Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Missionary Pictures

30 Jan 2011: Elder "Crazy Eyes" Carter on his last day in Willits, California.

Back when my brother Jeff served his mission in Canada (1981-82), the only communication missionaries had with their families were twice-a-year phone calls and the "snail mail" postal system, which could be even slower for those serving in foreign countries.

Today, along with their Christmas and Mother's Day phone calls, most young Elders have access to computers and are allowed to email their family on P-day, once a week.  My son Jacob's P-day (a prep-day is kinda sorta their day off) is on Mondays, and he has about 30 minutes to read the emails we send from home and then send us his responses.  Needless to say, his emails to us are short and sweet!

30 Jan 2011: Elder Carter with the Potters, a couple from church
who kept a close eye on the missionaries in their ward.

For the past two Mondays, along with his emails, Jacob has sent several photos he's taken with the camera we gave him the day he entered the Mission Training Center, our early Christmas present to him.  It's been fun to see scenes from his daily missionary life. 

How else would we have "met" the many families he befriended in his first area, the town of Willits, along with Brother and Sister Potter, who took such good care of our son while he served in their ward?  In fact, it was from the Potters' computer that we received our first several weeks of emails from Jacob.  And it was Sister Potter who quickly contacted me when she realized Jacob had sent us an incomplete address!

10 Feb 2011: Elder Carter (2nd from right) in front of the Oakland Temple.

While serving in Sonoma, his second area, Jacob had the opportunity to attend sessions at the Oakland Temple.  What a thrill it was for me to see my son standing before the temple where my siblings and I were sealed to our parents way back on June 1, 1968.  I was only 13 at the time, but my memories of that day are still vivid.

Elder Carter and his companion, Elder Gregory, on the temple grounds overlooking the Bay.

I would have been proud for Jacob to serve the Lord anywhere in the world, but I admit it's a special blessing to me that he is serving in California, my home state, where I was born and raised and lived for the first 25 years of my life.  I love my mountain home here in Arizona, but California will always be first in my heart.  I miss it sometimes.

13 Mar 2011: Elder Carter (center, big blue jacket) on his last day in Sonoma, California.

On March 14, Jacob was transferred to Fairfield.  I can't wait to see the next set of pictures he sends!  My son has always been a cockeyed optimist, and he has loved all three areas to which he's been assigned.  Each time he is transferred, he insists he loves the new area even more than the last!

Here's what he had to say about Fairfield in his last email:

"Fairfield is going great.  When I got here we would only get like 8 to 9 lessons a week and now that I have been here we got twelve this week!  I wish I was toned and muscular, haha!  Just this week we biked over 60 miles, that's pretty good... Last week we had a lesson with this one girl that we met on the street and she was very excited. Then a few minutes later we heard a knock at the door, so she answered it and this other lady walked in and was very interested in hearing a message about Jesus Christ. Ten minutes later another guy knocked on the door and he was interested too, so we have 3 new investigators!  It's awesome..."

Several weeks ago, Jacob emailed me the following request:

"Is there any way you can send a family picture in a frame?  My companions always ask me why I dont have one..."

I was shocked and embarrassed to realize I'd sent my son away for two years without even thinking about sending a family photo with him!  So I searched high and low for the perfect frame, and I found it.  I think I found the perfect set of pictures to go with it, too.  Jacob received the frame last weekend and proclaimed it "amazing," so I guess I did good! 

He is still looking for letters from family and friends.  Here's his new address:

Elder Jacob Carter
1406 Woolner Ave. Apt #8
Fairfield, CA 94533

Go ahead, make his day!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Concert Night

Chris presents Sarah with a bouquet after the concert.

Earlier this month (March 5th), we enjoyed another of Sarah's concerts with the White Mountain Symphony Orchestra.  This one was kind of special because it was the first one her fiancĂ© Chris was able to attend. 

Sarah chats with her friend Brandy after returning from intermission.

Ed and I actually missed the first two numbers because we arrived late.  We had also attended the temple with my nephew Marcus earlier that evening, and went directly to the concert following the temple session.  Luckily the concert was held at the Performing Arts Center in Snowflake, just a few miles from the temple.

Ed and Chris enjoy the concert.

It was fun to be there with Chris.  He's quite proud of Sarah's musical ability.

Chris and Sarah, Keith and Brandy right after the concert.

Another highlight for Sarah was having her friend Brandy back in the symphony orchestra after Brandy took a year-long time out.  Sarah and Brandy have literally been best friends since they met in kindergarten, and they've shared a passion for their violins since fourth grade.

