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She left early this morning for BYU Idaho, marking the end of her “gap year,” and honestly, I’m a complete mess. How do I even begin to thank Marnae for the thousands of hours of that gap that were filled up helping me?

For anybody who doesn’t know by now, Marnae is my youngest sister. She was born just after I graduated from high school. My sisters and I actually got to watch her enter the world, and it was  one of the most spiritual moments of my life. At the time, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that her spirit had just come from Heavenly Father, and that He loved our family enough to give her to us. Now, I realize that the feeling was just a small hint at how important she would become to me.

Marnae wasn’t an easy baby. She has always been an insomniac. I remember my dad bouncing and rocking her for hours as a newborn to try to get her to sleep. During my first couple of years of college while I was still living at home,  toddler Marnae would stay up watching Disney’s Robin Hood as I pulled all-nighters working on papers.  I think maybe it was exhausting for such a brilliant mind and grown-up personality to be stuck in such a little body.

I looked forward to the pictures Marnae drew and mailed to me while I was serving my mission in Montreal. My companions were as entertained as I was by the Marnae stories that my parents and siblings shared with me while I was gone.

I got my first hint of four-year-old Marnae’s candid honesty when she came post-mission shopping for new clothes with me. Standing in front of the mirrors outside of the dressing rooms, I asked her if an outfit made me look fat.

She tipped her head to the right and said, “All grown ups look a little bit fat.”

Marnae was the flower girl at my wedding. Then, just over a year later, I moved away to Minnesota and started my own family. We didn’t see much of each other for four years. It wasn’t until Phil got a job in Phoenix, that we were reunited.

After making the long drive from St. Paul to Salt Lake City for a family reunion, we got back in the car with Jake (3) and Marina (1) to make the last 12 hour leg of our move. Phil was driving the moving van, and I followed behind in our little car. Marnae came along to help entertain the kids.

It was not an easy trip. Marina cried almost the entire way. When we stopped for a break in Kingman, I remember feeling so frustrated. Phil took the kids for a few minutes so I could have a break. While Marnae and I were standing in line for the restroom, I was fighting back tears. She didn’t say anything, but she squeezed my hand and let me know she loved me with the sympathy tears in her eyes.

Over the next few years, Marnae and I got to spend more time together. I discovered that we shared a passion for reading. We talked about what it would take to write a novel. We even tried writing one together when she was 12 or 13.

Marnae was the one who encouraged me to try National Novel Writing Month in 2013, which resulted in my first novel Eruption. She helped me edit and refine it before submitting it for publication.

It has been such a dream come true, sharing this experience with Marnae. During the past year, she has traveled with me to book signings, school visits, and workshops. She helped me get through my “second book syndrome” writing slump. We’ve spent countless hours together editing Reclamation. And during November of last year, she completed National Novel Writing Month herself!

Marnae is a brilliant, persistent, patient, loving, self-less person. Her quiet, sympathetic tears have gotten me through so many hard times this year. I’m so grateful that Heavenly Father gave Marnae to our family. She has blessed my life in so many ways.

I already miss her. Things are going to be different now. She’s going to find new friends and new adventures at school. She’s starting the first chapter of her own new story. I can’t wait to see where life will take her.




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