And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years!

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2: 24)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Fathers' Day to Two Brothers

Watching these two eldest sons of mine growing up, I never knew if they were going to end up being best buds or best beasts to each other -- but then again, I should have had more faith in them!  I raised them to be independent, confident, compassionate, and to love the Lord.  They were surrounded by great scout leaders, advisers, caring Priesthood leaders, and supportive friends and family.  Their respective missionary experiences in Texas and Brazil were life altering and set the course for the success of their adult lives.  They married strong, righteous women in the House of the Lord and have been blessed with children who give them the opportunities to be the fathers, husbands and righteous men I have always dreamed they could be.  What more could a mother wish for?

Well, I don't know if a bro-bonding road trip was on my list, but it was certainly a joy to follow them on this week-long adventure together.  As Bill began to plan his family's move back to the Phoenix area in June (after his sons' school term ended), and realizing he would need to drive his car to Phoenix earlier to begin working before returning to North Carolina to move his family, Brian offered to fly out to North Carolina to help Bill drive back to Phoenix -- I know, he fell on that grenade, didn't he!

Bill had brilliantly planned this College Stadium Tour to visit eight SEC college stadiums within four days -- impossible?  You don't know my boys!  Each day Brian would post pictures on Facebook of their days' events, and I thrilled right along with them at their love for this sport, of traveling, and mostly of each other.  Then Bill posted such gorgeous panoramic vistas of these same campuses.  The beauty of each of these campuses was incredible -- once they visited three in one day, the last one being Bill's Alma Mater (Texas A&M) -- his pride and joy was undeniable.  Their faces illuminated their own delight at being a part of each stadium, even for just a few moments!  I understand that some of those stadiums were a little tricky to gain entrance, but again -- they weren't expecting these guys!

This book containing those very pictures is dedicated to these two amazing men, whose courage and patience, forgiveness and integrity, have taught me that there is nothing that cannot be healed through love, and especially through the love of the Savior and his Atoning sacrifice.  As they continue to teach their children, their collective 4 daughters and 3 sons are being raised in homes filled with love for each other, and love for that same Savior who has continued to bless our family through the generations before us, and those that follow.

Indeed, we are a forever family, and as I watch the progression of life's lessons and our learning to overcome adversity in its smallest and greatest forms, I continue to marvel at the trust of our loving Father in Heaven that we will continue to choose the path that will lead us back home together -- as that eternal family we love so dearly.

Here's to this memory, Bill and Brian!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Silver Linings and Sunsets

Last night as we were returning home from the Zoo with two of our grandsons (see separate post), my husband Stephan was finally able to capture this beautiful scene of the evening sky as the sun made its journey into night -- a true eventide, as it were.  I saw the silver lining, and explained to my grandsons about how the Lord will always help us find the good in our lives, even when it doesn't feel good at the time.  But it wasn't until this afternoon that I found my words were more prophetic for me than I realized.

It began by having a little time at lunch to get caught up on Facebook, where I usually catch up with my family and friends, and a few interests I enjoy.  As I began reading some of the comments about a famous TV and radio personality who just happens to be LDS, and his desire to become a better man, I was shocked at the hatred from his viewers against the Church for making him believe it mattered whether he became a better man or if he should continue to stir their collective pots.  I understood what he meant in his desire to choose love.  I understood that his response to fixing the world was to do your part to rebuild and focus on bringing light and love into the world.  I understood that if we expect the Lord to heal our beloved America, we need to be His instruments and get busy in doing good works, not in tearing each other down and finding fault with the pointing of fingers!

But then I decided to catch up with the latest in the Church arena -- the potential Church discipline facing a few of its members due to the choices they have made.  I was so saddened at their lack of true understanding and trust in their Priesthood leaders; how their actions were diminished in their own importance, and yet how many people had followed their call -- how many were being led astray!  I thought of the heroes of the Book of Mormon, of Moroni and the Title of Liberty, and the fight against those who would take away their own liberties through their cunning words and actions.  So many were being led astray, so many were questioning their own rights, and so many were forgetting the teachings of the Prophets of God.

