Home is Where the Heart Is

At 8 AM tomorrow morning, we will pick up a U-Haul and once again do our best to embrace change.  One might ask how I could be so hesitant when we're going from 1200 square feet to a whopping 4500 square feet, right next door to my favorite sister.  With this move, we will gain quite a bit but we will lose a whole lot more... temporarily, of course.  In just a few short days, my parents will enter the mission field for 18 months in Guatemala City, treating the oral surgical needs of local missionaries and orphans.  Tears are starting to form... so I will save this topic for another day.
We aren't certain what the future may hold, but tonight might easily be our last night in this house.  Five years ago, our move back to Portland was a surprise to both of us but the prompting to move was a blessing nonetheless.  Having a home to fix up and make our own has also been a growing opportunity and brought us closer together.  Just a few months before Londyn was born, we finally closed on this townhouse and after a record breaking number of trips to Home Depot, we were able to move into our very first home.  I often reflect on who we were and what little I knew about life, love and my faith.  I was the typical young LDS woman, smitten over my smokin' hot Marine (who I barely knew) and was giddy to play house.  My life was all about date nights, decorating the nursery, folding lovely little pink outfits, trying out new recipes and waddling with as much grace as a I could muster in my third trimester.  Life was normal.  Life was naive and wrapped perfectly with a bright and shiny bow.  

In my 27 years, I have been humbled by many life lessons.  As a mother and a wife, I have learned many eternal lessons.  The difference I find between life and eternal lessons is that life lessons are things learned that effect our relationships and ability to cope here in this life.  Eternal lessons are things learned that my spirit needs to know and understand in order to achieve a fullness of everlasting joy.  Most lessons are not easy to learn.  If they were, we'd already know them.  Most must be learned with pain and heartache.  These walls that have been our home have witnessed so much unconditional love, sacrifice, pain, laughter, work, frustration, grief and peace... some even at the same time.  We brought both of our baby girls home to this house.  We've watched Londyn grow into a beautiful little girl in this home.  We (mostly Andrew) have tackled many home improvement projects here in this house together.  We spent almost three precious months here with our sweet Zoe.  Every inch of this home reminds me of her.  I have special memories of rocking her in her room, feeling her shallow breaths against my cheeks and listening to the dull sounds of the feeding pump on at all times.  At one point, our entire downstairs was filled with an oxygen tank, numerous tubes, monitors, syringes, meds and of course, your regular baby items.  Our memories with Zoe are few, but most all of them were here.  

Zoe Grace

Londyn Joy

It's true what they say, "home is where the heart is."  No matter where we live, how large or decorated it is, what's important is the people and the relationships that are in it.  It's the memories that we make that will be with us forever.  Not the walls.  


19th Hole

Over the passed few weeks, I have been busily planning and preparing for my Dad's retirement party.  After 6 years of school, an internship in D.C., Dental Corp in the Army, a trauma rotation in Hawaii and 36 years in practice, this man is more than deserving of this next transition to retirement.  If you know my dad, you probably never thought he would retire.  In fact, he still doesn't use the term "retirement" rather he refers to this next adventure as "changing venues." (denial kicking in)  Whatever floats your boat, Dad!

When his office manager Vonda asked me to do the decorations for his party, I was knee-deep in planning for my AG Dancers Winter Showcase, meeting my birth mom in just a few weeks and oh yeah, CHRISTMAS! Not to mention, moving into their house come February.  Eek!  I would do absolutely anything for this man, so planning a party just for him was an honor.

He knew very little about the party, including my involvement.  He thought it would be very low key and even low attendance.  Just a few days before the party, my Dad invited me to dinner and a broadway show.  I admit, I already had plans that included a late night date with my hot glue gun, Netflix and a ton left to do before the party.  But none of that mattered because precious time with my Dad is just that.  Precious.

He loves golf and has finally had a little more time over the past year to hit the courses with his brother.  With that in mind, I decided on the theme "Dr. Milne's 19th Hole."  I thought I was so clever with the theme, but thanks to Google I found out that the "19th hole" reference is an actual thing.  The golf theme made for endless possibilities, but ultimately I just wanted my Dad to feel special.

