already. It seems just like yesterday.

I was living in California with one of my mission companions and her family after our missions. I was spending the summer working at Disneyland just for fun. At the time, I did not own a car, and had borrowed my parents’ old, worn out, green Chevy Chevette to get me out to California. It was an UGLY car. It was the same “new” car I had wrecked  in front of the State Liquor store while dressed in a “Fruit of the Loom” costume back when I was 16. (That is an entirely different story for a later date!!! And no–I had NOT been drinking! I simply had run into a patch of black ice in a not so good location!) Anyway, back to the story at hand. The ugly Chevette had barely made it out to California. In fact, I think it died in my friend’s driveway just as I arrived. Later that summer, my brother (who was a truck driver at the time) was driving through California and offered to come and pick the Chevette up and take it home for me. I would worry how to get myself home, later! He pulled his big diesel up, and we positioned the loading ramps exactly with the tires of the car so that the two of us could push the car up into the back of his truck’s trailer. We began pushing the car up the ramps.  (Thank goodness a Chevette is a smaller car and that my brother was a big, strong football player type!) As we got the car almost to the top of the ramps, something happened and the ramps slipped off causing me to fall with the entire car landing across both of my legs. I was knocked unconscious. My brother, however, was apparently able to move the car off of me in a moment of panic and adrenaline. He rushed across the street to use a neighbor’s phone to call an ambulance. I came back to consciousness when I heard the sirens of the fire truck and ambulance arrive. All I could think of was the fact that I didn’t have any feeling in my legs from the waist down. I couldn’t move even my toes, and a real fear of being paralyzed for the rest of my life suddenly gripped my heart and mind. I realized that in a split second, my life was suddenly drastically changed. I was trying very hard not to panic when the EMT’s started cutting my pants off to assess the damage to my legs. One of the EMT’s recognized the garments I was wearing and understood that I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He stopped cutting and asked me if I would like a priesthood blessing. With relief, I answered “yes.” He quickly pulled out a small bottle of oil from his pocket, and right there, in the middle of the street in a wealthy suburb of California, my brother anointed me, and this EMT gave me a blessing. He blessed me that I would be healed, and would return with all the abilities I would need to fulfill my mission here on earth. I will never know that EMT’s name, and have never had the opportunity to thank him, but as the ambulance approached the hospital, I began to feel “tingling” in my legs. Several hours later, I walked out of the emergency room with nothing but scrapes, cuts and bruises. To this day, I know I “walk” because an EMT was not afraid to be a “witness” of Jesus Christ and be worthy to use his priesthood. My life will be forever blessed because of it. Maybe someday, I will have the opportunity to thank him, but more than that, I hope I can live true to his example and be a “witness,” just as he was, so that I too can bless the lives of others.

A Mother’s Pride

I haven’t blogged for a very long time. I haven’t really written about my daughters, either. Perhaps its time I changed those two facts.

The scene was overwhelming, and I couldn’t hold back the tears burning my eyes. Our 15-year-old daughter, Morgan, had just been named the most distinguished student at her junior high school, and the entire gymnasium erupted as everyone stood in a standing ovation. The principal became choked up as he read quotes from teachers and students about our daughter, and as I looked around, I noticed that I was not the only one who had tears. Although, she had also been awarded the most outstanding math student, none of the quotes read by the principal talked about her GPA, her musical abilities, her academic achievements, or her extracurricular activities. All of the quotes spoke about her kindness, and reminded all of us how far simple acts of thoughtfulness and caring can take someone.

As I looked around at the hundreds of students standing, I realized that Morgan had touched every single one of those kids, and it didn’t matter if they were a student body officer, a special needs student, a cheerleader, an outcast, a different nationality, or from what walk of life they had come from; Morgan loved them all just the same. By her day-to-day example, she had taught all of us the true meaning of charity.

The principal spoke of how Morgan would go to the media center every day at lunch time and find the kids that didn’t have any lunch that day.  She would then invite them to her locker where she would share granola bars, pop tarts or any variety of snacks she would keep on hand for those who had nothing. I suddenly didn’t care about how much money I had spent on such things throughout the year. I had observed her, countless mornings, quietly filling her backpack with the stash I would keep in the pantry.  She never said what she was doing, but I suspected.

