Friday, March 23, 2018


For the last two years Max sent us fragments of his life...bits and pieces filtering in through email, voice memos, and pictures.

A couple weeks ago Dave and I got one of the best gifts parents could ask for since we got to go back to that place he fell in love with, to visit those wonderful people, and to put so many of those puzzle pieces he sent back together:

The Branch President from Taibao who looked so young in the pictures can speak English and has a sweet wife and a darling new baby girl.  The Bishop with the buzz cut who helped Max so much when he was in Chaozou can’t speak much English, took Max under his wing when he started his mission there, and owns the hair salon Max called us from that first Mother’s Day in the mission field.  The pet store Max sent us a picture of and we didn’t quite know why turned out to be the building where the chapel in that area is (just above the pet store).

So much came together over there in Taiwan, and all of it with constant Chinese floating around me, Max talking to everyone.  Not just the beautiful church members and investigators, but the taxi drivers, the dumpling-makers, the hotel managers, the strangers on the train…and Dave can speak Chinese as well (we got to see part of his mission at the end).

I was lost in translation much of the trip.
But it’s weird how being lost in translation can feel so good.

Also, not only can Max speak in Mandarin, he can type in Chinese.  He can just text back and forth on the phone with people IN CHINESE. 
That baffles my mind.

I loved listening to him carry on the most beautiful conversations with everyone we met; glowing with love matching the glow of love they have for him.  I am telling you, not many things can make a mama happier that experiencing that.

He navigated us around that country of his like nobody’s business.

We followed him like little ducks in a row, sometimes, (often-times actually), rolling our bags behind us, sweating in the tropical humidity, just loving life over there on that boy’s island that he loves.

And did I mention he can type in Chinese?  Seriously, I’m in awe.

We landed on the most Northern tip of this long island (Taipei) and took the high-speed train down to the Southern tip: Max’s first area.  Then made our way back up, stopping in every one of the areas where he served.  The red arrow shows our journey:

We saw the this little alley where he rode his bike a hundred times as a shortcut:

We ate at his favorite places:

One of my favorite meals was in one of these little dumpling places where Max ordered, they brought us the food, and Max was deep in conversation with us about something or other as he unwrapped his chopsticks and started rubbing them across each other over and over away from the table.

Dave and I just busted up laughing...what on earth was he doing?  I guess that's what you do when you don't want those little fray things cleaned off chopsticks.  

There were things like that every day that made us realize how accustomed he had become to life over there.
We got to meet countless people who shared their lights with him as he shared his with them:
...and got to visit many of their homes.

Taiwan is a gorgeous country...the people and the land.

I'm excited to take you there with me next week and share a little of my journal from when we were there...and a lot of pictures :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

some good books -- and what can we give?

**post edit note...I wrote this fast.  I wish I had more time to take on this, but I don't so I hope it somehow conveys how I feel...and what I learned from these books.

We have read three really great books lately in my book club.

I love love love when a book takes you into a different world...and teaches you things from a different perspective.  And these three did that in a pretty powerful way for me.  

I was taken into the life of a wise and loving Muslim father writing letters to his sons as I read Letters to a Young Muslim.  I was taken to a world I hear about and think about but don't know intimate details about.  That book was beautiful because he wasn't just writing to his sons...he wrote to me.  So many universal truths in his words and so much I related to in my own religion.  He also included lots of interesting history and mostly beautiful things about how to take responsibility in life and to soak up knowledge and truth.

I cannot do a review of this book justice in the short amount of time I have to write this post...I have a bazillion pages turned over so it's difficult figure out what to quote, but here's one of those things I thought extra poignant: “Saif, I want you to be aware of the well-constructed path to a closed worldview that will, if followed, lead a person to a dangerous place. It can lead a well-meaning and sincere child to a place of close-minded anger and aggression.”...and also "Responsibility means looking out for the disadvantaged in your community.  Look for them.  They will not always be visible.  Our societies tend to focus on the new, the clean, the young, the beautiful.  Who wants to think about the ugliness and unhappiness in life?  I want you to devote some of your time to helping those who are on the borders of society.  He goes on to talk about how education has the power to change the world.  