The event was held in the Oregon room at the Doubletree Hotel.  This hotel is just around the corner from my Dad's office.  He has hosted countless study clubs and events at this venue.  It only seemed fitting to have his last hoorah there!

18 Holes: Childhood to Now

I had lots of help too!  My friend Lennae put together the words & turf and my sister made a fabulous cake!

19th Hole: Mission in Guatemala

We had oldies music playing in the background, a delicious spread of hors d'oeuvres and a number of guests in attendance to say "see ya later."   

At the end of the evening, his long time partner Dr. Bozich gave some lovely words about Dr. Milne.  To conclude, Andrew and I put together a video of messages from most all of the family members from oldest to youngest.  It was only fitting since family is the most important thing to him.

I love when a vision comes together!

The very next day, we were in the Sherwood office by 7:30am for our last day EVER as Sherwood Oral Surgery.  This office has meant a lot to me as I was pregnant with Londyn when we first opened.  I was working there throughout my entire pregnancy with Zoe.  Having worked off and on for my Dad since I was 12 and although I didn't always enjoy it in my younger years, I am beyond grateful for the experiences and memories that I will always cherish.  He has a way of teaching, inspiring and touching lives like no one else I have ever met.  He is the most selfless and Christlike individual, not only with his family and church callings, but even with patients and colleagues.  It has been such a blessing to work for and alongside him over the years.  I am do lucky to have watched my father in multiple capacities as doctor, boss, bishop, friend, brother, grandfather and father.

Tomorrow will be his last day in his Portland office.  He will officially be retired, even if it is only for a few weeks before he "changes venues" to Guatemala for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I have heard from many of his staff members of how sad they have been with his leaving.  He has been more than a boss to them, but a friend and a father-figure.  It is hard to see this chapter come to a close, but when he walks out of those office doors for the last time tomorrow... I don't have to say goodbye.  I get to have him in my life forever.  That's the beauty of family.  It's never goodbye!

Sherwood Oral Surgery Team

Without knowing, our last patient just happened to be the daughter of one of Zoe's beloved Cardiology Case Managers Tami.  She knew my dad was an oral surgeon but wasn't familiar with his last name and had no idea her daughter's appointment was with us.  It made our last surgery together even more special.  


Another year...

After Zoe passed away, I declared that 2013 would be my "year of fun."  The trendy phrase "YOLO" (You Only Live Once) was the driving force behind my new attitude.  I started my own business teaching dance classes, took on a new calling as Ward Girls Camp Director (taking 36 girls to camp), kicked Diet Coke to the curb, took up running, ran three 5k races and lost 30 lbs in 5 months.  Needless to say, I really took this YOLO business seriously.

With that said, every change I have made this year was with Zoe at the forefront of my motivation.  My business is just as much about providing quality dance experiences as it is about supporting families of CHD's.  Even turning to a healthier lifestyle has been with Zoe in mind. I am so blessed to have a body without defects or disabilities. I owe it to her to protect and take care myself for both of my children.  It has been pretty straightforward to exercise and eat healthy but saying "Farewell" to DC has not.  I still think about Diet Coke every single day!  I dream about it too... and the dreams are so real that when I wake up, I can't tell if they are fantasies or nightmares.  I still have over a dozen cans of DC in my fridge.  I still respect it's magically delicious goodness and can't bare to pour it down the drain.  It haunts me but keeps me strong at the same time.  Twisted... I know.  All of you recovering DC addicts know what I'm saying.

Amazing Grace Dancers: 1st Winter Showcase

The Color Run: My Very first 5k

As the holidays come and go, the new year sneaks it's way in and I am hit with the painful reminder that no matter how fast I go or how much I fill my plate, she's still gone and it still hurts.  With two holiday seasons under our belt since Zoe died, I have found that it isn't Christmas that's difficult.  It's New Year's.  The holidays are beautiful and filled with everything that brings joy, but New Year's is just a smack in the face with all of the time that has passed without her.  Even the highlights and accomplishments are tough to bare because she wasn't here to share them.  In 2013, we got through many firsts together.  Her 1st birthday, the anniversaries of every hospital stay and the anniversary of her death.  We celebrated her life and mourned just how brief it was.  I don't know what is more painful... the firsts themselves or the fact that their are so few of them because she was only with us for 149 days.  

