Living Cheerfully Amidst Trials

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to speak at one of our church services on the topic of “be[ing] of good cheer.”  Since the topic happens to echo virtually the whole premise of my blog, I thought I would include a large portion of the talk here as this week’s post.  I hope you enjoy it!
When I was in High School, I recall having a lot of fears and anxieties.  Most of my fears were of the unknown.  One fear in particular was the end of the world.  At the time, there were three movies out that were about the end of the world.  They terrified me.  I found myself preoccupied with the “how” and “when” the world might come to an end.  I also remember this specific time where I hoped that nothing bad would EVER happen to me.  I had an irrational understanding of how life worked.  I thought a life of roses and lilies would be the key to my happiness.  Thankfully, I’ve learned much since those high school days.  I’ve learned of all the beauty that comes from being faithful and enduring well through trials of all shapes and sizes.

In the Bible, the term “be of good cheer” is mentioned eight times.  Never once does the scripture read, “Be of good cheer and enjoy your life of roses and lilies and no problems.”  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  In reading through them all, my take away is that we are asked to be of good cheer in times of adversity.

These things I have spoken unto you, 
that in me ye might have peace.  
In the world ye shall have tribulation: 
but be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world.
– John 16:33

We each have adversity in our life in different forms.  Some are dealing with heartache, some financial struggles, some temptation and so on…

Recently, for me, it’s been my health.  Nearly four months ago, I gave birth to our fourth child.  One week and one day later, I suffered a significant stroke.  Thankfully, I’ve had a full recovery.  I had a mini-stroke previously, but this experience was much more disturbing.  Upon reviewing my MRI, it was found that I have a tumor in my optic nerve.  At this time, the tumor is considered stable, but obviously it weighs on my mind (pun intended, because humor helps).  The reality though is that I will likely have another stroke, there is a potential for the tumor to grow and I may ultimately lose my sight.  The tumor and the stroke are completely unrelated, so the finding of the tumor was considered a serendipitous find.

I told you all of that, to tell you this.  Shortly after my stroke, I had a chance encounter with an older gentleman from my church.  I can’t remember the exact details of our conversation, but the premise of the conversation changed my health fears to peace.  I had shared with him that I had had a stroke.  He informed me that his late wife had also experienced a stroke.  He then shared with me all of the significant and challenging callings (volunteer-based duties) she held, prior to her passing, in the church post-stroke.  While I had never met this woman, I could sense of her devotion to the Lord.  I knew she must have been a great blessing to those around her.  I knew this because the gentleman I was speaking with had the light of Christ in him and he spoke so highly of his wife who had passed away some time ago. 

Every time my heart starts to fill with fear as to what might happen to my health in the future, I reflect on this conversation and realize that if the Lord has a work for me to do, he will provide a way to make it possible.  If this man’s wife was still able to serve the Lord despite her health issues, then certainly so can I.  This knowledge immediately dispels my fears and brings me peace.
I now see how foolish it was for me to believe that a world of happiness was founded upon a life without trials.  Instead, I’ve learned that happiness is found in having faith in our Savior in all situations and watching rich blessings come to pass.  We are not here to live this life in misery.

Another way to help live a life based on being of good cheer is having perspective.  Perspective is one of the best ways to endure trials more joyfully.  I learned this firsthand when my mom passed away from cancer six years ago.  I had to hold on to the eternal perspective to help get through the day to day.  Prior to her passing, I lived in fear of what my life would be like without her around.  Once she did pass, I was carried through the trial with strength beyond my own and held on to the knowledge that I would see her again.  Having an understanding of the bigger picture and a surety that I would be reunited with my mom again brought me great comfort and joy.  A feeling of joy that seemed near impossible when I first realized I would lose my mom at a young age.  Camille Fronk Olson put it simply, “The more we know the Savior, the longer our view becomes.  The more we see His truths, the more we feel His joy.”  And what joy I have felt.

Of course, it’s easier to feel that joy in hindsight.  When we are in the midst of our trials it seems inconceivable to feel any sense of hope, let alone cheer.  I think this is why it’s important that we remember who is speaking in those eight scriptures referencing “be[ing] of good cheer.”  It is not the words of Adam speaking in ignorance prior to experiencing the pains of mortal life.  No, it is our Savior.  Jeffrey R. Holland stated, “Only one who has taken the full brunt of such adversity could ever be justified in telling us in such times to ‘be of good cheer’.”

I truly believe that being of good cheer manifests itself in our lives through faithfulness to the Lord, optimism, and believing on His word and the eternal plan which has been laid out for us.  This is the recipe for living a life of good cheer no matter the circumstances.  This is the recipe that no longer has me even wishing for a life free of trials and tribulations.  Now, I hope for a life that I may endure joyfully.
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Purposefully Kind

During the two weeks that my Mom was home on hospice before passing away from cancer, we were the recipients of many kind deeds from an abundance of people.  One in particular that stands out still is an ice chest that arrived on our door filled with fruit juices, snacks, toys, and a variety of goodies.  It was from two girlfriends of mine that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.  When I first opened it, it seemed like such an odd menagerie of items.  However, as the days passed and I needed drinks for visitors, snacks for kids, and a toy for my toddler daughter who was desperate for attention, it all made perfect sense.  Years later, I received a phone call from a friend who was at a loss as to what to do for a friend of hers whose mom had just passed away.  My friend was asking me what she could do for her own friend, as she knew I had experience with the situation.  The ice chest immediately came to my mind.  My friend took the advice and told me later how grateful her own friend was for the gesture.  Since then, I have given greater thought as to how I can be of service to those around me in a way that is particular to their situation.  We’ve heard this described in several different ways – do unto others, as you would have done to you; be the good; pay it forward; love thy neighbor; and so on.  The motto I am going with lately is – throw kindness around like confetti!

