Monday, September 18, 2017

Showing Love to the Chronically or Invisibly Ill at Church

I was born with a genetic, chronic pain condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Through the years, I've been able to connect with many others who suffer with invisible, chronic or mental illnesses and many of us have dealt with similar frustrations or misunderstandings regarding others' interpretations of our conditions. Of course, it's our responsibility to choose forgiveness and understanding over offence, especially when most people have good intentions but lack understanding of our difficulties. I can't help but wonder how many good souls in our churches are looking for ways to show love and support to their chronically and invisibly sick friends and family but just don't know how. Here are a few Do's and Don'ts, gleaned from the experiences of my friends, family and I.

1) Do talk to us about our illness. Most people are open to discussing their illnesses with a caring, genuine friend. It means a lot to us that you care enough to learn about our sickness and how it complicates our lives. Understanding can go a long way in closing the gap between the chronically ill and those who have never experienced it. That gap can feel like the Grand Canyon when we feel alone in our plight.

The Relief Society President in my last ward took the time to visit me and ask about my illness. When I told her it was called, "Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome," she realised a new sister in the ward also had EDS. Because she learned about both of us and even remembered the name of our very rare disorder, she was able to pair us up for visiting teaching which spurred an automatic friendship. Neither of us run into many people with EDS so it felt like a miracle to not only be in the same ward, but to also connect through visiting teaching. We were both so grateful for how our Relief Society President cared for us.

2) Do not skip over us for callings or service opportunities just because we're sick. Everybody's different and obviously, certain people can not do certain callings. But if you're unsure, ask us anyway.

In one ward, I was called to be Young Women President, which is fairly time and energy-consuming. I knew it would be a challenge for me, while dealing with my own health problems, but I felt so much peace that the Lord knew my situation and wanted me to serve those girls. A few weeks into my service, my kind bishop called me in to see how things were going. A friend of his, my sister-in-law had told him about my sickness and he was so worried about me saying, "I wouldn't have called you into this position if I had known." I was so completely touched by his compassion for me but I reassured him, I knew God would enable me in my calling. I even explained that I hadn't told him about my chronic pain because I didn't want anyone, including him, to leave me out of a service opportunity or calling because I'm sick. He made me promise I would tell him if I ever became overburdened and with that understanding between us, I was able to stretch and grow for over 2 years as Young Women President. That calling became one of my greatest blessings and the perfect distraction from the harder parts of life.

On the other hand, please...

3) Do believe us when we have to sit one out. My diagnosis took 10 years to obtain, after a series of specialist appointments where I was either told, "Nothing is wrong," or even worse, "It's all in your head." This is a common occurrence for those with chronic or invisible illnesses and many of us have spent our lives trying to convince not only doctors, but friends, family and co-workers that we really are sick! Now, I totally get that it's hard to understand something you can't physically see or feel. But we have to feel it every day and to have our integrity questioned is invalidating and disheartening.

After speaking with fellow friends with illness, it seems disbelief is often displayed in one of two ways. The first starts with a line such as, "Well, how come she can go shopping on Monday if she's 'too sick' to teach primary on Sunday?" The answer is, who knows? Maybe Sunday she had a sudden flare-up of symptoms. Maybe her friends had to physically pull her out of bed to get her to the mall and it was her one sanity-saving grace for the week. The point is, only she really knows and it's no one else's business. Tell her it's so great to see her and maybe that you're happy to sub her primary class the next time she's feeling under-the-weather. You will both feel so much better than if you had placed judgement on her situation.

The other form of disbelief is more direct and sounds something like, "He's always sick with something. He says he didn't get his home-teaching done because he has 'anxiety'. Sounds like an excuse to me." With few exceptions, most of us chronically ill hate being, "always sick," dislike the limitations of our symptoms and are deeply paranoid about having our intentions questioned. Showing empathy is such a great alternative to making assumptions.

I completely understand that sometimes a situation doesn't add up or make sense to us. But, I would rather believe someone and hope they are telling the truth than distrust them and risk being wrong about it. There may be specific circumstances where truth isn't told and an honest assessment is necessary but for the most part with most people, just choose to believe us.

