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The tree is up in all its simplistic splendor. For as long as I can remember Christmas never really felt real until the tree was up. There is magic at work while we put the ornaments on. Each one telling a story of a time long passed while simultaneously creating new memories of joy and togetherness.

However, the two years we almost didn’t have a tree hold their own sweet reminders for me of what Christmas is all about. Sacrifice and giving.

When I was in the 5th or 6th grade times were hard for our family. We couldn’t get a Christmas tree because my parents only car wasn’t working. I remember the sadness I felt looking at the empty spot where it should have gone. I didn’t understand the difficult times my parents were going through, I just knew it didn’t feel like Christmas. I must have been talking about how upset I was while at my best friend’s house and her mom offered to go buy us a tree. My parents didn’t let her but to my young mind I thought that was the nicest thing a person could over do.

I don’t remember the details of how my dad pulled it off, but shortly before the gift giving day he came home with the perfect tree. I can still picture it in my mind and the feeling of joy I had in my young heart was so big. He was a hero in that moment. He brought the magic of Christmas with a sacrifice I’m sure I’ll never understand.

Shortly after we were married, I was pregnant with our second child while Ryan went to school full-time and worked nights to provide for us. We had very little that year but we didn’t need much. My oldest was a little over a year and so his expectations were easily met. A tree would have been a huge extravagance we could not afford.

One evening after I had put my boy to bed, an unexpected knock came at our door. Tears came quickly to my eyes as I opened the door to find a huge tree siting in the doorway. But that was not all. We were given ornaments and presents as well. I felt an abundance of love and kindness that has stayed with me each year I bring out the decorations.

Because of one family’s thoughtfulness, we were given a desire to give back. To share that feeling of the true meaning of Christmas. The Christmas tree symbolizes to me the spirit of giving. Of thinking of others needs above my own. Of charity which is the pure love of Christ. The magic of the Christmas tree is so much more than my young heart could comprehend. For now I see it as the perfect reminder of Christ’s love for each one of us. He cared enough to send my family a tree so many years ago, and He cares enough today to show me how I can be more like Him.

“When we keep the spirit of Christmas, we keep the Spirit of Christ, for the Christmas spirit is the Christ Spirit. It will block out all the distractions around us which can diminish Christmas and swallow up its true meaning.” Thomas S Monson


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8 years ago I had 5 children under the age of nine. The day’s seemed long then, so very long. I homeschooled my two oldest while trying to keep the three littles entertained. Let’s be honest here. I was also trying to keep them from destroying my house, or each other,  while I tried to teach the other two. My husband was starting a new job and we had just moved across states. It was a crazy time. A good crazy, mostly.

In the midst of all this chaos I heard a talk that changed me. Here is an excerpt from my journal

The talk that meant the most to me, that filled me with what I need to do, that gave me hope for joy and peace, was Henry B  Erying’s. It seemed as though God turned on a light bulb when he spoke. It was as if I was being told that if I can more fully do what he suggested I would find joy I never thought possible.

I was reminded of this talk again last week and have listened to it several times since. One deep pondering worthy question has stood with me through the years. It’s a question he asks himself everyday before writing in his journal.

Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?”

He goes on to say,

As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.”

8 years have brought with it trials unforeseen and joy beyond comprehension. And also a deeper understanding of how to heed this counsel.

Gratitude is more than just recognizing the good in your life. It is seeing that even in the difficult and trying times, God is showing you He is ever present. But all too often we forget to even see it. We get bogged down by life and don’t even say thank you to our loving Father for what He is doing. Recognizing He has something mightier in store for you than what we would settle for.

Being the month of gratitude, I thought a little bit differently about this talk then I had 8 years ago.  Back when I had just those 5 cute littles at home, I felt impressed to write down more of what was good in my life. I looked for the positive, knowing I was planning on blogging and I was never disappointed.  I was blessed with a recollection of the joyous times we shared. And my gratitude for motherhood increased.

