Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thankful on December 16, 2010

I have a mixed history with dogs. There have been a couple of precious, loved ones in my life, but far more mean and scary ones. I have incredible fear of canines. When I encounter one I don't know, my heart races, I break out in a sweat, and my eyes start to water. I have to fight the flight instinct.

It began when I was a small child...I had the most wonderful grandpa, who had the scariest dog!! Prince loved my grandpa and was wildly possessive. My grandpa always warned me to not reach out to Prince, or look him in the eye, so I was careful to keep my distance. I remember vividly an incident when my grandpa left the room, Prince inched toward me, and growled. That picture in my memory still makes me cringe! He had these terrifying freckles...that multiplied when he bared his teeth. My grandpa walked in to save me, just in the nick of time.

I remember another dog, a collie, who violently barked and attacked the fence each day as I walked to and from the bus stop. I was a teeny little five year old and I would carefully cross the street, so I could walk as far away as possible from that dog. I will never forget the absolute terror I felt one day, as I began to walk past that house and realized the gate was open. The dog started in on it's usual barking, then came through that gate and toward me across the street at lightning speed. I didn't even have time to run. It had that same nasty snarl as Prince, jumped up on me and knocked me down. A woman, the dog's owner, came rushing out with gigantic juice-can rollers in her hair and a cigarette hanging from her lips, and pulled the dog off of me. She picked me up, brushed me off, and with a snarl herself said, "Don't you dare tell your parents about this!" I ran off as fast as I could. Of course, my little kindergarten brain worked out a wonderful solution...I would use the NEXT stop, three blocks from my house, and I DEFINITELY would not tell my parents. It was less than a week, however, that I missed the bus. I was still so afraid of that dog and that horrible woman and didn't want to explain the truth to my parents, but they were able to get it out of me.

When Corbin and I were dating, we arrived at his parent's home late one night, after everyone had already gone to bed. Corbin had forgotten his key, so we went around to the back door to see if it was unlocked. Nope. Corbin told me to wait there, he would get the hidden key, open the front door, then let me in the back door. As soon as he left me, I saw a big black figure charging at me. I realized it was their family black lab, Coalie, just as she was jumping up onto my shoulders, growling and gnashing at my face. Corbin opened the door just as her teeth made contact with my cheek. Needless to say, I made Corbin take me home, and I stayed far, far away from that mean old dog for the rest of her life.

I had another dog incident that was so horrifying, I really do not speak of it. It involves a monster, truly, eating her own brand-new puppies, then trying to eat me. It happened when I was very sick and, at the suggestion of a church leader, trying to reach outside of myself to serve someone else. The incident set me far, far back in my healing and is an image that is cemented in my brain. I had nightmares for years.

So, you can only imagine my reaction five years ago when Corbin decided that he really wanted to get a dog. He knew all of these things about me and promised to be very selective. With that promise, and the excitement of our children, I mustered up courage and agreed. I was not part of the process. Corbin had a good friend from church, who was moving and needed to find a home for their dog. She was a great breed, a German Shorthair Pointer, three years old. The friend had rescued her from terrible circumstances at a puppy mill, and she had spent the past couple of years in their home with three little girls pulling on her ears. I did not go with my family to pick her up. But when they arrived home, something tugged a little at my heart. She was such a pretty dog, and a little bit shy because she didn't know us yet. Corbin let me choose a name for her...Stella. It seemed a perfect fit. For the next several months, Corbin kept her on a "short leash," she never left his side. He taught her, and loved her, and she quickly turned into a very well behaved little creature. All the while, my heart softened and I came to love her dearly.

Stella has these ears...oh, I love her ears! They are softer than velvet, and they move to express how she is feeling. When she REALLY wants something, she gives us her cute ears, which say, "Oh, please. Look how cute I am with my floppy ears. I know you can't say no to me! I'm too adorable! And I loooovvvveeee you!"

Stella has big, gorgeous brown eyes. When I'm sad, she puts her chin on my knee and looks at me with those precious eyes, "Stella loves you so much, please don't cry or Stella will cry!"

Stella loves EVERYONE. We often joke that if someone broke into our house, she would greet them at the front door, stubby little tail wagging the whole back half of her body and say, "Hi! I'm Stella and I love you! Let me show you where they keep the food. Will you share?!"

Stella thinks that she is a small dog, and loves to sit in my lap. She loves us all so much, and has brought so much joy into our lives. I look forward to getting home each day, opening the door, and being adored. It feels really good!

I still panic around dogs. But Stella has helped me to be able to take a deep breath and try to love them all. For that I am so thankful. But for the love she gives me and chunk of my heart that she occupies, I am crazy-thankful!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thankful on December 2, 2010

A word of warning before you begin reading today. This post contains my testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ. It also contains a personal, wonderful story about how I came to obtain that testimony. If you do not wish to continue reading, that is understandable...I will write about something lighter next week!

It is all contained in this letter I sent to Iver today.

My Precious Iver:

I am quite dismayed right now, knowing that you did not receive the package we sent with your sweaters, and knowing that there is a very real probability that you won't receive your Christmas package in time for Christmas. I have shed many tears over this, and pray that somehow these things will find their way to you. In the meantime, I know that you are receiving the pouch mail, so I wanted to send this to you, my testimony of the Savior, which I pray will be a gift in itself.