Other quotes spoke of how she was a peer tutor, and gave her the title of  “the best one ever!” She would spend her free time playing with the special needs kids, and staying back with those that were a bit slower in PE. Still other quotes told how she would always tell her teachers “thank you” after each class, and how she was quick to help anyone who was struggling.

After the assembly, my husband gave Morgan a bouquet of flowers we had purchased for her. She only held them for less than a minute when I saw her hand them off to another girl. I said: “Morgan! Did you just give away your flowers from Dad and I!?!” She replied: “Yeah Mom, but its ok. That girl comes from a really tough background. She needs the flowers more than I do.” My eyes filled with tears again, and I just thought to myself: “So Morgan, So Morgan.”

My daughter reminded us all today, of what really matters in life. Thank you Morgan. I am so very proud to be your Mom, and to be touched by your loving spirit on a daily basis. You make us all want to be better people.

“Some of My Favorite Things”

I’ve been thinking about the musical: “The Sound of Music.” I grew up watching the yearly broadcast of the Julie Andrew’s version on tv.  It was a big deal at our house. It was the only night a year that we were allowed to stay up late. I haven’t really thought about it before, but many of our family lessons and sentiments are steeped in songs from that show.

I was in an office yesterday and suddenly noticed that the background music playing was “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.” Whenever the nun would sing that song in the movie, my parents would make us sit very still and be very quiet. They would both get tears in their eyes, and as she hit that high note, my Dad would say, every time: “no one else can hit that note like that except for your mother.” He was right. My mother sang that song for my Dad at their wedding. I heard her sing that song many times throughout my life. It always gave me chills. My sister-in-law sang that song at my mother’s funeral. (She was the only one in our family that could even come close to hitting that note!) The words to that song are etched on my mother’s head stone. I really believe that if you “climb every mountain, you WILL  find your dream.”

I was driving back from Manti the other day with my Dad. The ground was covered in snow, and it was just kind of that steely grey outside. My Dad has started getting dementia and is really showing the signs of age. He is an old man, now. He was sitting quietly looking out the window. I think he was lost in his own thoughts. All of a sudden he started singing “Edelweiss.” Now, my Dad can’t sing, but that wasn’t why I got tears in my eyes. “Edelweiss is the flower of Switzerland,” he would tell us, and it always meant hope. I think that my Dad was hoping the Edelweiss would soon come up from beneath the snow and that he would someday (soon) be with my Mom again.

Besides those two songs, my favorite is “My Favorite Things.” I even like the version that Barbra Striesand sings! I’ve been asked several times lately about my favorite things, and what I really like. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t been able to really answer. I hope it’s not “just me”, but I think I have been caught up in helping everyone else around me with their favorite things, and I have forgotten about my own. So, I’ve decided to start making a list, and in the process rediscover who I am and perhaps let the people I love get a glimpse of the person I so often hide inside. Maybe you can take the journey with me, and make a list of your favorite things, or even remind me of some of my favorite things. (I am a very forgetful person!) So, here goes:

I love wearing a big, baggy, comfy sweatshirt. It keeps me warm and cozy! (Maybe I thought of that because I am wearing my favorite one right now!)

I love food. I mean, I really do! I think I have multiple affairs with food on a daily basis. I know, this is not a very good thing. But, I think my husband understands it. He is a good man. He even lets me say that I have “food gasms.” (I know, not a very good thing to say, but its true!)

I love to cook.  Again, it involves food! My mother used to show her love by cooking wonderful (huge) meals. She never would let anyone go home hungry. She always had tons left over. She always wanted to make sure she had plenty for everyone, including those she would invite in off the street. Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday. I carry on in her footsteps.

I love Diet Coke. I especially love Diet Coke over “poopy ice” (kind of crushed ice found at Sonic) with fresh lime. But…for medical reasons, I can’t drink it anymore. Sigh. I know I would still love it, though! If I really, really concentrate, I can even imagine the taste!

 I love convertibles. My grandmother gave me my first convertible when I was 16. It was a little red MG Midget. Oh, how I loved that car!!! Today, my very most favorite materialistic thing is my little Mercedes Convertible. The licence plates on it say: “Monella.” That is the feminine expression for “Brat” in Italian. Hee Hee.

I love roses. Although I had lots of red roses at my wedding, my very favorite color of roses is yellow. They make me very happy. As far as other flowers go, I’m not a real flowery kind of gal, but I do adore Gerber Daisies, and the Calla Lilly can do wonders for lifting my spirit.