When my parents leave for their mission next month, I'm going to miss how they  keep Zoe's headstone so festive for each holiday.

Christmas fun throughout December

Christmas was perfect this year.  My all time favorite thing to do is give presents to the ones I love.  It's a combination of finding or creating the perfect gift, the buildup of suspense and then the final moment of surprise in their eyes.  It's like a high for me!  I especially love surprising my husband.  He isn't a surprise kind of guy but has learned to humor me and appreciate it.  This year was absolutely and positively flawless.  We have been talking about getting him a different car over the past few months and a Jeep Wrangler was at the top of the list.  I loved the joy ride on our Hawaii vacation but wasn't sure it was the right fit for our family.  One of his dream cars has been a Mini Cooper, but he never thought he'd get one.  I signed the papers right before my birth mom came and planned to have it delivered on Christmas Eve but I just couldn't wait!  I gave it to him early and Christmas was truly a success even before December 25th.

We also spent the month of December with our Elf on the Shelf.  Lulu decided to name her Rosie because she has rose colored cheeks.  We LOVED this new tradition and can't wait to do it again next year.
My grandparents invited us to see Santa at their assisted living facility.  Lulu asked Santa for a sled and a Furby.  It was fun singing Christmas carols and eating desserts with GG and Great Grandpa.

We had our annual Christmas Eve Bingo party at my Brother Kevin's home.  We LOVE this tradition!

We sprinkled reindeer food on the front lawn, put milk and goodies out for Santa and then put our little one to bed.  Andrew and I had Santa business to tend to but Lulu was too excited to sleep.  After getting out of bed a couple times, Andrew finally told her that she could play in her room but couldn't come downstairs.  A few minutes later I heard her playing in the hallway.  Nervous that she was sneaking around, I went upstairs and asked her what she was doing... she said "I'm just playing until it's morning.  My daddy said I could."  Once we were ready to go to bed, we let her sleep on her "ground bed" in our bedroom.  Andrew and I were wide awake at 4:30AM and she was passed out.  Who were the eager kids on Christmas morning now?!  We couldn't wait any longer and woke her up at 7:30am.

Londyn was excited about all of her gifts and Andrew still salivating over his Mini Cooper.  Andrew had told me about a month prior that he wouldn't be able to top his gift for me and that it wouldn't cost much at all.  Of course, I was intrigued!  I hadn't uttered my Christmas wish to anyone, accept in my prayers.  In my heart, I just wanted to have another baby.  I have wanted another baby since Zoe died.  My desire isn't to fill a void but to further complete our family.  Andrew and I have not shared this same feeling and to be perfectly honest, he had made it clear that he didn't know if he would ever want to have another baby... ever.  I had been praying to Heavenly Father, not for a change in Andrew's heart but for peace and contentment in my own.  Over the past several months I have been blessed with that very peace.  Once I was able to let go of my own desires and put it all in God's hands, I have never been happier.  I have been truly amazed at how happy I really am.  My marriage has never been stronger, we have two wonderful daughter's and we will be together for all eternity.  How could I not find contentment?
About a week before Christmas, Andrew placed an envelope in the tree.  It was for me and said "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL CHRISTMAS."  He also placed 3 small wrapped packages with my name on them under the tree.  A few days before Christmas, I asked him what was in the envelope.  He wouldn't budge.  I told him that he didn't know what I wanted.  No one did.  The first present I opened was Burt's Bees Mama-Be body cream.  I thought to myself, "there's no way... it couldn't be."  I was then instructed to open the envelope.  It was a card that started out with the words... "For the Mother-to-Be..." followed by some beautiful words about the gift of motherhood.  On the inside of the card, he wrote something like "I know that this is all you really wanted for Christmas... so LET'S MAKE A BABY!"  Tears welled up in my eyes and I couldn't believe what was happening.  Have you ever had something that you absolutely, positively wanted more than anything and never in a million years thought you would get it?  Well I just did.  I don't even remember what was said after that but I remember tears and a perma-smile on my face for the rest of the day.  The other presents were large bottles of prenatal vitamins.  He was right... he can't top this and it didn't cost very much... not yet at least.