Confetti is like glitter, it gets EVERYWHERE!  That’s what I want kindness to be in my life.  I want it to be EVERYWHERE!  I want to be like the waitress I had two weeks ago.  She had overheard our table conversation of snow clothes needs for our kids.  She immediately asked what sizes we needed for our kids.  I told her and she said, “Let’s exchange numbers so that I can get you what I have.”  She was true to her word too.  She went home, went through her storage, found my kids sizes, contacted me, and handed a bunch of items over and let me know she would keep in touch if she found more stuff that would work for my kids.  Sure you have a friend that might gladly hand over their used items, but a stranger?  Not likely.  And it’s not like snow clothes are cheap, trust me.  For the sake of argument, though, let’s say you don’t stand in need of anything financially and you can easily give away snow clothes without a second thought.  What then makes this situation that much more special?  She was a woman who paid attention to the needs of those she came in contact with.  Sure, she’s a waitress and she should be aware of an empty glass or a missing dish, but her role as waitress ends there.  What makes her extraordinary though is that her kindess wasn’t a product of her customer-oriented occupation, it was something she obviously carried around with her everywhere and then threw it around like confetti.

This is definitely an attribute that I need to improve upon, especially in our home.  I kid you not, I raised my voice at my bickering daughters yesterday to tell them to be kind to each other.  What sense does that make?  Granted, I was in pain, impatient, and frustrated, but that is not an excuse.  In fact, I plan to write a future post entirely about how that is not an excuse for poor behavior.  I wasn’t throwing around kindness, I was throwing around a poor attitude and it was felt by the entire home.  Because that’s how our moods and actions work, remember Attitudes are Contagious?

So, my goal is to heighten the amount of kindness I show others and, when possible, make it more purposeful.  I have started by following the example of that kind waitress.  While I am not in a financial state that I can give away a bunch of stuff, I’m doing what I can.  I recently posted a huge stash of infant clothes up on Craigslist for $30.  It was an entire wardrobe for an infant boy and then some.  Since posting it and having a person call to confirm the price, I have put several more items in the stack.  There’s well over $100 worth of items in there now and it’s no longer limited to clothes, as I learned the recipient is a first-time mom.  I don’t say this to boast of my generosity, because, frankly, I still feel a little guilty that I’m not handing over all of this stuff for free.  I’m sharing it as proof that the kindness and generosity of that waitress has spread into our home and I’m going to make sure I get that kindness everywhere.

What a wonderful time of year for all of us to increase our capacity for kindness.  It’s so easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated during this busy time of year, when instead we should be slowing down, soaking it all in, and spreading kindness.  I flash back to the scene in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan gets in the cash only line at Zabars.  Do yourself a favor and watch the clip.  Then say to yourself, “I will be Joe, not Henry.”  The kindness of Joe brings smiles to the grumpy.

Go ahead and throw kindness around like confetti.  Even better, come back here and tell me the impact that it’s had on the world around you, because it WILL make an impact.  I know because the impact of the ice chest, a warm meal, flowers, snow clothes, care packages, cookies, free baby-sitting, and so very much more, has warmed my heart and brightened my day countless times.

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Let Your Light Shine!

A few nights ago, while I was up feeding our infant son, I found myself marveling at the amazing things that have come about in our society through great minds.  The trigger to this thought process began with the fact that I was contemplating the genetic testing results that I am patiently awaiting to see if I have the cancer gene.  You can get cancer without the gene, but having the gene drastically increases your risk for cancer.  With a mom who passed away from Ovarian Cancer at a relatively young age and my maternal grandmother having battled breast cancer, you can probably understand why I’m diving in further.  As I sat there in our rocking chair, I was in awe thinking about the ability we, as a society, have to look at blood and analyze it in such a way that we can learn about the future outlook of someone at a molecular level.  It’s mind boggling to me.  My mind doesn’t work in such a way.  I can’t even imagine how these types of methods came to pass, but I’m grateful for those people who took the time, energy, and their God given talents to bring forth so many amazing things in our lives.

As I continued to feed my son, my thoughts kept racing along on this same topic.  I got to thinking about all these amazing inventions, discoveries, research studies, and technologies that are beyond my comprehension.  I happened to look up at the source of the light shining in my room and it caught my attention.  The four vanity lights from the bathroom served as my light that night.  Three were shining and one was not working.  I got to thinking about how the light that was not working was not broken because the light next to it was working.  It was not shining because it had just burnt out.  This made me think of the parable of the talents found in the Book of Matthew.  Stick with me here, if you’re starting to lose sight of my direction.

You see, I was not blessed with the mind of a genius.  These types of minds that create these marvelous things mentioned above aren’t even found in my circle of friends.  In referencing the parable of the talents, let’s say these geniuses are the ones granted 5 talents that then return to the Lord with an additional 5 talents.  Let’s say the ones that were given two talents to work with are all of my amazing friends and family that live simple lives but with great gifts and contributions to the world around them.  For the sake of the parable, I will be the person who the Lord gave one talent to and then that person buried the talent, then returning to the Lord with nothing.  Now, in tying this back to my vanity lights.  The person granted the five talents went out and made the most of their five talents.  He did not gain more talents because he stole from the person who was originally given one talent.  The person given the one talent (me) ended up with nothing completely on his own accord.  I am the one responsible for the lack of light and talents coming forth from me.  I still struggle with this from time to time.  Everybody else is so bright and gifted that sometimes I don’t see much point in making more of the one talent I’ve been given.  It’s easier to just hide what little I have for safe keeping, right?  Wrong.  And that’s where this whole crazy train of thought wrapped itself up into a little package with a pretty bow.  The three lights in my bathroom seemed bright enough to suffice.  Light was still filling the room.  But how much brighter could it be if that fourth light shined among the vanity lights?  I am always amazed at how much brighter a room of several lights gets when you merely replace one burnt out light.  And, even better, in that light shining nothing gets taken away from the lights around it.  The idea is simply beautiful.