I love our Savior. I feel His love and influence in my life everyday. I know that He lives and that He is aware of me. I have had a lot of sin in my life. I have called on the Savior and His atonement to lift me and save me from those sins and He has. I have seen that same atonement and love from the Savior in your behalf, as well as in dad's and Shakira's. I am eternally grateful for Jesus Christ.

The experience I want to share with you is the most precious gift of all for me. It's a story I know you have heard, but I will share it again, because of my love and appreciation for Christ.

When you were quite young, early grade school age, I was very, very sick with my bipolar disorder. I spent time locked up in a hospital. I was medicated to the point where I existed in a fog. Those medications caused extreme side effects that caused me to be very physically ill as well. I could not go into public at all, because of extreme anxiety and fear. Most days I could not even get out of bed, or if I did, I quickly got back in. I could not function. And each day I would weep. Weep because I wasn't able to take care of my beautiful children and husband. Weep because I wasn't able to even participate in being part of our family. I would weep for you, and Shakira, and dad because I imagined how hard life was for you living with me. I would desperately pray to Heavenly Father while I wept, to understand what I needed to learn so I could move on. I would pray for Him to take the illness away. And some days, everything was so dark and black, that I would pray that Heavenly Father would spare you and Shakira and dad by just taking me home to Him. I hated myself for putting you all through such agony and pain.

One day, when my illness was at it's height, my mom went to the temple, specifically searching for the Lord's help in helping me. She purposely arrived early, so she could sit reverently in the chapel before her session began and pray for me. As she prayed, she cried. I am her baby, after all, and she felt so helpless. She prayed to know what to do, prayed for healing for me, and prayed for peace for her mourning soul. She paused and looked up to the front of the chapel. At the front of our temple's chapel is a large painting of Jesus, setting apart and blessing His twelve diciples. He is standing in the center of the painting, with eleven of the diciples surrounding Him, and one of them kneeling in front of Him. Christ's hands are on the head of the one kneeling. As my mom looked at the painting, the kneeling diciple faded away, and she saw ME in his place, being personally blessed by the Savior. Amazing peace came to her as the spirit whispered to her that I would be okay, that I wasn't done on this earth, that the Savior needed me and would bless me.

As soon as her temple session ended, she drove up the mountain, and sat down on the edge of my futon. She pulled the covers from my head and, with tears streaming down her face, told me what had happened in the temple that day. I, too was filled with peace. And I was filled with LIGHT that I hadn't felt in a very long time. I sat up and my mother held me in her arms and we cried. When she left, I was able to get out of bed. I felt hope. I couldn't explain it at all, and still can't. But I knew the Savior loved me and had suffered this for me. He knew. He knew.

Within the week, Julie Bellum called dad to tell him about an acquaintance of hers, who was part of a Johns Hopkins study of a controversial new treatment for bipolar disorder, and having incredible success. We went to her home and visited with her. Dad and I prayed together and decided that, although my doctor counseled against it, Empower and Truehope was the direction we should go. As you know, it wasn't an easy transition, but within three months, I was off of the terrible anti-psychotic drugs and doing very, very well on my supplement. And I haven't looked back. Sure, I struggle from time to time. I always will. But I am WELL.

Jesus Christ is my Savior, Iver. He truly SAVED me. He knows me. He wants me. He loves me. He needed me to be your mom, your dad's wife. He needed me to serve the youth of His church. He needed me to teach Olive and Jade and Vivian the gospel. He still needs me.

I cannot deny His love and His power. I cannot deny that He lives and loves us.

I know this. KNOW it.

Precious son of mine, how blessed I am to be alive and part of your life. How blessed I am to witness your complete love and devotion to the Lord. I love you more than I could ever possibly say.


For a beautiful December, to devote my thoughts to Jesus Christ, I am crazy-thankful.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful on November 24, 2010

A year or so after we began dating, Corbin and I made this green coin in a funny little outdoor arcade in Mantitou Springs. We began talking about spending our lives together long before our third date, to be exact (please keep in mind that we had already been dear friends for several years before that point). We also often talked about our dreams for our family, the kind of parents we would be, and the amazing children we would have. This coin lists the names of that future we dreamed of, Iver, Shakira, Corbin, Michelle, and has become a token of the miracle that is our little Johnson family.

Rewind to "Michelle, age 15." It was at this point that I developed endometriosis. I was hospitalized many times as a teenager, and had surgery on several occasions to remove ridiculously huge cysts from my ovaries or the mayhem left over when those cysts exploded. There were times my mother would find me passed out on the bathroom floor, or my dad would try to comfort me in the middle of the night while I was doubled over and screaming in pain. I was 16 years old when my gynecologist told me I would probably never be able to have children.

Now skip forward a couple of years. When Corbin and I began dating, he had not been active in our church for quite awhile. He began coming back. About a year and a half into our relationship, our stake president came to Corbin and told him that it was time for Corbin to get ready to go on a mission. Honestly, up to this point, Corbin had not considered doing that. He had been away from the church so long, and most young men went on missions when they were 19. Corbin was now 21. As he thought about it, he became very excited! He could be a missionary, and I was happy and eager to support him in that. He began to prepare his application papers and submitted them to our bishop.

