Friday, August 29, 2014

HARD=BAD?

The other night I was speaking to a dear friend who is going through some of the hardest things you can face in life.  I felt helpless in the face of her need.   This idea came to me.  Hard does not always mean bad.  Usually hard equals good...maybe not right away, but in the long term scheme of things.  Let me give a simple example.

My parents enrolled me in piano lessons at the tender age of five.  I was very, very excited.  It seemed magical being able to coax music from those white and black keys.  One of my earliest memories was pulling myself up to the piano, and being startled when I pushed a key and a note sounded.

My excitement soon waned in the face of practice.  My good Mother insisted that I spend 1/2 an hour every single day with the instrument.  This required self-discipline, a skill-set that I'm still struggling to master at the age of fifty-eight. 

My Mother was the Mistress of Motivation.  "Caroljoy, when you grow up you'll want to play for church.  You'll want to play for youth group.  You'll want to serve an LDS Mission, and they will need you to play the piano for the meetings." 

Most of the time practice was sheer drudgery.  I could NOT see the goal...it seemed far too far away! 

I never became a concert pianist.  On the other hand, I DID accompany people on my mission.  I have accompanied congregants as they sang.  I give direct credit to my Mama and my amazing piano teacher.  They both supported and encouraged me, even though what I was doing was HARD for me.

That particular HARD was actually very, very GOOD.  I gained a love and appreciation for the wonder of playing the piano, and being able to accompany others to sing.

At the time that seemed hard, but as my life has progressed I have faced many, many things that are MUCH HARDER.  The hardest challenge of MY life thus far was watching my beloved husband of twenty-seven years develope a virulent infection called Sepsis.  It took him four long days to die.  Keeping watch over him during this time stretched my soul to places I did not want to go!

Obviously that experience was HARD!  Most of it felt VERY BAD as well at the time.  With time comes perspective.  We were literally carried by our family and friends.  They brought us meals to the hospital.  They came with prayers and love.

 Nyle's brother died at forty-two from Sepsis.  His five children had no time to say good-bye to their beloved Dad.  Saying good-bye to their Uncle Nyle helped them heal.  

Our two daughters, and our neighborhood daughter had time to say good-bye.  The experience was the very definition of the word BITTERsweet. 

Is it possible to find good in hard?  IT IS!  Take ten minutes out of your life driven day.  Sit down and think about those hards that you are facing.  It will take courage, faith, and resilience to find joy when your world seems filled with challenge.  On the other hand, most of the hards in my life have helped me to grow, stretch, learn, and improve. 

The old axiom is the idea, "Do hard things make you BETTER or BITTER?"  If your answer is BITTER.  That is OK.  For a little while.  If you hang on to that bitterness, keep it tight to your heart, you will then spread it out to everyone in your sphere of influence.  You will not only make yourself miserable, but all those that love you.  Is this a lesson you want to teach by your example to your children, spouse, parents, siblings, etc. etc.? 

"By the inch its a cinch, by the yard it is hard."  If today is filled with really, really HARD things that border on BAD  give yourself a five minute pep talk.  Remind yourself of blessings in your life.  Even if the best blessing you can think of is that you got to go to the bathroom...ALL BY YOURSELF!  (No kids coming in, or plaintively calling out, "Mommy!")  Counting your blessings is one of the ways to make BITTER BETTER and HARD , GOOD!  Take small bites of the day, and keep moving forward.  You'll be surprised at how much easier HARD is in the short run than than focusing on the long run.

When all else fails quote this mantra to yourself five times, "I CAN DO HARD THINGS!" 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Grandma, I Hear the Crickets

The brick porch felt strong and substantial.  Sitting on a chair next to my Grandma I considered just how much I loved this tiny lady.  At ten years old I was already several inches taller than my almost five foot Grandma.  Tiny or not I always felt safe with Grandma.  It was obvious that Grandma was tiny in a physical sense.  It was also obvious to anyone who knew Grandma that she was powerful in every other way.

