Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Fortnight of Forty Celebrations

Last month Steve turned the big 4-0 and we decided that a birthday this big deserved a full fortnight of celebration! Ok, truth be told it was really just a great excuse to have a great time with each other, family, and friends. Here's the full listing of our Fortnight of Forty celebrations:

Sensory Deprivation Tanks

One can't embark upon a full two weeks of celebration without starting fresh, so we hit the "float spa" for a new adventure. It was... interesting. Basically, you float in a tank of water about 6-inches deep filled with 1,000 pounds of Epsom salts. You couldn't sink if you tried. For the first few minutes, all I could think is, "how can I have that many nicks in my cuticles, and how can they hurt that much?" but after a while I was able to relax into the experience. It was interesting to be in the darkness and stillness and silence for a full hour. Worth the experience; not sure I'd go back. But a good start to our celebrations!

Katy Perry

In stark contrast to experience 1, Katy Perry was loud, fun, and very, very entertaining. Steve even purchased a pair of Katy Cat ears for each of us, so we could fully immerse ourselves in the experience. Unsurprisingly, they were sized for tween girl heads. But we were committed to the look (you can understand why - we looked so good in them) and persevered.

Our seats were amazing, the concert was amazing, and day two of celebration was a complete success.


The next day we hit Buca de Beppo and a movie with friends. It was great! Being that it was a major occasion, we even secured the Pope Table for the event. That's how you know it's a real party.

We had originally planned to go to Brewvies to see a movie, but they weren't showing anything we wanted to see, so instead we headed to the Broadway to see Ladybird. Admittedly, a movie about a teenage girl's coming-of-age was a bit odd for a 40th birthday party, but the movie was everything its 98% fresh rating promised and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Puzzle Room

The day before Steve's birthday we hit the puzzle room for a festive Candyland breakout adventure. Never fear, we made it out, and with minimal hints at that! And as a bonus, there were enough parallel puzzles to keep all six of us entertained for most of the hour we were locked in. And for the rest of us, there were Santa costumes to play with.


The next day was Steve's birthday proper. We celebrated with gifts (of course) including my coup de gras of gifts - Steve's very own monoboard! Unfortunately, the gift budget did not extend to a vintage 80's neon one-piece ski suit so if anybody is looking to get Steve a late birthday gift, there are plenty available on eBay!

There were other gifts (but, really, who can remember anything better than a monoboard?) and we headed out to Tucanos for all you can eat dinner. It was pretty much a dream birthday.

Weekend Away!

But wait, there's more! Thanks to fabulous grandparents who kept the house and children in one piece and mostly funded the trip, we were able to take a long weekend in Seattle! I travel to Seattle every other week for work and we were able to extend the trip over the weekend and enjoy the city together. We did a lot of walking, a lot of seafood eating, and a lot of just enjoying being together.

The Pinball Museum was definitely a highlight of the trip - it was soooo much fun. They had machines made in the early 1900s all the way though modern games, all in wonderful condition and all playable. We played for hours and had such a great time!

Another highlight was MoPOP (the museum of popular culture). The Jim Henson exhibit was our personal favorite, of course, but we enjoyed the whole museum and definitely appreciated having something fun to do indoors because (no surprise here) it rained for most of our visit.

In the evening we walked to an independent theater and caught The Disaster Artist. It was such fun! Attending the opening weekend of a movie like that in a city like Seattle where everybody knows every inside joke in the movie was a total blast. And the movie was fantastic - a must see for every fan/hater of The Room.
And with that, Steve's Fortnight of Forty was complete! And now we get to go on to planning for our 20th anniversary this summer! The celebrations keep on coming!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Focus of God's Love

This week I had the honor of sharing a message at the annual CenterPoint Church Women's Christmas Dessert. This year's event was as beautiful as always - lovely tables, over 500 women joining together to enjoy each other's company, festive carols, delicious desserts, fellowship and worship. Mom and I teamed up to host two tables full of our neighbors and friends, and I loved sharing such a special night with our Utah Valley community.

It was such a joy and privilege to speak at this year's event. I got to share about some of the beautiful, transformative truth I've learned over the past few years about how adoption is the perfect analogy for how we join God's family. And to ensure that I never lose the notes, here they are! I hope this truth touches your heart this Christmas as deeply as it has mine.

The Focus of God's Love

Hi, my name is Jamie Morningstar. My family and I been a part of the CenterPoint Church family for 16 years. We started coming to CenterPoint after moving to Utah from Maryland right after college and CenterPoint has been our church family ever since.