As has been seen by many of the Prophets of old, our day is a day of decision; a day of choosing to be obedient; a day of preparation for the return of the Savior.  Not all have been prepared for this battle; not all have strengthened their armour; not all have listened with faith and trust in our true and living Prophet and those who are also called as prophets, seers and revelators.  The answers are clear to those who choose to hear by the Spirit, and find the patience and understanding to accept those answers.

Having watched my father as he struggled to counsel in his Church leadership position with his very dear friend, the hours he spent lovingly discussing, pleading, and praying with him, then having to preside and participate in the Church disciplinary action against him, and finally watching this dear friend lose his membership in the Church, I know first hand how this is a very personal love from these Church leaders towards those who choose to act contrary to the teachings and guidelines of the Priesthood, without which we would be a Church of chaos rather than order.  The years that passed while his dear friend repented, realized the errors of his ways, and then desired to return to full fellowship in the Church were the most glorious and healing times in my father's life as a Church leader.  Knowing that the choice to be obedient and true to the Priesthood had to be exercised by his friend, then acknowledging the change of heart, and welcoming him back with open arms and a few tears, it was indeed a day for rejoicing.

As for the current challenges of today, no one can expect to cry "diversity" as they speak against the doctrine, policies or procedures of the Church, seeking to raise the numbers of those who will follow them, demanding a change in the doctrine, policy or procedure that meets with their personal desires, receiving a clear and undisputed response which results in a "not now my dear child," then continuing to plead for that very same change in policy -- without consequence.  Life is too short to make such devastating choices, and to assume that the Prophet must listen harder to the will of the Savior in leading His Church, until the answer is "yes," because you don't agree with the answer he's already received and shared, is absurd!

Have these same women (and some men I understand) ever stopped to think about the majority of we women in the Church who have NOT chosen to follow in their journey?  What should our response be if they were to finally receive a "yes" to their pleas?  Then it would be our struggle to accept the change in policy as a revelation rather than a form of surrender to their demands.  Can they not see there is no true blessing in this course of action -- no clear resolution -- no peace?  I would also find it extremely difficult to respect any woman who became my Priesthood leader because she thought it was her right of gender equality, because in my mind, our genders have always been equal.  There is no balance in this dichotomy, there is no joy at the end of either journey!

So how do we move forward?  As I listen to the brethren publicly give the Lord's answers to the desires of the hearts of those who continue to plead, I hear "reach out in love," and "don't judge one another."  I can do that -- I can love these sisters, understand their concerns, focus on what we have in common and rejoice in our similarities, and draw them into my circle of sisterhood.  I know all things will be made known, and I trust that the Lord has a plan that will continue to unfold in His time -- not ours.  There is joy in this journey here on earth, but only in staying true to the path laid out by the Savior himself, directed by a living Prophet, and trusting in our local Priesthood leaders to keep us safe from the pitfalls and cunning attempts of the adversary.

Our own personal revelation is just that -- our own, for our needs and possibly those with whom we may have stewardship in leading.  Whether we are a TV/radio personality, President of the United States, or mother and grandmother, our relationship with the Lord is very personal.  Our actions are very personal, and have very real consequences as well as blessings which may affect generations.  We must do what we feel the Lord directs us to do -- become a more humble people, find a greater love for each other, focus on building rather than demanding and tearing each other apart.  This is the only way to bring peace, joy, and unity with each other as brothers and sisters.

I know that the sun comes out from behind that silver lining -- sometimes to shed light on the issue at hand, sometimes to give hope, and always to remind us that the Son is mindful of every concern and every tear.  He will heal our broken hearts, as He has healed my own.  I trust in that Priesthood as it was held by my father, and every Priesthood leader with whom I have had the privilege to serve and sustain as my leader.  My life has always been blessed in trusting their counsel, having patience that all things will be made known to me in time, and finding that I was always given more than I could have ever asked.  My journey has been blessed as I have tried to become a better woman, and daughter of God.

