Monday, September 10, 2018

A Summer to Remember 2018: Return to the Persian Gulf

As Dani and her family ended their summer break tour, it was time to head back to their home on the Persian Gulf.
Her husband returned earlier in the month, so I went along to help her with the kids on the long, long trip back to Saudi.
My trip started in Eugene to Salt Lake City, Utah where I met up with Dani and her kids.

Now, the only drama began here with my luggage. Since my first flight began in Eugene, it was a separate ticket, altho on the same airlines, Delta.  When I got to SLC, I asked three different Delta employees to make sure my luggage was transferred along to the next flight leg of my trip to Dammam, Saudi Arabia. I was assured at all instances that it would be, no problem.

My seat partner was 3.5 yo Gracie who is a fabulous little traveler! Her mom packed a travel pouch of treats and toys and that cute Unicorn headband that holds earphones so she could watch kid shows on the plane. 
From Salt Lake City our trip took us to Amsterdam, The Netherlands. That's a 10 hour flight, but Gracie did great.  Hannah, the youngest of Dani's crew at 2 years old, was a hot mess at times, so I was happy that I was there.  Dani's boys, Garrett, 8.5 and Isaac, 7, were happy to sit for hours looking at their tablet games.

The next leg of the trip was Amsterdam to Dammam was 6.5 hours.
We were so tired.  I hadn't slept most of the way, to keep alert for Gracie, so I was beat.
It's always great to get off the plane, right?!
My luggage didn't make it.
I filed a lost luggage report with KLM airlines (the Delta partner) and went to Dani's house to assuage the jet lag.

The next morning came sooner than I'd have liked, but Gracie took a spin outside with me.

The Persian Gulf is as I left it two years ago...quiet, blue waters, hot and dusty air.

It wasn't as hot as before, thank goodness, only in the low 100s.
The evening sunsets are amazing and I wish I'd taken more photos of it.

Dani and I had a few trips into town and even one to Bahrain.
The architecture is interesting to me--this is not the only building shaped like this Jetsons-inspired structure.  I don't know why they build "up" like this, but there are some truly interesting buildings there.

Bahrain is colorful and vibrant compared to the area of Saudi that Dani lives in. Also, it is more westernized than Saudi and is compared to a "wicked Babylon" because it allows movie theaters, liquor, strip clubs, pork products and such that is prohibited in Saudi.  Also, women do not have to wear abeyas! Which made it so much nicer.  Dani bought me my own abeya, and I wore it when necessary, but it was nice to take off in Bahrain.  I brought it home with me.

Again, there are the Western influences everywhere...restaurants, clothing, autos, etc.
One of the biggest changes to see in Saudi is women in the workplace such as in Internationally-owned retail shops and women drivers.  

Pork area designated as such by the "Non-Muslim" signage.

Dani treated me to a delicious Thai food restaurant while in Bahrain as well as a day at a local spa she found called "Diva" which is owned by a Bahrainian and employs Philippine single women to work there. They live in a shared apartment and work together. Such a nice day!

Image result for LULU'S in saudi
We went to a newer chain of stores called LULU'S...think "Walmart" style and you'll be close!
It has alot of everything--clothing, home goods, and food. 

They sell fancy dresses for women and girls, as well as a custom-clothing shop for the whole family.
How cool is that?  The fabrics look luxurious, but not practical for daily living, imo.  They also have a whole floor full of western clothing for everyone, but I didn't take photos of that. This is where you'll have to imagine Walmart's clothing sections.

Ok and onto food:  for being a desert country, they have a ton of produce.  Dani says it comes from northern Saudi and around the world.

And thank heavens for recognized brands of salsa!

Camel steaks, anyone?

There's also a retail store called Jarir's that resembles a STAPLES and a Borders book store.
It carries electronics, office and school supplies.
Image result for jarirs in saudi

 Mosques:  There are literally thousands of mosques in Saudi Arabia.  Their custom is to build one within walking distance for their citizens.  No two look alike, as far as I can tell, but they're easy to spot because of their unique shape on a cityscape.  The call to prayer is broadcast outward from the mosques and I still find it interesting.  

