Thursday, September 25, 2014

My Next Book Chapter (She Laughed at All the Right Parts)

Tonight was such a fun night. Mom was in a happy mood. She ate all her dinner. She hugged me and kissed me, and we read scriptures together and watched Jeopardy, and everything was perfect.

I had my next book chapter ready for her, and it's kind of a funny one with some cute stories from her past. (You can read it below, if you'd like.)

She listened to every word and laughed at all the right places. It was precious.

Here's a still shot from a video Alia captured. You can see the tip of my computer on the left, my dad in the background working on photo albums, and then, of course, there's my mom. Look at that face:

Isn't the Lord so nice to give us happy moments like this?

Thank you, everyone, for your amazing support.


 “Oh! That’s My LAY-deeeee!” 
Everyone We Meet Deserves Our Utmost Love and Respect

When I was in high school, our booster club had a special fundraiser where they sold “Bruin Cards,” which enabled families to receive discounts at several local fast food restaurants.

My mother thought this was genius. She especially liked taking us to El Pollo Loco for their “buy one, get one free” burritos after we’d had a busy day at school.

This story, however, isn’t about the burritos. It’s about how my mom treated everyone with love and respect.

One evening at five, after my drama rehearsal had finished, my mom took me over to the El Pollo Loco drive-thru. When it was her turn to order, she leaned out the window toward the microphone on the order box and said in her cute way—kind of slow and kind of loud, so as not to be misunderstood, “Hello! I would like a Classic Chicken Burrito, buy one get one free with the Bruin Card.”

The woman who responded through the speaker sounded elated—beyond anything I had ever heard (or have yet to hear) in a drive-thru lane.

“Oh!” she cried out, like she was greeting a long-lost friend. “That’s my LAY-deeeee!”

I sat in the passenger seat, stunned.

What has my mom been doing over here that would elicit that kind of response? How did she get to the point that the cashier at El Pollo Loco wouldn’t only recognize her voice, but would be utterly excited to see her?

As our car crept through the line, I peppered my mom with questions. Her response was so casual. “This is my friend who is just so nice….”

I finally met the lady when we picked up our burritos. My mom introduced us.  The woman was in her mid-twenties, physically as opposite in appearance from my mom as one can get. But their twin smiles and beautiful souls had somehow connected. “Your mom is so sweet,” she told me.

This experience at the drive-thru has stayed with me for more than 20 years, but it wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that I saw one of these unique interactions in person.

Although my mom’s Alzheimer’s was starting to progress at that point, she still liked to answer the phone, and no one could stop her.

One afternoon while I was visiting, I heard this after the phone rang:
“Hello!” she greeted the caller happily.

Then after listening for a few moments, she replied, “Well, I’m not sure, but let me check.”

“Bob!” she called into the next room, “Do we need a new roof?”

My dad, trying to be patient, but getting a little agitated with my mother’s constant questions, replied, “No, Zoe. We do not need a new roof. We just had ours fixed a few years ago.”

I listened very carefully at that point—wondering how my mother would explain her answer to the salesman.

“I’m sorry,” she began with a truly apologetic tone. “But my husband is a party pooper.”

I stifled a laugh.

“But you have such a nice voice, and I wish you the very best with your sales.”

With that, they ended the call, and I sat still…stunned.

While I would have briskly replied, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept sales calls. Please take our number off your list,” my mother continually showed us through her actions that everyone we meet deserves our love and respect.

These two experiences weren’t the anomalies. They simply represent the framework from which my mother operated.

As a result, even though she got pulled over by police officers eight times throughout her life, she never once got a ticket.

Store clerks and postal carriers would go out of their way to make sure she was well taken care of, and practically every time she got on the phone to address an issue with an insurance or utility company, she got what she needed—simply because she was so nice to them.

I’ve spent years trying to replicate my mother’s art. I want to be just like her.

But each time I asked her to clarify her process, she seemed confused by my question. "Oh, April,” she would say, “Everybody wants to do a kindness! Each person in the world has good in them, and they’re just looking for a reason to share that goodness. All I do is give them the opportunity to do so! I explain what I need, I treat them with love, and I show them how their kindness will help me. They are excited for the chance to make that kind choice.”

As one of the main purposes of this book is to identify what, exactly, my mother did that bonded each of us so tightly to her, I can’t emphasize this point enough:

When you treat others with love, respect, and kindness—no matter who they are and regardless of whether or not they can do anything for you—your children will be watching closely. They will want to be like you, they will feel safe and protected around you, and if a time ever comes when you need them to care for you, they will feel honored to do so because it is their privilege to do a kindness.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Reading My Book to Mom

I mentioned in a previous post that I have felt directed to write a book about my mom.

