Monday, December 31, 2018

Count your many blessings

Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a minister in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, gave this prescient description of our time on this earth:  

"Life is like an old time rail journey…delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

As I come to the end of one year and the beginning of another, this description feels rather apt.  This has been a year of magnificent highs and difficult lows. Today I faced one of the most devastating challenges of my professional career. After taking some time to try and catch my breath I looked for ways to recover and overcome. The words of a hymn came to my mind:

When upon life's billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one, 
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

So here I am in front of the computer, listening to uplifting Christian music and blogging about my blessings. I truly feel much better already! I could write extensively about so many blessings, but since nobody wants a 47-page blog post, I'm going to write about 18 blessings as 2018 comes to an end.  I'll keep the descriptions short and filled with things that are particularly impactful to me.

1. The Gospel of Jesus Christ. Because of His grace, I can be forgiven, return to live with my Father in Heaven, see Jacob and Emily and my sister Tiffany again and have an eternal family. Unbelievable blessings!

2. My wife Christianne. I tried to find the right adjective to describe her, but it's impossible. She has made my life so much better in so many ways that there is no way to put into words what a tremendous blessing she has been. A partner who loves me in spite of me, who loves our children as much as I do, who loves to travel and work and play and parent with me. 

3. Taylor. Our firstborn. Made me a dad. Endured so many mistakes from an inexperienced father. Still likes to camp and hike and spend time with me. Great student. Great brother. Great son. Movie buff extraordinaire.

4. Parker. Unstoppable. Full of dreams and goals and a vision for his future. Thoughtful. He always looks out for his siblings and his parents. He loves his mom so much! Musician and athlete. Joy to be with. Still says "I love you" at the end of every phone call.

5. Jessica. Still loves to be tucked in each night by dad. Diligent student. Loves to play games. Great friend. Wonderful travel companion. Talented fashion hair designer. Willing to help around the house. Involved in church and strives to stay close to the spirit.

6. Elli. Precious, perfect angel. More challenging than all the other kids combined, but completely innocent in her trials. Full of joyous, happy belly laughs. Lover of music. Lover of food. Lover of her family.

7. Graci. Example of endurance and perseverance. Hard worker. Showers attention on her siblings. Pure testimony of Jesus Christ from the moment she learned of Him. Strives to let only the best entertainment influences into her mind. Christlike example.

8. Xander. Happy, joyful, sometimes silly. Always looking for opportunities to serve. Fantastic chef. Loyal friend. Obedient. Long-suffering and patient through multiple health issues. Great singer of Kumbaya. Sensitive. Fun!

9. Lexi. A glowing light to all who know her. Outgoing and always looking for new friends among strangers. Gorgeous and versatile singing voice. Patient friend and sister to Sophi. Partner to Conner. Vulnerable yet able to rise above the challenges of her blindness.

10. Sophi. Power packed bundle of energy. A little rock star. To know her is to love her. Ebullient. Effervescent. Exuberant. Persistent seeker of pets. Writer of stories and lists and letters. Best hugger in the world.

11. Cali. Sweet and sassy. Quiet everywhere but home, loves to share her opinions with her family. So beautiful inside and out. Talented artist. Great friend. Hard-working student. Always does her chores. Rises above her challenges. Stands out while she sits down.

12. Conner. Patient and caring. Loves his family and cherishes being part of it. Always concerned for Elli and her needs. Wants a girlfriend before he dies:) Piano player extraordinaire. Handsome, humorous, humble. Fearless in so many ways.

13. Our home. I am still so grateful to so many who sacrificed so much to help us be in this amazing house. It is a place that fits our family and allows our kids to have their friends come over. Adaptations for our special needs help us so much. We love to travel, but we always feel so grateful to come back to our special home.

14. My parents. I am grateful for parents who taught me about Jesus Christ. Parents who loved me. Parents who set expectations for education that have helped me throughout my life. Parents who have been willing to admit their mistakes and do their best to move on.