Bringing it back to the parable of the talents.  Each of the people in the parable were given separate amounts, however, none of them were lesser because of it.  Both the person given two talents and the person given five went out and made something of it.  They, in essence, chose to turn their light on.  Though the last person only received one, he also was no less of a man.  He was not left with nothing, or burnt out, until he chose to bury it.  What I’m trying to say, and perhaps not as eloquently as I’d like, is that it doesn’t matter if Suzy is given the talents of a genius and Jane is given the talents of your most admired friend, and you are given one talent.  It’s what you do with that talent.  Do you let it shine and work for your betterment and the world around you?  Or do you simply throw in the towel, as I often did (and perhaps still do) at times?  And, if you are throwing in the towel, might I suggest that you consider the fact that while three lights may very well light the room sufficiently, one additional light can make the world that much brighter?

How grateful I am for the marvelous minds that have enlightened our lives in ways that I cannot understand.  For all the effort they put into not only keeping their light alive but bringing greater light to the world around them.  Now, it’s my desire to be the light in my own life.  I don’t have to be at some genius level to brighten the world.  I just have to turn on and make the most of the individual beauty I’ve been given.  I am striving to let my light shine.

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Having a Merciful Heart

I originally posted the following post on Over the Big Moon (OTBM) under the title of Having a Merciful Heart.  As has become my custom during the week prior to the third Sunday, I am featuring a previous OTBM post here in anticipation of my new OTBM post this Sunday.  Normally I wouldn’t do so, but I did do tweaks to this post to make it less holiday focused since it was first published in December 2013.

My Mom battled Ovarian Cancer for five years.  In the latter part of those five years, the battle grew increasingly more difficult.  She was always good to put a smile on about the whole affair.  People would ask her how she was feeling and she would give an optimistic response.  I knew differently.  I recall there was one gentleman at church that would say, “How are you, really?”  I guess he was catching on that my Mom wasn’t offering up her true feelings and state of physical well-being.  It wasn’t that she was trying to lie, I think she just thought it best for everyone if they didn’t worry about her.  I suppose I don’t really know what her purpose was in keeping a strong upper lip on the matter.  As I sit here, I wish I could ask her why she kept so many in the dark.  In some ways, I’ve made a conscious decision to do the opposite, but at the same time my default is to put on that ever-smiling face no matter what.

Since I had never really been a private person, it wasn’t until the darkest time that I battled depression that I even realized I too hid the pain and ugliness.  It just seems that people don’t want to know the real ugly thoughts we each endure.  So, with those thoughts unshared, they become thoughts of shame and grief.    I chuckle recalling my friend’s remarks when I confided in her about my desperate struggle with depression.  She said, “You’re the happiest depressed person I’ve ever met.”  She was not the only person to make comments along these lines.  People would honestly ask me if I was ever in a bad mood.  If only they knew…

Before I go further, let me say that I do not suggest that we should constantly be putting our dirty laundry out, nor carry around a sour disposition, nor spout to all the woes and heartbreak we feel.  I truly believe that constantly feeding negative thoughts begets more negative thinking.  Perhaps that is one of the reasons my Mom kept her times of sorrow private.  She had an attitude of optimism.

In that same breath though, I think it’s important that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable amongst our loved ones.  It’s this misconception that everyone is doing perfectly fine that creates this false feeling to the downtrodden that they are alone in their suffering.  I know that is exactly how I felt when I experienced Postpartum Depression (PPD).  In my eyes, every Mom I had met spoke of an immediate connection with their child and joy beyond compare.  I loved and adored my infant daughter, but I was not experiencing those same feelings that they were describing.  I applaud the first woman who opened up and shared her less-than-positive feelings regarding post childbirth.  It’s that same reason that I have since strived to be open about my own trials.  Since I am, apparently, quite good at hiding my pain during my daily activities, I’ve had to be forward in sharing my true feelings.  Even close friends seem to be baffled when I confess to them that I am barely coping in my daily life.  But, I think it’s important that women, and men, realize that pain and suffering is not set aside just for them individually.  We all must endure and we all must be merciful.

I have had the opportunity to be a listening ear to many women over the past years.  In my efforts to be honest about my challenges, others have felt comfortable in sharing theirs with me.  Some stories included pains I cannot comprehend.  I believe it takes great courage for us to confide in another regarding our deepest suffering.  In my respect for their courage and trust in me, I held their stories private.  But, sadly, I later overheard other women speak unkind words and make judgments regarding these women who had confided in me.  I wanted to shout out, “If only you knew what they were dealing with privately, you would not be so quick to judge.”  So as not to damage the trust that those courageous women had placed in me, I held my tongue.  I simply tried to suggest to the gossiping women that these other women may be dealing with more than they understood.  That experience, more than any other, taught me that we ought not make unrighteous judgments.  Every person has their own story and struggle and rarely, if ever, do we have the whole picture.

I once had the pleasure of spending time with this sweet couple.  The husband was sharing with me how kind-hearted and tender his wife is in everything she does.  He gave the example that even when they’re driving on the road and someone cuts them off, his wife is quick to come up with a myriad of valid reasons as to why the driver did so.  He admitted that he would quickly become agitated until her suggestions of “perhaps they didn’t know it was their turn-off,” “maybe they have a loved one who is ill and needs to get to the hospital,” or simply, “they must be having a hard day” would calm his nerves and change his heart.  When he shared that story, it encouraged me to reconsider people’s unpleasant actions and try to find the unoffensive reasoning behind it.  I once overheard another couple talking about their occasional misunderstandings.  The husband said to his wife, “Whenever I say something, just know that I mean it in the most positive way possible.”  An easy out on his part, but likely true nonetheless.  There are so many ways to interpret actions, aren’t there?  Often we are quick to assume the worst.

What I’m trying to say is let’s be slow to judge, quick to find the positive, and courageous enough to be vulnerable from time to time.  If we but try to bear one another’s burdens and joys with merciful hearts, we will each be blessed with more peace and hope.

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Stop Comparing and Reclaim Joy!