Before the bishop and stake president were able to send Corbin's papers to church headquarters, a general authority was visiting our stake, and asked to speak with Corbin. During that interview, the general authority asked Corbin about his time of inactivity, as well as his worthiness and desire to serve as a full time missionary. He signed Corbin's papers, then sat quietly looking into his eyes for several moments. Then he spoke. "Corbin, do you have a young lady in your life who loves you and will be waiting for you?" Corbin then told him about me, and the general authority continued, "I feel very impressed to tell you that you should stay here, marry that girl, and start your family." This was very unexpected, not something that happens EVER, and there were many questions and speculations abounding. But Corbin and I followed that council, and were married several months later.

To our surprise, we quickly became pregnant with our wonderful little Iver. Only seven months after his birth, we found ourselves pregnant again with our beautiful, sweet Shakira. We were very young, and very unprepared, but we somehow made it. And we found incredible joy in the journey. My body was not able to conceive again after Shakira was born. This is truly the miracle. Iver and Shakira were both born in the little window of time when Corbin would have been on his mission. Had he gone, and not followed the council of the general authority, we would not have them.

As you know, I have a heart full of gratitude right now. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I cannot stop thinking of my precious little family, of this most sacred gift. I am so, so, so crazy-thankful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thankful on November 21, 2010

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I have many opportunities to serve others. I am able to serve the people I attend church with, as well as others in my community from many different walks of life. This service takes many forms...bringing a meal to someone who is ill or has just had a baby, visiting with someone who is lonely, giving a ride to someone who doesn't have their own transportation, holding a fussy child when a mother is overwhelmed, clearing weeds from a grave of a woman who played an important part in making my city a wonderful one. Basically, just keeping my eyes open and looking for those who might need me. Of course, these are things that I should do, not because of my membership in any church, but because I just strive to be a nice person. I do appreciate, however, the reminders that I can and should reach out.

One of the things that I truly love about my church are the formal "calls to serve." I have held many callings throughout my life, and have been abundantly blessed as I accepted and tried to magnify those callings. I have learned new skills. I have become closer to God as I have relied on Him for inspiration on how to best serve those in my stewardship. I have come to understand the infinite and beautiful love of the Savior for all mankind. I have been taken care of in my own life and family. I have associated with people who I will forever call my friends. Each experience has been precious to me.

For most of my adult life, I have served with the youth of the church. Oh, I adore teenagers! I love that stage of life, when wings are being spread, when parents are being questioned, when a child becomes her very own person. I love that this is a time of discovery, of finding out for one's self. And I loved being part of this time of life for many young men and women.

I have served in many capacities in the Young Women's organization. I've camped, I've counciled, I've presided. I've bonded with many of the most extraordinary girls you will ever meet. They are all part of my story. Some of the most sacred experiences of my life happened when I served with the Young Women, and came to know the incredible love that Heavenly Father has for his daughters.

I have spent many years as a youth Sunday School teacher, sharing the scriptures with young men and women both. I have seen, several times over, "a mighty change of heart." I have experienced young people being touched deeply by the scriptures and resolving to live their lives as faithful servants of God. I have been with them as they attended the temple, I have watched them go on full-time missions, I have seen some of them happily marry and start lovely families. All of these people own a piece of my heart.

The ward in which I now reside is a small one, and the need to serve is great. For the past year, I have held three callings, one of them being youth Sunday School teacher. I also serve as the meal coordinator for the four full-time missionaries who serve in our ward boundaries. These missionaries are young adults who give two years of their lives to serve the Lord with no distractions. They put aside education, family and friends, and all worldly influences. They pay for these missions themselves. As members of the church, we are asked to provide one meal a day for them, and I facilitate that, inviting people to feed them each day.

For the past couple weeks, some of the guidelines for feeding the missionaries have been changed. It has become evident that these two callings are colliding a little bit. So today, I was released as a Sunday School teacher so I could focus my efforts on caring for our missionaries. This was not easy for me. My two students, Emily and Ann, are so dear to me...we have learned and grown together, and have such thoughtful discussions about the Old Testament that we've been studying. It is hard to step away from them. But an awesome new teacher has been called and I know they are in good hands.

How much I love our missionaries!!! Can you think of a better place for me to serve right now?! Corbin and I have them in our home often, at least twice a month, to share our dinner with them. We invite them to bring people with them who are investigating our church, and have had such uplifting, spiritual discussions in our home. One of those investigators lately has become one of my dear friends, and another one is one of Iver and Shakira's best friends. I feel such joy in these experiences and in taking care of the missionaries, and hope to better inspire others to do the same.

This calling helps me feel very close to Iver, my own son who is on his mission in Mexico City. I know that as I fulfill it to the best of my ability, with my heart and soul poured into this service, that my Iver will be fed and loved and cared for. Ultimately tonight, that is why I am crazy-thankful.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thankful on November 17, 2010

Corbin and I have lots of fun. We always have. There is nothing better than being married to your best friend, someone who knows absolutely everything about you, and STILL loves to be with you.