I work in Provo as a Software Product Manager for Qualtrics, I’ve been married almost 20 years, and I have 4 kidlings - 2 by birth and 2 by adoption, ages 8-16.

Tonight I get to tell you a little about how our journey to adopt our daughters has changed my perspective of God’s love for me,
for you,
for each of us.

Our Adoption Adventures

Let’s rewind to 2007.

Our sons Sam and Ben were 4 and 6. We had survived those crazy baby and toddler years, the boys were sleeping through the night and could get their own cheese sticks from the fridge. We had hit our groove as a family, and it was clear to me and to my husband Steve that it was time for another adventure.

After 6 months of research and prayer and financial planning we decided that it was time to grow our family, and that we wanted to grow our family through adoption. To dramatically oversimplify the decision, at the end of the day we knew that there were kids in the world who needed a family, and we were a family who wanted a kid. That equation made sense to us.

And so we decided to pursue international adoption.

Thus began one of the most challenging, expensive, exhausting, growing, stretching seasons of our lives. Adoption is HARD WORK! Meetings with social workers, collecting form after form and document after document, physicals, immigration paperwork and immigration interviews. Plus there was all the work of preparing our emotions, our family, and our home for welcoming in a new child coming from a tough situation 6,000 miles away. Those months for me are a blur of FedEx envelopes and official seals and parenting books.

But there are a few moments I will never forget, a few emotions and mental snapshots that define the whole experience for me.

Like, when we received our first photo of our daughter.

Of course, the adoption process had always been a personal journey, but the moment our daughter became not “our daughter” but when we saw her face and knew her name, that changed everything. We weren’t just pursuing a process or pursuing a child - we were pursuing this child. Our child.

I remember when her photo came, when we opened that email attachment and my heart caught in my throat and all I could think was, “Oh! It’s you!”

I remember the intensity of my fury at any delay, any snag in the paperwork that kept me from that child, from my child. I remember thinking, “Don’t those government officials know? Every extra day they take processing this form is a day longer our daughter is suffering? Every day is one day longer that she isn’t getting the medical care she needs, the nutrition she needs, the love she needs?”

And, of course, I remember the visceral, body-wracking joy of that first meeting.

That joy wasn’t really our daughter’s. She didn’t really understand what was going on as these weirdos who didn’t talk right, smell right, or look right swooped in and got their happy tears and snot all over her.

Those first few minutes of inexpressible joy, that was the joy of parents who has labored for months and years and traveled half the world finally holding their daughter in their arms.

There is little in my life that I have worked so hard for, that I have sacrificed so much for, or that I have received so much joy from.

Our Adoption Story in God

So far, I’ve talked  about the struggles and joys of our adoption journey to Sasha, our eldest daughter. So in fairness to WanYing, our second daughter, whose story is every bit as beautiful and miraculous, here are is a photo of that adventure.

But we’re not here to talk about me, or to ooh and aah at adorable pictures of my family :) Adoption was and continues to be an incredibly growing, stretching experience for me. The biggest change that the experience of adopting our girls cultivated in my heart was a totally new understanding of God’s love for me, as expressed through Jesus.

Through our adoption adventures, Ephesians 1:3-6 has become an incredibly personal passage of scripture for me. It reads
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.
Do you see hear this is saying?!?

God chose you as the focus of his love!

God planned to add you to his family!

Motivated by his love and desire for you, God pursues you!

God adopts you!

And God celebrates adding you to his family!

It’s like that experience when we first saw Sasha’s photo, and suddenly we were no longer pursuing the idea of a daughter - we were pursuing that girl. Our girl.

God has known you and dreamed of adding you to his family since before the dawn of time. He didn’t have to wait for a picture to arrive. His pursuit of you has always been the unique, individual, personal, tender love of a father.

In Jesus, he came to you. He was born as a helpless baby - that’s what we celebrate at Christmas! We celebrate Christ coming to us, becoming like us, all for love.

Not only did Jesus sacrifice his authority and position as God to be born in a stable, raised by normal working class folks, sharing in our pain and sorrow and weakness, but Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be made right with God. He died for us.

God is perfect; we can never be - and God’s perfection cannot abide the sin of our nature, our prideful rebellion against him. And so Jesus - all God, all man, and completely perfect - took our sin upon him and died. Jesus sacrificed himself, so that we could call God “Daddy”, so that we could enter God’s family fully accepted,
fully loved,
made right with God.

And this is all God’s work! It’s a lot like our journey to Sasha - Sasha literally did nothing. She couldn’t! She couldn’t go out and find herself a family halfway across the world. She couldn’t apply for a visa or U.S. citizenship. She couldn’t pay lawyer and court fees or buy herself a plane ticket to the U.S.! The idea of a toddler doing any of that is completely preposterous, right?

The same thing goes for our adoption into God’s family. We can’t earn it,
we can’t make ourselves good enough.
We can only say “yes” and accept that love.

And when we say, “God, I’ve got nothing going for me. I can’t be perfect, and I’m done pretending - take me as I am. I accept Jesus’ sacrifice for me on the cross. I want to be yours."

When we accept God’s love, the Bible says there’s a party in heaven! There is sheer, exuberant, unrestrained joy at our adoption into God’s family!

The Bible is clear - when we are adopted by God, we become children of God. We get to call God, “Daddy”. We get to live with him forever as part of his family.

Our Response

So what? What does all that mean for you, today?

First, I challenge you to care for the vulnerable.

There are 140 million orphans in this world. 40 million people live in modern day slavery. Just as God sacrificed and reached out to you, we get to do the same for the neglected and abused in our world.

There are 1001 ways to care for the vulnerable, from considering adoption as a way to build your family, to supporting organizations like International Justice Mission that rescue slaves and defend the rights of the poor, to supporting the CenterPoint Mission team and the Hogar de Amor orphanage as they care for vulnerable kids in Colima, Mexico.

But this isn’t about what you need to do. This is about what God has done for you.
Listen one more time to what the Bible is saying to you about God’s love:
Long before God laid down earth’s foundations, he had you in mind, had settled on you as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago God decided to adopt you into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted you to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

If you have already said yes to this love, then this Christmas revel in that joy in a new way. Bask in being the focus of his love.

And remember that it’s ok if the journey is still bumpy. I know of no “happily ever after” “everything is smooth-sailing” adoption story. Our relationship with Sasha takes daily work. It’s a two-way street now, and as our daughter Sasha is a part of deciding how that relationship is going to evolve and grow. The effects of her early traumas provide very real challenges to her and to our relationship. Living as family is hard.

But as parents none of the hard stuff changes our commitment to our relationship. In fact, the tough times often bind us closer together. Sasha is our daughter.
Focus of our love.
fully loved,
and totally ours.

The same is true of your relationship with God - life can be hard, even if you have already said “yes” to his offer of adoption. In the sweet times and in the heart wrenching times, he is with you, leading you, loving you. Nothing ever can or ever will change your position as his daughter,
the focus of his love.
fully loved,
and totally his.

And this Christmas, if you don’t know if you’ve said yes to this love, if you aren’t sure that you’ve accepted his invitation to adopt you, you have the opportunity to accept the greatest gift of all.

Say yes to God. Accept God’s perfect, astounding love for you and his sacrifice to adopt you - that he has chosen you, sacrificed for you, done all the work to make you his daughter.

Revel in his joy in welcoming you to his family.

Respond to being the focus of God’s love.

Monday, November 13, 2017

I would have gotten into sports much earlier if I had known there was unlimited ice cream...

Saturday we had the distinct pleasure of attending a Utah Jazz game... from the fifth row... with a courtside box... and unlimited ice cream. I think we all would have gotten into sports a lot earlier if we had known it could be like this!

My company, Qualtrics, purchased the patch space on the Utah Jazz jersey this year to advertise 5 for the Fight, our cancer research charity. It's a super cool charity, and Qualtrics has pledged $50 million to cancer research. It's a lot to celebrate.

Anyway, as a part of our Jazz sponsorship, we also have a supercool courtside suite and this weekend the Morningstar Family got the chance to enjoy it!

Now, I know that you're thinking that you didn't realize we were such big sportsball fans. I'll admit that our knowledge of basketball up until Saturday morning was... cursory at best (i.e. the ball is orangeish and you get 2 or 3 points per basket).

But we were committed to making the most of this basketball experience, so much so that we found a basketball rules primer on YouTube and watched it until we could recite it from memory. Also, we watched Space Jam Saturday afternoon in preparation. The movie was, candidly, less helpful than I had hoped but it had its entertaining moments.

Anyway, the game was a huge success. We ate plate after plate of free food and drank as much soda and beer as we could, in good conscience, consume (it was all pre-paid, so we figured we had a moral obligation to make the most of the company's investment). We also discovered in the second quarter that there was unlimited ice cream so, yeah, we tried every kind. Multiple times.