"Abide with me, tis eventide, and lone will be the night if I cannot commune with thee nor find in thee my light.  The darkness of the world, I fear, would in my home abide.  O Savior, stay this night with me; behold, tis eventide.  O Savior, stay this night with me; behold, tis eventide."  He LIVES -- These things, I KNOW! 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mormon Women and the Priesthood

This is not a new topic, but as I have come to learn about more women approaching the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and requesting their ordination into the Priesthood, I can no longer remain silent.  For the second General Conference in a row these woman, whose ticket requests to attend the General Priesthood Session and have been denied, are organizing an "event" where they will be drawing attention to the earnestness of their request.

I come from a rich heritage in the Church, where most of my grandparents and great-grandparents were taught the gospel by missionaries, traveled great distances to join the Saints in America, and have lived righteous lives in service to their families, Churches, and communities.  My own parents were tirelessly serving both in the Church and the community where I grew up in Southern California.  I watched my father throughout my entire life as he served honorably in leadership positions in our area to bless the lives of those in whose stewardship he took great joy while serving.  

As a single mother, I looked to my Priesthood leaders for these same blessings and received them over and over again, with no judgment or thought of anything other than the needs of me and my children.  I remember too having my own personal spiritual experiences in being a blessing to my children both figuratively as well as literally.  However, the world has now evolved to a place where some demand that all things must be equal -- as it relates not only to race and culture, but the demands have now increased to include professed rights of gender and religion.

If I am to be a disciple of the Savior Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, then I can no longer hide my light nor deny that I choose to follow Him and seek to have His light within me.  He has asked that we “hold up [His] light that it may shine unto the world” (3 Nephi 18:24).  President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said: “Each time you choose to try to live more like the Savior, you will have your testimony strengthened. You will come in time to know for yourself that He is the Light of the World. … You will reflect to others the Light of Christ in your life.”  Even more timely, as Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “We need to protect our families and be at the forefront together with all people of goodwill in doing everything we can to preserve light, hope, and morality in our communities. I go!

While I usually don't comment on political things, this is is a sacred calling to be a disciple of Christ, and it is HE who calls those who are worthy to hold His Priesthood...not a right, but a privilege given to worthy men to perform His work on this earth, and to lead their families back home to Father in Heaven. I love that I can follow my father's line of authority all the way back to the Savior, and feel the strength of the Priesthood in my home through my husband and my sons, who bless me, my children, and my grandchildren through their righteous exercise of this power.

However, as is with all things gender related, Women have powers too -- they are derived through their virtue...and together with these righteous men, who magnify the Priesthood they hold, provide the opportunities for our eternal families.  Few understand this power, which is why more seek for power that is not theirs to receive. 

I hold no regard for women who seek to be equal in all things when it is clear that the Lord intended us to be who we are and to magnify the powers already available to us.  As we witness the challenges from within as well as without, we see the path becoming narrower and the mist becoming greater.  Each of us is urged to obtain our own individual testimonies of living Prophets who lead with love and are here to provide direction in these the latter days.  I love their humility as they do so, and find great strength in following such divine direction.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, which includes supporting and following the living Prophet today -- in this there is safety, in this there is peace.  

The alternative does not come from light.  That does not mean that we stop loving each other, but we must choose with whom we raise our banners, and to whom we look for direction.  It is not an easy world, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is built on love and obedience to the Lord's commandments to help guide us through these worldly challenges.

This life is but a short span when considering the eternities, and I would be very sad to see one of my sisters lose her way in attempting to find "equality" here in this life, when she already has more powers than she is aware that will provide all she desires.  But we must find our own testimonies and our own way -- not through contention, but through charity.  I plead for these women to not detract from the sacred spiritual experiences of those of us who look forward to General Conference as a time to feast upon the word of the Lord, not the words of men/women.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Van's Baptism Day

This is Van -- eldest son of Joe and Stephanie Critchfield, and one of the brightest stars in my sky!  I don't know who gets more excited about grandchildren and their baptism days than their Gramma, and I'm guilty as charged!!  Not only did Van get a new suit, tie, shirt, shoes and even socks for this big day, but he chose the perfect picture to have his Baptism Day picture taken.

