Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thankful on August 22, 2013

One night, in the fall of 2010, I laid awake in my bed absolutely paralyzed by sadness and loneliness. Iver's visa for his mission in Mexico City had finally gone through, he was there, and I was feeling his distance physically that night. I woke up in a panic, literally unable to breathe. I knew in my heart that he was struggling. With tears streaming down my face, I plead with God to comfort me, to comfort him. And then my sweet grandma was there. Lying next to me, wiping my tears, filling me with mother-love. She came in spirit, but I felt her there, I knew that she was. I heard her voice telling me that I wasn't alone, that she would hold me up, that she would push me on. I leaned heavily on her for the next little while, even speaking aloud to her. Since that night, I have not experienced her so close to me, but I have known she wasn't too far.

In one of the final weeks of Iver's mission, in March 2012, I received a rare handwritten letter from him. In it was this: "I have decided I would like to tell you about an experience. When I first got to Mexico I had a hard, hard time. I was sick from the food, I couldn't understand people and they couldn't understand me, and I was feeling very alone. In my first apartment, we had a little "backyard" where we put out our clothes to dry. Everyday I would go out to study and to pray, and as I prayed I shed many tears. I felt desperate and pitiful. One day as I prayed I choked out a plea to God to send me someone to help me, and comfort me. I stood up and dried off my tears and we left for the day. When we walked out the door, I felt a feeling of peace and of motherly love, like someone took me in their arms and whispered, "Don't worry, I've got you. You're not alone." The interesting thing is the voice I heard was the voice of Grandma Duncan. I have the sure belief that she was sent to help me and keep me company. I have not felt alone since that day and always feel that peace and motherly love as I walk and continue forward. I thank God for sending her as a special comfort and guide. I know that it is for her that I have stayed here and continued to serve the Lord."

Then, in late spring of this year, my little Shakira was in the Missionary Training Center, preparing to serve her mission in Japan, and experiencing far more hardship than anyone should at that place. She did not fit in, she was suffering from illness, she was not catching on quickly to Japanese, and she was grieving all alone over the loss of our two dear friends, Fred and Fisher. In an email came this: "On Thursday, I got really overwhelmed and had another breakdown, but Heavenly Father sent innumerable tender mercies, one of which was absolutely incredible. That night, I found an empty room at the end of the hall and was kneeling and talking to my Heavenly Parents when suddenly, I felt a warm hand on my shoulder. I looked up and there was Grandma Duncan smiling down at me. What an incredible, perfect blessing. I have angels surrounding me, one very special one in particular, who encourage me and buoy me up. It's amazing to know that the veil was so thin in that room that night."

For many years I have longed, yearned for more knowledge of, more connection with the feminine divine. It is my opinion that my sweet grandma was sent to comfort and rescue by our Mother in Heaven. I have absolutely no doubt that She is there. Things make no sense to me otherwise. I have felt Her presence sparingly, in times that one would expect...pregnancy, childbirth, nurturing my babies at my breast, suffering through endometriosis and the hysterectomy that followed...but oh how I wish to feel Her, to know Her every moment of everyday. Currently, my limited connection to Her is strongest in my yoga practice, when my mind, body, spirit and breath unite I feel Her. I feel Her as my body flows and moves and I am keenly aware of my curves and individuality. I was not created in the image of a man.

My longing and yearning is shared by my awesome husband, and together we have decided that surely "God" means She and He. My search for Her will continue, and so will my prayers to know more.

The ministerings of my grandma-angel give me glimpses...I am grateful for this. This summer has kicked my butt. Sweet Grandma, I could use a visit. Bring me some of our Momma's love. For that I would be crazy-thankful.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thankful on May 24, 2013

Well, it has been awhile. I began my crazy-thankful blog in the year 2010 to help me cope with the sadness and loneliness that I felt when Iver left on his mission to Mexico City. I was told over and over again that I shouldn't be feeling those things, that it was a blessing to have a child serving God full time, that my life would be filled with joy and happiness as I made that sacrifice, that there surely was nowhere I would rather have him...well, duh. Of course those things are true. Except for the "shouldn't be feeling" part. That is just completely wrong. So I wrote. I wrote with a focus on the incredible blessings I feel in my life, and the gratitude that I have for them.