Oh so much more, but in short, I think everyone should read that book.  In fact, it's been a few months and I've forgotten a lot, I should read it again.  So many truths ring true there and it gives so much insight into the Muslim world.  I love books that make me think and feel that much.  That book is HERE if you want to check it out.

Then we read Where the Wind Leads which is an incredible story of the journey of a Vietnamese refugee family, saved because of the goodness of an organization looking for "boat people" who needed rescue in the South China Sea.
(The book is HERE.)

It tells of this strong family in Southern Vietnam, how they fled the country when the North took over.  It made me think of how quickly governments can change, how quickly people can turn, how resilient people can be, and it made me ponder deeply the "coincidences" that happen in life.  I could do a whole blog post about that, my mind has been so jumbled with thoughts about "divine design" and what it means to me lately.  Hopefully I can get to that at some point.  Lately my mind has been so overrun with so many ideas and thoughts I wish I could put together with more of a semblance of order.  But back to the book...

We hear about refugees all the time.  They are in the news every day.  We raised money in our Children for Children concert a couple years ago to help refugees in Greece (back HERE and HERE).  You hear their stories, watch video clips online, listen to the news and learn about the extreme need for help.  

But this book takes you into the very story of one family, and it is powerful.  It is powerful because amidst a sea of worry and woes and overarching problems, it tells the story of one organization that went against so many telling them their ideas couldn't help...the problems are too large...too many governments' hands are tied, an unanswerable problem...and decided to take action anyway, even if it only meant a drop in a bucket. 

And it tells about what a difference that "drop" made.

It was extra fascinating to me because I've been Vietnam, to Cambodia...I've studied the calamities that went on there, and this simple book brought those stories I heard to life in such a haunting way.  It gave me more of an understanding of what governments are going through...the sheer number of those who need help is so overwhelming.  How good intentioned people can be jaded from not having the answers to help.  It taught me that even though we can't "fix" these problems with a magic wand, we can do something.

The thing that hit me the most is this: (and this may be a spoiler alert, so beware!) That this huge extended family leaves Vietnam.  Through their journey they find themselves separated on four fishing boats floating out to sea.  One is rescued, and after quite a journey, the survivors are finally "sponsored" in America where they work their hearts out to make ends meet because they have the opportunity to do so.  And every one of them is able to make something of their lives.  They do amazing things.  So much resilience.  The other three fishing boats float back to Vietnam.  The most poignant part of the story to me is at the end when the author (who was three at the time he was rescued in that fishing boat and has now graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University and has gone on to get his MD at Harvard Medical School, is also a Fulbright Scholar and holds a master of theology) goes back to Vietnam and finds his cousins who's fishing boats floated back to Vietnam all those years ago. 

The author says: "For me, visiting Vietnam was like walking into a parallel universe--the life that would have been mine if the current had been a bit stronger or if the wind had shifted direction.  As I stood there in my parallel universe, looking at my alternate life, I found myself feeling guilty and ashamed--guilty because I had received a blessing they had not, and ashamed because I had not done more to help them...Why me?...why did the same wind take our boat in one direction and theirs in another?  We were blessed-there's no other way to say it--but why weren't they?  Were we more worthy in some way?  Were we more deserving of rescue?  I don't see how; my family's entire contribution to our rescue was to lie there waiting to die....

"...I worked long and hard to get where I am today, but the humbling truth is that all my hard work has been possible only because of a blessing I received that I did nothing to deserve.  I believe that blessing is something I am expected to pass on to other people any way I can.  I think that's what we are all expected to do."

I related so much with this.  I think about it every day.  There is so much to give in life, no matter where we are coming from.  I'm sure those cousins who were left in Vietnam have their own way of giving as well.  So do those Muslim sons of Omar Ghobash he was calling to action in his book, and the rest of us.  We all have such responsibilities...we just need to figure out how to give.  Our own unique ways we can give.  There are people suffering right where we are every day.  Just as Sharon Eubank says in her talk I shared back HERE, WE are the gift.  We need to reach out and do what we can in our own ways to lift and build, even if what we are giving seems small and insignificant.

