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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The Truthiness About Strength

I have to laugh.  The quote that’s been on my mind lately is Steve Maraboli’s quote that, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”  I’m sure you could guess why that quote has been on my mind based on my post from last week A Stroke of Luck. I had full intentions of writing a post around this quote, only to find that I already did a similar post back in June called Strength and Purpose from Our Trials, which compliments and references yet ANOTHER post Finding Happiness Amongst Trials.  You think maybe I have a strong opinion on the matter of trials in our lives?  I guess it’s a good point of view to have, as many people have been telling me that I’m such a strong person in regards to my recent news.  The remarks got me thinking though, what qualifies someone as strong, as I certainly don’t consider myself such a person?

In trying to answer that question for myself, I analyzed how I was handling all the events of the past couple weeks.  I still came up without answers.  So, I decided to contemplate how a weak person handles things?  Perhaps I don’t know a weak person to reference, as I was still stumped.  Does a weak person cry?  If so, then I am weak, as I sobbed hysterically when they told me I had had a stroke.  I saw no point crying over the prospect of the tumor, as it’s level of concern had not yet been determined.  As a side note, I have since received word that my tumor did appear on the MRI from two years ago and is the same size now as it was then.  This means that the tumor is deemed as stable and I will now receive annual MRIs to ensure it stays that way.  So, you see, there was no sense in crying.  I was worried, of course, but I think that’s understandable.  I imagine a weaker person worries.  This leaves me 2 for 2 in the weak department.  However, people kept telling me I was strong.  Is that just something someone says to make you feel like you can handle the scariness of the unknown?  I genuinely wanted to know so I asked a dear friend of mine her thoughts.  As any kind friend would, she said lots of nice things about me and indicated that I was, in fact, strong.  Her thinking was that I had been through a lot in my life thus far and didn’t seem to let it get me down.  I also got remarks about how some marveled that I would be out and about doing stuff so soon after my baby was born and shortly after the stroke and tumor news.  So, I’m deducing a positive outlook and movement is the sign of a strong person.

So, lets talk about a positive attitude.  I hardly consider myself an optimist.  That’s always been my husband’s role in our relationship.  I rarely think positive when it comes to matters of my own.  But I am quick to see the best case scenario for someone else.  Does anybody else do this?  The times when I do feel at peace or seem to have an it’s-all-gonna-be-okay attitude are when I have spent much time on my knees in prayer.  My positive attitude comes from answered prayers and the comfort and love felt from my Heavenly Father and my dear friends and family.  It is not my own doing.  And, if I do seem to have a positive outlook on a difficult event in my life, it is because I believe 100% that every trial I have faced has made me stronger for the next.  Maraboli’s quote is truthiness.  And, in case you’re wondering, truthiness is a word.  Go ahead and click on the word for proof.  Thanks, Stephen Colbert, for getting this word officially added to the dictionary.  It should have been there all along and that’s truthiness.  Alas, I digress.  Oops. I just realized that if Maraboli’s quote is truthiness, which it is, then I am strong; or at least stronger.  I am not stronger from any magical thing that I am doing.  I am stronger by enduring each trial.  This means that each of us grows stronger day by day with each hit we take and get back up from afterwards.  Certainly, I am not the only one experiencing trials in life.

Although, I imagine the key to becoming stronger after a trial would be the whole get-back-up part.  This brings me to the topic of movement as a sign of strength.  Yes, I have been doing my best to keep moving as though nothing has happened.  Who wouldn’t?  A full recovery from a stroke tends to bring the marvelous abilities of a healthy body in to perspective.  Just being able to sign your name or brush your teeth seems to have a whole new appreciation.  So, yes, I’m going to get out there and use this full-recovery-stroke body I have.  That’s one reason that I keep moving.  The other reason that I keep moving may seem confusing to someone who considers themselves as weaker.  I’ve spoken to a couple people on this matter and they told me that if it were them they would just hide in their home.  Well, I suppose hiding in their home would be the method that would bring them comfort.  The thing with me is that hiding in my home tends to bring me down.  I don’t go out and do do do because I’m strong.  I go out and do because that is my medicine.  That’s what I have to do for myself to keep my sanity when life has me down.  I will admit that there are many times that I do choose to hide in my home and let myself throw my very own pity party.  I am quite good at hiding out so no one has to deal with Debbie Downer Sara when the time comes.  But, overall, if I want to feel better, getting out and moving is my therapy, because life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.  Thanks, Albert Einstein, for that quote.  Oh, and thanks for all that other cool physics stuff you came up with too.  Much obliged.

