Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Thoughts: President Nelson's Invitation to Read the Book of Mormon

When Alexis and I drove home after listening to an awesome Women's Conference in October, one of the first things we talk about was the four invitations President Nelson gave to the sisters.

"Mom, when President Nelson invited sisters to read the Book of Mormon between now and the end of the year, do you think he just meant grown ups?"

I saw the question in her mind - the spark of light had been ignited. And I knew she was capable. So we made a decision in the car that night. We'd both do it. Start to finish by the end of the year.

And today, on December 30th, we both finished.

I'd like to write a few things I learned personally from this journey since October:

1. Having been asked to not only read the Book of Mormon but to mark each mention of Christ, I was reminded time and time again of His words, His light and His truth. Beautiful.

2. Ministering is inspired. For me, this was the first time the word MINISTER has jumped out of the pages to me. I loved reading the stories and learning from the examples of true ministering. All centered in LOVE and centered in Christ. Most often, ministering happened 1:1. Loved pondering not only those who ministered one another, but the angels who ministered was a tender reminder to me that the Lord's Holy work is unchanging and these things are happening all around us today. I found a greater awareness of seeing people in all settings ministering to one another in small ways in every day life. Seeing this was so inspiring and I strive to continually deepen this awareness and seek opportunities to minster in small and simple ways.

3. I felt greater feelings of peace, joy and love in my every day life. Circumstances haven't changed, but I absolutely feel, trust and know that the Lord knows and will continue to direct us and give us strength in ALL THINGS.

4. I have a greater appreciation and gratitude for Joseph Smith and his wife Emma. At the same time I read the Book of Mormon, I also read the book Saints. What a reminder of the constant turmoil they were in as they encountered so much resistance and what faith and courage they had to keep moving forward. I am so grateful for their sacrifice. I am so grateful for the sacrifice and resilience of the pioneers, some of whom are my ancestors. Their stories help me remember that to be deeply rooted in something takes effort, resilience and the courage to keep moving forward. I strive to honor them.

5. I've noticed a deeper love and connection to nature these last couple of months. And while I've always felt that connection, it has definitely deepened in conjunction with this invitation. I believe that God can speak to us through His creation, and nature seems to share so much wisdom in being still, looking upward, trusting, working, continually changing and growing with intention. There have been many moments that have opened my mind and heart to receive specific inspiration.

6. Another word that really spoke to me was SERVE. There are so many inspired words in the Book of Mormon centered on service. I can't think of a better way to magnify oneself, to get outside of one's own worries, or to feel more abundant joy than through serving others. Each time we have moved, our greatest connection - to ourselves, as a family, and in our neighborhood and church congregation has happened as we've stepped outside of ourselves and stepped into service. Reading SERVE in the Book of Mormon was yet another reminder that service is love in action. In any way. I need those continual reminders to step outside of "me" and into others.

7. REMEMBER was another word that really jumped out to me. With constant noise and distraction, I feel remembering who we are, where we came from and who we are meant to become is essential and gives peace, hope and light.

8. I was reminded (again and again) that I don't need to have all the answers. I don't need to know the "how." I don't need to have everything planned and mapped out and that's totally okay. What I do need (and I need this in things big and small) is to trust the Lord, and trust that He knows, He's already figured out the "how" and it's my job to just keep acting on the good thoughts, showing my love to him through keeping his covenants, and using his grace each and every day. Because things will work out.

I asked Alexis to share some of her thoughts with what she learned from the Book of Mormon and here's what she said:

I liked that you really can read the Book of Mormon as many times as you like. I like having the invitation. This gave me a challenge to really read it every day, and spend time on something that is important to me. I learned that it doesn't matter what age you are, you can just pick it up and read it. I felt the spirit every time I read it and I had better days. I noticed that I was happier each day. I noticed some really good scriptures in there that I want to memorize! I really liked waking up early in the mornings to read it. I liked that time that it wasn't noisy because I could read and think about what I was reading. I think my mom is an amazing example of how she reads every morning because it made me want to read the book of mormon too. She's always so happy and I wanted to be happy like her. Now that I've finished, I feel SO GOOD that I did it. In the beginning, it was SO HARD because I thought it was so much, but then, after awhile, I realized I made it half way and that I could keep going. I loved the idea when President Nelson said to mark any mention of Christ. In the beginning I forgot about it, but then my mom told me how she had been marking it, and I remembered I wanted to do it too. There was so much in there about Christ. I love reading about him and every time I read about him I feel warm and happy. I know God answers my prayers.

