God is Mindful of Us

There are times when the veil feels thin. Times when I'm sure those I love from the other side are with me. Sometimes I know who they are. A Grandma, a Grandpa. Sometimes it's just a feeling of love.

I woke with that feeling drenching me.

Usually there is a reason. Something hard. A sadness I'm dealing with, or a loneliness, but I couldn't pin-point a greater need than usual. I just knew that my Grandpa was near. He often pulled me into his lap and sang to me as a child. I recalled stories of him doing the same thing to my fully grown aunts when they were sad or needed comfort.

My son crawled into my lap. He snuggled up to me and stayed there a long time. We read together. I told him about Grandpa and sang to him. I've been waiting to pull out the Christmas decorations until tomorrow. Saturday seemed like a day as good as any to do it. But as I sat with my son, I found myself wanting to do it now.

I turned on Christmas music. We hauled the Christmas boxes upstairs and popped the plastic tubs open. My little boy examined everything. He undid boxes, skipped around the house, and plugged in the pre-lit Christmas tree before I got it up. Ornaments sprawled on the floor around him, he announced, "This will be the best Christmas ever."

Christmas hasn't hit me until today, but the music flooding the house, the decorations from my childhood going up, my little boy hanging all the ornaments in a clump a few inches higher than last year, and suddenly Christmas was right again. That sweet arms-wrapped-around-you-lay-under-the-Christmas-tree-and-look-up kind of moment when it has nothing to do with stores or buying things and everything to do with God and a tiny baby He sent to the earth.

I think Grandpa stuck around for the tree going up.

A couple hours ago, something happened, and I realized why he did. I needed him today. More than that, I needed to know that God is mindful of me. Before the storm, my Father in Heaven's arms were already around me, and I felt a protecting wall of peace, love for my Savior, and closeness to the people who love me.

God is mindful of us all. I hope your December is full of angels, seen and unseen. I hope you find that still, quiet peace that is Christmas. May you always have joy and awe and amazement when you consider a loving Father who sent His son. Even with all power, all might, majesty, and glory, He still looks on the one and blesses individually.

Women I Admire: My Sister-In-Law

I get frazzled sometimes. No surprise, I know.  People get frazzled. It comes with mom territory, among other things, so I always assumed that I understood the Mom Frazzled State. Oh, totally. Kids, cleaning, husbands, I get that.

Little did I know.

You are all laughing at me, I'm sure. I have one child. A boy. He's my only one and has been for five years. We've got our quiet little routine and our set pace. And sometimes I thought I got frazzled.

I've been living in a state of denial.
Before she left, my sister-in-law (We will call her AD in this post) mentioned, "You're going to get a real glimpse of my life."

She said that because she was leaving her three children with me for two days. Let me clarify. Two DAYS. My mom was taking them when she got home from work and putting them to bed.

I approched the adventure with a bit of nervousness. Two kindergarteners, one in the morning session of school, and one in the afternoon, a four-year-girl with dance and preschool, and the one-year-old baby you met in this post. I knew it would be busy. I knew I was going to rely heavily on the carpools that had been arranged. I knew I would have to be on my best behavior.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Here's a glimpse into AD's life, at least when it gets stirred up by her well-intentioned, but clueless sister-in-law, me.

Oh, yeah. Babies get more on the floor than in their mouths. Sure, you can have a drink. Wait, wasn't the four-year-old eating a second ago? I miss-placed the boys again. I think I need to cut all these french toast sticks up. Come sit back down. Boys, you can play after you eat.  I think the baby wants more to eat. I almost burned the pancake. Can you get back in your chair? Oh, drinks . . .

The Ten Minutes After Breakfast:
Don't eat off the floor. Maybe I should sweep. You'll have to get dressed. Dancing around in your underwear in the living room isn't getting dressed. The gel for your hair is blue. Should I have got your hair wet first? Does your hair look a little blue now? Wow, I should never attempt pigtails again. Ponytail it is. The carpool got here earlier than I expected. I just answered the door in my pajamas and I'm pretty sure I haven't combed my own hair yet this morning. But look how cute the four-year-old's ponytail is. Why is that bed wet? Did some one wet their pants? Oh. The baby. I forgot to change her diaper.