It has always been important to us to enjoy one on one time together, so since the beginning of us, there has always been date night. Some of my dear readers may be the victims of trying to come between us and our date night, and know first hand the ferocity with which we defend it! There is (almost) nothing that can cause us to forgo date night. Perhaps this is one of the secrets of a long and happy marriage? Well, since we have been happily married for a very long time, I say yes!

There was a time when money was very scarce, and babies were very demanding. Going out was next to impossible. So date night was a $5.00 Little Caesar's Pizza in the living room with a $1.00 movie rental. Picking out the movie at the video store (no DVDs in the world yet!) was half of the fun. I remember a night when we were at that video store, me pregnant with Shakira and sticking WAY out to there, and little bitty Iver on Corbin's shoulders. We were perusing the many choices for our movie that night when I snuggled up close to Corbin and reached in for a playful little pinch. To my absolute horror, it was not Corbin's butt in my hands, but a complete stranger's butt, very embarrassed by my mistaken affections!

We sometimes would strap the babies into snuggies and walk up Little Bear Creek, or have a picnic under our favorite tree. As they got older, we made more of an attempt to leave them with a grandma and go out by ourselves. We always loved to eat out on those occasions! One of out favorite dates was sleeping outside (when we lived on the side of the mountain) on the trampoline, under the beautiful stars (one of the things we miss about the mountain). Only occasionally would we be disrupted by a curious black bear!

Now that we are empty-nesters, it's almost like every night is date night! We still set aside Friday nights, usually for dinner and a movie out, or dinner out with friends. We have also added one...every Tuesday or Wednesday is wings and pool night at the Stockyard Saloon. Corbin beats me every time, that turkey. But perhaps our favorite date lately is completely impromptu....Ice cream at Little Man! Little Man is a giant milk can, situated on a hill in the Highlands neighborhood, overlooking the most beautiful angle of downtown, and it's just minutes from our house. We often run into friends there, on the same impromptu date!

I'm quite confident that successful relationships require a little bit of the hard, hard work of going out to eat Little Man ice cream! I treasure my Corbin and our date nights. Crazy-thankful.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thankful on November 10, 2010

Warning: This might be a long one.

For eighteen years the Corbin-and-Michelle-Johnson-family lived on the side of a mountain. OK, OK, it was a lovely mountain, in the summertime. But Michelle is not a mountain woman. As I begin this post, I realize that I may sound whiny, wimpy and ungrateful as I describe this part of my life, but please understand that I must express these feelings so that I might convey the magnitude of the joy I feel now.

Our living conditions on that mountain were not easy for me. In fact, as I look back, I actually think I was able to muster incredible strength from somewhere very deep, strength that not everyone might have been able to find. I'm eternally grateful that there was strength to be found.

Our home on the side of the mountain was a five hundred square foot "cottage". It had no heat source, beyond a wood stove, so for twelve of those eighteen years, we heated with wood. We would wake up each morning, able to see our breath, with ice sometimes 1/4" thick on the insides of the windows. I remember layering our babies with two or three blanket sleepers at night, because I was so worried about them kicking off the covers! As the years went by, the mountain pushed on our house, causing large gaps in the door and window frames. We would do our best to fill those gaps, with foam or wood or stuffed-in old rags and towels. Finally, for the last six years we were there, we were able to get a pellet-stove, which meant heat all the time (as long as we kept the pellets well stocked) including while we were away at work and at night. No more coming home and spending an hour trying to warm up our house and pipes!

The winters were especially difficult. We had more than our share of three, four, even SEVEN foot snowstorms (I am completely serious). On time to work in the winter? Are you kidding? And the funny part was that no one ever believed we were digging out our endless driveway of two feet of snow when they had only a one inch sprinkle in town. The seven foot snowstorm required a week and a front-end loader. Did I mention that we had no power that week?!! I digress...I reluctantly became an expert at tire chains. Always such a joy to lay under a car in a skirt on the way to work. And my children could tell you story after story of our car spinning 360 degree-style down Hidden Valley Road (and yes, it was an all-wheel drive).

Our intention as a young married couple was always to move on, to something more practical, as our children came into the world. But when the children came, so did unemployment and a depressed economy. So we made do. Through the years, we often saw glimmers of hope that we would be able to make a change, Corbin's growing business, my ability to go back to work and not just try to make money from my kitchen. But year after year after year, those hopes were squashed by the unexpected. Broken down cars, my lovely illness with it's therapy and hospitalizations, months without paychecks as Corbin's business became established, several surgeries, bigger and bigger school fees, ridiculous commute expenses, cancer and broken down shoulders, and the list goes on and on. We couldn't seem to get ahead. We had no choice but to try to make a home out of the cottage. So we stuffed Iver in one little attic bedroom, Shakira in the other, and Corbin and I made our bedroom out of a futon in the living room. We did our best. There was a point where I thought that this was how it would always be. I would have to be OK with never having our kids friends hang out at our house, with Iver and Shakira wanting to spent their time as teenagers at their friend's houses, with never having the privacy of our own bedroom. I would just have to brace myself every winter to climb into the well house and thaw out the pipes with a blow dryer. I would always have at least a thirty minute drive to go anywhere. We would constantly be fixing the many things going wrong with our taped together old house.

