Pollyanna

IMG_5612Pollyanna.  Remember her?  That bright-eyed, bushy tailed princess of a girl who had nothing but good to see?

I remember, (with fondness now) a time where I was “accused” of being a Pollyanna.  I was a new-ish teacher, a little naive to the complexities of life, but confident about what mattered most.  I guess people saw that.  Whether it was about positivity, bright perspective, or an overall love of life, people apparently noticed my attempts at remaining hopeful about things.

I realize now that maybe my determination to be positive was actually a gift from God – something He knew all along would be necessary in order to help me survive.

Cancer itself wasn’t necessarily the hardest thing I ever went through. Honestly, it was the aftermath of cancer. I don’t think I’d ever felt so broken in my life. Re entering “real life” with all my new challenges felt like walking into a dance floor with a broken leg. And I love to dance.

The aftermath of surviving a crisis is much different than the crisis itself. It’s one thing to lose your hair on a cancer floor with roughly 30 other bald patients around you.  It’s another thing to struggle with thin, patchy hair when you’re surrounded by heads of healthy, normal hair. And then to realize you’ve not only lost your hair,  but also your lung capacity,  your ability to have kids, your muscles, and time. For the first time, my ability to be positive and hopeful was deeply challenged.

But….

Today is different. Today I’m feeling positive most often. And I also feel… stronger. Sometimes I forget how far I’ve come. (With immense help from others of course). 3 years ago I was living at home trying to recover.  I had few social opportunities, much less dating ones. I’m certain I worried about never traveling again, or being carefree, or living happily on my own.

But today I actually own a house. I saw Norway, Denmark and Boston this year. I’m dating an amazing guy, and I just finished a successful first day of school.  Things are better in so many ways. Guess what? The trial dial turns!  It turns out there is an end to certain things- maybe not all, but some. Yes, there were times where the Pollyanna in me lost the vision of good things to come.  I’ve learned that’s okay. Struggling is human. Painful things have brought gratitude and a certain sweetness to my current life.

If you haven’t seen Pollyanna in a while, go watch it.  Remember how she had a terrible accident?  Remember how bitter she was at first?  Certainly she was the most undeserving of such a fate, but that wasn’t her focus. In the end, she chose happiness over despair.

Even though there isn’t a sequel, I’m positive if there was, we’d be watching a girl still making good things happen, both for her and others. I believe she represents more than a couple hours of feel good entertainment.  She represents this truth  :

Tragedy isn’t the end, unless you allow it to be.

Thanks Pollyanna, you fictional character that came about long before I was born.  Your legacy lives on!

Thorns in the Flesh

Last year got ONE blog post from me. Take that 2016! Too busy living.

After a 3rd run-in with he-who-shall-not-be-named during the fall of 2015, I had a chance to put on the fightin’ gear once again. What I expected to be a long, ugly 6 month recovery turned out to be a shorter, less dramatic, 4 month recovery. 2016 grabbed the reigns of my life, cracked the whip and threw me into a new reality. I moved back to the house I’d purchased 8 months earlier, began working, dating, exercising and traveling again. Bustling demands and opportunities came, just like I’d hoped they would. Distractions from health concerns came, just like I’d hoped they would.

But other things came too.

Things I had wrestled with before, like anxiety, impatience, unfair comparisons, fears about marriage, insecurities about my appearance, and many more (a little too personal to share) were waiting for me.  They didn’t disappear after I left the hospital. Contrary to popular belief, there was no special immunity to everyday weakness, or petty problems, just because I’d survived cancer.

I still lost patience with kids at school. I still noticed all my flaws in the mirror. I still overanalyzed relationships that didn’t work out. On so many occasions, someone would say to me, “Well, I’m having a really hard time with something… but I know I shouldn’t even talk about it because it’s nothing like what you’ve been through!” (Insert face-palm emoji). People!!! I hope you realize that even I compare myself to that strong cancer survivor girl when having a hard time with things! I wonder, “Why is this other stuff even hard? I should be stronger than this!”

