Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Asking for help

*deep breath*  I'm about to share more than I am usually inclined to do in so public a forum. Bear with me.

Dylan was in tears when I met him after school today.  That isn't all that unusual these days, unfortunately.  Some kid in his class had told him, just before the bell rang at the end of the day, that he didn't matter. I don't know what the context was, and he told me he knew it wasn't true, but it still hurt his feelings.  Then he said, "I hope Ammon is back tomorrow. He's my only friend."  We've heard that refrain a lot the last couple of years. He's mostly kind, and quite sensitive, but unusual (and obsessive) in his interests, and somewhat awkward, meaning he is isolated a bit, socially. Despite high standardized test scores, he struggles in school, and was in tears multiple times the week before parent-teacher conferences, frustrated and embarrassed about the poor grades he assumed were inevitable.

Dylan has always been unique, perhaps a little quirky, and those closest to our family have always known that and it was just Dylan, no big deal. It certainly wasn't a problem, or really even that far out of the ordinary.

As a baby, he was a dream: if I wanted to hold him, he was happy to be held and snuggled. But if I had other things to do, well, he didn't so much mind being ignored for long stretches of time.  Even though every one of our other babies rolled, scooted or slipped off our big king size bed at some point (yep, I'm that stellar of a mom), Dylan never did. He was weirdly aware of edges, so he would scoot to the side and just look over the edge and whimper until someone picked him up or moved him back to the middle of the bed.

By the time he was approaching his first birthday, he was obsessed with matchbook cars. He had one in each hand everywhere he went, all of the time. He loved to drive the cars around, but the cars needed tracks--something relatively narrow with boundaries, such as the window sill, or the trim on the coffee table. If he couldn't find a track, he'd make one.  The example that always stands out in my head, because he was so little, was one time, he was sitting on the floor of our bedroom, about three weeks after he turned one, and he picked up Doug's tie that was sitting near him, fashioned it into a rough circle, and then drove his cars on it. His favorite game was his car track through the living room: we had long windows with low sills he could easily reach. He would find about a half a dozen of his cars, line them up (usually according to size) on the piano bench, and then pick up the first one. He would drive it down first sill, then the next on the north side of the living room; then he would drive it on the narrow edge of the TV stand in front of the TV; next, he'd move it to the center of the room and drive it around the border on the coffee table; then he'd take it and drive it down the back of the couch on the south side of the living room, and then along the window sill on the southeast side of the room, and finally park in on the bookshelf next to the window.  Then he'd go to his line of cars, pick the next one, and do it all over again.  He would do that, uninterrupted for sometimes hours at a time if he was allowed to.  He loved it.

Whenever he was done with his cars, he would line them up neatly somewhere, hoods aligned and usually organized from smallest to largest.  He loved to play with blocks or megablocks, but would generally sort them by size or color before he started to build anything.  During all of this, he had no language.  He had scarcely any words before his third birthday, but by 2 1/2, he knew the entire alphabet.  He could recognize every letter and tell you what sound it made, simply from watching his sister play alphabet games on the computer.

He didn't pay attention to people very much. He was very interactive with me and Doug, and his sister (who sort of made it impossible to not be interacted with.  There was a reason we considered adding an exclamation point to the spelling of her name: Keilana!)  If Doug and I were both gone, he seemed to somehow determine who was the primary caretaker adult in his vicinity, and find that person if he needed something, but otherwise occupy himself with his toys and mostly ignore everyone. He played with toys in their intended way in a very focused manner, and gave most of his energy and attention to that. He interacted with Amanda, and in a tender mercy that I still can't explain, he played with Conner. They were so little, at an age where most kids engage in parallel play, and with all Dylan's quirks, they truly played together, babbling at each other and moving in tandem when they were in the same house.  After Conner was gone, he was often a part of Keilana and Clayton's games and activities, but just as often they were playing with each other while he did his own quietly contented thing.

When he was a toddler, I had to take a niece to a doctor's appointment for a very contagious illness and asked a friend to watch my kids so that they didn't have to be around her.  When I went to pick him up and asked how it went, she said he had just mostly stayed in that spot, driving the cars over and over, and didn't really respond to her much when she tried to engage him in other things.  She asked, "Have you ever thought about having him evaluated for autism?"  What you need to know about this woman is that she is a dear friend, one of the most grounded women I know, and mother to five children of her own, including a daughter Keilana's age who has profound autism (at 12, she is still nonverbal and performs almost no self-care).  I'd had the thought.  He functioned mostly normally, and whatever his uniquenesses were, they didn't seem to be getting in the way of his development.

As he got older and hit preschooler ages, the language came, and with the language he became somewhat more social. He started to notice and interact more with his cousins and with friends.  He still spent a lot of his time solitarily, but when we went out or had people at home, he spent more time with other little boys, and he began to be a more active participant in Keilana and Clayton's games.  It was becoming increasingly obvious that he was sensitive, both physically and emotionally.  At times when he did decide to interact, he was easily hurt in a way that his sister never had been, and sarcasm  seemed almost impossible for him. He was so young that I didn't think much of that.  He was fairly particular about the clothes he liked, but he had trouble communicating that verbally, which resulted in frequent stripping down to his skivvies.

Eating has been a disaster pretty much since he started solid foods.  For the first few years he was eating real food, it was all but impossible to get him to eat anything other than refined carbohydrates: crackers (but nothing too flavorful), chips, cereal, bread (he'd eat jelly, but not peanut butter, until he hit the point where he'd eat peanut butter, but not jelly, and then either one, so long as not both on the same sandwich), and pasta sans sauce.  So I bought no cereal, bread, or crackers that weren't whole-wheat, bran-loaded cardboard in an attempt to get some sort of substantive food in him, and that worked for a while. I thought he was just being picky and stubborn, so one night when he was three, we had chicken and some sort of blah vegetable (I can't remember specifically what), and I told him he couldn't have anything else to eat until he ate his dinner. No spices, sauces, or real flavor of any kind.  For 36 hours, my 3 year old ate nothing.  And didn't whine, complain, or throw fits or anything like that.  Just quietly starved himself. If we tried to force him to eat, he would take 10 minutes to get down a bit or two, and then he'd vomit.  I realized at that point that we were dealing with more than stubbornness, and I quit fighting.  As he got older, his palate expanded--a little.  He'd still have pizza, chicken nuggets, or crackers for every meal if we let him.

As he's grown up, he's been able to channel his energies more consciously, he has seemed more "normal" in some ways, and that much odder in others. He can spot, name, and describe dozens of species of birds, and love wildlife biology in general.  He can classify hundreds of Pokemon without breaking a sweat, and generally loves any activity where he can sort and classify, and loves to expound on those things.  But getting 10 minutes worth of math homework done every day is nearly impossible.  He built a Spiderman web across the ceiling of his room using Legos and connects (it was rather impressive) but after five years of doing it every day, he can't do a decent job washing a dish to save his life.   He finally lets us give him a haircut without having a meltdown, but if the cat accidentally gets a claw across his foot when they're playing, it sounds like his foot has been lopped off with a machete.  A few months ago, he had to have a simply venipuncture blood draw for some lab tests, and I had to hold him down with help from a lab tech while the phlebotomist drew blood because he was in so much pain and so panicked.

He has a lot of behaviors that look like ADHD: very inattentive in class, needing frequent redirection from his teacher, you give him one task to complete, and by the time he's walked 10 feet away from you, he's forgotten what it was, etc.  We took him to the doctor for an initial evaluation, and his doctor almost had a meltdown at the whole idea, and walked into the room and started the conversation with a lecture about the problems with putting kids on amphetamines. I interrupted him and told him I was looking to get an IEP, not a controlled substance, and this was just an initial evaluation to see where were at and what seems likely/not so likely.  I was so annoyed at him that we never bothered to do the follow up at the end of last school year, and that doctor has moved now, anyway.

I talked to my mom (a special ed teacher in another district) about possibly finding names of therapists who specialize in kids with ADD and/or ASD.  Its hard to know what his parameters are--whether we're pushing too hard on things he probably can't do right now, or letting things go that maybe he is capable of.  It can be tricky to know the best ways to help him, because he mostly fits under the umbrella of "normal".  But school is a struggle, and he is old enough now to recognize that he's different, and there are kids that don't let him forget it, anyway.  I want my kids to be able to reach his potential, I want him to be happy.