Then came 2007. That is when life REALLY got difficult. I addition to everything I have mentioned, Corbin and I each had an hour commute to and from work, that was getting longer and longer, and more expensive with record gas prices. Iver and Shakira were both in high school and had MANY places to be. Iver had begun to drive, so I had that lovely mother-worry about his long drives up and down the mountain late at night. And, we were just not seeing each other. We would get home around 7:30 at night, try to put something on the table for dinner, then fall into bed, only to start again by leaving at 5:00 the next morning. None of us were happy. So we began to pray for a miracle. We knew that's what it would take.

And just like that, things began to fall into place. Our children were not upset with the possibility of being uprooted. Our income now allowed for a modest house payment. We set out looking for a new home IN THE CITY! It took awhile, as we looked at many neighborhoods, homes, and schools. One evening, Corbin left five excited messages for me while I was in a yoga class. He had found our home!

We visited it that weekend. Scary neighborhood, I thought, but the beautifully remodeled house was like a dream to me! We could just stay inside! We decided to fast and pray about it...find out for ourselves if this was the place we should be. That Sunday, we took our kids to the church building we would be attending if we were to make this move. We all loved it immediately and overwhelmingly. Then next morning we called our realtor and put together an offer. Several hours later we found out that an offer had already been made and accepted the day before. I was devastated. I gave up. But not my Corbin. We had received an answer to our prayers, and he was determined to figure something out.

Corbin learned that the builder who had done the home we fell in love with was working on another property, several blocks away. He hesitantly agreed to let us meet him there.

We went under contract on our home when it was just a shell. It had been gutted and was being completely rebuilt, a 110 year old house on the outside, brand new house on the inside. I have absolutely no vision. After all of the run-down old houses (the ones in our price range) I had been looking at for months, I should have been frightened and discouraged the moment I walked through the door. But I wasn't. This time I felt incredible peace and joy. I felt immediately that this was our home.

We have now lived in this home for two and a half years. THERE HAS NOT BEEN ONE TIME I HAVE WALKED THROUGH THAT DOOR AND NOT FELT THE SAME PEACE AND JOY THAT I FELT THAT FIRST DAY. I love our home on Marion Street. I love the diversity of the neighborhood, the entertainment that provides. I love our next door neighbors. I love my adorable little porch and the gigantic trees that shade the front yard. I love the teeny-tiny bit of snow that we get in the winter. I love my garage. I love the ten minute drive to work. I love our crazy little church. I love that we have an awesome space for a garden. I love my bamboo floors and big chocolate moldings. I love my exposed brick walls. I love my gigantic kitchen with concrete countertops. I love my fabulous garbage disposal and my dishwasher. I love that my children have their own big beautiful rooms with tall ceilings. I love Iver's eight foot door. I love that we have two bathrooms with beautiful fixtures and flawless plumbing. I ADORE our master suite! I love my closet. I love that, when I'm a bit chilly, I can walk over to the thermostat, push the up button twice, and get marvelous warm air blowing out of the vents! I love the experience my children had at east high school. I love the amazing people who are their friends. And I love that those friends love to hang out at our house!

I know that eighteen years on the side of a mountain helped form all four of us into the people we are now, and for those experiences I am truly grateful. But for the miracle of our little home on Marion Street, I am giddy, crazy-thankful!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thankful on October 22, 2010

Gratitude. It has been on my mind. As you know, if following my musings, I am pretty sick right now. Surviving, definitely, but sick. There is something I have learned through the years that lessens my darkness, that even paves the way back to health, and that is counting my blessings. Believe me, I have blessings.

I read a story this morning about a young woman from Sierra Leone that I cannot get out of my mind. Her name is Mariama, and she spent her entire childhood in this war-torn place. As a girl, she witnessed incredible, horrible violence including the brutal murders of her own parents and siblings. She spent her teenage years fleeing and hiding from the rebels who would destroy her. She recalls laying herself down to sleep at night, in unfamiliar places, thanking her God that she was still alive. She prayed that she would be alive in the morning. She didn't pray for food, because she knew she could somehow find food if she was alive.

During this time of homelessness, Mariama was given a humanitarian kit by missionaries of the church I belong to (yes, missionaries just like Iver). This kit was precious to her and represented the hope that she had to survive. She shared that hope with others who were in the same situation, and had an incredible comforting influence on many people. Several years later she was called to serve a mission herself in the United States, was able to leave her country behind, and start a bright, new life for herself. Mariama made sure to visit the place where that precious humanitarian kit was made, and wept in gratitude when she entered the doors.

Mariama now tours our country, telling her story, and encouraging others to engage in humanitarian causes, as a way of showing gratitude for an abundance of blessings.

I feel inspired by her story. And I always feel drawn to people around me who see the good in their lives. Who are truly grateful for all that they have been given, and use that gratitude to bless the lives of others. I really want to be one of those people. I do strive for it.

When I was a young mother, overwhelmed with responsibility for my crazy toddler-creatures, struggling with an illness that had not yet been diagnosed as bipolar disorder, stuck on the side of a mountain without transportation, I often wallowed in discouragement. I saw lots of clouds, but very little sunshine. A woman I looked up to and respected shared something simple with me, that made a remarkable difference in my life. Christel told me about her "count-your-blessings-walks." She would take a walk, and with every step would name a blessing in her life. When I heard this, I smiled, knowing in my mind that there was no way I had so many blessings. I continued to think that, as I walked down our long, dirt driveway each day to the mailbox. One day, sometime later, I decided to try it. With each step I named a blessing: Iver's adorable curls; Shakira's sweet, happy disposition; Corbin's tender kisses....I got to the mailbox having blessings backed up in my brain as fast as they could come!! I started to make this a habit, and noticed my outlook beginning to change.