My heart is so full of peace and joy over this whole experience. I know she's going to look back and always remember that she finished something that felt hard. She wrote the part above about me being an example for her, but the real truth is, she's the example for me.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Thoughts: Behold Your Little Ones

This morning, as I was reading the words of Christ in the scriptures, I read the phrase "Behold Your Little Ones." And couldn't help but feel like my heart was about to explode. A handful of experiences over these last few weeks have reminded me over and over that these little ones are so capable. Their light is so needed in this world. And as much as I think they need things a certain way, I often learn how much more they can handle, how ready they are to be stretched, and how they truly know how to serve and connect with others. 

One of those moments happened a few Sunday mornings ago.

I could hear her footsteps as she came down the stairs. Eager and excited for Sunday, she kept her typical routine of being the first one awake. She entered the kitchen with her beaming smile and energy, ready to take on the day. But first, breakfast.

Since it was the first Sunday of the month, I was fasting, and reminded her that I'd be happy to get her something to eat, but that her older brother and sister had joined the fasting club for the month.

We started Fasting Club when Max was big enough to start learning the principle of fasting - I had read about it from another deliberate mother a few months prior, and recalled it from my mind on a whim one morning as I was grumbling to myself about all the food I needed to get out for the girls, while simultaneously watching a boy who looked about as sad as could be as he entered the kitchen. I didn't want a spirit of sadness surrounding this principle, and realized that both he and I could use a little "fun" in the process. "Bud," I said, "Do you want to be in the Fasting Club with dad and I?" The light in his eyes - excitement, energy and enthusiasm to do something his sisters wouldn't yet be part of was enough to shift his energy from sad to excited. "Yes!" He jumped as he said the words. 

And so it began. I didn't really even know what our "club" was - but soon realized it didn't need much. The "club" has evolved into a handful of simple actions - chatting about fast Sunday and a focus the night before. The morning of, I'll write a note and leave it at the stairs - a simple invitation to join the fasting club - no pressure - but a helpful reminder for them as they typically roll right into breakfast. Sometimes I'll put a specific scripture on there for them to study before getting ready, and sometimes it's more general to let them guide their own study. 

At least with the older two, entrance to the club has began right around the age of 8. I'd love to say we have grand conversations, or that we do special scripture study together, but in reality, most of what we say and do is in-between the hair-styling and car-driving on the way to church. Because in reality, I'm juggling that part solo as Mike is serving in a variety of capacities that use that window of time prior to church. I used to beat myself up that I couldn't seem to "get it together" enough to carve out time just with them to all sit together while the little ones slept or played quietly on their own (ha!), but then I realized that embracing the chaos, flowing with the mornings, giving them opportunities to strengthen their personal spirits, and then circling up together in those pockets that we had was absolutely enough.

Back to the kitchen earlier this month as Tayler came downstairs.

"Mom. I'm ready. I want to join Fasting Club today."

Surprised, I looked at her for a moment, really digesting what she'd just offered up. "You know that means no breakfast, and you wouldn't be eating until later today, right?" 

"Yep. I'm ready."

I'd love to say that in this moment I faithfully agreed with her, believing that she had the capacity to start something "big," but in honesty, I doubted. I paused, hesitated and really thought about maybe pushing her toward eating breakfast and waiting for when she was older and more "capable."

Yet, in that pause, I looked at her. She had so much light in her eyes. This girl was far more capable than was giving her credit for. She knew what she was asking to do. She'd seen it in the examples of her siblings month after month. And this daughter of God was striving. Striving to become something bigger that day. Who was I to take that from her?

So she jumped in. I let her add her signature to the paper at the top of the stairs.

Fast forward to church that morning, when she then leaned over to me and said "mom, I want to go up and bear my testimony today. Think I can do it?"

This surprised me even more than our first request. Typically, this gal is happily coloring while the speakers chat, and on fast Sunday, when members of the congregation voluntarily go up and share their thoughts on Jesus Christ.