From the time I was 14, I was inexplicably convinced that I would have a special needs child someday.  When Dylan received his baby blessing at 7 weeks old, I was caught off guard by some of what was said, and I wondered if maybe that prompting came to prepare me to be his mom.  That being said, these weren't the needs I was expecting, and I hope that, with some help, his dad and I can figure out the best way to help him harness the power of that marvelous mind of his, and his sensitive, gentle spirit. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016


Its Thanksgiving. I've been more of a whiner than a gratitude monger the last couple of years. Oh heck, I'll say it, I've been a big, grumbly baby.  Last week, we got some news that fell into the same category that so much news the last few years has: unsurprising, but still disappointing and terribly depressing.  In my less charitable moments, absolutely infuriating.  I'm tired of being unsurprised by disappointment.

So as I tried to refocus myself on what I'm grateful for (because it is an exceedingly long list), it seemed ironic to me that the first thing that came to mind was one of my own biggest personal frustrations the last couple of years (all of which are pathetically small compared to what my loved ones have dealt/are dealing with).

I love language. My mom made a comment about some of my schooling choices initially being surprising to her because "I've always thought of you as so language-driven".  I learned to read early and was almost instantly a voracious reader, gobbling up just about everything I could.  And even more, the things I've read cover a rather broad variety of subjects.  Consequently, I have a rather extensive vocabulary, and a fairly easy command of language (for a lay person).  Because of the diversity of social environments in which I've spent my life, I, more intuitively than consciously anymore, modify my vocabulary to my surroundings.  There are certainly individuals and groups where I find myself more comfortable (we'll not delve into my social anxieties today), but its exceedingly rare that I struggle to communicate with anyone.

Last year, I faced a period of time where all of that went away.  I struggled to communicate, to express myself.  I was jumbled and inarticulate.  I lost my words.  I've thought of myself as a writer since I was 10-years-old.  I knew I loved the world of language.  But until that moment, even I didn't know how much a part of my self-conception those abilities were. I hoped (and had good reason to hope) that it was temporary, but I had no way to know for sure that it would be--no one offered any guarantees that my words would come back to me.  It was immensely frustrating.  And a little terrifying.  I was depressed and demotivated.  I had to face the reality that I might no longer even be capable of being who I thought I was.

We have moments in life, large and small, that force us to face our definitions and conceptions of ourselves. And its scary when we find that we're not who we thought we were.  As I struggled to figure out who I was without one particular thing I thought essential to myself, I realized that I had always known.  I am a child of God, loved by the Lord, frailties, insecurities, cluelessness and all.  I long ago stopped caring very much at all what anyone else thought of me, my beliefs, my abilities or lack thereof, because the Lord's acceptance is so much more important and meaningful to me than anyone else's rejection.  While I care very much how I make others feel, these days I sincerely rarely even think about what they think of me, much less let it affect how I feel.  But I realized last year that sometimes I still let what I think of me get in the way of my relationship with the Lord and my personal progress.  I still invest too much pride in strengths that aren't mine to boast of, in weaknesses that aren't mine to fear.  Whatever comes, the Lord will empower me to do good things in whatever way he knows is best, and I need to better trust his judgment and his love.

I have many really wonderful people in my life, and I am grateful to my Father in Heaven for putting those people in my life, or me in theirs.  But more than anything, as I reflect on the last few years, I am grateful for his wisdom in placing one really big, obvious-to-me hurdle and weakness in my life, to draw my attention to others that I have been turning a blind eye to.  I'm grateful that, through the Atonement, I have the opportunity to repent and improve, all the while feeling the supernal love the Lord has for me.  I'm grateful that through the Spirit, I can know how to move forward and be better today than I was yesterday.

I'm thankful for progress, however small and incremental.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Love, such as it is

For as long as I can remember, I regularly had episodes of strong deja vu.  I chose to interpret this as a small evidence that life was going the way it was supposed to.  Turns out, my brain was malfunctioning on a regular basis, and it hasn't happened since I started taking medication. But, hey, if you want optimism, I'm your girl.

I have a lot of reasons for optimism.  I have been well-loved by good people, and life has been mostly good to me. I have faith in things much bigger and more beautiful than human foibles and squabbles, things that make the hard stuff and the mistakes less painful and easier to endure.

I made a sort of critical comment the other day, and Doug said, "Wow, you don't have much faith in humanity, do you?"  I laughed and said, "Of course not. Tremendous love for, yes, but faith in? No, no I don't.  I've been told not to put my faith in the arm of flesh, and I've found that life goes better when I don't.  My faith's in bigger things."  Love the people around you, and put your faith in God. Its a pretty happy way to live.

I do have faith in individual persons, to a degree.  I may misread someone's face now and then, but I almost never misread a person's countenance. I am rarely surprised by people.  But Doug has accused me of occasionally having too rosy a view of some people. He's usually been right, and when that happens, it annoys the heck out of me.  I've found that if you believe the best of people, and treat them as though that's who they are, they will mostly live up to it. And when they don't, well, I'm not so hot, either, so maybe we can all just be a little kinder and more forgiving of each other, and we'll try again tomorrow.

But there are some cuts that go a little deeper, some disappointments that sting a bit more.  And once in a while you realize that someone just isn't, and is not going to be, the person you wish they were, and maybe they aren't even capable of it. Not necessarily who they need to be or should be, but who you want them to be, for you.  And maybe that does coincide with who they should be.  You can't argue or lecture or shame or cajole or even necessarily persuade someone to be a different person, especially if you are the one hurt by who they're not. No matter how much it may hurt at first, sometimes you just have to accept that they are what they are, and, with the Lord in your life, you don't need anyone else to be anything for you, as desperately as you may desire it, and even as much as they should be.  You simply need to forgive them for being mortal and love them as they are, with no other expectations.  That may be the only way to have peace, and to love them as much as we should.

I've found that when you do that, suddenly you can see the good things about them a little more clearly, and love those things a little bit more. Resentment can melt into affection, even gratitude.  That person who caused you so much hurt and anger can become someone you adore.  They won't become the person you had wished they were, but forgiveness and letting go of those old expectations can transform you.  You learn to not only love, but like the person they are, instead of resenting them for the person they aren't.

There may be moments when you see something that resembles the relationship you think you want, or should have, or deserve. And it might spark a moment of jealousy, anger, frustration, and/or hurt. Take a step back, take a deep breath and remember that the Savior loves you completely. And that person probably loves you the only way they know how.  That needs to be enough sometimes, and peace only comes when you let the rest go.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Moments of Grace

We needed to run some errands today, so we did something we almost never do and went to multiple non-grocery stores.

At Lowe's, the Christmas stuff is already out.  I used to be one of those Christmas-season-doesn't-start-til-the-weekend-after-Thanksgiving people.  As years with my small children fly by, I've come to realize that stretching out the season that "engages the whole world in a conspiracy of kindness" is something I quite like. Christmas carols are totally an option by November first. We've never done big Christmases, toy and present wise, but we've alway decorated as much as our meager budget would allow, and spent a lot of time making little crafts and decorations, and doing seasonal activities together. As they've grown, I've just realized that the years with my little ones go by so fast, and there are so few of them, that I don't mind at all stretching that special time into two months instead of one.  So, even though the Christmas stuff showing up immediately after back to school sales makes me a bit crazy (craven commercialism much?), by late October it just starts to light me up inside.

The kids were excited when they saw all the Christmas stuff, and spent more than half an hour exploring it. I came across a 2ft tall resin Santa, and was instantly, painfully, dreadfully homesick. Though it really looked nothing like hers, my grandma used to have an old Santa like that that she would sit on a table next to her front door inside her porch, so that he greeted all her Christmas time visitors.  Michael and I helped grandma decorate her house for Christmas every year of our childhood, and when we were little, she had to haul that heavy statue in because we weren't strong enough. By the time we hit middle school, the roles had reversed, and one of us had to carry it in for her.  We spent nearly as much of our lives with her as we did at home, and decorating for Christmas was our job.  She didn't put up a tree or a decoration until we came up to do so with her.  I know a lot of people who think the Elf on a Shelf thing is stupid (which I totally get, and respect), but those two little elves floating around my house make missing her a little less painful at Christmas time. She had a whole collection of elves of various sizes and appearances that she had had since some of her children were at home, and we'd pin them up on the drapes all around her living room.  So I sent a pic of the statue to my brother and told him I was tempted to drop $80 on this stupid Santa to put by my front door, just because I knew I'd think of Grandma and smile every time I saw him.  Christmas is always magical, but there is nothing that will ever compare to childhood Christmases with Grandma.  Until I got married and had kids, I didn't believe I'd ever love anyone as much and I loved Mom, Grandma, and Michael, and, though I adore my entire family, many of my happiest memories are just Michael and I and Grandma, at Christmas time, in her cozy little trailer.