Here I am again. I said goodbye to my beautiful Shakira one month ago today, and sent her off to serve God as a full-time missionary in Sendai, Japan. And here I am again, trying to cope with the sadness and loneliness I feel. So I will write.

Many years ago, when my life was a blur of blond, curly toddlers, Iver and Shak were busily jumping on and off of the futon (remember our itty-bitty house, our main living quarters were also our bedroom). They were breathless, joyous, and Iver exclaimed, "Look, momma! I'm a star, and sissy's a lightbulb!" I have thought of that moment, that exclamation, often as life has unfolded. Wise three year old Iver was divinely inspired, as that statement is very true and accurate.

If you know Shakira, you know that she glows. In fact, the picture I included in this post is the picture I encouraged her to use when she submitted her mission application, because it captures that light in a very beautiful way. If you know Shakira, you also know that the light is truly the Light of Christ. Shakira KNOWS her Savior, Jesus Christ. KNOWS HIM. She loves Him. She worships Him. She reverences Him. She understands, intimately, His atonement. She testifies of Him. She LIVES HIM. She lives her life to do His will.

Shakira is intricately weaved into our family story. Once upon a time, before those toddlers grew, Corbin and I had to make a decision. We never fit. Neither one of us, throughout our whole lives, had never fit into the culture of mormonism. We didn't look the part, at that point we certainly didn't act the part, we didn't want to be the part. But we knew and loved Jesus Christ. And we knew and loved the gospel of His peace. We wanted to devote our lives and our family to Him. We decided, prayerfully, that we would do that. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was where we found our truth. We would do what we needed to do to live the gospel and serve the Lord. We also decided prayerfully that we would be ourselves while we did it. That we were just fine being the people that our Heavenly Parents had created. And so we started on that journey...a painful one, a joyful one. We still don't fit. Everyday we are told our hair is too long, we shouldn't have tattoos, I shouldn't be working (that answer to our prayers couldn't possibly be the will of God because it isn't the "ideal"...this one will go on forever), we should support the Boy Scouts, we shouldn't have the political views that we feel more closely align with living in harmony with Christ...and on...and on...And you know what? It's really, really hard.

The apples didn't fall too far from the tree. Our beautiful, strong children, with their absolute love and devotion to Jesus Christ and their willingness to lay down their lives to serve Him, they don't fit either. So here's something for you...How interesting is it that you can still look at them and literally see the light of Christ?!

We knew that the Missionary Training Center would be a very challenging time and place for Shakira, just as it was for Iver. A place where the gospel can be learned and taught in it's purity, but also a place where tradition and culture are misunderstood as gospel. Interestingly enough, she will emerge from it even stronger in her resolve. Here is an excerpt from a precious letter: "My first few days in the MTC were really rough, not going to lie. I felt like I was suffocating and that I could not be myself AT ALL! It got to the point where on Sunday night, I lost it. I cried for hours and hours until I was all dried out. The stress was so much that it even made me physically sick! Sunday night was hard, and I spent about an hour on my knees begging Heavenly Father to give me some comfort and some confirmation that I was doing the right thing and that it's okay to be who I am. I went to bed, and even though I was really sick the next day, I decided that I'm going to laugh and have humor and have fun in my life, and that has made ALL the difference! I have had a smile on my face all week and I can see the influence that sunshine has on those around me. What a great thing to know that Heavenly Father loves me for me!"

And my Heavenly Parents love me for me, and Corbin for Corbin, and Iver for Iver. Shakira is right. And Shakira will continue to be a lightbulb because her focus is not on fitting in, it's on Jesus Christ.

Two weeks from now will mark the end of a very difficult era for me in the church. My heart and my spirit have been thrashed and broken. Will things change for the better? I am not entirely sure. But this beautiful, bright little light of mine, my precious Shakira, reminds me to have faith and hope. I will. I am crazy-thankful.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thankful on December 23, 2011

Today my friend Jim sent a lovely image in an email as a Christmas greeting. It is a painting titled "Nativity" by artist Brian Kershisnik. This is the first time I have seen it, and I was quite surprised by the emotion it evoked.

