Thursday, September 13, 2018

Savoring Summer

Seven score and four years ago, Jeff applied for his dream job. After repeated interviews and tests lasting a year, he passed all the requirements and was thrown into a hiring pool. Where he was stuck to metaphorically tread water for an undetermined amount of time. After two years of being in the pool, we lost hope and doubted we would ever get "the call"--the last step of the hiring process when they call to tell you you got the job and your new location. 

We moved on. Jeff worked on switching careers after confidently determining he hates accounting. He began to try data analysis. Go figure that he was a year into his new data analysis career than he was actually enjoying when he finally got "the call." Four years after he applied. Telling us we'd be moving to Las Vegas, Nevada in November after Jeff passed a 3-month training starting in August. 

Jeff accepted the job and we began making preparations for this big life change. Namely, we had to hurry and hang out with all our favorite people while we had the time!

This started with an evening up in the mountains with the Besses. 

A last few rounds of date night swapping with the Goldens. 
Finishing up a successful coach pitch season. 

This is unrelated to this post but please let us laugh at the fact that Carson has to sleep with a light shining directly in his face.
Okay back to  our summer adventuring. We made sure to squeeze in our Bear Lake trip while we still had Jeff around.

After our adventuring with friends, we hit the road to make one last visit with family before sending Jeff on his way to training. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Half Time

When I finished my second half marathon ten years ago, I confidently spoke the words, "Bodies were not meant to run that far. I'm never doing that again."

And I really stuck to my word on that one. I still enjoyed running, but I had forever cast aside the thought of endless training and grueling work just to self-propel my body 13 miles across some pavement. No thanks. 

Two of my neighbors, Lena and Trisha, kindly invited me to go running with them last spring around a track while our kids played. Cool. I thought. Workout while my kids get a playdate. Mom win.

This arrangement was working so well we started doing it weekly, inching up to 5 miles each time we lapped together for these outings. We felt so good after our runs and our kids continued to love the setup, so we began running bi-weekly. 

For those of you who see where this is going before I did, yes. This is how you get conned into doing another half marathon by people you once trusted as friends. :)

Lena suggested we run the Top of Utah Half Marathon with her in August which was months away when the idea was first presented. "Suuuuuuuuuuuure, Lena," I said while I winked at Trisha like, "We're not really doing that, right?" 

Before I knew it we were all signed up and were being shuttled up a canyon at 5:00 in the morning. We even recruited another neighbor, Jennie, and Teresa hopped aboard the figurative and literal bus as well. 

Yes, I intentionally wore my Flash shirt in an effort to channel my goal for speed. You see, the reason I ended up agreeing to this torture is because I had run my first half marathon in 2 hours and 3 minutes. Wanting to beat that time, I ran my next one in 2 hours and 5 minutes with much disappointment. I HAD to get under 2 hours!

Lena and Trisha helped me work on pace and endurance as we trained. We figured out how fast we'd need to go to break 2 hours and cheered each other on when our pace was up to snuff. In the week leading up to the race I was almost effortlessly running 8:30 miles making me think I might make my goal after all. Provided I just wore the right t-shirt to keep me mentally on track.
Here we are at the starting line!
And we're off! Bless Lena for taking this picture. Ha!
It should be noted this race is pleasantly downhill. A nice, gradual downhill for 12 of the 13 miles. As every race should be. With the help of a great course, an honest six months of training, and an ear full of Jim Gaffigan to keep me smiling while I ran, I felt SO GOOD the whole race. 

They had pacers to help you stay on track and I was able to stay right with the time I was shooting for. I didn't even walk until mile 11, you guys! And that was only for a minute so I could chug some Gatorade. It was incredible. It was just neat to have worked so hard for something and to see all my hard work pay off. 
I finished under two hours and seriously almost cried at the finish line. I did it!
We all met our goals! It was great to be a part of a group of women supporting each other and cheering each other on through a hard achievement. I'm so proud of us!
This was Teresa's first half marathon and she knocked it out of the park. I was so impressed she had the gumption to try something hard to see if she could do it and she did!
Much to my surprise, I heard my name during the post-race festivities. Thinking I had won something in the raffle, I went over to claim my prize. My prize was a TROPHY for FIRST PLACE. Hahahahahaha. What?!?!?! I've never won anything in my life!

