Monday, August 6, 2012

The Miracle Move

This summer went by very quickly, thanks to a decision to move out of our small, cramped 1000 sq ft house into a much roomier 1600 sq ft house in a much nicer area. As Eli put it when Sara asked him what he thought of the new place he said, "Well, I didn't feel like I needed to have a gun on me in the new neighborhood." HAHA! I never thought the old neighborhood was really ghetto, but I will admit to wishing I had more training with a weapon a couple times.

Anyways, after Ryan's visit for Mother's Day, we received more information about his training for his job in the Air Force. Altogether, with all the schools required, it would be 10 months long. There was some speculation that we might be able to join him for some of the training, but since none of the individual schools themselves were six months long, it wasn't a guarantee. So, June was the perfect time to sign a new year lease. So far, the only regret I have about that decision is that we moved away from being a minute away from some really good friends, Hana and Benji. Now they're about 5-10 minutes away, depending on traffic - we still get to play. But everything else has been 100% worth it.

Since the move pretty much eclipsed this summer, with all the preparation going into the packing and then unpacking, it kind of blurs together, but there were some incredible things that happened for me that I don't want to forget.

First of all, I want to be clear that I am very grateful that Ryan had work in California with Travis. It paid the bills and we were able to upgrade to a house I could feel comfortable in while he was gone. Having said that, I think it was one of the worst choices we've ever made as a couple in the strain it placed on our family. To continue to be apart from each other after the Air Force job came available was something I had a difficult time with accepting. Ryan would probably agree that it is a gross understatement that I fought against it for the last four months. But - I've had some personal miracles in the last few months that I recognize may not have been possible or even recognizable had Ryan been here, and they are the silver lining to the challenge that was the last six months for me.

My miracle, that I label as the 'miracle move', isn't so much about the move itself, but about the incredible power of friendship and faith that happened to take place around this pivotal moment. I'd been struggling with the principle of tithing for a long time. It's always been a struggle for me, to be honest, but the last couple years have been particularly difficult. For many months while Ryan was in his last year and a half of school, we'd pay our tithing and still not be able to make ends meet. Not by a long shot. For a lot of family and some friends on the outside looking in, the solution was simple - get a job. However, we knew from previous experience that when our focus shifted from school to employment, that school didn't get the attention it needed. Becoming an officer in the Air Force is incredibly competitive, and GPA matters big time. So for us, sacrificing for one year and half to be able to get Ryan the career he wanted for the next 20-30 years was worth the effort and preparation and we truly believe he will be blessed for his efforts. And I believe that we were already, it just wasn't in the way I wanted it.

So I stopped paying for a little while, partly because we had no income to pay tithing on, and partly because I rationalized that if we weren't going to make it anyways, what was the point when we did get a little bit of money? Then there was a talk one Sunday about how not all tithing is paid in cash. It really touched me. And I started to think of what I could "pay" or offer the Lord when we had nothing financially to give? And mostly out of sheer obedience because I knew the Lord would bless us somehow and because I wanted to have a current recommend, I got us caught up on tithing. Every check was hard to write. I never felt that joy that people talk about who don't struggle with the principle. I never had the "just enough money left over to make it" experience. Or the "money that came out of nowhere" experience.

Then, there was a talk that literally made me burn inside as I felt the firy confirmation of the Holy Ghost touching my soul. My friend, Michelle McDonough, gave a talk about how when she was younger she was challenged to take the Lord up on his promise in Malachi where he says, "Bring ye all the tithes in the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." When she talked of her experience, I felt like the Lord was whispering to me, "Prove me. Just try it." And I thought, "Ok, Lord, I will prove you."

That day, the week I paid the deposit on the new house, I pulled out my checkbook, and instead of just writing the check and handing it in, I took time to say a prayer. I knew that paying my tithing was the right thing to do. So, I simply asked Heavenly Father to open my eyes to be able to see and recognize the blessings that would come from paying my tithing. At this particular time, I was also struggling with loneliness. I missed Ryan more than I thought I could bear at times. I missed having a partner to share the load. I missed having someone to back me up with parenting. I missed the safety I felt with his arms around me. I missed the way he could make me laugh. I missed my friend. So I'd also been praying to be able to have confidence in knowing who I could call on and also who needed a friend, because the loneliness for me was becoming overwhelming and I wondered if anyone else might need me the way I needed them.

