Friday, March 21, 2014

Sara Liu

I'm sick with some sort of scratchy throat, head full of cement, burning eyes, exhaustion thing. I'm swinging between getting all of the "stuff" done and sleeping hard. Makes for a disorienting day. But some things just can't wait for me to be healthy again.

We've been working on the very last gatherings of what remains to make our adoption happen. We had a glitch with getting our police letters (record clearance). In Wyoming we just went to City Hall and they checked our records, printed out the clearance, signed and notarized them, and we went on our way. Here in Washington we couldn't get anybody at City Hall, the police station, or State Patrol to consider doing anything like this, or to believe that this was a real thing. Frustrating. But our home study agency (Agape) came to the rescue with an online resource and that is now underway, though it will take some time and more cost. But, the clearance will happen and that's the important part. I can whole-heartedly recommend that you don't move to another state during the course of an adoption. But we've done it and that's that!

Disappointing news: There was a delay (our case-worker was ill and then his family) with our home study (Agape). We just found out. I thought it had been submitted weeks ago. With the time it takes for USCIS approval, we won't make the April 5 filing date. Our adoption agency (GWCA) has assured us they will keep China updated that things are progressing. We are so close. Part of me wants to yell. But I know hiccups happen. I hope it just keeps pushing forward. We're this close.

We got the last of our passport photos taken and printed (I think we've had to do 8 of these, each, for various purposes since we began) yesterday. Yes, I'm sick, so I look tired. But I am tired, so hey, honest photos! :P I also had the last of our lifestyle photos printed up for our Dossier. We can send 6-10 photos of our family, our home, etc. to represent us to Sara before she meets us. I had the photos spread out next to the small group of photos we have of Sara. I kept putting her picture next to ours, to see the fit, and it made me smile. I'm so full of hope. Here are our lifestyle pics:

The most frequent question I'm asked is "When?" Well, I'm not sure. Maybe May. Maybe June? I promise we'll shout it from the rooftops when we know.

Speaking of shouting from the rooftops . . . Because it's been such a long journey, and because of the delay, and because I'm sick and need a pick-me-up, I've decided to share Sara's pictures with all of you. I look at these and wonder. I wonder everything. I wonder about her voice, her use of hands when she talks. I wonder how tall she is and if she smiles as easily for strangers. I wonder how long her hair is and if she'll let me do it. I wonder if she's stubborn and sassy or quiet and bashful. Or maybe all. I wonder if she'll like our food or insist on congee. I wonder what she'll think of Brandon being 6'4". I wonder if she'll like our dog or school or if I'll be enough to make her feel safe. Will she smile like this with us? Eventually? I hope so. I'm full of hope.

Sara Liu Xinqin Jensen. 
We're giving her Sara Liu
All the girls in our family have L middle names. We hope she likes it.

This was our first image of Sara. It's the one that made Brandon grin, and I knew we'd found our girl.

So you can see why I'm eager. 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


I learned a few things last month. With my husband's busy schedule and so-so will power to take time off on his own, I learned that I just need to make the reservation, tell him not to have anything at this time, and remind him repeatedly as he tries to add things, that this time is already filled. So, as an addendum to my previous post, today I'm sharing pictures of a kidnapping. A man-napping. Not a man, napping, but a--oh here, just look at the pictures.

We left Yakima after school got out and the kids were situated.
We drove to Cashmere and headed straight for Country Boy's BBQ for dinner. Um . . . YUM.
After we stopped at a market and grabbed donuts for dessert we headed up to the cabin. It was dark by then.
My mom and dad were up at the cabin for a few days and had left earlier.
They drew a welcome note in the snow for us. Aww.

We did not build a fire but we were still cozy.
A peek outside in the morning.

Just before our morning hike. This is the side/back of my sister's cabin. It's a magical place.

This is me. Those aren't my boots. Before we left our house I accidentally grabbed my son's
size 11 snow pacs instead of my size 8 snow pacs.
They were clanking around my feet and my socks smooshed down around my arches. But my feet stayed warm!

Heading up the trail behind the cabin. This trail is about 10 miles and we hiked the whole thing.
Just kidding it's about 2. Maybe 1. But it's uphill. Both ways.

The morning sky just got prettier and prettier as we hiked.

It was warm enough we could take our gloves off.
I also removed my socks because who likes to hike with socks smooshed down around your arches?

Brandon at the top!

Looking down over the top at the cabin. It's in the center of the picture.

The magical little valley.

Made it back to the cabin. This is the front porch and me with my big boots. Great hike!

My mom kept sending us funny texts about things to go do and see. She's always been adventurous. But she brings her own mustard. I was giggling. Here is a sample:

Brandon wondered if we were going to get in trouble if we didn't go try the sausage.

We were pretty content to stay put, play games, read, snuggle, and cook yummy food. Next time we'll venture out and explore.

Then, sadly, it was time to go. And then the snow started falling. Then dumping.