15. My siblings. I'm grateful for our text group. So glad that the five of us who are still alive are also still friends. I'm grateful for the love and support I feel from each of them in their own ways. I'm grateful for Tiffany and for faith that life continues after we are gone from this earth.

16. My in-laws.  I have the greatest in-laws in the world and couldn't ask for more acceptance or love from them. Their support of our family is unbelievable.

17. The mountains that surround us here in Utah. I love the connection to nature and to God that I feel when I am hiking. I love the beauty I can see from our deck. Sunrises and sunsets over the Wasatch and Oquirrh ranges. 

18. The scriptures. As I am counting my blessings and working through the challenges that life has thrown at me, I am comforted by two of my favorite verses. Philippians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." and Romans 8:28 "...all things work together for good to them that love God..."

So often throughout my life I have seen the grace of God take something that at first seemed like a trial and turn it into a tremendous blessing for me. I have faith that He knows all and that He loves us because we are His children. I truly can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.


PS. Try counting your blessings.  It's very therapeutic!!!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

So Many Surgeries

Poor Xander.  He had major reconstructive surgery on both feet last November. For over a year he has been dealing with the aftermath as the healing process has not gone as planned. On Thursday he went in for his fourth follow-up surgery!  He has been such a trooper through all of it. In addition to the surgeries themselves, it has been painful for him to walk off and on for the past year. He really stepped up his fashion game at the hospital and wanted to show off for the camera:

Christi and I are so grateful to have Xander in our lives. He is the sweetest, most thoughtful guy. He is always looking for ways to help around the house and has a heart of gold. We are so lucky!


Friday, December 21, 2018

Parenting skills

Wednesday was the last day of school for our Providence Hall kids. Today is Elli's last day.  Since most of the kids don't have to get up, Christi and I get to sleep in a little bit, but Christi still gets Elli ready and on the school bus.  Yesterday when her alarm rang, she said, "I'm so tempted to just keep sleeping and then drive Elli to school later in the morning."  Sensing an opportunity to gain some always-needed husband points,  I told her I'd get up and take care of Elli. (Poor Elli.  I've given up on trying to make her hair look even remotely good.  I just make sure it's in ponytails and out of her face.)

By the time Elli was on the bus, Sophi and Lexi were awake.  I was needing to get started on some projects, so when those two asked me to make them breakfast, I told them they could do it on their own.  Now I know they face some obvious challenges in this course of action, but they really are quite capable and often feed themselves, usually working as a team to take care of everything they need.

About ten minutes later I hear scrambling in the kitchen and start to smell smoke.  I rush in and, even in the midst if disaster, they've taken care of things.  The burning item has been taken outside and they got it out there before the smoke alarm could go off!  Apparently they had found some leftover french toast in the fridge.  Lexi thought it would be better with some chocolate syrup on it, so they unwrapped a couple of mini Hershey's bars (leftover from Halloween) and put them in a bowl in the microwave.  Sophi asked Lexi, "How long should we cook it?" Lexi replied, "I don't know. Try two minutes." Hence the smoke.

Undeterred, they kept going.  They melted another round of chocolate and heated up the french toast. When they finished their creation, they were so proud they invited me in to see the final product.  Three layer french toast with chocolate and whipped cream between the layers and topped with strawberry yogurt.  Gourmet!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Oldest and Youngest

A couple of funny conversations:

At family council on Sunday I mentioned that one of my cousins' kids was having a wedding reception in a couple of weeks.  I knew my little wedding buddies (Sophi and Lexi) would want to come with me.  I asked if anyone else would like to attend.  Graci quickly asked, "Are they having dinner or light snacks?" Christi and I cracked up.  I guess if you ever see Graci at your wedding reception, you can thank the caterer!