I love that right as I was finishing that book, I got an email from someone wanting to make a difference for refugees. 


"Divine Design?"

I don't know, but I think the timing was pretty great.  Sometimes the problems in the world are so overwhelming we throw up our hands and don't know what to do.  But we can choose to wring our hands in despair or do SOMETHING.  Even if that "something" doesn't seem earth shattering.  And I love that these guys are doing something.  Our family is going to join them.  

Here's a little about what they are doing with lots of videos and links HERE.
This is what Tracey (the person putting it together) says: 

"The refugee problem is so enormous; it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder what we can possibly do to help. But after watching video after video about this latest crisis in Bangladesh, I just kept saying to myself, “I can’t do nothing”. I remember going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and being shocked at how many Americans ignored or denied what was going on in Europe. For that reason, I want to make sure I do something to help these refugees.  I don’t want to look back and realize, that while all these horrible things were going on, I did nothing. I felt bad, but ignored it because I was too busy, didn’t know what to do, or couldn’t believe it was actually happening!

The idea is instead of spending money by going out on this particular Friday (April 6th)- stay home, make an inexpensive meal, play a board game or watch a movie you already own - donate the money you saved and take the opportunity to talk with your family about where the money is going." 

I love that idea.  Such an easy way to raise awareness in our families and make a contribution.  Join our family as we join them on April 6th if you can!

May we all find ways to lift and build and make a difference in our own unique ways.

I'm just finishing the third book I want to talk about ....will get to it soon!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

February little things

In the beginning of February our kitchen looked like this with our traditional kitchen "heart attack" plastered all over the place:

Plus, it always looks squeaky-clean like that.  Ha! I should post more pictures of my kitchen when it's strewn about with so many "things," pots and pans and dishes and kids and backpacks and smudges of peanut butter rather than opting for pictures on the "extra clean" days...because boy, that kitchen is sure a hub for a LOT of things going through it.  And I love that because that's where so much life happens. 

But I digress.  Grace's notes were extra in depth this year, complete with her beautiful handwriting and thoughtful "love."

Those are some examples.  

But don't go thinking that it's all love and sweetness over here all the time though, we sure have our fair-share of sassiness and arguing, just gotta set that straight.  Maybe that's why I was so determined to get those love-notes up speedy-quick!  :)

I swear being surrounded by those makes a least I like to think it does.  

I love a reminder of the love even through the iron-wills that dwell here!

Dave got to go skiing with his friends. 
 ...and this time he didn't have to check himself into a hospital so that's good ;)

We delighted in having these tall kids work out with us while they were home and their little sisters were at school.  Here we are after a particularly sweaty workout:

 Lucy had a "color run" fund raiser at school.  Here she is with her class pre-color spray:
Lu was really worried about getting sprayed with color...that just did NOT sound fun to her.  So her darling teacher let her be the "official color sprayer:"
 ...which she was very good at:

I couldn't be there and my friends were the sweetest to send these pictures.
 Meanwhile Dave and I were soaking in our "big kids" with all our might.
Elle was only here for a few days so we made the most of that time.

I wrote all about what we did for those precious days back HERE, but I don't think I included this cute pic of his great aunt and uncle who came to meet us on our little sunset bike ride one night:
 I did post this one, but hey, bowling...and everyone together:
And there are a lot of skateboarding pics on that post but one more here for good measure.
I just cherish that togetherness so much!

In February Lucy perfected her art of coordinating get-togethers...she's pretty good at that.  Here's a funny text chain with one of her friend's mothers so you can get the idea:
Coordination is apparently one of her many talents :)

Here's a fort they built one day:

I got to take my big girls to a baby shower for my niece:
 ...where we met up with almost all my sis-in-laws and lots of cousin-in-laws too and so many nieces:
I feel incredibly lucky to be related to each of those women up there.  They are power-women, every one.

And so glad my girls get to be related as well.

Super Bowl Sunday...Lucy made sure we did almost EXACTLY what we did last year...she was quite pleased with that I guess!