Chronic and invisible illness can equip it's members with some serious coping skills and we can understand that most people mean well. But we can still learn to reach out and understand each other a little better. That goes for all of us, sick or healthy. So lets share our experiences, learn from them, seek out understanding, forgive and forgive again, and of course, attempt our own bests at modelling our Savior's example of love and compassion. After all, that's the path we have chosen to walk together as disciples and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And for that, regardless of having many physical challenges, I am eternally grateful.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Guest Post: Playhouse Miracle

Guest Post: Playhouse Miracle 
By: Kelley Oppedisano 

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, people sitting and outdoor

Early fall 2015, while watching Treehouse Masters together as a family, and after countless requests from my kids, I opened my laptop and filled out the casting application for the show.  There were about 10-12 essay type questions asking for detailed background information about our family and dream plans for our potential treehouse.  We all sat around while the show played and gave feedback for what this treehouse would look like.   We had a great time contributing our thoughts to what was likely just a fun fantasy and that was that.  I’m pretty realistic so I knew the chance of getting a response was small.  I also knew our budget was probably not enough, so in the weeks to come I expected nothing, but of course would have been happy if we did get a call.  My kids on the other hand spoke about both the structure and the tv show as if it was just a matter of WHEN, not IF. 
In late January I was home fully embracing the peace of two little ones napping, two older ones in school, and one in the middle eating a snack and coloring at the counter while I tackled the seemingly endless chores and laundry that goes along with having a family of 7.  My time home on maternity leave was quickly coming to an end so when I say I was embracing these chores, I really was!  In the middle of this my husband, RJ, called and was clearly upset.  My father in law, who had been battling a glioblastoma for the past year and a half, had just collapsed after riding his exercise bike and was on his way to the ER.   RJ left work right away and told me he would keep me posted, but things didn’t look good.  
 At the hospital, doctors explained that there was bleeding on the brain and severe swelling around the site of the tumor.  The family all came together and was told to pray for the best but prepare for the worst.  He was unconscious and had little brain activity.  RJ and I now had to decide the best way to tell our kids, who loved their Grandpa dearly, and give them the option of coming up to say their goodbyes.  The crowd of family at his bedside in the ER was growing quickly.  At one point a nurse came behind the curtain to kick everyone out while she checked vitals. Close to 20 family members congregated in an empty curtained room next to his.  When something like this happens to a family, the tears come in ebbs and flows.  When you think they’ve subsided something else triggers the waterworks and there you go again.  When RJ’s aunt arrived the tears and emotions were triggered again as she adjusted to the shock of what was happening.  I could feel my phone buzzing at the peak of this collective display of sadness and when I grabbed it to put it on silence I noticed that it said Hollywood, California.  
Welcoming the distraction, I listened to my voicemail and started chuckling, trying to keep it to myself.  A woman, named Megan, said she was from a production company that was forwarded our application by Treehouse Masters casting.  She explained how the people at TM loved our application, but unfortunately our budget was not big enough for that show.  However, they thought we would be a good fit for a new show set to be filmed called Playhouse Masters, which had a similar premise except the structure was on the ground (which she jokingly mentioned would probably be safer for our family anyway).  As I intently listened to the message I couldn’t help but think that this was “Pa’s” doing.  He had always said he was going to build the boys a treehouse, but he also promised our princess (the 5th and last baby after 4 boys) a pony.  When I looked up from my phone I saw everyone staring at me.  I apologized, but wasn’t off the hook that easily because they all wanted to know what was so funny… thus began the not socoincidental Playhouse miracle.
 I called Megan on the way home from the hospital and got some more information from her.  She was looking to set up a time to schedule a Skype interview with us and I told her what was going on in our family.  She was immediately sympathetic and said no rush for anything but I told her that her call actually came at the perfect time. RJ and I were about to face the toughest conversation we had ever had with our kids to date.  They would be devastated, but this call back would give them something to look forward to in the midst of their heartbreak.  When we got home, we sat the kids down and just like we expected they cried and cried and cried.  For a good 20 minutes, we just hugged them and let them cry.  And then I decided to use my secret miracle of distraction.  I said I had something else to tell them.  Something that would not take their pain away, something that would not make Grandpa ok again, but something that would make them smile.  I shared my phone conversation with Meg with them and you know what?  They stopped crying.  And they laughed.  And they said, “we knew they would call us!”  
Our two oldest, Trey and Zack, decided they wanted to go to the hospital and say good-bye.  They understood that Grandpa wouldn’t be awake, that he would have funny tubes coming out of his mouth and nose, and that he wouldn’t hug them back.  They still chose to go.  It was hard.  It was very hard.  The doctors had said that brain activity was minimal, but he squeezed his hand or wiggled his toe to let you know he knew you were there.  Some of the doctors explained it as involuntary reactions, but when you are witnessing the perfect timing of these reactions, you know they are anything but involuntary.  Trey got a big squeeze, Zack got a big squeeze, and then Zack told Grandpa his story.  “Guess what, Grandpa?  We’re getting a playhouse!”  He gave another squeeze.  
When I finally got around to checking the kids’ backpacks that night, they both had an open ended assignment as part of a school wide event called PARP (Parents as Reading Partners; a two-week event focusing on family efforts to promote literacy at home).  The title of the open ended assignment was called, “Imagine Your World.”  It could be literally anything…a poem, a PowerPoint, a craft, you name it and about anything.  When we talked about it the next day, the kids were throwing around some ideas and one of them, (I don’t remember if it was Trey or Zack) asked if he could imagine his Playhouse and come up with a design.  Well, of course this was perfect.  Zack would set to work to design the outside and Trey would do the inside.  In the meantime, my father in law’s earthly body was slowly shutting down.  The back and forth to the hospital waiting for the process to complete was emotionally draining on everyone.  The weekend came and went; the kids began the school week and worked on their projects when they got home from school.  We had a scheduled skype with another producer that Thursday.  We had been casually preparing some of the things we wanted to share for that interview and the kids were super excited for that.  
