Sunday, August 27, 2023

That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love…

One of my favourite scriptures is Alma 36:20, where Alma remarks how his “soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was his pain!” This is not the point of the scripture, necessarily, but I love the acknowledgement of two very different (and rather extreme) emotions. I’m not sure that Alma experienced his emotions simultaneously, but it’s possible to hold multiple emotions at once (which was the entire point of the movie Inside Out, so if you need to research this further, that’s a good place to start (and by “research” I mean “watch a Disney movie,” which in this case is, perhaps, synonymous)). 

It’s no secret that we’ve spent a lot of time visiting family this summer. Those visits have been wonderful and joyful…and have also included a fair bit of turmoil. 

So that’s been…nice.

And so today I’ll tell you about Amy, who was once a rather unsettling void in our family, but who now is a vibrant and much-needed puzzle piece. Here’s a picture of me awkwardly pretending I belong in the “cousins picture” the cousins wanted to grab at Deklan’s wedding because, well, first of all we took a picture of Amy, Piper, and Deklan. And Amy said, “I’m so glad we got a picture of all the cousins together before I left!”

And I was like, “Me, too! Oh, wait! My kids are your cousins, too!”

And Amy, who has a 12-year-old, a 4-year-old, and a 3-year-old, gasped and said, “Oh, my goodness! You’re right! I was thinking about your kids like nieces and nephews because they’re my kids’ ages! But we’re cousins!”

And Deklan, whose new little daughter is 8 (just a month or so younger than Zoë), was like, “Huh. I keep forgetting that, too.”

It’s…like…weird…but just the way that things are.

Amy is about 9 months older than my little sister Josie. She was born when my sister Kelli was 16 and was given up for adoption to a wonderful couple in Calgary (though my family was living in British Columbia when she was born, I think perhaps my sister went to Alberta to give birth…I can’t remember all the circumstances because I was young). I think that adoption can bless or help people, but I also think that it causes some…trifficulties (that’s when something is tricky and difficult at the same time, according to Bingo Heeler from Bluey). 

For 18 years, Amy was a trifficult part of our family, a “we don’t talk about Bruno” part of the family.

(Apparently I’m full of cartoon analogies today).

Before I get too far into my ramblings, the picture:

I am holding Phoebe, Amy (Kelli’s daughter) is next to me, Piper (Abra’s daughter) is in red, Deklan (the groom, and Abra’s son) is on the right. Zoë and Miriam are in front.

I’m just there because I wanted Phoebe to be in the picture and Phoebe didn’t want to be in the picture without me (but also, I suppose, because I love all the people in this picture).

Anyway, Amy wasn’t ever factored into our family…at least not verbally…at least not often. When we listed grandchildren, Rosie was listed as the oldest because…we didn’t talk about Amy. 

And then one day my mom got a message from Amy’s adoptive mother, asking if we’d be open (and specifically if Kelli would be open) to connecting with Amy. She was going through some…stuff…like being an unwed teenage mother…and her mom thought that maybe it might help Amy to become acquainted with her birth mother. I don’t know all the details, but soon after that (and about 10 years ago now) my mom invited us all to “friend” Amy on social media, which felt huge and weird and awkward and exciting and all sorts of things. 

My family began to arrange to meet up with her in Canada, we helped her come down to the states to meet Kelli (since at the time Kelli didn’t have a passport). Now we see her every time we are in Alberta, and she visits our family whenever she comes down to Utah (which, truthfully, is usually the entire purpose of her trips to the States). 

Being reunited with Amy I think helped heal Kelli in a very real way. She had been aching for so long. We all had, honestly, because we were all missing this Amy-shaped puzzle piece in our life. 

We were getting along fine without that piece (just as we’re getting along fine without, for example, a Grandma-shaped puzzle piece around), but we definitely had that sort of anxious, nagging feeling you get when something is missing (or perhaps I’m the only one who feels dreadful when they can’t find the last piece of a puzzle or that missing library book or the one item of whatever set that is missing). There’s really no way to fix that feeling (though you can function even with that feeling) other than finding precisely what was lost (no substitutions can be made). But once you find that missing piece—wham!—there’s joy (as exceeding as was your pain). 

