Friday, July 24, 2015

An angel in our midst

When I was 13 years old, my doctors told me I had to have major corrective back surgery.  Because of my muscular dystrophy, the muscles in my back had weakened and my spinal cord curved so severely it was shaped like an “S” and was compressing my lungs and my heart.  I was told the surgery would take 12 hours, it would be extremely painful and recovery would take months.  The news was terrifying.  

As you can imagine, the drive home was pretty rough.  And, with the exception of my mother’s sobs as she drove down the 101, it was quiet.

My mother, always a person of faith, offered a silent prayer.  “Dear God, show me you’re there.  Show me we’re not forgotten.  Show me you care and I know we’ll be able to get through this.”

Len Ellis
And that’s when it happened, Kathy, who was seated next to me, shouted out, “Look, it’s President Ellis!”  And sure enough, there was Len Ellis, a leader in our church and a dear family friend, driving along the freeway next to us.  He waved, gave us a loving smile and got off at the next exit.

And just like that, we knew everything was going to be fine (and it was).  On that day, and in that moment, President Ellis was, for our family, an angel on earth.

Years later, while attending BYU, I found myself in a rut, feeling lonely and uncertain about my future.  Far from home and not knowing what else to do, I had prayed for a sign to know things would work out.

And then it happened again; on my way back from class, I went up the hill leading to my dorm and there, directly to my right, was Len Ellis.  He still lived in California, but was in Utah on business and had decided to swing by the campus he had once traversed as a student many years prior.

Our visit that day was short, but sweet.  I confided in him and he comforted, counseled and encouraged me.  “There are no such things as coincidences,” he said.  And I knew he was right.  Once again, he was at the right place at the right time – an angel on earth.

It’s been many years since then and I now find myself at another crossroad in life as I’m moving my family across the country back to California.  And as we were packing boxes and coordinating moving companies last week, I received news - President Ellis was unwell.  His congestive heart failure had advanced and he was about to pass.  And suddenly, the chaos around me disappeared.  Our angel on earth was returning home.

I was able to speak with Jenn, his youngest daughter, and Elaine, his wife, who, though she doesn’t stand much more than 5’0 tall, is a monument of spirituality and strength.  And, though I had called to comfort them, it was actually they, who, in their generous way, comforted me.

And then he passed.

So it was in those circumstances that, just a few days later, I found myself crossing the plains in a packed minivan, thinking about life on a 3,000-mile journey.

As you can imagine, while I am excited and eager about our move, such a change naturally brings with it a certain amount of trepidation.  And, as always, during such times, it’s always wise to seek inspiration.  Interestingly enough, it came via Facebook.

While checking my phone, I came across a post from Brian Ellis, one of Len's sons, informing friends and family about funeral services for his father.  And wouldn’t you know it, they were being held in Utah, just 40-minutes away from my mother-in-law’s house on one of the days we were planning to rest there.

Casey and I attended the service, which was a celebration of his life.  Like him, it was beautiful.  And like him, it was inspiring.  I arrived feeling sad and carrying a heavy load.  But I left feeling encouraged, uplifted and reassured.

I don’t know how he did it, but once again, somehow, in the hour and moment of my need, Len Ellis just happened to be there to let me know that God loves me and that everything is going to work out well.

I felt him yesterday.  It was just as real as when I had seen him as a scared 13 year old and a concerned college student.  The only difference was that this time, he wasn’t an angel on earth; he was an angel in heaven.

How grateful I am for Len's influence and to have known, loved and been blessed by my association with him.  Because of him, I, like countless others, am a better person.

Rest in peace dear friend, you’re home.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Teeth beware!

You know how people say that doing something hard is “like pulling teeth”?  Well, in my house, pulling teeth is like, well, pulling teeth – that is to say it’s very challenging.  The problem for us has been that, anyone who can do it, doesn’t want to.

I lack the strength to do it, so, I’m out.  Casey lacks the constitution (she gets queasy) to do it, so, she’s out.  And neither of the girls have been keen on doing their own dirty work, so, they’re out.

And yet the kids keep getting loose teeth.

Recognizing that this was going to be an ongoing issue, we sat the girls down, laid out the problem and explained that a solution was needed.  Someone was going to have to step up.

Enter Sammy.

She doesn’t look like much (in terms of physical strength), but it turns out that kid is freakishly strong!  And when it comes to pulling teeth, lets just say enamel doesn’t stand a chance.

The first tooth she pulled was her own.  She was nervous, but she knew it was go time and in the clutch, she didn’t disappoint.  She took a deep breath, clamped her vice-like fingers on each side of the offending molar and yanked.  After that it was off to the Tooth Fairy for straight cash money.

The kid’s got such serious skills that she pulls all Isabelle’s loose teeth out too.

Such was the case twice (yes, twice) last week when Isabelle approached us with news of loose teeth.  We all knew exactly who to call; Sammy to the rescue!

Open, clamp, pull; open, clamp pull.  And just like that, two more teeth bit the dust.

So to all the molars, incisors and bicuspids out there, you need to know something: Sammy has a very particular set of skills.  Skills she has acquired over a very long career.  Skills that make her a nightmare for teeth like you.  If you fall out on your own, that'll be the end of it.  She will not look for you, she will not pursue you, but if you don't, she will look for you, she will find you and she will pull you.

So be afraid.  Be very afraid.