Monday, June 22, 2009

To my future husband and the father of my children.

Okay, so I've posted a lot lately... but I've been thinking a lot lately and I have a lot of things to say lately. 

Today is Father's Day and I am, of course, grateful for my Dad and for my Papa and Grandpa and all of the other incredible men in my life who are father-like figures. But, there's been another man on my mind today as well.

Last semester, I visited residents at a nearby retirement home on a weekly basis. I spoke with them in their rooms, played games with them in the activities room, and attended many social functions in the main hall. I feel terrible because I can't remember most of their names and I doubt any of them remember mine... but there was one man in particular that I loved to visit whose wisdom hasn't faded from my mind. He had been widowed for a few years, but he loved his wife nonetheless. Together they had ten children and I spent many an afternoon sitting at his feet listening to the stories of their lives. One day he told me a story that particularly touched my heart. He said that when he first started dating his sweetheart and began to realize he was falling in love with her, he wanted to come up with a nice nickname to call her. He knew that he wanted to marry her and that she was the woman he had dreamed would be the mother to his children. He decided that he would call her "mother" from that day forward... and he did. Before they were married and before they had children, he called her "mother." He wanted her to know how much it meant to him to be a parent, to raise children, and he thought she deserved that special title more than anyone else.

I remember when the aging man told me this little story. It made me think a lot about life, about the roles parents play, about love and what it really means, about growing old with someone, about losing people close to you, about understanding what matters most, and about learning from the past. Everytime I spoke with him, he made me think.

He loved his wife in an extraordinary way. I could see it in his eyes and I had never even met her. It's the type of love that is rare and incredibly beautiful, mature with age and experience. It's the type of love that every person dreams of finding. I could have just sat in his room and watched him and learned something. I will never forget his kindness, his wisdom, and his patience.

One of the most memorable things he taught me was that you don't become a parent the day you have a child... you become a parent the day you are born. From the earliest days of your life on, you make decisions. Every decision you make is one that builds your character. Every choice you make is one that shapes you into the person you are to become. Each step you take will be one your child may ask about. What do you want your choices to say about who you were? Before your children are even born, you are setting an example. Who do you want them to follow?

It has taken me a while to get to the point of this blog post... but the point is... I am incredibly grateful for the man my children will call Dad.

Thank you for living a life that our children can pattern. Thank you for being a good friend, for knowing how to have good fun, for avoiding the influence of drugs and alcohol, for loving your mom, for learning the stories in the scriptures, for serving a mission and returning with honor, for remaining worthy to enter the House of the Lord, for being slow to judge and quick to forgive, for looking for the best in others, for maintaining relationships, for being sincere and genuine, for being remarkably faithful, for working hard even when you don't want to, for the choices you've made that have turned you into the man you are.

JD... I have no idea what I did to deserve you, but I want you and all the world to know, that I love you and that I cannot wait to be your wife, your companion, and your very closest friend for the rest of time. On Father's Day and always, I thank our Father in Heaven for you and all that you are. I miss you, I love you, and I can't wait to see your precious face.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

To my dad.

Thank you for teaching me the importance of hard work and diligence, for pretending that I don't ever have to worry about how much things cost, for singing songs to our family, for being worthy of the priesthood you hold, for always paying an honest tithe, for helping me to learn the stories of the scriptures, for encouraging me to always try my best, for wanting to talk to me on the phone when I'm stressed out or bored, for backing me financially, for showing me how to love people, for being an example of leadership, for taking me to church every Sunday, for giving great hugs, for loving the outdoors, for helping me to understand the importance of history, for telling stories from the Alamo that teach me valuable life lessons, for being emotional when it matters, for loving children, for always being respectful to neighbors and friends, for seeing people as they are on the inside, for knowing the right words to say, and for loving mom.
I couldn't ask for more from a father or a friend.
You mean the world to me and I hope you know it. I love you. Happy Father's Day.

People just like us.

I had such an interesting week last week. I had two campers and both had autism in varying degrees. One of my campers was 10 years old and almost completely non-verbal. On the first day of camp, he exploded while we were doing arts and crafts. He started yelling and screaming and I had to hold him down on a bean bag. He pinched and elbowed me and I had to keep him from hurting other campers. He hit another camper 3 or 4 times on the back and was sent home. I have bruise marks on my arms from where he pinched me. Despite the fact that he tried to attack me, I was so sad to see him go. He was such an angel when he wasn't going crazy. At first I didn't understand why he would do that... but then I realized how frustrating it must be to not be able to communicate what you're feeling. I think he was trying to tell me something and I was not getting it. I couldn't help but love him. Camp decided to let him have a second chance and he came back on Tuesday. He was much more cooperative the rest of the week. Whenever he seemed frustrated or on the verge of a breakdown, I asked him for "hugs." He would throw his arms around me and look up and smile. It totally melted my heart. One thing that I've thought a lot about since I have been here is how the parents of these people must feel. The week I spend with them is trying and difficult, but they leave after five days. Their parents have to care for them everyday of their lives after that. How tiring! I think the love they have is something I will never fully understand unless I have a child with a disability. I have realized how important it is that we really do use 'people first' terminology. I really think that is one lesson I have learned through actually spending time with these people. Despite their physical and mental limitations, they are people...people with families who love them unconditionally and miss them when they are away... people who have feelings...people just like us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

In Ten Days

It is incredible what 10 days' time can teach you when you spend it entirely with someone who has a disability. I have learned more in the past two weeks than I ever thought I would.

When I signed up to work this summer at Camp Kostopulus, I really had no idea what I was getting in to.
I didn't know that I would literally be so drained both physically and emotionally that I wanted to give up. I didn't know I would be in charge of setting up equipment at night for someone whose life depended on it. I didn't know I would be solely responsible for the personal care and attention of another human being. I didn't know my back would ache from the physical labor of transfering a 24-year old man from his chair to his bed to the toilet and back again every day for 5 days. I didn't know my patience would be tried by an 18-year old boy whose appetite is uncontrollable and whose mind's only focus is the attainment of food. I didn't know I would stay up to the wee hours of the night stroking a 35-year old woman's hair until she fell back to sleep and calming an aging woman whose nightmares overwhelmed her. I didn't know I would laugh so hard on a bathroom floor with a girl whose body is crippled by cerebral palsy and who found it humorous that I really had no idea what I was doing as I tried to shift and move her body in order to change her diaper. I didn't know I would be so frightened by a camper who sweat through his clothes in the nightand looked like he was speaking parseltongue. I didn't know the triumph I would see in a young girl's eyes as she mastered a challenging element on the high ropes course or worked up the courage to ride on the back of a horse. I had no idea that my heart would become so intertwined in the lives of so many people who I will probably never see again. I had no idea I would be so completely and utterly happy.

In ten days, I have learned... to love my body and celebrate the ability I have to move and walk and dance, to never take for granted the blessing it is to shower yourself and brush your own teeth and wipe your own bum, to recognize the miracle it is to leap and run and get up when you want to, to remember the importance of loving others for who they are on the inside, to share, to play, to pay attention to little every day miracles. When you break down all the complications of a developed mind and learn to think on the most basic level, there are a million reasons in life to smile.