Friday, February 3, 2017


I have been haunted lately by a memory.  It comes to me in quiet moments when my mind seems to wander between to-do lists and crazy politics and craving sleep.  It clears a space for itself amid the clutter to grab my attention and demand my focus.  But it is painful.  This memory brings with it shame and regret and speculation.  I find myself wishing I could reverse it and relive it.  But I can't. So instead I have been trying to pay attention to it and learn from it.  I have never told anyone about this moment other than Jordan, but now I feel compelled to tell it to you.

It happened a couple years ago when I was pregnant with the twins.  Jordan and I had spent most of our savings and all of our emotional strength on trying to bring these babies into existence, and my pregnancy still felt new and vulnerable.  We had ongoing worries about losing the pregnancy and became hyper vigilant in avoiding risk.  I avoided questionable foods, rested abundantly, took all my medications on time, and prayed every night that our babies would arrive safely.

One frigid winter evening Jordan and I stopped at Harmon's to pick up some tasty bread or pumpkin cookies.  I ran into the store while he waited in the car for me.  I grabbed the one or two items that I needed and headed to the check out stand.

I noticed a few things about the woman in front of me. Her little boy sat in the cart in mismatched and threadbare pajamas, his hair hadn't seen a comb for a while and his face was dirty.  He was busy and rambunctious and pushing her to her limit. She snapped at him a few times as he grabbed things off the shelf.  Her appearance matched his, unkempt hair, faded sweats, and an oversized jacket.  But the thing I remember most was an intense weariness in her eyes and across her shoulders.

I stood behind her, waiting patiently, arms resting on my swollen belly.  She purchased her food and left, and without a second thought I did the same.

Then I saw her again. This time just inside the automatic doors, unloading her cart, lining her arms with grocery bags while trying to wrangle her young child.  It became clear that she was preparing to walk home on this bitter winter evening.

Something told me to stop and talk to her.  So I did.  I asked her if she had a car.  She said no.
"Do you live nearby?"
"Yes."  She said.  "A few blocks away."
"Would you like a ride?"

I watched as her burden seemed to lighten, and she thanked me for the offer. "I'm so sick" she said. "I've had bronchitis for a few weeks and can't seem to get better."

Suddenly fear came over me like a wave, starting in my head and moving to my heart.  Sick, I thought.  What if I get sick?  What if something happens to the babies?  Is this safe?  Should I do this?  Although probably irrational the fear of losing the babies overwhelmed me.  I asked her to wait while I talked to Jordan.

Moments later I returned and told her we could not take her home.  I offered a brief explanation about my pregnancy and my fear of getting sick and then turned away.  I don't even remember her reaction. I just remember feeling her presence behind me like a shadow as I walked away.  My fear and shame and sorrow all swirling together yet propelling me out the door into the cold night air.

It has been a couple years since this happened, and I still agonize over the choice. I'm sure she made it home - she didn't live far away.  But I wonder if she felt a little less sure about human kindness because of me. I wonder if she stayed sick a little longer, if she was unkind to her child, if she lost faith she could have gained.  And although I could make a very logical argument for the conflict I felt that night, in my heart I know it was a betrayal of my values and of my spirit.

When this experience visits me I think of the apostle Peter walking on water with the Savior.

And Peter answered him (the Savior) and said, Lord if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.  And he said, Come.  And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.  And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matthew 14:28-31)

Fishermen at Sea, by JWM Turner

I have always felt empathy for Peter in his imperfect faith.  I relate to his desire to do great things, while being hampered by his own human frailty and fear.

I have also reflected on the call of the Savior to step out of the assumed safety of the boat to follow him.  He simply says "Come" and expects us to move forward through the boisterous wind and waves that create fear in our hearts.  

That cold winter night I was swallowed by the waves.  I sought the safety of the boat rather than heeding the whisper of the Savior to help one of his children.  

Each night Jordan and I pray together.  We pray as a family with Simon and Clara and we pray together as a couple.  In the past I have heard these familiar words come out of my mouth "bless us with safety."  But lately I haven't been able to say them.  As a mother it seems like there should be nothing more that I would want in the world than for my children and my family to be safe. Especially since I know the excruciating pain of losing a child.  But I can't pray for safety anymore.