Meeting Umma

My Birth Mom's visit was overwhelmingly beautiful, therapeutic and life changing. There were countless times when I was stretching myself and pushing limits but I did it! I could not have survived without my family. My "real" family. The ones have always been there for me. Between my brother being there to capture the reunion, my sister taking Lulu numerous times when she was getting antsy with adults all the time and especially my parents for... well, for everything. They are hands-down the most amazing and Christ-like people I have ever known. This entire experience could not have been without them. 

But most of all I am grateful for my best friend, my husband.  This man worked seven 12-hour nights in a row, just to be there for me while my BM visited.  I am so grateful that he did because there were times when there was no one else that I needed but him.  

I knew it was her from the first moment I saw her.  I had remembered her from pictures and the look in her eyes when she saw me sealed the deal.  I didn't know how or what to feel, other than astonished at the entire reunion.  There I was, embracing the woman who gave birth to me 27 years ago.  Until 3 years prior, she had no idea where I had gone or what had happened to me.  She held my hand tightly and never let go.  

We all drove back to my parents house where they would be staying.  My Birth Mother (Umma), Birth Uncle and acquaintance HeeYoon (interpreter) were very kind and seemed surprised at our gestures to make them feel comfortable.  If you know my mom, you know that she is truly the "Hostess with the Mostest."  She had the house tastefully decorated for Christmas without overwhelming the birth family with her usual 27 Christmas trees and 1000+ Santa collection.  She had slippers for them to wear around the house as many Asian cultures do not wear shoes or go bare foot around the house.  The bathroom had a large basket filled with travel soaps, razors, perfume, cologne, lotions, toothbrushes and other toiletries.  My mom was very thoughtful in her research and preparation for this visit.  Among many things, I love that about her.  

After dinner, Andrew and my dad were doing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen.  Umma, Samchon (uncle) and HeeYoon were all very surprised that the men were doing the work.  They said that you would not see that in Korea.  They commented on this a lot over the week as my dad would cook and cleanup breakfast for them every morning.  HeeYoon joked that she wanted to find a Mormon man that would cook and clean for her.

At the end of our first night with them, we exchanged gifts.  My mom had sewn a quilt and made a scrapbook for my birth mom.  My birth mom gave us each traditional Korean Hanbok clothing.  I could see sadness in my birth mother's eyes as she looked at the scrapbook. On more than one occasion, she said "you would not have had this kind of life in Korea" and "your siblings had nothing like you had."  I told her that I appreciated her sacrifice and had a very happy childhood.

Throughout the week we ate lots of Korean food, took our guests to watch my dance classes, shopped at H-Mart (Asian market), ate more Korean food, went on a dinner cruise in Portland, the Nike store downtown, ate Korean food, attended a Portland Trailblazer basketball game, cooked Korean food, ate at several restaurants both Asian and American, visited Zoe's grave... oh and did I mention we ate lots of Korean food?  It was a very fulfilling (or should I say "full-feeling") week.

The dinner cruise was fun because we got to see boats decorated with Christmas lights passing by.  Since HeeYoon was trying to translate several conversations at the same time, my dad took it upon himself to explain the menu to Samchon.  He balked for chicken, moo'd for beef, made a swimming motion with his hands for fish and said "Italiano!" for pasta in his best efforts at an Italian accent.  This was the first time we caught a real smile and laugh out of Samchon.  I love my dad.

Another fun memory was the Blazer game.  This was a first for all of us, except for my dad.  HeeYoon even won a CD from the Ford blimp (broke a nail doing it too!  Don't mess with a determined Korean).  Umma had never even seen basketball before!  Umma and Samchon were bored at first but by the end, they were cheering and throwing up high-five's with every score for the Blazers.  It was truly a coming together of cultures.

As the week presented itself with more and more surprises, HeeYoon was one of my favorites.  Without the language barrier, there was an instant sisterhood.  We could not have made it through the week without her.  She wasn't just "the translator," she was a sister and friend to all of us and an auntie to Londyn.  I still text with her almost every day and am so grateful for her friendship.