Here’s what I’ve learned. Sometimes there are things we face throughout our lives. Call them thorns in the flesh, ongoing weaknesses, or whatever you like. The prospect of battling them for an entire lifetime can seem daunting, discouraging, and unfair, but it’s certainly not hopeless.

First, a weakness wouldn’t be a weakness unless you struggled with it for more than a day. A week. Or a lifetime. Those other things that we figure out quick… those are obviously NOT weaknesses. And despite the common notion that some people just don’t have weaknesses, please remember: NO ONE is immune. We’ve all got stuff. It’s kind of part of the mortality package. The Lord wanted us to understand this when he said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them,” (Ether 12:27).

I read a book once called, “Weakness is not Sin,” by Wendy Ulrich. The title struck me. Perhaps like many, I had fallen prey to the lie that I was somehow crazy, or unworthy, or just really alone – because of my recurring weaknesses. I felt pretty ashamed sometimes.  BUT, struggling with a recurring weakness throughout life is completely different than returning to sin, and not ever fully repenting. Weakness can feel like sin because the consequences may affect our relationships and our ability to see things clearly, but it’s still not the same.  Wendy writes,

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 12.29.30 AM“Because we are weak, we cannot make every needed change all at once. As we humbly and faithfully tackle our human weakness a few aspects at a time, we can gradually reduce ignorance, make good patterns habitual, increase our physical and emotional health and stamina, and strengthen our trust in the Lord. God can help us know where to begin,” (“It Isn’t a Sin to Be Weak”, Ensign April 2015).

Paul never says what his “thorn in the flesh” was, only that he “besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from [him].” It wasn’t taken away. But Paul, who trusted God enough was still able to say, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me… for when I am weak, then am I strong,” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Perhaps more important than the size or nature of our weakness is the energy we exert in striving to overcome it. That, coupled with our application of the Savior’s grace, is a winning combination. Whether or not we overcome everything perfectly won’t matter as long as we’ve become something better, something stronger – in trying.

Thorns in the flesh,

are but stones to success.

For with Him, ALL things are possible, (Phil 4:13).

Good Grief

 

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“Society teaches us that having feelings and crying is bad and wrong. Well, that’s baloney, because grief isn’t wrong. There’s such a thing as good grief. Just ask Charlie Brown.” -Michael Scott, The Office

But seriously, can we talk about grief for a minute?

If you’re anything like me, you grew up thinking that grief was an emotion reserved only for those who lost someone to death. And rightly so.  But perhaps life experience has taught you there are many ways to suffer loss.

“Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.”            – Mark Twain

Some losses may be small and easily recovered. Others – life changing. I think about refugees who leave their countries, their homes, and sometimes their family  – most likely never to return.  I think of marriages that end in divorce, and the many losses incurred there.  I think of the aging process, and the loss of youth.  I think of the loss of health in it’s various forms.

To grieve may seem depressing, because it means acknowledging that something hard has happened. Things have changed.

But I learned something recently.  There really is such a thing as good grief.  In fact, I believe proper grieving can be therapeutic.  After an outburst of frustration and venting to my mother about a loss I didn’t understand, this inspired woman said to me:  I think you need to let yourself grieve over this.  I didn’t know how powerful that idea was.  Having someone to confide in while struggling or grieving, is priceless.

“Grief knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can; and common sufferings are far stronger links than common joys.” – Alphonse De Lamartine

Thanks to my mom, I began doing a little research.  I learned about the 5 stages of grief that are common for people to experience.  I learned about “grief triggers” – things you see in others, or experiences that remind you of what you’ve lost.  I learned that not everyone processes things the same way, or in the same amount of time – and that’s okay.  I learned that sometimes you’ll swing from acceptance to anger in the space of the same day, and that it’s important to have people in your life who understand that.