Today, however, I feel impressed to seek for God in my life. To focus my gratitude towards what He has already given to me. To see more fully how He has been guiding me in the path He has in store for me and my family. To recognize what has been placed before me, even when I have been blind to His mercy and was unwilling to see it.  That I can let go of the fear that holds me back, and I can more fully trust Him and His timing and His sometimes mysterious (to me) ways.

Gratitude is this beautiful thing that does not give you more of what you desire but simply magnifies what is already right before your eyes. What you could not see becomes a huge mountain of hope, joy and peace. The mundane is taken over by contentment. Sorrow is replaced by happiness. Really it’s like magic.

Gratitude is magic.  It changes everything without changing a thing.

Whatever it is you need in your life, more joy, more trust, more patience, ponder how God has already given that to you. Write down the thoughts that come. Find the magic by picking up the magnifying glass of gratitude.

Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life.” Deuteronomy 4:9

Open your eyes and go make today magical. SUSAN

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 As I headed to the airport over a week ago a I came across a giant and slightly scary sand storm. I was already running slightly behind and didn’t have the luxury to pull over like other cars did. I white-knuckled my way through and prayed I would be guided even though my vision was limited. A peace came over me and a calm settled in. For a brief moment I felt as though unseen hands were on my hands assuring me of heavenly protection. I was going to be ok and I would get safely to the airport.

I pulled up to the long-term parking and felt relieved I had arrived sooner than I had expected. That is, until I stepped on the tram. When I announced which terminal I was departing from the driver questioned me. Lucky for me another passenger informed me I was at the wrong airport. Panic set in. Who goes to the wrong airport? Me.

Apparently there are two airports in the same town 45 minutes apart. One is tiny and so I didn’t know it existed. I do now. I quickly ran to my car and punched in the new location while tears began to fill me eyes. How was I going to make it?

I prayed again hoping I would get there on time. Hoping I could somehow defy the odds and make it much quicker than GPS estimated. I don’t know how but God softened my heart and helped me come to a peaceful place. He knew what I was trying to do. If I didn’t make it, He could help me with a plan B. And if plan B didn’t work maybe there was a reason.

There have been times in the past few weeks where I have felt myself come to trust a little more. Understanding that my ways are not God’s ways. In those moments of accepting I have seen His hand more prominently as would again become evident as the I arrived at the airport.

As soon as I got there I found my flight had been delayed by an entire hour. Not only did I now make it on time, I had time to spare. God answered my prayer in a very real and tangible way. One I could not dispute.

I did not need this experience to have faith in God and His great love and awareness for me. But I felt a growing understanding of how He wants to bless His children. How much He is waiting to help us if we will trust not only that He can but that He will. And trust that He has a grander picture then my small perspective can understand.

As we begin this month of gratitude I cannot help but feel thankful for the knowledge that God is ever-present in our lives. This experience was unique for me. Moments like these help to sustain me when I can’t see His hand so clearly.

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All is well

I love music.  I always have.  When I was a little girl and couldn’t fall asleep, I would lie in bed and sing myself to sleep. It’s a little embarrassing to think of my parents hearing me singing in bed, but it made me happy.

As I was studying things to do to reduce stress, I found a list that included listening to music, which I’m sure is helpful, but for me, it is 10 times more helpful to be a part of the music.  Whether singing to the car radio, or playing an instrument. I used to play the piano as a teen, in order to work out my frustrations.

Music really can be therapeutic.  In church I was asked to share some thoughts on my favorite hymn, and although I really don’t have a favorite hymn (I like lots of them for lots of different reasons) I choose to talk about a pioneer song, “Come, Come Ye Saints.”

This song was written specifically about the trials and hardships of the pioneers and early members of the church who sacrificed so much for their religious freedom, but also for the building of and survival of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  When I think of the final anthem of this song “All is well,” the first thing I think is “all was not well.”  They had just been chased from their homes, had property stolen from them.  Many had been physically assaulted, and had suffered sicknesses and injuries.  Many women had already lost their husbands to the violence, and many others died from illnesses and exposure.  The beginning of this journey west, was a dark, scary and difficult time.  But it was also a time of great bravery and hope for a better future.  It was a huge hardship for those who chose to stay with the church, and I believe that this song helped to give them courage to continue.