Meg had told me that we would get an invite for the Skype right before they were ready.  The kids got off of the bus at 4 pm so we had an hour to get everyone semi freshened up for the 5 pm interview. Five o’clock came and went and we heard nothing.  Finally, I called Meg.  She apologized and said there was some kind of scheduling conflict and someone would call us back to reschedule.  That same day, January 29, 2016, my father in law, beloved husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, friend, earned his heavenly wings and left this earth.  The hustle and bustle of making arrangements began.  Everyone was devastated, but yet life goes on.  The kids had to finish their projects for PARP, RJ had work responsibilities to take care of, and I had to get ready for going back to my work as a reading specialist after a 9 month leave.  There were three days of services so what was supposed to be my first day back at work ended up being a “Personal” day.  Services are odd social events.  In the midst of beginning to deal with a loss that will never fully heal, people still try to celebrate.  Celebrate a life well lived, catch up with family and friends you haven’t seen, offer a shoulder to cry on, and try to keep minds occupied by talking about ordinary things.  Word travels fast in a large circle of family and friends so the topic of a potential show using our family was quite the conversation piece during this time. I had a little obsession with Kate plus Eight in the past so many found it funny that we would be filming on the same TLC network.  My father in law would have definitely gotten a laugh about that.  In fact, when he thought I was getting fresh he would call me Kate (one of MANY terms of endearment he had for me) and many times joked that the only reason I kept having kids was to have my own reality show!  
February began and the kids definitely had their moments of sadness, but they remembered many good times and still truly believed that the Playhouse thing was going to happen because that’s what Grandpa would have wanted.  At their school wide closing ceremony for PARP they each presented their “Imagine Your World” project with many of the things they loved, including a purple chair in the corner of the inside of the playhouse to remind them of their Pa, who always sat in his own purple lazy-boy at home.  The kids told everyone at school that they were going to get this playhouse built and be on tv, but three weeks had gone by since our original Skype date and I hadn’t heard anything.  Trey and Zack came home from school one day nagging me to just call and find out something.  I really didn’t want to be that person, but because of the circumstances surrounding the interview I pretty much begged Meg to at least set up the Skype so that we could do this one thing as a family, even if they didn’t plan on using us.  
Meg ended up calling me back almost right away.  She explained that there were some differences of opinion in the direction the show should take.  Some key decision makers felt strongly that the show should focus on celebrities and their families, and others felt “regular” families would help the show feel like a dream playhouse was actually attainable.  This was why we hadn’t heard anything.  Meg was part of the latter opinion and was pushing to get us the interview.  Finally, she helped make it happen and once again a date was set in late February for the Skype.  The kids went to school absolutely hyper that day and were still on a high when they got off the bus ready to get this interview started.  When it began it was pure chaos: four out of 5 speaking aged kids shouting over one otherto talk to the “camera”, some whacks on the head with the projects Trey and Zack wanted to show off, Gerber puffs everywhere as I tried to keep Emerson quiet, our 4th son, Ben, also known as Big Baby, decided to lay down on the table at one point, while Dominic (#3) snuck some powdered donuts from the cabinet and came back into full view of the screen with a white goatee.  When we were done, RJ and I looked at each other and said they will either hate us or love us.  There’s no in between! 
Again, we were left to wait, and wait.  It was now March.  One evening as I was leaving school with Dom, who attended pre-school at the same elementary building I teach in, I got another call from Meg.  (Oddly enough Dom had just presented as “The Croc Hunter” for my school’s culminating night for PARP, which ran later than Trey and Zack’s school.The casting team had showed our interview to Tyson and Audy Leavitt of Playhouse Masters and some other powers that be and they loved our family.  She said that everyone on her end was rooting for us and when they had gotten the news that we were selected they all cheered.  Of course when Dom and I got home to tell the rest of the family they were ecstatic!  Shortly after we had our first phone conference with Tyson, a Skype session with Wayne Visbeen, the architect, some behind the scenes background checks, some finance checks and discussions about budget, pictures being collected, text messages, property details, and so on!  
When we met Tyson and Audy in person, we couldn’t help but share with them how surreal the whole process was and how so many little things working in our favor could not just be luck.  The connection we felt to RJ’s dad through how things panned out seemed like a little miracle for our family.  The timing of everything, the welcomed distraction, the fact that he always talked about building the kids something, the fact that he made jokes about a reality tv show for us, the fact that the kids had projects that directly related to the interview process, the fact that Tyson and Audy also came from a Christian background and believed themselves in little miracles.  It’s also worth mentioning that I live and work in a school district that is in full throttle mode of getting back to basics with regard to the power of play and child development.  I can tell you first hand the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical benefits of having your children unplug and getting outside everyday for hours at a time.  All of this happening at the exact same time that Audy shared of struggling with some things of her own and watching our Skype interview was a moment of clarity and peace that doing the show was the right decision for her own family.  And so now, when our family reflects on the time that my father in law passed, it will not just be filled with sadness and pain but also happy thoughts and the memory of one the best experiences we’ve ever had as a family.   Filming that episode and every exciting thing that came along with it was no coincidence. It’s not just an episode on a tv series; it’s a reminder for us that God has us.  He’s got His hand in the details.  He knows our wants and needs.  And sometimes he delivers it in the form of a Playhouse.  (Now if my father in law pre-arranged for the payment of the Playhouse that would have been another miracle!)  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