I’m a little late writing a post this week, but it is for a good reason.  I had the pleasure of celebrating my eldest’s 8th birthday and throwing her a wild animal party with her friends this week.  Note to Self: Hosting a birthday party with 20 kids will physically and emotionally drain you as a six-month pregnant woman.  Whew.  Survival was only made possible due to my better half being there to help every step of the way.  Hooray for helpful husbands!

Each time one of my children turns a year older, I reflect on life as it was around their birth.  Birthdays have a tendency of making us reflective that way.  Particularly when it comes to children, we think about growth and development.  I saw this quote by author and artist, Doe Zantamata, that seemed fitting to share this week, in which our family celebrated my beautiful daughter’s birthday.  Zantamata wrote on her blog The HIYLife, “If your parents ever measured you as a child, they had you stand against a wall, and made a little pencil mark on the wall to show your growth.  They did not measure you against your brother, or the neighbor’s kids, or kids on TV.  When you measure your growth, make sure to only measure your today self by your past self.”  I needed this reminder as much for myself as for the healthy raising of my children.

Just this week, as I was attempting to make my daughter’s party cupcake tops look like zebra stripes using chocolate sprinkles on top of white frosting, I stood there comparing myself to others.  To be precise, I said out loud to my husband, “If my Mom could see how poorly I was doing this, she would be rolling over in her grave.”  My husband, in his kindness said, “If your Mom was here she would be playing with the kids or dipping these strawberries in chocolate and would not be fussing over your cupcakes.”  I smiled at the idea of my Mom actually being there and how she would be too busy helping to critique.  Don’t get me wrong, my Mom had her thoughts on such matters, but she was never one to compare.  Of course, my self-bashing still continued as each cupcake seemed to get worst and worst.  I began mumbling negative thoughts under my breath and starting to plot my submission to the Pinterest Fails, as surely another woman out there had done this better than me.  They really looked nothing like zebra stripes.  The chocolate sprinkles were just too big to pull off the idea I had in mind.  My husband suggested that I just skip the striped plan and make them black and white.  Done.  They actually looked much better after his suggestion.  But the thought occurred to me, would I have been so hard on myself had I not thought of what my Mom was capable of in the kitchen or the myriad of amazing results I’ve seen on Pinterest?  The cupcakes somehow became more acceptable when I just looked at them as my personal offering to the party guests versus the end product of all marvelous things created by others in the kitchen.  It was amazing how much better I felt once I let go of my urge to compare myself to others.

Unfortunately, that’s what the natural part of me does.  It’s the same with this blog.  As I’ve mentioned before, I struggled to start such a blog based on the mere fact that others out there write better than me.  My logic told me, “what’s the point in writing at all, if others can do it so exceptionally well?”.  Even worse, I’m certain I do it with my kids too.  I make a conscience effort not to do it, but if I can get caught up in a cupcake decorating frenzy, I have got to be doing this to my kids without even knowing.  My two girls, with only two years between them, seem to constantly be in a struggle with what each of them has and does not have.  I fear I may be adding to it.  While my husband and I are constantly telling them that it’s most important to be themselves, as Everyone Else is Already Taken, I may very well be comparing them merely in just how I discipline them.  I cringe at how many times I have said to my eldest, “How is it that your sister who is two years younger can listen and follow directions, but you can’t?”  Ugh.  It’s embarrassing to even type such things, but I’m an impatient and an imperfect woman and these things happen in our home.  I don’t condone them, but still they happen.  I would never let my girls speak to themselves the way I sometimes speak to myself.  Nor would I let them compare themselves to any other kid.  Yet I seem to do comparisons naturally.  Any chance I can place some blame on being taught how to do Venn Diagrams as a kid?

All joking aside, comparing yourself with another is an ugly habit and it begets ugly feelings.  I find that most all of my moments of discouragement and disappointment are rooted with my actions of comparisons.  Not comparing my today self with my past self, but comparing myself with others.  Come to think of it, the last time I had a good cry-fest (these happen more frequently while I’m pregnant) was last week when I was sitting comparing my life without having my Mom around with others who still get to have their Moms around.  I even wrote a post on Over The Big Moon entitled Because of Him about working through the process and letting go of my “have not” attitude.  Oh vey, Readers.  I think we may have a bigger beast on our hands than I realized.  This issue really is just as Theodore Roosevelt stated, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I don’t want to rob myself nor my children of such joy.  I’m praying that my heightened awareness of this matter within myself and in our home will help me to eradicate it.  As always, I invite you to share your insights and suggestions in the comments section.  Obviously, I have much to learn.  I see and understand all the drawbacks that come from comparing ourselves to others.  That part I know.  But how do you stop from comparing yourself to others and comparing your children with other children when it seems to come naturally?  Is it as simple as Bob Newhart says in one of the most hilarious bits I’ve seen regarding therapy?  Do I just STOP IT?!

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Facing Our Fears

Last October, I had written a post on Over the Big Moon regarding fears and how to cope with them.  In case you did not have a chance to read the post at the time, I wanted to take a minute and share it here on First You Must Begin.  It’s a post to address fears of all shapes and sizes; from the deep dark ones that we specifically try not to think about for fear of a self-fulfilling prophesy to the less typical fears such as hornet stings, scurrying mice, and ants in our pantry.  The latter being a fear that has plagued me since growing up in my childhood home where it seemed we lived on an ant hill.

A few years ago, I brought my fear of ant infestation up during one of my therapy sessions.  The therapist sweetly reminded me of my size versus the ants.  A good point, for sure.  But what actually has helped me cope was a question she asked me that day: What’s the worst that can happen?  I told her all the things that I dreaded about an ant infestation in my home – the vulnerability of knowing they’ve invaded my space, the food that has to be thrown out, the clean-up process, the potential laundry that has to be washed, and the possibility of them crawling on me.  All of these things still give me the heebie-jeebies.  My therapist listened and then calmly suggested that most of those issues were merely inconveniences and that an exterminator visit could put most of my concerns to rest.  She’s right.  Ants in my home will not result in World War III.  So, why allow myself to escalate to the point of paralyzing fear?