That night at the grocery store I secured my safety, but I lost a little piece of my soul. I realize now that when I pray, I need to pray to be brave.  Safety will only insulate us from the troubles of the world, and make us feel as if they don't concern us.  Bravery will compel us to act when sadness and sorrow and weariness seem to be as prevalent as the air we breathe.  As I've studied the life of the Savior I've found very little evidence that he is concerned with our temporal safety.  He has always called his followers onto unsteady ground, past dogma and platitudes, and toward his example of healing, cleansing, ministering, and loving.  

So tonight when I kneel to pray with my family, I will let this memory haunt me once again.  Then, instead of asking God to grant me some sort of ubiquitous safety, I will ask him to teach to me to be brave.  

It seems to me that the Savior is saying to each of us that unless we lose ourselves in the service of others our lives are largely lived to no real purpose....He who lives only unto himself withers and dies, while he who forgets himself in the service of others grows and blossoms in this life and in eternity." - Gordon B. Hinckley

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Last Night

Last night Simon woke up crying just after midnight, moments after my own tired head melted into the softness of my pillow.  I'm not sure why he woke up.  Teething? Cold? Hungry? Wet?  My tired brain can never really figure it out.  Sometimes on really bad nights I change diapers, add a sleep sack, open windows, and dispense Ibuprofen in hopes that I've covered all my bases and we can all sleep peacefully for a few consecutive hours.    

After letting him cry for awhile and whispering prayers to heaven that he would just fall back asleep, I flopped my legs to the floor and wandered into his darkened bedroom.  When my eyes finally adjusted and focused I saw him sitting against the crib slats looking almost as disoriented as I felt.  I gently laid him back down and gave him his pacifier which he angrily grabbed and threw across the crib, as if he was offended by the suggestion that he could be soothed so easily.  He rolled over and around his blanket like a crocodile in a death roll and eventually bumped his head on the corner of the crib crying out even louder and longer than before.  

Afraid he would wake Clara I gathered up his fuzzy blanket and hoisted his pajama clad body over the crib rail.  We settled into the chair next to his crib and I laid his long body across mine.  At first he tossed and turned and wiggled, but then slowly let himself relax into me as I brushed his wispy hair with my fingers.  His body became heavier and softer and his breath slower.  I traced figure eights across his back until sleep returned. I shifted my weight to move him back into bed, and then stopped.  My inner voice whispered "stay awhile" and so I held him longer.  I brought his face to mine and felt the warmth of his velvet cheek.  I breathed in the sweet smell of his hair, a combination of sweat and lotion and grass and love.  I noticed the way he felt in my arms - simultaneously long and lanky and yet small enough to hold forever.  

I held him longer because I remembered this very night five years ago when I held his brother the same way. A sharp cry in the middle of the night.  A bottle made.  A diaper changed.  A sweet boy soothed and cherished.  I felt something hold me back that night too.  Something that said "stay here longer" "remember this." And I did. I held his brother, and smelled his sweet smell, and let his feathery hair brush across my lips.  I pushed away the exhaustion and stayed in that moment with him until we were both full of love and memory, not knowing then how much i would need to remember. The next morning would be our last together in this life. 

I thought about that moment 5 years ago as I held Simon and it scarred me.  The need to stay longer, to soak it all in, felt like a bad omen.  I've often thought that I was given that prompting to hold Jonah longer because God knew I would lose him the next day, and maybe that is the truth.  But as I held Simon and shook off the superstition of losing him I realized that voice is always with me as a mother.  It whispers to me everyday, "be here, be present."  Sometimes I'm too tired or distracted or frustrated to hear it.  Sometimes I hear it and ignore it and go about checking items off of my to-do list.  But in the middle of the night when the world is quiet and the room is dark, I listen.  Not because calamities are coming, but because life is fleeting.  

I am reminded that tomorrow everything will be different.  My babies will be one day older, and they will know new things, and say new words, and climb on top of the table.  Eventually they will sleep all night, and then sleep too much.  Someday they will not fit in my arms or even want my touch.  They will make choices and mistakes, and the only thing I can do about it is to listen to that voice, to be present, to be slow, to smell their hair and listen to them giggle, to let my muscles memorize their heaviness.  Beyond that I am powerless. No matter what I do, tomorrow will come and bring with it all of the possibilities of joy and sorrow.  