What I Believe About Grace

Do Mormons Believe in Grace?

My best friend in Jr. High was a born-again Christian. We would often share some of the unique doctrines that made our churches different. I explained the Godhead to her once and she said, “Oh yeah! We believe they’re 3 separate beings too! It wouldn’t make sense any other way.” The next day she came to school to confess that she’d talked to her mom and she had been wrong. Her church actually believed in the Holy Trinity, meaning God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are all one being. On another occasion it was my turn to be stumped. She asked me if I believed in Grace. Honestly, I had no idea. I hadn’t really heard much about grace at church or with my family.

Grace is divine help or strength given through Christ’s Atonement and is often referred to as an enabling power. It is one of the most hopeful principles of the Book of Mormon and is grounded in the teachings of Joseph Smith and the restoration. It seemed strange to me that I never heard much about it growing up but as it turns out, I was not alone.

Said Elder Bednar: “Most of us clearly understand that the Atonement is for sinners. I am not so sure, however, that we know and understand that the Atonement is also for saints – for good men and women who are obedient and worthy and conscientious and who are striving to become better and serve more faithfully. I frankly do not think many of us ‘get it’ concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.”

Sheri Dew put it this way, “If we feel as though we’re along and must rely largely or even solely upon our own energy, talent, and strength – we don’t understand grace.”

President Uchtdorf spoke similarly, “It is a most wondrous thing, this grace of God. Yet it is often misunderstood. Even so, we should know about God’s grace if we intend to inherit what has been prepared for us in His eternal Kingdom.”

So Why Have Mormons Struggled to Understand this Marvelous Doctrine?

My dear Born-Again Christian friend I spoke about in my introduction knew she believed in the power of Grace. She declared it in her everyday conversations and you could see her face light up when she spoke of Christ’s power. But she believed Jesus’ Grace took care of everything and we don’t have to do anything. That we are saved by Grace no matter what we do as long as we accept Christ into our hearts.