He also chose one of the most beautiful pictures I've seen of the Savior to hang in his room as a daily reminder of the importance of this day, and how he felt.  As has been the custom with all my grandchildren, they get to go with Gramma (when possible, in person) to Deseret Book for this tradition of choosing the picture of Jesus that touches them the most.  It's interesting to me that the last few grandchildren have known that picture immediately when they saw it -- no lining up of other pictures...this is the one!  And of course, this was a new framed picture for the store, and no prints were available!  So, only for you, Van, and you're worth it!  The picture I'll never forget, though, was his face when he first saw this incredible painting of someone he obviously knew very well...and is reminded each time he sees it!

I'm not quite sure if his smile could have been any bigger -- the excitement just before...

...or with his Dad just before...

...or coming up soaked and smiling just after...

...or with his Dad as he felt the Priesthood Power change his life!

With loving Priesthood holders to show the way, I'm confident that Van has started his spiritual journey on this earth on the right track!

Surrounded with friends and family, it was now time to party!

Stephanie had decorated the other side of the Primary room (where the baptism took place) with huge balloons, and a table filled with every kid delight known!

From donuts and cookies... home baked cinnamon rolls...

...and of course Dad had to test them to make sure they were all right... popcorn, bottles of lemonade, and candies galore!

It was so fun to see these friends gather round the treat table, and make such hard decisions like...can I really hold all this stuff?

But somehow they figured it out, and everyone seemed to have a great time!

Gramma got to steal Van for a moment during the party to show him his Baptism plaque where we would put his picture, to hang right next to his picture of Jesus, to remind him of who he wanted to become.

Hugs from Dad, we had to have a few family pictures before changing clothes...

...with a proud Mom and Dad...

...brothers who may have already changed, but were nonetheless present -- tadaaaa...

...and with a beaming Gramma and Grandpa.  How thrilled we were to be a part of this special day!

The reason this picture, that Van chose to have taken as part of his Baptism Day remembrance, is special to me, is because this was the stained glass window I saw every time I went into the Chapel of the La Canada Ward where I grew up, and when I was his age, went to Church.  My father served as Bishop of that Ward, as did Van's other great grandpa, and I have many sweet memories of lessons taught both in and out of that building relating to this picture.  When I asked Van why there was no doorknob in this picture, he knew the answer right away -- because we have to open the door and let Him in, but He's always ready to be there for us and with us, whenever we want Him there.

I love this sweet face...

...even this funny face, because Van is an incredible young man who teaches me every time I'm with him.  It is such a blessing to watch him grow on a weekly basis, and see the physical as well as the spiritual growth in this sweet grandchild.

Sporting his new birthday clothes, Van is indeed a mighty man, and I can't wait to see what mighty things this mighty man will do throughout his life...and I'll be watching closely!  I love you Van!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Our Week of Thanksgiving

Yes, this is my legacy -- my six children who have totally lost all semblance of normalcy, and I am so very proud!  Heck, if anyone was really sane after this week, it would have been a miracle -- but we have ALWAYS been able to put the FUN in dysFUNction (as Brian reminds us)!  So what prompted this craziness you ask?  Well, take six grown children, their respective spouses, throw in a total of 21 grandchildren, their mom, and her new husband (who had yet to meet #1 son), and understand that only 3 of the 6 actually live in the area -- which meant gracious hosts to the others who came from out of town!

In fact, in order to prepare for this week, I flew into Phoenix from Boise the Friday before Thanksgiving so I could spend some "girl time" with my dearest and longest (can't say oldest) friend, Jenny.  We've been friends since before Jana was born, and it's been way too long since we've had time together.  She picked me up at the airport and we headed straight to... of our favorite spots in Scottsdale for dinner.  It couldn't have been a more perfect way to start the week of strolling down memory lane, as well as making many more memories!  But I had brought some of the Idaho rain with me, and as we traveled up to Sedona to Jenny's home, we met with the Arizona version of rain storms in the mountains -- glad she was driving!  But Denny met us with a warm house, comfy beds, and time to catch up.