In the hour or so after I got the beding stripped and started the laundry:
Let's all clean together! Make beds, brush teeth . . . oops I forgot to brush his teeth before kindergarten. You can help while I vacuum!
Or you can run from the vacuum screaming . . .

In the hour between morning kindergarten and afternoon kindergarten:
Please don't make any more jokes about bodily functions. Yes, all those grapes I gave you to eat do look rather wrinkled. Don't eat them. I better sweep again. Sure, you can play Legos. I'll just do laundry. Did someone just knock? What time is it? Oh. Kindergarten. Sorry. I can't find his shoes and backpack.

The Afternoon:
What time was dance? Yes, I love your spins. And your leaps. The baby has the dance shoes. Should I be worried the carpool hasn't shown up yet? I don't have the lady who's driving's number. We're related. I should have her number. Wait, there she is. I just let the four-year-old wander outside without a coat on. The baby is sleeping. I could write! Or I could stare mindlessly at Facebook and look at Christmas ads . . .Wow it's time to pick up my son. 

Three car seats are really tight in the back of a car. Yes, you can all unload and follow me up to the kindergarten. Please don't run in the road. My arms are burning. I feel like I've been working out, but I'm pretty sure its just this baby I've been holding on my hip. But she's so darn cute. Just look at that grin. Please stop talking about farts. Please stop making farting sounds. Yes, you can play in the snow. I'll look through the old snow clothes and see what I can find. There is a wild bird in the laundry room. A real-live-fly-around-the room-watch-itself-in-the-mirror bird that is in the laundry room. HOW did that happen? Welcome back from dance. That ponytail looked a lot more secure than it was. Yes, you can play in the snow, too. I did mean to put two pairs of socks on one foot. It will be warmer that way. 

Listen for a second, JoLyn. This little girl is telling you about dance. Look at that smile. Keep that moment. It's worth remembering. 

Have fun in the snow. Holy cow. This room is a mess. I'm pretty sure I still have carpet. It was blue this morning. You back inside already? Yes, you can have hot chocolate. I do have colored marshmallows. Here you go. The phone is ringing. No, you don't have to eat the colored marshmallows you piled in your cup. Here. Scoop them out on this plate. Didn't I just clean this room? I forgot to call Dad about the bird in the laundry room. Maybe I better put dinner in. Here come the boys. Yes, I'll make you hot chocolate, too. No you can't have more cookies I need them for Relief Society tonight. Okay, maybe one. Wow, he eats cookies like my brother. Ha. Yes, I am making you hot chocolate. I forgot to turn the microwave on. When did the baby get a hold of a cup of hot chocolate? Where is the carpet cleaner? No one step right here. Why is my hip wet? Baby. Diapers. JOLYN! Change the baby. She's escaped. Oh, I totally missed that enormous puddle of hot chocolate on the kitchen floor. Maybe I should remake the beds. The baby is wandering around in a diaper. I always wondered why that happened. There is hot chocolate on the baby's blanket. 

Hello again washing machine.

The half-hour before my mom gets home:
I probably should have taken that out of the oven a while ago. The baby is crying. The kids are making money, magazines, weaponry and food out of paper. The baby is sitting on the pile of paper. Don't take the calender off the fridge. Don't eat the magnets. Yes, I know the baby is in your stuff. I'm coming. When is my mom going to get home? I'll get her, don't panic. Maybe we should pick up this stuff. I know, I'll get her. Lets clean up so we can eat. Do you really need to keep all this paper? Don't panic, I'll get her out. I'm cleaning up. Do you want this? I'll get her. Can you pick up the toys you got out? Do you want this too?

Anything you want you'd better put away, because I'm throwing it away, now! 

Hello children. Yes. I'm threatening to throw away your creations. Thank you for being so willing to clean up. Yes, you've done a great job. I'm going to get the food on the table.

Wow, that's really dried out. Hopefully they won't notice.