We also believe that all men and women will be saved from physical death and live forever as resurrected beings. Through the Atonement of Christ, everyone will receive this gift. But we are blessed to know there is so much more to our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness for us. We know we have the potential to receive eternal life, or exaltation, which is to live in God’s presence and continue as families. We can become just like God but this inheritance will require obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

These requirements can be misinterpreted as a need to work our way to exaltation or earn eternal life. But this belief is negated in 2 Nephi 31:19, “…for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” We are to rely wholly upon Christ to save us. Where has some of the confusion come from?

One scripture in the Book of Mormon that is recited often in reference to works verses grace is in 2 Nephi 25:23. It says, “…for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Are we really to believe we cannot access God’s grace until we have completely exhausted all our efforts?

President Uchtdorf added his thoughts on this scripture, saying, “I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase ‘after all we can do.’ We must understand that ‘after’ does not equal ‘because’. We are not saved ‘because of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before He will intervene in our lives with His saving grace?”

Further, Elder James Hamula said, “’It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’. Some may read this scripture to mean that God’s Grace is withheld until we have given our best efforts. I do not read it this way. There are simply too many examples of God’s grave being extended to man without him doing anything. The power of the Resurrection, for example, is given to all by the grace of God, irrespective of individual effort. I understand Nephi’s ‘all we can do’ language to mean that God’s grace is extended to us when we are diligent.”

Finally, Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during, and after the time when we expend our own efforts.”

I recently taught my YW about these two extreme views of grace. On one side of the chalkboard I wrote “grace” and explained it was the side that many Christian’s take, believing all we need is grace and our works are worthless. On the other side of the board I wrote, “works” and it represented those in our own church who Elder Bednar explains, mistakenly believe they must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by themselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.” I drew a line between the two extremes and asked the girls where the on the spectrum we should actually be. A few brave girls came forward and drew dots in varying places but always on the side closer to “works”.  One of the girls whispered, “I think she’s tricking us.” And she was right. Because truthfully there is no place for a dot. As Brad Wilcox says, it’s not about “His part and my part. It’s His heart and my heart beating together, loving each other and being conformed to the same image.”

Alma 32:27 offers hope to those who think they are nowhere near being worthy of receiving grace. “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” The rest of the chapter compares the word to a seed that may be planted in your heart. The seed begins to swell and causes your soul to enlarge, enlightening your understanding and increasing your faith. The seed sprouts and grows, proving it is a good seed. The seed eventually grows into a tree and is nourished with great care, so it may take root and bring forth fruit, becoming a tree that springs up unto everlasting life. And with diligence, faith and patience with the word, it may take root and grant fruit that is most precious, sweet, white and pure and you will never hunger or thirst again. The rich symbolism of the tree taking root represents a process within us that requires grace from beginning to end. That entire process started with exercising, “a particle of faith,” and “no more than a desire to believe.”

We don’t have to wait until we have done everything we can do to receive grace. I don’t think I’ve spent one day of my life doing all I can do yet I’ve been granted grace countless times. From the above scripture, we are told we can receive grace by exercising a particle of faith and a desire to do good.

Waiting until you’ve reached a certain level of righteousness in order for grace to be granted reminds me of my some gym friends I met during my previous career as a fitness instructor. They didn’t want to join my yoga class until they were more flexible out of fear of feeling inadequate in class. While the very stretches that would give them the flexibility they were seeking were waiting for them in my class. We cannot wait until we’ve done all we can do before seeking God’s help. For we need God’s help to do any good thing.

Then, What is the Point of Works?

Brad Wilcox explained, “We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”

Moroni 7:48 reads, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.”

Working to earn our salvation is futile and limits our access to God’s power. Working in gratitude and love for God and the great gift He has given us, allows us to change from the inside out, for the right reasons. These acts of humility allow God to change our very natures and gradually, usually almost imperceptibly, we become more like Him. We will continue to grow upward in the next life if we practice while we’re here and that is what allows us to be comfortable in God’s presence and to one day, unimaginable as it may seem, become like Him and inherit all that He hath. What a blessing! And what a different type of motivation besets us when we know we are working out of love for God and the desire to live with Him in His heavenly home.    

What Exactly Can Grace Look Like in My Life?