Grandma was given a terminal diagnosis when she was in her fifties.  Pernicious anemia, a genetic disorder, caused her body to stop assimilating the very important vitamin B12.  This was long before science discovered that B12 shots did the job that ingesting food no longer accomplished. 

Grandma did NOT wish to die.  She had many, many, more things she wanted to accomplish before her life was done.  Grandma went to the library.  She did research.  Health food stores were one of her favorite resources for information.  Gleaning through all of the ideas she discovered that grinding up raw liver, and blending it with Brewers Yeast, then eating it, forced her body to accept the B12.  I think I would rather DIE than eat RAW LIVER! 

Her husband died thirty years before she did.  Grandma did NOT quit living.  She stayed one night with her son and daughter-in law at their request and then she went home.  She said, "I'm not moving.  So I need to learn how to live alone.  I might as well do it now."  At that time her home was out in the country.  Nights were silent and alone.  Grandma simply faced what life had given her.

Now on her front porch we sat quietly for a space.  Then we would speak for a space.  The subject of our discussion has been lost to history.  The feeling of safety sitting there with my strong, sassy, spunky, little Grandma will last the rest of my life.  It was nearing the end of August.  I felt sad knowing that our summer chats on her porch were coming to an end.  Soon I would return to school.

School was a place of sorrow for me.  I NEVER felt safe at school.  I was bullied from the first day of first grade.  Grandma and her porch were my Sanctuary of Safety.  I listened to the evening sounds.  I wanted to remember these feelings for the harsh, dark, days of winter that were coming.

That ten year old child didn't understand that much later in life the sanctuary of her Grandma's porch would only be a memory.   She just knew that right then, that place, that time, she was safe, her Grandma loved her, and that was enough.

I'm fifty-eight now.  Grandma has long passed into immortality.  Yet tonight is late August, and the night music of the crickets bring her back to me!




A Dark Day Turned Light

Filled with fatigue Joy rode the tiny scooter in Walmart.  She had severe disc disease and other major health problems that made this scooter a real blessing for her.  Blessings seemed a great distance from her mind as she made her weary way.

This was the first Christmas in twenty-seven years that she had not spent with her beloved husband.  Joy believed that her husband embodied all the joyous celebration that Christmas should hold.  He had actually played the part of "The ghost of Christmas Present," in a professional production of "The Christmas Carol," for several years. 

Scooter slow she passed what seemed liked infinite aisles filled with items that normally would have brought her Holiday Cheer.  She swallowed a giant lump in her throat.  Tears began to spring into her eyes. 
 
Joy tried very, very hard to focus on the blessings that were left in her life.  Two beautiful daughters twenty-three and twenty-five were up towards the top of her gratitude list.  Her beloved ninety-three year old Mother was also at the top on that list.  Thanks were extended to God for her belief that she would be together with Nyle when her life was finished. 

This was the first.  The first Christmas without her beloved husband, Nyle.  He had died the year before on January 11.  He was desperately ill during his last Christmas.  Still he had found ways to bring joy to all of us his family.

The leaden sorrow that seemed to stab at her soul forced any feelings of joy or celebration away.  Christmas lights and ornaments appeared as cruel reminders of what she had lost.  Her tears spilled over creating two pathways of pure silver sorrow on her cheeks.  How would she carry on Nyle's traditions that made Christmas so important in their family?  When he passed she was only left with a teeny, tiny Social Security Disability income.  She was ever so grateful to have at least that, but it was far from enough for necessities, never mind the added expenses of Christmas.

Now a quiet sob or two joined the tears.  Joy was determined to buy a few groceries in spite of her flowing tears.  Her cupboard was bare.  She tried to just look straight ahead.  Losing her composure in a public place was humiliating to her.  It was bad enough that she needed help financially, she didn't wish to need emotional help as well!

Then out of seemingly nowhere a young woman stood in front of her.  The woman was holding a cherubic three year old boy by the hand.  I did not know the woman.  I had never seen her before.  With an enormous grin she said, "I need to give you this." 