Mom. Hello, Mom.

I've never been quite so excited to get to Relief Society. 

Ah. I won't go into the next day. You all get the point. 

So that was when I realized that I didn't know the meaning of Mom Frazzled. That was when my admiration for AD rose substantially. She's been laughing at me all these years thinking to herself "You have no idea, Jo, no idea at all."

No, I didn't. The last two days have been the most crazy, chaotic, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind-of days I've had in long time. They were also fun. Something about that constant state of being needed is really rewarding. I've taken moments with each of them and recorded them in my mind for keeps. Times when they laughed with their entire bodies. Times when they sought me out for conversations. Times when the baby grinned, and snuggled up to me. Times when the world was me, four kids, and a whole lot of crazy and fun. 

I'm a little shell shocked still. I keep looking over my shoulder thinking the baby is into something, and I can't tell you how many times I glanced at the clock while I wrote this, thinking I needed to be somewhere, or I'd forgot something, but I wouldn't trade a minute for anything. You gotta love the brilliance of childhood enthusiasm and energy.

So thanks AD. For letting me have your kids for two days. For putting up with me thinking I understood Mom Frazzled for all these years. For being the kind of mom that you are. Your babies are beautiful.

My Life is a Calvin and Hobbs Cartoon

Meet Lobster, an unassuming stuffed animal with a strange life.

The other day I poked my head in my son's room to find him and Lobster playing Go Fish together.

My son was loosing.

This morning my son crawled under the kitchen table and began calling, "Mommy! Mommy!"

"What?" I asked.

"It wasn't me, it was Lobster."

Oh. Silly me. Of course it was.

"Mom, Lobster needs a hug."

"Mom, Lobster pinched me."

"Mom, Lobster won't go to sleep."

"Lobster is being mean."

"Lobster is sad."

"Lobster missed me while I was at Kindergarten."

The creature wanted to be a pumpkin for Halloween. He sleeps with my son. He gets the best seat for TV shows. There are strict rules about him going inside places with us, but he's patient about waiting in the car. 

What did I say? Calvin and Hobbs, right?

It hasn't always been Lobster. A few years ago, it was an actual stuffed tiger almost as big as him. My son would be sitting there holding the thing when WHAM! They'd both be rolling on the floor as if they were having an all out battle.

Maybe its something to do with being an only child. As long as he doesn't start breaking things while my son is at school, I guess I can live with it.

My Life: When Not Doing the Laundry Actually Turned Out

Last Sunday, my son emerged from the bedroom in a state of distress. "Mommy! I don't have any pajamas! Again!"

"Um." (Ducking head)

Yep, that was me, not doing laundry for . . .well . . .  I couldn't remember when the last load I did was. But I had every good intention of doing laundry, considering I'd had this conversation with my son the night before. We'd resorted to an undershirt and a pair of basketball shorts that weren't that dirty.

I'd feel like a utter failure of a mom if I put my kid to bed in his underwear. And the dirty jeans he'd been chasing chickens in weren't any better.

And then, oh brilliance of brilliant, I had an idea.

Pajamas? Who needs pajamas? I think I wore an old t-shirt of my dad's to bed most of my life, and not because I didn't have pajamas either. It was preference. Something about a t-shirt that belonged to Mom or Dad was the ultimate comfort.

Kneeling in my closet, I pulled a black t-shirt my husband got from work off the shelf and presented it to him with all the excitement of someone who's about to share the best secret in the world.

My son eyed me with nervous skepticism.

"Let's put this on. Mommy wore her parent's t-shirts all the time when she was a little girl."

He likes stories about when I was a little girl, so he allowed me to undress him and slip the shirt over his head.

He stood there downing in the thing and gaped at his naked legs. "Without pants?"

A conversation commenced in my head. "JoLyn, what have you done? Your child is five and has never worn an old t-shirt to bed? You are seriously depriving him of essential childhood experiences! Forget the laundry! This should have happened years ago!"