Within the first week of preparing to move, I went visiting teaching with Michelle and we met our new sister on our route, Liz Winston. A couple nights later was a girls' night out and we hit it off even more there. She offered to come help me start packing the next day. I honestly don't think I would have been anywhere near prepared on moving day without her help then, and nearly every other day until moving day. Her friendship was one of my miracles.

And then there were the many friends who offered and asked to take my girls for me so I could pack quickly without them underfoot - Alejandra, Yaneth, Kim, the Parks, Jenny and Marley. Each offer felt like a little miracle because it always came just as I was starting to worry about having to inconvenience someone else and actually ask for help. Then we add in the friends who helped me in the sweaty armpit of the house that was our garage - Kim, Brooklin, and Melissa. Even after we found a scorpion (thankfully already dead) they helped me til I finished the side we were working on. I'm just getting started. Add in the friends that randomly stopped by to ask to help me pack - Valerie, Chelsea, Megan, Sarah and Brooke Park one night after a basketball game drove by and stopped to help organize the toys and pack up the girls' rooms. A few days later Yaneth came to help and Emily, May, Katie, and Camille stopped by because they were near the neighborhood. I cried. We were just days from the move at that point and I was so overwhelmed. I hired babysitters, Taylor and Madison Jensen, Dene and Jonece Thompson, Emily del Plain and Bridget Anderson and they all refused payment because they wanted it to be service. Alexis came by twice, to help pack and start moving my kitchen, bathrooms and closets before the main move. Eli and  Erin and Matt Peterson also helped take things apart to get ready to move. During the move, the girls were taken care of by a tag team of angels, Dayna, Sephonnie, and Alejandra.

Thanks to two incredible home teachers, Brandon Hicks and Matt Peterson, we had 19 men show up from the Elders Quorum and High Priest Group to move us out of the house. (Steve Jensen, Ted Brannan, Mark Harrington, Ryan Bybee, Mike and Logan Mathews, Garrett Lewis, Denton Park, Rob del Plain, Corey, Cayden and Tannen Christianson, Matt Young, Leo Clear, Jason and Jacob Karl, Will Watson) Brandon and Doug, who came up from El Paso to help, led the charge and we got everything moved within a few hours. For the men lifting, it probably was the slowest morning. But for me, it felt like it whizzed by. Like one second I lived in one house and then I blinked and all my things were in the new house. After the inital chaos died down and I was left to assess the work left, Doug assembled the tetris-like beds Ryan built as much as possible before he had to leave to get ready for Lesa and the kids to come back home. To say I was overwhelmed with the next step when it took 44 people on my thank you list to get me to that point in time is putting it lightly.

As hard as I tried to label walls and make it easy to know where I wanted things, the garage was still quite a labrynth. On the first load I can tell they tried to put things where the labels were. The next load it was more like guidelines. And by the third load it was a free for all just to get it in the house. Liz stayed with me to help unpack, and Brooklin came and helped me in the girls' rooms. Later, Hana and Benji called and they offered to come over and help since Benji had to work that morning. Then Marley called and said Dan would come help that night as well since he was at work during the move, too. I felt like the Grinch when I realized how many people I was going to have to help me that evening. I got an idea. An awful idea. An awfully wonderful idea. I wondered if they would help me in the garage, "Clean House" style, where you pull everything out and then put only what you want to keep back in. Since I'd just gone through everything I knew I wanted to keep it all. I just needed to get all of Ryan's tools on one side of the garage and stack all the storage boxes on the other. It took the five of us 45 minutes to be able to get the garage organized enough to park my Chevy Blazer in on the first night. To me, that is miraculous. The thought of doing the garage by myself was paralyzing.