I was dropping Sophi off at school earlier this week.  There are two lanes that parents can pull into: lane one is right next to the sidewalk, lane two goes through the parking lot and requires the kids to cross at a crosswalk.  Usually I pull into lane one, but the flow of traffic that morning required me to get into lane two.  A deep, annoyed sigh came from Sophi in the back seat.  "I hate lane 2!  It's so humiliating!!!"
Me, in surprise: "you're embarrassed when you go through lane 2?"
Sophi: "I'm not embarrassed! It's just humiliating!!!"
Me: "Humiliating means really embarrassing."
Sophi, now a little embarrassed: "Oh.  I thought it just meant terrible."

Sophi is SO amazing.  I love her independence.  The other day she needed something out of the fridge:

I love kids! They keep me laughing:)


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Wheeler Peak

I summited my first 13,000 foot peak the other day.  Wheeler Peak is in Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  Earlier this summer, Taylor, Parker, Xander, my dad and I camped in Great Basin for a few nights.  We saw some beautiful scenery and went on some great hikes, but ascending Wheeler Peak was not on the itinerary. I knew I would eventually go back and hike to the summit.  It's a 4.5-mile hike with 2900 feet of elevation gain.  It was kind of like two totally different hikes.  The first two miles (and the last two on the way back) are through a beautiful evergreen forest with quaking aspens that were turning brilliant fall colors.  The temperature was great with little wind and the slope was not very steep.  A nice fall hike for pretty much anyone.  The second half was brutal.  Super steep, exposed terrain.  No trees and almost no vegetation.  The trail is well-developed, but it is just over talus.  Plus, I was essentially on a ridgeline, so the wind was unbelievable. I would guess it was 40 miles an hour up there.  It was so crazy that I couldn't keep my hat on and ended up with a sunburn.  I'm grateful to live so close to so many places that offer me nature therapy. I love the mountains!

Wheeler Peak is the high point just to the right of center in the photo.  You can see
the ridge line where it got so windy headed up from the right side of the picture to the peak.  Steep!!!

Magnificent 360-degree views from the summit.  This is the second highest
point in Nevada and higher than any point in Utah.

Saw this line of tanks on the way home.  Cool!

Monday, September 17, 2018

All kinds of drivers!

Sophi isn't quite ready for her driver's license yet, but she sure is having fun on the lawnmower!  No hands? No problem!!!  (The blades are off as she's driving.)

She really loved this, and a couple days later on the way to school she said:
"Driving the lawnmower is awesome! It's the funnest thing I've ever done!!!"...pause..."well, maybe not the funnest.  I've been to Napa and London and Disney World and a cruise..."

Spoiled much?


Friday, September 7, 2018

Here comes trouble!

Watch out world, Cali can drive! We finally got hand controls for her to use.  These are portable ones that can be moved from car to car.  They are convenient and inexpensive, but they are also more tiring to use.  We'll have permanent ones installed in the minivan soon.  In the meantime, Cali is so excited to start this next step towards independence.  You go girl!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Happy Birthday Sophi!

Christi is a master of making kids feel important.  Perhaps the best example of this is how she treats them on their birthday.  If it were up to me, we would sing Happy Birthday and put some candles on a cake and that would be about it.  But Christi likes to add a bit more fun to the mix.  Sophi's birthday on September 4th was a good example.  The day starts out with the whole family marching into the bedroom to sing Happy Birthday and give them breakfast in bed.

If you can't tell, she's holding up all 10 toes!

We will sing Happy Birthday multiple times throughout the day, lest the favored child forget how special they are.  Mom will often take the birthday girl out to a restaurant.  She checked Sophi out of school and took her to Ihop for lunch.  Later that night Sophi had her requested birthday cake: Key Lime Pie.  As you can see from the video, Sophi took full advantage of her opportunities:

The day also included a trip to Target to pick out her own birthday present.  If you know Sophi, you won't be surprised she picked something that had to do with animals. A play set from the animated series, "Spirit" about a group of girls that solve myriad problems in the old west with the help of their trusty horses:).  

We are so lucky to have Sophi as part of our families.  She's our spicy, sassy, funny, self-confident little whirlwind.  We love you, Soph!!!