 Dani's part of a group of women who host a Holiday Bazaar to benefit the foreign workers on their compound and asked me to do some artwork to be sold.  I did a little bit, and hope to do more and send it along to her before the bazaar in November.

Plus a few more, but you get the idea--Saudi themed art sells at the bazaar.

My last morning on the Persian Gulf.  It was a nice day, the humidity was down and Dani said let's go outside for a bit.  I'm glad I did.
It is so beautiful.  Until I went there two years ago, all I associated with the Persian Gulf was the war.
I imagined it to be exactly opposite of what it is in reality.

My kids return to the states in ten months as their contract ends.
They have mixed emotions about leaving this part of the world.
I'm more grateful than I can say for the opportunity to experience Saudi Arabia for myself.
I cannot say I'd like to live there, I wouldn't for alot of reasons.
But the lessons I've learned there will last a lifetime.

*p.s.  I got my luggage back in one piece on Day 7.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Summer to Remember: The Healing Power to Conversion

"I don't believe in God.", she said.
Sitting in the car, outside the mall. Just me and her.
If it's possible for the blood to drain from limbs without injury,
I surely felt it in that exact moment.

She had been dropping hints quietly at first,
but over the course of a year
had made it more evident that
she was in a crisis of faith:
dropping out of seminary,
ditching mid-week activity at church,
withdrawn from Sunday meetings as much as she could,
rejecting opportunities to pray with the family,
and so on.

I chalked it all up to the depression of losing so many of her classmates
to suicide in Colorado
and hoped the many counselling sessions and equine therapy
would help her find her self,
and likewise, find her faith.
So I didn't make a big deal when she placed it on the back burner.

But now, sitting in the car, with the words spoken outloud,
it hurt.
I took it personally, when I shouldn't have.
I sat in silence, then I poured out my heart in the form of my story,
my testimony to her.
It made no difference, you see, because it wasn't ABOUT me.
It wasn't about my faith or my experiences with God, our Heavenly Father.
It was simply about hers, but I couldn't see it for what it was in that moment.

We rode home in silence.
And I set about unraveling the whole chain of events
that had led my beautiful, witty, clever daughter to this
very dark place in her life.

Arianna's baptism day

She had lost over a dozen classmates since her freshman year.
That was hard on us all.
In her declaration of atheism, she noted, "If God is real, then why didn't He save those kids? Why didn't he send someone to them to keep them from dying? Where was He?"

Isn't that the most common pain in the world?
Looking for God's hand in our lives at critical times
and wondering where He is?

"I don't know.", I answered.

We've been through so many trials over the past few years,
I can see where her faith would fall flat.
My own faith has been shredded from time to time
and much effort has gone into holding my own ground
in the midst of it all.
I could definitely see where she was coming from.

My final answer to her that day was,
"I hear you. May I suggest that you not make up your mind completely about the reality of God
and give it a little more time?"

She shrugged. "I don't need anymore time. There's no such thing."

And we left that topic alone for awhile.

This was my Bee, my Caboose. The designer of the "Holiday Bath" since she was little:

My heart was more heavy than I thought I could bear it to be.  First, Dara and now my Bee? 
I prayed to know if Heavenly Father would let her slip away without a fight. I prayed that He would hold onto her, as I most certainly would.

I shared my concerns with my 27 yo daughter, Diana.  She has a particular bond with the Caboose due in large part, I think, to the fact that Diana was present at her birth when she was 9 1/2 years old.  They are very close and I needed her perspective on this matter.  She was saddened.  As I shared this blog post with her, she added the following thoughts:

"Right after you told me Ari didn’t believe in God I sat in my bed, sobbed, read my scriptures and prayed to know how to help Bee. It was clear as day when He told me EFY. That’s when I texted and called you. Then I called the kids at the dinner table thinking if I could get Joe to go that Bee would go. That there was one date open for them and one session that wasn’t full that worked for their summer schedule. That’s when she said she’d think about it. We texted for weeks about her going and I tried and tried to convince her to go. That experience was just a bit more personal for me though.
That was just a powerful moment for me. And at the end it strengthened my testimony to know that God knew my desire for her and made possible what He told me to do. I couldn’t afford EFY but I knew that was the plan for her."

