Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Bucket List I Didn't Know I Had

Something really sweet has been happening.

Precious opportunities to spend time with my mom keep opening up, and they mean the world to me--even though I wasn't even aware that I needed them.

It's like the Lord is checking things off a Bucket List of experiences I always wanted to have--except I never made the list. He just knew what was in my heart.

Examples from the past include the best birthday I ever had, the day we put our toes in the water, our trip to Disneyland, our trick-or-treating night, and now, most recently, our chance to go to the Newport Beach Temple together.

About a month ago, Eric and I were there at the temple (a sacred house of worship, separate from our chapel where we go to church), and I happened to ask one of the temple workers if they could accommodate my mother--with her wheelchair and Alzheimer's. I had thought her days at the temple were over since it's so hard for her to be away from home for long periods of time and since she would require so much help.

To my surprise, they said it would be no problem at all and that they would do everything they could to support us.

That's when a glimmer of hope started.

Last week, however, the day to attend the temple came, and my mom wasn't doing well. After we canceled, I decided that the opportunity most likely wouldn't come again--and I was okay with that.  She wouldn't remember it anyway, and we can have beautiful experiences at her home. I didn't want to ask too much.

But this past Thursday, my sister Lisa called and told me she thought we could make it happen.

So I jumped at the chance.

Eric took care of our children at home, and I arrived at my parents' house in the early afternoon. Lisa had gotten my mom all ready. (See how lovingly my mom looks at her? And see how she holds my dad's hand?)


My dad, my mom, and I drove together to Newport Beach and had an absolutely fantastic experience at the temple.  Just by thinking about it, I feel overwhelmed by the love God showed to us there.


It was a very good day for my mom.  She knew who we were, she knew where she was, she remembered the ordinances in the temple, and she was calm and peaceful the entire time.

The women who were assisting us in the temple were absolute angels.  One was a nurse whose mother-in-law had died because of Alzheimer's, and one had recently lost her husband to Lou Gherig's disease. They could both understand exactly what we were going through, and they cared for us like we were their family--with hugs and smiles I will treasure forever.

The best part of the evening was when we joined my dad in the Celestial Room--the largest, most beautiful room in the temple.

We were all dressed in white, and it was quiet and peaceful while we sat together--holding hands, whispering softly, and enjoying that powerful feeling that comes when you know that you'll be together as a family forever.

When my dad first saw my mom when I wheeled her into the room, he whispered to me, "That is the most beautiful woman in the whole world."

I'm grateful for these experiences. So grateful. These tender mercies are such a gift during this challenging time, and I thought it was important to share them because I know that the Lord will do the same thing for you. Whatever it is that weighs on our shoulders, when we take a step back and ask the Lord to show us what He is doing, the answer is magnificent.



Much love,
April


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Anxiety - And What I Think I'm Supposed to Be Learning

In this post, I'm going to share a little bit about the anxiety I've been feeling, but first, I need to acknowledge that life has been generally happy and full around here.

For example, Spencer could hardly wait for his first basketball game last Saturday:


And when we dragged Eric to "Hobby Lobby" the other day, he actually found a hot chocolate mug that he liked very much. It is now sitting in our cupboard (and the photo doesn't do it justice).


We were also able to have a beautiful Spanish-speaking family over for Family Night.  It was fantastic.


Grace gave the lesson (and our friend Margaret translated), and then we all drew pictures of things we're thankful for.  I drew my new friends saying, "We are going to help you with your Spanish." (Because I've been practicing a little bit each day, and I SO appreciate the patience of those who don't mind that I make a ton of mistakes.)


Our Disney passes are still active for a few more months, so I took my children on a day trip to California Adventure when they were out of school Friday:


As I look at these photos and realize how many wonderful things I have in my life, I don't quite understand how I can feel anxiety. However, it's been heavy lately, and I've been fighting it.

Normally I feel "excited when I wake up" and "content when I go to sleep." That's kind of my mantra.  Not that everything has ever been perfect, but I love family life and the projects I'm working on, and each night when I think about my day, I usually can see that I've done my best and that things are moving forward.

However, for several days during this past week, I woke up with heavy anxiety and went to bed wondering what was wrong with me.

Eric noticed I wasn't "myself" and started asking lots of questions--trying to help me identify what I was so worried about. (He's great at that.)

He reminded me that we're all physically healthy and spiritually healthy.  We have everything we need, our home is in order, we have wonderful friends, and life is going really well.

