Sunday, February 10, 2013


While in Ferron (my hometown) over Christmas, we introduced Cali to the art of "farm sledding."  Grandpa ties up some sleds to the back of his Explorer and drives us around the farm.  It's a perfect way for Cali to sled because there is no climbing back up a hill when you're done!  She was VERY trepidatious at first as we were putting her snow clothes on and getting her into the car.  She kept giving me looks of, "What in the world are you making me do?!"  After about 30 seconds on the sled, she was hooked!   I don't know that I've ever seen her have so much fun.  When it was time to go, we couldn't get her off the sled.  She was frozen through to the bone and still refused-- Jeremy had to physically pry her hands from the sled.  (:  It was so much fun to see how much she adored sledding and of course we took her again the next day.   It's so much fun when we find an activity that she can do just like anyone else!

 Gotta love the no-make-up look combined with a tiger hat.  Hot!

My Dad's goal was simply to throw Jer off the sled.  It was hilarious to watch!

 Cali and Grandpa

Who is the Gardener?

On my flight home from Orlando Friday night, I sat by a wonderful young couple.  (OK, so young is relative, but the older I get, the more I realize that nobody ever thinks of themselves as old.  So I'm going to describe this couple with 20 grandkids as "young."  Besides, they may read this...:)  Anyway, we got to talking, and they were patient enough to listen to our family's story.  For about two and a half hours!  It was actually a wonderful experience for me.  I hadn't ever started from the beginning of our adoption journey and talked all the way through it.

I got very emotional as I described the way somber, quiet Elli laughed and laughed and smiled and smiled when she was placed in our arms.  I was reminded of the struggles that Graci and I endured as we learned to love each other and I was able to recognize what a miracle God has wrought in our lives as the two of us have come to truly feel like father and daughter.  I remembered those first moments with Xander as he yelled out "Mama, Baba!" and jumped into his new family with both feet, never looking back.  I reminisced about gotcha day in ZhengZhou as my dad was blessed to be with us.  As he was completely overwhelmed with this experience that Christi and I were now pretty familiar with.  I looked back on Sophi's intense screams and Lexi's withdrawn nervousness during those first days together.  And I reflected on how very close to perfect the adoption experience with Cali has gone so far.

I described these and other adoption details for the sweet young couple.  I talked about the whirlwind our life has been, particularly over the last year.  I described news stories, documentary film crews, Puzzle Them Home, Facebook campaigns, neighbors who treat us like we were dear family members, and many other things that continue to make our lives full, fun and frenzied.  At one point, the wife looked at me and asked, "Do you sometimes feel like you're not steering the ship?"  What a great question!  I paused for a moment and thought about what a great description that was of our lives.  Only I realized that I didn't feel like I was on a ship.  It feels more like we're all in a little lifeboat and there's a giant wave pushing us forward.  A ship sounds far too serene to describe our lives!  But our lifeboat is watertight.  And we know we are going in a wonderful direction.  It tosses and tips much more than a ship might, but we feel safe nonetheless, for we know who is pushing us forward.

This analogy has stuck with me for the past couple of days, and I keep thinking about a talk I heard from a leader in our church.  It's entitled, "God is the Gardner."  Here are some excerpts from that talk:

You sometimes wonder whether the Lord really knows what He ought to do with you. You sometimes wonder if you know better than He does about what you ought to do and ought to become. I am wondering if I may tell you a story. It has to do with an incident in my life when God showed me that He knew best.

I was living up in Canada. I had purchased a farm. It was run-down. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants. I was raised on a fruit farm in Salt Lake before we went to Canada, and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and clipped it back until there was nothing left but stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying. I was kind of  simpleminded (and I haven’t entirely gotten over it), and I looked at it and smiled and said, “What are you crying about?” You know, I thought I heard that currant bush say this:

“How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.”

That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, and I thought it so much that I answered. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’ ”

Years passed, and I found myself in England. I was in command of a cavalry unit in the Canadian Army. I held the rank of field officer in the British Canadian Army. I was proud of my position. And there was an opportunity for me to become a general. I had taken all the examinations. I had the seniority. The one man between me and the office of general in the British Army became a casualty, and I received a telegram from London. It said: “Be in my office tomorrow morning at 10:00,” signed by General Turner.

I went up to London. I walked smartly into the office of the general, and I saluted him smartly, and he gave me the same kind of a salute a senior officer usually gives—a sort of “Get out of the way, worm!” He said, “Sit down, Brown.” Then he said, “I’m sorry I cannot make the appointment. You are entitled to it. You have passed all the examinations. You have the seniority. You’ve been a good officer, but I can’t make the appointment. You are to return to Canada and become a training officer and a transport officer.” That for which I had been hoping and praying for 10 years suddenly slipped out of my fingers.

Then he went into the other room to answer the telephone, and on his desk, I saw my personal history sheet. Right across the bottom of it was written, “THIS MAN IS A MORMON.” We were not very well liked in those days. When I saw that, I knew why I had not been appointed. He came back and said, “That’s all, Brown.” I saluted him again, but not quite as smartly, and went out.

I got on the train and started back to my town, 120 miles away, with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. And every click of the wheels on the rails seemed to say, “You are a failure.” When I got to my tent, I was so bitter that I threw my cap on the cot. I clenched my fists, and I shook them at heaven. I said, “How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?” I was as bitter as gall.

And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, “I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.” The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness and my bitterness. While kneeling there I heard a song being sung in an adjoining tent. A number of Mormon boys met regularly every Tuesday night. I usually met with them.  As I was kneeling there, praying for forgiveness, I heard their singing:

“But if, by a still, small voice he calls
To paths that I do not know,
I’ll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:
I’ll go where you want me to go.”
(Hymns, no. 270)

I arose from my knees a humble man. And now, almost 50 years later, I look up to Him and say, “Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.” I see now that it was wise that I should not become a general at that time....  I haven’t amounted to very much as it is, but I have done better than I would have done if the Lord had let me go the way I wanted to go.

Many of you are going to have very difficult experiences: disappointment, heartbreak, bereavement, defeat. You are going to be tested and tried. I just want you to know that if you don’t get what you think you ought to get, remember, God is the gardener here. He knows what He wants you to be. Submit yourselves to His will. Be worthy of His blessings, and you will get His blessings.

 -Hugh B. Brown

In my life there are certainly things that have made me think, "Why, God?"   All of of us have experienced these moments.  How grateful I am to have a testimony that God really is alive.  That He lives and loves ME!  That he knows my every thought, my every hope.  And that he knows what is best for me and wants me to find joy and happiness in this life and the life to come.  So as I sign off for now, open my office door and head back out into that lifeboat going 100 miles per hour on a rough sea, I will do it gladly.  Thank you, God, for caring enough to clip my branches when the time is right and for watching over us as the flowers are blooming in abundance.