I believe that voice is always present, always reminding us to notice the life we've been given.  We may only notice it when tragedy visits us, but I have a feeling it is always there.  

Eventually I moved Simon back to his bed, gave him his pacifier and covered him with his blanket.  I slipped back into bed beside Jordan, and pulled the comforter up around my shoulders. As I drifted off to sleep I heard a gentle rustling and then Clara's distinctive sputtering cry.  I held my breath for a moment and waited. Then I left the warmth of my bed to hold my little girl.  

When I woke, bleary eyed, in the morning I wondered what this day would bring. Today is a day of sorrow for us and for remembering.  It is the day we said goodbye to our first born and learned what it meant to be broken and bruised. 
I hoped for a day of happiness and peace and a nap.  As I remembered the loss I experienced five years ago I tried to listen for the voice.  I heard it when Simon and Clara spread tuna fish all over their faces at lunch and when we visited their brother's grave.  I heard it when we sat in the late afternoon sun watching the babies throw birdseed toward a roving flock of chickens.  I heard it when our family gathered for dinner, and when Simon splashed in the bath until the water ran out. "This is important" it whispered, "be here." 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

One Year

There has been something so familiar about this past year.  Even though having twins is very different than having a single baby, the flow and seasons of this year have matched those of Jonah's year with us.  Jonah was born on the 14th of July and our twins were born on the 22nd, five years and one week apart.  As a result, every milestone and every "first" has followed a similar chronology.

Jonah's first smiles came in the fall and this year as the leaves fell Simon and Clara started to smile.  In the winter Jonah began to roll and scoot and Simon and Clara followed his example.  This spring Simon and Clara ventured outside and explored the grass and leaves and tried to eat them, and as I watched them I thought about Jonah tasting rocks and dirt and crawling through the grass.  And summer...summer is by far the sweetest: playing in the water, swinging, exploring the neighborhood, climbing, walking, and celebrating first birthdays.  It's all the same.  When I hold Simon next to me and feel his weight and the way he turns to direct me through the world I think of Jonah.  When Clara squeals in delight as she gets in the bath and splashes water all over her face but doesn't seem to care, I think of him.  I see him in every moment I share with his brother and sister.  In a way it is so comforting and beautiful, and it also scares me.

I am constantly reminded that we only had one year with Jonah; We had one Halloween, one Christmas, one birthday.

We celebrated the twins' birthday last week and even that echoed the experience of their brother.  We played in the yard with grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and cousins.  It was a hot afternoon, even in the shade of our giant walnut tree.  The air smelled the same - a combination of heat, and wind, horses, and grass.  We played in the water to cool down, ate fried chicken, opened presents, and watched excitedly as Simon and Clara approached their first cupcake with caution followed by full bodied appreciation.

When I think about Jonah's birthday I think about what I didn't know.  When Jonah turned one we didn't know that we would only have two more months with him. We didn't know that a small fruit snack could take the life of our precious boy. We didn't know that he would leave our family and in his absence a crushing sorrow would emerge.

Sometimes I wonder what I don't know now.

As we celebrated together I thought about time passing or rather marching, marching toward September. There is something in the familiarity and passage of time that makes me feel like I'm headed towards the same experience.  I realize that August and September were the last months I had with Jonah, and I wonder what the future holds.  It is a hard feeling to shake.

The weather at Simon and Clara's party was bizarre.  One moment it was blazing hot, followed by a swift thunderstorm, then giant raindrops, and back to scorching heat.  Those who attended moved quickly between the shade of trees, the shelter of our garage, the warmth of the sun, and the protection of patio umbrellas.  It rained on our chicken and cupcakes and presents.  My mom mentioned that she was looking for a rainbow, but none appeared. The sky only held black rain clouds or blinding sunshine.

At the end of the party the showers drifted towards the mountains and the sun was lower against the western sky.  As we cleaned up and said our goodbyes I looked towards the east, past the large pine tree in our yard.  I looked towards the same patch of sky on the day of Jonah's funeral, when the weather was identical: hot, then stormy, then peaceful.  That day two rainbows appeared like a message from heaven and temporarily calmed my troubled heart.

