Monday, April 30, 2012

Mysterious Ways

Yesterday morning I entered a lecture hall at BYU.  The room was awfully familiar and surprisingly tan from top to bottom; tan linoleum, tan bulletin board walls, tan chairs, tan walls.  I vaguely remembered sleeping in a room like this 10 years ago, when I should have been learning about photosynthesis or string theory.  But yesterday instead of sleeping, I was dressed in my Sunday best, trying my hardest to look like a competent adult.  I watched the college students shuffle and flirt, and I felt like I should be sitting with them, talking about roommates, and classes.  Instead, I took my seat next to Jordan and waited for us to be introduced as the newest members of this small college congregation's bishopric.

We have known for about a week that we would be serving in this new student ward.  I was excited but had some selfish reservations.  I really love our home ward.  For the last seven months I have been soothed and healed by the people in my congregation.  They bring me food, they walk with me, they hug me at church, they tell me I am doing great things.  I am a woman who lives for positive feedback, and the people of my ward give it to me.  As I sat amongst these oddly-dressed twenty-somethings I wondered, who will take care of me here?

The answer came to me as the meeting progressed.  I was asked to concisely introduce myself, and share my testimony.  Instead I talked briefly about Jordan, since I knew he wouldn't talk about himself.  I mentioned his two year stint of not shaving, and his love of rivers and mountains. I became emotional as I told them what a good man he is.  I touched lightly on my jobs and interests, and then I paused, and told them about sweet Jonah.  I explained that our little family has lived a beautiful life, in a beautiful place, but it has not been easy or expected.  I told them that I know that God loves me, as he loves them,...because that is the one thing I feel sure of.  Then I took my seat, and I watched as Jordan stood up, made everyone cry, and then left them laughing.  I felt my fidgety heart settle, and knew that he would do great things for these students. 

My personal answer to my selfish question came from the other couple, the Sorensens, that will be serving with us in this new calling.  We have never met them.  They are a beautiful bright couple, blessed with seven children.  At first I wondered how we could possibly connect, but as they each spoke, they explained that they too have lost children, unexpectedly and accidentally.  I knew instantly that this sweet couple understood us, and would take care of us.  It seemed to me that we had come together for a unique purpose.

As I sat through the rest of the meeting I thought about how strangely and perfectly God cares for His children. I have been trying for months to lay a path for healing and stability for our family, and it has not worked.  I have put my faith in the work of my own hands, believing that I needed to prepare a way for God, so that He could open doors for me.  And yet my best laid plans have led to closed doors and dead ends.  I have presented Him with my own ideas only to be redirected.  All of my frantic and panicked effort has only led to exhaustion paired with increased humility. 

Yet, in this unexpected moment He lifted me from my comfortable perch, and let me witness His work unfold simply, like a delicate flower; without force or coercion; without strained effort.  I sat astounded in my tan chair, as I felt an overwhelming confirmation of His love and purpose for me.

God, who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. 2 Timothy 1:8-9

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


In church on Sunday I held a beautiful baby.  His sweet mother shared him with me for an hour, and this lovely child smiled at me, and laughed, and nestled against my chest.  I loved holding him, and appreciated his mother's generosity.  I stroked his soft brown hair as I listened to the lesson; a lesson on death and the resurrection.  Of course I thought of Jonah as we discussed, but overall I was fine.  I enjoyed the lesson and enjoyed holding the baby.  When the lesson ended we sang the closing song, "I am a child of God."  I began to sing with everyone else, and then I couldn't.  My hands began to shake, and my lips quivered. Why do lips do that?  The combination of the infant weight in my arms, and the song I once sang to my son, brought the most intense visceral memory.  It was as if I was instantly reminded of all that used to be mine, and of all that I have lost.  It was instant pain, and gratitude.  Sorrow and joy.