"Yes, without pants." I talked him into the living room where he sat in my lap for prayers, automatically pulling his knees up under the shirt. I smiled to myself. Yes. There was hope. He'd already figured out the number one perk of a big t-shirt; curling up inside it.

We prayed and I sent him to brush his teeth. He stopped by his dad, his face perplexed.

"Daddy, Mommy says she wore a t-shirt to bed when she was a little girl." He spoke in a tone that said, "I think mom might be crazy. Maybe you'd better hear what she's been saying." He tugged at the shirt, looking down the front to his belly-button. "I don't have any pants." 

My husband didn't miss a beat. "Well sure, Daddy used to wear a big t-shirt to bed all the time."

A smile of sheer relief lit up his face. "I didn't know you wore a t-shirt to bed when you were a little boy!"

Finally at peace with this strange experience, my son consented to go to bed. He then proceeded to wear the t-shirt the following nights, even after I'd washed his pajamas.

All told, I think my tendency to forget the laundry turned out for the best. I've spent so much time looking for pajamas with the right qualifications; price, size, color, favorite action hero. With all that I neglected to give him this simple childhood experience.

Lucky for me I have another weakness to be thankful for.

The Next Big Thing: Want to Know More About Run?

My friend and critique partner, Rachel Hert tagged me on her blog for The Next Big Thing. Thanks Rachel! The Next Big Thing is a chance for writers to post a little about their current work in progress, or book. The way it works is I get to answer some questions about my WIP. Then I tag five people who will also answer the questions and so on. This should be fun. If you'd like to be tagged, I've decided that I'll tag the first five people to comment on the blog, so if your interested, leave a comment and I'll add a link to your blog on mine. This should be a good chance to get to know other writers and see what everyone is up to.

Okay, so here are the questions with my answers:

What is the working title of your book?
My book is called Run.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I've always liked big families with unusual things, like kids all the same gender, multiple sets of twins, names that start with the same letters, or other odd things like number patterns (birth days, years apart.) I know, it's a little weird. Perhaps I should clarify that the beginning of this idea, that a girl who was an only child ends up spending the summer with six male cousins, came when I was still in high school. Since then it morphed into something a little deeper, but the main idea, family, has remained.

What genre does your book fall under?
Young Adult LDS Contemporary Fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Actors? Okay, so secretly some of my characters (in looks mostly) are based on kids I knew in High School. Don't tell my friends . . . That said, how many actors do you know would be in an LDS themed movie? Don't answer that one. I'm going to go do a search for actresses that could play my main character, just for kicks.

After an spending way too much time look at actresses, I've failed. I need a short girl in her teens with wavy hair who can pull off serious and sarcastic.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Really? ONE sentence? I'm starting to hate the word synopsis. Here we go: Sixteen-year-old Morgan knows living at her aunt's will be the definition of crazy, but when family secrets start popping up, beginning with an empty house her parents own, she wonders if her aunt's six boys might not be the craziest part of her summer.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book will hopefully be represented by an agency. I'm not ready to face the self-publishing world.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Do we have to count the six or seven years before I started writing seriously? Lets go with four years and leave it at that. *Ducking head*

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Um. Think LDS Young Adult and you'll probably have it.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
After the initial idea was born, the remainder of the book was inspired by my family and friends. One scene is straight from my memories of watching older cousins play in my granny's laundry chute. Morgan's aunt harbors many of my own aunts' personality traits. A certain scene was inspired by a friend that died when I was in middle school.The rest of the book was inspired by some tough questions I had as a youth about death and about the choice to do one thing when we know we should be doing something else. I've often been concerned about imperfection and Morgan's life is very imperfect. As I wrote the book, I found answers to those questions, almost without meaning too.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Run is about death, but it's also about Morgan, a sixteen-year-old girl who is trying to live up to her parents expectations while still being true to herself. It's about events that happened ten years ago to Morgan's family. It's about her six cousins, the neighbor boys, the cute kid from the track team, and all the chaos that follows. 

If you want me to tag you, leave a comment and I'll link to your blog for next Wednesday when you can be a part of The Next Big Thing!