I am fully aware that my therapist’s question is not a cure all for every fear.  But for the fun of it, let’s put the same question to the test for my daughter’s fear of bees and hornets.  An honest fear for her to have based on the fact that she received three hornet stings and two bee stings in the course of one month last summer.  All of the stings came when she was doing nothing to provoke them.  She just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, fives times.  So, what’s the worst that can happen?  My daughter would say that the worst that can happen is that she gets stung again.  But that is not the worst that can happen.  The worst that can happen was what she started to do.  She started to fear going outside and avoided opportunities for trips to the park.  That’s the worst.  She let the bees and hornets take away her freedom to play outdoors.

These examples of fear are on a smaller scale, but I often wonder how much fear could be laid to rest if we merely asked, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  Again, I’m not trying to put this question to the test with true tragedy and trauma, though it does work when I reflect back on even the hardest trials I have faced.  But how many fears could we overcome in a day if we tried to bring things in to perspective?

Perhaps we have a fear of speaking in public?  Or being seen without make-up?  Or someone coming over to our home only to find that we don’t keep it perfectly clean and tidy?  We have these fears that we’ve created for ourselves that just aren’t rationale or fair.  We worry about imagined judgments being made on us.  And in cases where the judgments may come, they likely would have come no matter how clean our home was, how perfect our make-up looked, or how refined we were in our speech.  We could all benefit from seeing the bigger picture rather than just that single situation.

Broadening my perspective has made a significant impact in re-evaluating even my darkest trials.  When I realized my Mom would die of Ovarian Cancer, I began to mourn her loss before she was even gone.  I would sit and sob over how I would not be able to function without her.  I was certain I would not get out of bed for days when the time came.  There was a point when I was spending more time hypothesizing about my level of devastation with her passing rather than enjoying the time I still had with her.  Thankfully, my husband pointed this out to me and I redirected my thoughts and started to more fully embrace my remaining time with her.  Then the time came and my Mom passed away.  My heart ached (and continues to ache) in ways that I had not experienced prior.  I’ve yet to find the right words to properly express the magnitude of my sorrow or the deep impact her absence has had in my daily life.  However, I kept (and keep) moving forward in faith.  After her passing, I never once failed to get out of bed.  Although, I admit, those first few months are still a blur.  What was the worst that could happen?  It happened.  My Mom died.  But, thanks to my faith, the worst that really happened is that I have to wait a little while and then I can be with my Mom again in heaven.

I survived through the passing of my Mom, my best friend.  It didn’t ruin me.  If anything, it made me stronger.  As is the case with every trial I have endured, they have all made me stronger.

I speak from personal experience that even the darkest of nights has a dawn. During a severe bout with depression, I spent a long while clinging to my couch thinking that somehow I could be safe from pain if I just staid there and slept. My anxiety increases just reflecting on this time in my life and my heart sinks thinking of all the lost moments of life fully lived.   I was doing, then, what my daughter was doing with her fear of bees and hornets. I was hiding.  What was the worst thing that could have happened in that situation?  It wasn’t hiding, though that was bad, it would have been giving up.  Had I given in to my fears of worthlessness, hopelessness, and despair, I would not be able to enjoy this incredible chapter of my life that I never dreamed possible.

I think fear is really the apprehension that comes from the unknown outcome of a personal struggle of any size.  I get discouraged, downtrodden, and fearful just like anybody else still.  But I have a friend that is sweet to remind me that, “[I] can do hard things.”  And she’s right.  I CAN do hard things.  And sometimes the hardest thing I have to do is not give in to fear nor give up on myself.

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Living a Life Based on Truths

I attended California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) in the Fall immediately following my high school graduation.  It was not my first choice, but it served me well and I’m actually quite pleased with having graduated from there with my B.A. in Communications.  Before entering the University, I hadn’t a clue what to major in nor what career path to take before I reached my ultimate goal of being a Stay-at-Home Mom.  While I did enjoy writing, it fell in the unattainable dream category, as I had no faith in my abilities.  With no real direction in mind, I decided to choose my major by default.  No joke.  I sat down to the list of majors available at CSUF and
crossed them off the list one by one until only one remained.  The result was Communications with an emphasis in Public Relations (PR).

As I began my courses, I was pleased with my decision.  However, the further I studied my emphasis, the less engaged I was in the curriculum.  That’s when I read the beginnings of a book called What Color Is Your Parachute?.  The book was originally written in 1970 and has been updated virtually every year since.  It’s basically a job-search manual.  While I did not finish it, the first few chapters were eye-opening.  I completed a series of exercises to help figure out which career path would best fulfill my unique interests and abilities.  You’d think this would be something I could have figured out on my own, but I struggled to understand my true self at the time.

Here I was preparing myself for a big career in PR and it turned out I wanted nothing to do with it.  Communications was still a fruitful major, but my emphasis no longer suited me based on the knowledge I gained from the above mentioned book.  I moved forward with my education plans, but I decided to change the direction of my job search.  Surprisingly, I had discovered that I genuinely wanted to be an Administrative Assistant.  The responsibilities of an assistant nurtured all of the aspects of my abilities and interests.  Certainly, the position did not offer as much praise nor prestige, but it was what I wanted to do.  Bear in mind, being a Mom was not probable at that early of an age for me and being a writer had still been pushed aside as not even being plausible in my eyes.

Now, I told you all of that, to tell you this – sometimes we get lost along the way and need to hold on to the concrete things that we know to be true.  I’ve been thinking about this more and more, as I’ve been struggling with the affects of my mood disorder in conjunction with pregnancy hormones.  Times have been tough for me.  Things that I would normally enjoy have felt dulled.  When I laugh, there is a part of me that says, “Oh, look, you’re laughing.  That feels good.”  I don’t think laughter should be a rarity.  I believe laughter is a necessity.  I mean, heck, I wrote a whole post on the importance of Living a Life with Laughter.  So, I’m sure you can imagine how disheartening it feels when joy evades you for no particular reason.  I’ve been here before, but it hasn’t made it any easier.  In fact, sometimes feeling this numbness and disinterest adds fear to my situation, as I am aware of how bad it can get.  Before you go worrying about me; don’t.  Just keep reading.