So, if the conclusion is that strength comes from a positive outlook and moving, then I am surrounded by people that are stronger than they realize.  Because aren’t we all trying to survive the challenges of the day?  Sometimes our days have harder challenges than others and sometimes we handle our challenges gracefully and sometimes we sit and pout.  However, I think if you’re facing each day, then you’ve got enough positive attitude left in you to believe that things can improve and you’ve got enough movement in you to give that day’s challenges a go.  And, as life tends to do, things do improve and the movements become easier.  Then you’ve done it, you’ve come out stronger and more resilient.  So, while I still contest my being strong, I do consider myself stronger.  And that’s the truthiness about strength.

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A Stroke of Luck

Perhaps you noticed that I did not publish a post last week, perhaps you did not.  I noticed.  It wasn’t for lack of wanting to, it was because I had something quite big to process myself.  I’ve debated on how to share this bit of news with the public world.  I thought of keeping it light, I thought of going in deep, and I tried to figure out if there was an in between.  I’m opting for “in between” for now.  I took this same approach on my family blog years ago regarding my Mom’s battle with cancer.  It wasn’t until her final days that I switched over in to “deep” mode.  Perhaps one day I will change my mind, but for now, the following post is somewhere in between the full spectrum of what we’ve experienced over the past couple weeks.

As you know, we had a baby boy.  He’s perfect.  He is by far the most mellow baby we have ever had, which is saying a lot since our second daughter was immensely chill as well.  He was over 24 hours old before we even heard him cry.  He is still such a sweet little baby.  Hopefully he is not lulling us into a false sense of security.  Here he is on what would have been his due date.  Instead, he was already 1 week and 6 days old when this picture was taken.

The first week following his birth consisted of a couple days of getting in to a new routine as a family of six and a couple days of adventure.  I like to keep moving, so adventure is as much a part of my healing process as a good nap is.

On the eve of our little man turning one week old, my mother-in-law flew in to town to meet our newest addition.  I was originally scheduled to be induced on the Saturday that our son turned one week old.  My mother-in-law was in town to help with that process.  Instead, she ended up helping with something we could not have possibly anticipated would happen.

On Sunday, July 20, at 6:05 PM, I walked in to my kitchen to help my husband and mother-in-law prepare for our celebration of National Ice-Cream Day.  I tried to say something and I couldn’t get the word out.  Then I began to apologize for my lack of ability to talk and couldn’t get my tongue to work.  It was as though my tongue weighed a hundred pounds and had swelled up in seconds.  I tried to say, “What the heck?”  The next thing I know, my husband is rushing towards me and my mother-in-law has pulled up a chair for me to sit.  I’m aware of something happening to me, I’m just not sure what.  I flash back to two years prior when I had what was then deemed as a stress-induced seizure.  Now, as this is all going down and I begin to cry and panic, I can hear my husband telling me, “You’re not alone.  You’re not alone.  You’ve been under stress.  This is a stress-induced episode.  You’re not alone.”  My husband runs me through a series of tests they give in the Emergency Department to determine if you’re having a stroke.  I struggle to perform most of the requested actions and fail at the others that I assumed I was passing with flying colors.  I am now aware that my mother-in-law is trying to get my kids upstairs and spare them from the scene.  I feel my speech slowly start to return and try to shake off the whole episode, as my husband debates back and forth as to whether or not I need to go to the hospital.  I try to maintain my composure and keep things looking and sounding normal, but my husband notices my feeble attempts at normalcy and soon I am on my way to the Emergency Department, where my husband works as a Registered Nurse.