The Principle of Compensation

I've been following the reactions of people to the news about the new age for missionaries. So many echo my feelings of elation and excitement for the youth of the church. I have no doubt that they have much good to do. As I've watched the reactions, I was surprised to find many people who, while excited for the news, also have been experiencing a sense of loss for missed opportunities. If only this had been the way things were when I was nineteen, so many women are writing. I read an article where a women expressed deep sadness and sorrow for what she felt she had lost. This sadness was echoed by many others.

I was troubled. Do women in the church really feel like they were denied opportunities to be instruments in the Lord's hands because theirs was not the same priesthood calling as their nineteen-year-old male counterparts? I do not deny that within the church there are pressures for certain things to happen at certain times. Missions. Marriage. Children. There is a pattern, an ideal, and we are taught to strive for it.

But we are not perfect. Our bodies are not perfect. Our minds are not perfect. Unfortunately, in places where we are surrounded by others striving to reach these ideals, it's so easy to compare, judge, and condemn. Why has that boy not left on his mission? Why is that girl not married? Why don't they have children?

I've seen this. I've been there.

I do not pretend to know all the answers. I can't tell my friends and this sad woman why this announcement came now and not seven or ten years ago when it would have been everything to them. One thing I do know is the Lord's ways are not our ways.

No matter where you are, no matter how weak, no matter what gender, we are all loved by our Father in Heaven. Our feet, our hands, our willing minds and hearts, however imperfect, are his tools. He will use us for good if we will seek His will and follow it.

What about the might have beens? What about my righteous desires for things I wanted so badly I ached physically to see them unrealized? What about missed opportunities?

Whatever you believe, do not fall into the idea that these things are some how unable to be compensated. That is a lie.

I know this. With my whole heart.

Watch what Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin had to say about this, over five years ago. I hope you pay particular attention to this part:

"The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude."

The Lord does compensate our losses. The Lord does fulfill his promises.

Over a hundred years ago, faithful saints left a beautiful temple and set out across a wilderness to a desert valley. The Lord made promises to them. Do we doubt that he will fulfill them? Do we think, after all they went through, that any portion of what they longed for will be denied them? Can we question that God will fulfill his promises to them?  I have. And his answer was a resounding echo I've remembered to this day. "I will fulfill my promises. Every one."

Yesterday, I drove around the point of the mountain, heading north. Below me, from one side of the valley to the other were houses. Dotted between the houses, I saw temples. The posterity of these faithful saints sit in the basin of the Salt Lake Valley surrounded by the very covenants and blessings their parents received in a temple they left. We are the fruit of their labors. We are, in part, the fulfillment of many promised blessings. We are, in no small way, miracles.

If you feel like you've lost something. If you feel like blessings have been denied you, know this: You will be compensated. That is a promise given to us by the Lord himself. It's reechoed through the words of his prophets. It's a principle of the Gospel. It is a promise. And the Lord fulfills His promises.

My feet have been led down paths I didn't expect. Sometimes the places I find myself in are not what I want. Sometimes the things I'm asked to sacrifice are what I want with the deepest parts of my heart. But when I turn to the Lord, when I ask him to let me be an instrument for good, He opens doorways, He pours out inspiration and He lets me serve Him. No matter were I am. No matter how short I fall from the ideal. I can be His hands.

I like to think that my feet are making a different sort of trail across a wilderness equally as daunting as the pioneers' trail was. I like to think that my righteous life makes a difference in this world, to myself, my family, my posterity, and yes, even those beautiful youth that will so valiantly take up the call to serve missions at a younger age than ever before. I hope the steps I've taken are worthy for those after me to follow in.

I do not know what they will face. I do not know what losses they will experience. I can only hope that they never doubt that a righteous step forward will always lead to the promised land. A land far more beautiful that we can imagine. A place were all our tears will be wiped and every lost compensated by a loving Father and a merciful Savior in who's arms everything can and will be made right.

The Year Mark: Celebrating Good Things

October marks the one year birthday of my first post. Yay for posts! A year and a half ago,  I was all excited to do my own blog. I got as far as saving my blog name and address. For the better part of six months it remained blank.