This week has been filled with moments like this one.  I spent an evening crying on the carpeted stairs of Jordan's grandparent's home because of the heat.  The heat reminded me of warm summer afternoons in Vernal.  Jonah would play wildly with his cousins, trying to keep up, until we would finally retire to our room for a much needed nap.  The heat reminded me of stripping him down to his tie-dye onesie, squeezing his chubby legs, and covering him with his elephant blanket.  When he woke he would curiously scratch the mesh of his pack-n-play.  Then his blue eyes would meet mine as he peered over the edge, looking for me.  This simple memory, brought me to my knees, and made me cry until I had no more tears.

And then there are the flashbacks.  Sometimes in the car, as I watch the mountains move, I seem to witness my own fear and panic.  I see the moment of my greatest desperation.  I clutch my heart and then the moment is gone.    

What am I supposed to do with these memories? I can't banish them, they are my most significant connection to Jonah.  These memories are the only way I can still live with him.  I can't predict when they will arrive, and how long they will stay.  I fear them and long for them.  I ache as I remember, and I ache when I forget.

I don't know what to do, so I let them come and go.  I cry all my tears, and then I continue.  I thank the kind mother.  I pick myself up off the stairs and then try to fall asleep.  I take a deep breath and move my clenched hand to Jordan's solid shoulder.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


I spent this week unexpectedly wandering through the sagebrush-spotted desert of eastern Utah.  Jordan was called to work, so I went with him.  From the road I would have described the area as flat, and barren, almost gray in its muted tones; the silhouette of the landscape only altered by large pump-jacks, oil tanks, and sinuous overland pipes crisscrossing the earth.  It is an area I would normally sleep through on my way to a more scenic destination.  But instead of sleeping, we pulled off the road, and began working.  I followed survey stakes, along side my husband, as we searched for fossils and bone fragments. Jordan is a paleontological monitor.  His job to find evidence of past lives, recorded in the earth, before oil and gas companies dig and build.  He is patient enough to look carefully and find the smallest bones.  I am not so patient. 

We walked across dusty flats, up and down ravines, and through the endless continuation of sagebrush and tumbleweeds.  The heat of the sun and smell of petroleum radiated, and I anticipated a long tedious day.  But as we navigated the miles, I started to notice signs of life around me.  Small lizards scattered from my footsteps, hilltop prairie dogs chirped warnings, and delicate desert flowers bloomed with no hope of recognition.  My gaze shifted from the vast expanse ahead of us to the ground, to what lay just before me.  I began to look, to slow my steps, and to notice.  Then the beauty of the desert, hidden beneath the coarse repetitive brush, emerged 

I knelt with Jordan beside a large anthill scanning the piles of tiny pebbles mined by worker ants.  I watched him as he brought his face within inches of the mound, and searched the surface.  I followed his lead and began to see glistening red, gold, and olive green stones sprinkling the hill.  As I looked closer I saw pink cactus seeds, and minuscule white-washed bones.  Jordan picked up a dark piece from the hill and showed me the cell structure of the fossilized bone, buried for thousands of years, now carried to the surface by a tiny miner.   

As I gazed across the anthill, and saw its beauty, I thought of Jonah.  He noticed everything.  For the first 4 months of his life he couldn't hear, so instead he watched intently.  He got so much joy out of simple things; he loved colors and textures that I passed by as commonplace.  As I watched the red ants carry their pebbles, I thought about how Jonah taught me to slow down and really see life.  Now in the desert I watched his father, carefully and methodically combing the landscape. I watched the satisfaction on Jordan's face when he discovered even the smallest turtle shell fragments.  I realized how much these two boys have slowed me down.  I once sped through life from one acheivement to the next, from one task to the next, from one meeting to the next.  But Jordan and Jonah taught me about shifting the speed of life to a lower gear, and recognizing the beauty of each step.  They slowed me down so that I could see the glistening hill and the early morning blossoms. 

Even now that I am home I feel like I am still wandering the desert. Some days I feel inundated by the eroding forces of life.  I tend to look too far ahead, and to only see the vast expanse in front of me, and the incredible distance I am meant to travel.  But this week I have been reminded that even in the barren desert there are flowers at my feet.   

Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. Georgia O'Keeffe

Monday, April 16, 2012


The other day I was standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes.  The heat of the sudsy water warmed my glove covered hands, and I stared out the window towards the snow-dusted mountains.  The task of washing dishes is so mundane and repetitive that it allows my mind to wander.  As I turned the brush, and rinsed each dish, I looked at the small figurine my mom gave me when I was pregnant with Jonah.  It is a sweet simple figure of an expectant mother.  I see it and can't help but remember the lovely anticipation of motherhood.  When I was pregnant, I would wash the dishes while my large belly became soaked by dishwater, and I strained to reach the items in the sink.  Now my hips rest flush against the counter, and my hands fish less-blindly through gray water.  When Jonah was alive his small, strong hands, used to pull at my jeans, longing for me to forget my daily task and hold him.  Often, while I scrub and clean, I can almost feel the weight of Jonah's busy body catapult into the back of my legs.  Sometimes I expect to turn around and see him smiling up at me.  But my mind reminds me that he wont be there.  Instead I see a floor that needs cleaning. 

I remember learning about the phantom pain of amputees.  Individuals who have lost an arm or leg often feel pain in their missing limb.  I feel like I understand a different kind of phantom pain. Part of my life has been removed, but I still feel him sometimes as if he is still a part of me.  Even in the midst of pain, I am grateful to feel him in any way I can.

Each night I pray that I will be able to feel Jonah's presence in my daily life.  In the beginning I hoped that he would come to me in a vision, or a dream.  A grand revelation would surely set my mind at ease, and make life more bearable.  I went to the temple and waited for his visitation.  I wanted a clear and obvious encounter so I could believe, without a doubt, that I would be with him again.  It hasn't come. 

Instead I am learning to rely on the subtle and simple moments of life.  Like the moments when I feel him at my feet while I do the dishes.  Or when I weep at night and the words come to my mind, "Mom, its okay.  It will all be okay."  Sometimes I find myself alone saying, "Jonah, I miss you, where are you?", and then a simple peace comes.  It is not grand, it is not intense, but these small moments give me hope.  They move me forward.  I don't know how I am supposed to interact with Jonah these days, or how to be his mother from an immeasurable distance, but I do believe that I can feel his presence.  Sometimes in my heart, in my mind, and in my home.  

I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separate from them. … We are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors … who have preceded us into the spirit world. We can not forget them; we do not cease to love them; we always hold them in our hearts, in memory, and thus we are associated and united to them by ties that we can not break. … If this is the case with us in our finite condition, surrounded by our mortal weaknesses, … how much more certain it is … to believe that those who have been faithful, who have gone beyond … can see us better than we can see them; that they know us better than we know them. … We live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; … their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves.  Joseph F. Smith

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Two days after Jonah's funeral I sat in the Department of Motor Vehicles, waiting.  It was my 31st birthday, and my license was about to expire.  I watched my son take his last breath only a week before, and now I sat in a grey room, filling out asinine paperwork, waiting to have my picture taken.  It all seemed a little ridiculous and surreal.   One of the great injustices of death, is that life goes on around you.  Bills still have to be paid, dinner must be made, and licenses expire.

I remember sitting in the hard plastic chairs of the DMV, waiting for my number to be called, and watching the people around me. 

Across the room I watched a father move forward with two young children, a baby in a stroller, and a toddler hanging loosely at his side, suspended by one arm, her pink shoes lightly kissing the floor as she was lifted over the speckled carpet.  The baby was fussy, the toddler lethargic, and the dad was done; ready to abandon these two children, for a much needed nap, and a moment of silence.  His toddler oozed from his grasp, to lie on the filthy floor, while the stroller tipped and swayed with each strained step forward.  His words sharpened, and his grip tightened, as he caught his slug-like child by the elbow and forcefully snapped her to her knees.  Each of his irritated movements and words stung me. 
He would never know that I envied him, in all of his frustration.  He could not know that I longed to be at the DMV with a grumpy toddler.  And really I knew nothing of him, or his circumstances.   
I often have moments like this one (mostly at Walmart) where I see frustrated, fatigued, and frazzled parents.  I know most of them are trying to keep it together while wrangling children who are escaping from carts, running down aisles, or begging for candy.  Some parents seem to have surrendered to the unruly masses they follow.  Occasionally, I remember feeling a portion of that exhaustion. 
Sometimes I fantasize about giving them a picture of Jonah, reminding them that life is fleeting, and all they are promised is the moment.  But then I realize that this would probably only add guilt to their frustration, and that I would ultimately be a hypocrite.  