I love sitting around a camp fire late into the night surrounded by family and friends. I love the stories we share and the laughter that echoes through the darkness. (And yes, I love girls’ camp. There is just something very, very special about it.)

I love to listen to my husband and children play the piano. My husband inherited the grand piano he grew up with, and it is the very cherished center piece of our home. Just recently, the only thing that would soothe my tormented soul was my husband’s playing of religious pieces.

I am so grateful for incredible friends. Again, just recently, I have been reminded of what a very special blessing this is in my life. I consider such friends as angels sent from heaven.

This one should have been listed at the very, very top. I love my family. I literally joy in every minute of the day that I spend with them. I honestly do.

I love long walks at the base of the mountains. That is my own personal time when I feel close to God.

My favorite season is autumn. It produces all of my favorite colors, and I feel at peace when the mountains are on fire with the beauty of the changing trees and foliage.

I love feather pillows. I have to sleep with at least two, and as I sink into them after a long day, I am blessed with a sense that all is well. Even my profile on my Marriott account has the instructions to always add extra feather pillows to my room. They never forget!!!

(To be continued…)

Naughty, Naughty Mother!

I just couldn’t help myself. I tried. I really, really did, but in the end I just caved. My son has been dating a girl for several weeks now, and my curiosity got the best of me. I knew she was working today; at a chocolate store, none the less!!! And, well, I had a very sudden, very intense craving for fine chocolate!!! Oh, yes I did!!!
As I opened the door to the shop, the aroma almost sidetracked my true purpose for being there. Ecstasy-the smell of chocolate is as simple as that; pure, breath taking ecstasy!!! But, I came back to my senses and picked her out, almost instantly, from the choices behind the counter. Not only cute, but nice!!! (Mom’s like nice girls!!!) My best friend (who was not only my partner in crime, but a fellow mother, as well) lingered with me in the shop for a good amount of time. We analyzed every delectable bite available in that store. (Including the one behind the counter!!!) The “cute, but nice thing” caught me staring at her once, and I quickly realized how rusty I have become in the performance area of covert operations. It wasn’t always so. In my much younger years, I was the “covert queen”. But, something seems to happen with age. I guess reflexes become a bit slowed, and smells of chocolate can dull the senses. My friend had to almost kick me in the shin when I started to say to Miss “cute, but nice thing”: “You have a date with my son tonight. How do you feel about that?” Aaaaahhhh! I came so very close to breaking the very first rule of covert operationess: Never, ever compromise your position! (In this case the position being “spying mother of the date!”)
I ended up purchasing a small fortune in various candies, but felt it was quite a worthwhile investment when Miss “cute, but nice thing” readily offered some most valuable information while ringing up my merchandise. Just so happens, (coincidence??? I think not!!!) that I purchased her “favorite kind of candy.” Hah!!! A fitting ending to a successful covert operation? You bet! I promptly text messaged my son the moment I was safe in the car. “Son, Son! I know what (name of girl)’s favorite candy is! Might come in handy for Valentine’s Day!!!” Almost instant response back from Son, Son: “And, how do you know that!?!”

Hee Hee. Perhaps I’m still not too old for covert operations!!!

Mission Farewells

     We attended our nephew’s mission farewell on Sunday. He will leave for South Carolina next week. As I sat in the congregation and looked at all of Bryan’s family in attendance, I realized what a blessing it is to be a part of this “missionary family.” While neither of Bryan’s grandfathers were able to serve missions, nor his father, Bryan and each of his brothers have served faithful missions for the church; one going to Denmark, one to Italy, and the other to England. Now, the third grandson of the family will be leaving. I looked around, and counted 9 other grandsons who will, hopefully,one day be missionaries. And, let us not forget those awesome sister missionaries! There are seven of those possibilities! (I have to admit, I have a special place in my heart for sister missionaries!) So far, I am the only sister missionary  in the family, but hope there will be many more to follow!

     Every time I attend a farewell or homecoming, I can’t help but think back on my own mission. Even though it was almost a quarter of a century ago, it is still very alive in my memories, and I can never diminish the fact that it literally changed the entire direction of my life. I had grown up listening to the stories of my parents’ missions (my mom served in Begium/France; and my Dad served in Switzerland/Italy). I always thought I would serve a mission, but after I graduated from high school and got on the college scene, the idea of a mission all but faded from my mind.  I had a strong dream to become a lawyer and I was on the pathway to get me there as quickly as possible.  The idea of marriage was far from my mind, as well. If , by chance, I did get married along the way, my husband would be the one to stay home with the kids and I would bring home the bacon! I know it sounds crazy now, but I honestly believed that way, back then. 

