Monday, October 12, 2015


I listened to a 5-month pregnant woman I don't know bemoan her nausea for several minutes. "What a good problem to have," I thought. I wanted to shoot my hand in the air and say, "I volunteer to be pregnant and nauseous instead!"

October 11th made one month. One hard month. One month of wishing so bad I was still pregnant, and our baby Luke was still alive and growing. One month of watching my stomach get depressingly flatter instead of bigger. One month of putting away the brand-new maternity clothes I couldn't wait to wear, finding a tiny casket, ordering a headstone. One month of trying to find purpose in my life again. One month of fighting back tears even during the moments when you'd least expect it. But one month in which I've realized a lot about myself. One thing is how pathetic and pointless my complaints are.

How many times in high school did I gripe about how unfair my running injuries were....when a paraplegic would have said to me, "Give me your slow race times and your shin splints. What a good problem to have."

When I initially complained that my current apartment has a teeny tiny oven, I then remembered the homeless, who are also the kitchen-less. Or the millions of people who spend their lives cooking over a smoky fire.

And yes, even my complaints about how hard it has been losing a baby, could be met by others with reminders that, "at least you can get pregnant," or, "at least you're married."

Same goes with complaints of college students, to those who never get to go to college and would love to jump in their place.

And the complaints of newly-wed wives about their husbands, or the adjustments of marriage, to the girls who've never been on a date or feel they'll never marry.

And complaints of one's mother, to someone who recently lost theirs.

Thank the Lord

I've learned that it truly is healing to be grateful. Not necessarily grateful for things, but an overall grateful attitude in our circumstances, no matter what they be. Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances, Elder Uchtdorf says. He goes on:

It might sound contrary to the wisdom of the world to suggest that one who is burdened with sorrow should give thanks to God. But those who set aside the bottle of bitterness and lift instead the goblet of gratitude can find a purifying drink of healing, peace, and understanding.

More than anything, I've become more grateful for my knowledge of God's love for me. If I have that, I feel like I can be grateful in any circumstance, because I know that what's happening isn't a curse or a punishment, but that God is letting it happen to somehow bless me. Someday, I believe we'll understand the "why's." In the meantime, we can be grateful He knows best. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

What I've Learned from Losing a Baby

I've always been excited to be a mother. From the time I was little, my mom says I would mother anything--dolls, toys; apparently I would even pick up dirty Kleenexes off the floor and rock them in my arms and sing to them. Carson says that on our first date it came up that I want 12 kids, which I don't remember saying, but I'm not surprised. I am the kind of woman who can't wait to make fun (healthy) food for my kids, homemade Halloween costumes, prepare special family home evening lessons, and just throw my heart and soul into making their lives great. I was so very excited to start being a full-time mother for our baby boy, due January 31st, 2016. My entire life was planned around it.

Then, out of nowhere, after 19 weeks of a perfect pregnancy, my baby came early. I would explain how we lost him, and the details of the 4-day hospital stay that no one could have ever prepared us for. I would tell the story and you, too, would see that it was completely un-preventable. But the details don't really matter. The end result would be just as sad any other way. Basically, it was a most heart-breaking week. I would spill out the story, but I mostly need this blog right now to force me to articulate all that I've learned, thought and felt.

Our little funeral today, September 21, 2015. Such a hard day. Luke is buried with my two grandparents.

1. I've learned God's answers to prayer are sometimes above our understanding, but they are answers. 
Not all prayers are answered with a "yes." This has been the hardest "no" answer I've ever received. We had hundreds of people praying for us, and those prayers were by no means in vain. God heard them all, He could have worked a miracle with such faith, but He had a different will than we all did. 
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Some people have said it's ok if I'm angry at God, but with this scripture and all of my blessings in mind, how could I ever?!)
So, how do I know God even heard all my prayers, then? Because I have felt His comfort, His love, and His sadness with me (it was even raining today during our little funeral, and I felt that God was weeping with us). I know He doesn't want me to be sad, so I trust He answered my prayers with a "no" for a reason that I don't understand yet. 

Christ, also, prayed for something that Heavenly Father said "no" to. He prayed that the bitter cup of the Atonement would be taken away from Him. Had God answered with a "yes," we would all be lost. 

I've learned that prayer isn't to just try and get what we want. It's to help us become who God wants and needs us to be, to show faith in Him, to gain strength, and to receive blessings that are conditional on us asking for them. It isn't always a protection from adversity, but it is always a strength in adversity. 