This was our adventure. Our 1 1/2 hour trip home turned into 4 hours. We stopped in Ellensburg at the IHOP for french toast and cocoa. When we decided to keep on, our server brought us cocoa to go. And we made it!

This trip was definitely worth it! Brandon smiled so much and it was just good to do nothing. A grown-up time out. I'll need to man-nap him again soon.

Monday, March 03, 2014

On Love

At the beginning of the year I was asked by my new ward's Relief Society (our church's women's organization) to speak at their monthly evening dinner. I said I would, thinking it might be on literacy or clean books or adoption or missions or anything else our lives are full of right now. When I asked what the theme was, the answer caught me off-guard. "Love." The dinner was a Valentine's Day-themed event.

I stewed over what I might say for a couple weeks. I did not want that stigma of "she has everything" or "her life must be so romantic", especially in a new ward full of women who didn't really know me or my family. I definitely wanted to be real, but also uplifting and fun, too. I finally turned to several author friends for direction. What they gave me became the bones for constructing my presentation, and I was finally able to pull it together. Thank you, my friends.

This talk has been asked for many times since, so I thought I would post it here. I asked Brandon, and he gave me his blessing. He agreed that being real is what people relate to. He even said that he thought the talk could be in a church magazine, which made me smile pretty big. 

But what prompted me most to share this here, is the one elderly woman who came up to me afterwards and said, with tears in her eyes, "I wish I'd heard this talk before my husband passed away."

On Love. January 17, 2014
Relief Society “Heart to Heart” Valentine’s Dinner

I was asked to speak to you tonight about love. I’m guessing I was asked to speak on this subject because I write romance. And since Valentine’s Day is close, I leaned toward talking to you about true love, or romantic love. I did this with much trepidation.

I want to make it clear to you right now that I’m not an expert in this field. Romantic love has dealt me some pretty hard blows through my life. I’m not a guru or an ideal. But I have muddled through, and I hope.

When I was with my husband recently, somebody suggested that I write romance because Brandon must be great at that. The fear on Brandon’s face was very telling as he anticipated a response. But I was already laughing.

My husband is very sensible, very direct. He worries too much and works too hard. I know this about him. Romance has always been a puzzle to him. We are busy. We’ve been on one date since July, just before he moved here without us. We’re beginning to count dates as nights when we actually get to go to bed at the same time.

But he can be so fun when he remembers to try. Fortunately he does surprise me now and then, and that’s really good. We are still learning, still trying, still working hard at our marriage. If you see him holding my hand, or getting my door for me, that’s him trying. I think my son, before he left on his mission, gave him direct orders to get my door for me. I’m thankful for that one little directive.

But asking a writer if they write romance because their spouse is so good at it is like asking someone if they write horror because their spouse is a serial killer. Or a scary clown. The answer will rarely be “yes.”
Joss Whedon said it perfectly.

Joss Whedon

I write about love because I ask, “What if?”
I asked some writer friends of mine to tell me what love means to them.

The delightful Sarah M. Eden, who writes award-winning historical romance, and who was recently, at the age of 32, diagnosed with a very aggressive rheumatoid arthritis that has put her in a wheel chair within 8 months of onset, sent me this.

“In 1 Corinthians 13, the attributes of charity, the love Christ shows us, are listed. I have come to better understand and more fully appreciate the second attribute on that list: Love is kind.

This is true of all kinds of love: the love of family and friends, the love of God, romantic love, and the love we ought to have for ourselves. When kindness fills our hearts and defines our relationships with those we love, that love becomes something more than heart flutters and sighs. It deepens our connections. It draws us nearer to one another. It supports us through difficulties and heartbreaks, helps hold us together when everything else is falling apart. It teaches us to be more like our Father in Heaven. When we fill our hearts with love that is kind, it heals us from the inside, changing us for the better.”

Like any good LDS woman preparing a talk, I opened one of my Pinterest Boards.

70 Quotes About Love and Relationships

Rob Wells is a very dear friend of mine. He’s written humor and romance, and now writes Young Adult speculative fiction. In 2012, after some frightening episodes, he was diagnosed with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia. Since then he’s been the subject of many mixtures of drugs and doctors, trying to regulate his mental struggle. His wife is also my friend, and they are both always in my prayers.

Rob said,
“The one advice that our sealer gave us (that I remember) was that it's not a game and you don't score points. For a successful marriage you don't both give fifty percent. You both give one hundred percent.
In our current situation, if my wife was only willing to give her fifty percent, everything would have fallen apart years ago.
Maybe that's cliche, but it works for us.”

A 14th century poet wrote:
Hafiz Quote Typed on Typewriter by farmnflea on Etsy, $10.00

Heather Moore, award-winning author of historical fiction and contemporary romance, said this:

“When many people think of a romantic relationship, they think of grand gestures, and amazing events. You'll find some of those things in romance novels. But love, or true love, is in the small details of life. A shared smile, a spoken thank you, a prayer, acknowledging a sacrifice . . . these are small things, but the behind-the-scenes details are what makes a whole.” 