When I visit each Thursday, I take the chapter I've been working on, and I read it to her aloud.

For the past three weeks, she's listened, and she seems to enjoy what I'm reading, but I could never really tell if she knew what she was hearing.

Tonight was different.

To back up a bit, it was kind of a stressful day. I received a call from my sister this morning, telling me that Mom had developed bed sores and that she needed a new mattress topper and someone to rotate her, clean her, and apply ointment every couple of hours around the clock.

This developed into a deeper conversation--one that we've known was coming but didn't quite want to face: It's time to bring in night nurses who can tend to her while our dad sleeps. Lisa started making phone calls, and tonight is the first night we have a professional nurse staying up to care for her around the clock.

I still went in for my usual Thursday night shift, taking my children with me, bringing along a cooler with our dinner ingredients, and packing my laptop, so I could read my latest chapter to Mom.

We had a wonderful night, and Mom was in good spirits, but as I rotated her, fed her, and cleaned her bed sores, I could just feel that we need to prepare ourselves for this next transition.

No one wants to lose her, and this is so incredibly hard.

After we ate dinner, Dad took his evening walk, the boys went into the front office to watch TV, and Alia and I sat at Mom's bedside. It was quiet and the sun was just barely setting--the perfect time to read. So I pulled out my laptop and shared the stories I'd drafted on Monday afternoon.

She listened carefully as I read, quiet and focused through the whole thing.

When I finished, she looked me in the eye and said, "That was very sweet."

Then as I hugged her, she said, "You have a beautiful way of...."

As she trailed off, I could tell she didn't know how to complete the sentence.

Then she paused for a moment and simply said, "Tender."

I rested my head on her chest as a few tears escaped from my eyes, and then I heard her whisper, "Thank you, Heavenly Father."

As she said those words, I remembered that distinct impression I received from the Lord a few weeks ago, instructing me to write:

April, you need to make this record. There is time for you to write. It will be a gift for you to read it to her. And even though she may appear not to know what you are reading, she will know. And she will feel the love you have for her. And she will see clearly that her work in this life has been worth it.

I hugged her even tighter, a bit of an emotional mess by that point, and then she held my face in her hands and looked at me with eyes that showed that she was really there and said, "I love you. I LOVE you."

There couldn't have been a more perfect moment. It was truly a gift.

Now if any of you happen to want to read the draft of the chapter that I shared with my mother, I've included it here. 

Thank you for being with me on this journey. I'm always tired when I get home from Long Beach, and sometimes I don't feel like writing about it.  But I keep getting the feeling that these experiences aren't just for me--that there are others out there (who may never comment here and who I may never meet) who need to hear these stories. So whoever you might be, God sends His love.

And now for today's chapter...

The Hole in the Nylons 
Miracles will happen for you.

If there’s one thing that all of us would like to see more of in our lives, it’s miracles. Wouldn’t you agree? I yearn for miracles. I pray for them. I hope for them. And one of the reasons I know they are possible is because I’ve seen them happen over and over again in the life of my mother.

This is one of my favorite stories, simple as it may be, that reminds me to trust that miracles can happen.

One Sunday morning, many many years ago, as my mother was getting ready for church, she realized that she had a hole in her nylons, several inches above her shoe line. She searched everywhere in her dresser for another pair, but to no avail. Reaching down to her ankles, she tried to stretch the nylons every which way—hoping that perhaps she could hide the hole inside her shoe or under her skirt, but no matter how much she tried, that hole sat in the same spot.

For a proper woman like my mother, having this gaping hole was somewhat of a catastrophe, but it was time to go to church, and she couldn’t spend any more time worrying about those nylons.

Taking just a moment to herself before joining the rest of the family, she gently offered a prayer: “Father, I’m so sorry that I didn’t check my nylons yesterday, and I’m sorry I don’t have an extra pair. I want to look my very best as I go to worship Thee, but for today, this will have to do.”

She then helped get all of her children into the car, drove to church (where my dad, having early morning meetings, was already there), and sat down with the family on our regular pew.

A few minutes later, still feeling badly about her nylons, she glanced down at her leg.

The hole was gone.

She felt around the sides of her calf, up by her knees, and down by her ankles, but she couldn’t find the hole anywhere.

Completely puzzled by this point, she took off her shoe, and there—on the very bottom of her foot—was the hole.

I heard this story dozens of times while I was growing up.  “April,” she told me, “There was no way that hole could have moved to the bottom of my foot. I had done everything I could to try to position it there. The Lord helped me that day. He understood what I needed, and that was a little blessing He sent just for me.”

Now I know that seems like such a simple, inconsequential thing, but the lesson it basically shouts is that miracles happen. And they’ll happen for you.