Eighteen years later, I know I could walk to the ends of the earth and back, never naming a blessing twice. How extraordinary is that? Though things are a struggle for me right now, there are beams of sun through the clouds. For the abundance of blessings I have been given, I am crazy thankful.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thankful on October 19, 2010

It's not easy to send a son on a mission. I could pen an entire book about the extreme emotions I have experienced within the past four and a half months. I actually might do that some day...A self-help guide (or at least an "I-know-exactly-what-you-are-going-through-you're-not-alone book), for very inadequately prepared missionary mommas.

Today I understand that the negative emotions make the positive ones positively extraordinary. So I have come to the conclusion that I am thankful for them all.

Iver's journey so far has not gone exactly according to plan. To know me is to know that I do not do well with spontaneity. I like a step-by-step agenda. No surprises. When a set plan is not in place, I panic, and not just a little bit.

In March, while still under my roof and nestled safely in my arms, Iver received his mission call. As he read the call out loud to all of the loved ones gathered to hear, he paused before he read the location, scanning ahead to know for himself before announcing it. I searched his face, in agonizing impatience, longing to be reading over his shoulder. As he saw the location a "huh, well that makes sense" look came upon his face and tears filled his eyes. Filled with emotion, he read aloud, "Elder Johnson, you are called to labor in the Mexico, Mexico City Mission." The first thought that came to me was, "DANGER! MEXICO!" and extreme fear for his life. But very quickly, while feeling the incredible spirit in the room, and seeing the gratitude and excitement that enveloped my son, that fear was soothed, and I felt peace.

On June 9th we traveled to Provo, Utah to drop Iver off at the Mission Training Center. It was a strange, very tender day for our family. I almost cannot speak of it. Our curbside goodbye was probably the most difficult experience of my life. I can still feel his beautiful body embracing mine as it did twice in that few minutes. I had a very difficult time stepping back into the car after I watched Iver walk down the sidewalk and into the doors of the MTC, not looking back. He was ready to be there! But is a mother ever ready to see her precious child leave her side for two years? In the car, I instantly began to sob. I have never sobbed as I did that day. At one point, sweet Shakira reached her arms around me from the back seat and said, "Momma, you have to breathe." I cried all the way to Glenwood Springs. At that point, my sadness began to change...I began to feel trust, anticipation, submission. Oh, the sadness did not go away, and it remains to this day, but I was, and continue to be comforted.

As Iver's time in the MTC came to an end, his work visa had not arrived. He was discouraged and hurting, and this mother feels her childrens' pain tenfold. Iver was ready to serve! He was temporarily assigned to serve in the Washington, Spokane Mission which was helpful and relieving of his discouragement. Iver has served for nearly 10 weeks in Washington...with every letter he sounds stronger and stronger. He has developed a wonderful relationship with his Heavenly Father, has turned himself over completely, and is much stronger for the detour. My hurt and discouragement is turning to thankfulness, as I see this growth in my son. I now feel confident that this is part of God's plan for His precious servant, and I feel strengthened. I might be able to make it through this mission yet!

Today I learned that the visa has gone through, and Iver will be in Mexico City by the end of next week. As I reflect on the experiences I have mentioned and MANY more that I haven't, I feel WOW. Not sure how else to describe it. So today I am grateful for the uncertainness, the surprises, the panic, the fear, the sadness, the discouragement, the hurting. I am thankful for these emotions that have been so difficult because today I feel exquisite, hard-earned JOY. Crazy-thankful.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thankful on October 5, 2010

Today my Corbin asked me if I had blogged recently. He didn't want to get behind in reading them. How lucky am I? I will tell you how lucky. But I should definitely say blessed.

My crazy-thankful blog was started a few weeks ago in a desperate effort to stay sane. You see, I am a manic-depressive. In other words, I suffer from bipolar disorder. There it is. The thing I never say. Out there. I don't say it because it is way, way, way taboo. It is. You really cannot understand how taboo unless you are intimately involved.

After years of ridiculous medicinal cocktails, years of therapy and hospitalization, years of misunderstanding and tears, years of wanting it all to end, years of prayer after prayer after prayer, I found a treatment. A treatment that worked for me. A treatment that my precious husband stands behind and helps me with. A treatment that has kept me pretty darn healthy, and so close to normal that most of the people in my life at this time don't even know I am sick.

As 2010 began, I braced myself, and Corbin braced himself. This is the year when everything I know as an as-close-to-healthy-as-possible-bipolar-person was to change.

