Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Passing of Our Prophet

My last several days have been filled with lots of tears after the passing of our beloved Prophet and President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley. We got the news immediately Sunday night while watching television with my parents. The program we were watching was interrupted with a "Breaking News" announcement and they reported that President Hinckley had passed way within the last hour. We were all in shock and disbelief for a few minutes, and then the tears came. It is so hard to believe that the prophet I have known and loved since I was 12 is no longer with us. Even though we all knew President Hinckley, at 97, didn't have much longer to live, I never wanted to think about the time that he would actually leave this life. Though he had grown old and tired, it seemed death would never be able to take hold of a man so full of warmth and life. Its hard to accept that we'll no longer be able to hear him speak words of wisdom, to laugh at the witty things he says and does, and feel his love for everyone as he expresses his testimony of the gospel. But despite all of my sadness, I am so grateful for his life and the legacy that he has left behind. President Hinckley was so loved by all and accomplished so much around the world, not only as a religious leader but as an ambassador of goodwill, kindness, and friendship among all peoples of the earth. I have so many great memories of him from my own life. I remember being a senior in high school and briefly shaking his hand as he departed after the dedication of the Temple in Billings, Montana, my hometown. I remember being a freshman in college and listening to his famous admonition to youth to "Be Grateful, Be Smart, Be Clean, Be True, Be Humble, and Be Prayerful." And probably most especially, I remember having the privelege to attend the special birthday celebration held for President Hinckley at the Conference Center for his 95th birthday in the summer of 2005, and what an inspiring occasion it was. Thousands of people had gathered together and were participating by telecast to show their love and appreciation for this amazing man. It was such an uplifting night full of joy, and it all eminated from President Hinckley. I will always remember when it came his turn to speak at the end of the evening, and he said, "What a party! Let's have another in 5 years!" and the whole auditorium burst into applause. I know everyone there felt such affection for him that night, and were all truly hoping he would be there to celebrate with us on his 100th birthday. I convinced myself after that night that he would definitely live to at least 100! But I am grateful that he is at rest now. He lived the fullest, most amazing 97 years of anyone I've ever heard of. I've been watching and listening to so many television and radio programs paying tribute to his life this week, and his was a truly remarkable, accomplished life. He was respected and known around the globe, was astoundingly well-traveled, so intelligent and energetic, and worked incredibly hard, even into his last years. Yet, the world loved him most because he was humble and simple...and funny! No one can deny what a winning sense of humor he had. And no matter what, he was first and foremost a devoted husband and father. He had a wonderful marriage of over six decades to his wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, he raised and loved a family of five children, he was a grandfather and great-grandfather. And oh, how he loved his wife, and showed it to the world. I think all people have sensed how deeply he has missed his wife since her passing several years ago. It seemed not one occasion would go by where, when he had the opportunity to speak, that he didn't mention her. It is so comforting, despite the sorrow that comes with the loss of President Hinckley, to know that he is once again with his companion that he loved so dearly. I have imagined so many times the wonderful reunion that must have occurred when he left this life and entered the next one, with so many loved ones waiting for him there: President Hinckley embracing his wife, his parents, his siblings, clasping hands with President Faust, Joseph Smith, Nephi, Moses, and the many prophets and leaders of the church who had gone before him. And of course, I know that Heavenly Father and His Son are there saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." I know President Hinckley is happy and that the legacy he has left behind in my life and the life of countless others will never fade. His testimony was pure and strong, even when his body became feeble. I also know the gospel of which he testified is true, and that it brings the greatest joy and peace life can hold. I am so grateful for the life and example of this wonderful man, and I will never, ever forget him.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Back to BYU

