Singing about God and Christ to a crowd of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

I have been saddened by the recent conflict in Israel.  I lived in Jerusalem for 4 months in the winter and spring of 2000 while studying at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (i.e. the BYU Jerusalem Center) and grew to love the people there, both the Israelis and the Palestinians.  I sympathize with both groups and pray for the Peace of Jerusalem always.

(photo courtesy of Nate Spicker–a student who attended with me)

(photo courtesy of Nate Spicker)

The people there LOVED the “Mormons” as we were affectionately known.  They didn’t refer to us as Americans (which was, unfortunately, a good thing–Americans aren’t well liked over there).

When you are accepted into the program in Jerusalem, one of the “rules” is you aren’t allowed to talk about your religion to the people who live there.  Ever.  For any reason.  If you are caught discussing religion (even if you answer a simple question) you will be sent home.  So if anyone asked anything, we were told to say “I can’t talk about that”.  No “Yes’s” or “No’s”.  Nothing.  Many of the people there knew this.  And they’d try to trick you.  We got really good at saying “I can’t talk about that”.

(photo from Center website)

But.  For some reason, we were able to SING about our beliefs in God and Jesus Christ within the Jerusalem Center (we couldn’t go around the streets singing the answers people asked us, although that could have been wildly entertaining).

During that semester we formed a large student choir with over 100 members.  We often sang during church services and at the end of the Semester, we hosted a concert held in the Upper Auditorium.  The same room we held church services in.  Not sure how they expect anyone to pay attention with a view like that.

(photo courtesy of Nate Spicker)

At the end of the semester concert, we were allowed to invite the public.  Anyone of any ethnicity or religion was permitted to attend.  The room was full to capacity.  Full of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, Palestinians, Israelis and Americans.

And we sang to that room full of people.  About God.  And about Jesus Christ.  

And the people cried.

And we cried.

(photo from Center website–Upper Auditorium)

When it ended, the choir filed into the foyer to greet people as they left.  And as those Muslims and Jews and Christians shook our hands, and smiled at us with tears in their eyes and left one by one, someone spontaneously started singing “I am a Child of God”.  And the rest of us joined in.  And the people stopped.  And the ones who had left the building started coming back in.  And there we all stood, seemingly so different, and yet so much alike.  With the SAME God and the same hopes for happiness and peace, and feeling the same spirit.

We bore our testimonies of love and God and Jesus Christ through song.  And for that brief moment, we were all ONE.  

(Photo from Center website)

Truth is, we’re all more alike than we are different.  We all yearn for happiness.  We all yearn for peace.  We all yearn for love.  And we’re all loved by the same God.  Who loves us all equally no matter our ethnicity or religious background.  This I know.

(photo I took at the Garden Tomb)

“Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem:  they shall prosper that love thee.  Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.”
                                                                                                      Psalms 122:6-7

“Real Life Stories–Women of Inspiration. Jacqui”

I used to live in the same neighborhood as Jacqui for a few years.  She’s not only stunningly beautiful, she’s crazy smart and creative.  She’s a writer and I had the privilege of reading her first completed Young Adult novel which I can’t WAIT to see in print one day.  

She’s fiercely dedicated to her kids and you can tell she always puts them first.  She’s also recently taken up running which just makes me happy.

Real Life Stories

1.  Give me a quick peek at your story.
I grew up in the pine-covered mountains of Flagstaff, AZ, the oldest sibling of six opinionated, semi-crazies.  A lot was expected of me as the oldest, and I’d escape from responsibilities by entering my own imaginary fantasy worlds.  I loved escaping into a book and got into lots of trouble because I was easily distracted.  I sang in the HS choir, ran track on year and worked for my dad from age 13 on. My parents taught me to work hard.  I studied abroad the first semester of my freshman year, traveling from Russia to Western Europe.  Traveling gave me a worldview and an appreciation for God’s love for me and for all of His children.  I reinvented myself that first year way from home.  While at Ricks College I met the most adorable identical twin from Tennessee.  He could talk to anyone, was easy-going, confident and had mad cooking skills.  Plus his apartment was clean–even the bathroom.  We transferred to BYU and got hitched mid-winter semester, 1997.  I graduated in English and had four babies over eight years.  I love staying at home with the kids and have been married over 17 years.

2.  Tell me about an “every day moment” you are grateful for
I was born to be a mom to teenagers.  Little kids and babies stressed me out big time.  Chatting with my teenage daughter (who is taller than me and borrows my clothes) and helping her with make-up techniques or friendship dilemmas is so fun for me.  I LOVE having her friends over tot he house.  Teenagers are such a riot and have so much potential.  I love watching the antics of my 12-year-old as she creates artwork and executes crazy ideas like filling Rubbermaid tubs with hot water in the winter and soaking in them on our back patio.  I love kicking a ball with my 8-year-old son, or trying to answer his deep questions about the nature of God.  I’m absolutely drinking in pulling my six-year-old onto my lap and kissing her tiny face.  She’s like a little kitten and I know how fast her siblings grew up, so I’m snuggling her a lot.  Also, I love our 15-20 min drive to our charter school.  It’s like herding cats getting all four of them into the car in the morning, but we have to be together and the best talking of the day is before and after school.  And at the dreaded bedtime.