In June, my wonderful, amazing son Iver left home to embark on a journey that he has prepared for every moment of his life. He was called to serve a two year mission in Mexico City, teaching the gospel that he loves, while loving and serving the people of Mexico. It has been a slight roller coaster for him, as he was supposed to leave the Mission Training Center for Mexico 8 weeks ago today. He is still waiting for his visa. In the meantime, he has been serving in the state of Washington, and at this point has been told that the time is getting closer for him to go to Mexico. Iver was well prepared for the challenges of a mission, but this was something he did not foresee. He is strong and valiant, and putting his best foot forward, trying to forget himself and serve the Lord. But I am his mother. I can feel the discouragement between the lines of his letters. And beyond writing loving, supporting words, there is nothing I can do. I am helpless. And the illness creeps into my unquiet mind.

In August, we took our incredibly beautiful Shakira to Fort Collins, to begin her education at Colorado State University. She is studying music education, following a very spiritual path and prompting that this is the direction she needs to take with her life. Her musical talent is blossoming, and she is finding much joy spending many hours with arms around her cello. I am so happy for her and the joy she feels. But there is no more of her music in my home. Shakira is my sunshine, and without her, things feel quite cold. And the bipolar rears it's ugly head.

I tried to prepare. I did. And when I think about it, there really isn't much more I could have done. I'm not sick enough to want my life to end. Or to head back to the nearest psychiatrist with his medicinal cocktail. But the dark is there. The aching. The tears. The panic. The racing thoughts of doom.

Do you know what else is there? My Corbin. My constant. This is not an easy life with me. But my Corbin remains. He holds me, he comforts me, he encourages me. He loves me. Truly, truly, truly loves me. And it is through this love that I will again conquer the beast of my ill mind. How blessed I am to have him. How crazy-thankful.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My baby girl is filled with music. Quite literally, it permeates every cell of her being. Shakira beams with melody. And her sunshine is very contagious.

Last night Corbin and I traveled to her first Symphony Orchestra Concert at Colorado State University. The Symphony Orchestra is very impressive, with many graduate performance-artist students participating. Truly breathtaking was the Brahms' Second Symphony, the Elgar's Concerto for Cello (performed brilliantly by soloist Barbara Thiem, world renowned cellist, and Shakira's professor), and piece by American composer Samuel Barber. Shakira expressed her feelings to me in a note before the performance, "Prepare to be amazed...this music moves me to tears, that is how incredible it is."

And amazed I was. And moved to tears...let me share why. As I sat observing the beauty of the group, the pure, lovely sound of the instruments melding together into the perfection intended by the composers, my Shakira still stood out. I watched the gorgeous posture she demonstrates as she wraps her body around her instrument. She is in love! And the peace and tranquility of her facial features as she experiences the piece are a joy to behold. I was taken back...

Back to the fifth and sixth grade, when the passion began. She was a pleasure to watch at the tender ages of 10 and 11! Unknown to Shakira, her tongue moved, outside of her mouth, in time with her bow! Her concentration was so deep. Everyone observing smiled at Shakira, her wonderful new skills, and her tongue! This was when we knew that our daughter was not just a kid wanting to play an instrument, but a true musician in the making. We never reminded her to practice. When returning home from school, she would immediately begin playing, for hours on end. Her skills quickly grew. And our home was filled with "The Crawdad Song" played sometimes at lightning speed.

The love continued into middle school, when many of her fellow orchestra students decided they liked soccer better, or drama, or just boys. Her desire and determination to play her cello only grew. And she played her heart out in the orchestras of two different high schools, and with the Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestra. She spent countless hours in private lessons, with teachers she loved and ones she just endured. And she continued to practice every day for hours, playing composers like Bach and Vivaldi.

For many years, my home has been filled with my daughter's music. There was a night last year, when Corbin and I were making dinner, that we both just stopped and listened to the magnificent Bach Prelude Shakira was playing. We were basking in the exquisiteness that surrounded us, filled with gratitude for this gift of a child that was ours. Now as she is away, our home is very quiet, and perhaps it is the lack of Shakira and her cello that cause us to feel so lonely. I realize, however, that she is doing EXACTLY what she should be doing and is exactly in the right place.

Last night I marvelled as my fabulous daughter played her heart out. I marvel that she has so amazingly developed this beautiful gift that has been given her. I marvel that she wants to share her love of music as an educator, and is well on her way to doing that. I marvel at the beauty that is Shakira and her cello. I am crazy, crazy, crazy-thankful.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thankful on Sept. 15, 2010

"I always felt like I was Charlie Brown, and you were the little red-haired girl," he said as (through his pointy-down eyelashes) he searched the eyes of his dear, long-time friend, hoping for something more than friendship in her heart and spirit. Needless to say, she melted, and he won her affection for all time.

And thus began this marvelous love story...on September 15, 1988, the day before I left to go to college 13 hours away. It is a love deeply based in friendship. It is a love that has endured many challenges and hardships. It is a love that has seen incredible joy and sunshine. It is a love that prevails all. It is a love that is passionate and treasured.

We were married two years later, on September 15, 1990 on the Johnson's front lawn. We both couldn't wait to just get on with our life together. And what a life it has been.

We once had a wonderful bishop who offered council to the members of our ward from the pulpit. He said, "Husbands and wives, I look out and see you sitting as families on benches, husband, child, child, child, wife. But husbands and wives should be sitting next to each other, with the children all around." Now, one may wonder why I would bring up such a silly story. Well, this talk by Bishop Shelley set the stage for our entire marriage. Corbin and I are the union. We cling to each other and try to never let anything between us, including our children. "Poor Iver and Shakira," you may say. But the truth is quite the contrary! Iver and Shakira feel very loved and adored, they also feel incredible gratitude for the love that created them, and they hope for the same! There is nothing more important and precious to me than my beautiful husband. He is truly my everything.