I have been a college student forEVER...I graduated high school in 2000 and started at BYU in August of that year. I got married in December of 2001 and took a semester off while we were engaged, intending to go back in January. Well, that break turned into a year and a half! I re-applied to BYU and was accepted, and over the years I've continued to attend off and on...full-time a few semesters, but mostly just part-time over the past few years, taking semesters off here and there. When I worked full time I continually took classes at night to keep up my student status and work slowly toward filling my generals. Since becoming a mom I've become a bit more lazy, deferring semesters or taking only one class a semester. But all this time, I've managed to hang on as a student. I just can't seem to let go of the opportunity to be a BYU student and work toward getting a degree someday. I'm not that close...I've only got 70 credits of the required 120...but I'm determined to finish! Many people (including myself!) think its crazy that I've been a student so long, and that I continue to hang onto the idea of graduating when its still so far off. But getting my degree is very important to me. I don't do it to impress anyone or because I hope to have a career someday. I do it to finish what I started, to be continually learning and bettering myself, and to teach my children the importance of education. I deferred last semester, which means I have to take an on-campus class this semester or lose my student status. Last week, before the semester started, I realized I had to make the decision about whether to take a class or not. I was feeling very stressed about finding a class that met in the evening, which would go toward my major (English, which requires a certain number of on-campus credits), and that would also work out for Ryan to get home in time to be with Thomas. I almost decided to just give up and just take independent study classes. But once I started looking into it and found a few classes that would work, I started to feel inspired again. I know that I would be very disappointed in myself if I gave up on school now. I have tried so hard for so long, it would be a shame to just up and quit. And it is something that makes me feel good about myself! I found a creative writing class, which I will be starting tonight, and I'm really excited about it. I went to campus to buy the books today, and I remembered why I love college so much. Even though I dislike homework just as much as anyone else, I love finding a good professor, listening to a good lecture, talking about literature, history, religion or whatever, and being around so many intelligent, talented people. And most of all, I just love Brigham Young University. Something about that campus just makes me feel more alive! Its a beautiful place. Being there makes me want to be a better person. To walk around and hear people speaking in other languages, seeing all the clubs and groups advertising their concerts or dances or meetings, and just watching all the activity makes me feel happy, alive, inspired to contribute something to the world! In my experience as a "non-traditional" student, I feel I have come to appreciate the value of a college education incredibly. Taking classes feels like a privilege. Even though I know there will be times this semester when I'm stressed because I'm behind on reading or working on a difficult project, I never wish to stop being a student...even when I graduate someday (and I WILL!!! Whether I'm 30 or 50!). I love being a student! Whether its in the classrooms of Brigham Young University or just wherever I am and whatever I'm doing out in the world, I always want to find opportunities to learn from others, hone my talents and discover new ones. Having to try so hard to get a college education has taught me so much more than just what I've learned in any class. It has taught me that I have a responsibility to work to become all that Heavenly Father knows I can be, to seek the blessings of knowledge and wisdom, and to pass those blessings on to my children. I hope I can share with Thomas and all of my future children the love of learning, and help them to seek out their talents and share them with the world!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Busy, Fun, Crazy Christmas! (and a Happy New Year, too!)

I've been trying to find time to sit down and write about Christmas for several days now! I actually started this entry on New Year's Eve. The last week has been so busy, I'm way behind on writing about it all. I had hoped to do it before 2007 was over! But hey, better late than never, right? =)

This year we stayed here in Utah County and celebrated Christmas at my parents' home in Spanish Fork, which is only about 20 minutes south of our house. I was very excited because all four of my brothers were able to be here for it. My second oldest brother Zane and sister-in-law Amber were real troopers to come all the way from Montana with a new baby who was only 2 weeks old! We were so excited to see them and so glad they were able to come. Baby Dalin is adorable and I had so much fun holding such a tiny, new little baby (I want one too!). There are now a total of 6 cousins in my family, so it was really fun to have a bunch of little kids so excited about Santa Claus and helping to bring back the childhood wonder of Christmas!

On Christmas Eve we had a special dinner of Taco Soup (a family favorite) and several Brazilian dishes made by my brother Travis, who returned from his mission to Brazil in March of this year. He made us traditional Brazilian rice & beans, a fabulous roast beef/potato dish and some other good stuff whose names I can't remember. He's been wanting to make a Brazilian meal for the family for some time and it was delicious! I also spent the night gorging myself with my absolute favorite Christmas treat: my mom's famous, fabulous, yummy sugar cookies! I can't eat enough of those things! (And funny thing, I prefer them unfrosted. I asked my mom to leave a bunch plain for me. I know, I'm weird!) We read the Christmas story together as a family, which has been a tradition for as long as I can remember, and which I have come to love! Later in the evening we watched the classic Christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." Ryan and I honestly don't remember if we ever saw this movie growing up, and a few months ago a friend found this out and lent it to us.I watched it several weeks before Christmas and fell in love with it! So I went out and bought it (in color!) and insisted we all watch it on Christmas Eve. It was fun to enjoy it together with my family, who also hadn't seen it in a really long time, if at all. The story is a great reminder to be grateful for all the blessings in life, despite the trials that may come along!

