Blog Family Drawing

by Anya

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Time Is Here...2013

Merry Christmas from the Smith clan of Utah.  Well,  not the Joseph Smith clan, but still a Smith clan.

Here it is, Christmas Eve, and I find I haven’t posted a thang on here in 8 months.  Yikes.  (that’s pronounced “yi-kuss” in the Smith house).  And now, there is so much to say, I’m a bit tongue-tied.  Or finger bound.  Or whatever it is where you don’t know how to start and you’re typing.  Here's my attempt at an update.  It's gonna be long.  You're forewarned.

Back in May, or thereabouts, Karen and I began making plans to open a restaurant; a breakfast restaurant to be more specific.  I was pondering menu ideas, looking at location options and costs, girding my loins for the financial risks we were going to assume.  I took an extension class at the local university on starting a business.  I got a job at Starbucks with a two-fold purpose:  get some experience working in food service, and have health benefits while working part-time, so that ultimately I could leave my pastoral position at church and have health insurance for the fam while we started up the restaurant.

And then God intervened.

You see, back in 2011, I had applied and been accepted to begin work on a master’s degree in professional counseling.  But after being accepted, the thought of doing anything that involved ministry was just not attractive.  I was exhausted, defeated, weary, tired of complainers and apathy and people who criticize, and worn out trying to assist in leading what felt like a resistant group of Christians, many of whom did not seem to want to give themselves whole heartedly to Jesus and follow him with joy and abandon. 

And then the cost of the degree freaked me out.   Pay a butt-load of money to learn how to keep helping people who don’t really want to be helped?  No thanks.

End result?  Dropped the idea of the master’s degree and kept my eyes open for what other change might be available, attractive, enticing.

And so, after a year and a half, we were on our way to this breakfast place – The Cinnamon Shack was our tentative name – when I had a conversation with a long-time friend I hadn’t seen in a while.  He asked me about life, and I told him what we were planning.  And out of the blue, he asked me why wasn’t I thinking about going into counseling.  Years earlier, we had worked together, and he reminded me that I was a useful sounding board and instrumental in helping him.  From his perspective, it only made sense for me incorporate it more intentionally into my life and profession.

I dismissed my wise friend with, “I need to do something besides ministry.” 

But that conversation stayed with me for the next week.  Constantly.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  God kept pulling at me, making me think about why I didn’t want to pursue a counseling degree. It seemed like God was saying, "Why aren't you thinking about this, Rich?"  (For those of you reading this who think I’m delusional to believe God had some part of this, that’s okay.  I’m not offended.  I just don’t agree with you.)  After several days of thinking and praying, I realized I wasn’t in the same place I was in 2011, and that while I did want to do something different from the work I’m currently doing, I also wanted to be involved with bringing the hope, peace and contentment I know in Jesus to other people; and having some counseling tools in my belt would be a great way to do that.

So, that brings me to today.  If you live here in Utah and attend CenterPoint Church you know this, but for the rest of you, as of the end of December I’m resigning from my church job.  I’ll continue working at Starbucks while I get my master’s degree.  If all goes according to plan (and let’s face it, things rarely go according to plan), I’ll be finished in May of 2016.   The next two and half years are a bit unknowable – we aren’t exactly sure how it’s all going to work, especially the money part, but Karen and I both are quite content, at peace even, that this is what’s next.  What will we do when I’m done?  Not sure.  Could be back in pastoral ministry, could be exclusively counseling, could be some hybrid of the two, could be something completely unexpected.  We’re grateful to skip through life with our passionately loving God, and to face all our obstacles with Him.

That’s my update.  Now for the less angsty.  These won’t be as wordy, mainly because I know what I was thinking, but while I am an amazing father and husband, as evidenced by my ability to live with 4 women and all of us still enjoy each other, I’m still not very adept at reading their minds.  Which, come to think of it, is a good thing.  I’m sure I’d be a bit disconcerted if I knew what they were thinking sometimes.
At Snow Canyon, southern Utah, back in June
Karen started her own business this year, cleaning houses.   She has several weekly clients and a few others that use her less often.  She’s extremely popular with those who use her service; I mean let’s face it:  that Mennonite upbringing made her particularly skilled at cleaning – it’s almost a spiritual gift.  So if you live in Utah and you’re looking to have your house cleaned without the hassle of actually using a dust cloth or a mop, give my sweet lady a call.  She’s all that.  She ages gracefully, looking more beautiful and energetic, while I just get grayer and more weathered, and people think, “how sweet that young lady is to spend time with her father.” 