I’m gonna be okay.  I know this because I’ve learned that holding on to the concrete things in my life pulls me through.  During a particularly difficult time a few years back, I discovered a technique that helps me fight off anxiety.  I find that anxiety is usually a result of thinking excessively about the unknowns of life.  Unknowns can create a mess load of panic and worry.  I found that instead of obsessing over the unknowns, I could reflect on memories of my Mom or concrete things that I knew to be true.  For instance, I would ponder the tangible blessings in my life, such as my husband, my children, my knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the roof over my head, etc.  The memories of my Mom might seem like a strange thing to contemplate during difficult times, but they are truths versus unknowns.  The truth is that I have several wonderful memories of my Mom that I get to look back on.  How much more joy can be found in thinking about the goodness of life than worrying about the unknowns?  Especially since oftentimes the unknowns are beyond our control.

Thankfully, anxiety is not the weight I am having to bear at this time.  My difficulty, as mentioned above, is enduring the numbness that overcomes me with no reasonable explanation.  This is where I think back on What Color Is Your Parachute? and realize that I find enjoyment and satisfaction in unsuspecting places.  I am a task-oriented girl, so I’ve learned that a task will help me through the day.  Of course, I never want to start the task, because who wants to begin anything when they’re down?  Am I right?  But a task helps me, so I strive to begin even when I don’t want to.  I also learned from the above mentioned book, that I gain fulfillment from organizing and planning things.  It somehow brings me peace to put things in order.  So, while I’ve been struggling to find purpose in my life, I’ve given myself tasks that suit these aspects of me that need fulfilling.  It may seem odd, but going through my digital pictures and organizing them into chronological folders can calm me down and lift my spirits.  That’s what I loved about this book.  It helped me discover that there were activities, though not outwardly rewarding, that brought me inner peace and happiness.

I think what I’m trying to say is that life is tough.  Sometimes it’s tougher than feels necessary.  I find that during these tougher times, it’s okay to take it easy and hold on to the concrete parts about yourself that you know will help.  It may not be glamorous.  The things that fulfill you and help you move forward may not be a big fancy PR job, it may be merely assisting someone else in their role.  And you may not spend every day out there taking on the world.  That’s okay.  Create a life that feels good on the inside; not one that just looks good on the outside.

I worked as an Executive Administrative Assistant for a few years before obtaining my dream job of being a Stay-at-Home Mom.  Ironically, being an assistant on an executive level proved to have more perks than I could have imagined, such as an all expense paid trip to Barcelona, Spain with my husband.  The role of mother turned out to be the more challenging, and simultaneously most rewarding, position for me.  The entire job of being a mom is built upon unknowns.  A world of unknowns that has led me to this wonderful opportunity to cultivate my love for writing and share my experiences with those out in the Internet abyss.

My writing may not look good on the outside, but it sure feels good to do it.  My role as a mother is chalked full of imperfections, but it feels amazing during those moments, like last night, when I finally helped my girls with their first cross stitch project that they have been begging me to do.  It’s not a prestigious life, but it’s filled with beautiful truths that I hold dear.  I have no idea when I’ll get some relief from this down cycle in my mood disorder.  In the mean time, I figure I’ll take it a day at a time and keep nurturing those tangible truths and activities that bring me personal peace.

May each of you find joy and fulfillment in the concrete things in your life and let go of the unknowns that can feel overwhelming and potentially lead to anxiety.  And, if you’re having a difficult time understanding the basic actions in life that bring you true fulfillment, perhaps it’s time to find out what color your parachute is and allow yourself to soar.

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Second Chances

I’ve had a rough couple of days.  I don’t do well when stuck indoors for long periods of time, which has been the case lately.  Cabin fever sinks in quickly with me.  I also don’t do well with a toddler screaming every time that I don’t hold him and every time he does not get what he wants.  Add on that my middle one is sick, my daughters are having nightmares due to the season of beheaded zombies hanging from porches, and my husband has been working literally day and night for the past six days.  Sleep has eluded me.

I can’t help but hear Claire Foster’s line in Date Nightwhen she is confessing to her husband that she fantasizes more about being alone than leaving him for another man, “There are times when, on my worst day, I’ve thought about just leaving our house and going someplace, like checking into a hotel. Being in a room all by myself, in a quiet, air-conditioned room, sitting down, eating my lunch, with no one touching me—drinking a diet Sprite, by myself.”  Insert Dr. Pepper for Diet Sprite and she’s described what I long to do on days like yesterday.

Checking in to a hotel would have been much better than the breakdown I had yesterday morning when my husband was finally off from his 16-hour shift at work.  The worst part is that I selfishly was upset over my circumstances and here my husband had just worked a 16-hour shift of running around physically caring for people.  I was acting like a brat, honestly.  Still my husband kindly took my ever-screaming son and let me go and cry.  That’s love right there.  Just a few minutes to cry in peace with no one touching me.

Crying helped, as it sometimes does.  I still felt pretty pathetic though for being such a ninny about my plight instead of tending to my husband’s well-being.  Sometimes we have really bad days at work and they last longer than we’d like.  That happened to be the case for both of us this time.  He handled it gracefully, I handled it poorly.

Later, I was listening to a song called Second Chances by Gregory Alan Isakov off of his album The Weathermanand this one line hit home, “if it weren’t for second chances, we’d all be alone.”  How many second chances has my husband given me and I him, I wonder?  These last few days have been a series of second chances.

