Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Blessed are the Peacemakers

A few months after Jonah died someone I love very much told me he was gay.  His revelation was simple and sincere and not really a surprise, but we had never talked about it before.  He had never said the words "I am gay" and I had never asked.  Jonah's death seemed to open up a safe space in our hearts to be honest with each other about our lives.  I can't remember the specific words that were said, but I remember feeling overwhelming love for him.  I loved him more than I ever had before, and I knew without a doubt that our Heavenly Father loved him deeply. I also felt sure that my responsibility wasn't to persuade or to preach, but to love.  It has never been hard to love him.  
This week I've reflected on that experience amid the whirlwind of accusations and explanations surrounding the LDS church's new policy regarding the membership of children from same-sex marriages. I have tried to tap into that feeling of love as I have read articles, comments, and opinions on the subject. But instead I began to build a wall to protect my faith and to protect my family.  

I felt defensive because I love the LDS church. It feels like home to me. I have been carried through my darkest days by the simplicity of its doctrine and the Christ-like love of its members.  I have felt my hope restored as I have listened to the messages of it's leaders.  And most of all I have watched my parents and grandparents devote their lives to its ministry. My father is a Stake President, which means he presides over hundreds of individuals and approximately 10 congregations.  He serves them without pay. He sacrifices his limited time, outside of his profession, to help families meet their needs and solve their problems.  He shares his testimony of the Savior at countless meetings in hopes that each member of his flock will find peace as they deal with their unique trials. He rejoices with those who rise above their challenges, and he mourns with those that feel lost and alone.  He is good and honest and kind.  I know that there are thousands of good men and women like him throughout the church at every level of service and leadership.   

So my immediate reaction to accusations of bigotry, hatred, and nefarious intentions was to defend my faith and my family vigorously. 

But as the days have passed I have felt gently guided away from my defensive fortress and into a softer space of empathy. I have prayed that God would help me understand the actions of my church and the feelings of those who oppose it. I think one of life's greatest challenges is to mourn with those that mourn, and to sit in sorrow with someone even if we do not completely understand their pain. 

This morning I was blessed with a moment of empathy that opened my heart and mind.  I pondered how I would feel if the church's new policy affected me in a deeply personal way.  What if, hypothetically, the new policy was about in vitro fertilization, instead of gay marriage?  What if my opportunity to have a family was in direct conflict with my faith? It hit me hard that I would feel incredible sorrow. I would feel conflicted and maybe isolated.  I might feel wronged or misunderstood.  It would take time and prayer and love to work through the pain. I would hope that my faith would endure such a challenge and that I could keep an eternal perspective.  But even with perspective I would grieve what was lost.  

I know this is not a perfect comparison, and that I do not fully understand how those who are hurt by this policy feel.  But, I do know that I felt a return to love.  

I admire those who arrived with empathy quickly; those who did not waste time building a fortress. I admire the peacemakers on both sides of this issue that have acknowledged the others pain and offered love before explanation or accusation. I have heard touching stories of LDS families reaching out to their LGBT neighbors in gestures of genuine love and friendship.  I have read beautifully humble letters from the LGBT community seeking common ground and understanding.  These things have changed me.

I hope that next time my heart feels bruised I will stop the hard work of constructing an impenetrable wall.  Instead I hope I will seek to feel the love He has for all of His children.  I will pray to be given the gift of empathy. Then I will try to remember the words the Savior spoke at the Sermon on the Mount, 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 

Matthew 5: 3-9

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.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Two months ago we welcomed our sweet little babies to the world.  It has taken me two months to write this post because every minute of my day and night has been spent caring for them.  Also, my brain is mush. Sleeping for one hour at a time does not make for a nimble mind. In the beginning if I had a free minute I would try to decide whether to eat or sleep...knowing I could not do both before one or two babies woke up.

Now the babies are sleeping for 3-4 hour stretches and I can see the light.  After sleeping for four hours I feel like I could pen a classic American novel or run a marathon...or take a long afternoon nap. The latter usually takes precedence. Today I will feel satisfied introducing our precious children to you.  

Simon Max Hall 
Clara June Hall

Simon is a mellow baby.  He loves to eat and sleep and is generally happy. He was 6 lbs 1 oz when he was born and at 2 months he weighs 9 lbs. 9 oz. His weight is the 4th percentile and his head is the 75th percentile (I've been told this is a Hall trait).  He is a quiet observer and often looks on seriously as his sister screams her head off.