3.  What is one ambition you have in your life right now:
As much as I’d like to focus on my ambition to be a published novelist, my number one ambition is to be invested in my teenage kids as I was with my infants.  I want my house to be a safe, comfortable place for them and their friends.  It’s important to me to listen and connect, even through fist-bumps and passing hugs.  A well-timed conversation can turn the course of a teenager’s life.  I want to keep feeding them–both their bellies and their souls, and I want them to rely on me to be a steady voice in a crazy world.  I’m honored to help them navigate their unique path to God.  Their souls are precious, and I want them to realize their worth.  It’s my greatest ambition.  I fail all of the time, but I want to make a difference.

4.  If you could speak on anything to a large group of women, what would you talk about?
We can’t control a lot of our trials, but in spite of all the ways Satan tries to take us down, we are happiest when we become God’s hands.  I love learning from other women, and am all about copying.  If you have a good idea, I’ll unabashedly steal it and try it in my home or life.  So thanks to those overachievers who make my life look good.  Most likely anything that’s working wasn’t my idea in the first place.  Women have such unique gifts, and we can change the world when we abandon competition and instead lift and bless each other.  Society’s definition of what we should be is pretty much a physical one.  It doesn’t focus on the fierce courage or intense intellect that we have.  It’s a good reminder to me that the Lord doesn’t look on the outward appearance, but on the heart.  We should stand together and celebrate when we’ve kept our tempers and extended compassion.  And if you are potty training, you deserve a daily shout-out.  you inspire me.  Women have wicked smart brains, strong muscles, voices of truth and compassion.  And if we aren’t who we want to be, we have the potential to change.  Always, we have the potential.

5.  What does the phrase “create a good life story” mean to you?
Creating a good life story means that I purposefully recognize the daily meaningful moments, even if the feelings are temporary.  I find my most blissful moments are small–when I sent down my phone and observe what is going on in the present–the angle of my daughter’s face as she reads on the couch, the way the light bounces off of my son’s summer-blond hair, the way my husband’s nose twitches when it’s allergy season.  Whatever it is, I want to be in the present–intentionally emotionally aware and available–as many times as I can.  This is a challenge for me, but I don’t want to waste my life overlooking the greatest blessings.  I also hope that my story continues as it has been written so far–that I learn from my mistakes, change what needs to change, improve daily through the grace of God and be grateful for my blessings, especially when life is hard.

6.  Tell me something someone taught you that made an impact on your life
You can do it.  That is what a woman in my neighborhood told me when I was 14-years-old and sat at her piano, fumbling through the first couple pages of the most difficult composition I’d ever seen.  It was well above my skill level, but she sat down next to me, assisting me through it.  And when I closed the music, she put her hand on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eye.  “You can do this,” she said.  “You can play this piece.”  Her belief in me flipped a switch.  I felt empowered by her complete faith in my abilities.  She gave me the music.  I worked my guts out, and I went well beyond the skill level of that piece.  I had the wings to fly.  She showed me how to open them.

7.  Name one event in your life that has made a significant impact on the course of your life story
I sat with thirty other college students in the airport in Istanbul, Turkey.  We’d just finished a month’s travels through Russia and Ukraine, a 56-hour bus ride through Romania and Bulgaria, and a fabulous week in the catacombs, cisterns and mosques of Istanbul.  Now we waited to board a plane to Amsterdam to begin our Western European tour.  One of my instructors plopped down next to me and said, “You weren’t supposed to be here.”  He went on to tell me the study abroad had been completely full for months, so when two students unexpectedly dropped out he picked up the phone to call the next two people on the long waiting list.  As he went to dial, his eyes moved down the list and he felt confused.  So he dropped to his knees and prayed, asking the Lord who needed to go on this trip.  He opened his eyes and put his finger on my name.  I was far down the list, but the Lord had led him to me.  I had no idea it was even a possibility to go.  But my life was forever altered because my parents loved me enough to inquire about the grip, and my teacher had faith to ask God who needed to go.

8.  What is something you want to accomplish you haven’t yet?
I’d like to be published.  My goal would be to go the traditional route–to be represented by an agent who sells my YA (young adult) novels to a great publisher.  I’ve been close to landing an agent.  I could say that it’s a tough market in the publishing industry (because it is), but I haven’t hunkered down and put my all into querying again.  But I will.  And all heck will break loose in my household when I do, because it’s pretty much a full-time job.  Maybe I’ll do it while my husband is working on his Executive MBA this fall.  Why not add more crazy to the mix??