I’ve had a second chance at putting my daughter’s minds to rest before they fall asleep, a second chance to figure out how to properly discipline my son for his uncharacteristically difficult behavior, a second chance to look at my husband’s needs and sacrifices on our family’s behalf, and a second chance to not beat myself up over every time I guiltily wanted to walk out the door for even a couple minutes of peace from the chaos.

I hear all the time that I should cherish this time, as it will go quickly.  I already know it goes quickly.  I already miss the days that my eldest was a tiny baby.  I do my best to treasure every moment with my children, as I have known people that have lost their kids unexpectedly.  The very thought of losing my children makes me physically ill.  But is it really so bad to want the moments of yanking and pulling, incessant screaming, and blatant disobedience to move by a little faster?  I hate that I feel guilty for not enjoying these moments like I’m “supposed” to.

Life is such a conundrum, isn’t it?  I remember when my Mom first passed away, I wanted time to speed up so that I could be old and die and be with her again, while I simultaneously wanted life to slow down so I could take in every new baby smell and giggle from my girls.  I suppose the same goes for the action of cherishing this time with my kids.  I want the tantrums to speed by and the precious moments shown below to stand still in time.

Thankfully, my children, just as my husband, give me second chances.  They forgive me for all the wrong choices that I make, my unnecessarily raised voice, and my blindness to times that they just want my full attention and nothing more.  As Amy Krouse Rosenthal writes in her children’s book One Of Those Days, “Luckily, every single one of those days eventually turns into night.  And every single night turns into a brand-new day.”

So, here’s to a new day of second chances!  Without them, we’d all be alone.

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Is Timing Everything?

Everything happens for a reason.  I’m a firm believer in that credo.  I marvel at the timing of things in my life.  Even one of the saddest moments in my life, the passing of my Mom, had beauty in the timing.  I refer to this as the Lord’s timing.  Others may consider it a gift of karma or coincidence.  Regardless, the timing of those final moments with my Mom were as perfect as the circumstances allowed.

To understand those final moments though, you must look at the weeks building up to them.

I was 27 weeks pregnant with our second child when I first went into preterm labor.  During my hospital visit, my doctor ordered me to be at home on bed rest.  At this point, I was working full-time and my Mom was the caregiver to our eldest.  My Mom also lived with us, as we suspected our time with her was limited and she would need additional care.  Within two weeks of being home on bed rest, my Mom began to become confused and disoriented.  In short, her final days were drawing closer.

(Four generations picture taken just after I was sent home on bed rest and before my Mom’s rapid decline.)

Keep in mind, I should have been at my job working full-time during her final weeks.  But I wasn’t.  I was there to give every ounce I could, while still being mindful of the risk I faced of having a premature baby.  In less than three weeks of me being put on bed rest, my Mom came home on Hospice.  This was completely unexpected for us.  She had just received a surgery that was supposed to buy her additional time.  Instead, it robbed us of projected months with her.

The days following her return to our home on Hospice were filled with heartache and bewilderment.  Yet that final night came to pass as though we were in a play and every person had their cue.  The timing was astonishing.  The eve of my Mom’s passing was the only night where my eldest brother and my sister-in-law were able to spend the night.  They were fortunate enough to have her Mom watch their three children that night.  It was in the wee hours of the morning that my sister-in-law came in to inform me that my Mom’s breathing had changed to that of agonal breathing.  She is a nurse in the Pediatric ICU at a children’s hospital and, sadly, is all too familiar with the sound of a person’s final breaths.  My other brother and future sister-in-law (at the time) were quickly called.  We were worried he wouldn’t arrive in time.  It wasn’t until he did arrive that we understood why she hadn’t let go yet.

One of the first things a Hospice Worker will tell you when they meet with you is that you have to tell your loved one that it’s okay for them to die.  It seems so surreal, but it’s true.  People who have to knowingly face their death oftentimes wait for the green light from loved ones.  During our time with my Mom on Hospice, we had all given her the green light.  It seemed so silly to do so since she barely comprehended our existence.  She was in and out of consciousness constantly.  But, we had all said it was okay for her to go.  All but my brother who had just arrived.

Once my brother and my, now, sister-in-law had arrived, my Mom was gathered around by all of her children.  My brother was faced with the difficult task of letting her go.  My heart aches reflecting on these final minutes with my Mom.  Within the hour of my brother’s final goodbye, our Mom passed from this life and returned Home.

This all happened minutes before our sleepy two-year-old would cry for us from her crib.  It happened on the Sabbath Day, a day that my Mother honored.  It happened with her being surrounded by all of her children.  It happened with our second child still safely in my womb.  It happened in the Lord’s Timing, or rather perfect timing.

There is no “good” time to lose your Mom or anyone for that matter.  There can be beauty though in the timing we are afforded.  My brother was approaching his wedding and I was approaching the birth of our second baby.  Surely, this is not a time that you want to lose your Mom.  Our daughter was born six weeks early and within three weeks of my Mom’s passing.  To this day, I still look at the timing as a tender mercy.  My Mom got to meet our precious baby before we did.  They got to meet one another in their perfect state.  Not only that, my baby girl gave me additional purpose to keep moving forward.  She offered the hope of knowing that joy can still be had.  Blessings can still exist.  We can still be happy.  She was the literal and physical example that life goes on.

I’m not certain how my brother feels about the timing of losing our Mom in regards to his impending marriage.  However, I’ve always respected that he changed all of their plans and chose to be married in Tahiti.  A place where the only person in attendance that they knew would be my Mom watching from above.  I’m grateful that she got to witness their wedding without pain or confusion but with all the love and happiness she could bestow upon them.

Timing is a marvelous thing.  I have seen the magic of perfect timing happen in regards to an eye surgery for my baby girl, a job offer after month’s of hopeless searches, the sale of our home, my very own life being saved as a toddler, the starting of a blog, and the birth of a child.  There are countless ways that our lives have been blessed by the Lord’s Timing.