I remember one Saturday afternoon, when I needed to get five-year-old Grace to her last soccer game of the season. My husband had planned to go with me to help with our two-month-old baby and our other two children, but a last-minute urgent need from a neighbor required his assistance, and I told him I would be fine.

Once we arrived at the soccer field, I heard Grace gasp, “I forgot my socks and my soccer cleats!”

We were all devastated. There was no time to return home, this was her very last game, and there was no way they would let her play without shoes and socks.

Having learned from my mother’s example (over and over again), I gathered my children around me in the parking lot, and we offered a prayer—apologizing for forgetting the socks and cleats and asking that, if it were possible, Grace would be able to play her game.

We approached the field in faith, and moments later, we ran into a friend of ours whose son had just finished his game. As we explained our plight, our friend said, “Why doesn’t she wear Braden’s socks and cleats? He’s the same size as Grace!” We thought that was an excellent idea, so our two five-year-olds sat on the grass and made the transfer. It was perfect.

These kinds of miracles happen often. They’re always timed “just right,” and they remind me in such a powerful way that we are not alone.

One of my very favorite miracles happened on my birthday a couple of years ago—shortly after my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s—when she was in a rehabilitation center for a broken hip.

As a special treat, my husband stayed home with our four children and sent me to visit her alone for the day.  During the one-hour drive, I was thinking about a list of questions I had written down that morning—things I was hoping the Lord would help me to understand about my life’s course, like how I felt I was continually stretched too thin and that my efforts simply didn’t measure up.

Though I felt a sweetness during the drive and an immense feeling of support, I didn't receive any specific answers to my questions.

When I arrived at the center, I was privileged to have a wonderful lunch with my dad, my sister Laura, and a neighbor of ours who had come to visit. I sat next to my mom and held her hand as much as I could.  She was quiet, but happy. This was a blessing by itself because, up to that point, she hadn’t been doing very well. She had been crying a lot and repeatedly asking when she could go home.

The nurses had explained that she kept trying to find a way out.  One day they found her way out in the corner of the facility by the vending machines. Other days, she would sit by the emergency exit.  One time she made the alarm go off.

But that day, she was calm and happy--totally at ease.

Now there are two very special things about the visit that I feel I can share. 

The first is that they served birthday cake that day.

Once a month, the facility celebrates all of the residents’ birthdays at the same time.
I asked the nurses if they always serve cake on the 19th, and they said no, that it changes every month.

Then it struck me that this was a tender mercy from the Lord.  On my birthday, when I got to go spend the day with my mom--who I missed so much--He arranged for them to have cake.

The second special part of the day was a sweet experience I had while my mom and I were sitting alone in the lobby together.  I had my arms wrapped around her, and she started speaking very quietly--almost indistinctly.

I listened closer, and I could hear that she was giving me counsel and advice. 

Moving my ear as close to her lips as I could, I soon realized that in her calm, encouraging, beautiful voice, she was answering the exact questions I had written down for the Lord that morning.

I won't record the specifics because it was such a sacred moment, and the counsel was just for me, but this was one of the most precious miracles I have ever received in my entire life.

My mom has had dementia (which developed into Alzheimer’s) for pretty much the entire time I have been running Power of Moms.  She doesn't know how to use the Internet, and she isn't involved in my day-to-day life.  But as we sat together, and as she talked to me about my responsibilities, my choices, my struggles, my heart, my goals, and my daily work with my family and with my organization, it was as though she knew everything.  I can't even think about the experience without getting choked up.  No one besides the Lord could have known what to say to me, and He chose to deliver that message through the voice of the one from whom I needed to hear it the most.

I hesitated to even write anything about this experience here--because some things are just so special that you don't want to put them out in front of the world.  But in this case, I feel like He wants me to share this so that if you are struggling, you will know that He is aware of you, too. 

I have zero doubt in the Lord's capacity to perform miracles.  I know He loves all of His children--from every religion and background.  He knows we all make mistakes and that we struggle and that we need help.  And when we turn to Him, He has a limitless ability to supply everything we need.

Miracles happen. They are beautiful. And they are available for all of us.

With love,


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Time for a Self-Assessment :)

These past six weeks have been beautiful in so many ways, but in other ways, I feel like I am going through the hardest time in my life.

Do you mind if I take a couple of minutes to do a self-assessment? I'm guessing that many of you are going through similar things, and maybe if we can go through it together, it won't seem so tricky.

I think one of the things that has made it so hard lately is that I'm not making the time to sit down and write--to step back and process everything that's happening.

I mean, I'm doing good things with my time--things that I've felt directed to do and that help the people around me, but sometimes I feel like my routines and responsibilities come in such quick succession that there's not enough time to really see what I am doing with my life. (Do you ever feel like that?)