Sheri Dew wrote, “The Savior has ‘all power’ in heaven and on earth. He has power to cleanse, forgive, and redeem us; power to heal us of weakness, sadness, illness, and heartache; power to inspire us; power to conquer Satan and overcome the flesh; power to work miracles; power to deliver us from circumstances we can’t escape ourselves; power over death; and power to strengthen us. When the Apostle Paul said, ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,’ he was describing grace.”

For me grace takes many forms:

Grace helped me to see my genetic illness as a tool to remind me to always reach out to those who suffer.

Grace helped me to thrive in a variety of situations I never thought I’d end up in in 2016, the hardest year of my life.

Grace made me more patient than I ever thought I could be when my first son was born and continues to soften me as my 3 children grow.

Grace took all the burdens off my back when I said yes to serving as the Young Women President in my ward in an already chaotic and trying time in my life.

Grace enabled me to knock on a young man’s door after midnight, 13 years ago and ask him to help dig my car out of the snow. I’m not sure he needed grace to say yes but we both needed it to prepare for a temple marriage that came 6 months later.

And that same grace allows our family to learn about, love and become more like our Savior with each passing day, knowing we have the chance to live with Him and each other in eternal bliss. And for that gift I know I can never repay Him.

This life is not about earning heaven. It is about learning to become like Heavenly Father. I pray we can all exercise our own particles of faith and allow the marvelous gift of grace to transform us into the eternal beings we are meant to become.

Please comment below: What does grace look like in your life?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Unexpected Miracles Filming Reality TV

Last year my husband and I had the unexpected opportunity to film a reality show called, “Playhouse Masters,” about our family and custom playhouse business. Season 2 airs on TLC this year and has all ready been viewed in countries all over the world. My start on this journey… wait journey’s the wrong word. Lets call it mountain climb. My start on this mountain climb was steep, treacherous and I had no clue how to use the climbing gear. 

Basically, I’m a shy, quiet girl who previously had no intention of starring on any kind of television show, let alone one that shows so much of my life and family. There are no words for the kind of inadequacy I felt. Nonetheless I climbed because I had the strongest feeling God was joining me on the expedition. 

With that comforting thought also came a feeling of responsibility. My husband and I both felt like we were to use this unlikely opportunity for good. We weren’t really sure at the beginning what kind of good would come but we saw miracles and found opportunities to serve all along the way. And yes, I felt like God was climbing with us all the way through. 

While filming our first episode, we had a client who wanted three Peter Pan themed playhouses, including a lost boys fort, Wendy’s house, and a ship. Tyson was really worried about getting the ship to look right and wishing he had a real ship to inspect but out here in the prairies, we don’t exactly have that luxury. When he was on his way to the client’s house with his Uncle Derral (who also works with us) to see their property, they pulled over on the highway because they saw something that made their jaws drop. It was a real, old ship, on a trailer behind a broken-down semi. As they talked with the semi driver, they learned that the ship was on it’s way to it’s new owner, a man named Tom Hanks, who had purchased it for an upcoming movie because he wanted to use a real, authentic-looking ship. Because the semi-driver was having minor truck problems and had to pull over, Tyson and Uncle D were able to take pics of the ship and instantly formulate a plan of action. That ship turned out to be one of the most amazing structures they had ever built. Some would think it was a coincidence but the feelings in our hearts we all had that day told us otherwise. 

Ship playhouse end product!

On another occasion, after our show had aired around the world, we received a message from a man who will remain anonymous, which read:

Appreciation call is more than overdue. I am a fan of yours… I am fascinated with the work that you do and the fact you are helping others really speaks to me. I have recently come out of a 3-year spell of depression since being made redundant from the armed forces. It’s thanks to seeing programs like yours that prove there are still good people helping others in this life among all the corrupt politicians… etc that have ruined so many. The look on your experts faces [your children] when they see your builds reminds me of the small (small in comparison to your projects) things I do for my daughter but that aside the reactions that you guys get make me thankful that I too have a loving family. Thank you for your time, entertainment and in a way my self-helpJ Keep up the good work guys. 

When Tyson brought this message to me I cried happy tears. I had no idea our silly show could touch someone in such a meaningful way. I felt gratitude for a God who works in mysterious and sometimes very obvious ways! Tyson and I both agreed the entire season of filming was worth it if he was the only one helped by it. 