The very next month, I went to BYU's Women's Conference.
I had intended that Diana, Dara and Ari go with me,
but in the end, it was just Dara and I.
Midterms were the same week, so Ari couldn't come.
Diana had work constraints that kept her away.
While in Utah, I was meeting with a dear friend to discuss some design plans
for her new home in Bountiful.
We got to talking about the family
when I shared with her our concerns for Ari.
Sarah asked if we'd considered sending Ari to EFY  this summer?
We had, in fact, asked Ari if she'd like to go,
and her reply was, "I'll think about it."--basically No Thank You.
But Sarah took this into her own hands
and while pulling up the EFY website on her tablet,
said, "Let's see what's available."
EFY is usually completely booked by early March,
in my own experience with other kids' attendance--
we've missed out on it many times bc we tried to jump in too late.
It being May, I had little hope there'd be a spot.
Sarah pulled up one Session and it had 1 seat left.
One Seat Left.
In the matter of a "click", it was claimed for Ari.
Sarah said, "This is no coincidence. This is for Ari. God's hand is in this, Dawn. Now you just have to get her there."

My heart felt hope in the matter.  I needed that open slot as much as Ari did. And there it was.

I went home and with some degree of nerves, I told Ari about the experience and what she was now signed up for in August.
She wasn't happy about it, as I knew she wouldn't be.  But we still had months to prepare:
we had the Family Reunion and she had a 3-week trip to Arizona with her favorite sister, Diana.
EFY was set the very next week of her return.  I would hold my breath until then.

Diana and her Bee

The family reunion came and went.  The news of her declared atheism was a small truth floating around the family--her sisters and brothers wondering how she came to that point at all, living in our family.  Still, we loved her, spent time with her, and prayed for her to feel God's love.

All of my girls at the reunion
When she returned from Arizona, she had a mere 5 days to prep for EFY.  She complained about going many times over those 5 days.  In fact, the night before leaving she came to me, crying and asked me to please not send her.  She didn't know anyone there. She might have a panic attack. She might die on the flight over...and on and on.  Kent was away on a 10-day backpacking trip with Joseph, so it was all on me to get her there.  
I'd found a super cheap flight on Alaska Airlines from Eugene to Salt Lake City, so she was going to have to get up at 3am the next morning to make that 5am flight.  I was worried she wouldn't go, honestly.  I called Sarah that night before and told her what was going on.  "She'll be fine once she gets here.  EFY is a blast of fun! My kids have loved going! Heavenly Father is in this, I know it."

So. This is where the story takes a meaningful turn.  As Ari is freaking out, I said a silent prayer asking what my part is and how I can best help her.  The answer came so powerfully, that even now, weeks later, I feel the impact of it.  What happened was this:  I felt her pain.  The loss of her friends. The struggle with depression. Grief. The stress of moving and feeling like she abandoned her friends in Colorado who are still dealing with the suicides of their friends. The stress of her dad's unemployment. The despair, the overwhelming despair in her heart.  I felt just a little bit of what she's been carrying in her heart and that's when I cried with her.  Instead of trying to find all the reasons why she should have faith in God, I felt the pain she carried.  

There is something wondrous about knowing someone else is carrying our burdens with us.  It is not the same as being sent to a counselor, or buying new things, or new experiences to distract us from our pain.  It is not even close to that.  It is more healing than that.  I still lack the words or total understanding of why that is or how to access that power, but I know that it is real.

Me and my Caboose
The next morning, I woke up at 2:30am waiting to hear the bathroom shower go on by 3am, signaling Ari's intention to be on that flight.  Three a.m. passed and nothing.  I wondered if I had it in me to demand that she get up and go. I wasn't sure that I did.  Finally, at 3:15am, the shower turned on and I breathed a sigh of relief.   How respectful of her to do something she thought would be hard for her, because I had promised her otherwise.  She did have trust in me after all.   