We awoke to a drizzly Sedona day, but even those days are spectacular!  The hills around Sedona become purple as they get wet, and when the snow falls on the tops, it's quite a sight!  But we decided it was a perfect day for a movie marathon -- so...


...were the double feature of the day -- how much fun can THAT be!?!  We even had a mid-movie lunch at...

,,,which is ALWAYS a unique place to enjoy whatever you're a hankerin' for!  But the rain continued throughout the night, and we drove to Church on Sunday morning to see the low hanging clouds and a little white cap on some of the mountains -- a gorgeous sight in Sedona!  It was so good to catch up with Jenny, as we usually just pick up right where we left off -- no matter how many years go by...a few extra wrinkles on both of us, but still grateful for the unique eternal friendship we enjoy.

As Monday rolled long, I got up early with Jenny so she could get to work in Phoenix, then she gave me her car so I could pick up Stephan from the airport (since he had to work the weekend before).  Thus began my attempts as a local tour guide over the next few days, taking him around town where I worked and lived.  Starting with my last home (the condo) and then in chronological order beginning at the Princeton house in Gilbert, we shared parts of my "other life" by visiting all of the houses where we've lived in the Gilbert/Chandler area.  We even meeting up with a few friends -- including my dear friend Carma Brewer (who lives right next to he Temple), my last employer and dear friend David Richardson, my former neighbor and dearest friend Rosanne Wood.  I realized these special people in my life were the fundamental support group through all my years in the Phoenix area -- in many ways, they were those who loved me through the thick and the thin of those 26+ years, and I will be forever grateful for the affect they had in my life!

So, now for the week of family...John and Dana kindly invited us to stay with them over the week, and even made their king "suite" available to us in their lovely new home!  As we walked into their home, it was filled with the smells and sights of Thanksgiving, and we were met with hugs that never stopped from darling Shaelyn and Jacob!  Even little Chelsea didn't seem to mind us too much!

I love this "I Am Thankful" tree that contained the leaves of various expressions of gratitude from each member of the family.  As Dana described, each time she walked up the stairs (and I know that is multiple times each day), she is reminded of a very grateful heart -- what a perfect way to celebrate the season, and to teach these adorable children how they too can have grateful hearts!  There was everything from "Paper & Binkies" (Chelsea), "Rain" (Jacob), "Princess Stories" (Shaelyn), "Chocolate" (Mommy), and "Christ's Atonement" (Daddy) -- and everything in between!

These sweet faces greeted us each morning with such excitement, as if we just arrived, as we came out of the bedroom to join them in their morning routine -- breakfast, scriptures, family prayer, you know, all the "regular" things that young LDS families try to do to maintain that sweet Spirit in their homes.  I was amazed at how well Shaelyn is reading, since she just started Kindergarten!  Even Jacob is learning the beauty of the language of the Scriptures as he repeats after his father.  What a blessing for this darling family!

The events of the week began with all the families meeting Tuesday night at Organ Stop Pizza then on to Nielsen's Frozen Custard in Mesa (both old family favorite when their parents were young) for the next generation's appreciation.  Obviously, Organ Stop was a hit, although we were having dinner with Rosanne that night and missed that part, but caught up with everyone for frozen custard.

Wednesday was filled with everyone shopping and making their respective dishes for the Thanksgiving feast.  But that night was soup night where each family brought a different kind of soup and awards were promised (although I don't know who won)!  We & we made Cheeseburger Macaroni Soup, and it was a hit!  However, Angie's super Potato Soup was amazing, and Jana's Hamburger Soup (my mom's recipe) was as delicious as it was nostalgic, I think Joe and Stephanie voted their own Tomato Bisque (Costco recipe) as the winner -- I think it was rigged!  But by all accounts, the Cheeseburger Macaroni Soup was the clear winner -- because that huge pot was GONE!!  Kids loved it!!  That too was a favorite of their homemade attempt at the Hamburger Helper style anyway.