Love, Dad

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Love my girls!

Last Friday night I had the awesome opportunity to go on a daddy-daughter campout.  As the girls get older and I get older I guess Dad gets less exciting to hang out with.  When given the choice of coming with me, only two of the girls decided that was what they wanted to do with their Friday night.  (And let me be perfectly clear: the option was to stay at home.  No big plans for anyone.  Basically a campout with Dad just didn't seem particularly awesome.  I guess I had some foresight when I blogged our campout in 2011.)

But Graci, Sophi and I had a great time!  We returned to Clover Springs for the first time in seven years.  The campground is pretty remote and the stars were absolutely fantastic.  Hot dogs, s'mores, and egg mcmuffins for breakfast made for a great menu.  The first year we went on a daddy-daughter campout we started a funny tradition.  On a pre-camp shopping trip I saw Funky Flames in the camping section at Walmart.  We tried them out, the girls loved the colors, and now they want them every time we go.

Having Taylor leave for school has really driven home the reality that our time with these angels in our household is limited and short.  I am so grateful for opportunities like these that provide the chance to create memories that will help sustain me when more of them are gone.


Sophi loves to pose 😂 

We took a little hike... the springs that give the campground it's name.

Apparently Sophi decided to take some pics before I woke up 😂
Cool pic, Soph!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Bittersweet Moments

I now have new motivation to blog regularly!  We have a son who has left the house.  All his life we've wanted to Taylor to someday attend college and become independent.  But when that day came (last Wednesday) it was so bittersweet.  We are so proud of him.  He is a freshman at BYU.  He earned enough scholarship money to pay for his first year's tuition.  He's a great person with great goals.  He's fun to be around.  He makes good choices.  And all of those things make it so hard to see him go.  Fortunately he's only a 45-minute drive away (he already came home for Labor Day!).  But we also know it will never be the same.  I miss my two-year old Taylor and my seven-year old Taylor and my 15-year-old Taylor and everything in between.  I hear that eventually grandkids make everything worth it, but I still have awhile before that happens.  In the meantime, we will eagerly await phone calls, texts and emails from our firstborn.  Hopefully he will enjoy blog posts about all of us at home.  We love you, Taylor!  And as uncle Tyler said, "What would Jeremy do during his first year of college?  Don't do that!"


Finally on campus!

So hard to say goodbye :(

Taylor is somewhere in that Y made up of the freshman class of 2018

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Poignant Moments

Being the parent of blind children is a tremendously humbling experience.  Watching (and I can see the irony here) Lexi and Conner perform the simplest of daily tasks can sometimes bring me to tears. Most of the time I don't even notice it, partly because they do things so well and partly because I'm just used to it.  But once in awhile the significance of living without sight hits me hard.  It may be Conner clearing his dinner plate and his helpless realization that someone has moved the kitchen garbage can.  Or Lexi sitting with us as we watch America's Got Talent and suddenly realizing that she can only really experience the singing acts.  Or transporting the two of them home from a camp with the Utah School for the Blind and watching as they struggle to get their suitcases back in the house from the garage.  Life is not fair.

And yet, these children who cannot see the light bring so much of it into the lives of others.  Lexi's infectious smile, gregarious nature and willingness to sing for pretty much anyone and everyone she ever meets brings joy to so many people.  Conner's dry sense of humor, continual insistence that he needs a girlfriend before he dies and his talent on the piano make those around him alternately laugh with him or be amazed by him.

I haven't mentioned Elli because the poignancy of her life transcends the struggle to sightlessly do what everyone else does.  She is often happy, and equally often at least contented.  But she also has many moments (or hours!) when she is in anguish, crying out for something.  Something we cannot discern. I don't know how much even she understands what it is she wants.  Sometimes she seems completely lost in a different world, but sometimes it feels like she knows exactly what she wants and is tormented by her inability to communicate her needs.