And you would think at this point that that would be it. But then there was Eli, who helped me several times with getting the old house ready for inspection and sweet Sara who offered to watch the girls even though Rand was still barely a few weeks old. Besides organizing movers, Brandon had also organized a team of young men to help clean the yard and garage. So Eli and I really only had to focus on painting touch ups and patching a few holes.

I think it would be easy to pass things off as coincidence that I happened to start paying tithing with a different attitude when my friends were already willing to help. That those were good things already in my life. That is all true, but I think the miracle for me was seeing God's hand in them being a part of my life. To recognize and fully appreciate the value of each person and to know surely that I am not alone is the miracle. Because I am a very social person, being alone is often the same thing as being lonely. I need my friends. I cherish opportunities to help others because it lets me be around others. So the miracle for me was recognizing that Heavenly Father knows this about me, too. And he sent me an abundace of earhly angels to come to my rescue. Lookiing back, there is absolutely no way I could have made it through this summer as frustrated as I was being apart from Ryan without such wonderful friends. And each time I prayed for my eyes to be opened when I paid my tithing, it became easier to count my many blessings which almost always amounted to people and the experiences I was able to share with them. Friends, family, and in particular a loving and generous father-in-law, Ralph, and good neighbors - all by and large are my greatest blessings. Therefore, I cannot think that the timing of it all was a coincidence. It's still hard to write out those checks, even though I know that money will be spent more charitably with the Church than what I would choose to spend it on. I may always struggle with paying tithing, but I think as long as I keep praying to have eyes to see, I'll always be able to count my blessings. I think it was C.S. Lewis that said something like "Among Christians there are no coincidences."

I believe it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Spring Photos - Monica

Beautiful Monica

Spring Photos - Leah

Lovely Leah

Spring Photos- Jill

In May, I took some spring pictures of the girls.
They came out so beautifully!

Sweet Jill.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ryan and Monica

When Ryan was home in April, we had a little "Daddy and Me" photo shoot. We had taken the girls to the park so that Monica could show off her new skill. She is definitely her father's daughter! I love how much these girls love their daddy and it makes me fall in love with Ryan even more to see how much he loves his girls. They've each got him so wrapped around their little fingers!

Monica had to show Daddy how she had taught herself to ride her bike without training wheels.
I've been so impressed with her tenacity in tackling this skill!

Ryan and Leah

Leah loves to ride her trike. 
And she loves her dad. 

Ryan and Jillian

Jillian loves her daddy!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pro's Ranch, White Sands, Graham Central Station, and an Air Force Assignment

Ryan came home to visit last weekend and we had a blast! He flew in on Thursday night. While he was traveling he received an email and phone call from Msgt (Master Sergeant) Ullmann stating that Ryan received an EAD date for entering active duty, the day he swears in (August 8), and that Little Rock, Arkansas would be the location, whether duty station or school locale, we were unsure, but the message was clear- Ryan received a school slot to be a loadmaster in the Air Force! We are so excited and incredibly grateful for this opportunity. Plan A!! Through further investigation by our good friend, Becky Clinton, it looks more like Little Rock is the school location, but we shouldn't be surprised if it ends up being our first duty station as well! I did a little research...Memphis is only a two hour drive from Little Rock. Graceland would be so fun to visit!

So we had a lot to celebrate with him coming home. We thought we were going to have to wait til the next day to hear anything at a previously scheduled appointment with the recruiter. But nope. He was kind enough to share as soon as he got the news. WOOHOO!!

On Friday, we took Ryan to my new favorite grocery store, Pro's Ranch Market. It's like stepping into Mexico. The whole atmosphere is festive and very ethnic. Dried, whole shrimps, huge tortilleria, Mexican sodas, cows' heads in the carniceria. Awesome. And a fun cafe with the most delicious taquitos I think I've ever had. Funny story: While I was ordering our food, Ryan sent Monica to me to ask me to buy him a coke. While I was trying to balance the coke on the tray of food that not only had the taquitos but 12 ramekins of sour cream, guacamole sauce, and salsa, I lost control of it all and spilled the coke on the counter and received a shower of sauces all down the front of my jeans. I've never seen so many people jump into action before. There were at least four employees helping me clean up the mess and a few customers in line offering me money to buy the next round of food, and a very helpful gentleman told me where the restroom was. I thanked my fellow patrons for their offers but declined and went to the bathroom.