And that’s kind of what it feels like to have Amy around. Like, she is just supposed to…be in our family. We waited for her for years and years (without ever really saying that we were waiting). And at the same time, her mom is so wonderful and supportive! She babysat Amy’s boys so Amy could come to the wedding without them underfoot (which, I mean, having just chased my toddler around the wedding venue for six hours or something…I can tell you that I would have gladly left my toddler with Amy’s mom, too!), she has driven down to Utah with Amy and her kids so that they could visit Kelli (like, specifically for that purpose). She is so kind and welcoming whenever I’ve visited at her home (which is saying something because I was so nervous the first time I met Amy). 

Anyway, I’m just happy that Amy is so perfectly Amy. I’m so glad for the joy she radiates and the sense of completion she brings to our family. Sometimes things just work out nicely, don’t they?

When I was telling my mom about taking a cousin picture (reassuring her that we had, rather), she said, “Oh, but you missed out on grabbing Josie for the cousin picture!”

“Mom,” I reminded her, “Josie isn’t a cousin here. Josie is an aunt!”

We laughed about that. Poor Josie. 

When my grandma (or grandpa? I can’t remember whose funeral this was for at the moment) passed away all the cousins were supposed to sing a song together. My mom and her sisters rounded up all the cousins and arranged us on the stand for a rehearsal. As they were getting us all in our appropriate places they became flummoxed when their count kept coming up one cousin short. Who was missing? 

They went down the mental roster several times and every time they came up blank. And yet…they were certain one cousin was missing.

And then they remembered that Josie had been sent to the nursery with the great-grandchildren! But she wasn’t a great-grandchild! She was a grandchild! So we pulled her out of the nursery and put her on the stand with the rest of the cousins where she belonged. 

Family are often confusing. Some families are more confusing than others. 

Here’s a picture of the siblings who made it to the wedding—we even remembered to grab Josie! Phoebe is also in the picture because just as she didn’t think she should have to be in a picture without me, so too did she feel it would be unseemly for me to be in a picture without her.

Josie, me (and Phoebe), Abra, David…and our mom and dad

Phoebe had a hard time at the wedding. She fell asleep in the car about two minutes before we arrived (and did not transfer well so only napped for about two minutes). She really needed a longer nap, though, and was desperate to nurse, so I went to the car and nursed her until she fell asleep (dopey me packed a lovely wrinkle-free dress rather than a practical nursing outfit). David helped me get her stroller out and recline the seat so she could perhaps catch a few good minutes of sleep there, but just as I was putting her down, someone walked by and hollered, “Oh, the joys of parenthood!” And that, unfortunately, was the end of that “nap.” 

So Phoebe was fussy and clingy the whole afternoon/evening (but is sleeping pretty soundly now, so I suppose there are payoffs to going without a nap). 

Anyway, that’s it. That’s all: families are confusing, some families are more confusing than others, I’m at once filled with joy and also…a considerable amount of pain. 

But I know that’s possible to love through pain—even pain that seems, you know, targeted, and somewhat purposefully wrought. I know it’s possible to love through that pain, and through loss, through bad calls, through temper tantrums and screaming fits, through lack of consideration, through teenage-hood, through sleep deprivation, through annoyance, through…whatever. 

I know because a number of people in my life continue to assure me that they do, in fact, love me (though, honestly, the list of those who have brazenly (yes, brazenly, because…in my humble but amazingly accurate opinion…who does that?!) assure me otherwise is growing at an alarming rate…). But I also know this because I know that love is a choice you make, so even when someone does something annoying (such as yell, “Oh, the joys of parenthood!” as you’re putting your baby down for a much-needed nap (and I would be lying if I said that didn’t cause me to feel more than a modicum of momentary rage)) you can just take a deep breath as you steel yourself to deal with an exhausted toddler in a formal setting for several more hours (or whatever it is you have to prepare yourself to handle), breathe out all your frustration, and give that person a big hug goodbye as you tell them that you miss them and love them and wish you could see more of them.