Again I paused. Thankfully, I was reminded of the earlier internal conversation, and I again looked into her eyes and saw the eagerness and light.  As much as I wanted to say that she hadn't thought of what to say, or that she wouldn't know what to do, or that she simply wasn't "enough" the thought came to mind: Who am I to take this experience from her?

And so she went. Mike happily went up with her, and helped her get the stool so she'd be tall enough to see over the pulpit.

And then he sat down.

Her face was so full of light, genuine love, and her six-year old eyes had a look of nerves as she saw the congregation for the first time from that perspective. For a moment, I thought she'd smile, freeze up and back away, but she didn't.

With a shake in her voice, she shared sincere genuine truths about Jesus Christ, serving and loving others. 

Tears swelled in my eyes, as my heart was ready to burst.

The Spirit reminded me in these moments that my role as their mother, as much as it is full of directing, guiding, above all it is to NURTURE.

To teach them how to grow on their own.
To let them stretch beyond where they are now.
To create spaces and opportunities for them to dig into their roots, and stand strong in the winds of life.
To nourish them with love, truth and light.

These last few weeks have really reminded me how much I have to learn from them - how much I can "behold" from them - and what the gift of Christmas is truly about.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Juggle

Around 6 pm on a Thursday evening, I received this text from Mike: Stuck in traffic. Must be an accident. Think Max will be okay?

Mike had planned to pick up Max from basketball practice, yet it looked like circumstances would make him late. I needed leave at 6:15 to head down to the church to set up for a service Relief Society activity I was in charge of, so I responded:

"I'm 5 minutes away, I'll get him so I can leave him here with the girls while you drive home."

Putting dinner on pause, I arrived at the school only to discover practice was running late. 6:10 on the clock. If I waited, I would be late meeting the other women planning to set up at the church and I was the one with the key. If I left, Mike could pick up Max and meet the girls at home within the next :10 minutes. Alexis could totally handle that window of time until they met her at home.

I called Mike with the new plan as I turned back around from the school. Dropped by home just long enough to pick up the mountain of supplies and fill in Alexis.

In that moment, I couldn't help but feel grateful for acting on the thought to put everything in order earlier - all the supplies for the service project (we were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless) and the needed tools - gloves, bags, clean up supplies, portable speaker for the music, the church keys, the Light the World fliers - it was all there, ready to load. The juggle of the evening was working out.

Popping into the house just long enough to gather the supplies, Alexis was super helpful with both loading the car and taking on the :10 minute window solo until Mike and Max arrived home.

Whew, it's a juggle, but it's all good. I told myself.

The :20 minute drive to the church was relatively uneventful. I pulled into the church with a sigh of relief realizing I had not left the others waiting. 

Awesome. I'll back in, park close to the door, and get the building unlocked so that when they arrive, we can unload and set up quickly together.

Opening the trunk, I reached in to grab the church keys in the spot of the box where I'd placed them earlier that evening.

No keys.

Pausing, I reached into the bag I also had pre-packed thinking I had mistaken where I'd placed them.

No keys.

Oh I must have put them in the other bag.

No keys.

Then they are in my purse. Definitely my purse. 

No keys. 

The cup holder. Maybe I tossed them there.

No keys. 

The front passenger seat.

No keys. 

Somewhere loose inside the trunk.

No keys.
Maybe I just need more light. I turned on the flashlight function of my phone to search all of those areas again.

No keys.

I paused for a moment to slow my mind. So many times, if I think back to the moment of where I had initially held them last, I can recall where I last placed them. As expected, my mind traced them back to the box. The box was full of supplies, and fairly large. I'd been praying silently as I'd been searching, but realized a more meaningful prayer might be helpful.

Maybe they slipped to another spot in the box.

I began to unload every item from the box. Jars of peanut butter, jars of jam, loaves of bread, placing them all on the sidewalk. 

Then I unloaded every item in my purse.

And every item from every bag.

At that moment, I felt a wave of discouragement. The juggling had been moving from one thing to the next and all of the balls were starting to crash all over the ground. Here I was alone. Unable to fix the current predicament alone.

About that time, Sara, who was arriving early to help set up, pulled up and walked over. 

"Oh hey!" I greeted her with a bit of a chuckle.

Seeing the array all over the sidewalk, she turned her head slightly and smiled, "Hi!?" 

