Friday, September 22, 2017

When The Dam Breaks

June 5, 1976 began as a typical day. It was a Saturday and I was scheduled to work a shift at the drugstore my dad managed in Ashton, Idaho. As such, I quickly prepared for the day and headed to work later that morning. 

My duties at the store included stocking shelves, working in the old-fashioned soda fountain, and waiting on customers. It was good job for a fifteen-year-old, and I enjoyed it, most of the time. I worked with awesome ladies and the days passed quickly. This particular day proved to be one of the craziest any of us had ever faced.

That afternoon, people began flooding into the store. My dad had been listening to the radio while working in the pharmacy and he told us that the Teton Dam had collapsed and people were running scared, seeking higher ground. We were one of the few stores in the small town of Ashton, and it seemed that within minutes, we were wall to wall with people who were frantically buying up everything in sight. We sold out of first aid supplies, diapers, and anything else these people thought would come in handy. Most had fled immediately from their homes to find safety and only had what they had grabbed on the way out. I remember how frightened most of them appeared and we did our best to help them as they searched for basic supplies.

We were so swamped, it didn’t dawn on me for quite a while that we had relatives caught in the flood’s violent path. When the dam collapsed, a wall of water rushed toward the communities in its way. It was rumored that around 13,000 livestock perished—my horse was among those lost. An uncle had kept it pastured with his horses and I was later told that my appaloosa colt was forced through a barbwire fence. The thought of that haunted me for a long time.

Fourteen people died that day as a result of the flood. We should count our blessings that more didn’t perish in the disaster. Roads were washed away, homes were destroyed, telephone lines were down, and it would take an agonizing time for us to learn that our family who lived in the area had survived. 

My paternal grandmother lived in a house in Roberts with one of my uncles. We were told that she had refused to evacuate, intent on saving her home. She opened the back door and the front door, then climbed onto the back of her couch and had a front row seat to the water that came rushing through. It entered through one door and exited the other on its way to merge with Snake River. 

Another uncle’s home was destroyed as the flood water reached his place in Menan.  He and his family were among those who later received a FEMA trailer to live in while a new home was built. 

We were told that many people in the area headed to the higher ground of Ricks College when the flood took place. This small university became a safe haven where people gathered in the buildings for shelter. Food was prepared in the cafeteria to feed the 2000 people who had fled immediately to this location. 

Nearly 10,000 people stood on the hills above Rexburg and watched as the flood waters tore their community to shreds. The water had picked up large logs from a nearby sawmill and the lumber quickly became battering rams that destroyed homes and businesses throughout the area. Some struck a local gas station and caught fire in the resulting explosion. 

We came down as a family as soon as we were allowed in the area to help our relatives who had survived this tragedy. My father had recently purchased a four wheel drive Chevy Suburban and I know it helped us maneuver through road conditions that were nearly non-existent. It’s difficult to put into words the devastation I saw that day. My high school, North Fremont, often competed in sporting activities with the teams located in Sugar City. I had traveled to this small town quite often. I was stunned to see that it was totally annihilated. Miles of mud and debris littered what used to be a town. The smell was horrific. Combine swampy mud with dead animals and it’s a scent you don’t soon forget.

I later learned that the Idaho National Guard came into the area to clear roads, rebuild bridges, and to bury the dead animals. College students volunteered hours of service to aid those who had sought shelter at the small university in Rexburg. It was estimated that over 4,000 people were fed meals in the early days of the restoration effort. Volunteers from all over the state and nation came to help in the massive clean-up that took place. 

As we drove through the area, I was amazed to see how random some of the destruction was. One house would be totally obliterated, while another would be standing as though nothing had happened. For the most part, though, the devastation was overwhelming.

When we reached our grandmother’s home, we carefully exited the Suburban. Mud was everywhere. I already mentioned the smell. We made our way inside the house where my grandmother and uncle were already shoveling out the mud that had been deposited throughout the small home. We worked with them for hours to try to salvage what could be saved. I didn’t think we would ever get all of that mud scrubbed clean, but eventually, it began to look like Grandma’s home again.

In the days, weeks, and years that followed, it was amazing to see how people worked together to restore all that was lost. So many unsung heroes stepped forward to help in any way that they could. It was an experience that I’ve never forgotten, and one that comes to mind each time an act of devastation takes place.

Recently, we’ve been inundated with disasters all over the world, including here in the United States. Hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, earthquakes . . . the list goes on and on. Our hearts and prayers go out to anyone touched by these tragic events—and we all do our best to help in any way that we can.