Because the latter—loving—is far more important (to nurture, to cherish) than the former—hurt and rage. 

(Side note: Don’t read this out loud, kids, because we don’t use this word in our house, but when I initially typed the sentence above I typed “loving—is fart more important” and I don’t know if I’m just emotionally exhausted or just super tired or what, but I found that hilarious and laughed as I hit the backspace key.)

(Side note number two: Although I fixed that typo, I’m sure there are many other typos hiding in this little essay because, well, I am—and may the record show—not perfect, along with the vast majority of humankind. And I’m cool with not being perfect because being perfect sounds exhausting and I’m already tired (I say this, and also know that one of my character flaws is my perfectionist tendencies, so perhaps that’s hypocritical, which is to say that I have just revealed two or three flaws in myself in a single paragraph. I’m going to wager than anyone reading this could easily do the same because we’re all down here just…broken).

(Side note number three: This post also made me think of another favourite scripture of mine—Romans 8:38: “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I’m sure that if my brain was functioning fully (which it’s just not at the moment) that I would have been able to work that scripture in there somehow. Instead you get it as a footnote of sorts. Because it’s relevant to the argument, which is that I, personally, am lovable—and loved— despite anything I’ve done or not done or will ever do (good or bad), and, importantly, that the same is true for you). 

Side note number two made me think of another story that I meant to tell about being broken! 

When we were working our way through customs in Montreal, it was incredibly frustrating. On the one hand, we didn’t have to go through customs with everyone landing. On the other hand, we still had to go through customs and we had limited time to make our connecting flight and it was frustrating and nerve-wracking and overall a chaotic experience. 

The airport workers somewhat boredly reassured customer after customer that they did care about their needs, but that everyone in the line had a connecting flight to make. There was not much else to say about it. They assured people the line would move quickly, but that there was nothing to be done to speed up the process (there are literally dozens of kiosks once you get through the line that truly was never at a standstill). Everyone in line had a connecting flight.

As that information settled on those around me, the frenzy of the line died down a bit (or perhaps it was only the frenzy in my heart). It was no longer, “How can I get through this line the fastest?!” It was, “We all need to get through this line. We all have a connecting flight to make. We can stop pushing and shoving and whinging about needing to be first because there is enough for everyone. We will all make it through.”

You know, barring any sort of breach in international protocol that would prevent someone from crossing a border. 

And I just…thought that was a lot like life. We are all broken, desperately trying to get to where we need to be. But rather than push and shove and cry about how horrible things are, we can look around and just notice that we are all broken, we all have pressing needs, we are all being herded through life at the incredible rate of one second per second, and if you happen to trod on my toes in the process, well, goodness knows that I probably carelessly bumped someone with my backpack only seconds earlier and am about to wheel over someone’s foot with the stroller wheel in any second now…so who am I to complain?

Of course, it’s a lot easier to see this when it plays out in front of you in a twenty-minute timeframe than when it plays out in front of you over the course of 80 years. Not that I’m 80 years old or anything. It’s just that life (and families—did I mention families in this post?) is/are ever so much more confusing than going through customs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it really took me a lifetime to figure things out.

Also, going through customs is plenty confusing. So that’s really saying something about how confusing life is. It’s very confusing, we’re all broken, but we’re in it together (so we may as well be kind to one another while we’re here).

And with that I’m going to bed, feeling much better after writing away the horrible sensation in my chest.


  1. Amy looks so much like Kelli. I saw your picture on Facebook before reading this post, and thought "that must be Kelli's daughter. " I didn't know the backstory. Glad she was able to be there for the wedding!

    1. She is the spitting image of Kelli, isn't she?