Sarah with Chris and Chris's mom, Brenda.

The night of the concert was also our first opportunity to meet Chris's mom, Brenda, who had come to watch the concert with him.

Sarah and Chris, Mary and Ed, ready to head home at the end of the evening.

It was another wonderful, musical night, with more soon to come!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Chris!

Sarah and Chris celebrate together.

We have a new birthday to celebrate in our family!  Today, Sarah's fiance Chris celebrated his 33rd birthday.

Chris's mom, Brenda, made this gigantic ice cream cake herself!

We actually started the celebration a day early.  Yesterday his parents invited us to their home to participate in Chris's birthday party.

Chris with his step-dad Bruce and his mom, Brenda.

We had a great time, as you will see.  What a nice family Chris comes from!  They made us feel welcomed as if we were already part of the family.  They truly seem to love Sarah like their own, too.

Sarah joins the picture.

We began the party with lemonade on the back patio.  Their home is in a wooded area at the top of a hill, and the sound of the wind in the pines high overhead was soooo relaxing.  One of my favorite sounds in the whole world.

Ed and Dylan compete in a game of horseshoes.

I didn't even realize when we arrived that we were also invited for dinner.  While Chris's step-dad, Bruce, grilled the burgers and sausages, I watched everyone else pass the time with some outdoor games.

The guys played several rounds of horseshoes. Dylan started strong and it appeared he would walk away with the win, but Ed made a strong finish, triumphing by one point.

Chris demonstrates the art of "Ringer" while Sarah watches.

Meanwhile, a few steps away, Chris and his 7-year-old niece Morgan were teaching Sarah how to play a family game called Ringer.  The object is to get points by throwing metal rings into one of three small holes on a ramp box.  Chris's grandfather built the boxes for the game.

Chris and Morgan go head-to-head.

Soon dinner was ready, and we gathered indoors for a yummy meal of barbecued sandwiches, beans, chips, and salads.  And more lemonade, mmmm!

Feasting at the table are Chris's sister, Dylan, Sarah, Chris, and Morgan with her back to us.

Ed and Mary ate way too much!

Mary, Sarah, and Dylan at the birthday bash.

After dinner, the cake was sliced and served up while Chris popped a series of ballons for the clues hidden inside, which led him to his gifts secreted away throughout the house. 

Chris, Morgan, and Sarah seem to be debating the best method of unveiling his gifts.

Chris quickly unwrapped his gifts and was clearly pleased with each one.  However, his favorite appeared to be the bow hunting video game Sarah had selected for him.

Chris tries out some virtual bow hunting!

With the gifts all opened, we adjourned to the living room, where I'm sure we were all of great assistance to Chris with our myriad, helpful suggestions (not!) while he figured out how to play his new game.

Thanks so much to Chris and his family for inviting us to join in the fun!  Chris, we hope your special day was everything you could hope for!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Into the Light

26 Mar 1995: Helen Carter celebrated her 68th birthday with two of her favorite people:
Jacob (age 3) and Sarah (age 5)

Last night someone very special passed from this life and into the next.  My ex-husband's grandmother, Helen Carter, passed away just 11 days before her 84th birthday. 

2 June 1989: Helen (age 62) and my grandmother, Alta Haley (age 83), were with Mark and me on our wedding day.

It's almost impossible to imagine that she is no longer here with us.  Helen was a huge part of our lives from the earliest beginnings of our family.  

When Mark's mother left their family when Mark was just 4 months old, Helen stepped in and raised him.  No one ever loved her children and grandchildren more fiercely than Helen Carter did. 

Helen fell in love with her first great grandchild, Sarah (6 weeks old here, on 8 Dec 1989)

My children never knew a world without their Great Grandma Carter.  As far as they were concerned, the sun rose and set on Great Grandma.  She absolutely felt the same way.  They knew she would gladly die for them if necessary. 

Helen fell in love again when Jacob came into the world.
This picture was taken on 25 June 1992, the day before Jacob's first birthday.

Helen's joy tripled when Dylan was born  when she was 70, in 1997.

Helen was very much a hands-on grandma.  She loved when the kids came to visit and spent nearly every moment with them, playing dolls, drawing pictures, cuddling them on her lap, watching them play in her pool, taking walks, looking at old photographs, letting them comb her long gray hair, preparing their favorite foods, and pounding on her old organ while they sang off-key at the top of their lungs.
16 Apr 1993: Helen plays "horsey" with 3-year-old Sarah and 21-month-old Jacob.