I love that Mary is nursing baby Jesus. How beautiful.

I love the individuality of each angel, so anxious to witness the son of God, so in awe at the sight of Him, then so anxious to be on their way to share the good news.

But mostly what I love is this....The Christmas Eve before Iver's mission, we were reading the account of the Savior's birth in Luke. Now, it is not unusual for our family to be very emotional while we do this, but that particular night was very special. Iver was reading aloud, "...and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." He stopped reading as tears streamed down his cheeks. He then said in a quiet, cracked voice, "You know what? I was there. I was one of those angels that night." I cannot read or hear those words now without feeling a very deep, personal connection to this event, to the birth of our Savior. If you look closely, almost directly in the center of the painting, is an angel who looks just like our little Iver.

So thankful for this gift from my friend Jim. So thankful for my Savior. So crazy-thankful for a son who continues to share those tidings of great joy, today in Mexico.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thankful on August 11, 2011

So, there is a fabulous new addition to our is called Dean's Urban Market, and it is located on the corner of Twenty-Third and Market. It is a magnificent, very-nearby grocery store with, truly, everything we need: gorgeous produce, delicious meats, and lots of great gourmet specialty foods. They even have Diet Dr. Pepper. And the prices are much lower than we expected. Did I mention the case of beautiful, splendid, chocolate-coconut-pecan-mousse-filled cupcakes piled high with buttercream and lovely pink posies? Oh, and in the same case are gold-dusted-ganache-covered-monster-sized brownies. And each of these treats cost only around $3...I know, I know. Chocolate causes me to digress...back to the subject at hand.

Dean's really is an URBAN market. There is no devoted parking, it is a place meant to be visited on foot. Sure, there is metered parking, but most likely a block or two away.

Last night, Corbin and I decided to stop by after dinner for a few things. Just as Corb was pulling up to the meter, I had a flurry of work phone calls to attend to. As we walked the block to the store entrance, I was distracted with the content of the phone calls, as well as my frustration in my three visits to the dentist throughout the day. I broke a tooth last week, and have endured much lost time and frustration in trying to get it fixed properly. Lost in my distraction, I was scarcely aware of the many people surrounding and passing me. When we were almost to the door, a woman came out of it with a baby strapped in a sling, balanced on her hip, and six or seven grocery sacks filling her hands. In my state of frenzied thought, I just kept on walking. But not Corbin. He very quickly smiled at the woman and asked, "could I give you a hand?"

Slow down, Michelle. Slow down. I missed that! What else am I missing?

I am so grateful for our new neighborhood addition, for a grocery store that is a quick little bike ride away. But for a husband who is focused on kindness and compassion, on looking for opportunities to serve others, on living more slowly so he can observe the world around him? For Corbin and this reminder, I am crazy-thankful.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thankful on August 4, 2011

I awoke very early on Saturday morning. I wanted to get the yard watered before I embarked on the endless chores and tasks that Saturdays demand of me. When I walked out into the front yard, I was overwhelmed by the beauty that surrounded me. The beauty that Corbin and I have little by little created in the past three years. I sat down on the lawn and just soaked it all in. Now, if you look carefully, you will see all the imperfections in my yard...the TONS of weeds and dead heads; the uneven lawn, mowed by our old-fashioned, no-motor, push mower; the unswept porch and sidewalk; the ancient iron fence missing half of it's finials; the unruly hose that I never wind back up. But this picture represents what I saw Saturday morning. Happy, lovely little flowers surrounding me and beckoning me to smile at my fabulous ghetto surroundings. I posted this picture on my facebook page and very quickly was greeted with a response from my friend Mary. She said, "I like how you notice things in the world!"

As I have thought about this throughout the week, I have realized that I truly do have a gift of seeing the beauty around me. Life and circumstances are rarely easy and perfect. In fact, sometimes it is so unbelievably difficult, so gray and impossible, that I wonder how I'm going to make it. I have been blessed to always see at least a little bit light past that gray. I have been blessed to understand that all of my circumstances are important in creating my life. And as I think about it, I am so blessed to be surrounded by many people who do that, too.