Anya has finished her third semester at Utah State in Logan, and did it in fine form.  She’s majoring in something that has to do with early childhood, but is broader than that; it’s like family and child development, or something.  She’s told me repeatedly, but I’ve asked so many times that I just can’t ask anymore because I feel like an old man asking a teenager about an iPhone. (You can do what with that?  In my day, we had our phone on the wall and we turned the dial and it took 30 seconds to dial a number and the connection was pitiful…and we were happy)  I just know that she’ll be able to work with small children, but also have a wider range of skillzzzz.  She’s taking next semester off to earn some money so that Utah State can keep getting paid.  And as always, she is still every child’s favorite baby sitter, in Cache County and Utah County.  (You think I’m kidding, or exaggerating, or I’m just a cloying parent.  I’m not.  Children ask their parents to go out just so they can have Anya.  She’s that spectacular.  Well, some kids do.  For reals.)

Salt and Pepper at Halloween
Emily and Jenna are both high schoolers, Emily a junior and Jenna a freshman.  Because the freshman go to our junior high, they’re still in different schools, though.  Both are making straight A’s (yes, I'm shamelessly bragging.  Eat it.)  Emily is also in demand as a sitter, and volunteers with our church’s preschool program on Sundays, along with helping our early childhood director in the office a little – when she’s not at school or doing homework.  Jenna is a craft queen, and makes the rest of us feel like creative Neanderthals.   You can see some of her handiwork here.
Edmund Dantes, the sock monkey
Silhouette self-portrait
Snowman pinata with hand knitted scarf

Jenna joined her school choir, which was inevitable, as she sings constantly.  A simple thought, like, "the dishes need to be washed" becomes a pop anthem in the kitchen; so it's good she has an outlet for her musical expressions.  Sometimes we have to give her an assignment; Jenna, you can't sing for the next two minutes.  It's surprisingly hard for her to do, but it provides uproarious entertainment watching her try.  Next semester she made it into the auditioned Girl's choir - huzzah for Jenna!!!

Emily has played around with photography.  At first it was for a class, but then she actually started to enjoy it.  When we need something to look good, or arty, we put Emily behind he camera.  Unfortunately, that means we have fewer pictures of her. 

We’re not sending out Christmas cards/pictures this year.  I’ve been working way too much to have time to put that together.  I should have just tasked Jenna with it; it would have looked way better than anything I would have come up with, I wouldn’t have had the stress and she would have had a grand time.  Too late now.  Maybe we’ll send out a family Valentine.  Jenna, when you read this, consider yourself asked.

Merry Christmas everyone! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Come To Me

Once in a while, a song kind of captures me.  It speaks to me in the midst of stuff I'm struggling with or going through.

This has definitely been a season where I needed something to capture my mind, to be reminded that God actually does care about me, that His love is true, solid, and unfailing.  A couple of weeks ago, Karen's nephew died while piloting a small plane.  It was gut-wrenching, not just losing him, but working through the pain and heartache, mourning with his wife and 5 young children, weeping over his absence in their lives, and our lives. 

On a less emotional front, I've been struggling personally, wanting to branch out into a new adventure, but having a hard time figuring out how to take steps in a new direction.  And in the midst of that, feeling jealous that people around me seem to get a brightly lit, golden-paved street leading them to the next thing at their first inkling of an idea, while I keep asking God and getting only "wait" or "no". 

I know.  I'm petty.

But once in a while, I just need to hear the truth, and that's where this song fits in to the story.  I'd heard this several months ago, and then forgot about it.  But one night in bed this week, God brought it to my mind and so I searched it out.  I couldn't even remember what it was about, just that it struck me at the time.

It was just what I needed.  In fact, I've kind of become ridiculous about it.  I listen to it several times a day, sometimes back to back to back.

My family is probably sick of hearing it.  That's ok.

For now, it's a reminder:  God is close.  He does care.  He is all I need.  He really is everything.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Goodbye Shelby, the WonderMutt

Yesterday was a hard day.  We had to say goodbye to our sweet dog, Shelby.

I've posted several times about our genial, but less-than-energetic family pet.  You can read those here, here, here, here and here.

I've obviously been a little critical of our little mutt.  Okay, more than a little.  Mostly because humor at her expense was so abundant and so dang easy.  But our easy, content, whiny dog had declining health (she was somewhere between 13-16 years old) and finally got to a place where we had to let her go.