I often tell people that sometimes you just have to let yourself sit in the mud.  It’s important to allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel.  Get it out through talking or writing.  Express everything you feel in prayer – not just what you think God wants to hear.  And then, get up out of the mud and keep going.  The good news is, you’re stronger after you’ve gotten up.

“The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”

You’re becoming something beautiful as you work through hard experiences.  God is so anxious to help.  In coming to Him, you’ll be reminded of what really matters, and your grieving can be sweet and therapeutic.  Hopefully in the process you’ll catch a glimpse of what eternity is all about.

“All your losses will be made up to you in the resurrection, provided you continue faithful. By the vision of the Almighty I have seen it.”  – Joseph Smith

To avoid grieving is to avoid reaching a better place.  Perhaps you don’t want to grieve because you want to feel strong.  Perhaps you believe it just takes time and some grit to get through things.  But I’ll say it again – grieving can be sweet and therapeutic.  Only you can discover that.

Good grief – Charlie Brown was on to something!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Joy/Pain” spectrum

Analogies have served me well.  If I can form a picture in my mind, or make a new connection based on comparison, then tough concepts are easier to understand.  Lately, I’ve pondered on a new analogy, and it helps make clear some of my purpose in suffering.

I call this the “Joy/Pain” spectrum.

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In my mind’s eye, I see a rubber band stretched between two points – joy, and pain.  In a simple way it illustrates the idea that we need both points to stretch, to grow, and to progress.  A rubber band with only one point, would not stretch.  Likewise, without both points – joy and pain, we wouldn’t stretch, and we wouldn’t grow. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.  If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness…happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility,” (2 Nephi 2:11).

rubber band plain

No stretching, no growth.

Without their transgression, Adam and Eve would have been like a rubber band without either point.  No stretching, no growth, for “if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden…wherefore [Adam and Eve] would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery…” (2 Nephi 2:22-23, emphasis added).

Simple enough, right?  Why then is it so painfully difficult to experience life’s stretching effects? If I know this principle is true, then why does it still hurt when I hear bad news from the doctor?  Why does my heart ache when I see others moving easily into marriage, or expecting their 16th child?  (I know, I know, but that’s how it feels sometimes :)).

Perspective

It has everything to do with what we’re seeing.  In other words, perspective.  Let me illustrate.

As a child, the range of the “Joy/Pain” spectrum is small.  Something as simple as a lollipop, a bubble, or a new toy, can bring joy to a child. Conversely, watching a scoop of ice cream fall to the ground or losing a toy can be devastating.  The range is small.

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We may chuckle at the simple joys or insignificant losses, but we must remember that children can only express what they know of their world. We may look at them and think, “Oh if only you could see!  It’s not that hard to get a new scoop of ice cream!”  We may see what seems obvious, but obviously, they don’t.  Is it so far-fetched to think that there is a similarity between these children in their limited earthly perspective, and adults in their limited eternal perspective?   As we grow older, we experience great stretching.  What we consider “joyful” changes, as well as what we consider “painful”.

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Is the stretching worth it?

So now the question:  Is the stretching worth it?  Is it really better to rise from our ignorance and experience more?  What if all we seem to be seeing is the painful side of the spectrum?  Is it still worth the stretching?

Absolutely.

To know the dark side of pain and suffering is to have our capacity for joy and understanding stretched.  Napoleon Hill said it this way:  “Remember that every adversity has within it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”

Orson F. Whitney said it this way: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God, … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire” (quoted in Improvement Era, Mar. 1966, 211)

D. Todd Christofferson: “With confidence we testify that the Atonement of Jesus Christ has anticipated and, in the end, will compensate all deprivation and loss for those who turn to Him. No one is predestined to receive less than all that the Father has for His children,” (“Why Marriage, Why Family”, CR April 2015).

Spencer W. Kimball:  “If we look at mortality as a complete existence, then pain, sorrow and a short life could be a calamity. But if we look upon the whole of life in its eternal perspective stretching far into the premortal past and into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may have more meaning and may fall into proper place,” (Spencer W. Kimball, Tragedy or Destiny, Speeches of the Year (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1955), p 5). 

