Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Two: A Love Letter


The other day, as we were hanging out in the kitchen together--I doing dishes, you playing with cars at my feet--I told you that I wanted to sing you a special song because it makes me think of you and your adoption story every time I hear it.

You looked at me pensively and then said, "That sounds great, Mommy."  (I'm not kidding--you actually say things like this.  I have no idea if you really understand what you are saying, but it never fails to startle me when these things come out of your mouth.)  After such an unexpectedly mature reply from you, I started envisioning the moment we were about to have: I was going to sing a beautiful ballad for you, and you were going to stare at me intently and really soak in my love for the entire 4:37 minutes.  I pushed play on my laptop, and the lyrical music started flowing out of my speakers--and then you started screaming angrily because you expected to hear "Brave" by Sara Barellias instead of the peaceful melody that I had in mind.  ("Brave" is our favorite song to dance to together.)

And so I switched the music, and we danced.  And we never got our tender moment.  But tonight, on the eve of your second birthday, I want to take a few minutes to write down some thoughts that have been in my heart these past few weeks.

The song that always makes me think of you is called "Blessings," and it was written by an artist named Laura Story, but my favorite version is sung by the group Mercy River.  The first verse and chorus go like this:

"We pray for blessings, we pray for peace,
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep.
We pray for healing, for prosperity.
We pray for your mighty hand to ease our suffering.
And all the while, you hear each spoken need,
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.

Because what if your blessings come through raindrops?
What if your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you're near?
And what if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?"

This song makes me think of you because before you were born, I prayed and prayed to become a mother.  It didn't matter to me how I became a mother--your daddy and I started the adoption process at the same time that we started fertility treatments--but when both avenues seemed only to lead to heartache, I started to doubt and fear.  Life got dark and difficult.  An ectopic pregnancy.  Countless negative pregnancy tests.  Lots of contacts from expectant mothers who were considering adoption but eventually chose to parent or chose a different adoptive couple.

I prayed and asked why.  I prayed and asked that God end our wait immediately.  I prayed and asked what He wanted for my life.  I felt confused.  I felt angry.  I didn't understand why such a good and honest desire, to be a mother and give love to a child, wasn't being answered.  The emotions that I felt during those difficult months are captured so well in the words of the second verse of the song:

"We pray for wisdom, your voice to hear,
We cry in anger when we cannot feel you near.
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love,
As if every promise from your word is not enough.
And all the while, you hear each desperate plea,
And long that we'd have faith to believe.

Because what if your blessings come through raindrops?
What if your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know you're near?
And what if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?"

Last week, you and I sat outside in the backyard together at your little picnic table and ate brownies and ice cream.  At the faint sound of a train whistle in the distance, you sat up straight and listened intently.  "What's that noise, Mommy?" you asked.  And when I just smiled, you said excitedly, "I hear a train, Mommy!  I hear a train!"

My heart ached with happiness, and I leaned in close. "Give Mama a kiss?" I asked.

You reached for me across the table, your fingers sticky with gooey chocolate, your face smeared with melted ice cream, and planted a peck right on my lips.

In that perfect moment I was reminded, as I am almost daily, that you--you, my perfect little boy--are the reason that God could not give me what I wanted right when I wanted it.  He knew that you were on your way, and He knew that your brave birthparents would find us when the time was right.  He couldn't send us just any baby--He knew that we needed you.   

I am grateful for my infertility.  I am grateful that none of the other adoption opportunities worked out.  I am grateful for Father in Heaven who always heard each of my desperate pleas and yet "loved me way too much to give me lesser things." I am grateful that He let me wait.

A leader in our church, Dieter Uchdorf, has said, "The children of Israel waited 40 years in the wilderness before they could enter the promised land.  Jacob waited 7 long years for Rachel.  The Jews waited 70 years in Babylon before they could return to rebuild the temple.  [In the Book of Mormon], the Nephites waited for a sign of Christ's birth, even knowing that if the sign did not come, they would perish.  Joseph Smith's trial in Liberty Jail caused even the prophet of God to wonder, 'How long?' In each case, Heavenly Father had a purpose in requiring that His children wait.
          Every one of us is called to wait in our own way.  We wait for answers to prayers.  We wait for things which at the time may appear so right and so good to us that we can't possibly imagine why Heavenly Father would delay the answer...
          Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience.  Often we can't see the Lord's hand in our lives until long after trials have passed.  Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness."