I know that. And I appreciate that. So why was I so anxious?

I spent a couple of hours alone and analyzed myself. (Do you do that?)

And then I discovered that it comes right back to the fact that I'm losing my mom.

I hesitated to write about this--again--because I feel like I write about her so much, and goodness, can't I just accept that Alzheimer's is taking her away?

Can't I stop worrying and stop letting it affect me?

But I realized that when someone is going through a loss like this, it has to sit somewhere.  And it has to come out some way. The best solution I've come up with is to sit, read, pray, think, and write. Then I feel like I can keep going.

(And while I would prefer to keep it private, I keep receiving messages from readers who are also losing loved ones, and so I'm writing all of this publicly--with the hope that we will be strengthened as we go through this together.)

So here's my story from this past Thursday:

I'd made plans to go to our temple with my mom and dad--most likely for the last time.  Eric had planned to take care of our children so I could focus on my parents, but around 11:00, I received a call from my sister Lisa letting me know that it wasn't a good day for my mom.

"She has nothing to give today," Lisa said. "She can hardly stand up and she couldn't eat her breakfast by herself. Her head is hanging down, and she's basically been sleeping the whole day."

In light of that news, I opted to try for the temple another time and instead take Alia, Grace, Ethan, and Spencer with me to spend the evening with my parents like we usually do.

It turned out that Mom had had a bad reaction to a new medication--which made her much more sleepy than usual. She's doing a lot better now that we've stopped that medicine, but the hours I spent with her in that state keep replaying in my mind.

For the first hour, we sat in the living room together, and I rested my head on her arm.  Just letting her sleep.

Finally, it was time to start making dinner, so I brought her into the kitchen and tried to pat her cheeks and wake her up.  (Alia took these photos.)



When she did wake up, I fed her eggs and toast for dinner, and she ate all of it happily.  She just couldn't use the fork by herself anymore.  (Last week, she ate salad with her butter knife and used a spoon to eat pasta...)

Then her eyes LIT UP when I mentioned that we had ice cream for dessert.  (Oh, it was so cute.)


Alia brought out my mom's journal from a couple of years ago (she isn't able to write anymore), and I read the entries aloud.  Pure sweetness.


After dinner, the girls tried to teach my mom how to do the Macarena (which she used to love), and even though she couldn't remember any of it, I think she liked seeing us all dancing around the kitchen with her while Ethan was doing the dishes. (Thanks, Ethan!)

This is a screen shot of a video I took... Sorry if the "play" button on there is confusing.
 Then we did a photo shoot:




At bedtime, I handed her her toothbrush--which she usually could manage with no problem.  She used to scrub her teeth thoroughly and swish with water a few times until her teeth were sparkling. But this time, she slowly touched the toothbrush to her lips and then sat there frozen.  I brushed her teeth for her, and then she swallowed all the toothpaste because she didn't remember that she needed to spit into the bowl I was holding in front of her.

When there were quiet moments throughout the night, I put my face right in front of hers, kissed her on her cheeks, hugged her, and said, "I love you so much Mom. I love you so much."

She always said, "I love you, too." But then she started to study my face carefully--looking at my eyes and my nose and my chin--like she was trying to figure out who I was. Sometimes when we're together, she will call me by name, but three times now, I've asked her if she knows my name, and she doesn't even try to answer.

That part hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be--because I can see that she is not herself.

But to be perfectly honest, every time I pack my children in the car, kiss my dad goodbye, and start the drive home, I feel like my insides are crumbling.

I went on a walk the other day with a friend who lost her mom several years ago--when she was in her twenties and her mom was in her fifties.  Her mother had a stroke, and she was gone quickly.  Her "goodbye" was too short.

In many ways, I'm incredibly grateful for this long goodbye, but I just don't know if there's any way to make it easier.

Besides writing about it.  This makes it easier.

And the impression I keep getting from the Lord is that He wants me to build my faith.  He needs me to know with a certainty that families are forever.  He needs me to trust that this life isn't the end and that while our bodies will slow down and eventually die, our spirits never will.  He needs me to know that He has the power to heal me--from everything--and He needs me to depend on Him with everything I have.

The Lord has this beautiful ability to take our pain and turn it into something beautiful.  I feel Him doing that with me.  Sometimes I feel like I'm a failure if I feel anxiety, but I need to see those feelings as a catalyst for turning my heart more fully to the Lord.  I understand more now why He is called "The Prince of Peace" and "The Great Physician." And I have a deeper knowledge of how His power works in our daily lives and calms us when we need Him most.