It said first place in the Women's Filly Division. Unsure what this was, we did some quick Googling and saw that meant I beat all the women who weighed more than 145 pounds. I've always been self-conscious about my burly stature, but it finally served me real good!

I was also dying at the hilarity of this trophy situation because Jeff's dad used to refer to me as a sassy young filly. Now I've finally got the trophy to prove it! 

Turns out training (and a convenient altitude descent) makes all the difference in the enjoyment of a race. The day after the race I was already Googling where to take these filly legs next.
But before I could think too hard about running again, I had to treat these little ponies to an ice cream treat for being good boys for Ben and Haley while I was gone. Victories all around!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Eli's Baptism

We've hit a major milestone with our oldest being old enough to be baptized! The Cox Crew came to share the day with us. I died when I told them to line up for a picture and they perfectly positioned themselves tallest to shortest.
When the Bishop asked Eli why he wanted to be baptized, Eli said, "Because it's part of Jesus Christ's plan for me." The Bishop said that was the best answer he's ever heard from an 8-year-old. We love our spiritual giant. 
Eli's only specific request for his big day was to have skewered donuts to make an "8." That worked out great because I was scrambling for centerpieces last minute and these turned out to be just the thing to spruce up the tables. 
Grandma and Grandpa Excell were able to make it in person and Grandma and Grandpa Thomas made it digitally. We were allowed to Skype my parents in for the program!
Upon overhearing I was short decorations and with it getting down to the wire, Brooke kindly created some darling decor to display. 

We are grateful for everyone who came to help us support and celebrate Eli's decision. It was a special day for a special boy.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Summer Camps

Eli was thrilled to attend his first scout camp. He sliced his finger with a pocket knife, started quietly crying in pain, and then when asked what was wrong, he said he missed his mom so the leader wouldn't discover his cut and force him to hand over his new knife. Like a true scout. Ha!
Jonah has the early signs of scout-level resourcefulness. He and Lincoln busted into the pantry, weaseled their way into the Nutella, and (like a true gentleman) Jonah hunted down a play spoon from our toy kitchen set to indulge in his treat.
Happy Father's Day to this bearded beauty.
Then it was time for my camp. I recently gave a talk summarizing our time at camp that does a better job capturing the events than what I can spew forth now, so I've done a little copying and pasting for anyone interesting in fully diving into the experience. Enjoy!

Camp Piuta: The Promised Land

I thought I’d start with a joke, and I hope you find this as funny as I did...a year ago I was called to be the Young Women’s Camp Director.

For those who don’t get the joke, you’ll understand once you hear my qualifications: I am Glen and Kim Thomas’s daughter, so I have a long history of never going camping. I have a near-crippling fear of bears, I have never started a fire, and I have a low tolerance for having greasy hair. If you ask Brother Winder, who helped pack us up for camp, he can confirm I was the unlikeliest of leaders to ensure that a group of young girls would survive in the wild.

This is why I laughed for a solid minute after receiving this calling and this is why we can all laugh together as we picture me up in the mountains with a van full of lighter fluid, bear spray in each hand, and a holster for my dry shampoo.

I’m not the only unlikely leader who faced an impossible challenge they felt overwhelmingly unqualified for.

Nephi, who had never before built a ship was tasked with an intimidating assignment when the Lord commanded, “Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.”

Nephi’s older brothers were quick to discourage by saying, “We knew that ye could not construct a ship. We knew that ye were lacking in judgment; Thou canst not accomplish so great a work.” Despite the murmurings of his brothers, Nephi had faith he would be shown the way. He knew the Lord would strengthen him through his weaknesses and inexperience.

Similar to Nephi’s inexperience in boat building, I was a highly inexperienced camper. Like Nephi, I even got somewhat friendly taunts from my brothers about the impossibility of my assignment to build the metaphorical boat of a successful girls camp. Unlike Nephi, I believed many of these doubts and concerns before finding faith that the Lord would show me the way to help Him carry the young women to the Promised Land of spiritual growth.
My first task was to add meaning to the Dr. Seuss characters, Thing One and Thing Two, which was our ward’s stake assigned theme. I struggled for two days to think of something on my own before I finally humbled myself enough to offer the first of many specific and desperate prayers requesting guidance for girls camp, hoping I would receive strength as promised in Ether 12:27.