On the eve of your second birthday, Noah, this quote touches me because I am thinking about the experience of waiting for you--and I am also thinking about the future.  I hope someday our picnic table in the backyard will be full of little people, your brothers and sisters who will sit with us and eat brownies and listen to train whistles.  I don't know how they will join our family.  We are going to start fertility treatments again in the next few months, and we are always open to adopting again.  Sometimes it scares me to think about starting this process all over again, about embarking on a road that I know brings heartache.  But in the past two years of being your mama, I have learned a few things that I hope will make the experience of waiting at least a little easier this time around.

I've learned that the joy of squeezing tiny hands and feet, of snuggling a squishy baby in bed first thing in the morning, of listening to you sing the ABCs all the way through for the first time--it far outweighs the heartache that it took to get you here.  I would do it all over again, a thousand times, to be your mother.

I've also learned what I always knew yet didn't totally understand: that He has a plan for our lives and for our families.  I hope that if we face disappointments as we try to add to our family in the next few months and years, I will pull you into our cuddle chair and put my head on your hair and read you a story.  I know that won't completely take away the pain--because the heartache that often comes along with infertility and failed adoptions can be truly excruciating--but I hope as I feel my heart beating against the weight of your little body in my arms, I will remember to trust in Him and His timing.

You couldn't have come to us any sooner than you did, and as difficult as the wait was, I learned for myself the truth of the last line of the song: "What if trials of this life--the rain, the storms, the hardest nights--are His mercies in disguise?" 

Happy birthday, my little love. You are the best thing I've ever had to wait for.

Eternally yours,
*Listen to Laura Story perform "Blessings" here.

Friday, July 26, 2013


My sister-in-law Sara had a birthday yesterday!  She married Ryan's little brother Cole almost two years ago.  I love her, and I am so blessed that she is my sister now.  When I married into the Nielson family almost eight years ago, I knew I was super lucky.  Little did I know then that I would just keep getting luckier and luckier as Ryan's siblings each married awesome people.

Sara is the definition of fun.  Her bubbly, energetic personality is so endearing. My family met her for the first time when the Nielsons all came to Denver for Noah's adoption finalization and sealing in February 2011.  Each of my family members told me separately how much they immediately loved Sara.  She is so interested in people and asks lots of questions about them, listens intently to their stories, and gives the best reactions--gasping in horror or laughing aloud at all the right moments.  She and my Grammy especially hit it off during that weekend, as they worked side by side making a salad for the family dinner and chatting for an hour.  Sara is so easy to talk to and so easy to love.

I also love the serious discussions Ryan and I have with Sara and Cole.  They often ask for our advice on life.  We don't have that much wisdom to share, but it makes us feel great that they think we do! :) At the beginning of July, they came to visit us for almost a week, and it was so fun to hang out with them and talk for hours.  Cole is just starting medical school, so they asked for our input on how to make the most of those years, and they are about to have a baby boy (yay!!!!), so they asked for our input on parenting.  They both have such strong faith, and we love to discuss Gospel topics with them and hear their insights.  To me, there is almost nothing more fulfilling than discussing the real "stuff of life" with people whom I love and respect.

I really can't express how much I love Sara and how much I look forward to spending a lifetime as her sister-in-law and friend.  I love that we will get to support each other through all of the ups and downs of life, and I love that we will get to spoil each others' children for decades to come.  (Can't wait to meet their little Snuggle Bug who will arrive in November!) xoxo

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Alive and Well

I have been MIA in the blog world lately, with the exception of an occasional birthday tribute.  I wanted to let everyone know that I am alive and well.  Life is still too crazy to jump back into blogging full force, but here's the quick update:

Things we have been up to these past few weeks...

