Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Hello everyone. So much has happened the last few months and it has left me in deep gratitude for LIFE. For this messy, trying, full experience of joy and sorrow that we know as life.

Voila updates on everyone in our family, and everything happening to us!

We are still in our tiny town in South Carolina. The summer has been gorgeous here and 4 out of 7 days we are swimming. Usually in the lake, sometimes the pool, occasionally in a waterfall or river. South Carolina is full of waterfalls!

Kate has always loved swimming, but had her reservations about going underwater. She used to scream in the tub when it was time to wash her hair, making us PROMISE no water would touch her eyes. That same girl (now almost 4 years old!) is now jumping off the sides of the pool and loving it. She has conquered her fear and is now determined to make up for lost time. She will do it a hundred times a day. Something that warms my heart is that she does it alone, for herself. Not with friends or to impress Zach and I. For anyone who knows a toddler, the words "watch this!" ring in your ears long after bedtime. All day long, everyday acts need to be observed to be validated. Kate is usually like this, but this fear of going underwater she has conquered makes her uncharacteristically content with being alone. She doesn't need me to watch her accomplish everything. That is a beautiful thing for a mother, to watch a child develop inner confidence. She will need it in this world she is growing up in.

Jack is a fish. He is definitely a kid who has grown up on water. He's 18 months old now and has no fear swimming with his puddle-jumper as far as I will let him out into the lake. Jumps off the sides of the pool and loves it. He's an interesting mix of courage and fear. He won't walk off a sidewalk curb without my hand, but he will walk straight into the lake with no life jacket and somehow not register he can't breathe underwater. And yes that freaks me out. We have really fallen in love with our lake life. The lifestyle is slower and quieter than Atlanta, providing a lot of reflection time. Its fun living in the woods, with nothing but green when you look out the windows. I've never lived where I didn't see the side of someone else's house out the window, so this privacy is pretty awesome. I keep explaining to the kids this isn't normal life, but enjoy it to the fullest. It will be a hard transition for them when we move back to a city and they can't run out into the big yard or the lake on a whim. We have all really fallen in love with South Carolina. We have found wonderful friends and been able to host so many here. Fred gets home from his mission next summer and will move back, and we have no idea where we will be after that. It is a big exciting scary question mark on 2016.

Zach's plans are in the midst of change. He had planned on taking the *blasted* GMAT mid August and then applying to graduate schools for next fall. His sights are set high and after some practice test scores I would have been thrilled with, he decided to postpone his test date for January. So now- we really don't know when we will be using that test or exactly what for. He will continue working as an investment banker and we will see where our hearts pull us to next.

Alright, the health update. So while I was visiting my parents in Colorado in May, I found a lump on my throat. Like half a golf ball poking out. After the lovely parade of tests and waiting and tests and waiting that many of you can commiserate with, we saw it looked like thyroid cancer. So- thyroid cancer is actually the most treatable cancer and the least scary. However, the word cancer ignites a strange journey in one's mind. Everyone reacts differently, even within a couple. The mind has hidden corners of fear and uncertainty I had previously left to gather cobwebs, assuming I would never have to visit them. Those weeks between the *possible* diagnosis and the surgery to remove it, I spent some time in those corners. Prayer, fasting, not much sleep, a priesthood blessing, and a lot of support from friends and family allowed me to access the atonement for something I'd never understood it could heal. Fear. It had never occurred to me that the Savior perfectly understands FEAR. I knew he understood pain, and forgiveness, and loneliness. From these weeks, I felt his perfect understanding of my fear. Anyway, the surgery went really well and I now only have a small inch-long scar to show for it. I found this great doctor who is an ENT surgeon AND plastic surgeon. That is a combo as magical as milk and cookies. They removed the right half of my thyroid which turned out to have two golf ball-y tumors and the pathology tests came back negative. So it was either a lot of fuss about two benign tumors or a testimony that fasting and prayer are powerful and can alter some outcomes in life. God is good. I know sometimes he doesn't spare us long and painful health challenges, and I'm sure this will not be our last experience like this, but going through this made me grateful for things we all take for granted. Singing and talking is one of those things. The surgery involved careful procedures around my vocal chords. There was a chance they would be injured because they're kinda stuck to the thyroid. I sing Kate and Jack to sleep every night, so that was no fun to hear. I thought in the days prior to surgery what our lives would be like if I was silent. That wouldn't be all bad :P but I would really miss singing to them. I recorded their lullabies just in case, and had to use them those first few weeks waiting to see if my voice was okay. It was pretty emotional for me when I got to sing Kate to sleep a few weeks later. My voice has come in handy again for my Mom.

My mom came out and took very good care of the kids and I while I recovered. 10 days after she left our house, she was in a near fatal ATV accident. She was racing her brother on a gravel parking lot and hit a bump. She flew and the ATV flipped onto her. She was life flighted and lived. She has a severe concussion and her body is obviously a mess. She survived after slipping away a few times. This was three weeks ago. She has no recollection of the accident (mercifully). In the first few days at the hospital, she was in a deep fog of pain and confusion, as she kept waking up not knowing why she was in the hospital. I was able to sing to her over the phone. For some reason, that really symbolized mercy to me. Mercy for me, mercy for her. Stuff that we couldn't control (a voice, an accident, healing) and God was just giving us. Her life, my life.