I'll start by typing out a little summary of what's been happening around here:

My husband and I work together every day from home.  That's a dream, right? We have a partner desk, and so we face each other while we hold our meetings and type on our computers. We've started recording podcasts together and working on some pretty amazing projects for Power of Moms/Power of Families. He jogs behind me while I rollerblade. He puts me down for naps when I'm cranky. He whistles at me and steals kisses during the day. I'm head-over-heels for him. Our work isn't easy, but we're growing together.

A lot of my time recently has been spent helping my children start the new school year--with special shopping trips for each one (where they learned how to shop on a budget and buy just a few new things they really needed), Back-to-School Night, and all kinds of other little details. We're in a good daily routine now, with morning scripture study and our afternoon smoothie--plus lots of time to talk, prepare meals, and sing together. Our relationships have never been so good.

Every Thursday, we take care of my mom. I've been writing that book I mentioned a few posts back, and each week I hold her hand and read her a new chapter while she rests in her bed. She doesn't seem to understand what I'm reading, but at the end she always smiles and says, "That's so nice!" (A part of one of my chapters was posted on Power of Moms last Tuesday, if you'd like to read it.)

Power of Moms is growing and becoming such a blessing--to my own family and to others. This community is a joint project. I don't take the credit.  But there is something so incredibly powerful happening over there, and I feel an enormous responsibility to do a good job with this. So...we're in the middle of mobilizing/redesigning our site, automating a bunch of systems in our database software, promoting our new webinar series, building Power of Moms Radio, and working on dozens of other projects that fuel the site and community. Honestly, I had no idea what a big job this would be, but it's exciting...and sometimes overwhelming.  :)

I've also been spending quite a bit of time with my calling at church (which I love). I get to be the Personal Progress Coordinator, which means I help the Young Women (ages 12-18) to set and move forward on personal goals. This gives me the opportunity to work closely with Grace and Alia, and I've been creating some new templates and frameworks that will hopefully help the girls to draw closer to Christ--in a way that will have a lasting impact on their lives.

Then there are the more personal systems I've been trying to put in place.  This summer, after being inspired by Jordan Page over at Fun, Cheap, or Free, I completely revamped my spending plan. I thought I was pretty good at budgeting before, but Jordan has helped me to take it to a whole new level. I can't even explain how much this has empowered me.

And after reading The Calorie Myth by Jonathan Bailor, I changed up my diet so I'm now eating 10+ servings of vegetables a day, balanced with lean protein, whole-food fats, and low-fructose fruits, and my body has never felt stronger or happier. (I get to record a podcast with him on Friday, and I'm so excited!) Now I'm trying to get my whole family on board (we're moving in the right direction, but wow, it's a process).

I'm also trying to make time to really be in my scriptures each day. I want to hear the Lord. I need to hear the Lord. He is so, so good to us.

And in the midst of all this, I know He wants me to get enough rest, to read good books, to sit and think, and to realize that everything doesn't have to happen right this minute.

I know I have a good life. I'm living my dream in pretty much every part of it.  

None of it is easy, but I generally feel so grateful and happy.

But here's one element where I need to improve: I need more faith. More faith that the Lord will bless me with the power to do all of these things I feel excited and inspired to do.

I'm guessing that's the hard part for most of us.

In Sunday School a few weeks ago, we read in 1 Kings 17 about the widow who gave Elijah the first portion of her very last bit of food. (Remember that story about the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil that never failed?)

I raised my hand in class and asked how I could better apply that to my life right now. "I feel stretched too thin sometimes," I said. "I wonder if I'll have enough time/energy/patience/ability to do what I feel the Lord wants me to do. How can I better trust in the Lord? How can I know that He will help me?"

And then others in the class started raising their hands in response. At least ten of them. They shared beautiful experiences from their own lives--when they were sure they weren't going to have what they needed, but the Lord came through...every single time.

Something amazing happened as I listened to their stories.

I felt the sweetness of the Spirit tell me that the Lord is totally aware of me. He knows how hard it is for me to move forward each day. He knows how I feel during this whole process of losing my mom. He understands my anxiety over the projects that require so much of my energy, and He recognizes that every day feels like I'm digging into the barrel for that last handful of meal.

But He keeps giving me exactly what I need. He sends mentors and helpers and angels to assist me. He helps me to breathe and to see the vision He has for me. And His Spirit lifts my heart--not so much that I don't have to stretch myself, but enough that I have total confidence that I am not alone.

So that's where I am today. Grateful for Him. Grateful for this life. Hoping that I will one day get to the point where this all doesn't feel so hard, but working desperately to enjoy the process, even while it does.

With love,

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