She also opened her home to my extended family on a regular basis.  My parents, my siblings and their spouses, and my nieces and nephews knew Helen's home well, for we met there often to celebrate birthdays and holidays with a barbecue and pool party.  We always felt comfortable and welcome.  As my sister Karla says, Helen always treated our family as if we were part of her family.

15 Aug 1999- With Great Grandma at the hospital after her first stroke:
Sarah (age 9), Helen (age 72), Jacob (age 8), and Dylan (age 2).

Helen had her first stroke in 1999 at the age of 72.  She recovered quickly from the first one, but over the years more strokes gradually took from her the health and freedom she valued.  She began to wonder why the Lord didn't just call her home.  She was longing to rejoin the loved ones who had gone before her.

Thankfully, we were able to travel to Mesa on Saturday to spend some time saying good-bye to this special lady.  She was on morphine, her breathing labored as she slipped in and out of wakefulness, but she tried valiantly to open her eyes and focus on the family she was so soon to leave for awhile.  She seemed tiny and frail and very, very tired.

27 Oct 2001: Helen (age 74) with her firstborn son, Tim (Mark's dad),
at Sarah's 12th birthday party.

We feel Helen's absence deeply, but I am so glad for her!  I can just see her walking into the light and being embraced by her husband Lyle and her son Tim, who died in April 2009 at the age of 61.  I can imagine her happiness at being reunited with her parents, her two brothers, and her younger sister Kathryn.  She had outlived them all and missed them greatly.

I know Helen has found her hard-earned joy and freedom, surrounded by those she loves.  We'll miss you, Grandma, but we know the day will come when you'll be waiting to greet us on the other side of the veil.  After all, families are forever.  We will all be together again!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Gift of Family

1 March 2011: Elder Gregory and Elder Carter at Zone Conference

I love zone conference time in northern California! When I see that Sister Bunker has added a new post about a zone conference to her Santa Rosa Mission blog, I immediately scroll through the photos of a gazillion enthusiastic, clean-cut young missionaries, looking for that one familar face I miss.

I wasn't disappointed.  There was my son Jacob's smiling face, in a photo near the bottom of the page (see above), looking happy and healthy.  The "healthy" part was particularly important to me, since he'd been sick for about 3 weeks with some nasty congestion.  That kind of news is hard on a mom, especially when her son is so far away.  Even though he's an adult and quite capable of caring for himself, I worry.

It was fun to get a look at his second companion, too.  Jacob thinks very highly of Elder Gregory.  He tells us he is a great missionary and that he's learned a lot from him about missionary work and the scriptures.  Now, that's the kind of news that brings a mother joy! 

Speaking of missionaries, I'm happy to announce that my nephew Marcus, Jacob's cousin, recently received his mission call.  He will be serving in the Argentina Resistencia Mission!  He reports to the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah, on July 6th.  Last night, Ed and I joined Marcus and his family and friends as he attended the temple for his first time.

19 Feb 2011: Chris (age 32), Sarah (age 21), and Dylan (age 13)

I can't even imagine my life without the blessings of family. There was a time when I worried that I might never have a family of my own, but thankfully my whole world changed for the better when I was 35 and Sarah was born.  And it only improved when Jacob and Dylan arrived over the next several years.
3 Feb 2011: Ed and Dylan bond over Guitar Hero

Not that being part of a family is always easy.  There aren't too many things that can be as frustrating and difficult as raising children.  In our family, it has become a huge challenge due to the major changes we've undergone over the past 10 months.  Peace, harmony, patience, kindness, obedience, mutual respect...  Those qualities have sometimes seemed in short supply.

And yet, when all is said and done, there is nothing that can bring about greater joy than family. Especially when we work together to find the peace, the harmony, the patience, the obedience, and the mutual respect that bring our hearts together and unite us forever.

Believe it or not, Mom is pretty good at Guitar Hero!

We're not all the way there yet.  We are a work in progress, with more difficult times ahead as we forge our forever family.  Still, I've already had a sweet taste of the joy that lies in store if we endure it well and find success in the all-important task of family-building. 

I've tasted it in the joy of seeing my older son become a young man who chose to leave home and serve the Lord for two years.  I've tasted it in the joy on the faces of my daughter and her beloved as they prepare to enter the temple and become united for eternity.  I've tasted the joy of seeing my thirteen-year-old son bear his testimony in church, barely holding back tears as he expressed love for his step-father.  And, perhaps most of all, I've tasted the sweet joy of loving a man who chose to leave behind his calm and quiet life in order to sacrifice and serve the new family he loves.

How very blessed we are by the gift of family!