Having grown up with a love of movies, and somehow gratefully finding spouses who shared that love, our family looks forward to the favorite holiday movies from which to choose, and either go first thing in the morning, or while the turkey is cooking.  This Thanksgiving, we went just as soon as the boys returned from the early morning Turkey Bowl with Brian's Ward, where it was the grandsons who cleaned the clocks of their Arizona respective age groups!  Way to represent guys!  Then it was on to see...

I can't tell you when I have loved a Disney movie more since Beauty and the Beast!  The music was what captivated me, with its intricate melodies and counter-medleys that were astounding -- the quality of a Les Miserables or a Phantom of the Opera!!  Of course, Maddie had already downloaded the soundtrack, and knew most of the music and probably the storyline!  But since that is her passion (to become an animator), I loved to see her so excited about this facet of what we both love -- so very proud of my eldest granddaughter!

Too soon, Maddie -- you'll be on your way to BYU and Pixar -- of COURSE that's all you!!

Returning from the movies to finish the cooking, as the host of this fine feast, Brian sets his carving skills to work while Angie supervises -- and laughs!  Serious pictures in this house are way overrated!

Cortney gets her layered jello masterpiece ready to display...

...and the teenagers are chomping at the bit!

But when all is said and done, as Gramma tries to keep her prayer short enough so we don't have a mutiny on our hands, it's the littlest ones first...or so Stephanie thinks she's helping for you, one for me...

But my favorite is the kids table, and all the food shows and yummy sounds that are plentiful!  While we went around the adult table to share what we are thankful for, none of us could ever be who we are without these amazing children in our lives -- they keep us laughing, and they keep us grounded!

Especially when it comes to Grandpa Stephan, who shares his first Thanksgiving with all the grandkids together in one place.  We have spent the most time with these children, so they are the most comfortable with him, but he loves them all so very much!

It makes me smile just to see the look on my husband's face...little did he know 4 years ago that he would be spending Thanksgiving with 6 children and their spouses, 21 grandchildren, and a wife!!  Well, here we are, and it's in living color!!

With the gorgeous Arizona weather, it was an outside play day on Thanksgiving, whether it was playing house...

...jumping on the trampoline...

...or just trying to figure out who all these people were!

Then, there's the aftermath, and what to do when that turkey really begins to settle in...into the movie chairs for a little football or movie?

Or on the couch snuggling with dad?

Or holding up the wall with all your new found strength?

Playing games is always a fun time, especially at Brian's house where they have an entire closet dedicated to all their fun games.  Jax and Jacob (Joe and John mini-me's) have their own kind of fun...

...while the big girls have their own game table...

and the little girls have theirs.

Braden is not intimidated by all the girls around, and dives into the Lego buckets for all the fun he can build!  I don't know how much more we could have fit into a Thanksgiving dinner, but by the time the last piece of pie and the last movie ended, everyone agreed it was a great day!

Besides, they needed to rest up for picture day!  Friday afternoon we all gathered at a beautiful spot in Mesa where Angie's sister came to shoot our various individual family pictures, as well as a group shot.  As you can see, Jana's family started us off, even though Hallie was not quite ready, nor was Charlee, but we did the best we could and everyone looked incredible!

Then came Joe's family -- everyone filled with the giggles...

...a little brotherly love...

...and a lot of crazy, funny faces.  Wonder where they got that from???

We not only shared smiles, but some had to share shoes!  Braden was kind enough to lend Van his sneakers so the bright colors of his own would not overpower the pictures...but then again, I never saw his shoes in the pictures I took!

I don't think the kids were the only ones "full of it!"

John's family were so patient -- at least at first!

These three little cherubic faces kept us all smiling!

As did these adorable girls!

Bill's family was impressive!

As was the "coolness" of the boys, Trent and Kole!

But try to put all 21 grandchildren in one picture?  That was just too much for Charlee...and Hallee and Jacob would have absolutely NOTHING to do with it!  Tears flowed, hair was pulled out, and we finally just threw in all the adults...