I kept thinking, what on earth would I even say on a blog?

In October of last year, inspiration hit. If I was going to try and blog every week, I might as well be positive about it. Thus my slightly cliché motto "Celebrating Small and Simple Things."

Over 40 posts later, I guess I did have a lot more to say than I thought I would.  It's like that Good News Minute they sometimes do in Relief Society. Half the time you can't think of anything to say, but when you hear what others say, you realize even small things can be beautiful.

Like when the light isn't quite bright enough outside your window to convince you to get up and a little boy crawls up on the bed, his face wide with his morning grin. You know at that point, sleep is over, but for a few still seconds, he snuggles into you and is content to talk.

Like when the bunnies escape again, and you dread chasing them from one end of the yard to the other, but for some reason, they hop back into the pen and let you close the gate.

Like the random phone call you get at quarter to nine. "You want to go shopping? There's the best sale." You pull up your soaking wet hair into a knot at the back of your head and leave the dishes for later. You only have thirty minutes to shop between picking up kids and dropping off kids. And some how, you actually find something so cool it makes you want to dance.

Like the speaker set your brother let you borrow for your phone that plays music loud enough to hear it while you're in the shower. (I do apologize to the neighbors, but my singing this morning was much more on key, at least.)

Like your favorite song. On repeat.

Like the color of the mountains in fall.

Like riding a bike downhill.

Like two nieces and a nephew you haven't seen more than four times, still comfortable enough to hold your hand, climb in your lap, or let you braid their hair.

Like really long hugs.

Life is so beautiful. You'll never run out of things to celebrate. It makes me happy just thinking about it.

What makes you happy? What are your moments when the world aligns and you realize something glorious is happening, even in the midst of all the bad? What messages of love has God left in your life? Let's celebrate them for one cliché of a moment. There's a lot of good out there.

WIP: The Effectual Struggle

 Do you ever feel like that scripture from Mosiah 7:18? 

"Notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made."

That is my work in progress currently. 

Actually, that is my life.

Do you know what effectual means? Google says "successful in producing a desired or intended result; effective."

There yet remaineth an effectual struggle.

I'll take the struggle if it's effectual.

I'll do anything I need to, if it's effectual.

I think I like that word.

May your struggles all be effectual.

The Hidden Bench Photo by JoLyn Brown

My Life: Making a List of Good Read-Aloud Books.

Acording to my schedule for this week, I'm supposed to post something about my life. The thing of it is, I've offically joined the ranks of Kindergarten Moms and my life is one big SCHEDULE now. Sometimes I want to throw SCHEDULE out the window.

What happened to waking with the sun? Who decided five-years-old's should have homework? And why can't I just hop in the car and go to Salt Lake or somthing whenever I want anymore?

I miss being unpredictable. I miss being impulsive.

Okay, it's not that bad. Schedules are, in fact, the only thing that works for us right now. Otherwise, the dishes invade the kitchen, we run out of clean clothes, and spend all afternoon watching Phineas and Ferb.

Yes, that is what happened when I got sick this week and let the SCHEDULE go.

That, and I started reading Ramona the Pest aloud to my son.  He loves it. I love reading these books from my own childhood to him. I don't know how much he understands, but he's willing to listen, and I'm almost always willing to read. I may not be able to skip Kindergarten on a whim, but no one's said anything about randomly curling up together to read about someone impulsive. And we all know how impulsive Ramona is.

So, all you readers out there, what are some of the best books you've found for reading aloud to kids? Lets include ages too, because, as much as I LOVE Harry Potter, my five year old just won't appreciate it yet.

I'll start the list:

 1. The Mouse and the Motorcycle (I think he was three. He might have been a little young, but it was the first time we read a chapter book aloud.)
 2. Ramona the Pest (He's five, and I think he's really relating to Ramona. Plus I love talking to him about it.)
3. Charlotte's Web (I haven't started this one yet, so I don't know how it will go. I hope he likes it.)