Finally, the Lord’s words to Adam and Eve were to “taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good,” (Moses 6:55).  He sees it all.  We are very much like the children who don’t see beyond our “vale of tears” to a much brighter future.  And that is very human.

I know better than ever that being stretched through experience is worth it.  This doesn’t mean I will ask for stretching hardships, but I’m catching glimpses of the their purpose.  My joy in things that matter most has deepened.  The quiet peace that comes from knowing what’s true has increased.  I appreciate simple things more than I used to.  I believe I will appreciate many things far more than I might have otherwise.  I know I don’t see it all perfectly right now, but the Lord will lead me on, and for now, that is enough.

The mask

Last week I boarded my first flight since the summer of 2012.  My mom and I flew to Oregon to visit my brother and his wife.  Because I’m still on immuno-suppresant medication, I opted to wear my mask to protect against unwanted germs, especially sitting in such a confined space.

mask

After finding my seat, mask in place, I was surprised at what I began to feel.  First of all, people surrounded me on every side.  Coughing from two rows back was loud and persistent.  And what I felt?  I felt SO protected.  The embarrassment of wearing a huge mask and looking like a freak didn’t really even phase me.  I was just so grateful to feel safe.  I leaned back, looked out the window, and sighed inwardly at knowing I was doing all I could to protect my body.

My thoughts haven’t always been so cuddly toward such an awkward facial accessory.  The stares, the whispers, and the questions during the early stages of being in public were never rude – simply uncomfortable when I just wanted so badly to blend in.  But this time, on the flight, I didn’t care if I didn’t blend.

As the flight prepared to take off, my mind was flooded with thoughts.  I was suddenly thinking about the parallel between this mask and something else … commandments.

Because I choose to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I also choose to follow commandments – laws given by God to protect and bless us. I believe not only the command to love and serve God, our fellowman, and keep the 10 commandments, but I also follow direction the Lord speaks through His modern prophets.  These prophets, like Moses, deliver counsel and instruction that can bless and protect us.

Anyone familiar with Mormons may have noticed most don’t drink alcohol or coffee, or smoke. They strive to remain chaste before marriage, keep their conversations clean, serve each other, study scriptures, pay tithing, and much more.  And it may appear awfully restrictive and demanding.  For some, it may seem embarrassing to live such a way. It might actually feel like wearing a gigantic mask on your face – being the only one not jumping in on the crude conversation, willing to watch or listen to something, be a social drinker, or mess around a little before marriage.

But I realized something as I sat there.  Just as it had become so clear how much I needed this mask, and how safe I felt — at some point, I believe it will become obvious that all of God’s commandments are protective. It will become clear that they bring peace. Like the practice of any good habit, we may not notice the importance or significance right away.  But somewhere, sometime, there will be a quiet moment where we get it.

This coming weekend, anyone interested in hearing inspired instruction on how to better live commandments, how to gain peace, and how to stay strong, is invited to listen to the words of modern prophets and apostles.  Visit lds.org to find out more.

Give me patience… now please!

Within the coming hours of this day, I’ll sit across a table from one of my oncologists for my one-year review. We’ll discuss what’s going well, what is still concerning, and where we go from here.

Sometimes I take enough of a step back to look at all this and wonder, “Whoa. When did THIS become my life? When did constant visits, concern about stunted hair growth, lung capacity, fertility, whether I can hold a normal job, meet someone who could love me through everything… when did this become my life?!”

I’ve told people that blasting leukemia out of a person’s body is somewhat like dropping a bomb on a target during war. Certainly it’s a victory to hit the target, but there is always collateral damage… innocent civilians killed, and other nearby structures left destroyed or barely standing. And the aftermath of war, for some, may be a greater battle than the war itself. Especially when you, a survivor, see skyscrapers and beautiful parks going up in neighboring cities… while trudging through rubble.

