Recently I celebrated my 50th birthday. 4:45 was an early start but I was heading from Vacaville to Monterey for a whale watch trip and wanted to get there early to capture some shots in the harbor at first light. I was pleasantly surprised to find a gift left by my sister-in-law; two CDs of inspirational music. They provided the perfect background for my drive. Perhaps it was the music that lead me to thinking deeper than usual about my life in particular. As I was approaching my first interchange, I passed the miniature golf center where I worked during high school. It seems to never change, but it was clearly apparent as I caught a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror that I had. As the road turned to lead me south, I found my thoughts also shifted. It was natural for a smile to reach my face as I approached one of my many “home” towns; Benicia. I’ve said many times that I still feel the same as I did when I turned 18. This is where I lived at that time. I marveled at how even then, I felt there was still a part of me living there. There were so many profound experiences that truly shaped my life. The hardest was loosing my brother Mike in a hunting accident. Before that day, I never the knew the hurt of losing someone.
He was living in Idaho at the time of the accident, but was buried in Utah. I can still remember the first day returning back to school when I still felt numb and awkward as I walked the halls. Racing through my head faster than my legs could ever take me was this constant question;
“How could life just go and everyone be so unaware of how my life had changed?”
Then Kenny Winfield walked up to me and handed me a folder of cut out newspaper articles needed for drivers ed. He simply said to me:
“I didn’t know what else to do, but I thought I could at least gather these for you while you were gone”
The assignment was for us to cut out an article about a car accident every day for one week. He knew this would be tough to make up, so he did it for me. I have often reflected on this selfless act and have shared this story when teaching the youth at church about how he didn’t ask me the trite question:” What can I do? ” He just did what he knew he could. His kindness has echoed in my memories a thousand times over the years.
It was here that I also started my first business. I designed a line of t-shirts, my friends helped me make a press. One of them had brothers who were welders. Funny how it wasn’t until this day that I realized just how remarkable that was. My Dad also first taught me here about market research. Standing in front of Safeway asking the customers as they came out a few quick questions regarding my designs gave me just the information I needed to choose the top 4 designs to take to print. This little enterprise was the foundation of my job as a screen printer at Brigham Young University and the seedling to a company I later started with my husband first as a hobby, but then turned it into a booming business when my husband was burned in an industrial accident and couldn’t work. We had just bought a new house and car, and gratefully I was able to find a way to not only provide, but also stay home with my young children and husband as he healed.
I began to consider how much of who I am today was because of what I experienced while living there. I found myself reflecting on the great friends I had, wondering about many of them that I haven’t stayed in contact with, at the same time experiencing a wave of gratitude wash over me for the ones I have. It was then that my first set of birthday tears began to fall. These were not tears of regret, or even sadness, but of true gratitude.
My thoughts turned to my parents and how they always provided us with the best environments while growing up. I now know that those things don’t happen by accident but were always my parents first priority. Even though my Dad worked all the way in San Francisco, they chose that beautiful little town because they knew it would be a great place to raise a family! As I crossed the Benicia/Martinez bridge, I found the feeling of appreciation for my parents almost overwhelming. looking to the side, seeing the spectacular view, I quickly found myself back in the car crossing that bridge for the first time from the opposite direction. I was 13 and to say I was sad to leave my friends behind when we moved from Brea was a huge understatement, but it was when I crossed this bridge that I felt my first tinge of hope that maybe this will be an okay place to live after all. The lyrics to the song playing in the background of the movie I played out in my mind only added to my emotion and quickly brought me back ;
” I can only imagine what my eyes will see”
Another wave of gratitude, sheer appreciation washed over me as I began to consider how blessed I was to now be living the life I am. I had just spent two days working at the Marine Mammal Center at the Marine Headlands, and was now on my way to Monterey to go whale watching and assist Marine Life Studies with their work. A year ago I was legally blind, and now here I am driving myself to one of my favorite places on earth to photograph and observe nature in all its splendid glory. I am part of whale watch research team, and work at on the largest marine mammal hospitals as a volunteer. I LOVE MY LIFE! To think this isn’t even the best part of it!
I am the mother of 7 of the most amazing people in the universe! My oldest daughter Stephanie is a singer songwriter musical genius extraordinaire! Her music is being featured on MTV, and other film projects. ( She is google-able: Stephanie Mabey) in addition she is the mother of a brilliant 6-year-old little girl who is the love of my life. I am excited to see what her creative energy creates! My second oldest daughter is on the road to becoming a doctor. She works at an ER full-time while finishing up pre-med. She is a remarkable singer song writer as well, but her passion is a healing art. There is no doubt in my mind that she will become a highly respected and sought after specialist in whatever field she chooses.
My oldest son Austin is a computer software designer and is making his way at present designing game mods for minecraft. He is very successful, but what impresses me even more is his fun-loving and kind nature. You can’t help but have a good time when you are in his presence! ( He too is google-able; Lazertester shot bow network.) My son Taylor is a creative and mechanical genius. His passion is firearms. He is not a hunter, but a true appreciator of the art and craftsmanship of guns. He customizes grips, triggers and even assists with graphic enhancements. In addition he is an amazing poet. He currently works as an assistant manager at a local pizza restaurant. With his brilliance there is no limit to what he can do and be, and he is really funny.