     I had been to the University of Georgia and knew that is where I wanted to go to law school. I had been elected the chairman of the student democratic party, and received most valuable member of the simulated congress at Utah State. I not only had an internship with the Senate , but had a job to come home to with a state senator. For the first time, I had actually found my niche in life, and felt like I would actually accomplish something. A mission just didn’t even cross my mind.

     It was around that time, that all the young men from our graduating high school class were returning home from their missions.  Being a fairly small class and being rather close, there was always a large group of us in attendance at the homecomings, just as we had been at the farewells. One Sunday in particular, our student body president was giving his homecoming talk.  Of course, I was in attendance with a large group of friends. It had been a hectic morning for me, and I was running late, so I ended up meeting everyone up at the chapel.  I had slipped in and was sitting on the end of a bench filled with friends. Our student body president looked good, and I couldn’t help but harbor a secret desire to date him. We had been good friends, but nothing past that. Now, as he gave his talk, I was all the more impressed.  The Spirit was so strong, and I knew he had been a great missionary.  As I sat and listened, that “tickle, tickle thing” (my description of the Spirit touching you) started happening, and then suddenly I felt like a big brick had been dropped on my head.  I heard a voice clear as day say: “you need to go, and you need to go now!” I think the brick sensation had been a strong attempt to get my attention!!! I didn’t need to ask where I needed to go.  In my soul, I just knew.  For the first time in a long while, I knew I HAD to go on a mission, and I needed to get ready right then. I felt numb and shaky. I slowly stood up, and left the meeting.  I jumped in my little MG Midget convertible and headed up Logan canyon where I would spend the rest of the day arguing with the Spirit and then being deeply humbled. As I sat up near Bear Lake and watched a beautiful sunset, I made the commitment to leave everything behind and put my mission papers in. I didn’t know how it would all work out.  I didn’t have much money, and I knew my parents definately did not have the money to send me on a mission. But, I knew that is what Heavenly Father wanted me to do, and so I left everything in His hands.

     As I drove back down the canyon, I passed my church house on the way (what was once called the “gold dome church” due to its gold roof) and noticed my bishop’s car in the parking lot.  I pulled in, and decided to see if the bishop was available.  The door to his office was open, and as I walked in he said: “I thought I might be seeing you. I bet you want these,” and he slid mission papers across his desk towards me. I nearly fainted. I was in shock, and the only thing I could do was grab the papers, squeak out a timid “thank you,” and walk back out the door. I did notice the big grin on his face, though. In fact, he was almost laughing as he said after me: “be sure to come back and see me after you get those filled out!”

     I don’t remember the drive home, but I will never forget what happened when I walked in the door to my house. My parents were sitting on the couch watching tv.  I casually walked in the living room, and dropped my mission papers on the coffee table.  Then, I simply said: ” I’m going on a mission,” and walked out of the room.  I giggled to myself knowing that my parents were now in worse shock than I was.  I had just dropped a bomb that was waaaaaaay more heavy than the brick that had been dropped on my head earlier in the day. I knew they were in a panic, and the worry of how to finance my mission was now making a tight grip on their insides.  (To be Continued…)