If nothing else, I hope that sharing this process can help others know that the Lord is aware of each of us and is available to help us in our unique challenges. That is one thing I know for sure. When we step back and look at the whole of our lives, we can see how good they are and how beautiful they are. We can see that the Lord is blessing us in so many ways--even when life feels hard. He is amazing, and I will keep moving forward--trusting that He knows what He is doing.

Much love,
April

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Recap of the New York Power of Moms Retreat





My13-year-old has been checking her blog feed every day and asking, "Mom, when are you going to write your blog post about New York? I'm dying to know what happened!"

Here you go, Alia (and anyone else who'd like to virtually accompany us on this weekend report):

And for those of you who haven't yet heard of Power of Moms Retreats, they are unique, small-group gatherings of deliberate mothers where we learn and discuss powerful ideas that will strengthen us as mothers and as women.  This particular Retreat in New York was a "Get Organized" Retreat, where we focused on getting organized personally (with a program we call Mind Organization for Moms) and as a family (with a program we call Family Systems).

In this particular blog post, I'm going to share some photos and details from the whole trip--because I've never been to New York City by myself before, and this is where I'm going to document the adventures.  (Just scroll down if you want to see specifically what we did at the Retreat.)

First thing of note was the car service from the airport.  I guess the subway is too complicated to navigate with heavy bags, so I hired a car to meet me, and I must admit I was a little nervous.  I was hoping the driver would have my last name on a piece of paper, but no.  You just stand in the spot they tell you to stand, and you wait for someone to come up and wave you into their car. 


I tried to act like I was an old pro at this, but I was so excited to be there that I just chatted happily with the driver during the whole ride there and found out all about his family.

He said I was the first "young person" who had ever talked to him during a drive, and he seemed so happy to have someone actually care about him. He was from Malaysia.  He has two children and a wife, and he drives for 12-13 hours a day.  He moved to New York to be near his parents, and his dad has bad knees and can’t climb the stairs to their apartment very well.  He doesn’t like to sing, but he likes to listen to music, and his favorite thing to do is relax when he gets home. 

Isn't that nice?

He gave me a brotherly hug when he dropped me off, and I handed him a little thank you note.  He said that was his FIRST thank you note from a passenger.  So cute.

Okay, this is the hallway that led up to Tricia's apartment (she's the amazing lady who offered to let us hold the Retreat in her building).  The hall is under repair right now, which is why the light bulbs are hanging, but isn't this fun?



Her apartment is absolutely lovely.  She's an artist, so everything was decorated beautifully--with bright colors and built-ins to keep everything perfectly organized.  In New York, they use their space well.

This is Tricia in the middle with her two boys (fun little side note: she just filmed a Crest toothpaste commercial last week!).  Her friend and babysitter, Emily, is on the left, and JaNae (who came from D.C. to present with me) is on the right.




We got to spend Friday evening out on the town. . . .

Here's Times Square:



It's totally set up for tourists like us.



And there were tons of incredible restaurants to pick from.  We chose a Thai restaurant that served delicious, beautiful food.



JaNae and I also had a little time to explore on Saturday morning:



Tricia has taken cooking lessons right here at Sur La Table (wish I could go!):



Cute street cart:







Here's JaNae at Central Park.  It was a beautiful fall day, and the city was preparing for the NYC marathon, so it was full of runners.



Then before the Retreat started, Tricia and her boys made us a delicious lunch--even setting the table with place mats, which is something I never do.  (I'm inspired.)



Once lunch was over, we loaded up this cart with supplies for the Retreat and made our way down the elevator and through a long tunnel beneath her building to get to the Amenities:



This is a lovely garden in their courtyard:



Once everything was set up, it was time for the Retreat!  We had about 30 mothers attend the Mind Organization for Moms session, and it was so great to meet everyone whose names I'd been looking at on the registration forms.  We had mothers from a variety of religions and backgrounds--all gathered together to learn from each other.

Here's JaNae presenting a part of the M.O.M. system:



And this is a break-out group discussing how to implement the system digitally.  I was laughing because only TWO people used paper planners.




I have no idea why more people don't want to carry an enormous planner with them around the city.  It really looks great in photos, and it's so convenient to have one in your arms when you stop to get dinner from one of the street carts.  