And the game was really fun! It definitely helped that it was a high-scoring game and we won. [Sam: Why do we always say we won? We had nothing to do with it! Me: There's no i in Team. Hush and eat more ice cream]

We also (mostly) clapped at the right times although Sam did get confused at the side-switching mid-game and started cheering for the opposing team's baskets.  In his defense, it kind of is confusing that they switch sides.

Also, note that we have food in our hands in every picture. and it's never the same snack twice. I'm really proud of us.

Here's a screen capture of our seats that we found the next day online. So fun!
The girls were so excited when the Qualtrics logo came up on the stadium's screens.

We had an excellent night at the Utah Jazz. I can confirm right now that if you ever have box seats at any sports event that you want to give us for free, we will gladly take them off your hands! We will even pledge to prep on the rules of said game so as to (mostly) not embarrass ourselves or you.

And what we lack in actual knowledge, we more than make up for in enthusiasm and appetite!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Women Tech Awards

Last month I had the honor of being a finalist in the 2018 Women Tech Council Women Tech Awards. It was a far bigger even and honor than I had ever imagined, and it was truly a joy to see so much local support for women in technology - we're talking 1200 attendees at the lunch alone!

There were over 100 nominations and 17 finalists - a very cool cross-section of Utah technology from materials R&D for rockets to software development and management to education. There were 5 winners and, sadly, I wasn't selected. But never fear, we had already worked out a plan with the kids: "If mommy wins, we're very excited. If not, we say, 'That's, ok, it wasn't that nice an award anyway.'" The kids stuck to script magnificently.

With the exception of the not winning, the event was really cool. My very favorite part was that Qualtrics purchased a table for my whole family, so we could celebrate together! I don't get to go to many banquets with the whole family, and it was so nice to share the occasion with my favorite people.

Other highlights included:
  • Keynotes from Oracle CEO Safra Catz and Orrin Hatch
  • Ben shopping with me for a collared shirt that he wouldn't fuss about wearing
  • Seriously, a 1200 person lunch for 17 finalists?!?
  • A pretty kicking prize bag
  • All four of my children willingly eating the chicken served for lunch (well done, Grand America!) 
  • Being a part of an amazing group of women, doing so much good work in and for the Utah tech scene

Here's my video intro from the event (my part starts at 4:17):

Our official finalist shot
Meet & greet with Safra Catz
The full event

Thanks so much to my friends, family, and coworkers who cheered me on for the event, coached me through all my outfit and hair choices, and have supported my career's growth every step of the way. And thanks to Women Tech Council for organizing such a great event and the scads of people who turned out to support women in technology.

It's so much to be grateful for!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Very Videogame Halloween

As with most years, our 2017 Halloween theme was inspired by Ben. He announced that he wanted to be Waluigi, Luigi's arch rival and a little-known member of the Mario universe. He likes to pick the obscure ones, our Ben.

Anyway, once we were on a Mario theme, the ideas came fast and furious and we were set on a Princess Peach, a Yoshi, a Mario, and a Waluigi.

We hit the fabric store and were shocked to discover a Princess Peach pattern! Delighted, I picked it up and we selected our satin and started cutting.

I had no idea what I was in for.

This was a full on prom dress. Fully lined (that means you basically get to make two dresses), integrated crinoline, puff sleeves, and I swear the full thing weighs five pounds. It definitely put my seamstressing to the test.

We persevered. So much fabric. So much thread. But I overcame! And it was on to the jewelry and accoutrements and Princess Peach was complete.

And we moved on to Yoshi. I got wise with this one and purchased green sweats and hit the applique.

I cannot overemphasize how easy Yoshi was in comparison to Princess Peach.

Tah Dah!!!

The whole crew looked fantastic. And I'm one grateful mama that we still get to do family theme costumes :)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Goblin Valley: What are You Going to Remember in 10 Years?

There were two common refrains of this year's Fall Break adventure (aside from the whining of children):
  1. What are you going to remember in 10 years?
  2. Let's just embrace the adventure we're on rather than the adventure we thought we were planning.
You guessed it - our fall break did not go according to plan. And on fall break, as with all of life, we are learning to embrace the adventure we're on.

It started in the magnificent city of Wellington when Rainy, our beloved if not dependable 87 Volkswagen Vanagon, started exhibiting issues. We and our very gracious adventuring companions, the Knappenbergers, stopped to assess the situation and after lunch at the fantastic Wellington gas station (they have a pizza place and a Subway and a milkshake machine - we could basically eat there forever) we decided to pause for the night.