I have a brother who very unexpectedly found himself a single dad. He was able to look past his anger and hurt and build a beautiful life for himself and his son. That precious nephew is now a thriving, talented, happy teenager with amazing opportunities ahead of him in the world, all because he had a dad who kept going and searching for good. They now have been blessed with the presence of an amazing woman in their lives.

I have dear friends who lost their beloved son to suicide. Their world was ripped violently apart. Yet they clung to each other, to their marriage and love, to their living son and persevered through the agony. They now revel in the beauty of their love, a son and a daughter-in-law full of love and light, and grandchildren accomplishing extraordinary things in life. They see the joy they have created.

I have a mother who lives with physical pain each and everyday of her life. She never complains or wallows in self-pity. She doesn't sit around at home. Instead she throws her energy into loving and serving her family, her friends, even people she barely knows. She cares for the poor and needy, she visits the lonely, she cheers up the sad. She has compassion beyond any I have ever known. And this brings her so much happiness! She actually glows.

I have a friend who I consider a brother, who's heart was attacked by a virus, who has survived two heart transplants, who's life was completely turned upside down and changed. This is a man who has traveled the world, who has climbed Everest, who has known adventure I probably never will. Yet, he is content in his situation, and grateful beyond belief. He loves his quiet walks with his dog, enjoying and noticing wildlife and nature on a completely new level. He treasures his adorable wife and her incredible love and support of him.

I have a daughter who, as a starving, struggling college student, had her debit card stolen and her bank account emptied of nearly a thousand dollars, all the money she had for her semester's living expenses. Instead of throwing up her arms and giving up, she did all she could to recover the money. Instead of losing faith in humanity and becoming bitter and angry, she looked for good in the world, and the tender mercies from a loving Father in Heaven.

I have a dear friend who wants nothing more than to be a mother. She and her husband have lost babies in pregnancy and suffered greatly through fertility treatments. Yet, she continues on. She showers incredible love on the people around her. She loves their babies like they were her own. She has perfected yoga instruction and blessed many lives with her peaceful, loving nature.

I have a son who, upon arriving in Mexico for his long-awaited and articulately prepared missionary service, found himself in a depression. He refused to let it consume him and actively and quickly sought help and treatment. He also fervently threw himself in the service of his Heavenly Father and the people of Mexico. He has found joy and relief, and has helped many others to find the same.

I have a grandmother who married at sixteen, escaping an abusive step-father, and moved across the country with unknown people. She embraced the love her mother-in-law offered her, as my grandfather went off to war and left her in this new place. She became and learned how to be a mother, how to manage a family and home. She had seven children by the time she was 28. She had many years of trial and difficulty, but always enjoyed her life's journey. She loved like no one I have ever known. When Corbin came into our family, she treated him like her very own grandchild. When Iver and Shakira were born, she snuggled them the same way I did. They were hers. I often think about her sitting up there in that heavenly paradise, looking down on her posterity and giggling that fabulous giggle of hers, so full of complete and total joy.

I am enchanted and uplifted by these people, and many others in my life. We have that little gift in common.

Recently Corbin and I were discussing the fact that the life we have created is actually so much better than the life we ever imagined for ourselves. It certainly hasn't been easy. We have suffered and endured hardships such as extreme mental illness, poverty, very difficult living situations, addiction, cancer, difficult injuries, long and extreme work hours, and stress of owning and operating our own business. But when we look back on our twenty-three years together, we see beauty. These hardships, like the weeds in my front yard with lovely periwinkle flowers on top, are the most brilliant threads in our tapestry. They have made us who we are. They have solidified and strengthened our love and passion. They have caused us to see the world through the lens of gratitude. They have given us the peace and calm to weather the unexpected. They have given us incredible compassion for those around us. They have taught us humor.

My life is beyond beautiful. It is exquisite. I am crazy-thankful.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thankful on July 12, 2011

Overheard in Sunday's Priesthood meeting during a discussion on "Roles in a Family"...

Manly man commenting on keeping wives in line (to remain anonymous) (and cringe): "Don't forget the importance of discipline!"

To which Corbin replied in a loud whisper to all surrounding him, "Does that mean I get to spank Michelle, or Michelle gets to spank me?!"

Crazy-thankful for a husband who gets it AND for fun spankings. ;)