The point I’ve come to realize in my life is that if I wasn’t killed during the “war”, then there surely is a purpose for my survival. Even with all the wreckage, there is a reason I’m still here. And even though I can’t tell you specifically what all the reasons are, I’m learning to trust that there ARE reasons.

Of these “broken cities”, Isaiah, prophet and poet, speaks comfort: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings… to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes… they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities…” (Isaiah 61: 1, 3-4)

I trust Isaiah was on to something here.

Pondering these words helps crystallize my goal: It is to be patient with this process of rebuilding. It is to trust the Lord’s words and His ability to mend, rebuild, and eventually perfect things that are broken.

Can I be patient? Absolutely. There is only one source, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, that will help me grow my patience fully and properly. I’m grateful to have a relationship with the most perfect Teacher.

I have faith I will build and rebuild. In His way and in His time, I know there will be beauty for ashes.

How could I have known?

Sitting in a medical exam room Valentine’s Day of 2014, I was told my leukemia was back.  I had relapsed, and my heart broke.  Perhaps it broke most of all as I turned to see my angel mother weeping in despair.

The long drive home that day was quiet and somber.  I had just told Dr. Peterson in that dreadful meeting that I was still willing to “fight”, having no idea what that would entail.  I only knew that it would be hard, and that proceeding with treatment was an attempt to “throw a hail Mary pass”, according to Dr. Peterson.

As far as anyone could tell, Valentine’s Day was forever ruined.

Days blended into weeks, and weeks into months, and suddenly it was February again.  February 2015.  My nephew requested that I make his birthday cake for his celebration on the 13th, just as I had done a year ago.  I designed and decorated it, and we enjoyed a great party, just as we had the year before.  But following this year’s celebration, my parents, sister, and brother Bradley all got in the car and made our way to Idaho Falls.  That was the first difference. With my Grandpa Dutson’s 90th birthday approaching, a large celebration and open house was planned for him, to be held on February 14th.  Family members traveled hundreds of miles to be there. Long time acquaintances, neighbors, extended family, and friends all joined in honoring this amazingly humble and hard working man.  As the crowds of people kept filing into the church on Saturday, it was hard not to feel awfully proud knowing this was my grandpa.

Because so many had traveled so far, I got to see family I don’t get to see often.  We got to talk, and share, and listen and laugh together.  I sometimes forget that these good people have a connection with me that reaches waay back.  So many of them have watched me grow over decades. Somehow we can go years without seeing each other, and then open up as if no time has passed at all. And as if all that was not already good enough, the night ended playing ridiculous games with some of the most entertaining cousins this world has to offer.  I really can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard, felt so “normal”, and had so much fun.

The night ended, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of absolute contentment and satisfaction.

How could I have known one year ago how utterly perfect the following Valentine’s Day would be?  How could I have ever known that there was joy waiting for me, sweeter than my own imaginations?  Even though there have been many happy times and memories in the past year, I simply was not prepared for how absolutely wonderful this weekend would be.  Sitting somewhat blinded in the crucible of February 14th, 2014, I simply could not see all the good which was in store.

Is it not so with all of us at some point?  Do we not all sometimes see our current situations as never-ending, or as impossible to work through?  Certainly there is something to be said for holding fast to our trust in God — He will take care of us, even if we don’t have the ability to see when, or how He will do it. Additionally, there is something to be said for how precious the simple things become after passing through hard times.  Perspective changes.  Gratitude deepens.  People mean more.  Perhaps Napolean Hill was correct in saying that “…every adversity has within it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.”

As we drove home from Idaho, these perfect words, (a message from the Lord I believe) settled into my mind:

“…Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

How could I have known what he was preparing for me?  How could I know what He is yet preparing?  Perhaps while reading here you’ve felt a whisper of truth letting you know God is not only preparing great things for me.  He is a perfect Father to all His children – and clearly, that includes you my friend.