I have more than a few ancestors who were a part of this pioneer trek west.  Two of them, Gardner and Sarah Snow gave a record of their travels. It reads

In February the Exodus began. Two more grandchildren died. The women walked, rain or shine, until arrival at Winter Quarters. Twenty-two Bishops were called, Gardner being one of them. This was a sad time, for outside of Winter Quarters were 300 graves. One was their daughter-in-law’s, which resulted in Sarah raising two more grandchildren.”

I can’t even imagine having to bury and leave behind so many people, including family members.

I think this song was meant to lift their spirits and help them to have the courage to keep going each and every day.  I think it can do the same for us, in the trials that we face also.

The second verse of this song can be especially meaningful in our world.

It starts

Why should we mourn, or think our lot is hard? ‘Tis not so, all is right”

When I look at the “lot” of these pioneer ancestors, I think they have every reason to say that they have it hard.

I can’t tell you how many times in my own life, I have felt like my load was just too big to carry .  I learned not to ask the question “Why me?”  of the Lord, when my trials become more that I think that I can bear, because I have talked to so many other people who go through trials just as difficult or more so than mine.  If I ever dare to say “why me”, I have to remind myself “why not me?” Why would the Lord have me avoid the trials of earth life that are meant to stretch us, and strengthen us.  Each person on this earth has their own set of difficulties that they have to deal with. The difference in how we come through is how we look at it.  Can we say in the midst of trials, “Why should we mourn, or think our lot is hard?”

The next line in the song,

Why should we think to earn a great reward, if we now shun the fight.”

Sometimes it really is a fight against the evil spirit that wants us to give up, and give in to despair.  But unlike the pioneers, our fight is not physical, our fight is spiritual, mental and emotional.  And sometimes the “great reward” that I want to earn is just to be in a place of peace, for at least a little bit of time, and ultimately to be living with God, in a place of ultimate peace.

The song continues

Gird up your loins”

Meaning, get up and get ready. Choose to stand up and face the challenge that you probably can’t avoid anyway.

Fresh courage take”

Find the courage inside of you to choose to do something – what that something is will be different for each of us, in our own trials, and the most important part is remembering that

Our God will never us forsake.”

Even if we are in a place of sadness, that we can’t feel the spirit anymore, the Spirit is still there.  God will not leave us.  He has a plan for us.  And sometimes we just need to remember that He allowed us to be put into this situation, because He knows us well enough to trust in us to be able to overcome.

And soon we’ll have, this tale to tell.”

When do you tell that tale?  Long after the trial is over, and you can see the lessons that were learned, and the strength that was gained from the trial.  When the trial has past, and you have endured it well, then you can see that the trial may have actually been a blessing.  That is when you can proclaim

All is well, all is well.”

Whatever you might be going through right now, know that God is on your side and He will help you overcome.  Also know that He has put other people in your path to help you. Whether they be friends, family, counselors, doctors, teachers etc., let people in with the understanding that they may just be the angel that was sent to help you when you needed it most.


Ps: we would love to hear any stories you would like to share, on how you have overcome trials. Feel free to leave a comment or send us an email.

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How can being beaten with many stripes and thrown into jail, unjustly, be a blessing?  Would we be willing to suffer such adversity if it meant blessing someone else’s life?

As I read the bible this week, in the New Testament, I recognized something special in the story of Paul, when he and his companion were imprisoned.

Although they hadn’t done anything wrong, and it may have seemed like a tragedy that they were thrown into prison, God had a purpose for them to be there.

They were stripped of their clothes, beaten with many stripes and put into jail, in the inner prison with their feet being placed into stocks.  Then at midnight, they prayed and sang praises to God, loud enough for the other prisoners to hear.