I greeted her with smiles and hugs and off we went to the airport.
FYI, this is her being sarcastic.  She still wasn't sure what lay ahead of her, but she was going because I promised her it would be a blessing for her.
Heading for EFY at 5am bc her family told her it'd be good for her

The rest of her trip was nothing short of manna from heaven.
Sarah picked her up on Saturday morning and she stayed with them until EFY started on Monday morning.  Sarah is amazing with youth and I knew she'd be so loving and kind. 
Ari attended their ward on Sunday, where she was good and loved on by some amazing members there.  Another lovely friend, Roxanne, was kind enough to pick her up from BYU and take her to the Salt Lake Airport at the end of the week.  THANK YOU for those who know how to express warm welcomes and loving hugs to newcomers, wherever you are!

So, I purposefully do not text our girl for the first couple of days beyond "Hey sis, how ya doin'?"
She needed some distance from family.  This was the first time she'd gone anywhere by herself without family. 
The third day away, I get her response: "Freaking awesome!....oh man this is just the most amazing place ever!!!"

And the lights came on.  She felt God's love for her personally.  He knows her pain.  He never left her side.  She can rely on His Love for her and for her former classmates. Her heart is healed.

There are some obvious details left out to honor her sacred experiences there, but truly it was all in a matter of small moments that her life changed.  

I'm still pinching myself at this outcome.  So grateful for tender mercies.  For the healing power of Christ's atonement and the reality of His promises to us.  My girl came home with a 1000 watt smile, beaming from the inside, radiating confidence and hope in the present and in the future! 

She changed schools at the last minute to be in the same one that the girls in our ward attend. She is doing all the things that she learned to do at EFY to keep that fire lit--reading the scriptures and praying and keeping her heart open.  She's going to start seminary next week and is looking at going to BYU for school and perhaps a mission.  

I always say that if there's anything remarkable about me it's the company I keep.Sarah lives her life in such a way that she can feel the Spirit and is willing to be a blessing to those around in her.  We are so grateful for her kindness.  We need each other.  I've known that for years.  It does take a village to raise our children up to Christ.  And let me just say, while I don't know all the realities that keep our kids from coming to Christ, I do know that they are not alone.  EFY was the answer to our prayers. It is worth the effort and I highly recommend it!
And family matters.  We are a tight knit little band here, no matter how many miles separate us, we talk daily, we exchange kindnesses and prayers between each and every one of us.  We are truly in this together and I am so impressed by the actions of my grown children, I couldn't be more grateful.  All of us care about all of us in meaningful ways.  We don't let go because we belong to each other.
Danielle took Ari to the temple grounds while she was visiting here, Diana gave time and counsel and whatever else she had to making sure Ari knew she was loved, Dara--even on her scenic route--expressed concern for Ari's well-being, Joseph stepped up in caring for his younger sister by spending more time with her, inviting her to youth activities when she didn't want to go, and on and on it went for months and continues.  
We are so grateful for the light in our Caboose's countenance again.  

This is Ari's senior pics taken the week she came back:

There's my happy Caboose.  Thriving, as she says.  

A Summer to Remember: First Family Reunion & The 1st Wedding

Our first Oregon summer did not disappoint.
The rain departed and left glorious sunshine.

Two days after Joseph's graduation, Dani and her kids arrived from Saudi.
We spent time exploring Oregon's coast, the zoo, and whatever we could find in Eugene.

Then, we had our First Family Reunion at Depoe Bay.
We rented a charming beach house on Bella Beach, that was the best retreat we could've asked for!
Everyone came home for it and we had a blast!

And then, the wedding day came.
It was a hard day made better by the love of family.
We don't understand the path our Dara has taken--
we tried with all our might to get her to reconsider her choices,
but in the end, we decided that our best choice in this hard situation
was to step up and be true to who we are, and the kind of people we want to be.

I'm quite sure that this brought out the very best in my other children and their families.
They stepped up and served up support and love.
It was a day made better by the love of family.