In this moment, just above the mountain a faint rainbow appeared, peeking through, as if not wanting to steal away our attention.  I stood on my patio and watched Simon and Clara playing with their cousins under the shelter of the pine, unaware of the beautiful rainbow above them.  I thought of Jonah and my heart hurt and soared at the same time.  The women I love gathered around me on the hot cement and looked toward the sky.  It seemed clear that they knew what I knew.  We simply said "Jonah." "He came."  And we believed it was true.

Rainbows are symbols.  They are symbols of promises and peace and freedom and love.  They are symbols of a protecting hand.  The two rainbows I saw on the day we said goodbye to Jonah felt like a promise that God knew my pain and that someday things would feel right again.  And even though that seemed impossible at the time, it was true.  Our lives feel good and whole again.

This rainbow felt like a different promise, a promise that Jonah was still a part of our family, and that there would be many happy days ahead.  I felt overwhelming gratitude for such a simple but profound moment, looked up to the heavens, and believed it was true.

Be of good cheer.  The future is as bright as your faith. - Thomas S. Monson

Sunday, October 25, 2015


I often wonder if you will ever know how much you are loved; how many prayers your dad and I said hoping that someday you would join our family.  From the moment your brother Jonah left this earth, we prayed each night for you to come. Not just us. Everyone. Your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, our friends, and neighbors, we all sent our prayers up to heaven hoping they would be heard. And then one day you arrived, and it seemed like you were always here with us, and all of the struggle faded and things felt right in the world again.

When I look in your eyes I wonder what you will be. Clara is so full of wonder and Simon full of deep soulful stares.  I hope you will become everything you can be.  There will be times when you won’t realize all you can be. I hope you will let us, your parents, remind you.  We will try to give you a safe space to grow and explore and learn.  We cannot protect you from all of the struggles of life, because those are important too.  And although we can’t remove your obstacles we promise will walk through them with you.  We will help you carry any heavy loads and cry with you when life is hard.   And when life is beautiful, sometimes overwhelmingly beautiful, we will laugh and play and celebrate with you.  We will rejoice as you succeed and love and overcome.  We will cherish the days when life feels soft and welcoming.   Today was your blessing day. You were encircled and held by good men who love you, while your gentle father blessed you to have faith, to serve your fellow man, to trust your parents, and to be leaders. The women who love you surrounded them, and supported them, and whispered their own prayers for you up to heaven.

Clara June when you hear your name I hope you will remember the strong, loving, and righteous women who have come before you. Not just your namesakes, but your aunts, and grandmothers, and cousins. These women have shaped your family through incredible sacrifice, tears, and faith. They have opened the way for you to live a happy life.

Simon Max when you hear your name I hope you will remember its meaning; God has heard. To me, you are a living witness that God truly does hear and answer prayers.

Before the blessing your father spoke Jonah's name, and reminded us all of your beautiful older brother. I often wonder what role he will play in your life. Will you feel his presence? Will he help you in your trials? Will he whisper to you when you don't know which way to turn? I hope and believe he will. He had a kind heart and a wise soul. I hope that if you ever feel him near you will notice and listen.

We are so grateful for you, our children. It is a blessing to have you in our home. It is a blessing to be your mother. It is a blessing to know that we can be a family forever.  

You will always have our whole hearts and all our love.

Friday, October 16, 2015


A few weeks after Jonah died Jordan and I drove to Red Lodge, Montana to work. The drive north was long and lonely. I remember silently staring into the side mirror of Jordan's truck, watching the yellow stripes on black asphalt appear behind us and then disappear into the distance. The flashing yellow line felt symbolic, each stripe a memory of Jonah drifting into the distance with no promise of returning.  I can't remember if Jordan and I said a single word as we drove through the vast expanse of central Wyoming. We were both lost in our own thoughts, or maybe we were trying not to think.

When we drove into Red Lodge, golden leaves drenched the town, and misty clouds rested on the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains. The usual bustle of summer tourists had long since passed and gangs of wild turkeys began to roam the streets.  The air still held the crispness of Fall with a hint that winter was on its way.

We checked into our motel.  It was dated but clean, managed by a young tracksuit wearing man from India. The carpeted hallways were incredibly long and reminded me of The Shining. I almost expected a young boy to round the corner on a tricycle or creepy twins to greet us near the elevator. Despite the vague similarities to a horror movie It felt like a good place to settle into my grief and to feel anonymous for awhile. 