Elle helped me teach my primary class at church.  I only had six six-year-olds but she was laughing at how "busy" they were and took this pic...which really doesn't do that busy-ness justice and only shows a few.
But boy-oh-boy they sure were cute.  (We have since had a ward split and I don't have a new calling yet...but I miss those kids!)

We were pretty grateful to have Elle that Sunday...we weren't supposed to...we had this awesome supposedly "last" morning together where I made everyone take a family picture and we had one of my favorite family testimony meetings ever in the car on the way to the airport.  We dropped off Elle, headed to church, got a new calling (to teach the Marriage and Family relations class...which is now changed because of the ward split as well...) and then got a call that that girl had somehow missed her flight.

Complicated to explain, and she was pretty stressed about it, but the airlines were so nice to reschedule for the next day, it was the best class possible for her to miss on that Monday, and we got one more precious day with the whole family together.  Woo Hoo!

Here are some out-takes from the pictures we snapped that morning...with the self-timer perched on a ladder:
We just took a few, and here they are:

Lucy's glasses broke right at that moment:
We tried to have her just stand really super still:
 Max was so tall:
 So we had him crouch down a tad:
 There we go:
Ha!!  (Lucy's sporting some new glasses Dave bought in China in case that happened...he thinks of everything.)

After that Max became my "date" for most things.

I loved having him along, especially for fun things like picking up Claire's volleyball carpool and watching the last little bit of practice.
 ...Lucy couldn't be bothered with volleyball watching and was pleased as punch to pull out her book:

The night before we headed to California Dave took me out for my Christmas present here:
 To see "Hamilton" with these good friends:
Oh man, it held up to all the hype in my mind I have to say.  So clever and brilliantly put together, and really deserves more than those couple dark pictures to show for it, but they help me remember.

Then it was off to be together in California with our returned missionary...including exercise challenges:
Game nights, book reading everywhere we went for Lu:
No-pose challenge HERE.
...and just being together.
Lots more about that little trip to California HERE.

Then we came home and low and behold, we had this crowd there to surprise us at the airport to greet us:
...and who would not be overly delighted to have group like that greeting you at the airport??
Oh boy.
(We knew they were coming to the desert, but didn't realize they'd be at the airport to greet us all together.  Love them!)

Lots more details about that back HERE,  which includes this first of Max's mission reports for all the cousins.

We had so many great family members from both sides of the family around for Max's homecoming talk at church and we were so thankful for all the great support.

Here's a tiny sampling of the group that I caught:

All about the homecoming weekend HERE.

 More good friends for friend sent this from lunch one day:

 Max bonded with Bo Jangles:
(As a side-note, see all those pictures behind him?  We printed those out from pictures he sent from the was kind of fun to have a "frame-of-reference" for him to explain a lot from what was pictured there.)
 ..and he bonded with his Dad who was so happy to have him around...
(that last picture is from when they went to the BYU volleyball game that was taking place here in the desert)

Desert sunsets:
I thought this was funny:
 More creations:
 ...with more friends:

 We fully utilized the orange season...not much better that freshly squeezed oj in my opinion:

Fun to marvel at how much everyone grows in two years.

Sorry if I've already posted these pics of Bo, bear with me.  But here she is in all her glory:

She has crazy hair on top of her head:

Claire had cousins sleep over on President's Day weekend because I guess that's a tradition.

And it's also a tradition to have ocean pancakes:
(recipe for those back HERE.)

Grace's friend from China who moved here, then to Boston, came back to visit....just in time to help her get ready for MORP (on the right below).
 Claire's friends helped me make sure the light was ok for pictures before the MORP couples came:

...and then we ended up taking most pictures without it anyway because we lost light by then.
(More about MORP back HERE.)

Then the next night she got asked to prom:
She's so excited!  Colby is such a great kid.

So fun to have friends reunited after two years of completely different adventures for each one of them:
Not sure who took this next one, but I like it:
My handy husband worked to fix our broken kitchen sink.

That thing was on it's last leg, then broken for a while. 