A Prayer for Stinky

I was five years old when my only sister was born. I still remember when our neighbor came over to see her for the very first time and squealed: “Oh! She looks just like a little frog!” To this day, I still wonder if our neighbor knew something back then, that the rest of us didn’t. You see, my sister didn’t grow up like a “normal” girl. In fact, she was more like a frog—she liked bugs!!! Now, she didn’t like bugs in the same exact way that frogs do.  She really didn’t have a long sticky tongue that she used to catch them with. (At least, I don’t think she did!) And, she didn’t eat them. No, she just liked to keep bugs as pets! In fact, she was dubbed “the protector of all things small and creepy.”
While my sister loved all bugs, including spiders, there was one particular type of bug that really got her excited. She felt this type of bug was superior to all others. This particular type of bug was very black, very ugly, and very stinky! In fact, they were commonly called “stink bugs!” I’m sure there is some fancy scientific name for these black beetle bugs, but to our family they will forever be known as stink bugs. The name is very fitting. These black beetles have a defense system that quickly works whenever they feel threatened. If in danger, they simply put their little head down to the ground, thus elevating their little beetle bum up in the air. Once this beetle bum is in the proper position, a rather foul smell is released. I do believe it was for this reason that my little sister fancied these bugs so very much.
Our father, having a particular fondness for his youngest daughter, quickly caved to the pleas of my little sister to keep these black bugs as pets. It was not long before he had helped her set up a terrarium in her room, and she was the proud owner of 16 stink bugs. Each bug had a name, and only my sister could tell each one of them apart from the other. One, in particular, was her favorite. He was the biggest, of course. She said he was a boy, but I’m not quite sure how she knew that. He was the “king of the clan” and his name was “Stinky.” (Original, no?)
My little sister loved Stinky. She talked to him everyday, and even let him crawl up her arm. Stinky never, ever stuck his little beetle bum in the air when he was with my sister. He did once to me, though. I called him “King Stink” after that.
One day, when I came home from school, my little sister was crying. I could tell she had been crying for a long time, because her eyes were all red and puffy. When I asked her what was wrong, all she could say between sobs was: “Stinky ran away!”
When our dad came home from work, my little sister was still crying. He pulled her up on his lap, thought for a moment, and then decided that we should all say a family prayer for Stinky. My little sister’s sobs turned to quiet whimpers and she immediately jumped down from his lap and called all the family to order. That meant our brothers and our mom had to come and pray, too. I was a little bit worried about how my mom was feeling with an escaped stink bug in her house. But, my mom didn’t scream or say anything bad about it. I think she must have really loved my little sister. I think they call those kind of moms “good sports.”
We all knelt down in a circle in front of our fireplace. We bowed our heads and closed our eyes. Even our smallest brother was very quiet and didn’t fidget. My little sister took a great big breath to help her stop crying and then she talked to Heavenly Father. We all listened very quietly. She said: “Heavenly Father, I love Stinky. I know he loves me, too. He ran away today. I think he is lost. Please help him come back to me. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” We all said: “amen,” even our smallest brother. We all opened our eyes and my little sister let out a squeal louder than a newborn pig. There was Stinky! He was right smack in the middle of our circle with his little beetle bum high up in the air. We all moved back, but not my little sister! She scooped him right up into her hands and gave him a beetle kiss! She was not a typical girl. She loved stink bugs, and that day we all learned that Heavenly Father loves stink bugs, too. In fact, He loved my sister and her stink bug so much, that He answered her prayer and brought Stinky back to her.
My sister is all grown up now with kids of her own. She has become a famous horse racer. Whenever she is on one of her horses,  and just happens to see a stink bug in the way, she is known to stop her horse and let the stink bug safely pass by. She would never, ever let her horse step on a stink bug. I think she is one of those “good sport” moms, just like her mom used to be.

Ti Voglio Bene

Although the cobblestones of the lonely Italian street appeared black, they were surprisingly clean. Standing silently, I analyzed each crevice between them with the toe of my shoe, and wondered what I was actually doing in this foreign country. The sun had quickly fallen below the horizon, and shades of darkness were creeping across the city of Catania. With the darkness whispered the cold night air and I pulled my tan overcoat tightly around me. From the distance came the lively buzz of animated conversations, both in English and Italian. The mission’s zone conference was coming to a close. I wasn’t paying attention to any of those drawn out conversations. Instead, my mind was concentrating on its own questions: “What am I doing here? How am I possibly going to do all that is expected of me?”

I had been in Sicily for a little over a week, and already I felt disillusioned. My time in the Missionary Training Center had seemed like the most magical dream and, suddenly, I found myself not wanting to wake from it. “Why hadn’t I seen this nightmare coming? Had the excitement of discovering a new country completely veiled the reality that had awaited me?” I felt choked with inadequacy causing each of my breaths to be strained. “Discouraged” wasn’t even the proper adjective to describe the condition of my insides. I worried that I would lose my dinner all over those shiny black cobblestones.

A stray dog, with gray matted hair, sniffed every inch of the opposite side of the street. As I watched its erratic behavior, I realized that even the dog spoke Italian and would likely not understand any attempt of mine to communicate with it. “It was almost symbolic,” I thought. “Here the dog was starving and I couldn’t even tell it where to go for food.” In reality, the Italian people were starving for a different kind of nourishment and I didn’t even know how to fill them.