She had a cough that wouldn't go away, had seizures, she could barely see, could hear only really loud noises (which was kind of nice, because she no longer barked like a mad woman when the doorbell rang), had such stiff, sore hips that she would sometimes fall over just walking through the house - or even standing still.  She couldn't make it up the steps most of the time, and was even losing her sense of smell.  So we put her out of her misery and sent her to the carpeted home in the sky, with never-ending and never-fattening dog treats always at the ready.

Through all of it, she was a good pup.  We adopted her from a rescue shelter, and didn't know for sure what we were getting, but she was always good with our girls, and became an integral (if comic) part of our family.  She never nipped at us, was always glad to see us, and even if she wasn't the most energetic of canines, she was loyal and she made us laugh.
Farewell Shelby.  We already miss your clicking toenails on our wood floor.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

An Update

There's a lot going on.  It is the middle of December, after all.  So I'm going to jot it all down, but I think no pictures.

First, Anya is home!  She returned to us on Thursday eve, having successfully completed her first semester of college at Utah State (Go Aggies!...or at least, Do Something Mildly Good Aggies, since you're getting such a large percentage of the Smithereens annual income).  She came with a long list of meals that must be cooked, and in a few cases restaurants that must be visited.  Evidently, the food on campus leaves much to be desired, at least in Anya's opinion.  She has often marveled at her college friends who praise the deliciousness of the college fare, making her ask, "What exactly were you served at home?!?  Because this slop can't even come close to the stuff my parents made." 

We blush contentedly.

But it does make us wonder:  is the food really that bad? Does Anya just prefer the way we cook?  Is someone following her around to the food courts and spiking her food with some taste-altering substance?  Okay, that last one might be a little conspiracy theoryesque, but I say it's still worth considering. 

I wrote about our unfortunate event while on vacation -- the semi smashing that seemingly slightly crumpled the rear end of our Santa Fe.  Turns out it wasn't so minor.  Once they started taking it apart and prepping it for repair, they realized it was in much worse shape than previously predicted.  Worse to the tune of total loss, as in your-car-looks-fine-but-the-amount-of-money-it's-gonna-take-to-put-it-back-together-makes-us-insurance-guys-wet-our-pants-so-we'll-just-cut-you-a-check. 

We mourned, we lamented.  We did a little dance of joy that the semi that managed to total our SUV did not simultaneously bring lasting damage to our frail houses of skin and bone.  And we started hunting for a new car.  Settled on this one:
Okay, well it's not exactly this one, but ours looks like it's twin.  It's a 2006 Toyota Sienna.  (yes, I'm fully aware I said no pictures, but since all I had to do was google the image, here it is).  Yeah, we're back to being minivan owners.  But it's in great shape, our mechanic gave it the thumbs up, and best of all, we bought it outright so no car payment.  Which is great, due to the previously mentioned money tunnel that is college.  We call it our swagger wagon.  If you don't know why we call it that, click here.  That's totally how we roll.

Em & Jen have three more days of school - their last day is the 19th.  Why?  Because, of course, they're going to get some really quality, in depth, life-changing instruction on these three days before Christmas break. 

Or their going to be surrounded by hellions clamoring for vacation and making their instructors long for the days of in-class corporal punishment. 

I am fighting a cold - my second one in the span of 10 days.  I don't think it's a relapse of cold #1, because this one seems to have a special vindictiveness quite set apart from the first version.  I feel like someone strapped me to the machine in the pit of despair from The Princess Bride, then wrapped my legs around the back of my neck and tied my arms behind my back, bounced me on a trampoline in a snowstorm, and finished my special spa day with a ride behind a pickup as I was dragged through a gravel pit.  Thank you, precious Lord, for inspiring someone years ago to dream up the chemical compound known as ibuprofen, for without those happy little maroon tablets this blog post would most likely resemble a Charlie Sheen interview during his tiger's blood period -- without the coherence he demonstrated so masterfully.

Of course, maybe it already does approach that level of readability and I'm just too mushy headed to recognize it.  If so, feel free to comment, critique, ridicule.  I'll read the comments when my torturous escapade is over.

And I'll reply to you all.  Fear the typing fingers of revenge.

The other big news:  G'pa arrives on Friday.  Oh frabjous day!  We've missed him way too much, and are sooo looking forward to 9 specatacular days of Christmas fun with him around.

Thanks for reading.  I wish you could hear this in my current voice.  Think the love child of Barry White and Gilbert Gottfried, and you'll get a close approximation.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Parents Escape

This week, Karen and I celebrated our 20th anniversary -- almost 5 months late.

We had our 20th on June 13th, but we had other trips and activities planned this summer, so we put our anniversary trip on hold.

I did actually celebrate with my wife on our anniversary; I'm not an idiot or a clod.  Although I don't remember right now what we did.

But this week was the real celebration we were looking forward to.  We rented a small two-bedroom home in LaVerkin, UT, halfway between St. George and Zion Nat'l Park.  On Monday, once the girls were off to school and we'd squeezed in one more workout at the gym before we started the vacation calorie binge, we headed south!

Can I just say, that though I love, love, LOVE my daughters, it was so fabulous to get away without them, just Karen and me, no schedule, no constant questions about the possible hikes and their respective lengths, no choosing restaurants with 5 tastes in mind, only 2, no listening to sighs when we are amazed AGAIN at the sheer majesty of every vista we see.  I love them dearly...but it was really good to be away from them.

And it was simply spectacular to be alone with the woman I STILL love after 20 years together.  I've given her plenty of reasons through the years to give up on me, but she's stayed by my side, even when I wasn't very fun to be around.  I'm so grateful for my gracious, supportive, always-game, beautiful, determined partner.  And so very glad we got to spend almost 5 uninterrupted days together in one of the most fabulous places God created.

Our first day in Zion, we embarked on a hike we'd never done during our previous trips to Zion (mostly due to the extra bodies tagging along and their unwillingness to tackle it).   Angels Landing.
The top of that craggy monolith is where we were headed.  It's about 2.5 miles of hiking to get there, climbing almost 1500 vertical feet from the valley floor.
It's only more intimidating as we grew closer.  We'd have to take a winding trail up the side of this cliff...
before we head into a narrow canyon.  As we scaled the cliff, we glanced back down to see from whence we'd come...

And we were only just beginning.  After a gentle climb through a narrow canyon, full of shadowy fall beauty...
we approached Walter's Wiggles, a series of short, tight switchbacks carved into the mountainside. 
Once we reached the top of those, it was time to scramble over a lot of rock, in some pretty narrow places, with sheer drop offs always reminding us that one misstep and we'd really be landing with the angels.
We finally reached the summit,

 This is how it looks to climb 1500 feet and gaze on indescribable wonder.
We stayed for a while, and ate a small lunch.  Incredibly, the top of Angels Landing is thick with chipmunks, and these chipmunks are brave little rodents.  They've evidently learned that the people who make it up there bring food with them, and so the little guys are fearless.  Five or six at a time would surround us, getting within inches of us, climbing on our packs, trying to get to the baggies we had our food in.  They were even brave enough to brush up against us.  It sounds kind of cute, but it was actually more creepy.  We kept expecting them to run up our backs, or get into our packs, or jump into our hands and steal our food.  We were not fans of Chip & Dale.

But we were fans of this awesome view.  
It was a perfect day.  About 78 degrees, just a gentle breeze at the top, and clear skies as far as we could see.

We made it safely back down, and decided to head into St. George for dinner.  Once we got onto I-15, traffic was stopped for an accident, so we stopped, too.  Unfortunately the semi behind us didn't stop quick enough...

Both Karen and I were fine, but our poor car was badly wounded.  It was the semi driver's fault, so unless his insurance does something underhanded, we should be able to restore her to her former pristine glory.  And even if his insurance is shady, our insurance is good, so we'll be fine.

I did get a good bump on the head. 
Merely cosmetic.  But noticeable enough that Karen feared it would look like she was abusing me.  Well, she wasn't really afraid of that, but I threatened to tell that story to anyone who asked.

No one asked.

Big fun on our first full day of celebrating 20 years!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Flying Squirrel

On Halloween, my good buddy Pete kidnapped me for an unknown adventure to belatedly celebrate my birthday.  After picking me up in the morning, grabbing coffee (a necessity for ANY adventure), we made the trek up to Ogden, UT.  Along the way, we talked about a lot of stuff, except about where we were headed.

Pete was familiar with my sincere disappointment several years ago, documented here, that Utah weather harshed on my skydiving groove and prevented me from experiencing the wonders of falling several thousand feet.  So, he decided to unharsh my groove by taking me to an indoor skydiving experience.
There would be unruly weather in the specially designed wind vortex, only the glorious sensation of free falling!  And also, none of the uncomfortable binding straps of a parachute, as described in the skydiving fail.