9.  What photographs are you most grateful for from your childhood or teen years?
My favorite photos from my childhood are a series of thumbnail prints of my mom and me when I was a baby.  We don’t have the negatives because my parents were too poor to purchase them.  I love photos of my grandparents, young parents and ancestors.  My favorites of me are spontaneous shots, like the one my mom took when I was about nine.  I’d made this mug in ceramics at school that collapsed in the kiln into what vaguely resembled a lopsided pot.  My friends’ mugs were beautifully formed, smooth and shiny.  Devastated that mine was riddled with holes, my mom took me out to pick flowers, in order to dry and display them in my mug.  While out, she snapped a picture of me holding a Twinkies box full of picked greenery.  I’d been experimenting with new smiles, and had a friend who had a high gumline that I thought was so pretty.  So I tucked my upper lip up high, smiling my new smile, which in reality made me look skeletal.  I hated that picture as a kid, but now I love it because it shows how innocent childhood is.  (By the way, my mom displayed that ugly ceramic mug for years.  She taught me how to be a good mom.)

10.  What are you most proud of?
Bringing children into the world is incredibly empowering.  I’m proud of (and grateful for) my strength through my difficult labors and deliveries.  And I’m proud of my marriage.  It takes work and commitment to have a good marriage, and I married a guy who values both.  I’m also proud I finished writing a novel and am working on several others.  And I’m proud of myself for overcoming my aversion to distance running and working hard to run several half marathons.  Running has been a huge mental strength for me.

11.  What is the best parenting advice/tip someone gave you?
There are seasons in life to just let things go.  If you have an infant and toddler, let the dishes sit in the sink so you can snuggle their sweet bodies because (now I sound old) they grow up so fast!  You have a nursing baby, so let the laundry pile up and breathe in the sweet scent of baby hair–it’s gone too soon.  Let things go that aren’t as important as being in the moment with your children.  Also, each child is unique.  Find their strengths and magnify them in a way that they feel loved.  Parenting is not one size fits all.

12.  Tell me something you are sure of
I am sure that there are unexpected trials awaiting me in this life.  I just hope to be strong enough to conquer, or at least survive them.

13.  What is your favorite quote or your life motto?
“The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.”  
“A person’s mind is so powerful.  we can invent, create, experience, and destroy things with thoughts alone.” -Anon  
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”  -H.D. Thoreau

14.  What is your favorite part about yourself (not a physical trait)?
My favorite part about myself?  Despite being an English grad and writer, I have an engineering mind.  I can figure out how to make things work.  I attribute this to my dad making me think through how things work.  It really comes in handy sometimes.

15.  What type of photographs do you wish you had more of?
Pictures of my great-grandparents when they were younger.  Pioneer ancestors.  Spontaneous pictures of playing, riding bikes, family interaction, etc.  And I love details.  Pictures of each room of the houses I lived in growing up.  Pictures of my parents’ most beloved items and memories.  Pictures of myself–particularly playing with my kids, working in the yard, or snuggling with my husband–pictures that i didn’t have to ask people to take or pose for.  I feel stupid asking people to photograph me, but I do wish I had more photos.

16.  What is something you do to help drive away fear or anxiety?
Yoga, running, writing and time alone to ponder, plan and meditate.  Dancing, singing and playing the piano.  Playing games.

17.  What is your favorite part about being a mom?  Your least favorite part (just keeping it real on this question–I know you love your kids)?
 I experience intense surges of love at the most random times.  It’s a miracle to me how my love for my children expanded with each birth, and continues to grow as I get to know them.  I love them all equally–in different ways and for different reasons, but equally.  That’s crazy to me.  I could have never predicted my feelings–that I would sacrifice myself for their good.  I thought maybe I would, but I didn’t know before I became a mom.  id on’t love the emotional upheavals, and being a broken record when they don’t listen to the things I ask them to do.  I hate nagging.  Ugh.  And crumbs and sticky surfaces are not my faves.  Don’t even get me started on laundry…

18.  Tell me something about yourself that may surprise people
I once at two live nightcrawler earthworms to with $100 to Hale Center Theatre.  It was at a Halloween Survivor-themed party, and Jeff and I tied with another couple for the grand prize.  The woman picked up one of the eight-inch long earthworms that we’d had to slurp into our mouths for a previous challenge (but not swallow) and said, “I’m the mom of four boys, I’m breaking this tie right now.”  She swallowed the worm whole amid the cheers of the twenty other guests.  I guess you could say I learned I was competitive that night, because a fire lit somewhere in my cold little heart.  Immediately the stakes were raised–if I wanted the tickets, I had to no only swallow two of the earthworms; I had to chew them up first.  The worm-swallower gloated at me, arms crossed over her barmaid costume.  I looked at her, looked at the 1/2 cup of wriggling worms on the plate, and popped those babies in my mouth.  I gagged twice as the slime coated my mouth and my teeth crunched the dirt inside the worm’s intestines, but I swallowed those darn worms.  And then I said, “I’m the mom of two girls,” as I took the grand prize.