The other day I had two moments, one that made me so happy as I witnessed the ingenuity and cooperation of my kids, one that was a simple representation of what they have to overcome.

First moment: I walked into the kitchen and saw the cooks.  Lexi and Conner are both able to prepare their own ramen noodles in the microwave.  We have two microwaves, one above the counter and one below.  The lower oven has braille stickers that enable these two to use it.  Conner had put his noodles in the lower oven and started it.  Lexi didn't want to wait until his were done, so she put her noodles in the upper oven and shut the door.  Unable to tell where the numbers were, Lexi wrapped both of her arms tightly around Sophi's torso.  Lex then lifted with all her might, and leaned back so that Sophi was angled up.  Sophi reached out with her toes to put 3 minutes on the timer.  I wish I had taken a picture!!!  Watching these kids demonstrate their independence was a great way to start my day.  (And yes, it was breakfast they were cooking.  In China, there's really no difference between breakfast food and dinner food, so ramen noodles are great any time of day😋.)

Second moment:  I was tasked with changing the sheet on Lexi's mattress.  Lexi sleeps in the upper, built-in bunk in the room she shares with Sophi.  If you've never changed the sheets on a bunk bed, consider yourself lucky.  It's a bit of a challenge.  When we designed our home, we wanted built in bunks in the girls' rooms and we put in electrical outlets by each bed for reading lights, alarm clocks, etc.  A couple of incredible local artists volunteered their time to paint both girls' rooms with a Disney Tangled theme.  They painted pretty much every square inch of the walls, and it really does feel like you are walking into whatever kingdom Rapunzel lives in.  Part of their efforts included painting the cover plates on the electrical outlets.  As I climbed up to Lexi' bed to change the sheets, I noticed her outlet.  Again, one of those simple moments that sucked the breath out of me.  I saw this:

Once completely covered in paint, much of it has now been scraped clean by metal prongs as Lexi has tried to find the holes to plug in her phone charger.  Such a small thing, but a great representation of how challenging life can be.  It is also a great example of determination and perseverance.

I didn't start this post with any intention of advocating adoption, but I am suddenly overwhelmed with  a combination of compassion, sorrow and hope for those who could adopt but haven't yet.  Please consider it.  It is wonderful for the kids who become part of a forever family.  But perhaps the most powerful blessings come to those who bring these children into their lives.  You will be blessed.  Your current kids will be blessed.  Grandmas, grandpas, cousins, aunts and uncles will be blessed.  Neighbors, church congregations and entire student bodies will be blessed.  We have truly been blessed beyond comprehension by these giant spirits in slightly broken bodies.


On a humorous note: Sophi and I were talking and my large belly was stretching my t-shirt a bit tight.  I commented, "I can't believe I used to be 25 pounds heavier than this!"  Sophi looked at my stomach and said, "How did you fit on rides???"  Great question, Soph! 😂

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Field trip Fail

I thought I was being a great dad.  Sophi somehow found out that she was my only child I had never been on an elementary school field trip with.  (Except for Conner and Cali who were already past elementary when we adopted them.)  For the past year or so she has been asking "When will you be able to go with me?"  So the time finally came.  She was going to the zoo. I love the zoo.  We had a date!

I packed Sophi a fun lunch. I sat next to her on the bus.  I was super kind, patient and understanding with the great kids in her group.  I took pictures.  I joked with them.  I rented a wheelchair so Sophi's shorter leg wouldn't get sore from walking.  I carried her on my shoulders on the long walk back to the bus.  I kept my phone in my pocket so I could focus on her.

Later that day when I got home from work, I found Christi and Sophi talking in their bedroom.  I proudly asked Christi, "So did she have a great time?"

Christi responded:  "Well, Sophi said you did OK, but Claire's group got ice cream..."

Sigh.  The vastly underappreciated role of parent.  I guess it's a good reminder to look back and remember all of the things my parents did for me that I didn't realize at the time.  Well, at least I had a fun time Sophi, ice cream or not!