My companion Max and I were on a quest to find a new one.  Man alive you sometimes forget to be thankful for things like running water (at least I do!)
Luckily the plumber came to fix the water heater and was able to fix that thing too. 

Now I think about how grateful I am every single time I turn it on. 

Running water is such an amazing luxury!

Max asked someone out on a date...his first date home from a mission. 

I got to be in the car with him when he called that cute girl he knew in high school and it was the funniest thing.  I loved being there with him as he about died of nervousness to make that call. 

Man, I'm so happy I didn't have to ask many people out in my day...although I did ask Dave on our first date...which I talked about back HERE. 

But asking someone out on a date takes guts, especially after a mission, and it was fun and funny to be with Max for that ;)

They went bowling with some friends on a double date and he got seven strikes.

Yep, you heard that right...SEVEN strikes! 

Here's Dave trying to ask how his bowling stance was in FHE the next day:

I love how the light filters into our family room.

Lucy and I keep plugging away at our Narnia series.  Seriously I love it...I don't care how slow we go...I just love that she still wants to read when we do get the chance. 
I talked all about my latest epiphany from that book back HERE...remembering the "signs."

I love that my sister Saren's website, Power of Families (HERE), has such great ideas all the time.  Here's a screenshot I took of some Valentine's Day ideas:
Max worked his tail off learning a new song on the piano:
...and Lucy worked on her "Beauty and the Beast" songs in handbells...
...with her mother at her side who she was a little frustrated at this particular day.

We started hiking again.

Oh man, there's nothing like a hike on a gorgeous spring day in the desert with this great hiking companion of mine!

Then it was Valentine's Day:
(more thoughts on that back HERE)

More Bo:
She gets so excited when she gets to come with us driving carpools...apparently Claire does too :)

She adores that pup.

Have I posted a picture of my new hallway yet?  I need to tell some details about this soon...

Elle sent this picture perched in her spot to hear Elder Bednar speak at BYU-H.  (not the greatest spot)
But kind of fun that he was there (he's one of the apostles...the one who gave this talk that I talked about back HERE).

The Activity Days girls came on a "service scavenger hunt" to try to help out at our house.
They were the cutest little workers I ever did see.

Homework in a cozy spot:

The cause of our allergy problems:
(SO happy they weren't awful this year...I think it really did help to start taking the prescription medication in January...then go to Taiwan when it usually is at it's worst :)

Elle trying to find pants long enough to take to Jerusalem:
(They have to wear long, not "skinny" pants there...tall order for a tall girl.)

Lucy and her sweet walk-to-school-together friend in the beauty-morning-sun:

Temple date:

Grace's friend from China (the one who helped her get ready for MORP above)...we loved having her stay with us a couple days.
Lucy was really into the "deck of cards" workout we started in California.

It was part of her "2-week challenge" we did with Max the last two weeks he was home (which I talked about back HERE). 

She was serious about this thing!

More good friend visits:
And lots more about Max's adjustment at home back HERE (he got to go to Utah for a few days which he loved along with other things we got to do together here).

It was our neighbor's birthday who claims they will NEVER get a dog...but we're gradually trying to win him over.  So we figured Bo would be a perfect person to bring him some bday balloons.

More Lucy and friends:
Seriously, she has the best of the best.

Volleyball stuff...
...more thoughts on that back HERE.

One of Elle's best friends (and ours too) came over with her brother and new dog.
You can't see him very well in that picture but that is one cute puppy!

Goodbye to Rebekah...until next time!
We love you!

Our baby cousin was born! (the one we had the baby shower for earlier in the month)
They didn't find out if it was going to be a boy or a girl so it was so fun to meet that little BOY!  We were all glowing with pride and love for that teeny little newborn (IWAN for sure). 
 Cutest new little family!

That was a little bit of a crazy night since we slipped over to soak in that baby, came back to host book club here:
Then started packing for our flight to Taiwan the next morning.  Yeah, a little behind there, but we made it.

And that was a pretty amazing book I have to say.  Hoping to review it tomorrow.

Thanks for hanging with me through all those pictures and links.  A lot happened in February.  It was a good one.
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