When I came back from cleaning myself up, they didn't make me pay again, but they wouldn't let me hold the tray either! I reached for it and one of the employees grabbed it before I could, smiled sweetly and said she'd take it to me. Clearly, I was not to be trusted. Ryan joked that everyone was so helpful because I looked Mexican. He goes, "You're their people." LOL! Anyways, we stocked up on the produce we needed and enjoyed the last of the taquitos. Have I mentioned how delicious they were?

Ryan and I went to dinner at Outback and enjoyed being on a date for the first time in 10 weeks. Big thanks to my friend, Kim, for watching our girls!

Saturday, we went to White Sands and absolutely loved it. We will be doing that again. Pictures follow this post. After we came home, we tried to get the girls in bed before Dory came to babysit. She's my friend, Alejandra's, honorary daughter. She's a foreign exchange student and she was so sweet to refuse being paid, and said she was babysitting for service. Sweet, sweet girl. We went dancing at Graham Central Station. Since we got there before 9, there was no cover charge. Sweet! We had a great time tearing up the dance floor with a bunch of grandmas and grandpas. They knew how to move!! We were trying to copy some of their moves. There was one couple that was so cute to watch. They mainly did the lindy hop and west coast swing dance moves, but every once in a while they'd start a conga line with just the two of them. Ryan and I decided we want to be them when we grow up. We also enjoyed watching a white-haired gentleman dance to every single song - by himself. He two-stepped and waltzed his way around the floor with no shame for a good three hours before he took a partner to the floor. Good times on the country western dance floor!

Sunday we enjoyed going to church together as a family and playing the piano in Primary uninterrupted as Ryan entertained Jillian. We also took the girls to the park so Monica could show Ryan how she had taught herself to ride her bike without training wheels. I'm so impressed with her persistence. We were at the park play group when her friend Michelle let her try riding her bike without training wheels. In about 30 minutes, she was riding steadily!  When we came home she asked me to take off her training wheels and then spent the rest of daylight practicing in our little backyard.

Monday went by too fast. We took the girls to the jumping place in the mall as we took a break from our search for some decent patio furniture. After having some friends over and hanging out in the backyard, I realized we needed patio furniture. I enjoy having people over, and I might even say my sanity necessitates having people over, but I had nowhere to put them that didn't seem like we were already living in backwoods Arkansas, where we probably will live before too long. LOL! Ok, bad joke. Anyways, we went to every thrift, consignment, and second-hand store in Las Cruces, Hobby Lobby, Big Lots, Walmart, and finally Home Depot. Thank goodness Daddy's Store had some very reasonably priced unfinished wood adirondack chairs. I painted them turquoise yesterday and today. Turns out turquoise absorbs heat well. Very well, in fact. I couldn't rest my arms on the armrests, it was so hot. And I thought, if they're this hot in April, how hot will they be in July and August? So, I will have to go to white.
Anyways, Tuesday morning, before the sun's alarm even considered going off, we took Ryan to the airport to go back to California. It was a terrific visit and we can't wait for the next one! All day Tuesday Leah asked me when we were going back to the airport to pick up Daddy. We'll have to make an advent chain for the next visit. My girls--they sure love their daddy! 

Jillian could not get enough snuggles.
It sure warmed my heart. I worried if she would be resistant to him since it had been two and half months. I just remember how difficult it was for Monica to go to him when he'd been gone for a year. But then I have to remind myself that she was a baby, baby, when he deployed, and it had been a full year. Thanks to the Air Force, the length we expect our separation to last has been drastically shortened. Whew!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

White Sands: The Jump Off

When the girls got tired of climbing that hill, they chilled in the back of the Blazer, so Ryan and I had fun jumping off the dune to see if we could get any cool photos. It was a blast trying to get a perfect pose. I think we got some cool shots.

I think our best shot was of the girls- both airborne at the same time!