Time between the end and the beginning

So this has been one of those weeks…

1- 2 Days after Christmas, we picked up our daughter Madison Noelle Blake after her 18 month mission to Malaga Spain (see the faces of my family below and you’ll see we LOVE having Maddie back)..

2- Worked my last day at Jewel Kade.. a wonderful 18 months for me and a great ending.. (We have no idea what we’ll do next, and while we love Alpine and hope to stay, we’ve learned not to pray against new opportunities to meet new people and experience new places…).

3 – FAMILY Vacation — with our entire family together again, we decided to take a road trip together to SoCal. Thanks to Mark Blake and Julianne Ballard Blake, and Brent Ballard and Susan Ballard for opening their homes to us. We drove through our first Orange County snow storm on our way, but sunshine prevailed and we had a great time. Thanks to Melanie Ballardand Kerri Anderson Salter for inviting us to a super fun reception Saturday night… We didn’t go to Disneyland, didn’t get up early or stay up late, just spent time as a family and with friends and had a FUN, FUN time together.

4- This morning all our college students drove back to their apartments in Provo.. Sydney returned to Junior High, and Kate to kindergarten. I had the sacred opportunity to give Maddie a ‘back to school’ blessing and then we drove together to Provo to move her in to her new apartment.

Christmas is coming down today and tomorrow my job hunt officially begins. Despite the anxiety stirred by the uncertainty that lies before us, I can’t help pausing today to be grateful, to be happy and to acknowledge the blessings my Father in Heaven has given. Life is not easy, but it is good. We can do hard things.. and be happy.

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Memorial Day is for Remembering

 

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Memorial Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. I’m grateful we have a day set aside to remember our fallen heroes who gave the ultimate gift for freedom to endure. Their sacrifice not only has made the world a better place for my son and daughters, but because of this country’s willingness to protect democracy and freedom around the world, their sacrifice has opened opportunities in far away places. Thank you to our fallen soldiers and thank you to the families of these soldiers whose lives have also been forever altered with one empty chair around their dinner table.. too often that of the primary bread winner.

For our family, Memorial Day is also a day to remember those in our family who have passed. Yesterday we drove to a little cemetery on the bluff of a hill overlooking the Great Salt Lake in a small town where my grandfather served as a larger than life mayor for many, many years. We visited the graves of my grandparents and my brother who was lost when he was not quite 4 years old. We told our children about their lives and visited the park that bears my grandfather’s name.

There is something powerful in taking time to recall that much of what we have, we have inherited (not earned) from those who have gone before; in remembering our place in history; and in remembering our opportunity to make history. With gratitude for the inheritance we collectively received as a result of the lives of those who are past, may we borrow a bit of courage to dream and to act in a way that will leave this world a little better for those who someday will remember us on this holiday.

He who has risen—lives today!

He is risen!

Can you even imagine what it would have been like to hear those words spoken the first time from the tongue of angels or from Mary, John or Peter? How? What? How can that be? When?

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No doubt our questions would eventually turn to the most important for all who will follow after him. Where is He?

For me, the childhood magic of Christmas has matured into the adult wonderment of Easter. Perhaps it is the season of the year and the welcome arrival of spring, or perhaps it is having lived through several deaths including my brother, my grandmas and grandpas, an aunt, two uncles, my father-in-law, my neighbor’s daughter and the wonderful older couple who lived next to us for a short while on Olive St in California. For me, Easter is now the season with the most reason to celebrate.

I belong to a Church that has been outcast from mainstream Christianity. Perhaps it is because we have not adopted the cross as our symbolic representation of Christ – choosing to emphasize the resurrection rather than the crucifixion. For whatever reason, I have found myself privately in the deepest of personal relationships with Jesus Christ, and publicly defending that I can be called a “Christian.”

At issue, is the core of our belief in Christ. Yes we proclaim that He is Risen, but we also ascertain that He lives. One is past tense, it proclaims a miracle that has come and gone leaving behind a much-disputed historical cannon of scripture. Our declaration is present tense, it is that He lives that He continues to speak as a resurrected God to His prophets and is present and active in providing guidance, direction to the children of God on the earth today. We even offer a second historical cannon (the Book of Mormon) as a second witness of Christ and making undisputable the fact that the Bible is the word of God.

Our testimony of Jesus Christ is that he is a living Christ. That he rose from the dead “to become the first fruits of them that slept” and then “visited among those whom he had loved in life.” But our testimony and historical cannon does not conclude there but goes on to add to the body of evidence of Christ’s resurrection. We testify that as a resurrected being, Christ also visited among his “other sheep” in ancient America and “that in modern times he and his father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised dispensation of the fullness of times.”

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The message of Easter – that he is risen – is sweetened by the testimonies of other nations and modern witness whose update to that testimony is that he lives! Joseph Smith wrote, “and now after the many testimonies that have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all which we give of him, that he lives, for we saw him, even on the right hand of god, and we heard the voice bearing witness that he is the Only Begotten of the Father.” (Doctrine & Covenants 76: 22-23).