Maybe this is the example for us to reach for… I’m afraid that I would have a hard time “singing praises” in a situation like this. I’m afraid I would be singing the blues.  How hard would it be to not feel abandoned.  Here they were, serving the Lord with all that they had, in bringing Christianity to all the nations, and they run up against a wall.  In the moment, it would be hard to be hopeful of their future as missionaries.  We know that this isn’t the first time (or the last) that righteous people were imprisoned for standing up for what they knew to be true.  And it is easy to think, “Of course they could do it, because they were _______ (heroes, saints, apostles, etc.). We don’t often recognize that they are also human. Suffering hurts no matter who is going through it.  Maybe Paul and Silas saw that there was a greater purpose in their time is this prison.  Maybe they thought of Joseph, the son of Jacob, and the years that he spent in prison, and realizing that something good came out of that experience, they hung unto the hope that God had something planned for them also.  But being faced with the choice to praise God or give in to despair, they chose to have faith.

Shortly after, there was an earthquake in the prison that caused the shackles of the prisoners to come off and the doors to come open.  When the jailer woke up and saw that the doors were open, he assumed that the prisoners had all escaped and was so fearful of what might happen to him because of this, he was prepared to kill himself.  Paul called out to him not to harm himself, because they were all still in the prison.

The trust that he felt, for Paul and Silas, led him to ask about being “saved” and allowed the missionaries to teach their message to this jailer and his entire house.  A bond was formed and a family saved and converted. The results of this trial was exactly the thing that Paul had wanted in the first place.  To teach about Jesus Christ to all who would listen.

I wonder how many trials in my life have the potential to bring me the growth and blessings that I am actually wanting.  But if given a choice I might just say “no thank you” to having to suffer some difficulty in the meantime.  I know that I complain whenever things don’t go the way I would expect them to.  What would happen if I looked at the challenges as a gateway to something better that the Lord has in store?  What if I had enough faith to trust that God knows me, and He knows what would be best for me, and I turned to Him in my time of crisis?  What would happen if I asked “What do you want me to do next Lord?” or “What can I learn from this?” or “How can this trial bless someone else’s life?”

It can be really hard to keep the faith in an insecure world. But that doesn’t make it impossible.  Challenges can bring out strength we didn’t realize that we had. Trials can bring blessings that we didn’t know that we wanted.

Sometimes we just need to reach past the sadness and difficulty with the hope of things to come before we can get to that point.

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This is my favorite scripture of all time, and I may have shared it with you in the past.  I’m constantly turning to it for hope and help.

I suppose I keep coming back to it because I have a lot of weaknesses. Every time I’m faced with problems in life, (and who doesn’t have problems) I am also faced with the reality of some other facet of my life that needs improving.  Sometimes I know exactly what to do, but not always.  And sometimes I think I know what I need to do, but I don’t know why I continue to fail to do it.  It has been common for me to struggle to find answers and strength.

As I have been praying to help in making improvements in my life, it seems like the concept of humility has come up a lot lately in church and in my studies.  Maybe it is a message that the Lord is trying to send to me.

Being humble isn’t a weakness. Being humble is hard. It’s hard to admit when you’ve been wrong.  It’s hard to admit that you don’t know everything on your own.  It’s hard to admit that you need help.

But the truth is that as humans we are weak.  We need help. We need each other. We need our Savior Jesus Christ.

God loves us with an unending love, and He wants all the very best for us.  He especially wants to see us grow, become more than we were before. He delights in the joy we will feel when we get to that point and find that we are better and stronger through Him.  But He won’t interfere with our agency and just give those gifts to us before we are ready, nor will He give them before we are humble enough and faithful enough to ask for them.  When we get ourselves to that point, then we will be ready to receive the greater gifts that will make us more that we knew that we could be.

If we will just work hard to let go of pride, and allow humility to be a part of our lives, we will be able to turn to God, and let Him guide our lives to allow those weak things to be made strong.

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worrying doesn't take away troublesIt has been brought to my attention that I am a worrier.  And I know that I’m not the only one, because I have conversations with my friends and family members, and they worry about the same stuff I worry about.

This got me thinking about the difference between stress and worry.  Some stress is important because it can be a motivation to take action.  Having a deadline can create stress, but it gets me working harder to complete whatever the project is.  And once it is done, I feel a sense of accomplishment and relief at having something done.

But too much stress can have the opposite effect. When I become so concerned with too many things, I feel overwhelmed, and becoming overwhelmed can cause a shut down in the organizational places in my brain.