-I had surgery, and I am feeling a lot better, thank goodness.  The doctor thinks my mysterious morning sickness was actually due to endometriosis, not the cyst as they had originally thought. Now that they cleaned out the endo, I am not throwing up every day anymore.  Hallelujah!

Lovely photo of me taken as I impatiently waited to go into surgery.
(The surgery started three hours late.)  
-Ryan graduated from his residency and is done with school forever.  To celebrate this huge accomplishment, my dad made Ry an awesome poster and had a hilarious t-shirt made for him.  The director of Ryan's residency was very, very intense and demanding, so Dad thought Ry deserved a shirt to commemorate his survival.  I couldn't agree more!  So proud of Dr. Ry!

My favorite line on the poster is "Tooth-master."
And lest any of you get the wrong idea about Ryan, I must clarify that "pedo" is the abbreviated name for Ry's residency.
-Ryan's family visited for the 4th of July while they were en route to Missouri for Ryan's little brother Cole to attend medical school.  Cole and Sara stayed with us for several days, and we took them hiking and had tons of fun.  Then Gordo, Sal, and Tanner joined us in Denver, and we celebrated Gordon's birthday and watched the fireworks on the 4th.  It was ridiculous how much Noah loved the fireworks. He was shouting and rejoicing the entire time ("Oooh! So beautiful!"  "Purple!  Green!"  "Oh my goodness!!").  I will never forget how cute it was.

Happy Birthday, Gordo!
Fun with Uncle Tanner
-We packed up our apartment with the help of lots of friends and family.  Noah was especially helpful with packing boxes...NOT!  But he was a cute and fun distraction!

He's my favorite.
-We moved to Twin Falls, Idaho and are really liking it so far.  I have so much to say about our new home and our new town, but all of that deserves its own post, so I will wait.

Fist pump for Idaho!
-We bought a couch!  Our first non-Craiglist purchase of furniture ever.  Our couches in Denver were so nasty that we knew we didn't want to take them with us.  We listed them on Craigslist for $40, and someone responded and said, "FYI, those couches look disgusting."  Point taken.  I dropped the price to $25 and someone came and took them away...thank goodness.  Our new couch looks so much better!  (I will post a photo on the blog eventually.)

These are NOT our new couches.  These are the old nasty ones.
-We went to Sun Valley to spend the weekend at Ryan's grandpa's cabin as a last hurrah before Ryan started his real, grown-up job.  We went hiking with Noah, and he kept saying, "Holy my gosh!" at all of the beautiful scenery.  He has apparently meshed the phrases "holy moly" and "oh my gosh."  I love him.

-Ryan started his new job after a glorious three-week break.  It was so nice to have him home to help with unpacking.  We also took plenty of fun little breaks to go swimming or to picnic in the backyard. Noah and I will miss having Daddy around all the time, but we know he is going to do great as a real pediatric dentist!

The boys' last picnic lunch together in our new backyard before Daddy had to go back to work. :(

Things we will be up to these next few weeks...

-Noah and I are going on a quick trip to Utah to visit some of my best friends from Buffalo who are visiting their families there.

-We are then meeting Ryan in Pocatello for a weekend reunion with some of his best friends from high school.

-Katie and Drew are coming to Idaho for a couple of days to help us celebrate Noah's birthday.

-Noah is turning two!

-We are going to California for my cousin's wedding.

-Ryan is turning thirty one.  (He is getting old.)

Fun, right?  Fun and crazy!  After all of the craziness is over, I have grand plans of being "balanced" and having downtime to relax and savor a slower pace of life.  It probably won't happen, but one can always hope.  In any event, plan on some blog posts from me by mid-August.  I miss blogging.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Aunt Dayle

As I've been writing these birthday tribute posts this year, I've realized that most of my favorite memories of the people I love are connected to my mom's battle with breast cancer.  It's amazing how such a difficult time in my life was also filled with so many beautiful memories--moments when, as a young child, I realized that I would always be loved and cared for by my immediate and extended family, no matter what the future held.  I've always known that my mom's battle with cancer was the defining experience of my life--but it wasn't until I started writing down all of these memories that I've realized just how defining it was for me.  I learned at such a young age how important my family was--and even then I realized how lucky I am to have the family that I do.  The support we've received over the almost 25 years since my mother's diagnosis is pretty astounding.  I am grateful.

