Friday, October 30, 2015

First Email from Preston!

I still haven't decided how often I'll post Savannah's letters here.  I'm not sure I want to make this a missionary blog, but I also don't want to manage two different blogs.  And she is a pretty dang big part of my life, so we'll see...

But this first email was pretty awesome to get, so I wanted to immortalize it on the blog.  

I got this Thursday morning after a long night of checking and rechecking Flight Tracker to make sure Savannah made it safely to Manchester, England.  

It's a weird feeling to watch your daughter fly over the Atlantic Ocean.  Oh, how I wish someone would come up with Missionary Tracker so I could follow her every move for the next 18, that probably wouldn't be a good idea, would it?  

What a happy surprise to find this email when I woke up...

Hi mommy! 
I don't have much time, but im here at the mtc!! I love it here. its sooo pretty and i got my nametag finally! theres also a giant swan in the front in a pond, we named her odette. so our flight was delayed a little so we got in at like 6:50am uk time, and then we went through customs, which took like an hour because the line was so long, and then we got our bags and found the nice brittish man waiting for us with the mtc sign! the flight was super long, and pretty painful. and im running on like 5 hours of sleep in the past two days, but im excited! we have our room assignments, and im not in sister hancocks room so i probably wont be companions with her :( but we dont get our official companions till tonight so we are unofficial companions for the day! :) today we are just doing interviews, and unpacking, and finding our way around and getting settled. then tonight we have a big meeting with everyone who came into the mtc today. so yesterday was when the whole group of other mishs left the mtc, and until we got here there were only 10 mishs here! thats cuz theyre learning greek!!! so crazy! theyre here for 9 weeks, and i guess there is a mission in greece! im charging my camera so i will be able to take more pictures, but all the other sisters and i exchanged emails so they will all email their pics to me later. my pday will be on wednesdays, so thats when you'll hear from me next!! there were about 20 of us on the flight over here, and over double that coming in either from england or just different flights to the uk. so all of us who were on that flight are all super close now! okay well im gonna try and write alex an email back now, and maybe a general email but probably not. love you! i had alot more to tell you but i cant think of anything haha so ill just write it down for next time. oh and the mtc president is president preston haha which is funny cuz we are in the preston mtc. okay love you!

Sister Thunell

What is it about that girl and naming animals?  Isn't she the goofiest thing?  

Hopefully in the weeks and months that follow she'll be able to take a breath between sentences, and add things like punctuation and capital letters to her emails, but who even cares about that stuff when she's so happy and excited to be in England.  

I think it's miraculous and amazing how the Spirit gives you exactly what you need.  I knew Savannah was safe because I could see that her flight had landed.  But I was totally in awe on Thursday morning after not expecting anything, that I had received not only a phone call from Newark the previous day, but also an email filled with all the details that I personally needed to know she was not just safe, but excited and happy.  

Super grateful today for missionary emails, for an enthusiastic daughter, and for the Spirit that provides every single thing we need...even the things we don't dare ask for.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Missionary Mom Advice

I have gotten tons of advice over the last few months from great missionary moms.  I've tried to take it all in and keep it with me so I would know exactly what to expect through all of this process, especially the saying goodbye part.  A lot of people warned me that it would be an emotional roller coaster.  Some said that the first day would be the hardest, but that each day after would be easier.  Some said it would hit unexpectedly and in waves.  Some told me that my job would be to put on a brave face until Savannah was out of our line of sight, and then I could just cry all I wanted on the drive home.  So I prepared for and expected all of those things.  

What I didn't expect was the absolute joy and love I felt on Wednesday morning.  We had a few tiny challenges.  Like some of us who take a ridiculously long time getting ready in the bathroom (like over an hour!)  Like a 20 minute delay leaving the house because of people who take a really long time getting ready.  Like bags that weighed slightly more than we anticipated.  Like forgetting luggage tags.  

But overall, the whole airport experience was so much better than any of us expected.  After three months of preparing, Savannah was excited and ready to go.  How could any of us be sad about that?  

At the very end of our morning at the airport, I was surprisingly ok with not being the last one she talked to.  I happily gave that job to Craig.  I am a lot of things for Savannah.  I'm her emotional support, her friend, her confidant, her spiritual advisor, but Craig is her rock.  His is the reassuring voice she needed right before launching into this exciting, but scary adventure.  His is the advice she needed on those last hundred yards or so of being a little girl.  And how grateful I am that he took this whole week off so he could be exactly what she needed in the last days before she flew off to Europe, especially on Wednesday morning.