2. I've learned just a little more of the depth of God's love for His children. 

We tend to love people we know. The more you know someone, the more you love them. I don't really know our son, Luke. I had him inside me for 4 1/2 months. But even hardly knowing him, I love that baby boy so much more than I can write. Seeing his tiny 8-inch, 10-ounce body... his perfect hands and feet with long fingers and toes like Carson's, his little bulging biceps and calf muscles, his tiny little nose (he has my nose), his tiny ears the size of the eraser of a pencil....holding that precious, tiny, lifeless baby....I was overcome as I realized how much I love him. I can't keep my composure when I think of how much I miss him being with me.
If I can love a tiny, underdeveloped baby that I hardly know, I can't imagine the intensity of the love God has for us, who knows us perfectly. He's been our father since the beginning of time, as compared with me being pregnant for 20 weeks. The small taste of parental love I have convinces me that we'll never realize just how deep God's love is for us.

3. I've learned how many amazing friends I have.
It's been so touching, meaningful, helpful, and such an answer to my prayers to have so much love and support from so many people. I can't believe how kind some people have been. The flowers, packages, cards, comments, texts, prayers, messages, phone calls and meals have overwhelmed me and Carson. "God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs." = SO TRUE. Thank you, thank you! You know who you are! You have comforted and strengthened me and helped me be happier than I would be. God has helped me so much through you.

4. I've learned I have a lot more answers than questions.
At first, it seemed that there were so many questions we don't have answers to.  Why did this happen to us? Why is such a worthy desire denied us? Didn't we have enough faith for a miracle? How come irresponsible people who don't want kids get them, and we don't? etc. However, after thinking and praying about it, I've come to be convinced that I can't really say that I have a lot of unanswered questions. I have more answers than questions. We heard a song at church that says, "Christ is heaven's answer." Knowing Him and His gospel is the greatest answer. Also, it's ok if I don't have all the answers I want. As Nephi says, "I know that God loveth his children, nevertheless I know not the meaning of all things." I do know that God loves me. I know. And I've gotten to the point where that's enough of an answer for me.

5. The most important thing you can do for your family is maintain a strong marriage.
Being married can be the one of the greatest strengths in your life. I thought my love for Carson was already at maximum capacity, but after this trying time, our relationship is stronger than ever. Among all the seemingly gallons of tears that I've cried lately, some of them are just tears of profound gratitude for him. He has helped, strengthened, and comforted me more than anyone. Your relationship with your spouse needs to always be 100% maintained so you're prepared for unexpected punches in the face, like this one. There's a reason, folks, why you're supposed to get married before you get pregnant. You need each other and the commitment that only marriage can provide. 

6. I've learned to look at people through a mother's eyes. 
Which means I see them as the prized, treasured, priceless newborn baby they once were to their mother. I think how they were once smaller than a poppy seed, and what a miracle it is that they are the independent, full-grown person they are today. What a miracle. And when you see people as priceless miracles, you just tear up, and want them to be happy. 

7. I've learned no matter how many Reeses peanut butter cups or how many spoonfuls of Tillamook ice cream you eat, you usually feel the same way emotionally, or worse. 

8. I've learned that having a child waiting for you on the other side is a great motivator to merit living there, too. 
I went to the temple the other day, and was overcome with the desire to be as pure as my sweet baby, who got a speed pass to the Celestial Kingdom. Just like I would have done anything to keep him here, I'm now willing to do whatever it takes to be with him again. Thanks to Christ, I CAN be pure enough to live with our baby again. 

9. I've learned again how necessary the blessings of a temple marriage are. 
How do people without the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives survive the loss of a loved one? I don't know how I could. Knowing that "all things that are unfair about life will one day be made right through the atonement of Christ" is what gets me through. The promises we received at our sealing in the temple really hit home during times like these. It's like insurance. You get married in the temple before most of your biggest tragedies will occur. You have no idea what life will offer you. But with the promises of a temple marriage, you will, in the end, have what's most important, no matter what happens. Thanks to our sealing in the temple, our family is the same in the end, even though Luke died. We're still the same family eternally--Luke just gets more time in heaven than we do.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Perfect Summer

Hi everyone! This is Carson again. Faith and I have said goodbye to our friends in India, and have arrived back home safe and sound. These past few months in India have been perfect. Now, from an outsider’s perspective, all the changed plans, food poisoning, worms, visa problems, and threats of arrest may not sound like the perfect summer, so please let me explain:

When I say this summer has been perfect, I mean that it has been exactly what we needed. Our faith has been tried again and again, our prayers have been answered in every way, and the people we’ve met have changed our lives forever. If I were to draw up on paper what a perfect summer would look like, I could not have done it any better than how it turned out.