“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

My hope for the week was that the young women would gain a stronger testimony of Jesus Christ, that they would catch a glimpse of Heavenly Father’s love for them, and that they would feel and recognize the Holy Ghost. I expressed this in my prayer and felt a confirmation I was headed in the right direction.

Shortly after my prayer, the perfect theme suddenly came to mind, “All Things Testify of Christ.” Had I not spent the two days before tirelessly trying to come up with my own theme, I may not have recognized this was not my idea. Like He did for Nephi, the Lord was sending the first of the instructions on how to build a boat.
1 Nephi 17 reads, “If it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God, he doth nourish them and strengthen them and provide a means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them.”

Like boat blueprints falling from heaven, Winnie Rohde was the means whereby I could accomplish the thing which I had been commanded to do. Experienced in the world of camping and tuned into my needs, Winnie compassionately noticed the areas I could use help and diligently swooped in to ensure our camp was skillfully built.
With truffala trees, bottomless candy bins, and a Seussical skit brilliantly written by Winnie, camp planning moved along effortlessly. We knew we were on the right path, though expert outdoorsmen might suggest our camp was one of curious workmanship.
The day before camp, everything was perfectly in place until the word “miracle” began flying around in my head. Reluctant to consider any last-minute ideas, I subconsciously swatted at the word every time it started buzzing around, hoping it would eventually go away.
By mid-morning I ran to the store to pick up one more precautionary bottle of tick spray. Thinking of all the things I needed to finish up before heading to camp, I distractedly threw a few items on the checkout counter. Snapping me back into reality, the cashier greeted me by proudly announcing, “I believe in miracles too!”
Sure he could read minds, I stared at him in shock until he pointed to my shirt. I smiled as I had forgotten I was wearing a shirt Jeff had picked up from work that was logoed by his employer: The Children’s Miracle Network. The word “Miracle” was written across the front of it.

It became clear I had ignored the miracle promptings long enough now that strangers were having to bring it to my attention. I began efforts to tune into the word to figure out what needed to be done with it.

My dad promises his missionaries they will see miracles if they look for them with faith. I wondered if that was a promise a lowly camp director could make too. I called my dad for some direction. He began quoting from memory basically the whole chapter of Moroni 7 but I’ll give you the shorter version.

Things that persuade to believe in Christ are good and from God.
Miracles have not ceased. With faith, a righteous desire, a prayer, and believing, it shall be done.
And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.

My dad encouraged me to act on the prompting to make a promise to the girls that with faith in Jesus Christ, they would see miracles in our week at girls camp.

As a habitual over-preparer, I could plan the cabin assignments, the free time activities, and the devotionals, but I couldn’t plan a miracle. Still unsure I was brave enough to make this promise, I turned to my scriptures for some additional guidance. I opened to where I had last left off and nearly gasped when I saw I was at Moroni 7--the exact chapter my dad had just quoted from.

Invigorated by the string of miracles I had just undoubtedly witnessed, I knew similarly to Nephi that the Lord had showed unto me great things.  With courage, faith, and a little bit of nerves, I made the promise of seeing miracles at camp.

1 Nephi 17:13 is a particularly appropriate summary of our time at camp when the Lord said to Nephi, “I will be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you.”

The Lord carried our ship through the week to both spiritual and physical safety, making his hand evident through daily miracles as we exercised faith.

Everyone’s favorite miracle was The Miracle of the Seven Pies. Jennifer Young had graciously offered to take over the dessert cook-off on Thursday night. After weeks of planning and sampling, she created the perfect chocolate peanut butter no-bake cheesecake.

As we got busy in our week at camp, we had completely forgotten about the dessert cook-off until Thursday afternoon when three leaders all at the same time jumped out of their seats remembering the evening’s contest. With only 30 minutes left of our free time, we were tasked with the impossible challenge to assemble 7 pies. Each pie consisted of a cheesecake layer, a whipped topping layer, a candy crumble layer, and a decadent chocolate drizzle. And just to remind you, we were in the woods. On a time crunch. No small task.

Cream cheese was flying through the air, people were running around camp with bottles of chocolate syrup, Jennifer got us all working like a machine of organized chaos to start cranking out the pies.