I love this video reminder of why we should care that Christ overcame sin and death.

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I add my testimony to it, that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer – my Savior and Redeemer, that he is risen and that he lives. I learned this fact as a young boy as I knelt to ask God where my own brother had gone after his tragic death. I have had it confirmed in a sweet spirit of peace as I have participated in the holy experience of comforting others as they have prepared for death or have grieved for those they have lost to it.

He is risen – and only through Him, and assuredly through Him you and I will live again.

He lives – to guide us safely to Him, but only if and when we exercise the God given gift of agency to decide to seek Him.

I testify that “he is the light and the life and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His Divine Son.” (The Living Christ, http://bit.ly/1iBv9Uc).

Happy Easter!

Kate and my Gate

I want to give you an update on two of my favorite issues lately, Kate Hansen and my gate.

First the gate. As you can see in the photo below, it is closed… has been pretty much everyday since I “caught my neighbor boys” walking through my backyard and gave them the “assignment” to help keep it closed. I actually saw them helping each other shut and latch it this morning on their way through. I love the fact that these two boys have taken the responsibility of keeping my gate locked so seriously. Makes me happy every time I see this:

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Second Kate Hansen. Kate came in 10th in the Olympic Luge event, but 1st in the hearts and minds of so many who have come to know her the past few days. Even Beyonce posted her photo on her Facebook page and wrote “Go Kate.” My favorite article on Kate was published in the LA Times, and included this awesome commentary:

“There’s nothing in the Olympic motto about winning. None of the five Olympic rings is gold. Sometimes it’s not about the speed of the sled, but the view from the sled, especially if it’s in the eyes of a 21-year-old Southern California kid riding atop a snow-covered sport on the other side of the world.

Sometimes, as Kate Hansen reminded everyone, it’s not about greatness you take from these Games, but the gratitude you leave behind.”

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Thanks to Kate for the smiles and the genuine gratitude for it all and to my neighbor boys for minding my gate.

Life is good.
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Mission Accomplished: Fence Closed

For those of you following my fence story, I’m happy to report that it happened this morning at about 7:50 am. I was sitting in my truck, warming it up before I left for the airport to attend the Super Saturday tomorrow in Fresno and not one, but two of my neighbor boys came walking through my backyard.

They are brothers, and the youngest was in front, walking along without a care in the world. The older boy saw me about half way through the yard and stopped in his tracks – clearly worried that he was going to get in trouble.

I climbed out of my truck and yelled, “I’m so glad you two are walking through my yard.” That statement made the youngest smile, but the older boy had that look on his face that said, “but?”

I met them at the gate and said, “Listen, you two have a pass to walk through our yard whenever you want to, OK? But will you do me one favor? Will you shut the gate behind you so the deer won’t keep walking through it?” They were both with me now, though the oldest was a bit puzzled because he knew that the fence had been open all winter – I had vowed not to close it until I caught them. Once he figured out what I was asking, he shut it tightly and they were off. As I pulled out of the driveway, the youngest turned and said, “See you later, have a great day.”

I snapped a photo of the closed gate and drove off knowing I had just made a great trade: My gate will remain closed and my new friends will never worry as they make their way to and from school through my yard.

Mission accomplished!
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A Four Year Old’s Christmas

Watching Christmas through the eyes of a four year old is an amazing experience. I have five children, one son (21), and four daughters, 20, 17, 12 and 4. Having the older kids softened a bit by the enthusiasm and genuine gratitude of our youngest was a gift in and of itself.

Here are a few Christmas highlights as experienced by our four year old:

1) Santa came to visit her pre-school and just before he left she was frantically trying to get his attention, but (fortunately) he was preoccupied with the other children and didn’t see her. After, my wife asked her why she was trying to get his attention and she said, “I wanted to tell him to put Ali (our 17 year old) on his naughty list.” My wife was amused and surprised and asked her “why?” “Ali always is in her room or on the computer and she never plays with me.”
2) When my 17 year old found out how the youngest felt, she made an effort to spend some one-on-one time with her. Later that week when I was kidding about putting my 17 year old on Santa’ s naughty list, our youngest said, “I already got her off the list. She is on Santa’s nice list and I’m not going to let her get on the naughty list again.”
3) After hearing the song, “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas,” I told our youngest that all I wanted for Christmas was a hippo. She said, “Sorry dad, you can’t because we don’t have a pool for the hippo to live.” She went on to tell me, “Sometimes Santa brings presents other than the one you asked for so you’ll probably get something else.”
4) On Christmas morning we make our kids wait on the stairs before they can come see their presents. I always talk about how cool the presents are and this year I said, “I can’t believe it, there is a pool in our backyard now and sitting in that pool is a hippo.” Her face filled with wonder and she said “I can’t wait to see it.” When I told her I was kidding, she laughed with me for a while and thought it was so funny that I had joked with her about that.
5) On Christmas Eve we used a “Naughty List” scanning app on my iPhone to figure out who was naughty and who was nice. When the app revealed that my wife was on the naughty list, my four year old said, “don’t worry mom I’ll share my presents with you.”