But overall, I think the system applies equally well to moms in the city.  Their "Routines and Responsibilities" list doesn't include things like "wash the car" or "get an oil change."  It's more like, "get a stack of single dollar bills to use for tipping cabs."

When I was able to use real New York City examples, I said, "See? See how I'm learning all about your lifestyle?"  They laughed.

Really, though, I hope that everyone there has great success implementing Mind Organization for Moms.  It's completely changed my life, and I love to be able to share it with others.

Here are a few photos I took with some of the attendees who needed to leave after the first session (they are amazing women):

 This is Laura:
 


Tricia and Charmaigne (who has a cooking show at Everything Zoomer!):



Audra, "The Baker Chick" who baked especially for this event (be sure to check out her website):



And Mary Catherine (left) with her new baby:




We took an hour to break for dinner and then gathered back for our evening session of Family Systems.  This is where we talk about positive discipline techniques, how to teach children about work and money, and how to create a strong family culture:



This is Emily--sharing some great ideas from her discussion group:



This is Monique and Beth:



And Elise:



I could have taken a dozen photos of the dessert table (and your mouth would be watering), but here's just one quick photo of some of the cookies Emily made.  Vanessa, Audra, Tricia, and Laura took care of all the food, and I was so grateful for their help.  (You have to have treats at a Retreat...)



Here are a few more photos:







Love these ladies!  I wish we could have had a whole week together (maybe at a spa?).

Here are Anna and Megan.  Such sweet mothers with lots of great stories and ideas to share.



And this is my friend Mindy, who I knew in Boston about 10 years ago.  Love her.



Monique is from Sydney, and she'll be heading back there soon (maybe we'll meet if we do another Power of Moms Retreat there).  I love that she came to a Retreat while she still has young children (she has a three-year-old in addition to this darling baby).  I get excited when I think about how events like this can help strengthen families for generations to come.



Here's one of me and JaNae.  She was wonderful as a presenter, and I feel so grateful to have had the chance to spend time with her.




Tricia, me, and JaNae:



JaNae, Me, and Heidi:



JaNae, me, and Elise:



Honestly, it was a privilege to meet everyone.

After we said our goodbyes, JaNae and I went back up to Tricia's apartment (she was so nice to let us stay there!).

We had been talking about establishing a family economy, and she told us that her five-year-old son creates beautiful artwork that he sells out in front of a coffee shop in the city.  (In New York, you don't need a permit to sell art.)

He sets up a little white table and hangs this sign:



Then he displays cards like these and earns quite an impressive income.  Isn't that amazing?



Tricia also showed me a birthday calendar that she posted in her office space.  She decided that she wants to send a "real" birthday card to a select number of people in her life, and so she made it a project (within her M.O.M. system) to find a special calendar, identify her friends' birthdays, and post them in a prominent place.



She sends cards designed by her five-year-old.  I love that.





We stayed up way too late talking after the Retreat (I talked with Saren all about it on our most recent radio show here).  And then the next morning, JaNae took the train back to Washington, and I made my way back to the airport (and back home)--gratefully getting to stop in and attend church right there in Manhattan before the car picked me up. 

This time, the driver didn't want to talk to me, but I got this fun picture as we went over a bridge:



Here’s what I decided about NYC:  It takes a strong, adventurous personality to live there.  For those who are actresses and actors, you have to have a thick skin because “failure” is part of your everyday life.  You don’t get a job offer with every audition.  The competition is fierce.  Daily living takes planning and coordination.  Laundry in the basement, and there's often cold weather when you walk your children to school. 

But the culture is incredible.  So many different kinds of people, such an appreciation for the arts, so many hard-working individuals who will do things like give you 10 extra bananas at the end of the day when they’re getting ready to close up their fruit cart.

The moms who live in the city are busy.  They’re out and about.  Space is at a premium.  They are goal-oriented, talented, and deliberate.

What is amazing to me is that no matter where I go for these Retreats (L.A., Sydney, Las Vegas, Phoenix…) the mothers who attend help me to become a better person.  Retreats are a huge investment of time.  They require a lot of planning and coordination, and I always get butterflies in my stomach for at least two weeks before each event.  But once I get there and see the moms in our community face to face, I start to remember why I do this…

Then when my plane returns me to California, and I get to stop by to give my mom a hug,

and when I finally get to see my husband and children,


I remember why I feel so excited to come home.

Much love,
April

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