We stayed and watched her walk through security, and when we could no longer see her cute missionary face, we all walked back to the car.  I could totally feel everyone taking my emotional temperature and waiting for the breakdown, but it didn't happen.  So we took everyone out for breakfast and then dropped them all off at their respective schools.  And when Craig and I came home, he checked my emotional temperature and waited for tears.  None.  

I had an unexpected, unexplainable, amazing, uplifting day...all day.  Texts and phone calls and kind thoughts and messages dropped in all day long.  By 3:00 when the kids started coming home and I started taking my own emotional temperature, it occurred to me that there's no possible way I could have just willed myself to not be sad.  That's so unlike me.  I cry over everything, especially saying goodbye to people.  I'm pretty sure I was carried around by angels all day Wednesday and Thursday.  They've since left (or at least stepped back into their usual positions) and I can definitely feel the difference.  It's a lot harder to maintain that spiritual high without them, but I'm sure they're somewhere close by monitoring my emotional temperature...and when needed, they'll be back.  

I know there will be hard days ahead for all of us, especially for Savannah.  But how grateful I am for the gift of being able to see this whole mission from her perspective for a day, and to be able to feel nothing but selfless joy for what she's about to experience and learn.  I'm so grateful for the moms who prepared me in advance and to now be officially numbered among them.  I'm grateful for those sweet heavenly angels who carried me around for a couple of days and for the earthly ones who are still here taking my emotional temperature and checking in with me.  Oh, how I love all of them!   

And now, I can add my own missionary mom advice for the people who will do this after me, and for the future years when I have to do this all over again...Trust Heavenly Father.  Look for the ways He blesses your days, even the hard ones.  And never doubt how well He knows you.  Every experience is as unique as the people having them, and He has the ability to provide exactly what we need, exactly how and when we need it.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


It's 11:45 and I should have been in bed a long time ago.  I'm exhausted, and tomorrow morning is going to come quickly.  But the whole house is asleep and I just want to hang onto this feeling of absolute peace and security for a little while longer.  

Tonight I know where everyone is.  Tonight they're all sleeping safely and comfortably in their beds...well, except for Megan who is sleeping in Savannah's bed with her.  Tonight I don't have to wonder how anyone is doing.  I can walk through every room and see them and hear them.  And KNOW.

Tomorrow morning, we will take Savannah to the airport and let her fly all day and all night across the world to England.  Without her phone.  And I won't know...not the details anyway.  

I won't know how the plane ride was, or how she found all the missionaries in the Newark airport, or if she likes all of them.  I won't know how cold it was or wasn't in Manchester or how long the ride was to the MTC in Preston.  I won't know about any of the millions of thoughts she had or the things she ate or the people she talked to.  Until sometime later this week?  or next week?  And by then, I'll probably only get a brief synopsis instead of all the details.  

That's the hardest thing for me about this whole mission...the part where I give up my constant and instant access to all the details of Savannah's life.  Even at BYU, she would text or call multiple times a day to tell me about every test, every interaction, every experience, and every cute animal she spotted on her walks across campus.  I don't think I ever went more than three days without hearing her voice.

I like details...especially the details of the lives of the people I love.  

Tonight, when the Stake President came over to set Savannah apart, he gave her a powerful and amazing blessing.  And the whole time he spoke, all I could hear was the Spirit whispering to me, "Haunani, this will be so worth it.  Your family will be blessed.  Your children will be blessed.  Savannah's children will be blessed.  Stop worrying about the details.  You won't miss a thing."

That's miraculous, isn't it?  To think that I can send my daughter off to Europe with only weekly opportunities for email communication, and I won't miss a thing?  I have no idea how that will work, but I believe He can do it.  

If it were up to me, I would let Savannah take her phone with her.  If it were up to me, I would have sent her to a mission in the United States.  If it were up to me, I would probably have had her just stay home forever and sleep in her bed every night.  It's probably a good thing for her that it's not up to me.  
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord." - Isaiah 55:8
So as I walk through all these dark rooms tonight filled with sleeping children and mourn the loss of this stage of life we're leaving, I also have to rejoice in the exciting plans the Lord has for all of them.  I know He wrote this mission in Savannah's heart a long time ago, and so He will fulfill it in her life exactly the way it will best suit her.  He also wrote HER in MY heart a long time ago and He's not going to let me miss anything important that happens in her life.  