We know that excessive stress is bad for the body. It weakens the immune system, can cause headaches, sleep problems, stomach irritation, and a bunch of other disorders.  Controlling stress is important, which also can make it hard.  Stress can just seem like a part of life. It comes with all the responsibilities that I can’t really just get rid of.  My family is important, my job is important, my service in church is important.  Controlling that stress seems just too hard.

Worry, however…. seems like something I might be able to control a little more realistically.

Worry is being distraught about things I may not be able to control. I can’t change the past. I can’t control how other people react to me. I can’t control or even predict what will happen in the future. I can’t control these things, but I get to be in charge of how I choose to react to them.

I think it is natural to have some concern over these things, but worry can interfere with the ability to move forward, to make good decisions.

President Gordon B. Hinckley shared these feelings on the funeral program for his wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley

It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us. He will not forsake us. If we will put our trust in Him, if we will pray to Him, if we will live worthy of His blessings, He will hear our prayers.

After reading Pres. Hinckley’s feelings, I think that putting our trust in God is the best way to let go of worry.

Trust that God knows who you are and what you are going through.

Trust that God put you into this situation, and He knows you are strong enough to come through it. And if He knows that we can overcome the trials that are put in our path, we need to have enough faith in God and ourselves to take action, make a plan, get help from the people in our lives who love us.

Ernest Hemingway gave this advice.

Worrying never fixes anything

We can choose to let go of worry by taking action when we can and by letting go of the things we can’t change.  We can put our trust in God, and stay close to him through prayer, pleading to Him for guidance, and asking for His watchful care over people and situations that we can’t control.  If it’s important to us, it will be important to Him.

Choose today to let go of stress and worry. It can be done, with some hard work, a desire to feel better and with TRUST in God and ourselves, through His guidance.

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Our family home evening lesson on prayer went fairly well on Monday. There was a moment of contention, but I think that is to be expected when you have 8 people all trying to sit still for a lesson.

I few things became more clear.

1. My children really do love each other and want to help when they can. After the lesson was over my sweet Joshua asked that we would pray for him for something very specific. The next morning I reminded who was saying that prayer of Joshua’s request. To which the kids responded. “I prayed for him last night and this morning.”  Needless to say he was touched and so was I.

2. Kids want to be guided and given direction. They don’t know how the world is supposed to work and they look to us as their parents for examples and direction. I shared several ideas of how they could make prayer more meaningful, and I could see the wheels turning. One wants to write their prayers on their chalkboard and another wants to use post it notes. As a family we decided to write on a board we have in the living room prayer requests as they come up. And then when they see an answer to a prayer we are going to write it on this mat.

Big or small, I told them they could write whenever they noticed an answer to their prayer.

3. God is so quick to hear us and give us assurance that He is there. Before the lesson I spent a good deal of time pondering on each of my children and what my written prayers for them should look like. Durning that lesson two of my children had experiences I had just prayed for. They might have seemed like little things, but it was comforting to know and to feel of His love not only for me but for my children.

One might well ask why He would concern Himself with something so small. I am led to believe that our Heavenly Father loves us so much that the things that are important to us become important to Him, just because He loves us. How much more would He want to help us with the big things that we ask, which are right (see 3 Nephi 18:20)?

4. God wants to bless us. We simply need to ask. When I ask my husband for a back rub and he willing gives it even though he might be tired, I can feel his love for me. We become more connected, and I in turn want to give back to him when he needs something. I believe noticing our answered prayers can be that way as well. By asking we show our trust that God is aware of us and loves us. We feel connected to Him. When He answers, even when the answer is not what we thought it would be, we feel His love for us. At times the answers come quickly like in my example above. Sometimes the response is a reassurance that He is there and that He hears you. Some prayers take years. And you are given a little here and a little there.

 Little children, young people, and adults alike, please believe how very much your loving Heavenly Father wants to bless you. But because He will not infringe upon our agency, we must ask for His help. This is generally done through prayer. Prayer is one of the most precious gifts of God to man.