All of this has taught me some things about God, and about life.

God wants a relationship with us. A real one, not a distant silent on-one-end one. Every parent wants a relationship with their child. God knows not all of his kids are going to do what he says all the time. He still wants a really strong relationship. He really loves us a lot.

God doesn't make bad investments. Think about what he has invested in you.

I learned that as humans we seek validation (aka "understanding"). I don't know if men need that as much, but women seem. Our lesson is to get it from the right source. Asking our friends and family, even our spouse, to validate all our feelings is exhausting for them and silly for us. Only God can really fulfill that need. That's what that need was built for, to turn us to him.

Live life like you were dying. (Thank you Tim McGraw!) You will see more in your ordinary life, be more grateful for ordinary moments with family and friends, and do more stuff you've been holding back from. Like jumping off a 20ft rock (Janessa!!!!)

There are quite a few more lessons, but children are waking and it's time to start the day. Here's the final lesson to splurt out before they need breakfast.

We will all die. We can't change that, even if we fiercely cling to our life or someone else's. We can't pray that away. It's just not our call to make. This life is only one piece of a really beautiful plan. If we could see what lay beyond death, it would make the trials and hard decisions of this life (even swallowing pride) a joy to live and make, instead of a devastating basket of burdens. But mortals don't often see it. We have to go on faith, for the most part. You know how when you're "seeing" how God sees, it's usually NOT with your eyes? Well I think those feelings of peace and powerful stillness are us "seeing" beyond, into the eternal thing we are all a part of. Go look up at the stars. Let your mind wander up there.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Jack's better late than never birthday post!

Yeah this was written January 8th, on Jack birthday, but I was traveling and never got around to posting it until now. We were out in Colorado and Utah for a month and it was so awesome! Then we came home and got a stomach bug and that was NOT awesome. But we are all better now. So I wanted to share Jack's birthday story before I chicken out another year. 

January 8 2014

This morning I woke up with my heart beating loud and warm. I focused on it for a minute. We take that beat for granted until something crazy happens that might stop that beautiful sound. 

As soon as my groggy mind heard Jack chirping his good morning babble from the crib next to the bed I remembered it was his first birthday! Which made me remember a year ago today! OH what a day. The little stinker came so fast Zach had to deliver him by our front door.  Jack's entrance to our world was not ideal, totally miraculous, and quite humbling. Every birthday of his I'll think of the people that made his birthday what it was. I am grateful to God who, knowing the crazy circumstances that were about to take place a year ago this early morning, had angels ready to move at his signal. I'm grateful to Zach for being supaman. He's so brave and real good at listening to the Spirit, which totally saved my life. I'm grateful to my cousin Alexa for being the calm in the storm. I'm so grateful to the hundreds of family and friends who supported us and prayed for us with their faith and love. 

I didn't publicize Jack's birth story last year because it was too private and traumatic. I kept trying to write it over the last year but couldn't finish it and give it the honor it deserves. I still can't! Ha! So I'm just going to share it anyway. It is abridged. I know a lot of people have hard stuff going on, and people need to hear about modern day miracles so they can believe in some of their own. I did not have any doubt prior to this event that God was real and loved me. However, having this happen did teach me other things about him that I admittedly did doubt. I have a hard time believing just how aware he is of every minute of my existence. Or that he can love me when I'm not feeling very loveable. At 5 in the morning a year ago, I was about to learn that God is my Dad and he will pull every string between here and heaven to do for his daughter what he can- while still allowing me to learn valuable hard lessons. His love is so powerful, and it is unconditional. 