Fortunately, Wellington is the gateway to Nine Mile Canyon, 45 miles (don't be confused by the name) of petroglyphs and pioneer ruins. The Knappenbergers insisted that they had been wanting to visit Nine Mile Canyon for a while (I told you they were exceedingly gracious) and we found a campsite, left Steve to fiddle with Rainy, and headed into the canyon.

The petroglyphs were really very cool. I'll admit, the children's interest waned after the first, say, 5 sets, but they stayed pretty positive. I think it vastly helped the girls' state of mind that they got to ride in the back of the Knapps' truck with their older friend and a dog. Girl heaven.

The canyon was beautiful, as evidenced by the photos:

We got back, made a fire, put on our Waluigi costume (hey, at least he's wearing his Halloween costume more than once), and hung out at our very nice campsite. It wasn't the adventure we thought we were signing up for, but it was a very pleasant (if a bit too educational for some of our tastes) day.

The next morning we packed up and began the second half of our drive to Goblin Valley. It turns out that 6 people and 2 dogs and all of our camping crap makes for a pretty full van!

I should mention that we also realized that we had forgotten the meatballs for the next night's spaghetti dinner. Thinking that the Wellington gas station might have something suitable, we stopped by. I had the bright idea that Subway had meatball subs, and maybe they'd just sell me the meatballs. I was clearly not the first with this idea - lovely ladies at the counter promptly filled up a soda cup with meatballs, executed their cash register judo to get the total to work quickly (1 foot long meatball sub + 3 orders of extra meat - 1 foot long meatball sub) and instructed me, without missing a beat, that forks were right behind me. Puzzled, I explained that I didn't intend to eat said cup o' meatballs but instead they were for the evening's dinner. They gave me a, "suit yourself" shrug and I was on my way.

Sam taught WanYing various methods for solving a Rubic's cube and we were all passing the time very happily when Rainy started acting up again. By this point we were pretty darn close to Goblin Valley, so we decided to tough it out and just get there.

Unfortunately, toughing it out ended up meaning taking the rutted dirt BLM road a bit too quickly, which ended up digging the front edge of the trailer into the ruts, which ended up snapping the tongue off of the trailer. Oops.

Plus, the wind was blowing somewhere between 20 and 4 billion miles per hour. Which ended up meaning that the air was pretty much just a giant sand cloud. Tents were maytaging all around us, our mouths were gritty with sand... it was not the adventure we thought we were signing up for.

We persevered and climbed on the hoodoos around the campsite until a plan was formulated: The menfolk would venture into the mighty berg of Hanksville and the womenfolk would take the childers into Goblin Valley to climb.

Shockingly, it turned out that the same wind in our campsite 2 miles from Goblin Valley was also in the valley proper. The dogs didn't mind, and Sasha enjoyed chasing my hat around the hoodoos every time it blew off of my head. The rest of us struggled a bit.

Mercy be, the good folks of Hanksville (specifically, Curtis the Contractor) found a length of pipe that would fit in the tongue, drilled and bolted it in, and even gave Steve and Zach the drill bit so they could bolt in the receiving end. God bless kind folks.

The Knappenbergers ended up (wisely) leaving us since a night in a very blustery popup sounded terrible, and we all hunkered down in Rainy, read, ate our meatballs, and passed a chill and very pleasant evening together. It can be awfully pleasant to have nothing to do.

Mercifully, we awoke to clear skies and still air. We enjoyed our breakfast, climbed a bit more around the campsite, and then drove to Crack Canyon for a family hike.

It was a beautiful hike on a beautiful day, and we were grateful for every moment of it.

And home we headed!

Of course, the adventure we were on (significantly different than the adventure we had planned) meant that Rainy would experience engine trouble on the way home, also. We got to stop at the jerkey stand on the side of the road (equal parts pleasant and mildly disturbing), got to eat a leisurely dinner at the Wellington gas station (three times in three days!) and ended up spending almost an hour in the Helper Catholic Church parking lot while the engine cooled and Steve rewired the running lights so they wouldn't turn off when he cycled the engine to reset the computer.

Through it all, the kids were troopers and we were (mostly) able to embrace the adventure we were on. I remain in awe of my husband's mechanical skill, his cool head in frustrating situations, and the fact, proven over and over again, that we can get through just about anything together.

Besides, what are you going to remember in ten years? The camping trip that went exactly as planned? No way!


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