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!