Not everything went as we expected, but it just goes to show that God knows far better than we do what we need. How could we have ever guessed that we would meet some of the most amazing people on the planet, or that the government would conveniently threaten our arrest due to a visa violation right before our family reunion, and right after I had enough hours for my BYU internship? We were blessed and protected and provided for beyond the best I could have imagined.

Time, and time, and time again I have been astounded at how these leprosy-stricken individuals can forget themselves and still focus on serving and uplifting others. From our friend Raja who cleaned our water basins with his finger-less hands, to an amazing man named Appu (pictured below), whose face was so deformed by leprosy that he could no longer speak, but that didn’t stop him from smiling and laughing all the time. His quick and enduring smile taught me more about happiness than any amount of words ever could.

Gordon B. Hinckley once said that “Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others.” By combining our service with faith, we can be happy, and also make a difference, wherever we are in the world. “Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings” (Mosiah 8:18).

It is so easy to forget about how deeply God loves and wants to bless those we hardly notice. We don’t have to travel across the world to become a great benefit to our fellow beings. In order to become that great benefit in someone’s life, we need only show them how special and important they are. As Hilary Weeks sings, “There’s a shortage in this world of ‘I believe in you’s, and there’s somebody somewhere who needs one.”

I came to India with many fears, worries, and uncertainties. Through every test, trial, and unexpected turn of events, God has always shown me that He is there, and that He loves His children more than I could ever comprehend. No child of His is ever forgotten. Seeing and serving the poorest of the poor lets me catch a tiny glimpse of the love God has for these people. I pray that my eyes will always notice the lonely, the sick, the destitute, and that I may also notice how I can help them in some way.

There are countless lessons to be learned from this part of the world, and Faith and I will be reflecting on this time of our life for the rest of our lives. Thank you everyone for your never-ending love and prayers. We have been safe, protected, and sustained in every way. We have felt His spirit and His peace as we have served His beloved children. I know that God loves and helps us more than we will ever know. He hears and answers prayers.

This summer in India has not been easy, but it has been life-changing, humbling, inspiring… perfect.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Goodbye Weekend

It’s been a weekend full of good-byes. It’s hard to say them because it was not expected. It’s no fun to explain to people why we’re leaving a month earlier than we planned. Especially the children on campus. Some of them understand, but most of them don’t.

On Saturday we were so very grateful to have the chance to go to Rising Star campus and say goodbye to the students. We thought we’d never get to go back. We only had two hours, but that was enough time to take lots of photos and play with the children one more time. They are seriously some of the most precious, forgiving, accepting, fun, friendly, adorable souls ever.
 These two girls, above and below are Mariyam and Mymonisha. It would be hard to just pick one or even two, but if I could I would take these girls home with me. They are some of my best friends here.

This is Moosa, Mariyam's younger brother. They are both very caring, helpful, friendly, kind, intelligent children. I hope my children are like them!
Mithuna, Vana, and Sveta
I will especially miss the girls that I had a choir group with each Sunday. About 8 older girls would eagerly come to the music room of Rising Star’s school and we’d gather around the piano and sing Primary Songs, hymns, fun songs, David Archuleta songs, and practice the India version of our own national anthem—May God Bless India. I’ve never seen girls enjoy singing together so much. They would talk about choir with me every day during the week, so excited for Sundays. 

Today at church I got to do singing time with the primary for the last time. Leading singing time in the Chennai branch is a lot like leading singing time in my home ward, Sedona. About 8 kids (on a good day) and one or two who actually sing. I will miss going to church here.

 This is Kala, she works at Rising Star. She has two sons at BYU right now. She’s the kindergarten teacher at RSO and does an incredible job. She gifted me some earrings on Sunday. Such an impressive woman.

Raja and Ursula have been so good to us. They’re both return missionaries and are newly-weds even more newly-wedded than us!

We'll miss you, Chennai 1st branch!

Changes to the Rising Star Volunteer Program

First of all, I wish I had more pictures in this post, but the internet has been awful!