So thankful for this amazing man and the love we share. Crazy-thankful.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thankful on Sept. 14, 2010

Do you see those insane beans growing in the left corner of my garden?! I have to tell you. Beans give me a little thrill. And mine are just coming on...

I have a history with beans. A painful one, in fact. You see, it was my parent's quest in life to make my childhood miserable in the summertime. Their's wasn't quite a was a monstrous plot of torture. Every morning, for hours on end (keep in mind that is time measured by an 11 year old), I was required to weed. And this I did as all of my neighborhood friends looked through the holes in our wooden fence and felt sorry for me. Once a week, an entire afternoon and evening was spent sitting indian-style on a sheet in the living room, by the side of a gigantic mountain of beans, snapping, snapping, snapping. I hated those beans. And while my friends were enjoying lasagna, pizza, hamburgers every night for dinner, I had to endure beans, potatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and corn. All from the garden. I was quite a wretched soul.

Fast forward to forty. This year I decided it was time to make peace with gardening and Corbin and I went about creating lovely little plots and bringing in rich soil and compost to enrich our city dirt. I lovingly made little trellises for my pole beans and gently patted the seeds into the ground. I watered and wed those seeds, along with our cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, watermelon, peanuts, peppers and herbs. Before I know it, my beans were like rocket ships, shooting to the sky! I could hardly believe it. Everything grew quickly, and we were enjoying the fruits of our labors within several short weeks.

Each time my dad has visited this summer, he heads out to the garden. He looks around and shakes his head, obviously amazed that this beauty and bounty could come from his loathsome child. He is proud of me! It's quite awesome! And I realize that he is not just proud of my mad skills in the garden, but of the person he and my mother helped me to become.

And now the beans are coming on. The vines have grown as high as the fence, even have begun to climb our neighbor's tree! Yesterday Corbin picked a couple of handfuls, and I snapped them then made one of those dishes I disdained so much from childhood, beans and potatoes. It was heaven.

So thankful for my garden in the ghetto. And for parents who cultivated kids alongside their vegetables? Crazy-thankful.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thankful on Sept. 13, 2010

So thankful for passionate love!! And thankful for Johnny Cash who so fabulously describes it:

"Love, is a burning thing,
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire,
I fell into a ring of fire.

The taste of love is sweet,
When hearts like ours meet.
I fell for you like a child.
Oh, but the fire went wild!

I fell into a burning ring of fire.
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher!
And it burns, burns, burns the ring of fire.
The ring of fire."

This week, Corbin and I celebrate our love and life together. There are so many associated blessings...but today I'm thankful for the passion. It has been a hot twenty-two years, but still the flames are going higher! Passion is our specialty, and yes, you should be jealous!

We began our celebration this weekend, at Glenwood Hot Springs. Hot springs are our favorite little get-away (we usually prefer A LOT less people and naked, at our secluded little spot in Buena Vista, but when the universe only allows you a one day vacation, you take what you can get!). We blasted Johnny all the way home, singing at the top of our lungs.

What can I say? Some like it hot. Crazy-thankful.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thankful on Sept. 10, 2010

Thankful today for the memories that cause me to smile through the tears of missing my children...

I think of my four-year-old little dirt-magnet Shakira, cruising the rocky driveway on her bicycle with Dave, the kindergarten chicken, holding tight to the handlebars. Beautiful, dirty Shakira, with the sun shining through her white curls, has always had that light-shimmering smile that brings me so much joy.

When Iver was a toddler, thrilled and obsessed with dinosaurs, he very often roamed the earth in velociraptor stance. Tiptoes, some bizarre, two-fingered hand position and loud, warped growl-sounds permeated my days. It all became quite humorous the day he, in said stance, bit his Grandma J. on the butt. Iver's twisted humor began at birth, and has always brought me joy.

Thankful that 22 years ago, Corbin looked at me with such gentleness and love, through those fabulous pointy-down eyelashes of his. He still looks at me that way. And his older, softened features continue to thrill me after all of this time. Crazy-thankful.

Thankful on Sept. 9, 2010

Today I am thankful that Iver is well and happy and making the most of his detour through Moses Lake. I laid awake most of Monday night, thinking of him, worrying for him, convinced (as I am very prone to do to myself) that something was wrong. It was a great relief on Tuesday morning, when I happened to be on the computer at the same time as him (and able to have a brief email-back-and-forth chat) and he said, "Thanks for praying for me. I'm doing good! It's rainy here and gray, and it's easy to be thinking about Mexico...maybe that's why you were worried." He's OK, and I'm very grateful.

I am also thankful that Shakira survived her first college flipping-over-the-handlebars bike crash without being hurt beyond just sore. Whew. Also glad I didn't know about it until the evening, as the psychotic mommy in me would have immediately driven to Ft. Collins upon hearing the news.

And Corbin has this wonderful stubbly beard going on right now...with little bits of silver catching the light. So sexy. So thankful.