All of his dark hair fell out except for a ring around the back from ear to ear.  He looks like he has male pattern baldness.  But he is growing blond hair on top and I think his eyes will be blue.


Clara is sassy and curious. From the moment she was born she was wide-eyed and loud.  She will let you know when she is not happy with a cry that escalates from coughs and sputters to ear piercing shrieks.  But once she is fed and rested she is sweet and funny. Sometimes at night she looks around our room like she sees something that I don't and she smiles.

She was 5 lbs. 8 oz when she was born and is 8 lbs. 9 oz. now.  She has held some of her long dark hairs...they hang out in the back and come forward almost like a bad comb over. Her hair is coming in dark and fuzzy and her eyes look like they will be blue.

Both of these babies love to cuddle. They love to be held by anyone and would spend their whole lives in your arms.  Some people say it spoils a baby to hold them while they sleep.  But really it spoils me.  If I could live without sleep, and if my arms were strong enough, I would hold them all of the time.  Their cuddles are like a healing balm for my worried soul.  I cherish that they are here with me today.  I want to hold them and love them while I can.

Children are the bridge to heaven. - Persian Saying

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Does the Journey Seem Long?

Jonah was diagnosed with Treacher-Collins Syndrome the morning after he was born. Our new pediatrician, a man I had never met before, came and told us about his diagnosis. We spent the previous night worrying about our new little one, so any answers were a huge relief.  We were grateful to learn that he would have normal development of his body and brain and that his vision would probably be fine.  We braced ourselves as the doctor described the many surgeries Jonah would face, but again felt relief that his condition was not life-threatening.  We tried to process this deluge of new information and challenges while dealing with the usual learning curve of new parenthood.  My brain churned over diapers, cleft palates, nursing, pumping, craniofacial disorders, sleep schedules, bath time, hearing loss, etc...

Then everything stopped.

My focus became sharp as the doctor explained that I was the carrier of this syndrome. He could tell just by looking at me that my genes were responsible for our baby's fate.  He went on to explain that we would have a 50% chance of passing on this syndrome to any children we had in the future, and that their expression of the syndrome could be mild or severe. My heart broke. Even though I had been a parent for less than 24 hours, and it had been a difficult 24 hours, I wondered in that moment if I would ever have the opportunity again.

As Jonah grew and progressed and became the light of our home my fears about never having more children were buried by the busyness of being a mother.  I felt content to be his mother and decided I could deal with our challenges at some later stage of life, when it felt right.  Little did I know that those feelings would soon surface because of circumstances beyond my control.  Suddenly on a late September day our sweet boy was gone, in a matter of minutes, and we felt his absence deeply.

In the days and weeks that followed Jonah's death I remember wondering if and how we would ever have more children.  Jordan and I began to grapple with some very difficult ethical and moral questions in the midst of our overwhelming grief.  We loved Jonah so much, just as he was, but also knew that his condition (more specifically his small airway) contributed to his death.  We explored the ideas of embryonic genetic testing, egg donation, adoption, or simply taking our genetic chances. Jordan and I had different reactions and feelings about each of these options.  No choice felt easy or inconsequential.  Some choices felt selfish, while others felt too risky.  We met with a genetic counselor to discuss our options and began a winding indeterminate journey back to parenthood.

It was about this time I met Katie.*

I was assigned to get to know Katie through the Visiting Teaching program of our church.  In that moment Katie and I seemed to have very little in common other than our approximate age.  She was newly married and still in the honeymoon phase.  I was grieving deeply after losing Jonah and trying to navigate this uncharted territory in my marriage.  She was working full-time as a teacher, and I was trying to find ways of filling the quiet stillness of my days.

Looking back I'm sure no one would have judged me for choosing not to visit teach.  I could have excused myself from the responsibility by citing my overwhelming grief, or the differences in our circumstances.  But I felt compelled to go each month whether by guilt or responsibility or the spirit.  I will always be grateful that I did, because our seemingly divergent paths soon became parallel and we both became witnesses to incredible miracles in each others lives.

As we met each month we talked about simple things like work, marriage, travel, etc...  I shared some of the things I was experiencing as I continued to grieve, tried to find a job, sought solace in the mountains, and began visiting a fertility clinic in the area.  We became closer as we honestly talked about life and it's challenges.