As I stood there, feeling terribly stupid that I was almost in tears over a 2 ft Santa statue, I realized that that is probably how my kids, and all my nieces and nephews, feel about my mom and her house.  My mom is so good to her grandkids, and I honestly don't know another grandparent that invests that much time in that many different grandchildren.  And as I stood there missing my grandma with a horrible ache that waxes and wanes but never quite goes away, I realized that, despite the fact that in a few weeks she will have been gone for 12 years, she is still very present in all our thoughts.  Our children know her.  And she is very much alive in my mother, in her affection and attention to her children and grandchildren.

And I was reminded again (as I have been, often, in the last few years), that I am incredibly fortunate to have been raised by strong women who always put their families first.  I am so grateful to my mom and my grandmas for nurturing me when I was a child, and through my young adulthood.  I am continually grateful for the way they have taught me to be a mom, and the wonderful examples they've set for one day being a grandma.  I am so grateful for the presence they have in my children's lives, my grandmothers indirectly, and my mom directly.

The last few years have been challenging.  There's been more than enough heartbreak and hurt to go around.  I have, at times, given into to pessimism or frustration.  But that flood of warm, quiet memories burst open a piece of my heart in the middle of a hardware store, and reminded me that things can work out.  It reminded me of the examples that have been modeled to me throughout my life of how I can love the people in my life a little better.

A weary world rejoices.  Sometimes, the spark of hope for a weary soul comes in unexpected moments and places.  For that, I am tremendously thankful to the Lord, and to the people he has bound me to. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"We are probably those referred to as 'our brother's keepers,' possessed of one of the oldest and possibly one of the most futile and certainly one of the most haunting instincts. It will not let us go.”  
~Norman Maclean

I read A River Runs Through It for the first time when I was 16. Because of where I was at in my life at the time, and what was going on around me, I fell in love with it and it became a favorite. 

There are battles that aren't entirely ours to fight, but that we can't quite walk away from either.  "Strengthen thy brethren" is an exhortation that's very close to my heart, but figuring out what it means in specific situations or relationships can be challenging. 

When it was time to go back to school, the reason I chose nursing is that I hate just standing by when someone is hurt. I need to do something.  If I can fix it, or at least help ease the burden, I feel like maybe things will be OK. I've gotten better at accepting that sometimes all you can do is hold someone's hand and acknowledge the painful reality that they hurt and it can't be fixed, at least right now, and not shrink from that.  But when it comes to spiritual pain, I still struggle to accept when the answer is simply "Watch and pray". 

I forget that that is doing something. You can't give someone your faith. You can bear your testimony, but you can't control whether or not they receive a witness.  You can't take away their doubts or their fears or their sins. You can do everything you can think of to give them love, but you can't make them feel loved. 

When my most important people are broken, lost, hurting or angry, I want to scoop all the little pieces of their broken hearts into my hands and mend them back together. But I can't do that--that is the domain of the Savior, and the Savior alone.  I have seen so much heart crushing of late, and a crushed heart is a deeply difficult thing to hand over, because the very nature of the injury makes it difficult to believe that there is a remedy. So we cover it over with cynicism or anger or bitterness or doubt.  At the exact moment in our lives when we need so desperately to turn towards the things of eternity, we turn ourselves farther away from them.  

When someone we love is facing away from the light of joy, we can't turn them around. All that we can do is be kind, try to exercise love and patience and kindness, do all we can to be one of the lights along the shore, so that when they're ready to come home, there is a familiar face to walk with them.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Brain Quirks

A Facebook friend shared a post about left brain/right brain functions and cooperation, which was more about the true physical and functional differences than just the usual pop culture version of those ideas. Some of the emphasis was on how much one side needs the other for proper function, and some of the problems that result when one side becomes too dominant.

I always had trouble with the left brained/right brained personality type ideas. I've always thought of myself as very right-brained in some ways, preferring stories and ideas to details and facts. I've always been fairly feelings-driven, and enjoyed the freedom to be creative. On the other hand, I have always lived in language, being in love with reading and writing for literally as long as I can remember. I've always had a deep need for order to feel comfortable. So I assumed I must be fairly right/left brain "balanced", if you will, but on little self-assessments over the years for various classes and such, I always tested as much more "left-brained".

When I was diagnosed with epilepsy last year, my neurologist told me that, based on where the pathological activity manifested in my brain, and the symptoms that I experienced before, during, and after seizures, it was likely that my Broca's area (the primary area responsible for processing language into speech, usually in the left frontal lobe), and possibly Wernicke's area (where, we think, our understanding of both written and spoken language is processed) are on the right side of my brain, rather than the left. That's not unheard of, but it does tend to mean that not all of my neural activity fits neatly into the normal dichotomy, or its related cooperative functions.

So I'm not crazy. My brain just has atypical structure.

Wait. . . .

Friday, August 26, 2016

And now, for something completely different

At some point in the next week or two, I will finally be replacing my long-finicky computer, and will thus have somewhere to upload pictures, so I'll post about the kids' 4H fair. In the mean time. . .

Doug left his job at the city in late June.  We haven't missed it. We took off on our two week Utah-California-Nevada-Utah-again adventure, with no work or school hanging over anyone's head. It was fabulous. I took my NCLEX the day we left (we drove up to Helena, I spent a little over a half an hour in front of a computerized test, we made a quick stop to feed everyone, and then drove straight down to the Tanners' house in Pleasant Grove), and then I started work two days after I got home.

School started for me on Monday. So now Doug is taking apart chairs and car seats and whatever else and putting it all back together again completely new, learning the ropes of business, and looking at long term expansion/absorption plans, while I work full time nights on the main floor at the hospital, and now add 18 credits of mostly research and writing courses. The kids start school just after Labor Day. I'll be home from work in time to fix hair and make sure teeth are brushed and get everyone off to school, then go to bed, and will wake up just in time for them to get home from school. On the nights I don't work, I can do homework while my whole house sleeps.  Most weeks days this summer, Doug has taken one or two kids at a time to his shop with him. When school starts, though the kids will be at three different school buildings, all four of them will be within walking distance of both the house and the shop. The little girls will be three blocks up from Doug's shop. Keilana will be one block from home. Dylan will be in the middle.

It's a completely new lifestyle. Both parents working. But both of us with enough flexibility that one or both of us is available pretty much at all times. It's almost certain that, though neither of us intended to be, we will be in Anaconda for at least 5-10 years, and I like the idea more than I thought I would. We're making the adjustments, and we're happy.  All of this has happened very differently, and in some respects so much more rapidly, than we had imagined, but we have seen the Lord's hand blessing and guiding our life.  He had provided avenues we never could have known even existed, much less were an option. We are grateful and busy and satisfied and overwhelmed all at the same time. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

On Shells

I came into the world shy, insecure, and introverted. I worked hard on overcoming the first two. When I was in third grade, I found out that a classmate thought I didn't like him because I never talked to him, and I was so sad that I had made him feel unliked. So I went about making an effort to be friendly and outgoing. Not just to him, but to everyone. As a small child, if my and my big sister's memories are correct, I didn't make a lot of noise or talk much outside a small circle of the people I was very closest to. In most places outside my home, I hid behind my mom, my grandma, or my twin brother. At school, I developed a small circle of close friends and only interacted with anyone outside that circle when absolutely necessary. I thought of myself as a nice person, so it didn't occur to me until that moment that my challenges affected anyone else.

And so I gradually became outgoing and friendly--in the context of my tiny school (there were 150 students in my entire high school, and I'd known the vast majority of them since I was 5, if not longer). Outside the comfortable familiarity of home, church, and school, I was still quite reserved and quiet. I took jobs in high school specifically because of how they would challenge me to step outside myself. I didn't want to miss anything or anyone I might love because I allowed myself to be hampered by innate shyness.

But introversion can't be trained away. I loved going to school every day. But after six hours of school and an hour of seminary, I was done.  I played one sport a year because I loved the physical activity and being part of a team, but I played only one sport a year because I couldn't bear the thought of spending an extra 2-4 hours every weekday, and more hours on Saturday, peopleing for any more months. Most week days after school, I went home to an empty house. If it wasn't empty, I often went for a drive, or holed up in my room, or found an empty spot in our blessedly ginormous yard. I didn't often do friends during the week. Two weekend days a month, I might go to Missoula to go to a movie or out to eat with friends. But I usually took a weekend off in between. I didn't do parties at all really--outside of school, my socializing was usually 1 or 2 friends at a time and that was plenty. I spent evenings and weekends filling up notebooks with writing and spending very little time talking to anyone, except maybe my mom.