Loving the lions!

This peacock showed off for several minutes.

Polar bear swim anyone?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentines Crooners

Taylor and Parker are fundraising for a humanitarian trip to Ghana this summer.  They will be building an orphanage, which, of course, is something that is really dear to their hearts.  As they were brainstorming with Christi, trying to come up ways to raise money, someone had the brilliant idea of singing telegrams for Valentines Day.  So glad they ran with it!!! 😂

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

I See

I was blessed with perfect vision for the first 42 years of my life.  About three years ago I noticed I that I couldn't focus when my kids would say "Look, Dad!" and thrust school papers, iPhone photos and various other items about three inches from my eyes.  I had to start pushing these items farther and farther out in order to read them.  Then about a year ago I noticed that my distance vision was getting blurry.  Large shapes (horizons, houses, etc.) were mostly OK, but trying to read street signs was getting more and more difficult.  It has been getting worse and worse on both ends of the spectrum.  From about 1.5 feet to about 8 feet away, it's all still very clear.

I have whined and complained to Christi about this for months.  In December we went to see The Last Jedi, and that was the first time I noticed that a movie was blurry for me.  After that I went to the optometrist and ordered a pair of glasses.  About two weeks ago, before the glasses arrived, I was in my room, looking at a picture on the wall about 15 feet away.  It was blurry.  "I can't see ANYTHING!" I griped to my sweet wife.  She quietly pointed to Lexi, who was also in the room.

Suddenly I was so grateful.  Grateful for all the years I have seen so well.  Grateful that even without glasses I can still see well enough to function.  Grateful that with glasses I am now able to improve my distance vision to what it used to be.  How grateful would Lexi be just to see shapes, or a little bit of color.  I love you, my three blind mice.  I look forward to the resurrection when I can see the expression on Lexi's, Conner's and Elli's faces the first time they see.  I love them so much!


On a somewhat related note...Cali got a letter in the mail today recruiting her to join the Marines!😂

Thursday, January 18, 2018

November love affair with hospitals

For reasons that sounded good at the time, we decided to torture ourselves in November by scheduling three different surgeries.  We began with Cali having her spinal cord untethered and a large lipoma removed from her back, resulting in a foot long incision and a tremendous amount of pain.  Then we moved onto Sophi, who had plates/brackets screwed into her left knee to stop it from growing.  This is because she is missing her fibula in her right leg, resulting in a much smaller, shorter, and weaker leg.  We are hoping that stopping her left from growing will allow the right leg to catch up somewhat, resulting in less of a discrepancy and helping her hip, leg and foot.  And finally, Xander had reconstructive foot surgery on both feet, including removing two of his very large toes and a section of foot, releasing tendons, adding brackets, and debulking throughout his feet and ankles.  I'm sure he had well over 100 stitches.  The poor kid was then put in double casts and given a wheelchair.  Through it all, they were the three sweetest, most resilient patients.  We dubbed a spot on our couch "the surgery spot" and each one spent several days there recovering after they were home from the hospital.

 I am so grateful that all surgeries were successful, and that we have access to fantastic medical care.  We are in love with Primary Children's Hospital and so thankful it is within an hour driving distance from our home.  We again found our ADA home such a blessing as we now had two kids in wheelchairs!   I am so in awe of my courageous kids who showed so much fortitude during those tough times, as well as those who stayed home and pitched in to help out here.  They are all recovering so well and Xander is even hobbling around!  Thank you to everyone who loved on them and our family during that crazy month!

Poor Parker must have felt left out, because in the middle of it all, he dislocated his shoulder (again.)  Despite physical therapy, keeping it in a sling for a couple weeks, and hardest of all, laying off of basketball for awhile, it has since happened twice more and he is scheduled for surgery as soon as the basketball season ends.  Because he wanted to be extra manly, he also took an elbow to the eye resulting in another trip to the ER.

These are the things we go through so we appreciate the easier times, right?!  (: