Friday, July 7, 2017

I Wasn't There

I move. And I move. And I move. I've moved my whole life. My. Whole. Life.

And every time, I pack up my clothes and my belongings and my memories, and I take them with me. But I can't take my friends with me. You stay.

You. Stay.

And I'm Not There.

I wasn't there when you had your baby. I wasn't there when your baby died. I wasn't there when you tried year after year to get pregnant with no success. I wasn't there when you decided that adoption is how you would build your family.

I wasn't there.

I wasn't there when you decided to leave the closet. I wasn't there when you married your best friend. I wasn't there when you decided your marriage was worth fighting for. I wasn't there when you realized that fighting alone doesn't work and divorce was your answer.

I wasn't there.

I wasn't there when your baby was blessed. I wasn't there when your child had trouble in school. I wasn't there when you had to decide whether your child needed professional help or you could do enough as a parent. I wasn't there when your child was baptized. I wasn't there when your child tried to commit suicide. I wasn't there when your child was diagnosed with an incurable disease.

I wasn't there.

I wasn't there when you were hospitalized. I wasn't there when you took your parent to court for child abuse. I wasn't there when you almost died. I wasn't there when you lost your faith. I wasn't there when you gained yours. I wasn't there when you survived radiation and fought cancer.

I wasn't there.

I wasn't there when you quit your job to stay at home with your children. I wasn't there when you fell in love with a new hobby or learned a new skill. I wasn't there when you finally got your degree. I wasn't there when you found a job that fulfilled you. I wasn't there when you got that promotion. I wasn't there when you changed and grew.

I wasn't there.

For any of it.

At all.

I was over here.

I was thinking of you. Praying for you. Crying for you. My heart breaking for you. Wishing more than anything that I could hold you and strengthen you and love you—not from afar but right in the same room. That I could cry with you and celebrate with you.

And every now and then, I get to go back there. I get to try and see you. And so many of you—so, so many of you—respond to my emails, my texts, my phone calls, my Facebook messages. You take time out of the lives you've built without me, with the friends I don't know and the places I haven't been. And you come to me. You hug me. You love me. You listen to my stories, and you share yours with me. And we're different. But we're also the same.

And some of you don't. Or just won't? Or can't. Some of you don't respond. I open a message to tell you I'm coming and I see that the last four messages over the past eight years have all been me telling you I'm coming and you never responding.

Or you respond, but life is too full. The kids are too needy, or the job is too demanding, or the spouse is too busy, and it never seems to quite work out. I wasn't there, and when I am there, you can't drop everything to see me.

But I still love you so much. The ones who can and the ones who don't.

A piece of my heart is yours. And a spot in my memories is filled with you.

So know that when you read of my adventures and hear tales of my happy, exotic life with the kids and spouse I love more than life, just know, that even though I'm not there, I wish I could be here and there.

Thank you so much, dear friends, for making room in your lives when I can be there.

I hope you know who you are. I love you.

Me, exploring ancient ruins, without you. 
It would have been so much more fun with you!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Lovely Virginia

Today we hit the road again. Our toys were gone. Our clothes were in suitcases. Our artwork no longer decorated the walls. The apartment that we turned into a home was just an apartment again. We only got to live there for six months, but we really filled those six months with so much life.

Friends. So many friends. We were incredibly blessed. We were able to renew friendships with people we had loved from when we lived in Herndon, Virginia, before. We were able to continue friendships with other Foreign Service families we had known from Mexico or training. We were able to meet a plethora of amazing new people from our neighborhood, school, and church. Even though we were only here temporarily, no one held back, saving themselves the pain of a goodbye so soon after the hello.

I'm a fairly positive person, but sometimes negativity swirls through my brain that is hard to shut down. There is one common negative refrain that plays on repeat through my brain as I move—yet again move. "Don't get to know us—we're not worth your emotional capital." or "We're just going to love you and leave you." A bit harsh and extreme, but I kind of live by extremes. But it wasn't like that at all. Parents and kids opened their arms and hearts wide and let us move inside. Even though we were just going to turn around and leave.

I loved so many things about where we lived in Arlington, Virginia.

Barrett Elementary School
Barrett Elementary has to be on the top of the list. I loved that school. The principal was wonderful. Daniel got hurt on the playground one day, an altercation with another child, and the principal actually found me to tell me about it. I couldn't believe that he would even know about such a small incidence, let alone be able to connect me as the mother to inform. The office staff was so friendly and helpful and reasonable. The school encouraged parental involvement instead of continually standing as a barrier to separate parents and children as some schools do. I always felt welcome. The kids went on so many field trips! We were only there from January to June, and each child went on at least five field trips, and because of being blessed with so many friends willing to watch Alice and Gordon, I was able to chaperone every single one. The teachers were so prompt in responding to my questions either by backpack mail, email, or text. And they always seemed happy to see me if I popped in during class with a concern. Jill and Daniel both had such amazing teachers. I was really impressed to see how their teachers handled their learning. Coming from a different school system, Jill and Daniel were behind in some areas and ahead in others, and their teachers took it all in stride and allowed them to continue ahead in their strengths, creating custom learning paths for them to grow in their weaknesses. I also loved the class size. They both had 20 to 21 kids in their class with one main teacher and a secondary teacher. I also loved that Spanish was offered, and it was so cool that Barrett is a NASA Discovery School. My kids really loved getting to go to the discovery lab to learn more about space. Gordon was so popular at that school. So many kids that I didn't know knew Gordon. I had kids ask me if I could bring Gordon to school to play with them. And on the playground, he almost had trouble playing, because there were so many kids following him around. He was a superstar. Alice had her own niche at school as well, because she was able to get speech therapy services through the school. She had her therapist, who she called her teacher, and her own little classroom with one other classmate. Barrett Elementary truly was a school that exemplified what it means to be the neighborhood school.

Another thing to love about Arlington, Virginia, was the opportunity that we had to play sports. Jeffrey got to play basketball and tennis multiple times a week. Jill and Daniel were both on soccer teams, and I got to be Daniel's coach. I loved that little team! I got to play on a soccer team through Fairfax Women's soccer. I even scored two goals! Alice participated in a gymnastics class, and Gordon in a tumbling class, and we just all enjoyed so much how easy it was to find the sports we loved. Also, the PE classes at Barrett were incredible. It was Daniel's least favorite class at his old school. He would often get caught trying to run away and play at the playground, but he loved PE here. And it has been so cool to watch Jill and Daniel learn new sports, especially basketball, since that is one their father loves so much.

Walking distance
I was able to walk to so many places! In twenty minutes or less, I was able to walk to the public library, the metro station, five (probably more actually!) playgrounds, the elementary school, the Foreign Service Institute, the grocery store, the post office, a pharmacy, another grocery store, and countless restaurants. I put a lot of miles on that double stroller during those six months. I would go days without using the car, and it was really, really nice to be outside enjoying the day (okay sometimes it was freezing cold or raining or super sunny, but I walked on!). In Juarez, Mexico, I could walk to some stores, some restaurants, and the Consulate, but the sidewalks were not always adequate for pushing a stroller, and I've heard that in Libreville, Gabon, I won't really be able to push a stroller either, that the roads aren't very safe for walking. So I walked as much as I could in Arlington and loved it. Gordon and Alice got tired of it sometimes, ha.

Hopefully I have made it clear how much we all loved our time in Arlington, Virginia, these past six months. Thank you, Barrett family. Thank you, Arlington First Ward family. Thank you, Foreign Service family. And thank you, Herndon family.

Jill was baptized. Daniel learned how to read. Alice really left toddlerhood behind. Gordon really left babyhood behind. Jeff learned French. And I got to coach for the first time. It's amazing how much you can grow and change in just six months.

We toured the White House. We walked for hours in downtown DC trying to complete a Boy Scout hike in which we accidentally went the wrong direction for a significant amount of time. We attended the International Submarine Races at a Navy base. We toured the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. We video chatted with an astronaut. We attended the Mars summit. Jill was a Brownie Scout, and Daniel was a Lion Scout. We went to a DC United game. We spent a week in Cape Cod. We spent a weekend at Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg. We went to a Nationals game. We participated in a Science Fair. We attended a Step competition. We attended four plays. We got to play in snow and see spring unfold. Our apartment building had a coffee machine that also made delicious hot chocolate.

Life was very, very good.

And now we're off.

Here's a bit of memory lane.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Jill joined the Church

In my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, babies born into the Church receive "a name and a blessing." We usually just call it a "baby blessing." It is somewhat similar to a christening. First, the baby receives his or her name, and then the baby receives a blessing, which is kind of like a special prayer that mostly asks for things. It is not a set prayer; the language is mostly up to the priesthood holder, who has been pondering and praying to receive inspiration for what the blessing should say.

Thus our children are not actually members of our church until after they turn eight. At that point, they can choose to be baptized and confirmed, or to not. You do not have to be a member to attend our meetings.

Jill turned eight in April, so leading up to her birthday, we had talked about baptism a lot, and she was very eager to be baptized. In fact, our bishop recounted a sweet story.

Before being baptized, candidates have an interview with the bishop (in some cases, other priesthood leaders like branch presidents or missionaries would perform the interview). So, it was Jill's time for her interview. The bishop asked her if she would like a parent to accompany her, and she, very assuredly, replied, "no." So Jeff waited outside.

They went through the normal questions and talking points, and at the end of the interview, the bishop told Jill that she could be baptized. The story goes that Jill then jumped out of her seat and yelled "yes!" The bishop told us he had never had a response quite that enthusiastic before.

Jill had her baptism all planned out. She asked her great-grandfather to say the benediction. Her maternal grandmother would speak about baptism. Her paternal grandmother would speak about the Holy Ghost. Her father would baptize her with her grandfathers as witnesses. Her father would confirm her a member with her grandfathers, great-grandfather, and bishop included in the confirmation circle. Her mother would sing a duet with her. We practiced her song every night.

The day before her baptism, Jill looked at me and asked if I would be sad if I didn't get to sing with her at her baptism. I told her, "of course not! It's your baptism. If you'd like to sing alone, I would love to hear you do that." And she decided to do that.

Her baptism began, and many people had come to her baptism. People from our first time living in Virginia, people from this time living in Virginia, family from out of state, and people we knew in Mexico were all gathered in this room to show love and support for Jill. Some of these showed up without Jill seeing, because she was sitting in the front row. So when she stood up to sing her song and faced the congregation, she was a little surprised to see how many people were there.

She was so brave. Even though she was scared, even though she had never sung alone before, even though she had never sung it with a piano before, she stood tall and sang her song, shared her testimony with all her heart. I was—I am—so proud of my Jill Bean, my Baby Jill.

Jill on her blessing day, May 2009, and on her baptism day, April 2017.

Jill recorded her song and testimony so her great-grandfather ("Big Grandpa") could hear it, and here it is to share with all of you as well.

Dear Jill,
I am so proud of you. I've seen you tackle obstacles and solve problems, and I'm just amazed by you. You're in second grade, and you've already attended four elementary schools. I've seen you turn strangers into friends. I've seen you smile when you're scared and walk forward when you want to cling to me behind. 

I've seen you cry. I've heard you ask me if you could dye your hair dark, so you would look like everyone else. I've heard you learn new languages. I've heard you comfort friends, and I've seen you rush to the aid of your younger siblings.

I love you so much, and I am very happy with your decision to join our church. I hope that you find in its doctrine and traditions the same meaning, strength, and purpose that I have found. 

I hope that when you move somewhere new, you remember your pioneer ancestors and Ruth who also left homes and moved to strange, new places.

I hope that when you see someone hurting, you remember the doctrines of Jesus Christ, and go to comfort and heal rather than judge.

I hope that when you're scared, you can remember Daniel and the Stripling Warriors who drew strength by being obedient to the commandments of God.

I especially hope you can remember Abish, who kept her faith even when living among those who didn't share her beliefs, who was willing to share her beliefs when the time seemed ripe, and who, even when she found herself in a group of angry people arguing and ready to kill, found bravery within and managed to take steps toward a solution even through her sorrow.

I love you.

—Your Mama

Thank you all for how you've loved Jill.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Holy Week

I was asked to speak at church last week, on Palm Sunday, and here is what I said.

With General Conference fresh in our memories and Easter nigh upon us, I think all of us have the Savior, Jesus Christ, on our minds. I really love to read, and I would like to start with an excerpt from a childhood memoir I read last month written by Haven Kimmel. The following is from a conversation between Haven’s mother and grandmother.

“I've got a question for you. Mabel Simpkins told me today that the Jesus who died at Easter was the same one who was born at Christmas. Is that true?” Mildred asked. . . .

Before Mom could answer, Mildred continued. “I just laughed at Mabel and told her she sure wasn't making a fool of me. I know Easter comes before Christmas.” (A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small inMooreland, Indiana)

I laughed when I read that exchange, but as I’ve been preparing for this talk, I keep returning to that idea, of people not knowing or perhaps not really understanding that the Jesus of Christmas and Easter are the same person and not really grasping what that means, not accepting that not only is Jesus the only begotten Son of God but also the Savior of the World. There are so many different religions who worship God, our same God. They may use different names for Him or emphasize different teachings or have had truths lost over time, but their God is our God and is not what separates us. What separates us is our belief in Jesus Christ. That He was more than a man, more than a teacher, more than a prophet. As Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, we are further separated from other Christians due to our unique beliefs about the nature of God, the Restoration, temple ordinance work, and priesthood authority, but that is a discussion for a different talk. Today I focus on our shared belief in Jesus Christ and specifically His last week living on Earth in a mortal body.

A baby was born in a manger to Mary, and a man was crucified on the cross, both acts fulfilling prophecies that had been foretold for hundreds of years by Jewish prophets and leaders. Jesus spent His whole life attempting to get those around Him to understand that He was the fulfillment of said prophecy and to teach them what the prophecies really meant.

The last week of Jesus’s life is called by many “Holy Week” or “Passion Week.” It begins today on Palm Sunday; continues with Holy Thursday when Christ celebrated His last supper, a Passover Feast, with his disciples, and suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane; moves on to Good Friday when Christ is tried, condemned, and crucified; and ends on Easter Sunday, next Sunday, when Christ’s body was not found in the tomb, because He had risen from the dead.

The different authors of the gospels in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—differ slightly in their placement of the events of the last week of Christ’s life and some include additional events, but to me that has more to do with emphasizing different aspects rather than detracting from historical truth. We’re human, and we all remember the same events in different ways and retell them in novel ways. One could read all the accounts together to gain a fuller understanding of Holy Week and its meaning.

One of the events of Holy Week took place in Bethany at the home of the sisters Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Martha served a special meal to Jesus, Lazarus, and other disciples. During the meal, Mary anointed Jesus’s body. John, in his gospel, records that she anointed Jesus’s feet, and Matthew and Mark record that she anointed his head, either way it was very symbolic to be anointed with oil. In ancient Israel, anointing a body was part of the burial process, and in earlier periods of history, the Israelites would anoint living people who were going to serve as kings or high priests. The Hebrew word Messiah and the Greek word Christ both mean “the anointed one.” Anointing with oil was not a common practice outside of those religious rituals. Thus, the anointing teaches us that Jesus is our King and High Priest and also allowed Jesus to teach His disciples that He would soon die, as he responded to Judas’s complaint about the waste of expensive oil by saying: “Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always” (John 12:7).

Today is called Palm Sunday because of Jesus’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. In John we read, “On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt” (John 12:12–15).

To Jews aware of their history, this event would have held a lot of meaning. Old Testament kings, especially David, commonly rode donkeys, so Jesus riding the young donkey would further associate himself as their true King, and it also completes the prophecy of Zechariah quoted by John that the messianic king would come riding on a donkey.

Another parallel Jews would have drawn at the time is the waving of tree branches associated with the coronation of Israelite kings, thus in multiple ways, Jesus reveals that He is their true King. This triumphal entry must have been bittersweet to our Savior who was finally recognized as the Messiah by so many of His people when He knew that the end of His earthly ministry was near.

Recognized as King and High Priest, Jesus then goes to His temple, which He discovers is populated not just with worshippers and priests but money changers and vendors of sacrificial animals. Using one of His strongest rebukes, our Lord who was often so eager to forgive proclaimed: “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). Jesus cast them out and overthrew their tables, then, as recorded in Matthew, He stayed at the temple to heal the blind and the lame who came to Him (Matthew 21:12, 14).

In Mark’s account of the cleansing of the temple, he surrounds that event with the cursing of the fruitless fig tree. Jesus is hungry and goes to the fig tree searching for food, but finding only leaves, He curses it saying, “No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever” (Mark 11:14). Then after leaving the temple and the city, Jesus and his disciples passed by the fig tree again and found “the fig tree dried up from the roots” (Mark 11:20). The apostle Peter remarked, “Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God” (Mark 11:21–22).

This could have just been an example of Jesus’s power—that He can not only heal the blind and lame but also curse those who have been given much yet do not fulfill their roles. It might have been a parallel with the House of Israel who had been given the priesthood and prophets and blessings but some instead of following the commandments of the Lord and producing good fruit, had instead become hypocrites, not living up to their potential. Theologians more versed in scripture than I have supposed that “the cursing of the fig tree and the overturning of the money changers’ tables, taken together, may foreshadow the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple some 40 years later.” (Eric D. Huntsman, “Reflecting on the Savior’s Last Week,” Ensign, April 2009.)

For the followers of Christ who were hoping that Christ would become a literal King of the Jews and overthrow their Roman oppressors, the cursing of the fig tree must have been rather disappointing. For the fig tree was not blessed with fruit it hadn’t cultivated itself; it was cursed instead. Just like Jerusalem soon was destroyed.

Often during His last week of life, Jesus would go to the temple where He continued to teach those who would listen. He often also had to verbally spar with the chief priests and elders who pestered Him over and over again, questioning His authority.

Ever since Christ’s life, people throughout the years and all over the world, and I myself, have likewise questioned His authority. Was He really the King of Kings? Is He really the Savior? Did He really die for me? Through His atonement, can I actually receive forgiveness for my sins?

As we read of His miracles and His parables, we can pray for our own personal witness and receive an answer through the comforting presence of the Holy Ghost. Just as Christ answered the priests and elders in the temple during His last week of life, today our questions are still answered.

Also in our time, we are able to take the sacrament, a practice that was taught by Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday. He met with His apostles for the Feast of the Passover. The Passover is a Jewish holiday celebrating when the angel of death passed over the Jewish homes that were marked with the blood of an innocent lamb during Israel’s captivity in Egypt. Likewise, Jesus Christ is often symbolized as a lamb, and we know He was innocent of all sin. And through the blood of His atonement, we can repent and fulfil the demands of justice, thus damnation passes over us. During this feast, Christ instituted the sacrament, already talking of His body and blood that would be slain and shed for all.

Every week, we will most likely fail to be perfect, but through the sacrament, we are able to access the power of the atonement and be forgiven of our sins, fresh and clean to start a new week and try again to be better. I will admit that having little children has made my partaking of the sacrament a little bit less peaceful and reverent as it once was. Now it’s often filled with whispers of “please be quieter” or “no, you can’t do that until after the sacrament” or “stop touching your sibling!” But I do still find great solace in knowing that I can utilize the atonement, repent, and start over again and that God probably understands how hard it is for little kids to be still and quiet.

After the sacrament and feast, Christ and his disciples journeyed to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus Christ prayed alone to His Heavenly Father saying, from the account of John, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42­). But it was the will of the Father, and it was necessary for the salvation of all mankind, and Christ was perfectly obedient, so He prayed, and He was in so much agony that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22: 44). An angel appeared to lend Him strength.

In the words of Bruce R. McConkie:
We do not know, we cannot tell, no mortal mind can conceive, the full import of what Christ did in Gethsemane. . . .

We know that in some way, incomprehensible to us, his suffering satisfied the demands of justice, ransomed penitent souls from the pains and penalties of sin, and made mercy available to those who believe in his holy name. (Bruce R.McConkie, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane,” Ensign, May 1985.)

After endearing this inhumane, miraculous event that conquered sin, He returned to find that all of His friends were asleep. Not one stayed awake with Him during His hour of need. And then a short while later, one who was once a friend betrayed Him with a kiss, and He was bound and taken away.

Thus we begin Good Friday: Christ bound and taken before Jewish and Roman authorities. He was mocked, scourged, and spit upon, derided and abused. Already having endured incomprehensible pain in the Garden of Gethsemane, He had to carry His cross to the location of the crucifixion and finally be raised up on the cross. He had nails through His hands and wrists and a spear through His side, and amidst all of that physical pain, His cry was “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Having lived a perfect life, I assume it was the first time He had ever lost the presence of God and the Holy Ghost. No angel came this time. No friends could lessen this pain. He took it all upon Himself, and then finally in full agency yielded to death. I say yielded, because the account in Matthew phrases it that way—He “yielded up the ghost,” (Matthew 27:50) because as the only Begotten of the Father, Christ was also divine and dying in Golgotha was His choice as much as suffering in Gethsemane had been the night before.

But this is not the end of the story of Jesus Christ. He atoned for us on Holy Thursday. He died for us on Good Friday. And then, on Easter Sunday, when Mary Magdalene and other women went to the sepulchre, they found the stone rolled away and His body gone. He died. They had all seen Him die. But His corpse was gone. And this is the final touch of His amazing story of atonement. He suffered and conquered sin that we might repent and be clean again. And He died and lived again, conquering death, that we too might live again.

Every moment and every story in this week, and I didn’t even touch on all of them, all lead up to the culminating experience of the Atonement. With every instance, Jesus Christ reaffirmed that He was the King, the High Priest, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Sacrificial Lamb. His atonement gives life purpose, and we are blessed enough to live in a time period on this earth where we can take the sacrament every single week, where we can make our own covenants, where we can read scriptures in our own native tongues, and where we can grow closer to our Lord every single day.

To me, Jesus Christ means hope, peace, and love. I have hope for a future after death; I have hope for cleanliness and forgiveness after sin. I have peace in my life and in my heart. I can feel His love for me, and I can feel His love for others. When I think of all the things in my life that have brought me happiness, the root of all of them is Jesus Christ. I have built my life upon His teachings, and I can honestly say that I have great joy every day because of it. I am in awe when I think about His resurrection, how He died and then lived again. I am so grateful that He conquered sin and overcame the grave, and I look forward to the day when I am resurrected and reunited with loves ones I have lost.

I would like to share a quote by Jeffrey R. Holland:
. . . for me there is no greater amazement and no more difficult personal challenge than when, after the anguish in Gethsemane, after being mocked, beaten, and scourged, Jesus staggers under his load to the crest of Calvary and says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34.)

If ever there is a moment when I indeed stand all amazed, it is here, for this is an amazement of a different kind. So much of the mystery of his power and ministry tear at my mind: the circumstances of his birth, the breadth and variety of his ministry and miracles, the self-summoned power of his resurrection—before all of these I stand amazed and say, “How did he do it?”

But here with disciples who abandoned him in his hour of greatest need, here fainting under the weight of his cross and the sins of all mankind which were attached to it, here rent by piercing spikes in his palms and in his wrists and in his feet—here now the amazement tears not at my mind but at my heart, and I ask not “How did he do it?” but “Why did he do it?”

It is here that I examine my life, not against the miraculousness of his, but against the mercifulness of it, and it is here I find how truly short I fall in emulation of the Master. (Jeffrey R. Holland, “I Stand All Amazed,” Ensign, August 1986.)

My native language is English, but my true language is music, so I would like to close my talk with two hymns that have been on my mind as I have pondered the events of Holy Week.

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.

I know that my Redeemer lives.
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, and while he lives, I'll sing.
He lives, my Prophet, Priest, and King.
He lives to silence all my fears.
He lives to wipe away my tears.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Family Activities Juarez/El Paso

This is by no means a comprehensive guide, nor does it even include everything we managed to fit in during our two years there, but it is a helpful start for anyone wondering what there is to do in that part of the world. It was also quite a trip down memory lane. In no specific order, here are some of our favorite sites and activities in Juárez and El Paso (and the surrounding area).

Primero, Ciudad Juárez!

The universal wristband gives you access to the bumper cars, water launcher boats, zip line, roller skating rink, mini golf, trampolines, and various other rides that little kids can enjoy, too. The go-carts are not included in the universal wristband purchase. It's open Wednesday through Sunday.

Las Golondrinas
This is the closest water park to the Consulate. It is the smallest, but I liked that, because I could keep track of my kids better, and there are still a lot of fun slides for small kids. The big slide opens randomly for an hour here and there (I assume for water conservation), and when open, little kids are allowed to go down in life jackets/floaties or on your lap. There is a great wading pool with lots of small slides. It is open Tuesday through Sunday.

The children's museum in Juarez is fantastic. It differs in one way from American children's museums—there are docents/guides everywhere. And they want to explain to your children what each display/interactive activity does/the science behind it all before your kid can engage with the booth/display. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is different from in the States, where most things are unmanned, and you just walk around on your own. You could spend a whole day there and still not see everything. (Especially if your kids like to do things over and over again like mine.) It has activities for toddlers and babies as well. There is a 3D movie theater that usually shows BBC Earth movies. My kids have found them too intense (haha), so every time I pay for it, we've had to leave in the middle of the show. There are two restaurants and an ice cream/popsicle parlor inside. Or you can bring food to eat in the cafeteria. It is open Monday through Sunday. 

La Rodadora next to Parque Central. It is a wonderful place for children to ride their bikes and roller skate. There are multiple ponds with ducks and turtles. There is a giraffe named Modesto and peacocks. There are a lot of food stands. There are a few playgrounds that are not up to American standards, but my kids have played on them without getting hurt. We mostly go to walk around/ride bikes/skate. It's a large park. If you go in the evening, the carnival rides will be turned on.

This is one of the two waterparks along the border. It is larger than Las Golondrinas. It is nice and clean. The little kid area doesn't have as many slides as Las Golondrinas, but it still has a good number and the kiddie pool itself is larger, and there are more big slides. It is more expensive than Las Golondrinas.

This is the biggest waterpark. It is like Las Fuentes and Fiesta Park combined. I've never been there, so I can't say whether it is nice/clean, but it is definitely the largest with the widest variety of activities.

Museo de Arqueología El Chamizal
This is a free museum, and if you call ahead of time, you can organize to have a tour. The majority of the museum is outside in gardens and is composed of life-size replicas of archeological finds from all over Mexico. There are some original pieces as well, but mostly very well done replicas. It's an enjoyable stroll while learning about the ancient indigenous cultures. The museum is located in El Chemizal park, which is quite large and worth seeing for itself.

We also enjoyed visiting the art museum in Juarez. It is not very large, but every third Saturday of the month, between March and October, there are free crafts, activities, and workshops for children. It is a free event.

Fast food restaurants
I know it's not exciting, because the food is the same as in the States, but in Mexico, the play places are GINORMOUS. The largest ones are at Burger King. Seriously huge. You can easily be there for hours while your kids climb, slide, and play. Just the play places in Mexico are bigger than the entire fast food restaurant in the States. After Burger King, I would say Carl's Jrs have the next largest play places. But McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, etc., they all have play places here.

Now for the El Paso side of things . . .

El Paso Zoo
The El Paso Zoo is not very far away from the border and is a good medium size zoo. My children especially loved the treehouse playground and the splash pad/spray ground. The Zoo holds fun events throughout the year. We found that a membership was definitely worth the price, and includes discounts at participating zoos throughout the country.

Playdates at the Park/El Paso Chihuahuas
El Paso has a baseball team: the Chihuahuas. The games are fun to attend. Also, in the summer, the ball park holds two or three "play dates at the park," which are free events for young children to attend. There are various sponsors present giving out free items and there are games to play.

Franklin Mountain has some nice hiking trails, as well as picnic areas and some camping spots. It is a large park. We found many of the trails to be too intense for our youngest children, but we wore them in packs. (Some of the trails were incredibly steep, so even wearing them in packs was kind of intense, because if the child on your back leaned to one side, it was dangerously easy to lose your balance. So be careful as to what trails you choose and what your stamina levels are.) My elementary aged children handled it fine.

Rockin' Jump is a lot of fun. It's exactly what you would imagine. Trampolines everywhere. They have special hours for different ages, so your littles don't have to compete with really big kids. You are required to purchase their special socks, but you get to keep them. This is a little pricier than the other options, but the kids really love it.

Armijo is an indoor pool at a city park in El Paso. It has random hours, so call, but it has a fantastic wading pool with lots of water spray features. There is a small slide for kids and a larger one, but I think little kids can't use the larger one. The slides aren't as large as in Juarez, but it is fun for all the spray features, and sometimes indoor is nice to get out of the sun, and it is especially nice in the winter when the outdoor pools are closed. Also, it is attached to a civic center and a library and is surrounded by three different playgrounds.

If you're willing to drive outside the city . . . 

These dunes are located just about 30 to 45 minutes outside of Ciudad Juarez. If you're into '80s films, you might be interested to know these dunes were used in the filming of Conan the Destroyer and Dune. It's a quick drive to leave the bustle of the city and feel like you're completely in the wilderness.

Casas Grandes, Nuevas Casas Grandes, Paquimé, Mata Ortiz, and Colonia Juárez
If you're willing to drive a few hours outside of Juarez, then I recommend a visit to Casas Grandes. At Paquimé, you'll be able to walk trails through the ruins of an ancient city made by the indigenous people to that region almost a thousand years ago. There is also a museum. Mata Ortiz is a small town nearby that in the '80s revived the lost art of the pottery made by the original inhabitants of Paquimé. Made entirely by hand with local materials, the pottery is gorgeous and true to its history and legacy. Depending on when you go, you can even attend workshops where local artisans will show you how the pottery is made. Nuevo Casas Grandes is where you will find the most hotels and restaurants. We stayed at Hotel Hacienda and enjoyed it immensely. The food was delicious, the rooms were clean, and there is a kiddie pool and a regular pool. Colonia Juárez is also not too far away. It was a colony originally settled by Mormons as part of a wider resettlement. When the Mormons left the eastern United States and traveled west, the majority settled in Salt Lake City, but other groups were sent to settle parts of Mexico, Idaho, California, and other areas nearby. Colonia Juarez was one such settlement.

Another worthwhile drive is to the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas. Depending on when you visit, you can attend a "sun party" or a "star party" where you will see images from an actual telescope in current time. The visitor's center has a few exhibits, and you can pay for a guided tour of many of the other telescopes located on the mountain (or do a free self guided tour, but you don't get to see as much).

A drive in the other direction will take you to White Sands, which is the largest dune area of a special white sand. You can take sleds to slide down, hike, or rustic camp. It's quite beautiful. The sand is unique also in that it doesn't get hot even when it is unbearably hot outside.