We had an amazing group of volunteers here for our Youth Session the past two weeks. There were about 20 teenagers here, every single one eager to help and make the biggest difference they could. A lot of them earned their own money to come, and it made their experience even more meaningful.

They tutored students who struggle at school.

They did construction projects on campus.

They treated patients at leprosy colonies.

Summer Stewart, from good old Sedona, Arizona was one of the most helpful volunteers ever! It was great having her here.

On one of their last nights here, the police showed up to campus on a routine surprise visit. The politicians around here don't help Rising Star out too much. I think they're bitter that their own children can't attend this amazing school, since it's only for leprosy-affected children. Anyway, they heard us Americans and wanted to see everyone's visas. We all have tourist visas, which is what we were told to get. One particular policeman decided to make a big deal out of this, and said that technically, on a tourist visa we cannot stay on the campus of an academic institution, nor can we participate in a volunteer program--we can only do touristy things. He ordered that all of us leave the campus. Thankfully the youth were able to stay until their original departure date on Friday morning, and after they left we coordinators also packed up and had to go to a nearby hotel. We are still staying at this hotel, and can only go on campus a few times a week.

It's a rough situation and no one's happy about it. A new group of volunteers arrived on Monday, July 20, and they will also have to stay in this hotel, which limits interaction with the precious students of Rising Star who need our attention. Please pray we can somehow return to campus!

In other news, on Saturday, Carson and I went on a real date! We saw Jurassic World  in 3D at an Imax theater in the Chennai mall. It was crazy intense, but so good! And, the awesome part is the tickets were only $2 each! For once, it was easy to stay under our normal goal of a $10 date. We also found a Subway, which really hit the spot after so much Indian food.

On Sunday after church, we were able to visit campus and see the kids! There are several girls I'm really close to that come to a little choir group I lead each Sunday afternoon. When they saw us arrive on campus, they came running and said their eyes watered when they saw us arrive, and they knew their prayers had been answered that we would come. It was so nice to see them after being gone a couple days, and to sing and talk together.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happiness is Not the Absence of Problems

All the volunteers from our last session left on Friday morning. With no volunteers for three days, we were able to all do a medical clinic, just us 6 coordinators. I love leaving campus and going out to a leprosy colony. Usually I work in the school every day, so I don't get much of a chance to see India and meet the people.

We went to a lovely colony, a row of housing that Belgium gave to India as a thank you for some relief India provided Belgium at one time.

Even though it's well-kept on the outside, the rooms are like any other housing: concrete walls and a concrete floor with metal-framed beds and maybe a 1-inch mattress on top. That's it. Nothing more. And we were all admiring how nice it is, compared to other colonies.

Anyway, the take away I got from this clinic is that we REALLY choose our own happiness. We met this man, Appu, who couldn't speak, but he could make sounds and, boy, could he smile! He never stopped smiling his biggest smile. He was so happy we were there. He wanted his picture taken, so here it is.

He is quite a dancer, too. After treating everyone, we played some music and the patients who can stand well started busting all kinds of moves! It's amazing how music transcends all language barriers. This man in the pink shirt, Yesu, doesn't have leprosy anymore, but he was sent to this colony by his own wife and children who didn't want to live with him after he contracted leprosy, even though it was treated early enough that no damage was done to his body. Very sad. But this is his home, and at least while we were there, he was happy, dancing his heart out.

There were several cute puppies who enjoyed watching us work.

My job this time was placing eye drops in the patient's eyes. Leprosy dries out the eyes.

Carson worked the  blood pressure station.

One of my highs of the day was how I sat down by this sweet lady after I had finished my job, and she threw her arm (and fingerless hand) around my shoulders. Who does that to a near-perfect stranger, who you can't speak with and get to know? These very loving, accepting, happy leprosy patients, that's who.

When the patients want to say thank you to us, they often put their hands together and bow their head, like they're praying. That's what this man did in this photo.

After leaving the colony, we visited an old hospital that now seems to be a nursing home for elderly people. They rarely get visitors, and were so happy to see us. They didn't expect us to give them anything, they were just so thrilled that we took the time to visit them. It made me remember what Mother Theresa said, that there is more hunger for love and attention in this world than for bread. They wanted us to take pictures of them and show them, to tell us things even though we couldn't understand, to show us their bed and their possession or two of maybe a soda bottle or a blanket. One man told us he is 87 years old and proudly showed us to put on his prosthetic leg. The other men watching almost looked jealous that he had something so unique to show us.