Shortly after our first visit to the fertility clinic we stumbled upon Katie and her husband in the lobby.  We were just about to begin our first in vitro cycle and they were meeting with the doctor for a preliminary consultation.  We all felt optimistic and hopeful about the possibilities ahead.

Our optimism soon transformed into endurance as we both faced disappointments and setbacks. For three years we consoled each other as we each dealt with the heartache and frustration of miscarriages, chemical pregnancies, unhealthy eggs, blood tests, hormone injections, changing diets, endless waiting, physical and mental exhaustion, financial burdens, and difficult doctors.

With each new attempt we hoped, prayed and fasted for each other.  When we visited each month we talked about how hard it was to know if we were even on the right path. Should we continue or quit? Was adoption the answer? Would it all be worth it?  I felt very strongly that I could only pursue one option at a time. I would follow our fertility journey to the end of the road and if it failed we would begin looking into adoption.  Katie felt compelled to complete an application and home study and actively pursue adoption while going through in vitro.  We talked about our choices and faith and hope and the love of our Heavenly Father. Then we took turns believing that everything would work out in the end.

Eventually Katie and her husband swtiched doctors and we followed suit.  We ended up going to Dr. Andrew at East Bay Fertility.  He seemed to be solving some of their problems and we were looking for new solutions.  Jordan and I only had two remaining embryos, and one more chance to try.  We put our trust in Dr. Andrew and began treatment for immune issues and a blood clotting disorder.  In November we transferred the embryos, prayed for a miracle, and waited.  Jordan and I braced ourselves for bad news at every blood draw and every ultrasound, and were stunned when the news was good.  I was pregnant!  Not only was I pregnant, but we were expecting twins!  We held our breath through that first trimester and prayed that Katie and Josh would experience the same miracle.

They tried one more time with renewed hope and it just didn't work.

I took her flowers one afternoon, self-conscious of my growing belly in the face of such disappointment. Later I asked if they would try again, and she said she wasn't sure.  She felt grateful they had options, but needed some time and space to choose their next step.  We didn't see each other for a couple of months, but kept in touch through texting.

Then Katie's miracles began.  One morning in March I got a text saying that Katie and Josh were headed to Idaho to meet a potential birth mother.  The birth mom found out about Katie and Josh and felt sure that she wanted them to have her unborn baby, which was due any day. This young mother had previously fallen away from her faith, and then found it again as this new life grew inside of her.  In the face of great opposition she convinced the biological father and her own family that this baby did not belong to her, but to Josh and Katie.  In a matter of days and through a series of miracles the baby was born, and this brave young woman gave an incredible gift to our friends, a sweet and perfect little girl.  As I await the birth of our babies, I feel nothing but admiration and respect for her and her selfless choice.  I can't imagine being that brave.

Yesterday Katie, Josh, and baby Chloe stopped by to bring me a baby gift while they were in town.  I sat
with them admiring their precious daughter, and awkwardly moving my giant belly around to get more comfortable.  It felt so amazing to know that we had traveled this long road together. We both prayed for answers and miracles. We both tried to make good choices and kept moving towards the outcome we desired most.  And in the end we both were blessed with unique experiences on our path to parenthood. After years of struggle the stars seemed to align and God's plan for each of us became evident.

When Jonah died I still believed in God.  I believed in a God who loved me deeply even though he allowed me to suffer.  But it became difficult to believe in a God who would listen to the desires of my heart. Traveling this parallel path with Katie has renewed my faith that not only does God love us, but that he actively works with us to help us realize the desires of our hearts.  He requires us to be patient, to work, and to engage in the struggle, but in the end I believe he is placing people and solutions in our paths to help us find joy.  I am so grateful that Katie's path crossed mine just when I needed it most.  It has been such a blessing to watch our individual miracles unfold.

*A special thanks to Josh and Katie for allowing me to share their story!  You should definitely watch this sweet video it will make you smile and cry.

"I have absolute certain knowledge, perfect knowledge, that God loves us. He is good, He is our Father, and He expects us to pray, and trust, and be believing, and not give up, and not panic, and not retreat, and not jump ship, when something doesn't seem to be going just right. We stay in, we keep working, we keep believing, keep trusting, following that same path and we will live to fall in His arms and feel His embrace and hear Him say, ""I told you that it'd be okay, I told you it would be all right."" - Jeffrey R. Holland