And that’s why I learned to write my stories out. First of all, when I felt a prompting from God to start my blog I didn’t want to and I didn’t know why I should. But the above lessons taught me listening to his quiet commands always results in receiving His help along the way and that sometimes we just can’t predict who we can help by moving forward. When I write, I think about writing for the one person who may feel inspired or like they’re not alone by reading about my experiences. And I promise, if my shy, introverted self can film a reality show and share some of my intimate thoughts online, God can help you do anything He prompts you to do.



Monday, March 6, 2017

Guest Post: A Feel-Good Miracle Story by Amber Pearce

Billy's Miracle
By Amber Pearce at

(Want another miracle story? Check out the one I wrote for Amber's blog: )

Every family has their stories.  You know, the ones that get brought up and repeated at almost every big family gathering.  Even though the story has been told a million times every one listens, chimes in and reacts as if it is being told for the first time. Many are the stories of that one thing someone will never live down, like the time we were home alone and my big brother got stuck inside a folding couch and we had to call 911 to help get him out. Though I love to laugh (and that one makes me laugh every time) I especially love the inspiring stories. The stories that define the fabric of our family spun from trial, determination, faith and miracles.

When family gatherings at my house move into story telling mode there is one member of our family that everyone has a story for.  Everyone has a story to tell about Billy. Most of them are funny because he had the quickest wit of anyone I’ve met. All of them are precious because he was so precious to us. And to think we almost didn’t have those stories to tell. The fact the Billy lived and joined our family was a miracle in and of itself. My parents adopted him at 5 months with the understanding that he would have severe mental and physical disabilities. We were told he wouldn’t walk or talk and that he likely wouldn’t live past 4 years. How wrong they were, but that is not the miracle I will tell today. Though the gift of new life is often referred to as miraculous especially when we get to hold a newborn baby in our arms; often we don’t see the miracle in that same precious spirit leaving this world.

Every holiday was my brother Billy’s favorite.  The day after one holiday was over he would start asking about the next.  Who was coming, what would we do?  He would ask these questions that he already knew the answers to several times a day out of sheer excitement.  We may have lost patience with any other 25 year old, but Billy wasn’t any other 25 year old.  Billy’s physical and mental disabilities blessed him with the innocence of a 4 year old and he radiated love joy where ever he was.

Christmas 2005 was an especially popular topic with Billy because more family than usual would be gathering together to celebrate.  He LOVED his brothers and sisters. He would tell one sibling they were his “favorite” and in the next moment tell a different sibling they were his favorite. He had so much love in that body of his he couldn’t decide on just one.  His loved extended to everyone around him where ever he was. There wasn’t a single greeting that didn’t include an enthusiastic “Hi!” followed by him rushing over to give a hug. There would be plenty of hugs this Christmas and he showed his excitement by constantly listing off everyone that would be coming.  Of course he didn’t forget to also list off what he wanted Santa to bring him.  This year it was a captain’s hat. He loved to dress up and a captain’s hat would top off his ensemble of jeans, button up shirt, suit coat, cowboy boots (that he absolutely refused to wear on the right feet), and walking cane (that he didn’t need but thought he looked pretty cool using.)  Yep, he would show up this Christmas in style.

He would also show up this Christmas feeling sick. Darn it! Billy was the life of the party, we couldn’t have him feeling sick!  We needed him well enough to whack the Christmas Eve Pinata with his cane, scramble to scoop up all the candy, and then come to each of us to taunt us with his winnings. At least we still had a few more days until Christmas. We would just remember Billy in our prayers and surely he would be better by then.

Christmas Eve morning came and when my mom went in to check on Billy he seemed to be feeling a little better.  Phew! We went on with our preparations for our traditions to be held that evening and let Billy rest a little more.  By 5pm the house was bursting with family and the magical excitement Christmas brings.  A few of us went to Billy’s room to check in on him and wake him for the fun.  As we entered the room we immediately noticed his breathing was especially strained. I had heard that breathing before when my son had croup and the sound immediately set off alarms in my mind. Everyone’s reaction was the same. We need to take Billy to the hospital but first he needs a blessing. My father would often lay his hands on our heads and offer a prayer by inspiration intended to heal the sick.

