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. ;)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thankful on April 6, 2011

On Sunday, my sister Julie showed me something most precious. Something I cannot get out of my mind. Her adorable little Cannon (age four) drew a picture to send to my son Iver, depicting Iver's mugging incident. I cannot wait for Iver to get it. He will not be able to stop smiling! I can picture it now. In Cannon's picture, Iver (with a tie) is being assisted by an angel, who is protecting him from the bad guy. What Cannon doesn't know, but I do, is that the angel's name is Maria...

About a month before Iver received his mission call, Corbin and I had the opportunity to attend the Denver temple on an initiatory assignment. If you do not know, our temples are places where we take part in sacred ordinances that we believe bind families together for eternity. In initiatories we receive blessings and annointings that teach us about our divine nature. Part of the work we do there is to provide these ordinances for those who have passed on from this life and were unable to do them for themselves. It was a very snowy night, and the parking lot was near empty. We walked in, half expecting them to tell us that they were going to close down early, but instead they were thrilled to see us and excited for us to fulfill our assignment. I went to the appropriate room, the only patron with two workers to help me. We were able to work quickly, and before we knew it, I had completed a whopping TWENTY names. All three of us were giggling a little bit because every single person I had done work for was a Maria from Mexico. I thought it was pretty cool, but didn't think too much more of it. I was grateful to be able to help each of them to receive these special blessings.

A month or so later, Iver received his mission call to Mexico. The temple ordinances I had taken part in did not even enter my mind...

Fast forward a few weeks to April 24, Iver's birthday and the day he went to the temple for his own endowment in preparation for his mission. It was a wonderful day and I had all those crazy momma emotions...nervousness, tears, joy. A lovely old woman met me in the lobby, the same time a little old man met Iver. As he lead Iver and Corbin in a different direction, I felt so sad that I couldn't be with them both for all of the experience, but before I could dwell on that feeling, my helper said, "Sister Johnson, would you like to do some initiatories while your son does his own? This will help you feel very close to him." I quickly expressed to her my worries of not being there when Iver came out of the initiatory room, and missing something that I should be a part of, and she reassured me that her entire purpose that day was to help me, and she would make sure I was in the right places.
And so I entered the initiatory room. It was very full of women this particular morning, and each name took much longer than the time before. As I was half-way through my third name, I was waiting for the workers to finish helping the woman ahead of me, and thinking of Iver. I looked down at my card. The name I was working on was a Maria from Mexico. And the two I had just completed were also Maria's from Mexico. Tears spilled down my face as the the holy spirit manifest to me what was happening. These wonderful, beautiful Maria's and the twenty wonderful, beautiful Maria's from before whom I was serving, were gathering to serve me. They were the angels who would buoy Iver up on his mission to Mexico. They are the ancestors who would lead Iver to their precious posterity, that he might help them become eternal families. And they are the angels that would surround him and protect him in times of danger and discouragement. They are Iver's army of Maria's.

This is but one blessing of the temple for my family. It is one that brings me incredible joy and comfort at this time. Crazy-thankful for that Maria who protected Iver from the drunk who would rob him. Crazy-thankful for all twenty-three Maria's who are doing what I cannot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thankful on February 16, 2011

Today I am able to laugh...yesterday was only tears. So today I write about my wild adventures in falling.

Yesterday morning I walked into my friendly neighborhood Einstein Brothers Bagels to buy a bagel sandwich, split into two for my lunch and dinner. I had a long day ahead of me, sitting at the convention center talking to the three or four people wandering the rows of the home show on a weekday afternoon. I grabbed the little paper bag, turned to walk quickly out the door, and my foot caught the only little puddle of melted snow in the whole place. Then came the s-l-o-w m-o-t-i-o-n, no, I'm not going to fall, I can catch my balance, whoa my top half is going down, whoa my legs are up above my top half, yes I am flying, keep my head up, OUCH!!! I was sprawled across the floor, had hit my knee and thumb hard, then twisted to hit my hip and wrist even harder. Flattened. Shocked. Skirt up to...getting the picture? Then a very sweet, eighty-something, bent and using a cane, little old man helped me to my feet. His sweet, little old wife gathered my purse and phone and bagel. She then brushed me off and gave me a hug, which of course, started me crying. Ouch my body. Ouch my ego. I thanked them for their loving gestures, then out I went, as fast as I could limp, every eye in the full restaurant firmly fixed on me. When I got to the car, the water-works broke loose, and I immediately called Corbin for sympathy, only to get his voice mail. Massive bruises started immediately, and today I sit at my desk achey and stiff, but broken I am not. Thankfully.

Yes, you may call me Grace. I am a faller. There is not a year that goes by without at least one terrible fall. A few of the most memorable...

A couple of years ago, Shakira had her first monster-huge party with her friends at our house. Corbin and I were mostly staying out of their hair upstairs, but checking in every once in a while. The kiddos had rearranged things in the living room to make room for exuberant wii participation, and one of the oversize leather armchairs was pushed against the bottom of the stairs. Shakira was sitting in that armchair (thank goodness it was Shakira!) as I walked down our very steep stairs with a full can of soda in my hand. Somewhere near the middle, I lost my footing and proceeded to catapult the rest of the way, landing hard on the back of the chair, my can of pepsi thudding firmly on the top of my precious daughter's head. As soda streamed down her face and the surrounding walls, a gigantic goose egg began to emerge, and those friends all looked at me like I was the absolute devil of mothers. Luckily, my daughter forgave me, even laughed, and most of the friends gave me a second chance and got to know some of my redeeming qualities.