As quickly as she had appeared, she disappeared into the busy, bustling, crowds of Christmas time.  Dumbfounded, Joy looked at the envelope.  Slowly she opened it.  Inside were two crisp twenty dollar bills, and one crisp ten dollar bill.  $50.00?  Joy tried to see the young woman to thank her, but she was gone. 

So was Joy's load of sorrow.  She still desperately longed for her husband, Christmas was not assured by $50.00, but her heart had been filled with the most important part of Christmas.  The most precious gift that her husband had always brought to Christmas was to remember God's love.  This selfless gift from a young stranger to an grieving woman was just what Joy needed to remind her that God's love was NOT gone.  Neither was the joy that her husband taught her.

Whistling "Joy to the World," her favorite Christmas song, Joy went her way.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

You Might Want to Back Up a Step or Two To Read This Post!

I'm ANGRY!  Not lower case angry but upper case, bold, angry!   Some of God's brightest, funniest of humans are giving up on life!  Robin Williams had one of the shiniest, rawest, brightest of talents.  Using these gifts he brightened up the world that we live in.  So why am I angry?  He didn't HAVE TO DIE!  I realize that in stating this it sounds like I'm judging him.  No, I'm speaking from an entirely selfish point of view.  I want him to still be here on this planet with us. 

I want to stand on a tall arch somewhere and have the capability to scream to the world, "DON'T KILL YOURSELF!"  I am the survivor of a few things.  The worst, the very soul shakiing worst was Clinical Depresion.  I reached a point where the color had been sucked out of the world, leaving only gray...not even black and white.  I couldn't even get out of my bed to go to the bathroom for hours and hours.  Finally, desperate for that relief, I would force myself up...and walk step by grueling step into the bathroom.  (It was about 6 or 7 feet away from my bed.)

I do NOT wish to display the hubris of saying that I understand what anyone else's personal voyage into Hell is like.  I do know a few things...DEPRESSION LIES!  It says, "The world would be better off without me.  It also says, "I'M A BURDEN TO MY FAMILY AND EVERYONE THAT I KNOW."

I wish that my beloved nephew who killed himself at 28 could have first seen how desperately we all miss him.  I wish he could have known how sad that he would be watching his wife and 1 year old daughter, from Heaven, struggle and fight to make their way through life WITHOUT HIM!

My nephew was brilliant, a genius.  Perfection was not a goal, it was a driving need.  How I wish that I could have said, "Honey, life is MESSY, but it's important!"  I wish he had shared his desperation so that we, his family could have surrounded him with loving support as he battled back through the battlefield that is mental health challenge.

I want to give a perspective.  I know anyone that reads my blog may be very, very tired of hearing me use myself and my sweetheart as examples.  We were and are ever so far from perfect.  I found my honey very inspirational, but he once said, "I would like to inspire somebody, not for my multiple health issues, but for my talents, and my abilities."  I feel the same.  I use our example because it is what I know, and feel comfortable sharing.

I was deathly ill as a child.  I was born with almost no immune system, allergic to pretty much every substance on the planet.  I literally heard doctors whisper around my bedside, "She's not going to live very long."  When I thought of growing up, I had the traditional wish to be a Wife and Mommy.  Actually my greatest wish was simply TO GROW UP!

As odd as it sounds I'm very grateful for the perspective that I gained as I lay in that bed fighting just to breathe.  I learned how very, very precious life is, EVEN IN THE WORST OF CIRCUMSTANCE.

I once went to a production of "Spoon River Anthology."  One quote has stayed with me for the some 30 years since then.  The play is about people who have lived and died in a tiny town.  They come out of their graves (Not Zombie's, come on who thought that?)  and share a condensed life sketch.  The one that has blessed my life ever since was a woman who gave birth to eight children, and worked beside her beloved husband on a rough farm that yielded more heart ache than plant life.  To make things more complicated she was born with a heart defect.  She faced death every time she gave birth, and many times just going about living.  I'm paraphrasing this part.  When my heart started tremoring so hard that I couldn't work in the field I would lie down on God's earth.  I would feel the pulse of that earth beating into my heart.  Soon I would feel stronger and able to help my husband.  (Here comes my quote.)  "Degenerate sons and daughters, LIVE IS TOO STRONG FOR YOU!"

