Be a Dena!

img_0058-2There are few people who can say they have an aunt who also doubles as a best friend. I’m one of the lucky few. Maybe it’s because she’s only three years older than me that Dena feels more like a friend than an aunt. Or maybe it’s just because she’s the best person ever. It’s her birthday this month and here I am pondering the many, many reasons she is worth celebrating.

For starters, let me say this:  Dena has eyes to see heavenly things. She has this amazing ability to see people as God sees them. I should probably mention here that by the world’s standards, Dena is very successful. She is well-educated, well-traveled, and beautiful. And yet…..those things don’t really matter to Dena. When she looks at a person, she sees a child of God whose divine identity has nothing to do with their high school GPA, their level of athleticism, their personal resume, or their number of followers on Instagram. She sees the things that truly matter. Just as “the Lord looketh on the heart,” so does Dena. I have felt God’s love through Dena many times. When my own mind becomes too polluted by social media and what the world deems praiseworthy, I try to remember to BE A DENA!

I think one reason Dena has been blessed with such perspective is because she is fiercely devoted to God. Her faith is relentless! We’ve had many sleepovers throughout my life, and regardless of how late we stay up talking or watching a movie, Dena always, always, always says her prayers. The length of Dena’s prayers would both shock and inspire you. I used to wonder how she had so much to say to Heavenly Father. I’ve come to realize that her prayers mostly consist of pleas for her loved ones and their well-being—because that’s just who Dena is. I don’t think she has skipped a nightly, KNEELING prayer in 20+ years (probably more). Every time I plop down in bed and make excuses that I’m just too exhausted to kneel down and pray, I remind myself to BE A DENA!

Just as she has cultivated this amazing relationship with Heavenly Father, Dena also knows the Savior. Like, really truly knows Him. And how could she not? Dena has spent her life following Him. I have this vivid memory of Dena pulling out her foot spa and washing all of her nieces’ and nephews’ feet when we had a big family party at my Grandma’s. I had notoriously smelly feet as a kid (I blame these black leather flats I wore way too often), and I’m sure my cousins’ feet were pretty disgusting too. Yet there she was, quite literally doing what Jesus did for His disciples. When I’m tempted to pass up an opportunity to serve someone, I think to myself, BE A DENA!

Another Christlike quality of Dena’s is her patience. Seven years ago, she took me on my dream trip to England. It was my first time leaving the country and I was totally clueless. Dena patiently endured my lack of traveling know-how and my hangry moments. She took the time to explain things to me and never once made me feel like an idiot (even though I was). I know that’s how the Savior must have been. When I get frustrated with a certain little person who asks me the same questions over and over again and has full-blown meltdowns when he’s tired or hungry, I tell myself to BE A DENA!

There’s this quote I love:

Beautiful People Quote

I think this quote perfectly describes Dena, and here is just one reason why…

Four and a half years ago, Dena’s father (my grandpa) was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. We were all heartbroken by the news, but as my grandpa’s youngest daughter who was living with him at the time, I sometimes wonder if Dena (and of course my Grandma) felt the sting of his diagnosis most poignantly. That cancer took my grandpa’s life within months, and though her world was shattered, Dena never lost her faith. She handled this tragedy with grace and trust. I’ll never forget how hard it was to watch Dena suffer through my grandpa’s last week on earth, but I’ll also never forget how a grief-stricken daughter stood at a pulpit at his funeral service and, without notes, delivered a beautiful sermon about my grandpa’s goodness. Despite her sorrow, Dena focused on JOY. When my own challenges and trials make me question God’s interference in my life, I strive to BE A DENA!

What else? She has the most beautiful green eyes (in fact, I’ve been with her in public when strangers have approached her and told her so). She is funny, light-hearted, completely without guile, an advocate for the underdog, a movie junkie (she is like a human IMDB.com), a phenomenal pianist, compassionate, and humble.

The list goes on. If you are trying to secure a spot in the Celestial Kingdom, just BE A DENA!

Happy Birthday to a rockstar aunt, a loyal daughter, a supportive sister, and a devoted friend!

I’ll end with Elder Marvin J. Ashton’s words:

“Yes, a friend is a person who is willing to take me the way I am but who is willing and able to leave me better than he found me.”

I’m convinced there isn’t a man good enough for Dena, but if you happen to know an exceptional human being who is also at least 5 foot 9 (I’m only kind of joking), email/call/text me and let’s get these two marvelous people together!

A Valentine’s Day Tribute to my Leggings (and my husband)

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I hate wearing jeans. They are leg prison. They are an unnecessary form of oppression. They are stupid.

So I mostly wear leggings. Years ago, my grandma got me the world’s most comfortable leggings ever from White House Black Market. There is not a softer legging in existence, I’m sure of it. I sported those black leggings so much that I wore holes into the knees, and inevitably those once-tiny holes stretched to frisbee-sized ones. Even though they are now unacceptable to wear in public, I still wear them around the house. I’m just not ready to retire those babies.

Months and months ago I voiced my utter sadness over the dwindling leggings. My husband heard and he obviously took note…

Because today for Valentine’s Day Brad surprised me with a package from…you guessed it…White House Black Market.  

A NEW PAIR OF THE WORLD’S MOST COMFORTABLE LEGGINGS!