I too am in a moment of intense frustration, and fatigue.  My life is not exactly what I imagined.  Each day I struggle to find purpose, and meaning.  Somedays I just go through the motions, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bed.  Somedays I'm swallowed up in longing for my past.  Others I wish I could fast-forward through this season of grief to a time of happiness, of more children, of pure joy.  

My struggle is not as apparent as that of a mother with small children.  The fatigue I feel is no longer evident on my face and in my posture, at least not to the untrained eye.  But there are days when I am not fully present with my husband, or with my family.  I am not living each moment as if it were my last.  I often think that experiencing such an unexpected death should make me live a more present life.  Appreciating the moment is easy, when life is easy.  Are we still required to appreciate each moment when life is hard?

This week I am trying to appreciate the moment I am in, trying not to wish it away.  I'm going to try to be grateful that I can go on a bike ride with Jordan in the middle of the day, even though I wish I was changing diapers.  Maybe today you will find gratitude in the opposite, even if it not a fulfillment of your dreams.  I will try to remember that today is all I am promised, and that even when life is hard, life is good.  

My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment.  Doctrine and Covenants 121: 7

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I spent the day yesterday building a compost heap.  I attached chicken wire to metal poles, then shoveled in layer after layer of grass clippings, rotting fruit, and dirt.  When I began the pile I felt strong, productive, even creative.  I was enjoying the heat of the sun on my arms and neck, and the earthy smell of my garden.  Then I got a phone call.  Another kind, and complimentary rejection.  Another door closed.  I was gracious on the phone, thanked them for the opportunity to interview, and immediately returned to my heaping earthen pile.  One more layer of dirt.  Another layer of grass.  A quick spray of water.  I tried to power through the disappointment.  I kept shoveling, kept layering, but soon found my cheeks and hands wet with tears.  So I stopped, and stood, alone in my garden.

My tears were not about the job.  That small disappointment only triggered a deeper pain.  They were for Jonah.  They always are.  As my head bowed over my shovel handle, I thought about how last year I envisioned transforming this corner of my yard into a discovery garden for him.  I had planned a tree house, a sandbox, a music wall, and hidden pathways.  I wanted to create a unique world for him to explore.  He loved to be outside and loved dirt.  We spent our afternoons swinging, and playing, and running.  We wandered to the garden, and he would quickly snatch dirt from our raised beds, shoving it in his mouth before I could stop him.  When I told him no, and lunged for his hands, he responded with a bright and dirty dimpled smile, vigorously shaking his head "no" from side to side.  He had such a sweet and curious spirit.

I want to be back in that moment.  I don't want to be applying for jobs.  I don't want to be working on my compost heap.  I want to be watching Jonah grow, chasing him, and putting him down for an afternoon nap.  I want to be building a life around him, instead of thinking about my own.  My soul feels agitated by uncertainty, and angry that I have to start over.  Starting over is so hard.  

My sweet friend Mary dragged my agitated soul to yoga this morning.  I was reminded after contorting my body into all manner of upward, downward, and sideways-facing dogs, to be grateful.  I was even challenged to find gratitude in disappointment.  As I laid in the final relaxation pose, alone with my busy brain, I tried to silence my thoughts with gratitude.  I realized the only sufficient companion for my disappointed heart is a grateful one.  I didn't try to forget my pain, but shifted my focus.  I slowed my breath, and mind.  With each breath I thought "my heart is broken, but still grateful"...for Jordan...for health...for home...for love...for peace...for time...for hope...for faith...for Jonah. 

Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey…delays…sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling burst of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride. Jenkin Lloyd Jones (quoted in this great talk by Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley)

Sunday, April 1, 2012


Six months ago I sat in the front seat of a speeding ambulance, astounded.  I would have expected shock, but instead I felt keenly aware of myself and my circumstance.  I felt so very present.  I held my head in my hands, as I listened to the paramedics carefully, and methodically work to save Jonah's life.  I reflect often on the words that floated from my lips in that ambulance.  I prayed, while I sunk deeper into the life altering chaos that was unfolding around me.  I believe deeply in the power of prayer, but I found as I spoke to my Heavenly Father that I could not ask him to save Jonah.  The words would not come to my tongue.  I knew, from the center of my soul, that Jonah would leave me that day.  I could not pray for him to stay, and I did not pray for a miracle, although I wanted nothing more.

Instead I cried out, "Heavenly Father, I cannot do this.  I am not strong enough.  I cannot do this.  I cannot handle this. Give me strength, please give me strength."  I wondered as we drove, and the EMTs rushed around me, if God could hear me.

Then my sweet boy died.  I held his precious body in my arms, until my physical strength was gone.  As Jordan and I returned to an empty house, I felt as if all the strength I had ever possessed or attained had been ripped from me, in one violent merciless jolt.  The next morning, I stood in my kitchen, starring out the window, and I felt my knees give way.  I was nothing more than a pile of emotions on a crumb littered floor.  My weakness felt infinite.  I prayed again for strength, for understanding, and for God to let me know He was there.

Three days later Jordan and I lay motionless on our brown vinyl couches, exhausted by the continuous work of grief.  The angelic rush of friends and family subsided, and we were left alone, listening to General Conference on the radio.  Normally, I love conference.  I love the opportunity to feed my spirit, and to listen to inspired messages.  But, as I lay on the couch, and heard the messages, I felt nothing.  That isn't true.  I felt pain, pure pain, and hour after hour the words rushed over me.

Until in a moment, I came to myself, and heard a message that was meant for me.  Elder Robert D. Hales gave a talk called "Waiting upon the Lord: Thy Will be Done." This talk pricked and revived my waning soul.  Elder Hales spoke of the Savior, and how he waited on the Lord as he prepared himself to make the ultimate sacrifice for each of us.  He spoke of the pain, suffering, and humiliation, inflicted upon God's only begotten Son.  He explained that even the Savior of all mankind cried out in his pain, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"  Elder Hales said he often wondered why good and honest people must each face heartbreaking trials and tribulation.  My heart agreed and also wondered why.

I felt the spirit confirm the truth of the words that followed:

As we ask these questions, we realize that the purpose of our life on earth is to grow, develop, and be strengthened through our own experiences. How do we do this? The scriptures give us an answer in one simple phrase: we “wait upon the Lord.” Tests and trials are given to all of us. These mortal challenges allow us and our Heavenly Father to see whether we will exercise our agency to follow His Son. He already knows, and we have the opportunity to learn, that no matter how difficult our circumstances, “all these things shall [be for our] experience, and … [our] good.”

It became clear to me that although my heart was broken, and my strength seemed annihilated, one day my heartache would become a source of strength.

In the last six months I have had a lot of people say they are impressed by my strength.  I usually take this to mean, "I am impressed you are not crying all the time."  What they don't know is that I cry a lot, so much that I don't put on makeup until just before I leave the house, if at all.  Despite all the crying, I do feel unusually strong.  Inexplicably strong.  As I have contemplated the manifestation of strength, and the source of my strength, I have only one explanation.  I believe in God.

I have a deep and abiding faith in a God who loves me.  I believe that I am in his constant care, that he sends angels to lift me up, and to care for me.  I believe I am His precious daughter.  I believe that His will for me is greater than my own.  I believe that He sent His only begotten Son to die for me, that I might live again. I believe that he sends me messages and revelation to help me on my way.  I believe that He lets me experience heartache and sorrow so that I can become more like Him. 

I thought I believed all of these things before I lost Jonah, and now, after the excruciating pain of his loss, I know what I believe.  In my moments of greatest weakness, and intense sorrow, that knowledge gives me incredible strength.