When does life lose its worth?  When we are deathly ill, when the worst in life has happened to us, (maybe what we PERCEIVE as the worst), does that completely remove the worth of life?

Nyle and I decided that we wanted a third child.  He was very ill, bed bound at this point.  A doctor saw on Nyle's chart that we were doing things to help us conceive.  He said, "Mr. Smith, with your medical history and current list of medical struggles do you really think that you should be creating a child?"

Nyle became his strongest Lawyer self.  He said, "Doctor are you saying that because of my health problems, MY LIFE HAS NO VALUE?"

The Doctor was quiet for a moment and then he said, "Mr. Smith I believe that I spoke incorrectly.  I apologize."

When does life lose worth?  When I was a desperately ill child, did my life have value?  When I struggled just to breathe, was that experience worthless?

In my grayest days of depression I finally reached a point where I realized that it was up to me to find a way out of my gray.  I did NOT kill myself.  After my early life experience I realized that life is precious EVEN IN THE WORST OF SITUATIONS!   I knew that my life had too much worth for suicide.  I did private research with any and all things that I could access.  I went to the doctor (she had been trying to convince me to use pharmaceuticals for four years).  I finally went to her and humbly said, "HELP!"  She did.  She explained that the medication would take 4 to 6 weeks to take effect. 

TWO DAYS LATER, I woke up to a whole new world.  I looked across my room and saw a picture on the wall.  It was so colorful, so bright.  I thought, "I'm going to get up and wash my dishes."  Then I thought, "Wait, what?  I HATE washing dishes."  Somehow the impossible to do seemed not only possible, but satisfying.  I felt JOYOUS about my possibilities for the day.

My first thought was, "Wait is this medicine making me high?  High to me refers to the drug induced mania that was prominent in the 1960s and 1970s.  Then I realized, "No, I'M back!."

I felt like my soul fit in my skin again.  I'm certain that most people thought I had lost my mind because I kept telling everyone, "I'm back.  I feel like ME again."  Mental health can strip away the essence of who you are.  In fact it usually does.

Now I'm going to ask the million dollar question, "You have a debilitating illness or two, now top that dynamic with a layer of mental health issues.  Of course you lose your interest in living!  That does NOT mean however, that life has become less precious.  Hang on with me in that thought for a moment.  Can life be precious when you are faced with a seemingly endless parade of struggle? 

Of course, this is an extremely personal decision.  I don't wish to categorically say, "My way is right, yours is wrong!"  I just wish with all of my heart to shed some light into very dark places.  Life is ever so precious.  From my childhood, just being able to breathe freely is a precious gift.

Please, please, please, before you make that all too permanent decision to end your life, try medication, visit a counselor, clergyperson, or find a support group.  If you done all these steps and nothing has helped, do NOT give up.  Sometimes it takes time to find answers.  It took me four stubborn years to fight my way through the gray.  Volunteer, volunteer....for special Olympics, a homeless shelter, a free clinic, on, on and on.  It is virtually impossible to give to others without gaining benefit for yourself.

OK...my initial anger has dissipated.  The problem is that like an ocean wave crashing on the beach as it has drawn away, it has left the debris of sorrow.  Sorrow that I feel for the families left behind, for all those who face the emptiness of living without.  When my husband was bedbound for almost three years he once said to me, "I'm just a drain on all of you my family.  You would all be better without me."

I tried to be calm as I said, "Honey you are the heartbeat of our home, our family!  I don't want you to suffer and be miserable, but just by BEING HERE, you bless all of us."  It was no stretch of the imagination.  He WAS  a blessing always to his daughters and to me. 

Please, oh please, our planet needs all of us!  If you are fighting depression DON'T GIVE UP!  REACH OUT INSTEAD!  If someone you know or love is battling this crippling illness, REACH OUT!  WE ALL NEED YOU!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Our First Favorite Child

Five year old Ardis Kay held the syringe carefully between two young hands.  She eased the insulin up from the bottle.  Then ever so carefully she injected the medicine into her Father's arm.  Finished she would be pulled into his loving arms.  She also would be praised for learning to do a necessary task.