I was very active in my church, and I loved going on Sundays and to Wednesday night activities. But stake dances were not something I participated in. I went to one, the week I turned 14, with my brother and my dad. It was fun. I had no interest in doing it again.  The only other dances I attended were the ones that were an obligatory part of seminary and EFY conferences. I left the dark, loud, crowded gym that felt like an assault on my senses, and spent the evening out in the sunshine having wholesome conversation with some like-minded souls. And I loved that. The only school dances I attended were proms, and I usually ended up spending most of those out in the hall in the light chatting with a couple of friends. Loud, dark, and crowded doesn't work for my nervous system.

I can be insanely chatty with people I am comfortable with, but the vast majority of the time, even in places where I'm very at home (such as with my brothers and sisters), once the conversation involves more than 2 or 3 people, I end up hanging out on the edge, listening more than talking. I didn't often share my writing when I was younger, but when I did, I grew accostumed to the somewhat dumbstruck look that would appear on people's faces when they read it. The comment that I remember most clearly, from a YW president who read some writing I had compiled for a Laurel project, was "I had no idea there was that much going on up there." It was a compliment, and I took it that way, but at the time it almost felt backhanded. I had to stop and remind myself that I didn't share much, that when I did talk it was often too quickly (a combination of nerves and genes--sometimes I have my Grandma Umphrey's rapid, lazy tongue), and my conversation was usually littered with defensive sarcasm and inappropriate giggling.

But in my mind, the person I was in my writing was me. This is who I really am, who I see myself as. All that other nonsense was just a superficial set of half-developed tools used to make my way through unfamiliar territory, and I sometimes forgot that the person in my mind didn't entirely match the person I appeared to others to be. Not because of any deception, but merely because of a difference in elements and abilities. It took me some time to realize that that was why I loved turtles so much: the me I was when trying to communicate outside my safe little circle, the attempts to be "social" in the ways an extroverted world (especially extrovert-loving school systems, where I wanted so desperately to please adults that I respected) expected me to, was the poor out-of-her-element turtle, lugging that heavy shell around, slowly and awkwardly. I knew instinctively that, as difficult as it could make locomotion in those less natural environments, that shell was absolutely necessary for health and survival. I can peek out, I can lumber around, but I need that shell. And I got that, even if sometimes it felt like the rest of the world didn't. Writing has, for pretty much as long as I can remember, been my water. The shell is still there, but here I can move swiftly and agily, I can navigate without the awkwardness, I can safely and happily stretch out my neck and legs.

As I came to understand that, I learned to embrace that shell. I came to consciously realize how necessary a part of myself it was. People who don't have shells don't always understand that. Sometimes it really bothers them. People who thrive on social interaction sometimes believe that you are somehow not enjoying life or not getting as much out of it or you need to be fixed, because you'd rather sit outside alone than participate in the group activity. I may have spent much of my time intentionally alone, but I have a lot of very deep and meaningful relationships. I try very hard to be outgoing and accommodating to the people in my life. But there's nothing wrong with me. There's nothing wrong with having a sturdy shell. And if you have a shell, or your kid has a shell, don't let someone convince you that that's something that needs to be fixed. Yep, you need to be willing to pop your head out and have a look around. You need to be willing to haul that heavy awkward thing across the sand to live a full life. But don't ever let anyone tell you you have to get rid of it. It protects a sensitive, tender body, and that's OK.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

On ordinances

As I tried to decide what to speak about, a talk that Elder Bednar gave in the most recent General Conference kept coming to mind. He spoke about retaining a remission of our sins, and consequently spent much of the talk discussing the ordinances of the Gospel. As I thought about that, a memory came to mind. Just a few weeks after Doug and I started dating, we were sitting, talking and laughing, with a large group of friends in a lounge in one of our dorms, and he had his laptop. He opened up a blank word document and typed D&C 84:20: “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” He then added, “Why is the power manifest in the ordinances?”, and handed the computer to me and awaited a response.

I confess that I don’t remember what I typed at the time, but as much as my limitations will allow, I’d like to speak to that question. We talk a lot about love, mercy, grace, and rightly so. But these are not disembodied, vaguely defined ideals for us. They take shape and are made manifest in the ordinances of the Holy Priesthood. We use the shorthand of “Holy Priesthood” or “Melchizedek Priesthood” to avoid unnecessary repetition of the Lord’s name, but it is good to be reminded from time to time that it is the Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God.  It is through his power, and authority that He alone can delegate, that we receive and perform ordinances. Without that power and authority, the ordinances are without eternal consequence. Nothing else can bring eternal exaltation. Each worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holder can trace his line of authority back directly to Jesus Christ, not to feel that he is powerful, but rather as a reminder that it is not his own power, and not authority that he takes unto himself. It is the Lord’s power and the Lord’s authority that is exercised, only so long as the bearer remains a humble and worthy vessel.

I think this speaks to one of the reasons that we see the power of godliness made manifest in the performing of sacred Priesthood ordinances: when we participate in ordinances righteously, we come to God in humble obedience, and act in perfect unity with him and his eternal laws, engaging the pathway to exaltation. As Elder Bednar put it, ordinances are “physical acts which signify an underlying spiritual act.”

In Doctrine and Covenants section 93, the Savior declares that he made flesh his tabernacle in order to become one with the Father. For our Father’s plan to work, it was absolutely essential that the Savior perform his greatest work in a body of flesh. Where is the power of godliness made more manifest than in the overwhelming love and incomparable power of the Lord’s Atonement? He physically ached. His mortal body bled. His temporal face was surely twisted in agony. But there has never been a more spiritually significant act in all of eternity. The most spiritually significant act that ever took place also had a very physical element. We ought to keep that mind when contemplating the seriousness and vital importance of the ordinances we are privileged to perform on this side of the veil. As Elder Bednar explained, “The ordinances of salvation and exaltation administered in the Lord’s Church are far more than rituals or symbolic performances. Rather, they constitute authorized channels through which the blessings and powers of heaven can flow into our individual lives.” They are not mere cultural touchstones or rites of passage. They are the gateway to eternal salvation and exaltation.

Some of the first ordinances we generally receive are baptism by immersion, and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The Savior himself, when preaching to the Nephite people after his resurrection, proclaimed, “Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” Baptism is essential to our salvation, and a necessary gateway to most of the other ordinances we may receive.

Most ordinances are accompanied by a covenant. When we are baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the Lord cleanses and purifies us through the Holy Ghost by the power of his Atonement. Most of us need purifying again within days if not hours of our baptism. The Lord knows that we are still learning, that we are frail and all too prone to indulging the whims of the natural man. One of the ways he helps us to remember and honor the work of the ordinances we’ve received is by placing us under covenant.

The power of the ordinances is magnified by covenant keeping. Elder Ballard recently said, “Sometimes we are tempted to let our lives be governed more by convenience than by covenant. But there is no spiritual power in living by convenience. The power comes as we keep our covenants.” When we receive the baptismal ordinance, we covenant to always remember the Lord, to take his name upon us, and to bear one another’s burdens. The Lord asks these things of us not to weigh us down, but to lift us up. By receiving this covenant, we become accountable to him as well as to the body of Christ. That accountability draws us back time and again to the first and great commandment--to love the Lord with all our hearts--as well as the second-- to love our neighbors as ourselves--at times when we might otherwise slip into the powerlessness of the convenient life.

I’m convinced that one of the sins that many of us falls prey to the most often, is partaking of the Sacrament lightly or thoughtlessly. Because the Lord knows our frailty, he has instituted the administration of this powerful cleansing ordinance weekly. But how often do we simply habitually reach out and take our scrap of bread and our sip of water as just that--a scrap of bread and a sip of water? With no thought about what it means, with no reflection on the powerful ordinance we are privileged to partake in? How often do we just not even show up, because we’ve convinced ourselves it not that big of a deal to miss Sacrament Meeting. We have a testimony, we know what the right things are, we’re trying to be a good person. What does it matter if we aren’t always there?