...starting with their parents -- all six of my incredible children together once again!

All the moms and dads in one place, smiling for their children to see how it's done!  After the parents, we threw in everybody, even Gramma and Grandpa Stephan!  But we'll have to wait for that photo, because all these were my own candid shots -- not the professional ones that Sandy will no doubt present...I just hope one turns out with everybody!  Thanks for doing this Sandy!!

You see, the whole purpose of my family being so special to me is right here -- this particular Gilbert Arizona Temple represents 26+ years in the Gilbert/Chandler area, where we grew in faith individually and as a family.

We learned from our experiences, and we gave our talents to our community, both in and outside of the Church, so that our little town of Gilbert (which contained only 8500 people when we arrived in 1982) could one day grow in faith and prepare to have a Temple in our midst.

After our pictures, Stephan and I drove around this miracle, feeling such gratitude for the many lives who have intertwined with me and my family throughout the years, as I recall so many spiritual events and projects that raised the hopes and dreams that one day we would be worthy for such a blessing.

But I must admit, this Temple is really for my grandchildren, whose eyes look upward with faith that one day they too will enter those doors and partake of the eternal blessings for themselves, and for us to be a forever family.  How many of their mission preparation endowments, marriages, sealings, and other special occasions will draw our family to this very Temple?  With Maddie being the eldest grandchild, she has indicated that she would like to serve a mission as well as to be married in the Gilbert Arizona Temple -- that sounds like at least twice within the next 5 years.  But even sooner will be the Temple Dedication, and the Cultural Celebration in which at least four of my granddaughters will be able to participate, and whose directors are many of those with whom I served on many projects "back in the day."  Who knows if I had stayed in Gilbert -- would I be able to be a part of this too?  That however was not on my journey -- but it is in theirs, and I am so very grateful!

To place bookends on our week of Thanksgiving, we returned to Sedona so Stephan could meet Denny, and spend more time with Jenny in their home.  Since she has been such an integral part of my life for over 35 years, it only makes sense to integrate those lives -- and what better place than in Sedona!

The day was spectacular, the sun shining, and the Vortex very much in tune with our hearts, as we visited so many beautiful creations of our loving Father in Heaven.

Every tree, every rock is pure testimony of the majesty of such a kind Father and His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, who has assured us that "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have Joy."  (2 Nephi 2:25)

Pure joy comes from these creations, joy that settles the soul, calms the heart, and bears witness that He lives and loves us, and knows us and our individual needs.

As the rings are reflected on these hills, it took time to create such beauty, just as it takes time for us to become more like Him -- more kind, more loving towards each other, more accepting of each other as individual members of the entire family -- but together we can move mountains and have the strength to overcome all things.

Although at times we may feel like the empty branch of the tree, there are enough living and growing branches to keep the entire tree alive and growing, until eventually the branch is vibrant and filled with life.  This too represents our family, as we try to support each other through the highs as well as the lows of our lives.

As the years go by, I find the leaves on my Thanksgiving tree grow by the bushel as I consider the many ways that I see the hand of the Lord reach out daily and bless the lives of me and my family.  I find joy in the little things as well as the huge accomplishments -- this joy is compounded by having someone with whom I can share these daily miracles, and who teaches me along the way. 

We appreciate the diversity in our family, as "Heavenly Father has made each unique.  No two of us have exactly the same experiences.  No two families are alike...The miracle of becoming one requires the help of heaven, and it takes time.  Life in families will test us.  That is one of God's purposes in giving us the gift of mortality -- to strengthen us by passing through tests.  That will be especially true in family life, where we will find great joy and great sorrow and challenges which may at times seem beyond our power to endure them.  We are the children of God, and He has actually given His angels -- invisible beings of power and might -- charge concerning us, and they watch over us and have us in their keeping."  (excerpts from President Henry B. Eyring, "To My Grandchildren" October 2013 General Conference)
I am so grateful for our family's angels!