There was nothing in that hospital room but beds. No entertainment, no bingo, no movie night, no pianist playing in the lobby, no homemade cards on the wall from grandchildren, and no families visiting like you'd see at any nursing home in the U.S. But they were cheerful. They smiled non-stop at us.  It was hard to leave them, knowing they'd be back in their lonely state until who knows when.

I kept thinking how these people were once somebody's precious little child, and they're probably somebody's grandparents, but now they're just viewed as individuals in a nursing home. They are so much more than that!

I absolutely love going to leprosy colonies, because I always learn SO much from these sweet souls I can't even speak a word with. I hope that I can always remember them, especially during times when my natural inclination would be to feel sorry for myself or think I'm going through a tragedy I can't be happy through. If they can choose happiness with hardly any health, no acceptance, little mobility, no bank account, no hope for relief, no home of their own, no delicious food, and virtually no physical comfort, I'd be a weak soul to NOT choose happiness when I have all those things. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Cute Kids

The aspect about Rising Star that leaves the biggest impression on everyone who comes here is probably the kids. They are so loving, accepting, forgiving. As the coordinator of education, I help volunteers tutor these kids every day. I spend a lot of time with them. I often look over the playground or the classroom and think, "Where would these children be if they weren't here?" Since they're all from families that are somehow affected by leprosy, most of them probably wouldn't ever go to school because of the social stigma. Thanks to Rising Star, they are learning English from Americans, learning to use a computer, learning to read and do so many things that will help them have bright futures. 

Bhavana is perfectly shooting her hand up, as if to say, "I'm the girl Faith is going to comment on when she writes about this photo." She's so right. Bhavana is a brand new kindergarten student here who is SUCH a character. She's the one who doesn't sing the songs during circle time, but rather screams them at the top of her lungs as if she was screaming "FIRE!" She tries to trip kids as they run around the circle of Duck, Duck, Goose. She will pinch you to communicate since you don't speak her language. She'll steal your camera and run with it. But she also just steals my heart, somehow, through all of that.  Today, knowing she wouldn't understand English, I said to her, "You are the sassiest 5-year-old I've ever met." She responded with the only English response she knows (which happened to be fitting),"Yes."

 Also, a shout-out to the love of my life. Today is our 6-month anniversary. I'm so thankful for him and so thankful we're here together. He works so hard for others. He goes to the kids' hostel every night to tell stories to the little boys at bedtime. He spends hours planning and organizing to make this a good experience for the volunteers. On top of that, he spends time with me and helps me see through the hard times. I haven't yet witnessed an eternal honeymoon, but I have witnessed a 6-month honeymoon. I still have to pinch myself that I'm really married to Carson Ralphs! It's been 6-months of bliss. Our only argument is who is luckier, which is an argument I know I win.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Through the difficulties of living in India lie the golden moments. Most of them, for me, have to do with the kids. Moments like playing soccer with the 4th grade PE class and the Larson family, a sweet family of volunteers with three kids. It wasn't too hot, scores of dragon flies bobbed in the sky above the field, the kids (both American volunteers and the Indian students) were so happy, and everything seemed to be going perfectly. Those are the moments. 

Other moments are often during playtime (which is every afternoon for an hour). When a child runs up to you, calling you by name. When you look over a playground full of a couple hundred children squealing with delight and bouncing off the ground in sheer health and happiness to be alive. When you see volunteers and children playing so naturally together. When you see these two little boys on the swings crack up with laughter over their own jokes. 

The kids here may not live with their families, but their friends become their family. They are so close to each other, and you can see real love and care between them. 
 Two of our youngest volunteers, Brooke and Sarah.
 One of the most outgoing kindergarteners, Nitesh. 

Monday, June 22, 2015


Today after our rotations of work, we took a little trip to a nearby city called Kancheepuram. Many of the volunteers are leaving on Wednesday, and they wanted to see an elephant before they left.

We went to a Hindu temple, a sacred place where we had to leave our shoes outside (and pay a guy a few rupees to keep them from getting snatched). Although we went to see an elephant, we got way distracted by the monkeys on the outside of the temple. They were adorable! They were really eating bananas.

The elephant inside the temple walls was very well-trained. You go up to him, he takes your money in his trunk, passes it to the man beside him, then lifts his trunk to your forehead and "blesses" you. 

After a few people, they took the elephant away, so we didn't personally get "blessed," but no big deal, because we're already plenty blessed. 

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