We need to be cleansed. We need to remember. Elder Bednar explained, “The sacramental emblems are sanctified in remembrance of Christ’s purity, of our total dependence upon His Atonement, and of our responsibility to so honor our ordinances and covenants that we can stand spotless before [Him] at the last day.” We are often far too casual about the things of eternal importance. Do your children see you partake of the Sacrament with seriousness and attention? Do you listen to the ordinance prayers with contemplation? Do we really realize the phenomenal power inherent in the act of truly engaging the act of partaking of the scrap of bread and sip of water that are the holy and sanctified emblems of our Savior’s torn flesh and spilled blood?  There is so much joy inherent in the chance to be a little bit better each week, to partake of the Lord’s goodness and mercy and be wholly cleansed again, just as we were after participating in the baptismal ordinance. No matter what we have done, no matter how far we have wandered, the Lord is there, offering an opportunity each week to come home, and try again.

The ordinances of baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and the Sacrament, as astounding and utterly essential as they are, should not be enough for us. The temple should be our goal. The ordinance of the Endowment teaches us how glorious and gifted the Lord intends us to be. He asks us to commit our time, talent, means and anything and everything with which he may bless us to building the kingdom of God, and in return he offers us an eternity of growth, progression, and joy.  Elder Robert D. Hales once said, “The temple’s saving ordinances are essential to--and even the central focus of--the eternal plan of happiness.”

In the 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, as the Lord explains the power manifest in Priesthood ordinances, he continues, “this greater priesthood. . .holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. . .without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood. . .no man can see the face of God.”

We need the ordinances of the temple, the ordinances of that higher Priesthood, to dwell with our Father and Jesus Christ eternally. Elder Bednar emphasized, “Everything we do in the Church--every meeting, activity, lesson, and service--is to prepare each of us to come to the temple and kneel at the altar to receive all of the Father’s promised blessings for eternity.”

 If you are struggling with the covenants of baptism or feel distanced from the ordinances of the Sacrament, and the temple seems too far out of reach to even contemplate, please don’t quit. Don’t get discouraged. The Lord loves you infinitely. No life is ever so broken that it is beyond his ability to bless and uplift. No soul is ever beyond the reach of his love, and the glorious mercy and love of his Atonement. Each part of the body of Christ is needed, even the feeble ones, and the older I get the more convinced I am that we are, each one of us, in one way or another, or at one time or another, the feeble one. We all feel weak, rejected, discouraged, or overwhelmed sometimes. Elder Holland testified, “Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.”

Participating in the ordinances of the Priesthood will not only demonstrate the Lord’s power in our lives, it will help us to better understand that everything he does is for our eternal good and progression.  The power of the Lord to act in our lives is limited only by our agency. Receiving the ordinances of the Gospel helps us to better know Him who created us, and who we were created to be. It is the ordinances of salvation, administered through the Holy Priesthood by the power and authority of Jesus Christ that transform a repentant soul into a cleansed and sanctified one; that prepares an obedient soul into one taught and prepared to enter God’s kingdom; and transforms a group of loving and dedicated individuals into an eternal family bound to each other and our Father in Heaven. I bear my testimony that this is His church. He loves us with a perfect love and is anxious to share his knowledge with us, as we humble and ready ourselves for instruction. He will lead us grace by grace until that perfect day, when we become joint heirs with Christ, and receive a fullness grace and truth.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Serving, Asking Others to Serve

We all could stand to be more patient with each other. And most of us could stand to stretch a little more. I have served in Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidencies.  Each time I have been in a leadership position, I have been reminded repeatedly that there are many people who serve nearly tirelessly, happily, and selflessly.  There are people who will do just about anything you ask, no matter how many times you go to that well, and there are almost as many who step up before you've even asked, because they saw the need and were willing to help.  The sister who will step in and teach a lesson at the last minute.  The counselor who shows up with the treat you completely forgot to ask her to make.  The friend who offers to bring dinner to a family in need before you've even had time to think about who is available.  Believe me, there are more of those people than you'd expect, and each and every one of them is worth their weight in gold, especially when you're trying to keep an organization (and a ward) running smoothly.  I will never forget hundreds of moments and days where people stepped up and helped their leaders and their ward, often in ways that people never knew about.  My gratitude for that is deep.

Sometimes we forget how difficult it can be to fill all those roles and needs. Sometimes we get impatient or critical.  We are unChristlike in our assessment of a situation or the people involved in it.  We all have different areas of weaknesses.  Our frailties are as unique as our strengths, and sometimes people may have been put in a position or asked to fill a role because the Lord can help them develop more strength where they are weak.  People who are willing deserve patience and encouragement, not criticism and condescension. I am deeply ashamed of the few times I forgot that, the times that I forgot how very patient my Savior has been with me, when I was willing but weak.  I regret the times I forgot how often I have demanded--all too unknowingly--the patience of my ward members and leaders.

When I was 22, my bishop asked me to be Young Women president.  I thought the idea was completely ridiculous.  But I was raised to believe that you don't say no to a calling--I don't think it ever occurred to me that that was an option. You serve wherever and in whatever capacity you are asked. Full stop. More than that, though, I trusted that bishop implicitly. After several years of working with him, I would come to trust his spiritual leadership even more.  If he said he felt strongly impressed that that was the role I was to fill, I believed him. I felt a little overwhelmed, but I was also confident that if that's what the Lord wanted me to do, he'd help me figure it out. Those three years were challenging, but delightful.  I loved those girls more than I ever thought possible. I learned a lot.  I had no teachers, advisers, etc., and more often than not only had one counselor. I put a great deal of time, effort, and energy into it.  But I was still 22, with a baby and a toddler and not very many years under my belt as an adult.  There were things I did poorly, things I failed to do, and I only figured that out in retrospect or through gentle, patient direction, because no one ever criticized me.  They only supported me.  And I regret the times I have been less than that for someone else who was willing--but weak.

Because one of the other things that has been readily apparent every time I have served in any leadership role is that there are people who won't serve.  Or who will only serve in ways that they find pleasing.  When you are in a leadership position, trying to fill callings within your stewardship can be a difficult, and sometimes discouraging, task.  There are people who will tell you that of course they'll serve, just not with this person.  I'm happy to take any calling. Unless its in this auxilliary, then don't bother asking--no matter how many necessary positions you've got vacant. Sure, I'm happy to take dinner to this family, as long as it falls on the second Wednesday of the month. Nope, I'm not gonna help with that activity, I don't do weekday stuff.

Personally, I think the doers are much more numerous.  I think the vast majority of people step up and help their neighbors.  And obviously there are definitely times when health or circumstance genuinely prevent us from doing something that we've been invited to, and we need to be honest with those doing the asking if that's the case.  But if you've been asked to serve, think twice before you say no.  It could be that the thing you think you don't want to do, or think you can't do, will end up being one of your most rewarding opportunities--that was certainly my experience in YW--and that can only be true if you approach it with a willing heart.

If you are in a position of leadership, offer guidance and instruction and redirection as the Lord so prompts, but fight the temptation to be impatient or self-righteous or critical. If you place your trust and your love in the Lord, he can do amazing things with a willing heart, no matter how weak. We are each of us a part of the body of Christ, and each part is needful. We are each at a different place in our spiritual development, and we each need teaching and nurturing.  Do not turn away from those who are willing to serve because they are not yet as you would have them.  The Lord would have them, just as he would have you, and that is enough to start something wonderful.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


I know what its like to feel like your brain has betrayed you. I think a lot of us fear losing control of our minds, but over the course of the last year I have had to face the reality that a great deal more of it is beyond our conscious control than we like to believe.  But a chronic illness is different: you feel like you're living on a trap door, just waiting for it to give way at some completely unpredictable moment.  Mine is minor, and the greatest risk is my physical safety.

There are others who live with much larger, much less stable trap doors. Sometimes when the bottom falls out, their illness takes over and causes them to do something that they otherwise would never do.  Until someone puts the pieces back together, they often have no idea what's even happened.

When something shocking and disturbing happens, a very natural reaction is to keep looking for more information, more details, some pieces that will make it make sense so we can categorize and process it and move past it.  But sometimes, no matter what we find out, it still won't make sense, and nothing can make that OK.

All we can do is work toward accepting that we're all broken, some so extremely so that it can create a wide circle of hurt.  We work on trusting that the Lord knows and understands that better than any of us, and governs over it with tremendous mercy and grace.  There are things that we rightfully mourn in the mortal realm, but I trust that he will make the scales balance eternally, and heal the brokenness that permeates this life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Feeling Buried

The first bill from my most recent misadventures arrived today.  I have a pretty good sense of how much ORs, anesthetists, surgical plates, etc, cost, so while the sum was depressing to me, it wasn't at all surprising--it was about what I expected.  It caught Doug off guard a bit.  I tried to be reassuring by responding, "We'll get there."  He responded, quite understandably, "When?! When I'm 90?! When the kids are 90?"