Today is my Aunt Dayle's birthday.  In those first few years of my mom's battle, when my sisters and I were still very young, Dayle would often take us to swim at the Cherry Creek Reservoir near our house.  I remember how exciting it was when she would call to invite us to go with her and her kids.  Dayle was so spunky and fun, and her daughters were almost exactly our age.  A day at the "beach" with the Westover cousins was sure to be a day of fun and memories!

I know now that Dayle's thoughtful invitations were meant to be more than just fun outings--those days were meant to give my mom a much-needed break in the midst of mothering three little girls while enduring cancer treatments.  Dayle gave my sisters and me an extremely fun day out of the house in the sun, and she gave my mom the opportunity to rest.

Dayle does landscaping and gardening professionally, and after my mom passed away, she anonymously arranged for a beautiful garden fountain to be installed by our back porch.  It featured a statue of an angel with the words "an angel resides here" painted on the side.  We came home from a family vacation and found this lovely tribute to our mother in the garden.  We were so touched, and ten years later, the statue is still the centerpiece of the flowerbeds.  It is a peaceful reminder that my mother will never be forgotten by those who knew and loved her.  Though Dayle never wanted credit for her gift, we did figure out whom it was from, and we are so grateful to her.

The summer after my mom's passing, Dayle planted our gardens and flower pots because my mom always loved to do that.  Sally's home without flowers in the springtime would not feel like Sally's home!  Of course the flowers flourished that summer due to Dayle's green thumb, and it was a comfort to our family to see those beautiful blossoms and remember our mom.

The following year, Dayle and her family moved to Florida, and then she and my uncle divorced, so I haven't seen Dayle in about eight years.  I have so many fond memories of her from my childhood, and I am so grateful for the service she gave to my family.  As I've gotten older, I've realized just how much that service must have meant to my mother.  I am so touched when I think of the ways that people reached out to support my mom when I was young. Happy birthday to a wonderful aunt! I love you, Aunt Dayle!

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Shortly after my mom passed away, my grandma dropped by our home one day to see if we needed anything.  I remember watching her bustle around the house, taking care of little jobs that she noticed.  She ironed my dad’s shirts, dusted the chandelier over the kitchen table, and cleaned out the refrigerator.

“Thank you, Grammy,” I said, marveling at her energy and selflessness. “You’re too good to us.”

Her response has always stayed with me: “How could I be ‘too good’ to my family?”

This is the way that my grandma has lived her life—always working, always serving the people that she loves most.  Today is her 84th birthday, and I swear she hasn’t slowed down a bit in recent years, despite her advancing age.  She is spunky, spry, and sharp.  She’s also shrinking (don’t tell her I told you that), and she was only 5 feet tall to begin with, so she is truly the cutest, tiniest old lady you’ve ever seen.  Don’t believe me.  See for yourself:

Here’s just a short list of the ways that my grandma has been “too good” to me and my family over the years:

-When we were young and our mom was in the hospital for a bone marrow transplant, we lived with my grandparents, and Grammy was our “mom” for a few months.  I remember her gently brushing and curling my hair.  I remember her sitting on a chair beside the piano, tapping her knee and counting aloud to keep time as I plunked out simple little songs to prepare for my lessons.  She diligently cared for us with love during that very difficult time in our young lives.

-Even when my mom was healthy, we often spent the night at Grammy’s, playing games ways past bedtime and eating “sugar cereal” in the morning. :)  At the beginning of December, she’d invite all of the girl cousins to her home for a sleepover, and we’d help her decorate the Christmas tree.  It was a very fun and unifying tradition for us as kids.

-Speaking of holidays, Grammy would always prepare huge meals for the entire extended family for special occasions.  I can’t imagine the hundreds of hours she has put in over the years cooking for her loved ones.  Some of our favorites are her stroganoff, orange rolls, homemade caramels, and strawberry jam.  Mmmmm.