Ardis Kay didn't feel sorry for herself.  Giving her Papa a shot was just something that she did because she loved him.  She knew that if he did not treat his diabetes it would escalate making him very ill.  Emergency need for food also was a fact of her household.  Sometimes with no reason her Father's blood sugars would plummet towards unconsciousness and death.  Then she would run to pour a bowl of cereal and put lots of sugar on it.

She also learned how to help her Mama when she battled her migraine headaches.  Ardis was quick to run and get an ice pack to help relieve Mama.

Ardis witnessed that her Father earned an undergraduate degree in his late 20's and early 30's.  He then went on to gain a Juris Doctorate, or Doctorate of Law.  He graduated with the special honor of receiving the "Cornelius Honor Award."  He achieved this goal and then worked, first in a Family Law office then as Associate Dean of Career Services, at Lewis and Clark, Northwestern School of Law.  He did all of this while he battled with diabetes, degenerative spinal disease, a malignant tumor in his right eye,  and the need for knee joint replacement.

Ardis had never known a different life.  Content and secure in the love of her parents Ardis Kay also had a charmed life.  Education was a priority in her family.  At the tender age of two she was taught how to use a computer.  Her Papa set her up with educational games to play.  She played them voraciously.

When other children her age were attending first grade Ardis tested at two levels higher than her peers.  She was tested because her birth date fell eighteen days past the deadline.  Public education in America sets a deadline.  In Oregon at that time if you were born one day past September 1st you  had to take a test.  Ardis Kay did not know that she was required to test two years ahead to attend first grade instead of repeating kindergarten. (She had attended a private kindergarten which the public school system did not recognize.)  She took the test for several hours.  When she finished she bounced out of the testing center giggling and said, "That was fun.  Mama, Papa, may I take the test again tomorrow?"

At that moment her Papa and I knew that Ardis was going to spend her life devouring knowledge as though it was dripping with chocolate.  In a parent teacher conference her teacher said that she had given an assignment to the class.  She told them three different ways they could choose to approach the task.  Ardis came to her and said, "May I do this all three ways?"  Ardis' love of gaining education made her a teacher's dream.

The person in public education responsible for the decision of what grade to place the child in, based on a child's test scores, called me.  In a cool and dispassionate manner she explained to me that she had decided that Ardis Kay would NOT be admitted to first grade.  Continuing she said, "I have no doubt that Ardis would do just fine until fifth grade.  At that point the other children will surpass her socially.  This will cause her great difficulty throughout Junior High School and especially in High School."

I said, "Ardis is only eighteen days younger than some of her classmates.  How is it possible that she can test two years ahead of all her peers in every subject but one, (she merely tested a year and one half ahead in that topic) and you think that moving forward will socially damage her?  My husband and I believe that stifling her intelligence by making her repeat kindergarten would be far more damaging to her!"

The woman would simply not budge.  She waxed on and on with pedantic drivel.  Nyle and I decided to place Ardis in a kindergarten/first grade split level class, again in a private school, but this time it was state certified.  Ardis tested at a third grade level at the end of that school year.

Ardis graduated from private school at the fifth grade level.  She then attended middle school in a public magnetic school of the arts.  When it was time for High School she shocked us by wanting to attend a school that had a specialty math and science program.  In addition this High School was the only one that taught Latin in Portland.  It's easy to see by her successful shift from the arts to math and science that Ardis is incredibly well rounded.

Ardis would attend this High School for most of the day.  At the end of her school day she was bused to a special dance program.  She danced five times a week for an hour and 45 minutes.  For one of the years she attended High School she also attended an after school Latin class.

Ardis was never socially awkward.  She made friends easily and enjoyed friendships, many of which survive to this day.

After graduating from Brigham Young University as the Valedictorian of the History Department, Ardis continued her education.  She earned her Master's Degree at Cambridge University, in Cambridge England which is frequently counted as the number one University in the world.