Our marriage has sort of felt like one long, bad cosmic joke, financially.  We've always been pretty frugal (the big exception being going to the expense of driving to Montana once a year when we lived in California. And the year we had the most wiggle room, we bought everyone annual passes to Disneyland, back when buying them for the whole family cost us less than the price of one plane ticket to Missoula).  We rarely go on real dates, and even when we do, usually pretty cheap ones. The kids have lived almost entirely in hand-me-downs, thrift store finds, and eBay purchases.  Our cars have been modest, and we only had one for the first 8 years we were married.  Our home and all of our rentals have been modest, and we've rarely done much with them, as far as decor, improvements, etc.  We have never bought many toys or extras, for the kids or the grown ups--presents were limited to birthdays and Christmases, and we kept those pretty simple.  All the shoes and clothes I have owned our entire marriage put together cost about as much as a month's rent for a family home.  All the furniture we've ever bought consists of a couple of hand-me-down couches, a couple of thrift store recliners, a set of discount bunkbeds, our king bed, and our two (inexpensive) couches.  The one indulgence has been the bit of travel we have done, and most of that has come out of tax return funds.

And yet, we manage to keep falling further and further behind.  We were in school, then grad school the first few years we were married.  We took the job in Lindsay, realizing it didn't pay much but that the future was good.  We managed to buy the townhouse, and then almost immediately ended up in the ER and then in the hospital for 5 days with little Dylan, and then took in an entire family.  Those bills almost sunk us.  But they didn't.  So we started climbing out of that hole, little by little, and it took several years.  We were finally almost there, back to something of an even keel, when Doug lost his job.  We faced 16 months of no steady income, precious little income of any kind.  We were just starting to get ourselves back to something resembling normal bill paying, when we totaled our van, and had to unexpectedly add a car payment to our monthly bills. For everyone's sanity, we had to finally break down and spend the money to seek treatment for Doug's ADD (and that is one decision I have not regretted for one second--it has made all the difference in the world). We had made no progress on any of the debt from all of that, but were at least back to a reasonable monthly budget, when my brain freaked out.  Repeatedly.  Two ambulance transport bills. Two ER bills.  Two EEGs, CT scans, MRIs, multiple appointments with a neurologist.  We hadn't even had a chance to touch those bills yet and BAM! treacherous ice threw thousands more dollars at us: another ambulance, another ER, surgery (with implants), multiple trips to the orthopedist.

And we've decided to set Doug's resignation at the end of June.  I am regularly tempted to freak out.  To panic, or to be angry, or just to break down and cry.  But I always get the impression that its going to work out: that we will not be buried and behind forever, and that we will actually make progress much faster than I expect.  I don't see how that's possible--I really, really don't--but I trust it.  Its really the only reason I haven't had a meltdown.  Maybe it means that business will take off even quicker than we expected.  Maybe it means that there's some adventure waiting that we haven't foreseen.  I don't know.  But I keep getting the impression that we will be able to offer our kids and our family more than it seems right now.

I sure hope so.  Because this is getting old.

Friday, March 18, 2016


Its been a crazy couple of months at our house.  Mom hobbling around makes the whole house run a bit less smoothly.  Dad putting in whole days at work and then another 4-6 hours at his second job makes things even more bumpy. Keilana got pneumonia (and a particularly awful case of it--both lungs sounded like garbage, top to bottom and all the way across) and strep throat, and missed two full weeks of school.  Kylie also got strep throat and missed an entire week of school.  Dylan developed a persistent, mysterious and severe cough as soon as his sisters got better, and ended up missing an entire week of school, as the cough was difficult to keep under control even with cough syrup. Thankfully, Keira never got sick.

I'm back on both feet now, with only a brace.  All the kids are healthy.  This week has been Spring Break, and I have organized and cleaned the house top to bottom.  There are 8 weeks of clinical hours and online classes between me and graduation.  Doug has submitted his resignation and will no longer be working for the county as of June 24th.  Life is changing quickly.  Its all a little crazy.

And in the middle of all of it, the kids just keep growing up.  I wish somehow we could hurry Doug and I through all of this, while pushing pause on the kids.  Alas, time marches on, indifferent to my mommy impulses.

Dylan turned 10 last month.  I always hesitate over how much to share about my kids online, for their sake. Suffice it to say, Dylan is a unique kid.  That is often delightful and has many advantages, but it also has its challenges.  The first half of the school year was very difficult for him. A few months ago, I saw a significant shift.  Instead of "nobody likes me" I started to hear, "I don't fit in" or "I have different interests than a lot of the boys in my class".  He recognized that those weren't the same thing, and it was huge.  He made friends a lot easier after that.  For his birthday, he invited four other boys over.  They played Minecraft, ate pizza, and watched Star Wars on the big screen.  As he was taking friends home with his dad, he said over and over again, "This was the best day ever".  Its hard to express how much that meant to me.

He loves Star Wars, Minecraft, Pokemon, Bakugan, and wild animals.  Especially birds.  He knows and can classify many, many species of wild birds.  He obsesses over them, and loves to learn facts about and categorize wild animals.  He often talks about being a wildlife biologist when he grows up.  We discovered today that he may have some hurdles to jump there.  His class had the opportunity to dissect fish today.  He came home looking green, and told me he ended up having to sit across the room away from everyone else, and still almost threw up.  He said, "I thought it was going to be fun, but it wasn't."  As he started to talk about it, he began gagging again and thought he was going to vomit.

His teacher texted me a picture of him during the beginning of the dissection.  His whole body is tense and he's holding his stomach.  When his dad asked him if he felt bad for the fish he said, "Yeah. One had eggs in it--that means they're never going to hatch.  And they were only 2 years old.  It was sad."  He is a tremendously sensitive child, both physically and emotionally.  The combination of assaults on his senses was just a bit too much for him.  He's very bright, and generally kind.  He has some challenges ahead of him, but many tools for overcoming them.

And Keira turned 5 yesterday.  She is a fun little monkey. She is still incredibly smiley: she looks for reasons to be happy most of the time. She can be very friendly and outgoing, the most confident of our girls at this age, but also far and away the most introverted.  She has gotten quite bold in her social interactions, happily talking freely with adults when they engage her.  But if you leave her alone with her toys, her coloring supplies, or an iPad or TV, she can contentedly go hours without talking to another person.  She handles having to go to school everyday really well, but would happily stay home 90% of the time if I let her. 

I took her shopping on Monday for a new birthday outfit (last year's shamrock shirt and tutu were getting pretty small).  She was thrilled to be in the car with me, but wanted to listen to music, not talk.  She has a very specific play list: The Sweet Escape (Gwen Stefani), Vindicated (Dashboard Confessional), Stuck Like Glue (Sugarland), Little Wonders (Rob Thomas), Radioactive (Imagine Dragons), Apologize (One Republic), and Curious (Barenaked Ladies).  It makes her a pretty pleasant traveling companion.  She still sleeps in our bed too often, and even refers to it as "our bed".  She is quick-witted, and loves to tease and joke.  She's very precocious and precise in her language--she loves to explain things to people.

When she gets hurt or angry, she will scream if its me or her siblings, but with anyone else, she shuts down to total silence and runs away to hide.  If she's upset but mostly controlling herself, she won't disappear, but will absolutely refuse to speak. This makes her dad bonkers, but is so familiar to me that I can't even muster irritation.  Our other girls are fit-throwing shriekers, which was totally foreign to me when I became a parent.  Keira reacts like me.  Though its unfair, this makes it easy for me to be patient with her.  Keilana will shriek, throw herself about (she is the child who has broken doors and put holes in drywall), and Kylie will hit and scream that she hates you.  I have learned to be patient (neither of them loses it very often and they are both very sweet and quick to apologize when they have regained control), but its hard for me to understand.  Keira's disappearing act, or stubborn refusal to engage, makes perfect sense to me.  More often than not, she's a peacemaker: if someone starts to get upset, she will do what she can to quickly smooth things over.  She doesn't like conflict, and happily does what she can to make people happy.

Its a joy to watch them grow, mature, and learn.  Its also torture. *Sigh* The nature of being a parent.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Strengths and Weaknesses, Illustrated

Severely dislocated and fractured ankle: calmly gives directions to the kids, patiently gives information to paramedics and waits through backboard jostling and bumpy drive, chats politely with nurse and doctor while waiting for x-ray and realignment.