And so, as I stood there, my silent prayer began: “Dearest Father, please hear me. I wanted to be the greatest missionary to ever walk the streets of Italy. Now that I am here, I realize that I just don’t have the talents, skills, or intelligence to accomplish what I have been sent to do. I have already failed. I thought I knew this language, but everyone speaks so quickly and any words I try to utter just get tangled up in my tongue. My companion doesn’t like me. My mission president can barely speak any English, and I can’t understand him. I don’t have anyone to talk to. I guess that’s why I am coming to you, Father. You are all that I have. Please, please help me.”

I knew that I had to go back to the buzzing conference. I doubted that my companion even missed me, but I was beginning to feel guilty about being alone. After all, missionaries were never supposed to be by themselves. But…I lingered with the cobblestones just a few minutes longer. Suddenly, I felt it; there were three succinct tugs on the back of my overcoat. I looked over my shoulder, but there was nothing. “I really must be losing my mind,” I thought. My eyes focused once again on the cobblestones below my feet as my thoughts quickly returned to their worry. “Hey!” I said aloud. It had happened again; three succinct tugs on the back of my overcoat. This time I turned completely around, and…there she was. Standing before me was the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen. I stood mesmerized for more than what seemed like minutes. Her eyes were as big as unshelled almonds. Their shade of brown was like creamy hot fudge, and they seemed to be dancing like flames of fire. Her skin, although an olive complexion, was almost translucent. It seemed to shimmer in the setting sun. Her hair was long and recently brushed. It was black and shiny like a fresh oil spill, and it too glimmered as the rays of the setting sun ran their fingers through its strands. She glowed. She exuded warmth against the chill of the evening. Her smile cut through my heart like a newly sharpened knife through a soft stick of butter. I slowly knelt down on the cobblestones. I wanted to gaze deeper into those piercing eyes. Suddenly, a chill shot up my knees. I realized that the stockings I was wearing didn’t serve any protection from cold, rough cobblestones. But now, it didn’t seem to matter; warmth was filling my chest and spreading throughout the rest of my body. And then, as if sensing that I needed extra warming, the little girl wrapped her doll-like arms around my neck and pressed her small fragile body into mine. I hesitated, but cautiously placed my arms around her delicate frame. She whispered in my ear: “Ti voglio bene.” I startled and pulled her away from me as I held her at arms length. “What?” I replied out loud, knowing perfectly well that she didn’t understand me. “What did you say?” No reply. She was staring intently at my name tag. The black plastic tag with white script seemed to leap from the tan lapel of my overcoat. She raised a little finger and slowly used it to trace the writing on my badge. “Sorella Domenici,” she read. Her voice caressed me like the faint whisper of a summer breeze through the leaves of a lonely tree. And then again: “Sorella Domenici.” Her eyes caught mine. “Sorella Domenici, Ti voglio bene.” My heart quickened, my body felt weak, and my knees went numb. I suddenly realized that instead of peering into the innocent eyes of a child, I was peering into the eyes of the Savior. Those eyes held me, engulfed me, and seemed to read the writing deep within my very soul; writing that I didn’t even know existed until that very moment. The future success of my entire mission flashed before me in the matter of a second.

I knew the meaning of Ti Voglio Bene. It was one of the very first phrases we learned in the Missionary Training Center. It was an Italian phrase I would remember for the rest of my life. It was one of the only phrases that could speak directly to one’s soul: “Ti voglio bene.” In English it means: “I love you.” Those were the words she had spoken. Those were the words that began to chase the guilt ridden insecurity from the hidden chambers of my soul. Those were the words the Savior had sent a special messenger to deliver. It is His greatest message to man: “I love you.”

A chilling breeze brought me back to reality. Suddenly, it registered that in this part of the city, people are not out on the streets after dark, especially children. I looked all around to see where the little girl had come from. The street was deserted. Not even the stray dog was in sight. “Where had she come from? Whose child was she?” I took the little girl by her hand and led her into the modest building where the zone conference was being held. “She must be the child of one of the members,” I thought half out loud. I weaved my way in and out of chattering groups of missionaries in search of someone that resembled a mother. “Have you seen this little girl before?” I asked my companion as I came upon a group conversation she was participating in. “What little girl?” she replied, looking bewildered. “This little girl right here,” I said, as I looked down at my side. She was gone. I didn’t remember releasing her hand. I thought she was still with me. I looked back at my companion, and I knew by the look on her face that she was now convinced I was plagued with mental problems. Was I?