On our last day together, HeeYoon was so sweet and bought these matching bracelets for us at the Portland Saturday's Market.

While coloring Umma's hair on Monday, she told me that my birth father would have loved to meet me.  I was surprised because up until this point, I had been told that he took me from her after she passed out post-labor.  In my mind, I assumed he was the "bad guy."  She explained that birth control wasn't used at that time and after having 4 daughters and relinquishing a 5th daughter just 4 years before myself, they could not provide a life for me with them.  My birth father did not want Umma to have to make the decision, so he made it for her.  He made himself the "bad guy" so that she wouldn't have to be.  When asking about the infamous 5th sister, Umma told me that she had memories of her and myself up until I found her a few years ago.  After I found her, the trauma led her to forget the few details that she had.  She had kept us as secrets from her children and even her siblings.  Only my birth father knew the truth and he passed away in 2009.  Like many things in life, I believe that the truths of the story will be revealed in the afterlife.  But for now, we can find peace in just being together.

Now I know where my crooked pinkies come from!  Apparently my birth sisters all of the same pinkies.

Another unexpected moment of revelation was when visiting my grandparents.  While teary and emotional, Umma told us that she hadn't told my siblings about the 5th sister yet.  I was surprised because I thought she told them about both the 5th sister and myself when I found her.  Umma said that she didn't want them to judge her or think she was a bad mother.  She said one of her sons-in-law would be very judgmental.  As her tears flowed, I couldn't help but feel helpless for this woman.  She had endured so much and had no one to share her burden.

At the end of our last evening together, Umma and Samchon expressed their gratitude and love for all of us.  Umma gave my parents an envelope and explained that my birth sisters and birth brother wanted to do something for me but didn't know what kind of gift to give their long lost sister. They decided to pool their money together to gift to us.  We were all shocked at this unexpected gesture.  Umma mentioned several times that it wasn't much but it was what my siblings could and wanted to do for me.  I didn't care about the amount, I was just amazed at how much love my birth siblings have shown through letters, broken e-mails and now this very generous offering.  My parents later told me that the envelope contained $2800.  This was no small amount and I am near certain that it was a significant financial sacrifice from each of them.  Although love can never be measured in dollar signs, sacrifice certainly can.  My parents have decided to save this money for our plane tickets to Korea in 2015.

As Umma held my hands tightly on the last night, I gave her a bracelet engraved with the word Umma.  I told her that even though I won't be with her in Korea, she can wear this and know that I am thinking of her.  I also gave her a Korean Book of Mormon and told her that she should read this book if she wanted to understand who I am and how I find peace.  She told me that she would read it... for me.  We also gave one to Samchon and HeeYoon.  These three Book of Mormon's came with their own divine intervention.  My friend's Lennae and Hanna went to Deseret Book to find three Korean BOM's for me and they told them that they rarely ever have any in the store.  Deseret Book recommended the Visitor's Center at the Portland Temple.  Lennae called there and were told that they used to have some but again, rarely ever do.  The Visitor's Center suggested the mission home in Hillsboro.  Lennae and Hanna then called the mission home and were told that they usually don't have them but they had just received exactly three Korean Book of Mormon's and they were hers if she'd like them.  This was no coincidence.  Thanks to my persevering friends and Heavenly Father I was able to share the most important part of who I am and that is my faith.

Throughout the entire week, I compared her experience of losing me to my experience of losing Zoe.  Although our losses are very different, the pain is very much the same.  We didn't want to put our children in the hands of another, but we had to because it was best for the child.  Letting Zoe go was the most painful and important decision I have ever made.  Keeping her would have been selfish, withholding her from peace and joy with our Father in Heaven.  In many ways, my birth parents gave me that same gift when they blessed me with the opportunity to have a life filled with love, the Gospel and endless opportunities.  When I replay the video of the first moment my birth mother saw me at the airport, I know that the joy in her eyes will be mine when I am reunited with my sweet daughter Zoe.  Heavenly Father works in mysterious ways, but I know that this parallel in my own life gives me the faith and strength to endure to the end so that I can return to Him and be with my eternal family forever.    

No matter the country, language or culture... a mother's love is just that.  Love.