Realizes the kitchen floor still hasn't been mopped, someone turned the thermostat up, the laundry room is still a scattered mess and no one has folded or put away my laundry, and the counters and stove still need to be scrubbed, and that there really is no way to bathe the two little girls without soaking at least one of my legs: histrionic monster convinced that the whole world is against her, whom the children run from in fear.

Some trials seem tailor made to show you exactly just how far you are from the person you'd like to be, and in exactly what ways.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Hitch in the Plans (or rather, a break)

So, I figured since I can't move, I might as well write.  Today, I was walking across the street to get my dog, and I stepped through a large sheet of ice near our neighbor's driveway.  Unfortunately, I slipped back and sideways at the same time, landing on my side.  However, my foot stayed under the ice.  I let out a loud, pained, growly yell and for a very brief, delusional moment, I thought I perhaps had a bad sprain (I heard a loud, horrible pop) and lifted my foot in the air to look at it and yelled angrily, "Dammit, my foot's going the wrong way!"  I was wearing a hiking boot (my standard day-to-day winter shoe), so it didn't look too sickening, just bizarre.  I yelled out to Keilana to call 911 (I wasn't about to try to get up on that ice, and I was pretty sure Doug would not be well-equipped to handle this particular injury), and then to call her dad.  She is quite prone to panic, but she held it together and managed the 911 call pretty well.  

The fire department showed up and were trying to get my foot stabilized (they apparently aren't equipped with severely-dislocated-feet braces) and get me safely off the ice.  They did great and moved pretty much as quickly as anyone safely could, but I was laying on the wet ice in a thin sweater, and was starting to shiver something fierce.  

I wasn't able to take a photo myself, because I was still on a backboard so it wasn't easy to sit up, so one of the paramedics snapped a pic for me.  They did a portable x-ray:
 Rather messy.  It was dislocated, and the fibula had a pretty bad break right in my ankle.  The ER doc  ordered a push of dilaudid but told me setting it would still be very painful (I hadn't had any pain meds til that point.  He tried once, but told me that my muscles were so tense it would be much more effective and safe to set if I was sedated.  "No point in torturing you" was his phrasing, I believe.  So they put me under and got it set:

It lined back up nicely, and he sent me home in a soft cast with orders for strict bedrest and ice and elevation.  If the swelling goes down enough, I'll have surgery tomorrow to place some pins and a plate to stabilize, with no weight bearing at all until the cast comes off, likely 8-12 weeks from now.

The pain is terrible, but tolerable.  As I was laying there on the ice looking at my sideways foot, my first thought was, "This might screw with being able to complete my clinical hours on time."  My next thought was, "This is going to be so freaking expensive."  So if all of you out there in blog world would pray for a relatively quick and complication-free healing, it would be more appreciated that I can possibly express.

The pain aside, the most miserable part was the shivering.  I was loaded up and went through all of this in my wet, cold shirt and jeans, and was shivering almost constantly (and fairly severely) the whole time, excepting the brief period that I was sedated.  It completely wiped me out.  I understood theory how much work shivering is, but experiencing the fatigue that came with it is a whole other thing.

So here's hoping that the recovery goes well between now and Marchish.  I can't work right now, obviously, and so I'm going to need to get licensed on the time frame I had in mind to pay off my medical bills in a reasonable amount of time!  But, the limitations will be a good exercise in patience and humility for me.  I am once again unable to drive for the time being, among the various other limitations.  Apparently, the Lord has had a lot to teach me about limitations and patient acceptance this year.  I'm getting better at it.  But I've got a long way to go.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Heart Failure

I’ve always been interested in the life sciences in general, and human physiology specifically, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about hearts in particular.  The human heart is incredibly powerful and actually quite capable of overcoming many adverse conditions, to some degree or another.  On the other hand, while most of our major organs have ways of storing necessary nutrients, or of reducing activity and maintaining function when necessary nutrients are not available, the heart does not.  Our kidneys, for example, have such a marvelous functional reserve that we can lose 75-90% of kidney function before developing any symptoms at all.  But the heart has no reserve.  Our hearts need a constant, ongoing supply of oxygen and glucose, and when either supply is interrupted, a heart begins to die very rapidly.

I’ve thought about that as I’ve considered how often we speak of the heart as the metaphorical center of ourselves, especially spiritually.  As we exercise and consume healthy foods with the necessary nutrients, our heart grows stronger, more efficient, more consistent.  The risks of damage to our heart decrease, and along with them, the risks of any interruption to that supply of air and sugar that is so vital to our heart function decrease.

I think our spiritual well-being is very much like that.  We need a constant supply of spiritual nourishment, which comes in the form of prayer, scripture study, Sacrament meeting attendance, and keeping the commandments, to keep our spirit alive and healthy--to feel the love of the Lord and to hear the promptings of his spirit, to know what is right.  We need exercise, in the form of participating in and renewing covenants, by partaking of the Sacrament and going and returning to the temple, to have the capacity for spiritual exertion.

The Lord often refers to spiritual decline as a “hardness of heart”.  One of the primary problems that develops in the human heart that prevents healthy functioning is a gradual hardening of the valves and vessels within the heart that make it work.  That isn’t something that happens suddenly.  Too many cheeseburgers and bags of chocolate over too many years of moving too little leads to a little loss of function at a time.  At first, we may not even really notice: hiking isn’t very fun any more, because getting up the hill is hard enough and draining enough, that we fail to enjoy the view.  So we do it a little less often.  And then other, simpler, tasks get a little harder, so we stop doing them so much.  And before long, even basic tasks become challenging and we start to see that we’re in trouble, but the road back to health just seems so daunting that we doubt we can do it.  

That’s how spiritual hard-heartedness happens, too.  We stop doing the little things, we allow the spiritual nutrients to stop flowing: we’re too busy to read ours scriptures, we stop listening when we pray, or maybe stop praying altogether, we skip Church once in awhile.  The gunk builds up and the vessels get hard and our spirit starts to die to the things of eternal life. Pretty soon, spiritual exercise isn’t just a little uncomfortable, it feels impossible. But its not.  We understand that, with our physical bodies, what took years to do will not be undone in a week, but sometimes we expect spiritual damage to be undone nearly instantly after we try to change our ways.  Because of the tremendous power and grace of the Lord, spiritual healing can often happen more quickly than physical healing, but it still takes work and it still takes time.  

Sometimes heart patients will deny their problems, because they feel like they have made a mess of themselves and are ashamed.  Doctors want them to face the problems not to embarrass them, however, but because they know that they can’t help someone get better until the patient is willing to identify the problem and allow the doctor to lay out a treatment plan, that the patient will commit to follow.  All of the Bishops and Stake presidents I have known have felt the same way about the individuals within their stewardship.  Though it can be hard to believe when we are in a hard-hearted state, a call to repentance is an act of love, whether it comes directly from the Lord through inspiration and prompting, or through one of his appointed servants.  Inspired leaders reach out not to condemn or shame, but to echo Alma’s plea: “If ye have experienced a change of heart and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” (5:26)

Many of the adversities we face in this life, however, are not self-inflicted.  Sometimes it is not our own sin that hurts our hearts, but the decisions of others, over which we have no control.  To withstand the spiritual challenges presented by such adversity, we need to be spiritually fit.  One of the interesting ways that the human heart prepares for adverse conditions is in the development of collateral circulation:  the heart has several major arteries that supply the heart muscle itself with the necessary blood for continued function.  But as we engage in consistent cardiovascular exercise, our heart forges new, smaller vessels that will keep blood flowing should one of those larger arteries become obstructed.  Obstruction of one of those vessels is one of the most common causes of a heart attack, and the presence of those extra passageways can be the difference between full recovery and permanent damage, between living and dying.

No one glides through life unchallenged or unhurt, so when adversity strikes, especially those trials which seem completely undeserved and unfair, whether we are able to use those trials to grow spiritually or are defeated by the spiritual hill, will depend largely on the spiritual exercise we have done to prepare our hearts for exertion and challenge.  Faithfully adhering to and exercising our covenants will decrease the probability that unexpected heartache will severely damage our faith.  If we have been participating in the Sacrament in a meaningful way, if we have been attending the temple and living up to the covenants we made therein, if we have been consistently serving in the Lord’s name, we will have enough avenues to sustain spiritual life in times when we are squeezed and, hopefully, refined.

But here is where the applicability of the metaphor begins to wane.  In a mortal heart where there is an unexpected, severe stress, if a clot lodges in an artery and no collateral vascularization is present, that individual is most likely going to die, quickly.  No second chances.  