Two weeks prior to Jack's birth, Zach and I had excitedly called my cousin and his wife, who lived in our apartment complex, asking them to come watch Kate while we went to the hospital.  This was a glorious false alarm. Meh. We had thought to be done with a hard pregnancy and fall in love with a new baby son. After being at the hospital for a few hours, they sent me home telling me they'd surely see me the next day. Super anticlimatic. We scuffled home kinda pouting and began the waiting game that drives every expecting couple mad! January 8th at 5am I woke up with a kick butt contraction and for an hour was relieved when they came exactly 15 minutes apart. Let's get her done! Zach woke up around 6:00 hearing me walking around and I told him the news. I told him I'd come wake him up when the contractions were 3-5 minutes apart so we could go to the hospital which was about 20 minutes away. We expected a long labor. As he left the room- Jack decided to push fast forward. Little stinker. Sparing all details, an hour later as we frantically hobbled down to our car to leave, my water broke in the parking lot and out started coming little Jack. My husband is Herculean, as anyone who has seen him knows, and at that moment he turned into superman+hurculeas+dr quinn medecine *wo*man. He scooped me up, booked it up our three flights of stairs with my poor cousin's wife trying to keep up behind him, hospital bag in tow. I may or may not have been screaming at him because it didn't feel very good to be bounced up stairs with a baby coming out. So our neighbors thought he was beating me to death and helpfully called 911! Yay! We made it back in the apartment, he laid me down by the front door and he became a doctor. Alexa became a midwife. In moments like this- you do not know how strong you are. You do not know that you have a mental limit, and you are going to be taken far past that mental limit to your true potential as an incredible human being. We are all SO much stronger emotionally, physically, spiritually than we imagine. A neighbor, hearing my panic, burst through the door and announced she was a nurse, though not an OB nurse, and also called 911. Jack was very quickly born after that and was a beautiful healthy baby boy, to our great relief. Firemen and two ambulances showed up what seemed like minutes later and took me away. I hadn't even seen more than the back of Jack's head yet and it broke my heart. I hadn't gotten to see his little face! And MAN by how I felt I kind of wondered if I was going to die before getting to see him. Deep down I knew I wouldn't but Zach's face, the lack of eye contact by all the emergency responders, and them whisking me away in an ambulance alone, leaving Zach and Jack behind, made me wonder if this was how one dies. Which is why I am also so incredibly grateful for some nurse at Kennestone Hospital named Jennifer! My ambulance that morning hit Atlanta traffic so when I got to the hospital Zach and Jack had beaten me there. Immediately they began trying to asses damage and my body was in shock and convulsing. I asked my nurse Jennifer where Jack was and if he was okay. She then realized I hadn't seen him or held him yet and stopped everything to make that happen. That was a huge deal. I was then whisked away to surgery with that memory to cling to. She was such an angel. *Might I add that my friend's Aunt- an OB nurse- happened to be on call and then alerted my friend I was there, and magically some chocolate croissants showed up! Best near death comfort food EVER!! :)

When all was said and done, the surgeon, whom I am also indebted to, said I was 2mm from tearing a major artery that would have bled me out in about a minute. That cannot be chance considering the extensive mess it was down there. This experience had a lot of tender mercies. Thank goodness Zach hauled me upstairs- it was 18 degrees outside! That would not have been so good. Thank goodness Alexa was there to be a midwife and take care of Kate (who mercifully slept through the whole thing!). The two greatest blessings were Jackson, healthy and strong- and second- Zach and I's marriage totally buffed up. We almost lost each other. That is a game changer. The little annoying things you spend most of your energy fighting over are total fluff. What matters is that you have each other to love. That experience unified us more than anything had up to that point. I think in part because you see the best in each other during super hard experiences. My husband is amazing. He had *not* coincidentally been prompted to watch a 1972 Highway patrol training video about how to deliver a baby...just in case. I made fun of him for it, telling him he was psyching himself out. He saved the day. His knowledge saved my life and Jack's. Had we not had this experience, I may have wasted a lot of days bugged about how he makes the bed or loads the dishwasher instead of looking at his strength of character, his powerful protective heart, his humility and courage. 

This entire experience made me understand that your perspective determines EVERYTHING. Everything. The way you train your mind to see your life determines how you treat yourself, other people, what you choose to do with your time, how you solve problems, how you become who you want to be, really the list goes on forever. Zach and I could choose to look at this as a nightmare or a miracle, and it has helped us heal so much finding that rose among the thorns. 

I remember the first two nights (and days...) in the hospital neither one of us could close our eyes without flashbacks so we blasted some cello music and just reflected on the miracle of being together with our kids. I'm so glad Zach thought of that. 

It's so important to look for the miracles during the trauma of our lives. When I was given a priesthood blessing after the event, I was strongly encouraged to look at the positive and not the negative of it all. It was the scariest day of my life, so that was a challenge. As I reflected in detail on the way things played out, the hand of God was there all along. As the year has gone by and pieces of that day flash before my eyes, seeing it as a miraculous event is a continual choice. By my choice of words when I tell others about it, it can be the most horrific experience or the most beautiful, laced with proof of angels and miracles. My version of the story, which I carve with my perspective on it, can royally freak people out or can inspire faith. I think what really happened is nature did something crazy to me, but God only allowed those natural laws to the limit He knew would convince me of my strength and to solidify our marriage and our gratitude for life. 

And PS- HE WAS SO INCREDIBLY WORTH IT. Even if I hadn't made it- if 2mm more had happened- I would still do it again. That is what is unexplainable about a mother's love. I now understand a sliver of the Savior's love. The thing is- I risked my life for someone I love and was rolling with the punches, not really knowing how far that love was going to take me into the pain and suffering zone. It's amazing that Jesus did that for a bunch of people that really didn't love him, with the power to stop it, and he chose to go through with it. The Savior is a really amazing person. 

We are traveling as I write this so I don't  have a ton of pictures of Jack's first year of life, but I can tell you Jackson is an amazing individual. So far I can tell he is really happy, super tenderhearted, very in awe of Kate, and likes to tease. (He is a Zirkle so that was to be expected!) He can crawl, he can stand, and he can almost walk- but he's kind of a chicken. He will only walk if he's holding your finger for emotional support. He's in 18 month clothes. He was really small for like 9 months, but he just had a couple growth spurts and is like huge now. He's 22lbs (25% for weight) and 31 inches (90% for height.) He can say "up" "mama" "dog" and either "hot" or "hide", we can't tell which. 

Happy Birthday Jack! We love you man.