Recognizing the pickle I was in - knowing there were NO KEYS - and not having a solution at that point - I realized two routes I could take - tears/beat myself up with embarrassment/frustration OR a bit of humor mixed with sarcasm, because who hasn't forgotten something at some point? 

I chose the latter, of which she started to share stories about being in the same boat - misplacing keys only to find them with a bit more looking. And jumped in to help look for the missing keys.

Yet, the more we looked, the more the clock ticked, and I realized they definitely were not in the car.

Calling home as a last ditch attempt of thinking I'd left the keys on the counter, our conversation went like this:

"Hey hon!"

"Hey, I got Max, and everyone is eating dinner, we're good. Have fun!"

"Oh awesome. Can you check something for me? Did I leave the church keys on the counter by the blender?"

Pause. "Nope. No keys. Thought you grabbed them?"

"Yep, me too. But I've looked everywhere, and must have left them in the kitchen."

Pause. We're both still searching.

"Nope. No keys here for sure."

"Huh. Okay."

My next phone call went to Christy, who wasn't planing to be there early, but was the only one who might have a set of church keys. 

"Hey Christy!"

"Hey! I'll be there in two minutes to finish setting up with you guys."

"Oh awesome. We'll need the extra hands. You don't happen to have your church keys do you?"

"Um...yep...I actually do. Thought you might need the key to get into the library for the tv tonight."

Sigh of relief. So grateful.

"Awesome. Somewhere between my house and this parking lot the keys have disappeared. I'm now a bit convinced there is a hole in my car and they fell out somewhere on highway 27." 

That's the sarcasm I mentioned into since leaning into laughter is so much better than frustration.

We piled everything back into the boxes, the doors were opened, and set up together in record time just as the group started arriving.

We rolled right into the evening - making sandwiches, connecting and enjoying time together while kicking off the holiday season. As we were wrapping up the evening, I circled everyone up to show a couple of videos centering around the Light the World initiative for December.

This one brings me to tears every single time.

At the close of the video, I began to share a few thoughts only to be interrupted by my phone ringing.

My phone, typically on silent for these events, was at the time, plugged into the TV. Since I'd just used it to connect the above video, the call not only made the sound of arrival, but caller ID was on the TV for all to see.

Mike Walkenhorst

Christy and Sara chuckled together, "He found the keys!"

Of which, realizing we were the only three that knew the meaning of this laughter, I took a brief moment to explain the misplaced the church keys prior to the evening beginning. No sooner do I finish then I received a ding on my phone.

This time, it was a text from Mike. Also up on the TV screen.

Abby had your keys the whole time.

Upon reading this text, the room breaks into laughter.

As if, for a moment, all burdens were made light, as we shared in the juggling of all our lives and how we're all doing the best we can. That moment. Magical. 

In all the planning for this activity, I expected to feel light from doing service for others. I expected to feel light from gathering women together doing something good together. I expected to enjoy the evening. What I didn't expect, was to feel a deep sense of connection with this room of women. They caught a glimpse of my small "behind the scenes" juggle just enough to relax, relate and laugh together.

It wasn't until I came home later that evening, sandwiches made and ready for delivery, that I heard the other end of the story - Mike had searched, no one had seen the keys. An hour later, when he asked everyone to start getting ready for bed, Abby slowly walked over to him as she pulled something from her pocket. Holding the keys in her hand, she said, "Daddy, I'm so sorry."

Mike asked her where she found them and she said, "they were in the box with all the groceries that mom had by the door. I thought they were keys to a treasure box so I put them in my pocket."

Reflecting back on this juggle of an evening, I can't help but sit in the space of gratitude for the experience. Because the juggle is within all of us. Maybe not in a four-year-old-taking-keys-that-might-unlock-a-treasure-box-when-you're-trying-to-organize-a-service-activity-for-women juggle, but we're all juggling, striving to do the best we can with what we have. We're in the work. And sometimes balls are dropped. Sometimes we drop the ball. Sometimes the ball is dropped and it is beyond our grasp to catch it.

And as best we strive to keep juggling alone, we have the opportunity to realize something much deeper.

We aren't meant to juggle alone.

Things may go differently than we had planned. Or hoped. 

But more often than not, those are the moments we can choose to be curious about. 