But the Lord is an eternal being, and a patient one.  If there is one thing the scriptures teach us, it is that the Lord does not give up on his children quickly.  One of my favorite scriptural phrases is found repeatedly in the ninth chapter of Isaiah (and quoted in the 19th chapter of 2 Nephi), “his hand is stretched out still”.  The prophet outlines the the many follies and abuses of the people--in other words, the things they must give up or change in order to come to the Lord again--and then reminds them “for all this, his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still”.

No matter what we may have done, no matter how far we may have slipped, no matter how much we have allowed our hearts to harden, the Lord wants us to turn to him.  He wants us to know peace, to have joy, to take his hand.  But he will not force us to do so.  It is absolutely essential to the fulfillment of our Father’s plan that we be able to choose for ourselves what we will do, and who we will be.  Our Father and our Savior know better than anyone that that inevitably means that we will fail.  That’s OK.  It hurts, its embarrassing, and if you’re prideful like I am, it can occasionally be infuriating, but we are only left to struggle alone if we choose to do so.  Sometimes, in medicine, what finally brings a heart patient to a doctor (or an ER) is attempting to do something that is necessary and realizing, usually very painfully, that they can’t do it--that they are physically incapable of doing something for themselves.  So it is with us, that often what causes us to turn to the Lord is not a habit of humility, but the facing of a trial that we realize we are not capable of bearing alone.  Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “I have learned to kiss the wave that slams me into the Rock of Ages.”  I hope to someday be humble enough that I will remain close to the Lord at all times, but in the meantime, I am learning to be more grateful for the challenges and deficiencies that remind me often how much I need his presence and his grace.

Sometimes we struggle to explain the Atonement, but I suspect that, because it is so awesome in its depth and breadth, we try to make it more complicated than it is.  Elder Holland recently said, “Brotherly hands and determined arms reached into the abyss of death to save us from our fallings and our failings, our sorrows and our sins.”  I believe it really is as simple, and as complicated, as that.  

A few months ago in primary, I gave each of the kids a paper heart, and asked them to put their own name on it.  Then we did various things to the paper hearts to symbolize different things in life that we do, or that others do to us, that can cause hurt to our hearts: we stomped on our hearts, and they held up pretty well;  we crumpled them up, and though they were a little thinner and pretty crinkly, we were able to smooth them back out pretty well, all intact;  then, we imagined some of the worst things we could think of happening, and we ripped the hearts in half.  I asked the kids to try to put them back together.  Most of them gave up immediately; a few of the more determined, independent personalities tried adamantly to weave the tiny little wisps of construction paper tears together, but eventually they conceded defeat as well.  Put a pin in that thought, I’ll come back to it in a moment.

Part of what prompted the thoughts that led to this talk were the talks given by Elder Renlund, a newly sustained apostle, and President Nelson, the newly sustained president of the quorum of the 12 apostles, at the last General Conference.  Though their talks ultimately went in very different directions, each began by telling a story about one of their most devastating moments as a doctor, facing a particularly hard patient loss.  Both men are superb heart transplant surgeons--Elder Nelson was a pioneering leader in the fields of both heart valve surgery and heart transplant surgery.  The combination of intelligence, knowledge, work ethic, physical skill, and sheer nerve required for a successful heart surgeon is rather unique, and I find it intriguing that the Lord has called two men from that field to serve in the leading Council of His church.  It is mind-bogglingly incredible to me that human beings, faced with the challenge of hearts that have exhausted all other options and cannot be fixed, have figured out how to keep someone alive temporarily while removing their heart, and then placing an entirely different, healthy heart in their chest, hooking up vessels like their rewiring a car, and then sew that person back up and they go on living their life.  That is so completely astounding as to be almost unbelievable.  

But what actually struck me about these stories, was that part of what made those moments so difficult for these doctors was that they had already dealt with so much loss.  As an incredible an accomplishment as human heart transplant is, the bodies into which they are placing those hearts are still mortal bodies.  The gifted individuals who perform the surgeries are only mortal, and the bodies that the “new” hearts are taken from are similarly mortal.  So many things can, and very often do, go wrong.  The extraordinary promise of a new heart and a longer, better life, can rapidly collapse, often into complete and utter loss.

Here, too, the metaphor, thankfully, fails.  In Ezekiel, the Lord declares, “A new heart also will I give you. . .and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”  Back to our Primary lesson:  I told the kids the hearts could be put back together, and then I brought out the big heart.  A heart about twice the size of the others that had the Savior’s name on it.  I took the two pieces of my little broken heart and glued them together onto the Savior’s heart.  I explained to the kids that the Savior can heal our hearts, but only if we give them wholly to him, to make our hearts one with his--and if we try to pull away from his heart, ours will break all over again.  

Mortal heart transplants, as phenomenal as they are, face a high failure rate, because all the parts involved are mortal.  The Savior promises a new heart, but it isn’t a fallen mortal one that will, whether it’s immediately or in few years down the road, eventually fail us;  he offers his heart.  The new heart he gives us is his eternal, unblemished, unfailing, unwavering heart.  What manner of men ought ye to be? Even as he is.  Be ye therefore perfect, even as our Father in Heaven in perfect.  He can give those high commands, because he willingly and selflessly provides what we need to achieve them.

One thing we can count on, that is true for every human being, is that our hearts will fail us. Because we are earthly beings subject to the fall, that is true spiritually as well--at some point or another, and for most of us many times over, our hearts fail us.  Later in his life, many years after reminding his brethren of the “song of redeeming love”, Alma prayed, “Yea, I know I am nothing, as to my strength I am weak.  Therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things.”  When we feel spiritually weak, when we feel emotionally beaten up, when we feel like we’re sitting at the bottom of a huge mountain and think, “I just can’t do this”, we have to remember that we don’t have to climb it alone, that the Lord will strengthen our hearts.  When Peter had enough faith in the Lord to step out of a boat in a stormy sea, he walked on water.  And when it got scary and overwhelming and his heart began to fail him and his feet consequently began to sink, the Lord reached down and pulled him above the waves.  He didn’t let Peter drown--he won’t let you either.

But just as getting up and walking a few more steps than you did yesterday will begin to strengthen your mortal heart muscle, taking a few more steps in faith than you did yesterday will begin to strengthen your spiritual heart.  We each have to start where we are and take one step at a time forward.  It will take time.  It will be hard work.  But the cost of discipleship, as high as it can be, is significantly lower than the many costs of a hard heart.

And when the storms come, as they inevitably will, and the waves crash and the wind howls, we must hold on tightly to what we already know and trust that the Lord is there in our trouble.  When we feel overwhelmed, and it seems too much to bear, we can remind our frightened and strained hearts that there is someone to turn to who knows the pains we face and the apprehension we feel.  As Elder Holland said, “When life is hard, remember we are not the first to ask, ‘Is there no other way?’”  The Savior pressed on, through pain and blood and exhaustion beyond comprehension or compare, so that he could heal and uplift and seal our hearts for something better.  

We all face heartbreaks, and sometimes there is no earthly solution.  Sometimes, we make decisions, or the consequences we bear of other people’s decisions, force us to let go of what we thought our eternity would look like.  But the Lord has promised us over and over that no good thing will ultimately be withheld from those who faithfully make and keep covenants with him, even if we cannot see, from this side of the veil, how those blessings will be fulfilled.  President Monson recently said, “At times. . .we feel surrounded by the pain of broken hearts, the disappointment of shattered dreams, and the despair of vanished hopes. . .We feel abandoned, heartbroken, alone.  If you find yourself in such a situation, I plead with you to turn to our Heavenly Father in faith.  He will lift you and guide you.  He will not always take your afflictions from you, but He will comfort and lead you with love through whatever storms you face.”

As we struggle, sometimes succeeding and sometimes falling flat, each step forward is a little easier to make if we trust that we have a Father who loves us and is watching over us, and a Brother who willingly unburdens our hearts of the weight of our sins and failures.  I love that the scriptures teach us of the faithful devotion of obedient and powerful prophets, without glossing over their flaws and missteps.  At the beginning of the Book of Mormon, we see Lehi, trying to manage unruly sons, sacrificing his comfortable home and position to obey the Lord’s commandment to flee Jerusalem.  But we also see him doubt, and hear him grumble.  We see some of the moments that his heart fails him.  Lehi does the only thing any of us ever needs to do, what we must do: he repents, and he takes another step forward.  And little by little, he becomes the man who, in his parting testimony to his sons, declares with confidence and humility, “The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.”