It’s truly one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. Every time I comfortably lounge in those perfectly crafted leggings, I will thank the heavens for a thoughtful husband who, gesture upon gesture, day after day, has demonstrated his love for me in the purest yet simplest of ways.  

This post isn’t really about leggings; it’s about love. I love you, Brad. I’m one lucky jeans-shunner.

And to my new black leggings:  I promise to love you until you are stretched so thin you barely conceal my booty. 

Dear Harriet Beecher Stowe, Can I Have Your Autograph?

8A1A5E39-D03D-4320-BBC8-5C24AB762C50If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be?

I want to retroactively fill out every first-day-of-school-getting-to-know-you survey so that I can replace my cliche answer of George Washington (no disrespect, George) with my new historical heroine: Harriet Beecher Stowe.

You guys, this woman. Harriet Beecher Stowe authored the revolutionary novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I’ve loved this story and its characters (besides Simon Legree of course) since I first read it in 8th grade. I appreciated it even more when I read it again in college. Only recently, though, have I studied the life of Mrs. Stowe.

I’ll spare you a Civil War history lesson, but let me say this: Stowe was fierce! When Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, Stowe’s abolitionist heart responded. As a Northerner who despised the institution of slavery, she knew she had to do something. She conveyed the plight of slaves in Uncle Tom’s Cabin in such a way that Northerners acted and Southerners raged. She braved the criticism of an entire region to fight for what she knew was right.

Although the causes of the Civil War are complex, Stowe certainly highlighted the injustices of slavery in an emotionally stirring way.

Shortly after the Civil War began, Stowe met with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C. It’s rumored that President Lincoln said to her, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Now whether or not he said this is up for debate. Some historical critics claim this is merely family legend, but I’d like to think Honest Abe uttered those exact words.

One of the things I find most remarkable about Harriet Beecher Stowe is the fact that she wrote this lengthy, complex narrative after her SEVEN children went to sleep each night.

This was the 1800s, people! This was before instant pots and washing machines. I can’t even fathom how much a full day of housework exhausted Mrs. Stowe. In my mind’s eye I see this little lady beating out rugs, hand-washing mountains of laundry, plucking the feathers from a chicken and then cooking it, mending and sewing clothing, lovingly rearing her children, kissing them each goodnight, and then sitting down to write a book that reached millions and fueled the flames of social justice.

And then there’s me. I enjoy so many modern conveniences, and when I get my son to sleep I . . . . . Netflix.

I will never measure up to the caliber of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, but she proves that seemingly ordinary women (and men) can change the world. President Nelson once said, “We need women who know how to make important things happen.”

I revere Stowe for her courage, principles, wisdom, her unyielding passion, grit, and vision.

Inscribed above her place of rest reads, “Her Children Rise up and Call Her Blessed.” And so do I.

Ode to a Crossing Guard

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There is a very “famous” person who lives in a small town of just over 4,000 people. Her name is Terri and she is a crossing guard.

Terri blesses the lives of hundreds of people each and every day. Not only does she usher elementary-aged kids safely across the street, she also makes a point to wave to and smile at every single person who drives past. She does not let a single car pass without greeting its occupants. No matter how late you are to work, how much orange juice you just spilled in your lap, or how crappy your morning already seems to be going, Terri can transform your day. She has convinced me that a contagious smile is a spiritual gift and that an enthusiastic wave has healing power.

My youngest sister, Sophie, knows Terri on a much more personal level. Terri helps her cross the street, addresses her by name, and asks her about her day at school on her way home. This she does for all the students who pass by her. Terri is like the community aunt, and anyone who knows her loves her.

She has taught me that service can be simultaneously simple AND meaningful, and that just gives me a whole lot of hope. Sometimes I stress because all too often I fail to transform good intentions into action, and I know I will never have the drive to start a charitable organization. Terri is living, waving, smiling proof that simple acts of kindness can mean the world.   

President Uchtdorf said,

“God knows that some of the greatest souls who have ever lived are those who will never appear in the chronicles of history. They are the blessed, humble souls who emulate the Savior’s example and spend the days of their lives doing good.”

Relatively speaking, few people know of Terri, but this cheerful crossing guard has made her way into my personal history. She’s not concerned about impressing people. She does not worry about how many compliments her wardrobe will merit, or how many likes an Instagram post acquires. In fact, I highly doubt she’s ever heard of Instagram (she’s so refreshing). She understands that real joy—the kind that cannot be replicated—comes from making others happy. She helps these young students feel valued and important, and assures every passerby that they are indeed noticed. In a world of self-indulgence and the compulsion to look inward, Terri chooses to look outward. Always. By existing for others, she claims a joy that others rarely find. I hope to someday break free from the chains of selfishness that too often hold me back, because to be more like Terri is to be more like the Savior.

Alas, I am no poet or lyricist, but below is my feeble attempt at an ode to the world’s greatest crossing guard:

Terri, dear Terri,

You make all so merry,

With a wave and a smile,

You make each feel worthwhile.

Terri, dear Terri,

Our hearts you do carry,

You uplift and you brighten,

Our burdens you lighten.

President David O. McKay’s words do Terri far more justice:  “The noblest aim in life is to strive to make others happy.”

That, Terri does—neon vest and all.