This reminded me of something that happened last week. We’d been packing Braeden for his mission, taking care of last minute things, checking off the list. I had worked hard and had been holding back the flood of emotions pretty much raging inside me, knowing the time was coming to say goodbye to my boy. I was going through the piles and got up to get something from Braeden’s room. When I got to his room, I stood there, and the dam broke.

Fighting the tears, I quietly slipped back downstairs to my room and curled up on the bed and cried. Brandon opened the door and when he saw me, came over and asked if I was all right. I shook my head. He began picking things up and clearing things off the bed (a jacket, a throw, a book).

Now, in one of my stories, he would have then crawled next to me on the bed and put his arms around me, brushed my tears away, maybe would have said some tender words, and just held me until I was better.

But I don’t live in my stories. So this is what happened:

After he tidied up the room, as I’m quietly sobbing, he came around to my side of the bed again and stood. I peeked up at him. He said, “What would you like to do?”

We had been working hard, with the mission, with the adoption, putting Christmas away. It was all lists and stress. Good things, but stressful things. I said the first thing that came to mind.

“Something fun.” *sniffle sniffle* *sob*

He said, “Okay. I’ll go talk to the kids.”


So I curled up on the bed and cried even harder. He just left! And then I remembered something. I looked at the straightened-up room. I remembered we’d learned and studied each other’s love languages. Have you read that book? The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This book has saved us more than once. My love language is . . . guess? I’m split right down the middle with Quality Time/Physical touch. Guess what his is.

Acts of Service.

I’d been concentrating on how I needed love, and had missed that he’d shown it to me. In his way.

He’d cleaned up our room. He’d gone to carry out a mission. To find something fun.

I calmed down. In a few minutes, he returned. He said “The kids thought playing a game would be fun. And maybe go for a walk?”

I nodded and wiped my tears. “You left me crying on the bed.”

“Oh.” He looked at the door and then back at me.

“You cleared off the bed and I thought you were going to lie down and put your arms around me. But you left.”

“Well, I cleaned off the bed and picked up the room.”

I nodded. “I know. Thank you.”

“Do you want me to do that now?”

I nodded again. Inside my head I said, Yes, you big dummy.

So he did. He climbed on the bed and wrapped me up. And I cried some more, but then I felt better. I said, “Remember, I’m a touch person.”

So he squeezed me tighter.

So love isn’t always an ideal. Love isn’t a pinnacle you reach and angels are singing and the heavens open. Love is a verb. It’s getting through the bumps. I dare say that you only truly love someone when you’ve made it through challenges with them.


After the rush of “falling in love”, love is a choice.

Did not need much

Not everyone’s list would read like this. What would a list like this look like if it belonged to those we love? Brandon’s would definitely have college football on there. “He did not need much . . .” Maybe find out, and choose to be a hand in some of those things.

I’d like to close by talking a little bit about Christ’s love.  

My friend Abel Keogh was widowed very early in his marriage, his ill wife tragically taking her own life and the life of their unborn baby. He has since happily remarried and has 3 children. He has written a memoir, “Table for Two”, and the “Dating a Widower” series based off his weekly blog column. This is what he sent me:

“It’s easy to love people when they’re keeping the commandments. It’s hard when they say or do things that are contrary to the gospel and bring heartache to themselves and others. Christ emulates the type of love we should have for our spouses, children, and other people in our life even when they make mistakes. No matter what we do or how we behave, he still loves us and his arms are open to receive us. I doubt Christ would yell at us or become angry when we messed up or did something stupid. Instead, I believe he would talk to us in such a way that even if he was disappointed in our actions/thoughts/words we would know that He still loves us.  Just think how much better ALL of our relationships would be if we could follow His example instead of becoming angry or upset when someone said or did something that hurt or upset us.”

If we could look into each others hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance and care.  ~Marvin J. Ashton

Psalms 147:3 describes Christ’s love as this: He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.”

This verse so succinctly states Christ’s full purpose. His example is often easy to forget in our everyday, mundane, getting-through-stuff, frustrating lives, surrounded by our worries, our insecurities, and the judgments of others. It is even forgotten amidst our joys and triumphs.

But waking up each day thinking, “I will heal the broken heart. I will bind up wounds;” to love as Christ loves, is one part of an equation for happiness.

Another part is believing that God loves us. I found an anonymous quote.

“You don’t have to wait to hear ‘Well done’ 
(or “I love you” or to get the flowers or the thank you, or the hug). 
If you do it right, you can know every day that God is smiling and saying, “That’s my girl.”

I don’t know you very well. But my heart is filled with love for you. I hope to get to know you better. I may be a published author, and sometimes that puts me in a spotlight. But I’m just a girl. I’d rather be curled up on my couch in my jammies, getting lost in a story, or being silly with my kids, dancing while my dishes sit in the sink.

Thank you for asking me to speak tonight. I said in the beginning that love has dealt me some hard blows. 

But it has, more often, brought me immeasurable joy. I wish that for you.