The first pie took about 5-7 minutes to make which was impressive, but not enough to get us to our stake-assigned responsibilities on time. Fearing we’d have to forego the rest of the day’s activities, the girls put their heads down and continued working together seamlessly. Before long we could hear Jennifer announcing we were already down to the last pie. With the candy crumble and chocolate drizzle in place, we checked our watches to see  we had five minutes to spare. Against all odds and defying all possibility, we made seven pies in 25 minutes. In the woods.

As I thought about our miracles, I kept thinking about Matthew 19:26, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” In reference to that scripture, President Nelson said, “To teach His people, the Lord employs the unlikely.”

It is through unlikely events like making 7 pies in 25 minutes and unlikely people like me leading camp that makes God’s hand evident. The only way these unlikely events could occur is with the help of a higher power. The impossible makes God’s hand recognizable.
The week continued with more unlikely and seemingly impossible events:

It was an unlikely thought one morning during scripture study to hope to find the stake’s word of the day, “Listen” in the pages of my reading. Two verses after that thought, I got to Moroni 8:8 which reads, “Listen to the words of Christ.”

It was unlikely I would be able to round up six extra candy bars after realizing I had forgotten half of my candy at home for camp awards on the last day. I lost sleep as I fret to come up with a solution to make my limited supplies stretch. Nothing was going to work and I almost scrapped the camp awards all together.
After a prayer, I remembered I had picked up some extra candy on a whim in that shopping trip the day before I left for camp. It had been put in a different box that I had forgotten about. When I opened the box, I found exactly the number of candy bars I needed for everybody to get one.
It was unlikely I would stay well for camp after spending the two days leading up to it caring for my two youngest children who had high fevers and appeared to be catching our family’s first ever case of hand foot and mouth. Jeff gave me a blessing the night before I left. I did not get sick at camp and my kids’ rashes and fevers vanished the day after I left.

It was unlikely that a cabin of Laurels would have to be repeatedly asked to put down their scriptures to make it to lunch, preferring instead to feast on the words of Christ.

It was unlikely that one of our young women's fingers wouldn’t freeze up in the cool air when we had our meadow sing. She had prepared a guitar part for our song and we performed much better with her help. We happened to stand in just the right spot to be the second ward to sing. With a prayer, Rachel was able to make it through the whole song. Her fingers froze up right after we finished, making it obvious the timing was critical and our accidental positioning crucial.

After receiving an urgent text the night before camp that there was a high population of ticks in the area, it was unlikely we would be able to dodge the tiny intruders. As far as I know, no one ever even saw one.

It was unlikely that a young woman would receive an answer to a question she had been wondering about for over a year, but the answer finally came.

It was unlikely that a young woman from another ward would find a connection with someone at camp, but one of our girls reached out to her in friendship.

It was unlikely we would be able to tie over 300 fleece blankets for Primary Children’s Hospital in two days, but we did it with time to spare.

Most unlikely is that 20 teenage girls would be able to spend an entire week together without even a hint of conflict. As part of our search for miracles, we were searching for testaments of Christ in the world around us.

Where I found Christ was in our young women. The girls emulated Christ as they cared about each other, thoughtfully included one another, spoke kindly to each other, found ways to serve, lifted each other up, obeyed the rules, practiced positivity, and freely offered love. Their testimonies of Jesus Christ were evident in the way they lived and treated each other through the week.

Dallin H Oaks has said, “The greatest miracle is a mighty change of heart by a son or daughter of God. A change of heart, including new attitudes, priorities, and desires, is greater and more important than any miracle.”
We physically survived and spiritually thrived in our week at camp. With all unlikeliness, we arrived at the promised land of camp success. 1 Nephi 19: 14 says, “After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God, and did deliver you.”

Though Nephi and I had different ships to build and different waters to cross, I share his recognition and gratitude to a Heavenly Father who guided the way when he said, “I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long;”

I know we have a Heavenly Father who watches over us. I know the Atonement of Jesus Christ offers strength to cover our weaknesses and inabilities. I know the Holy Ghost will direct us to the paths we are meant to go if we choose to listen and follow the instructions.

By having faith in Jesus Christ and by following the promptings of the Spirit, I have seen, along with the Springwood Ward Young Women, that God still works many mighty miracles if we choose to recognize His hand in our lives.