During the movie I was finishing wrapping gifts and getting things arranged for the next morning. After the movie ended it was quite late and everyone shot straight off to bed. I dilly-dallied for awhile and eventually ended up being the last one up. I loved it! I turned out the lights and sat in the living room, in the quiet, looking out at the softly falling snow (which I was SO thrilled about! Perfect for Christmas Eve!). I admired the Christmas tree all lit up, filling the room with a golden glow. The giant pile of wrapped gifts under the tree was so lovely, it was almost a shame to think it would all be gone in the morning! But I was excited to see how thrilled all the kids would be when they saw what Santa brought them.

We stayed overnight at the house just for Christmas Eve, so we could be there for all the early-morning excitement. It was a crazy morning of course! My oldest brother woke us up at about 7 am, saying he couldn't hold his kids off any longer (I was impressed he had held them off that long!). Thomas woke up just about the same time, so we got the video camera all ready and got him all psyched up. We led him into the living room, which was absolute chaos!!! It was fun watching all the kids go nuts over their stuff...there was so much stuff it took them awhile to figure out whose was whose! Thomas was finally able to make his way through everyone and found that Santa had left him an adorable rocking horse! He hopped on it right away, and probably would have been happy with just that! Between Santa and Mom & Dad, he was pretty spoiled this year. Santa had also brought him a stuffed Elmo, some books and a cool toy drum. Our main gift to Thomas was an awesome kid-sized chair with his name embroidered on the slipcover...he was pretty excited about that too! He loves sitting in his own special little chair. We also got him his first suit coat, a little blow-up sled and some more books. It was an eventful morning and it took a long time for everyone to open all their gifts!

Ryan's gift to me was a beautiful painting of the Savior which I really love. The painting shows Jesus walking along the sea, looking lost in thought. It almost looks as if he may be sad. It really makes me reflect on the passage in Isaiah that says he was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief...Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows." He suffered much sadness in His life, but he did it willingly and lovingly, for me, and for each of us. He lived His life and gave His life for us. This picture reminds me of all He has given for me, sacrificed for me, and how much love he has for me. It was a perfect gift to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas day.

After all the gift-opening we had a breakfast of Hootenany pancakes (another traditional family favorite, similar to french toast, and which I have no idea how to spell!) some of us decided to get ready and go sledding! Ryan and my brother Travis ran back to our house to get our four-wheeler and then a bunch of us drove up into the hills west of Payson. It was fun watching the older guys do crazy stunts going down this huge hill, but even more fun pulling my little guy around in his new sled! Thomas really liked it, but to be honest, he preferred riding on the four-wheeler to everything else. A true Laidlaw man-in-the-making! It was a great way to work up an appetite. We went back to the house and got cleaned up for a fabulous Christmas dinner of Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and tons more good stuff! We spent the rest of the night visiting and hanging out, playing games and watching movies. It was a wonderful, fun day and I was so grateful to be together with all of my family on Christmas day!

The whole next week was just as eventful and busy! The boys and girls took turns watching the kids on different days so we could all have a chance to get out. The girls went shopping and to a movie, "P.S. I Love You," which was fantastic and my new favorite film! (It has nothing to do with the fact that Gerard Butler is in it. *wink wink*) The boys took a day and went skiing at Sundance. A bunch of us also went to the Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy and then up to Salt Lake City to have dinner and see the lights on Temple Square (which was fun, but COLD!). The Saturday after Christmas we went to my cousin's lovely new home in Lehi where we had the big Kotter Family Christmas party. I look forward to this party/family reunion every year, but I was especially excited because we have missed the last two. It was wonderful to see my grandparents and most of my uncles, aunts & cousins!

We spent New Year's Eve at my parent's house, where we just hung out, ate snacks and watched Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (which, sadly, we didn't particularly love!) It was pretty laid back and I guess a little anti-climactic, but I did get a nice kiss from a handsome man at midnight! I think next year I'd like to party it up a bit more on Dec. 31st...Ryan and I have determined we are going to throw an awesome New Year's party at our new house!

I have been sad to say goodbye to my older brothers and their families as they've left over the last week, but it was a wonderful Christmas holiday. I am so very grateful to have a big, loving family! I am excited too, because Christmas isn't over! Ryan's family is all coming into town this weekend for a late Christmas celebration together and to go to Ryan's grandfather's 80th birthday party in Salt Lake City. It will be a lot of fun! I have great in-laws and am excited to have the opportunity to share Christmas with them too. I'm so grateful to have TWO big, loving families! =)