I stood in the open doorway of the building and glanced up and down the deserted cobblestone street. “Who was she?” I thought again. As I pondered all the different possibilities, that melting warmth I had felt in the presence of the little girl once again began in my chest and crept over my entire body. A piercing whisper that I not only heard, but felt with every cell of my being echoed through the caverns of my soul: “Sorella Domenici, Ti voglio bene.”

Lead Me Home

I made myself walk. I didn’t want to go. But, I did.

I live and walk at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. It is most beautiful, especially in the Fall; which, by the way,  is my favorite season of the year. Another one of my favorite things is listening to Hilary Weeks on my ipod. Now, if you put those two favorite things together, well, lets just say I can become invigorated! Wow! That is quite the adjective for the middle-aged segment of life I seem to find myself in. Invigorated! Wa, Hooo!

Before I knew it, I found myself past the first mile of my walk. The stiff muscles were loosening up, the crisp air was filling my lungs, the mountains in front of me were inspiring, and the music in my ears began teaching me the lessons I needed to hear. I often refer to the promptings of the Holy Ghost as a “tickle”. Suddenly, I started experiencing that “tickle, tickle thing” going on. Hilary Weeks was singing “Lead Me Home” and the words of the song pierced my heart. Now, I had listened to that song at least a million times before. Why it was coming alive with fingers that tickled my insides at that precise moment was beyond my understanding! Anyway, the words: “give me strength to be my best today” suddenly became a very personal prayer.

You see, I hadn’t felt like I had been my best for a very long time. I really, really want to be my best but I tend to feel overwhelmed by all the things I need to do to get there. Its kind of like the feeling I get when I have to “make myself” take a walk and I know I have many miles ahead of me. I just don’t “feel” like going. So, my silent prayer continued: “Please Heavenly Father, help me be my best today. As I walk my path, guide my footsteps and help me be the person you want me to be.”

I kept thinking about how it used to be so important to me to be “guided” in all my steps, but how I had “longer than recently” forgotten the importance of asking to be guided. I think I have been “wandering” for quite some time now and as a result, I haven’t been the best that I could be. I’ve learned that lesson over and over in my life, but somehow keep forgetting it over and over again. I guess Heavenly Father was eager to teach it to me sooner than I expected.

I realized that I only had a half mile left to go before I reached my walking goal when that voice inside my head said: “go home.” My first thought was to argue with it, thinking that it was just me feeling tired and not wanting to go that extra distance. So, I started chatting with myself. I said: “Now, Nat, you just prayed and pondered about being your best. To be your best, you need to meet your goals, beginning with this walk!”  Again, I heard the voice inside my head say: “Go home.”  So, what did I do?  Did I go home? No! I started telling Heavenly Father that I couldn’t be my best without reaching my goals and that I HAD to go another half mile. Really, now, I think I know best! He said: “Go home.”

 The song was still playing on the ipod and these were the next words I heard: “Guide my path today… As I walk today, may each step I take bring me closer to you.” I shut the ipod off and got in my car. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to be feeling.  I was upset with myself for not walking as far as I had planned, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do once I got home other than the obvious shower! I pulled in my garage and wasn’t paying too much attention when I walked up my front porch.  Suddenly I heard a voice and there was one of my neighbors coming up my front steps. She was visibly upset.  At that moment, I realized that my being home was perfect timing.  I invited her in, and as she sat down on my couch and started to cry she said: “I just didn’t know what to do.  I got down on my knees and asked Heavenly Father what I could do.  He told me to come to your house, so I did.” Just then, that tickle, tickle thing happened again and a little voice inside my head said: “I told you to go home!” I was soooooo very, very grateful that I did! Suddenly, that extra half mile didn’t matter so much.

I realized later that day, that maybe, just maybe we tend to be our best when we follow a loving Heavenly Father’s agenda and not our own. Ok, so I had to admit it; I really didn’t know best. I was humbled to know that He knows best. I was humbled to know that He really, really had guided my steps. I was humbled to know that He had helped me be my very best.