As my husband walks me into triage, he says the right words that get me a bed immediately.  It’s not long before a doctor is running me through the same stroke tests that my husband ran at home, I have an IV in my arm, and I’m off to get what would be my first MRI of three.  At this point, I’m vacillating between keeping it light with jokes and being terrified of the events of the evening.  Moments after returning from my MRI, the doctor comes in to inform me that I have had a stroke.  All my fears are confirmed and I began to bawl my eyes out.  My husband assures me everything is okay.  I respond through sobs with, “No, it’s not.  It’s not okay.  This is not okay.”  The doctor has since walked out to give us some time to process everything.  Once I’m calmed down, my husband steps out to review the MRI firsthand and doesn’t come back with a look that tells me that everything is okay.  I later see this picture of the damage from my stroke (indicated by the white portion of my brain) and marvel at the size proportionate to my full recovery.  A full recovery that still managed to buy me a couple days on the IMCU floor.

But, as I mentioned, I still underwent two more MRI’s.  I had to have a second one in an effort to find the actual clot.  No clot was found.  Unfortunately, what was found was a tumor in my left optic nerve.  Yes, a tumor.  A tumor which called for a third MRI to get further answers.  However, the third MRI did not give them sufficient answers.  The real problem with this discovery is that even the doctors currently don’t know what to make of it.  It could be something that is really slow growing, like really really slow-growing, and I’ve had it since my youth.  Or, it could be malignant and then I have a completely different battle ahead of me.  So, do you remember me saying I had a stress-induced episode a couple years ago?  It was not to this caliber, but it did earn me an MRI back then.  An MRI that will now likely hold the answers to the level of concern that this tumor will be for my future.  If that old MRI shows no sign of this tumor, I’m in trouble.  If there is an indication of a tumor being there previously, then we know it’s growing quite slow and is not an issue.  So, now we play the waiting game.  We’re waiting for the snail mail to deliver my previous MRI images to my new Ophthalmologist.  A waiting game that is getting tiresome for both my husband and myself.

As I mentioned before, I am giving you the “in between” version.  It may come as a surprise, but I can bore you with more hypotheses, concerns, and details, but this seems like sufficient details for now.  I just have some closing thoughts to offer on the matter.

Customarily, I try not to get too spiritual or religious on this blog, but I would be lying if I didn’t say how many tender mercies from my Heavenly Father that I have witnessed in these events.  Honestly, there are almost too many to mention.  The things I am most grateful for are that my mother-in-law happened to be in town to help with the kids, my husband was at home during the stroke to evaluate me, that I was able to have a stroke with a full recovery that gave us this serendipitous finding that will provide us with a fighting chance if it comes to that, and that I had an episode two years ago that will hopefully provide clarification on what we’re dealing with now.  For those that do not believe in a Higher Being, I am sure these are just considered coincidences.  For me, I know of a surety that these blessings are directly from a Father in Heaven who knows and loves me.  These events, as with each struggle I’ve endured, have reconfirmed my testimony in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I also feel the need to reiterate in this post the thoughts that I shared in my previous post Living a Life with Laughter.  I can’t stress enough how important laughter is in physically and emotionally healing from difficult events.  Friends and family seemed shocked at how well I was handling everything.  While I had moments that left me overcome with emotion, I just kept repeating to myself the quote by Marjorie Pay Hinckley, “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way though it.  You either have to laugh or cry.  I prefer to laugh.  Crying gives me a headache.”

This post may have left you with more questions than answers.  I feel your pain.  Our family has been left with so many unanswered questions that all we are left to do is have faith that our Heavenly Father’s hand will continue to be in our lives going forward as it has been thus far.  I know for me, personally, I feel beyond blessed that I am home with my family and currently able to care for them in the manner in which I always have been.  I feel great joy in counting my many blessings.

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