It has been my observation that during stressful times like these, we often see the best in people as they strive to help those around them. We pull outside of ourselves to offer aid and solace to those who have lost so much. Selfishness and pride are left by the wayside as we roll up our sleeves to serve others. It’s sad that it sometimes takes a disaster for us to realize what is really important. 

My suggestion at the moment—take the time to ponder the great blessings we enjoy. Look deep inside your heart and consider what it is you can do to help those who are suffering. It is often the simple things that mean the most. I heard of one young lady who traveled up to Idaho after she learned what had taken place following the collapse of the Teton Dam. She had thoughtfully brought clean water in containers to share with those who had nothing to drink. Something that simple brought relief to those who burned with thirst. 

So on this day, push aside trivial concerns, roll up your sleeves, and see how much good you can accomplish for those who have lost everything. Not only will these acts of service go a long way toward helping others, but you’ll notice that a sense of peace will fill your heart as you serve. And in the end, isn't that what it's all about?!

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Matter of Faith

We live in a crazy time. Everywhere we look there is so much going on, in every direction. The news is filled with stories that tear at our hearts. Disasters are taking place all over the world. Evil is rampant. And in our own lives, emotional, physical, and mental chaos seems to reign supreme. How can we survive when all we know appears to be turning inside out and upside down?

I’ve asked this question before. This isn’t the first time things appeared to be going less than well. In one year (1983 to be exact) several things hit the fan at approximately the same time. For example, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Finally. After months of not knowing why I felt like walking death, I finally had a diagnosis. During months of frustration I had been told things like: “You possibly have a brain tumor.” Then there was the theory, “Wait, we now think you have a form of epilepsy.”

To be fair,Type 1 diabetes is a difficult condition to pin down. Until it fully dies, the pancreas still functions enough to disguise what is really going on. It didn’t help that by then, my husband and I were expecting our first child. Everything they presented for us to try, would affect our unborn child. It was a perilous time. One of the things that kept me going was the promise I was given during a priesthood blessing that all would be well. I clung to that hope. But there was a catch, I was told that all would be well, according to my faith.

There was that word again. It was a word that would haunt me for several years. Faith. It bothered me at first because I had no idea what it meant. The first time I heard it, I was a mixed up teen. Things were bad at home, and questions of who I was, and what this life was all about really bothered me. It wasn’t always easy for me to attend church meetings, but I often found that I felt peace inside whenever I did. So I risked the lectures I would later receive from a father who was going through his own personal hades to try to figure out for myself what was true.

That is and always has been a key to developing faith. And it is an uphill battle. I believe it was meant to be that way. If something is easily attained, it doesn’t mean as much to us. But because it took everything I had to give and then some to gain my own personal testimony of what is true, it means more to me than I will ever be able to share. I did not lean on anyone else’s beliefs. My testimony had come at such a personal cost, it was something I treasured. I had slogged through the mire of doubt, persecution, and heartache to learn for myself what this life is all about. 

I ache for those who are going through a similar quest, and yet, I also find myself secretly cheering, because I know in the end, after all of the questions have been asked, after a perilous journey across a jagged desert of unbelief, inner pain, and turmoil that is difficult to put into words, the sweet relief of living water will make up for any discomfort, trial or pain.

I will never forget what I felt the night all of the pieces of the puzzle that was my life finally came together. The witness I experienced was so strong, it has held me together through countless trials. Case in point—it helped me survive the turmoil of 1983. As I already mentioned, it was a difficult time. I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic and was told that I would be giving shots of insulin the rest of my life. Alrighty then—that was a bit of a challenge, but knowing I was a daughter of God with unlimited access to His help would see me through.

My father’s mental state at that time wasn’t good. Daily I received heart-wrenching phone calls from him as he assured me I was a terrible person if I didn’t give up my current church calling and focus on my health and the health of my unborn child. These phone calls took a toll, and eventually, toward the end of that challenging pregnancy, I went to my bishop and explained the situation. He decided to temporarily release me from teaching my Primary class, and though I felt horrible about that for a long time, it did ease a bit of what I was going through.

The promise I had been given came through, and our first child was born healthy and strong. It had been a rough delivery. He was a high breech baby and after one day of trying to turn him around, the doctors gave up and did an emergency c-section. We learned the hard way that I didn’t react well to the pain medication I was given before the surgery. I felt the entire thing. But once they start a c-section, there is a short window of time to deliver the baby, so they continued. My mother later told me how grey I looked when they brought me back to my hospital room. She was afraid I wasn’t going to make it.