As I continue to make prayer a more meaningful part of my life, I cannot help but look back on the times my prayers have been answered and feel a debt of gratitude I know I will never be able to repay. Yet I can pray and ask that His will can more fully become my own.

Quotes are taken from a talk titled Privilege of Prayer. I loved it so very much and highly recommend reading or listening to it.

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Have you ever seen a movie that was so impactful you wanted to tell everyone you know to go see it? Literally every single person?

That’s how I felt walking out of the movie The War Room. On a whim I decided to go see the movie Friday afternoon while the kids were at school. At first it felt a little strange walking into the theater by myself but I felt compelled to go.

My tears began almost immediately. I don’t want to give away too much because, remember, I think EVERYONE should see it, but the movie is all about the power of prayer and how the main characters learn to give their troubles over to the Lord and trust that He is able to do what they are not.

The sweet mentor grandma type shows off her “war room”  or more accurately her prayer room, pictured below.

  It’s her closet where she has taped prayers to the wall, and I began to wonder if a war room would help me to make my prayers more sincere and more intentional.  In fact I went home and cleaned out a section of my closet and have been pondering all weekend on how exactly I want to convert it into my meaningful prayer closet.

Pinterest was full of ideas on how others have made prayer more meaningful.   Prayer journal

 Prayer board

 Prayer pages

Prayer stones

Prayer cans

After reading all of these fantastic ideas I felt something different was in store for my family. Maybe a combination of all of them? I am going to present these ideas to them tonight for our family home evening lesson. And let each person decide what they want to do. I think for my closet I want a place to write my prayers, maybe a white board or even just post it notes. I use the app Evernote to write my scripture journal entries so I may continue to do that for my prayers that are more personal with the sticky notes being simple reminders, like a person’s name. I’m still thinking on it.

I would love to have somewhere displayed in my home a list of answered prayers like in the movie. Something like this

Like the time my daughter asked us to pray that she might find a good friend, and then she saw the power of our united prayer when a new girl came to school. Or when the kids prayed their dad would get unstuck from the quick sand when we were on vacation and shortly after he finally was released. And then there are the prayers we pray for years and finally are given inspiration on what you can do to help the situation along.

The Lord is quick to hear our needs and our wants, but are we quick to recognize his answers? I want to be more aware, and I think I’m on the right track. I’m excited to see what the Lord helps me to figure out.

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I wonder if I’m a naturally selfish person. All I know is my heart and my desires, and I feel too often I forget to look outside myself. I guess that is the natural man I fight with and strive to overcome.
Last week I was feeling sorry for myself. My reasoning is weak and yet the fact that we don’t own our own home caused me to feel pretty down. I somehow had looked past the beautiful home we do live in. The amazing children I’m blessed to raise. The husband who adores me and would give me the world if he could. And most importantly the grace of God that makes it possible for me to be imperfect and still be made whole through the atonement of my Savior Jesus Christ.

I had tunnel vision and could only see what I didn’t have. And in that moment I really felt like I had a huge burden on my shoulders. I can see clearly now how selfish I was being.

I’d love to say I came out of it on my own, but the Lord stepped in to show me a better way.

I decided to clean out my pantry and get rid of all the food we no longer eat (we have given up most sugar and gluten). I made piles of food and wondered what to do with them. I text a friend asking if she had any ideas of what I could do with it and she responded instantly.

Within the hour she came by and began to tell me of a mutual friend who was going through a rather difficult financial time. With several kids at home and an empty cupboard. My leftover food would be more appreciated than I could have known. I helped bring the boxes to her car and expressed my gratitude for her willingness to take it to her.

After she left I was filled with humility and my selfish heart was softened and I began to turn outward. I could see more clearly how truly blessed we are. I remembered a time when food was scarce and I prayed for money so we wouldn’t have to eat beans and rice again. Then a gift card appeared at my doorstep for a local grocery store. I’m still touched by the love God showed me through someone else.

How quickly our answered prayers become a thing of the past as we ask for more and more, forgetting how blessed we already are.

I’m working on letting go of my selfish nature and looking for ways to give more freely that I may be God’s hands in answering another’s prayers. I’m working to,

Lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better.”