After watching a short training video and getting tips from my wind-tunnel buddy, Ben, I was ready to hop into my suit.
Stylish, yes?

Next, I added goggles and ear plugs, as the vortex of wind is bracingly loud.

Add a helmet to keep my noggin from splitting open should I fly into the plexiglass walls...
 And I'm ready to fly!  First some instruction from trainer, Ben.
What you can't tell clearly from the above picture (but which is quite evident in the video below) is the instructor Ben is wearing fleece footie pajamas with dinosaurs on them.  It was Halloween after all.  He informed us that he was dressed as a paleontologist.

Ben was one of my favorite things about the whole experience.  You couldn't help but be happy and enthusiastic around Ben, and even more so as he sported the dino-laden sleepwear.

So, I was ready.  Ben stepped in first and helped me as I leaned in to fall into the forceful updraft.

And next thing I knew, I was flying!
It was quite a rush.  Not really scary, just exhilarating.  It's a strange thing to float like that, and I never had the sensation that I was going to drop or fall.  It was just extremely fun -- like a roller coaster on steroids.

Here's the video...

Awesome day with an awesome friend!  Alas, Pete could not share the experience as he is still recovering from shoulder surgery.  Greater love has no man than this:  that he would take his friend to indoor skydive even though he is on the injured list.

Thanks, Pete, for being Bullwinkle to my Rocky.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Slavery and freedom

Note:  If you attend CenterPoint Church, you've probably already seen this post I wrote in our online community.  But for those of you who live else where, thought I'd post it here.

I’ve been reading a book called “Redemption” by Mike Wilkerson.  It’s a call to be set free from the wounds that we carry and the idols that we worship, as examined through the Exodus narrative.  One of the themes is that we are created to worship, and if we don’t worship Jesus, then we will turn that worship towards someone or something else.
One thing that struck me (and honestly, this book has been hitting me HARD upside the head…repeatedly) is the response of the Israelites once Moses comes, sent by God, to set them free.  They’ve been enslaved, persecuted by Pharoah not because of anything they did, simply because he was afraid of them and the potential power they wielded by their sheer numbers; they were enduring an unjust punishment.  Israel cried out to God, begging to be set free.

And then God answers, sending Moses to Pharoah on Israel’s behalf, exhorting Pharoah to let His people go.  Israel is relieved, rejoicing, excited that God has listened and has made a way for their freedom!

Pharoah reacts to this by making their work harder: instead of just making bricks, they now have to gather the straw to make the bricks, while still producing the same amount as when the straw was gathered for them.  And how does Israel respond?  They lash out at God, blaming Him for the difficulty that comes with His promised freedom.  They shake their fist at God, and beg to fall back under Pharoah’s “good graces”, to live again under his slavery but at least not have to gather straw, to have the easier verision of servitude.  Instead of recognizing the slave owner as the one who is making life hard (which is what he would be expected to do, since he doesn’t want to lose his slaves) they blame God for making their life difficult, and neglect seeing that He is setting them free!
So how does this apply to us?  When we are set free, or begin the path to freedom, whether that’s accepting Christ and His forgiveness, moving away from addictions, or finding healing for our emotional wounds, there is going to be opposition.  If we place our faith in Christ for the first time, our former way of thinking is going to continue to pull at us.  If we’re ready to turn aside from an addiction that controls us, that substance or attraction is not going to suddenly dissolve.  If we’re ready to embrace the Father and His love for us, the wounds we carry are going to continue to whisper that we aren’t worthy of His love and forgiveness.

And when the former continues to pull at us, we shake our fist at God and say, “Why are you doing this to me?!  Why am I still tempted?  Why do I still feel the hurt?  Why won’t my family leave me alone?  Why don’t You make everything go away?”  And when we ask those questions, we’re just like Israel, blaming God instead of recognizing that He is setting us free, and that the things we’re enslaved to don’t want to let us go.  Will we believe God that “it is for freedom I have set you free,” or will we believe Pharoah (Satan) who says we will not be free, a slave is who we are, what we deserve, what we’re destined to be?

I’m going to choose to believe God.  That doesn’t mean I won’t hear the other voices.  It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy along the way.  But when it is hard, when temptation continues to pull, entice, and accuse, I’ll choose to believe what God says: I am not a slave, I am His beloved child, who He as made to be free, and that my freedom will be costly and maybe even take time.  But I am free.

And you are free as well.  Believe what He says and does, not what Pharoah says and does.