Women I Admire: My Aunts, My Cousin, and The Loneliest Road in America

The Loneliest Road in America by adventurejournalist

(This is really long. You've been warned.) The summer after my freshman year, I came home from college with battle scars. No one could see them. They were all on the inside. My parents knew. I put them through a lot in the months following.

I was nineteen years old, and the world had exploded around me. Living on my own did it to me; shook me to the roots. Boyfriends. Roommates. The dorms. My first experience on my own. I was growing up and the world looked a little darker now.

At the beginning of the summer, my parents suggested I go and visit my Great Aunt Jean; my Granny's littlest sister.

I'd never been on a road trip without my parents. I'd never gone so far from them. Even college was only three hours away. And I hated to drive. But all I could think of was this little ranch style house nestled along a winding road. A warm memory. A place I felt safe. A place that felt like love.

My parents told me my dad's oldest sister would be going to my great aunt's with my cousin for a few days. It didn't take much to add me to their party. My traveling companions were two women I admire.

My Aunt Jane. Nineteen and a half years older than my father, she'd always remind me she could be my grandmother. She'd share family stories with the flair of a storyteller, never leaving any doubt of the love and respect she had for the people she talked about. I could listen to her for hours.

And my cousin Cynthia. A storyteller in her own right, she was also a published poet and had a love for all things family and nature. For most my life I think showed my admiration with tendency to follow her around. And she always took it in stride. At the time of our trip, she had a four year old son and was eight months pregnant with her second. Yes, that's right. Eight.

We piled in the car. Me, my aunt, my pregnant cousin, and my cousin's son. We took turns driving. Told stories. Laughed. I drove through my first road construction (mostly because I was too scared to get off so we could change drivers.) The road took us to Northern California, to a small town in the mountains and my Great Aunt Jean's.

Arriving was like peeling back layers, complications, bits of the depression festering inside me. I was given my own bedroom. I slept in the very bed my great grandmother shared with Aunt Jean after my grandfather died. Each night I sat at the desk and wrote what I was grateful for.

Aunt Jean is another woman I admire. Company is welcome, always, as long as they cook their own meals. Between the group of us we tried out some old family recipes using leftovers and canned foods from the pantry. We watched shows, visited, and explored antique stores. I think they were a little worried I was bored.

But I was thriving. I'd been planted in the center of something so good and lovely that I wanted nothing more than to sit and soak it up. A bright warmth inched into the darkness of my past, casting strange shadows on the memories of my freshman year. Shadows I didn't understand yet.

I got locked out the car one day. More accurately, me, my pregnant cousin, and her son, got locked out of the car. We were up the canyon in one hundred degree weather, and the cell phones didn't work. I think we really freaked out some of the other park visitors when Cynthia waddled over asking if anyone had a phone that worked.

In the end we found help, got the second set of keys and made it back. But that day sitting with Cynthia on the sidewalk as she talked about hard things that happened to her in the past was another changing point for me.

At the end of our trip, we said goodbye, loaded the car and headed back the way we came. Morning dripped away to mid-day. The traffic came to a standstill. We read Harry Potter to each other and called my uncle to find out what was going on.

That is when we learned about the fires. And the road closures. And the alternate route home, dead center through Nevada and across through to Utah. Night was coming on. Cynthia began to have labor pains. We considered hospitals until we were sure the labor wasn't progressing. By then it was night. The hotels were completely full. We had two options.

Camp out in the car. Or drive through to Utah.

So far I was the kid on the trip. I didn't know much; didn't have much experience. But with my aunt falling asleep, and my cousin still really uncomfortable, I was suddenly the best option for getting us home.

A sense of  dread hit me as the headlights illuminated an ominous sign, "Welcome to the Loneliest Road in America."

In the seat next to me, Aunt Jane offered reassurance. "I'll stay awake with you. Let's just keep talking."

What do you talk about on the Loneliest Road In America? Not the color of the road, or the beauty of the surrounding wilderness, that's for sure.