Somehow, over the next 18 months, it will be possible to let go of all the ways I currently KNOW things, but yet still KNOW.  Amazing...
"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." - Isaiah 58:9

Friday, October 23, 2015


This is the house we currently live in.  I pretty much love everything about it and have since the day we moved in.  

There's a blue jay that sits in that tree in front of my bedroom window in the mornings, and a million squirrels and bunnies that play in the yard all day long.  

It took me months to figure out what to do with the space going up these stairs, and then when that collage wall finally came together, I mostly just wanted to walk in the front door as often as possible so I could admire it.  I love the entry into this house.  

This dining room has hosted Thanksgiving dinners, church activities, birthday parties, open houses, music recitals, game nights, and every Sunday dinner for the last four years.  The piano lives in there, and Megan's bass, and a handful of guitars and ukuleles. I made those curtains (with some help from a really good friend with a sewing machine.)  That screen on the wall belonged to my grandmother.  The two soup tureens belonged to Craig's grandmother.  

I probably spend 50% of my day in this kitchen.  Food = love and with 6 people in this house, there's a lot of both happening in this kitchen.  The kids eat breakfast at the island while I pack their lunches for the day.  Those two stools are like the revolving door after school where the kids take turns debriefing their days with me as they come home.  Hundreds of the world's problems have been solved (or at least discussed) at that little island.  

This table is where we read scriptures every morning, where Craig works on his lessons on Sundays, where we eat dinner during the week, and where the sun first appears in the morning.  

There's a lot to love about this house, and that doesn't even include the amazing neighbors we have, the incredible schools my kids go to, and the supportive, uplifting, inspiring church community we belong to.  There is nothing I would change about this place or the five years we've spent here.  

Moving to Birmingham has always sort of been in our long term plans because Craig's company's corporate office is located there and any kind of promotion, we knew, would also inevitably include a relocation.  I had hoped to be able to get a few more kids through high school before we actually had to think about that.  

Timing is a funny thing, though, and no matter how hard I try, I can never quite control it the way I'd like to.  

I dragged my feet for awhile about putting this house on the market mostly because I really like where I live and I wanted to stay here as long as possible.  I was reluctant to look for houses online, and I definitely wasn't interested in a house hunting trip to Alabama. can only drag your feet for so long on a thing like this...

Last month, I finally gave in and flew to Birmingham for one day to look at a few houses with Craig.

Of the hundreds I looked at online, and the 6 or 8 that we actually looked at in person, this was the only one I was interested in.  It was the only one that made me picture us actually living in Alabama.  It doesn't have a wall going up the stairs that I can put all of those pictures on.  It doesn't have any bunnies playing in the front yard.  It doesn't come with the same neighbors and friends we have here.  But it does have a lot of stuff I'm looking forward to and I'm sure a bunch of other great things I haven't even considered.   Someone I love recently reminded me that there are good things and good people to be found everywhere.  I'm totally hanging onto that hope as we gear up for yet another big move.

Our current house has now been on the market for 43 days, and it doesn't appear to be in a hurry to sell.  And guess what...I'm now feeling a little bit anxious to get on with this move already.  All of my reluctance and dragging of feet has been replaced with restlessness and impatience.  We've gone to dinner with all the people we really like...some of them multiple times.  We've seen and done all the things that were on our Dallas bucket list.  As of this Sunday, every member of our family will have spoken or sung in church, and also taught lessons in every class.  We've prepared a missionary, and next Wednesday she'll be on a plane headed for Europe for 18 months.  We have a beautiful house patiently waiting for us in Birmingham.  Craig loves his new position at work.  And we're all growing tired of his 600 mile commute every week.  

So...what is left for us to do here?   I have no idea.   