19.  What’s one thing you wish you would have known when you were younger?
I wish I’d know that it would all turn out okay, and that God was well aware of me and believed in me.

And for fun:

Favorite book:  Dang.  Don’t make a writer choose a fave.  Proably Wonder by RJ Palacio

Favorite Family tradition:  Christmas activities with the family

Something you enjoy doing with your spouse:  running, traveling and eathing ethnic foods

Talent you wish you had:  I wish I were more of a peacemaker

Favorite meal:  too many.  I love food!  If I had a last meal it would probably be Thai Waterfall beef salad, Tom Ka Gai coconut milk soup and mango sticky rice for dessert.  And an avocado bubble drink.  Oh baby

If you never had to do one specific things again what would it be:  L.A.U.N.D.R.Y

Favorite TV show:  I don’t watch TV.  I liked Parenthood on Netflix.  Kinda edgy sometimes, but real. I love historical dramas like Downton Abbey but can’t stand to watch anything on a weekly basis.

Something that scares you:  heights, confined spaces, being outside in the dark, deep water, big flying bugs, bare feet in the ocean.  I’m a wuss.  But I try so hard not to be.

Favorite thing about your husband:  He can talk to anyone.  He is one of the friendliest and most genuine people I know.

Something you can’t live without:  my creative brain.  I love to think, ponder and create.  Sometimes it gets onto paper, and sometimes I just like to plan things in my mind.  I’m a weird that way.  I like to envision things differently–how I’d change things in my life, in my house, in myself

What’s something you think about often:  What a blessed and privileged life I lead, and how I need to do more to give back.

THANKS for doing this Jacqui!!

If you want to read more from the “Real Life Stories–Women of Inspiration” series, click HERE.

Pioneer Day

I’m super grateful for people who were willing to give up all they had, including some of their lives, to walk across a country in search for more religious freedom.

I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do it.  Especially if it meant my kids might die.  

Without those pioneers, I wouldn’t have the life I have today.  Grateful they had unimaginable courage.

So to celebrate them, we’ll spend the evening lighting things on fire.

And in case anyone is curious, to get firework shots, you have to have a slow shutter speed (leave the shutter open longer).  And they work much better if your camera is on a tripod, but I didn’t have one with me.

Our kids are capable of SO much.

I posted this on my Instagram account, but wanted to have it here as well.

“He hasn’t been in any lakes this year.  He sits on the edge of the boat with his toes in the water and says “I’m getting used to it”.  Then on the way home he’ll say “I’ll be brave next time and get in”.  

He gets nervous at the lake.  Maybe it’s the dark depths of black water, the waves, the potential of being run over by a boat, or the fish (sick).  But yesterday he decided it was time to get in.  So he climbed on the EZ ski.

As we let out the rope, I could see his face start to crumble.  And the tears well in his eyes.  And the immediate regret.  He looked up at me.  My instinct was to pull him back in.  But instead, the boat of siblings and cousins (and mom) erupted in screams and cheers.  “Yea Carter!  You can do it!”

We started to pull him behind the boat.  He looked down.   Still fighting the fear.  And then, he let go.  Literally and figuratively.  And the wind blew his hair and a small smile crept across his face.  And we continued to cheer.

When he climbed back onto the boat, he looked at me and said “I’m so proud of myself for doing that.”

Our kids are capable of SO much.  We just have to be willing to let them fight through the fear.

Embracing change

I wanted to get my girls haircut before spending a week in Lake Powell, hoping to avoid brushing out tangles that seem to form just by looking in their general direction.

On the way there, Mya announced “I want to cut my hair short”.

Usually my response to any sort of change, especially “big” change, is “are you sure?” or even more accurate “nope”.  

But I’m making a conscious effort to embrace change.  And to teach my kids to not fear change.  And instead ask questions like “why not?” and give answers like “sure, let’s give it a try”.

And Mya is often my greatest example in this.  She’s open minded.  She’s not controlling.  She loves life and ALL it has to offer.  And she’s almost always willing to try something new.  In almost any circumstance.

So short it went.  And it seems to fit her personality.  And will hopefully be far more manageable in the morning after she does who knows what in the night that makes her hair tie itself in knots.

Grateful for a 7 year old who already knows (and hopefully never forgets) that change is good.  It’s usually where adventure waits for us.

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