Jordan left each morning before the sun came up, kissing me goodbye while I lay half asleep.  Later I would force myself out of bed and write, watch TV, then sleep some more. Occasionally I ventured out to the local coffee shop to get a hot chocolate or to read a book. It felt strange, and also freeing, to order a drink as if I was just an ordinary person, as if my world had not shattered to pieces.  I could pretend for a while in Red Lodge that I was still a whole person instead of fragments of my former self.

One day work was cancelled and Jordan had a free afternoon. We decided to drive up the Beartooth Highway and lose ourselves in nature for awhile. Our wandering was cut short by a large metal gate blocking the road. The highway had closed for the season only a few days earlier.  We pulled over, parked, and stood in the open silence that engulfed us. The quiet was overwhelming and felt heavy. Without much discussion we zipped up our jackets and began walking, past the gate, and onto the open road beyond.  

It almost felt like we were walking into an post-apocalyptic world.  A world without people.  A world without cars.  The mountains around us felt enormous compared to our small bodies moving slowly along the two-lane highway.  The view was infinite compared to the previously segmented scenery through our windshield. The world around me was cold and beautiful and open, and I was small and afraid.

As we walked I thought about bears, and falling rocks, freak snowstorms, and serial killers in the wilderness. Before Jonah died these dangers would have flashed across my mind for a second, and then been dismissed by reason and statistics.  But now they all felt possible. Losing Jonah made me feel vulnerable in a way I could have never imagined. I no longer felt sheltered by my faith or a powerful God or good luck.

I quietly held onto my fears as we crested each hill, all the while realizing they were probably irrational.  But with each step away from our car they swirled and magnified.  The beauty that surrounded us was trumped by my worried heart.  Eventually, I turned to Jordan and said, "It is so beautiful up here. The mountains are incredible," and then in the same breath, "I'm afraid we will be attacked by bears."

This is when I discovered the power of speaking my fears. I don't even remember how Jordan responded. He probably just said "okay." But I remember feeling relief. I have learned that there is something about saying, "I am afraid of bears, and falling rocks, and freak snowstorms, and serial killers" that diminishes fear and allows me to move through it.  So I told Jordan I was afraid of bears and then we kept walking.

I've been thinking about this experience a lot lately, because I am bombarded by fears.  When I'm brushing my teeth or doing dishes my mind will present me with a thousand ways in which my current peaceful bliss could fall apart.  These include but are not limited to: dog attacks, tumors, earthquakes, ISIS, liver failure, tripping down stairs, West Nile Virus, diabetes, abduction, the flu, addiction, extreme poverty, SIDs, car accidents, horse trampling, etc...  Maybe my mind plays out these scenarios as a preventative measure, but in every instance, no matter what the danger, I see the same panic and heartache I felt as I watched Jonah die.  I can imagine the intensity of the loss again.  Even though I have survived losing Jonah and feel stronger for it, I know I never want to feel that kind of pain again. Somehow, deep in my subconscious I must believe that if I can think through every possible danger I can stop my heart from breaking.

Ultimately, I know that paying attention to my fears will not prevent future sorrow.  I am not that powerful and we live in a world of adversity and trial.  Listening to my fears will only keep me from living the life I want to live.  It will stop me in my tracks and make me feel small in a big beautiful world.

So I choose to release my fears into the world, no matter how silly the concern of how outlandish the possibility.  I tell Jordan in the middle of the night when he is barely coherent, "I think I have diabetes," or "I'm worried about Simon's liver," or "What if the crock pot catches on fire?" When the words leave my mouth the fears seem to leave my mind.

When I hold Simon and Clara, and my heart feels so full of love, I often wonder what the future holds for us. There is nothing that makes you feel more vulnerable than love.

I calm myself by thinking about Red Lodge. I imagine myself on that lonely highway, with Jordan by my side, both of us walking away from the imagined safety of our car, our home, our past life and into the wild magnificence of the mountains. When I visualize that moment I feel sure that I can do this.  I can be a mother to these children.  I can speak my fears.  I can love with my whole broken heart.  I can surround myself in beauty. I can move forward.

I Worried
by Mary Oliver

I worried a lot.  Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up.  And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.