I'm sure there's some personal lesson in all of this about giving up control, and trusting in the Lord's timing, and of course patience...because apparently I always need opportunities to practice that.  For now, I'm working hard on enjoying the moments while we're still here, because there are a lot of them to enjoy.  Being impatient for the next adventure in our lives doesn't diminish the gratitude and love I have for the one we're wrapping up.  And it makes me think of all the previous chapters in our lives that have woven together to make a pretty amazing story.  I have loved pieces of every place we've ever lived, some more than others.  There are people and memories that are indelibly written on my heart, and our experience in Texas is no different.  Oh, how well we've been nurtured and taught here.  And how excited I am to see how Heavenly Father will use each of us in this next place we're headed to.  

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." - Proverbs 3:5-6

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Gate

You'd think with all the thousands of miles I've driven and the thousands of pictures I've taken along the way, I'd have a picture of a gate somewhere in there. But I don't.  Well, I didn't...until today.  

My gospel doctrine lesson tomorrow is on Ephesians, and unity, and there was a scripture I really loved... 

"For through Him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father." - Ephesians 2:18   

I loved it because it sounded like that other scripture I really love from the Sermon on the Mount...

"Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." - Matthew 7:14

Can't you sometimes just envision all of us as aimlessly wandering sheep? Some of us focused on food, some focused on the other sheep, some pushing and shoving to try to get somewhere.  One or two influential sheep might have a plan, but if left to our own insufficient sheep devices, none of us would really have a clue where we're supposed to be going.  

And then the Savior comes along and shepherds us into ONE focus, ONE purpose, ONE happy, joyful path to the ONE gate that will get us to the place we didn't even realize we were looking for.  

And with the Savior, we desire not only to get to the gate, but also to help our other sheep friends get there, too...safely, happily, and without any pushing and shoving.  

I love that.  Unity is a good thing to strive for.

So Megan and I went on a hunt today for a picture of a gate to use in my lesson.  I envisioned a short wooden gate with a little latch, wide enough for a couple of sheep to fit through, and opening up to a dirt path behind it.  But after an hour or so of looking, I decided I couldn't be quite that specific.  We found a cemetery and I settled on this cute wrought iron gate that sort of leads to a dirt path...and also a few headstones.  It wasn't quite what I had in mind, but I think the class will get the idea.  
Preparing this lesson was great.  Having a gate picture to add to my ever growing photo library is also great.  But the best part of this day was getting completely and totally side tracked by a "gate hunt" and spending an entire afternoon with Megan.  Megan is teaching tomorrow, YW.  I love that girl.  I love the way she thinks.  And I love that one little gospel doctrine lesson could bring us together in an unexpected, but unified way.  

Monday, October 5, 2015


"Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." - Philippians 1:6

There are things that I desire in my life.  Not things like that cute moppy dog I want so badly or the baby grand piano I'm sure would look fabulous in my new house in Birmingham.   Different things.  Things that are desires of my heart that I did not choose, but that were placed there by Someone who knows me better than I know myself.  Someone who can see the entire picture instead of just the limited perspective I have.  Someone who doesn't just want me to have a fluffy walking companion or a beautiful new piano, but who wants me to fill the measure of my creation and live up to a divine potential I can't even fathom most days.  

My heart longs to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I will never be content just listening to them.  I want to sing with them.  I didn't put that longing there.  My head would never have chosen such a lofty goal, and it often still doesn't believe I'm capable of ever accomplishing something so enormous.  And as we keep moving further away from Utah, my chances of being in the Tab appear to be growing logistically less and less likely.  Nevertheless, the desire is there as much today as it was years ago when I first heard that magnificent choir.     

My heart longs for other strange and seemingly unlikely things that I also didn't choose, but that have become like beacons of light drawing me toward people and opportunities which would otherwise never have crossed my path.  Rural photography.  Viral missionary efforts.  The entire continent of Africa.  And a handful of other things that seem impossibly out of my reach.  But yet, there they still are...inspiring me, motivating me, and pushing me toward progress and refinement.  

That scripture in Philippians is a hopeful reminder that if He put those strange and improbable desires in my heart, then He must have a plan for me to achieve them.  That even when I grow restless and tire of longing for the same things year after year, if I am patient, if I stay close to the Spirit, and if I listen for further instruction, I won't ever have to manipulate situations or run around trying to force things to happen.  I can simply trust that if He "began a good work" in me, "He will perform it" until it is complete.  And His completion surely will look even more amazing than anything I've imagined in my head.  

...and hopefully along the way, however long the journey, I'll acquire a few helpful attributes that will come in handy when I get to that place of completion.