Years ago, on our mountain, I was the first of the family to wake up on a lovely, sunny Sunday morning. I took a shower, then threw on a little nightgown. Because we were completely secluded, I often went outside in nothing but a nightgown and flip flops to water my flower garden. Corbin and Iver had been trying to locate our underground septic tank by digging a menagerie of large, five foot deep holes in the driveway. As I walked by the hole next to my garden, I remember making a mental note to avoid it. I watered and enjoyed my flowers, turned off the hose, and turned to walk into the house, smiling and not looking down. The next thing I knew, I was in the bottom of that hole, naked because my nightgown had hooked on a stick at the top and I had slid right out of it on my way down, and scraped from head to toe. Yes...head to toe and EVERYTHING in between. I managed to pull myself out, ran naked into the house, and climbed back into bed with Corbin, crying, laughing hysterically, and bleeding profusely. Poor Corbin...he really never knows what he is going to wake up next to.

There are a hundred stories, every one ridiculous. There was the time I slipped on the ice and landed with my head two inches from the blade of the ax Corbin had been splitting wood with the previous day. There was the time I was seven months pregnant with Iver, tripped and dove down the stairs, hit a chair at the bottom, and sent Aiko the iguana, who just happened to be sitting on the top of that chair, flinging across the room and into the window. He survived. Oh, I was naked in that one as well.

Then there is the story that started it all. It was the summer of 1980. I was ten years old and playing with my wonderful neighbor kids, the DeHaans and the Jacobs. We were playing hide and seek. I was safely and superbly hidden upstairs, saw an opportunity to get home-free, and ran down the stairs. Two things happened simultaneously, that changed my life and forever defined me as a faller. I tripped on Maria's doll on the third step down right as Kelly was walking across the bottom landing with his cello. Yes. That is indeed what I said. Cello. My dear readers, I hit that cello. I demolished that cello. Can you believe that karma hasn't come back to get me, or my dear cellist-daughter on that one? My knee was split open and I remember screaming, "my guts are hanging out!" That cut required four stitches, and as I laid in our living room recovering, my dear friend Kelly DeHaan brought over a poem he had written to help me feel better. This is all I recall from the poem:

You flung down the stairs like an old rubber band;
Wait 'til your older to try super-man.

My dear friend, Kelly, I try it often. And trust me, it was much easier when I was ten!

So, although I sit today with armpits, and a hip, and a knee that feel like they are on fire, I am crazy-thankful. Crazy-thankful that one of these lovely falls has not killed me yet. I am quite certainly convinced that one day, one will.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thankful on January 17, 2011

I must say, with a little bit of sadness and a great deal of relief, that I am happy to say goodbye to 2010. It was a year of great trial and tribulation for me, one of tears and turmoil. But as I reflect back, there are moments of exquisite beauty and joy. For each of those moments, I am full of gratitude. Some of my favorites of 2010...

Favorite Adventure: Watching my Shakira sky dive. This was quite a day. Shakira has always wanted to do this, and on our way up to Fort Collins, to drop her off to begin her time at CSU, we stopped by Longmont and she jumped out of a plane. Anyone who knows Miss Shak, knows that this is completely characteristic. Shakira has honorary cahones. She is not afraid of anything. While watching her descend from the sky, tears ran down my cheeks. I am so unbelievably blessed to have this precious girl as my own. She loves life and all that it throws at her. She faces everything head-on with determination and sunshine. She is an incredible woman, and I look forward to the wild and daring frontiers she will cross in her life. I look forward to crossing them with her.

Favorite Gift: For Christmas, Corbin went handmade. He spent many hours back in our shop, which I was strictly forbidden to enter. I was so ridiculously excited, just like a little girl on Christmas Eve. We got up VERY early on Christmas morning...not knowing if Iver's call would be at 6:00 a.m. or 6:00 p.m. After my shower, I tiptoed downstairs, naked, in the pitch dark. I had only the light of my cell phone, because our blinds are see-through at night, to light my way to let Stella outside. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, there was something gigantic and covered with a drop cloth and leaning against the wall. I lifted an edge of the drop cloth to take a little peek and it fell to the floor! I was in quite a predicament, couldn't turn on the lights because I could be seen naked from the street, couldn't set down my cell phone to have both hands to put the drop cloth back up....and it was at that moment that I turned around and saw Corbin sitting on the stairs laughing. Busted. He made me the most beautiful floor mirror...massive and chocolate brown, perfectly pieced together from antique reclaimed wood, salvaged from old buildings in downtown. It is incredible. The loveliest piece of furniture I will ever own. The most lovely part? That Corbin loves me this much!

Favorite Day: The last Sunday in May, we had a wonderful "farewell fiesta" for Iver before he ventured off on his mission to Mexico. It started at church, where over a hundred of our friends and family joined us to hear Iver speak. And he did not disappoint. Iver gave a precious talk about kindness and following the Savior's example to love each other. He shared special stories from his life that had helped teach him this principle. Then he and Shakira performed "I Hope They Call Me On A Mission," complete with cello as a bass, ukulele, whistling, and an additional verse. There wasn't a dry eye in the chapel, and my adorable 80 year old friend Jessie gave them a standing ovation. It was perfect. After church, our home was filled with the love and well wishes of so many people. We served tacos, broke Iver and Kevin's homemade pig pinatas, and enjoyed ourselves and our son late into the night. All were confident that Iver would be an extraordinary missionary. As Corbin and I laid in bed that night, we could not wipe the smiles off of our faces. And as we smiled, we wept. We laid in each other's arms and felt such incredible satisfaction in our children and our lives. There never was a better day.

These three memories are ones I will cherish. I will also cherish the pain, and the personal growth I have obtained because of it. I am crazy-thankful for this little life of mine.