My brother Charles (Billy’s true favorite) was asked to give the blessing as the rest of us gathered into the room. A tangible spirit of love and peace filled the room as Billy’s brothers and father laid their hands upon his head.  My mother and I leaned into each other as we listened to the sweet blessing and I impatiently waited for the reassurance that Billy would quickly recover.  I opened my eyes before the blessing was over to look at my brother and then exchanged a glance with my mother.  We were overcome with emotion and understanding. My brother’s words softly settled over us, “Billy, you are so very loved by your family. Heavenly Father loves you too and He wants you to come home to him.”  Nothing but sobs could be heard as we all tried to comprehend what was just spoken.  What?  How could this be?  He just has a cold! Its Christmas!  My dad called for the ambulance just as my sister walked in the door from a day of shopping. Even though she had the flu she had been searching all day for the one gift Billy wanted, a captain’s hat.  When she heard the news she dropped the hat to the floor and burst into tears.

Between all of Billy’s siblings there were a lot of young children who were still excited for Christmas. They couldn’t really comprehend what was going on and it was overwhelming to try to continue to celebrate when we just wanted to be with Billy. Word of Billy’s condition got out and without having to ask several women from church gave up Christmas day with their families and showed up at our door to watch the children so we could go to the hospital.  What a priceless and selfless gift they gave.

I walked into the hospital room to see my mother by Billy’s side, both her hands gently stroking his soft skin. Her gaze would hardly leave him. I knew she was trying to soak up every moment she had left with him.  I walked over to her side and touched Billy’s pale hand. “I haven’t clipped his nails in a while.” What a funny thought at such a somber moment.  At times I would help to shave and groom him and I felt a pang of guilt that I hadn’t taken the time to help him lately.

As the rest of the family filed into the room I was overwhelmed with the realization of what a gift it was that so many of us were here to say goodbye.  If he had gotten sick at any other time than Christmas that wouldn’t have happened. Heavenly Father knew how loved Billy was and how hard it would be for us to let him go.  He showed such love and mercy in letting us tell Billy how much we loved him, and giving him one more hug before He called him home.

The doctor removed the breathing tube. Until this moment Billy had been mostly unresponsive so we weren’t sure if he would even be able to communicate with us. Another small miracle, though he couldn’t speak he was suddenly very alert and happy we were there.  I showed Billy the things Santa had stuffed in his stocking and some of the gifts he had received.  If he could have I know he would have jumped up the second he saw his new captain’s hat. He tried to sit up and reach for it but didn’t have the strength. You could sense his contentment as I placed it on his head for him. His ensemble was complete! We moved on to Billy’s favorite thing to do... sing!  Billy would shake his head yes and no as we tried to guess which Christmas song he wanted us to sing.  He always loved to sing at the top of his lungs and you could see his joy as sounds of Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer and other Christmas songs filled the intensive care

In a moment the entire family spontaneously began singing Billy’s all time favorite church song, “Called to Serve.”  Tears and love were overflowing and I’m surprised we could sing out the words with such strength. The song Billy sang hundreds of times before took on a whole new meaning.  Billy always talked about how he was going to go on a mission for our church when he “grew up” and of course we all knew his disabilities would make it impossible. The Spirit helped us understand that not only had Billy already been on a mission his entire life, but he was also being called home to continue his mission for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.  Those unexpected yet precious moments in the hospital were a miracle from Heavenly Father. As soon as we finished singing and hugging Billy goodbye, he closed his eyes, unresponsive again. A few hours later his spirit returned Home.

I was granted the privilege of helping to prepare his body for burial.  I wanted to clip his nails and shave his face for the last time.  As I shaved his face I softly sang, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” just as he had requested every other time I shaved him.

When my brothers dressed him they put his cowboy boots on backwards just as he would have liked it. His cane was placed by his side and captain’s hat on his head.

At his over-flowing funeral each person was asked to stand if they had ever been hugged by Billy and every person in the room stood.

The Lord knew how much we cherished Billy and how hard it would be for us to see him leave this world. Out of His great kindness and love he let us know that he was bringing Billy home and he gave us those precious moments of goodbye.  We will always remember and the story will always be told of the Lord’s tender mercies and evidence of His powerful love on that beautiful Christmas 2005. We will miss our sweet Billy but we are grateful for the gift of eternal families and the knowledge that we will see him again.  Love you Billy; I know you are signing in heaven.

Amber started to uplift and inspire through stories and empower with health tips. She shares stories of her own along with stories submitted by readers. "I sincerely hope Left With a Smile and the
stories shared here will be a source of light and smiles for you!  I hope to take the abundance of hidden yet TRUE goodness that is out there and make it more visible and available!"  She is a wife and mom of 5. She loves yoga, loyal friendships, and living her Faith.