Lacey is my youngest daughter. She graduated with her bachelors degree in Psychology at 20, She plays about 9 instruments and she also sings. She works at an at risk center for girls in Southern Utah as an assistant to a therapist specializing in Equine assisted therapy. She not only works hard, but plays hard as well! I’ll never forget the year she decided in college that she wanted to go out for competitive softball. At tryouts they each got to introduce themselves and share their experience and desired positions. She had never played before, so she got up and asked everyone if they remembered the character on “Remember the Titan” Who in his introduction explained he wasn’t the most experienced player, but he loved the game and he will give all of his effort to learning and playing his best. That year she won the spirit award for the whole university for her sportsmanship and efforts on the team. She lifts everyone around her without even trying. She is born leader with a genuine heart, and to top it off, she is a remarkable horse trainer.
Joshua is a chemistry major at Brigham Young University Idaho. He, like his brother Taylor is hilarious. His humor is much more understated but equally as effective. He is a poet, and quiet observer of life. He has known since early in high school that he wants to become a pharmacist. His logic was brilliant. It’s an occupation always needed, It’s a job that provides well for a family, but also affords the family time together. When a pharmacist goes home for the day, his work is done. He like all of my children have watched their father sacrifice that time in order to provide for our large family. I was amazed at how quickly he realized his dream job and how quickly he began to work towards it. He was voted “Future Leader of America” at his high school.
My youngest son, Scott, is graduated high school this year at 17. He skipped a grade early on, he is young, but ready. He plays clarinet. He was awarded the John Phillips Souza award for his High School. The night before he received that award, my husband and I sat in Abravenal Hall in Salt Lake City and watched him perform with the Utah symphony. His passion for music, hard work and God given talent has landed him a full scholarship to UVU this fall. Not only is he a remarkable musician, he is simply a remarkable person! Kind to all, and a natural leader.
My husband and I married young. I was just 18 ( soon to be 19 though) He was 22 I always knew I wanted a big family and married a wonderful man who has provided well for us. We have always strived to provide our children with the resources they needed to excel in their purpose. Once while dropping my oldest daughter off to a California Teens conference in San Jose, he snuck away while I was getting her settled in and bought a grand piano. Mind you we didn’t even have, what most people would consider to be, basic furniture in our house, but he knew with Stephanie’s talents that she needed all of the right tools to “do her work”. Just this morning I got to hear her play another song in the making on those ivory keys. My husband has always worked hard to provide for us and at times even sold his most prized possessions to make sure each family member had what was needed. He is their strongest advocate and loudest cheerleader. I don’t think there is anything he wouldn’t do on their behalf so long as it was for their true benefit. He purposed to me in Benicia, and we lived there briefly after we got married. It may be a little town, but living there has had a huge impact on my life.
The song “You Lift Me Up” Was the background music as I took this personal mental inventory of the people who bless my life. The list goes on adding my remarkable parents, talented daughter in law, amazing siblings, nieces, nephews, brother and sister in-laws. I truly love my family and recognize they are what I am truly most grateful for. My tears flowed as freely as my thoughts.
It was at about this when the brilliance of the sun was making its way over the horizon and much to my surprise as the road turned I noticed I was facing a bright giant moon that had yet to set. As though on cue for the moment the Nicole C. Mullens song “Redeemer” began to play.
Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning
Who told the ocean you an only come this far?
Who showed the moon where to hide ’til evening
Whose words alone can catch a falling star?
Well I know my Redeemer lives
I know my Redeemer lives
All of creation testify
This life within me cries
I know my Redeemer lives
My eyes once again filled with tears, and simultaneously I began to laugh. Perhaps to keep more tears from falling. My gratitude shifted to my creator. I began to offer a silent prayer thanking him for everything! My family, my life, the beautiful amazing remarkable world that we live in and all the incredible creatures that go along with it. I looked down on the seat of the car and saw my phone there and realized how much things really have changed since I was that young girl learning about love and life in Benicia. My eyes were pulled to the gas gauge and I realized that in all of my reflecting that morning I had forgotten to gas up. I began to wonder where I could find the cheapest gas, and the thought came to me;
I’m sure there’s an app for that! ” which only added to my laughter.
I began to consider all of the additional things I was grateful for, including my amazing camera equipment; adding to it my new lens; a Sigma 50-500mm that my family gave me for my birthday. The freedom we enjoy in this country and the men and women who have fought to defend it. Also the access we have to digital and technology advancements. My cell phone, laptop, the software I use to edit my photo’s and social media that allows me to communicate freely with others. I was filled to the tip of my existence with pure gratitude.
As I pulled into the harbor, the light was perfect. Two brown pelicans were posed perfectly in sync as I pulled my camera out to take the first shot of the day. But I paused for a moment and offered another silent prayer expressing once again my gratitude to the medical technology and skilled doctors that restored and stabilized my vision. I took a deep breath wiped the last tear from my eye for the day and began to shoot. What a beautiful way to start my 50th birthday; on a journey down memory lane on beautiful road of gratitude.