In the darkness of that night I think I told my aunt every single experience in college I'd had. Every boy. Every miss-placed hope. Every fear. When her head dropped forward and she let out a tiny snore, I fell silent, praying with all my heart that we'd make it home and that I wouldn't kill us all.

"Don't stop talking." My Aunt said, waking up to enough to urge me on again. Another rabbit darted across the road. "Whatever you do, don't stop talking."

My throat was raw and my body stiff by the time we reached Delta in the early hours of the morning. We were so close to home, but I wasn't driving an inch further. We got a hotel and I shared a bed with my aunt.

The next morning, Aunt Jane would drive us into the tiny town in Utah that I call home. I would walk inside the house and sit at the table near my mother. I would tell her everything that happened, but even once I was done, I'd feel like pieces of it were missing. Something happened to me that I couldn't describe.

All these years later, I think about that unexpected detour and all the ones my life has taken since. There is so much about that crazy freshman year that I wouldn't trade for anything. The darkness is parted now, almost completely, and what I see is beautiful.

I see what maybe my aunt and cousin saw; what they tried to explain by the stories they shared with me. It's not always like we think. It's not always as dark as it seems. And when the road gets so long and lonely that we think we can't possibly make it, there is always someone there. An angel in the darkness next to you that whispers, "Don't stop. Whatever you do, Don't stop."

God Writes the Best Stories

A few months back, I got the opportunity to get together with some friends from high school for a bridal shower. It had been since my own wedding, six years ago, that I'd seen some of them. With a certain amount of nervous worry, I decided to go. It had been so long. Would we still be able to talk? Did six years and different life circumstances mean our friendship was a thing of the past? Would the evening be awkward?

I don't think my body relaxed once as I made my way into the house and embraced my friends. Part of me wanted to duck out, apologizing for showing up somewhere I might not belong any more. They obviously had kept in touch better than I had. Why hadn't I been a better friend! These girls were blessing to me my senior year and I wondered, as I sat down stiffly on the sofa, if I'd ever really be able to express my gratitude. Maybe that was why I showed up, despite the near panic I felt. Somewhere inside, I was more afraid of them not knowing how much I cared.

In hindsight, the evening must have been orchestrated by God. He has a way of pulling a beautiful story out of my life; one divinely wrote moment to the next.

Five of us stayed later than the rest, sitting around talking, remembering. I saw what worry, years, and growing up had blurred a little.

I saw my friends.

The one who never spoke an ill word of anyone, the one I often wished to be more like.
The one who's been there since one month after my birth. Like God planned on us walking together from the beginning.
The one that sticks loyally to your side despite everything because she cares about people personally.
The one that bursts in with color and sunshine. She never feels awkward. And never lets you feel that way either, at least not for long.

Before I left, I noticed a white board hanging on the wall of the kitchen. Words were written all over it. I asked my friend who was getting married what it was for.

"That is my gratitude board. I started it when things where hard. I write on it things that I'm thankful for; things that make me happy."

For a moment, I saw something deep inside her, a glimpse of the trials she's been through, her personal journey with God. And it was beautiful. Like her admitting her struggle also revealed the sweet brilliance of her testimony.

Not more than ten minutes later, I would encounter my own personal trial and begin another journey down a path unexpected. In the months that have passed, I've thought about those girls many times. Each has played a part in helping me face the future, all because of the faith and trust I saw in them that night. If I had my own gratitude board, their names would be on it.

The ironic thing is I'm more grateful for them now than ever before, and they still might never know it.  I hope one day they realize whenever their lives crossed with mine I've been better off. Its like that moment in a good book when someone perfect from the beginning walks in with just enough answers to get the hero to the end. God writes the best stories. I love what he's written for me.

Five Years

Five years is a breath.
We only met a moment ago—
I'm certain.

Five years is your hand in mine.
I might be clutching it tighter than you are,
but don't tell anyone
how scared I am.

Five years is my shadow
merged with yours,
about to be pulled apart year by year
until you become your own.

Five years is small.
Small enough to sit in my lap.
Small enough for me to lift.
Small enough to still hug me
before you say goodbye.
You may not need it.
But I do.