-When we were teenagers, Grammy and Grampy would come to all of our extra curricular events—plays, concerts, voice recitals, Homecoming assemblies…Anything that we were excited about, they were excited about.  Grammy would also usually come to see us before school dances so she could gush over our pretty dresses and take our picture.  It really meant a lot to us to have our own little cheering section at the special events throughout our teen years.

-After my little sister Laura left home, Grammy invited my dad to dinner at their house every Sunday so he wouldn’t always have to eat alone.  She fed him Sunday dinner each week for  six years.  Now that my older sister and her family are living with him, Grammy doesn’t need to host Dad every week—but she still has the family over for a feast quite often.

-These past two years, Grammy and Grampy have been Noah’s #1 babysitters.  They absolutely adore him, and it is so sweet.  I don’t know many 84 year olds who beg to watch a two year old.  He loves being in their home, especially because Grammy will always set up the “tracks” for him and they will race cars together. 

We will miss Grammy and Grampy so much now that we are living in Idaho.  (Yes, we moved this week.  More on that in another post!)  I am very sad that we won’t be with the family to celebrate Grammy’s birthday today, but I am so grateful that I lived five minutes from my grandparents while I was growing up and five minutes from them again these past two years during Ryan’s residency.  We are richly blessed.

Grammy holding me as a baby
Game night at Grammy's! 
Mom took a photo to memorialize the day that we realized I had passed Grandma in height
Love her.

Last year, all the girls took Grammy to breakfast on her big day and forced her to wear a tiara.  (Cutest!) Wish we could do this again this year! Happy Birthday, Cute Grandma!  I love you!!

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Last night, Noah saw fireworks for the first time.  Ryan's family is in town, and Grandpa Nielson insisted that we go out for frozen custard, even though it was way past Noah's bedtime.  (Noah approved of this decision.)  As we were leaving the custard place, fireworks started lighting up the night sky in the distance, and Noah was amazed.  "Sparkly!" "Beautiful!" "Loud noises!"

We told him that the world was celebrating Grandpa Nielson's birthday.  Ryan's dad, Gordon, was born on the 4th of July and has celebrated his birthday every year with a fireworks show.  So fun.  Gordon told me last night that he was obsessed with fireworks as a kid, and I think that obsession may rub of on his grandson Noah after last well as his obsession with ice cream.  (You should've seen the grin on Noah's face when Grandpa brought over the tray of frozen custard.)

I love Gordon and am grateful that he is my father-in-law.  I admire many things about him, particularly his love of discussing ideas.  Whenever we are together, Gordon asks me what I think about complex topics, ranging from politics, to religion, to educational policy, to parenting.  I think it is very endearing that he values my opinion, even though I am much younger and less wise than he is.  We've had many great talks over the years, especially on long nighttime drives from the airport in Salt Lake City to their home in Pocatello or from their home in Pocatello to their cabin in Sun Valley. (What is it about the car, especially at night, that gets people talking?).

Gordon is a very religious, devoted man, and I admire his love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ryan has told me that when he was a teenager, he would often wake up early for a sports practice and find his dad at the kitchen table studying the scriptures before dawn.  His father modeled through his actions as well as his words how much he loved the Lord and relied on Him each day.

Whenever we are with the Nielsons, Gordon will call us together before bed, and we will have some sort of Gospel devotional.  These usually aren't super planned or scripted, which makes them even more special.  Gordon will share something that he's read recently or been thinking about, and then he will ask for our input on the topic.  I love how the Nielsons have developed a culture of open, spiritual discussions in their home.  I feel an amazing closeness to the family as I listen to them share their sacred experiences and thoughts, and I love that I feel comfortable enough to share mine as well.  I hope that Ryan and I will be able to have these types of Gospel discussions with our children someday, and I'm grateful to Gordon for showing us how it's done.

Happy birthday to a wonderful man and mentor.  I love you, Gordon, and I am so thankful that my husband was raised by such a good man, that my son has such a loving grandfather, and that I was lucky enough to marry into your family and gain such amazing in-laws.