Those are the moments we can lean into one another. To show up. To share our stories. To hold space with someone struggling. To be the one that can fill in the gaps. To be the one that can lighten the load or the burden of another.

Because it's in that juggling together, that we begin to truly see and value the light within all of us. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ft. Myers

We were so grateful to spend time together with a few of Mike's coworkers and their families in Ft. Meyers. I'm scratching my head a bit that we never took a picture of everyone together, but it seems when we're all either in the pool or at the beach, we're all beautifully unplugged, and that's a memory worth cherishing just as much as any photo.

The red tide was still in swing, and while we were in the southern pocket of it, you could tell it was around. Beyond chasing the crabs, we really didn't play "in" the water as much as we would typically. But that didn't stop us from having a wonderful time together! Kite flying, beach volleyball, and digging in the sand. We loved the accessibility of the pool! It was pretty amazing to stay at a place where you could walk in and out of a pool right next to the beach!

We surprised the kiddos with a jet ski rental and they had such a blast! Mike and I took turns taking everyone out. I loved all of their reactions and how they each absorbed the speed and the overall experience of being in the ocean differently. And it was really interesting to get out on the ocean - the water was amazingly clear, and no signs of the red tide were anywhere to be found. So interesting!

Abigail screamed and giggled the whole time - she said "this is amazing!" over and over and told me "it was like a roller coaster on the water." Tayler laughed and laughed. Alexis loved seeing the shoreline and LOVED the speed. She held on tight and wanted to go as fast as possible. Max loved everything about it and was fascinated how you could move and turn so easily on them. I think I had a permanent smile.

The view from our room that morning. The sunrise was beautiful!!

 We're all fascinated by the sea turtles this time of year. Loved this info letter from the hotel!

So grateful to create these memories together. There are so many beautiful places to discover!

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Day off of school

Monday, the kiddos were off from school, and the weather was fantastic for a trip to the beach! So grateful to embrace "beach days" in this chapter of life together! The ocean was calm and the kiddos were able to swim and look for seashells. We took the opportunity to learn more about why we had the day off - it was for the Jewish holiday, Rash Hashanah, and how we could honor that tradition we knew friends would be celebrating. It was beautiful to chat about amazing traditions of other faiths that surround us. And I was so happy to have a mom day with this crew. We're definitely in the chapter of lots of things happening all over different places, homework, and all kinds of things in-between, so to reconnect and enjoy time at the beach was so wonderful. 

And I can't help but look back on these photos with a big heart. They are all growing so much and share so much friendship with one another. Absolutely, there are arguments, and door slamming moments, but goodness, the connections and moments where they thrive together are ones I hope to keep soaking in with a front row seat. Love this crew and the amazing individuals they are becoming. 

Date Night

Alexis had her turn for date night this month! She was so excited to practice golfing with Mike and then they were off for frozen yogurt. Love her!!

Saturday Service

We have a back-to-back trend of Saturday service projects. This one was with Mike's company to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the acquisition. We went to Bill Baggs State Park and spent the morning cleaning up garbage along the beach. 

Two things we learned from this:

1. Wow. So much garbage. And so small. Like little plastic that won't break down, straws and SO MANY plastic bottle caps. 

2. It was really, really hot. Can't even put words to it.

Sometimes it's so good to just get into the thick of doing something hard together. I think we'll look back on this day with laughter and a sense of resilience of doing something in hard conditions. We have so much to be grateful for, and it always deepens perspective to get out and serve in the community. And that we can all be a little more mindful of what we're doing with our trash!

Getting the directions from the Rangers of what to look for, and to track everything we pick up on a sheet (they do research on the garbage and like to know what's getting picked up).
 Some of the group before heading out:
 Hard at work:

 These two digging for a big piece of plastic. Abigail thought the whole thing was like a big treasure hunt. The question she'd ask most "is this nature or is this garbage?"
Max found some cool blue crab legs!

 The distance shot hides to pools of sweat all over us! We drank SO MUCH water out there - Tayler and I had to go back and refill our big water bottles (definitely a good thing).
 We were able to catch a glimpse of this beautiful almost 200-year-old lighthouse.

 Abigail had a way of making friends with everyone. So sweet.
 The view of Miami on the drive home (crossing the bridge). Always so pretty!
 We came home and swam in the pool for the afternoon - felt SO GOOD to cool off!!