Ardis is a well balanced woman.  She is brilliant but she is also very adept at working with people.  Her background of helping with both of her parents physical challenges gives her a unique quality of empathy.  She embodies well a quote that comes from the musical Oklahoma.  The line is sung by the character, Aunt Eller.  "I may not be no better than anybody else, but I'll be damned if I ain't just as good."

After Ardis beloved Dad died at the age of fifty-four, she again stepped up to the challenge.  When Nyle died, I was left with very little income, and lots and lots of medical needs and bills.  She moved from her beloved downtown, urban apartment on the 7th floor, into a small town, so that her disabled Mom with very little income could live with her.

Not only does she work hard to help support me, but she will often put a random amount of money in my bank account and then call and say, "Mom go out to lunch with one of your friends.  Or, Mom, go get a hair cut, and a treat of some type.  This is money that SHE could be using for her own needs and wishes.

Ardis is deeply spiritual.  When she was in middle school I passed her room one day and saw her kneeling by her bed pouring out her heart in prayer.  Many times I found her reading her scriptures.  She inspired me to spend more time praying, and studying the words of God.

She doesn't just respect our religion but she sees the light and goodness of other faiths as well.  Ardis was named for her Paternal Grandma.  I know that if Grandma Ardis is watching her from Heaven she is really, REALLY proud of her namesake!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Do YOU Stand For?

Katie Perry is a singer/songwriter of the Pop genre here in the United States.  She has done a couple of songs that I very much enjoy.  One is called Fireworks.  We all have the capacity to be like fireworks and light the sky with our life choices.

Another one is called "Eye of the Tiger."  There is a line is this song that has just been stuck in my head for the last two days.  "I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything."  This song is about facing hard things and fighting our way out.

I personally relate to this lyric.  I have done lots of fighting throughout my lifetime. I was born a severe asthmatic with virtually no immune system.  I was allergic to about every earth substance including most foods.  My parents were told that I would not survive past two years of age.

There have been many, MANY trials and challenges in my life.  There has also been an enormous multiplicity of blessings.  I was born to loving, fighting, strong parents.  My brother and sister adored me.  My church group was always supportive of me.  Recognizing my blessings even while fighting my battles has helped me to fight to the age of fifty-eight.  Take that doctors who said I wouldn't make it!

Turning back from me to you, "What do YOU stand for?"  I don't necessarily mean literally.  There are things that I stand for in a literal sense.  My Papa fought in World War II.  He taught me that the flag of our country represents our ideals, our strengths, and our hopes for the future.  I stand when a flag is brought in to any type of community gathering, or when it is marched down the street in a parade.

Now to think of figurative ways of standing.  My husband and I were blessed with two amazing daughters.  We worked hard to instill positive values in them.  I'm speaking of values such as, respect for God, themselves, and humanity.  

Respect is the forerunner of another positive value, gratitude.  Sometimes it's very difficult to see that there are things to be grateful for.  These are the times when we must look harder.  Counting your blessings helps you to see those blessings in your life.  I speak of blessings even as small as the darkness of night to give our bodies renewal.  There are ALWAYS blessings to count. 

We taught our girls many, many values.  Trying to teach these values by example pressed us, their parents, to do better, and to be better.  We did our best to teach them to "Stand for SOMETHING.'
The lyric in Katie's song says, "I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything." 

Can we fall for everything even when we're doing our best to stand for something?  It's a fact that we will fall many times in life.  Yes, even when we are doing our level best to stand for something!  It is ever so much better to fall when we are reaching for the heights of healthy values then it is to never even attempt to stand for positive purpose.  The quote that I appreciate is, "It is better to reach for the stars and miss than to reach for the gutter and hit."

I've used a lot of words to express my feelings about this subject.  Sometimes words sit flat upon a page.  They can bore us to tears.  (Of course, my words never fall in that category...tee hee.)  I hope that today the part of my words that you remember is to STAND UP!  Meditate and discover what values, dynamics, goals, and dreams that you feel are worth standing for...and then STAND!