Christmas morning was magical. She loved everything she received and kept saying, “this is the best Christmas ever” – thanks to her, it was.

Cheering on Kate Hansen Today!

Kate Hansen

In June of 2010, our family moved to the beautiful little town of LaCanada, California. The day our furniture arrived, I came home from work to find boxes stacked every where, and my wife and kids on a couch in the center of it all in tears – they were not happy to have been uprooted from our home of 11 years in Bountiful, UT.

Later that week a bright, smiling, young woman somehow found her way to our home and everything changed. That summer, she befriended all three of my teenagers and took them on amazing adventures in the LA area. Kate led my son and two oldest daughters to Dodger games, to the Hollywood sign, to the rooftop of a local shopping center and to the beach (often). Kate has a larger than life personality that all of us Blakes warmed to, but by fall she was gone.

Turns out, that this Southern California surfer had somehow decided she wanted to be an Olympic Luge athlete. So, when the summer ended, she traded her surfboard for a sled and went off to cold weather climates to train and compete.

Her road has been long, and she missed the 2010 Olympics. She almost quit several times, but she didn’t. This fall, she was having the race of her career when she broke her foot – not a good thing for a sport that requires minor adjustments in your feet to steer. Despite her broken foot, she went on that day to a personal best and won the event and put herself on the map for the 2014 USA Olympic Team.

Today at 3:15 and then at 4:20 in Park City, UT, Kate Hansen will race to secure her spot on the USA Team and if all goes well will receive an official Olympic invitation in a press conference just after 6pm. My family will be there – my girls wouldn’t miss it.

In our prayers this morning, my four year old, who typically prayers for things that impact her (her cousin will be nice, her mom will take her to a fun place, etc.) asked her Heavenly Father to help “Kate win her race.” I believe God answers prayers, though I don’t think he is too involved in sports, but I do think He appreciates a woman like Kate Hansen – not so much as an athlete, but because of her ability to love and inspire others.

At Jewel Kade, we have determined that our mission is to “remind women everywhere of the power within.” Kate Hansen is a poster child of a woman who has discovered her personal inner power. Because of her discovery, Kate has helped other young women (my daughters included) discover a little something in them.

Here is hoping that Kate Hansen becomes an Olympian… and if an Olympic Medal will allow Kate to influence more young women, I hope she brings home Gold.

This afternoon, I’ll be in Park City, holding my 4 year old –whose name is also Kate–cheering Kate Hansen on to victory and hoping God answers a little girl’s prayer.

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America is not a country… it is an idea.

I spent the end of this week in Washington DC attending and speaking at a Direct Selling Association conference. There were interesting speakers and valuable information, but the most memorable quote from the week came from an American immigrant, the CEO of a direct selling company not unlike Jewel Kade who reminded us in her thick German accent of the quote:

“America is not a country; it is an idea.”

She went on to say, “you can live all your life in France and never become French, but you can live in America for 3 years and be an American.”

I’ve lived in or near Washington DC twice, and worked on the Hill one summer as an Intern in the United States Senate. I love coming back to this town, and the site of the White House (no matter its occupant) and the Capital always stirs my gratitude to be an American.
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My “idea” of what is America no doubt differs from that of many who are my friends, and there are many moments during my life when I have had angst about what America is becoming. Despite those differences, my worldwide travels have locked deeply into the center of my soul the fact that I am glad to be an American.

Let it Snow! I’m not afraid

This morning it finally arrived – SNOW!

Some of you know I moved from LA in July and may be surprised at my excitement for the white stuff. Well I’m not fully embracing the cold, and admit the winter may get old, but today I’m not only ready, I’m excited to welcome the white stuff.

Why?

For the past month or so, I’ve actually feared the snow. You see my driveway is looonnnnggggg (see photo below) and I had no equipment to remove snow from that driveway. I had been looking online, searching home improvement stores, trying to find the right equipment to allow me to clear the snow when it comes.

Finally, a week ago it all came together. I found a small snowplow for the front of my truck – perfect for a single driveway, and because I bought it used, it cost much less than the snow blowers I had been considering. Then, I found the perfect shovel on Bob Vila’s website and as of last Friday I had everything here and installed. That morning, my fear magically disappeared and was replaced by anticipation.

It’s funny; I actually went from being fearful of snow to wanting the snow to come. This morning I woke up early enough to play basketball with the guys in the neighborhood before the sun came up and there was no snow. When I came out of the gym, it was here: snow, beautiful, white, flaky snow.

On January 2, 1831, the Joseph Smith told a small gathering of believers gathered in Fayette, NY, something I now perfectly understand, “if (you) are prepared (you) shall not fear.”

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Plow. Check.
Shovel. Check.
Fear. Gone.

Snow.. Bring it on…