Again, whether you see it as the Lord’s Timing, or something else, everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes it feels like things will never come to fruition or perhaps they will come to pass when we hoped they wouldn’t.  Ultimately though, things happen for a reason.  It makes the bad times easier if you look for the blessings in the timing.  It makes the good times brighter when you do the same and realize how good you really have it.

My goal right now is to not be so fearful of things that may or may not happen.  I can only do the best that I can.  If pitfalls are supposed to happen, then I will strive to find the silver lining in the timing.  If opportunities are to be had, I hope to be smart enough to act upon them as soon as they’re presented to me.

In my effort to share the perfect quote about timing, I found that there are many avenues of life that rely on the concept that timing is everything.  I couldn’t decide if that was true or not, so I discussed with my husband on the matter.  His response was spot on, “Timing is not everything, but the ability to act when the time comes is everything.”

He referenced the opportunity and timing that was afforded him to move out to California to be with me when he and I lived states apart.  The timing was right, but he could have easily done nothing with that timing.  The same could be said for my Mom’s passing.  I was provided the time to embrace those final weeks with my Mom, to make the most of that time.  And I did.  Those final weeks with my Mom are filled with no regrets.  I cared for her, laid with her, spoke with her, and cherished every moment that I could.  So, timing is everything, IF we act on it.


As a follow-up, I had readers express some interest in seeing my husband’s insight in the form of a printable reminder.  Here you go!

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Coping with Depression

I’ve still been pretty down and lonely lately.  I’m not going to lie.  I’m doing my best to stop whining about it, but sometimes life just hits you.  It’s not like any one thing is bad.  I have it quite good, honestly.  However, I suffer from Bipolar II disorder.  Basically that means that nothing has to be wrong for me to feel depressed and I can seem perfectly happy at times and nobody but my husband and those closest to me would know otherwise.  I take medicine to treat the disorder.  I’m sure there are many out there with a thought on the matter of my method of treatment.  In respect for my current state, let’s not put down a method that has saved me from the depths of the darkest time in my life.

It’s funny how life works.  I never had much sympathy for depression or people that had to take pills to make themselves “happy.”  Sadly, I looked at it as a weakness on their part.  It seemed like the easy way out to just take a pill when life got “too hard.”  Boy, was I put in my place.  A pill is not a cure-all and depression is not the definition for merely having a bad week.

Depression first hit me in the form of Postpartum Depression (PPD).  My husband would tell you it hit me the moment I learned my Mom had Ovarian Cancer.  Maybe he’s right.  I just know that it did not become crippling to my daily functioning until after my eldest was born.  It’s truly disturbing how handicapped it can make you.  Seeking medical attention was the first step in the right direction and the hardest.

As if you don’t feel down enough, you have to walk in to the office and say, “I give up.”  Of course, taking medicine isn’t giving up, but it sure feels like that.  You feel like such a failure.  I tried to be smart about it and coupled my physical health care with mental health care and began seeing a therapist in April of 2007.  At that time, my Mom was still alive and looked at my need for therapy as a failure on her part.  It’s amazing how seeking help somehow implies that we’re weak or a failure.

Thankfully, I had a therapist who helped me address my need for medicine in a healthy light.  She reminded me that depression is as real as Diabetes.  Diabetics need medicine for their health.  It doesn’t make them less of a person to take that medicine.  The medicine does not make things perfect by any means in either case.  It makes one functional.  It brings the individual as close to “normal” as possible.  Certainly, there are additional things that Diabetics and individuals that suffer from depression, or what’s now been diagnosed as Bipolar II disorder for me, can do to help fight off dangerous episodes.    I suppose I need to up my momentum to do those activities.

Exercise is a good start.  How ironic though that what you need most during those lows is the first thing that you can’t even imagine attempting.  That’s when I try to start small.  First goal, don’t fall asleep.  Sleeping just begets more depressive thoughts.  When things were really bad, I slept for hours on end both day and night.  It sounds heavenly for the exhausted working Mom, but I was an at-home-Mom and that’s just considered flat out neglect.  So, stay awake!

Reading is another excellent tool.  There are so many things out there to uplift and edify.  Particularly, reading scriptures.  I’ve decided to work on this part of my life.  I suppose this paragraph isn’t relevant for those that read my blog who do not have faith in a Higher Being.  Though, I wonder, if scripture reading would help all readers regardless of their faith.  The scriptures merely teach some basic truths and do-good-attitudes.  For me, it helps me see the bigger picture.  My Mom doesn’t seem as far away, as silly as that may sound.  For instance, we read scriptures as a family tonight and we were reading about the Lord’s ability to give us strength beyond that of man.  Then we asked one another in what ways has Heavenly Father given us the “strength of the Lord” in our personal lives.  My first thought was that He gave me strength to move from all that I’ve ever known in Southern California.  At times like this, it’s particularly hard to be away from some of my core support from back “home.”  The second thought though was how Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have given me strength to live my daily life without my Mom around.  I miss her so very much.  Her physical absence in my life has changed me in ways that I did not anticipate.  Then, I recall the bigger picture and take comfort that my time with her is not done.  It’s eternal.

Another thing that helps me cope with these lows is admitting that I need help, as mentioned above.  These times are less frequent with medicine on board, but I still need help.  It’s that whole pride thing that gets me every time.  I don’t want to admit I need help.  I don’t want to admit that I’m not doing any of the things I should be doing.  I want to pretend that I’m perfectly fine.  Isn’t that easier for everyone else around me?  Please don’t take this as a cry for help, as I really am functioning fine and my logical mind is still in control enough to recognize the many blessings in my life and the support that I do have.  Honestly, because I am properly medicated and do have an excellent support system, I don’t think I’m feeling any different than the rest of the population who has a down time now and again.

But maybe if you are reading and feeling more down than your typical behavior, try the above mentioned things.  Try to get moving, get reading, and get help.  Whether you need medical help or an increase of emotional support, don’t think less of yourself for asking for it.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a happier state at the time, remember Scottish author, Ian Maclaren’s, advice to, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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