Things continued to go horribly wrong. I developed a series of blood clots in one leg, and my baby boy was sent home without me a few days later. I would remain in the hospital for at least 10 more days on blood thinner IV’s as they tried to save my life. It was a scary time. The thing that got me through was my faith in God. My faith in the testimony I had worked so hard to secure. I knew my life was in the hands of my Heavenly Father. I knew I was His daughter and that He loved me. I trusted in Him to help me endure.

That first night, as I lay quietly in my hospital bed doing my best to remain in mortal mode, I was given a priesthood blessing by two young LDS men who didn’t know me. I stress that in part because of a promise I was given. Not only was I promised I would survive, but I was also told my Father in heaven knew what was going on with my parents and all would be well. I didn’t need to worry about them. This was such a relief since my mother and younger sisters were busy taking care of my newborn son while my husband returned to work, and my brother was miles away trying to help our father through each difficult day.

That blessing hit me hard. I was in a large hospital far from my Idaho home and had just been given peace of mind concerning the very thing I was worrying about by two young men who had no idea what was going on in my life. It was a witness to me that my Father in heaven knew and understood my concerns. 

So I endured 10 very difficult days with as much courage as I could muster. Among other challenges, the nurses had to do everything for me. I joked that I couldn’t even blow my own nose, but it was true. They were fighting to save my life. A lady in similar circumstances had died right outside my hospital room as a clot hit her heart. They were determined not to lose me, too. So I was handled with kid gloves until I was well enough to return home.

It was still a challenging time as I tried to care for a newborn while on crutches. It would take a couple of months for me to be able to walk around without their help as my leg healed. And just as I was getting back on my feet, my father took his own life.
I felt so betrayed! Hadn’t I been promised that all would be well? All was not well!!! All was horrible and hard and a nightmare!!! And yet, when I pushed the pain aside, in my heart of hearts, I still knew what was true. On my knees, enduring inner turmoil that ripped me apart, my testimony still lay . . . in tatters . . . but it was there all the same. It would prove to be the glimmer of hope that would hold me together despite all we were enduring.

It would take a long time for me to realize how truly watched over our family had been. In Dad’s confused state, it would have been very easy for him to have taken other family members out with him. But it didn’t happen. We were watched over and protected in ways we’re still figuring out. Miracles transpired that kept us all going. I will never be able to say that we were ignored by heaven. We were surrounded by angels who eased our way and helped us through. Some were of the mortal variety like the couple who offered to pay for my brother’s mission a few months later. Some were on the other side of the veil, very possibly loved ones who watched over us in a myriad of ways.

Through it all, my testimony survived. The faith I had worked so hard to attain kept me going. Sometimes it was minute by minute, but it glimmered with hope for a better day.

So back to this current time. Things are difficult. All is not well, and yet, if we’ll dig down deep to the roots of the tree of life as my mother once saw in a very vivid dream, we will survive. Ask your questions. Rant and rave and throw yourselves.Then hit your knees in sincere prayer. Pray to know what is really true and remain on your knees until the answers come. They will come. I know that with everything that I am. Remember always the importance of nourishing that testimony once it flickers into existence. Never allow it to wither and die.

My heart contains many scars, but it also holds tight to a shining diamond of truth that keeps me going on even the most difficult day. To paraphrase Joseph Smith, “How can I deny what God knows that I know?” I can’t. It’s everything I am. Despite difficulties, human nature, and the uncertainty of the future, I still cling to truth, faith, and hope. When it’s all said and done, I know that climbing this particular mountain is worth all of the effort it takes to reach the summit. And the view will be worth the sacrifice it took to make the climb.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Truly Dark & Stormy Night

I haven’t written anything for a while. This is due in part because several difficult events collided in my life the past few months. Among other things, I’ve spent the past 3 months helping my mother. She landed in ER one night the end of April and we nearly lost her. We thought she was suffering from a stroke. It turned out that her electrolytes were dangerously low, especially her sodium level. Who knew that something that sounds quite simple could be so devastating?!

When her sodium level plummeted, the cells of her body filled with fluid. The symptoms mimicked a stroke and she has spent the past 3 months regaining strength, agility, and her memory. For a few weeks, she stayed with us after being released from the hospital. During this time we did our best to help her recuperate. Physical therapy came in a couple of times a week to help her, as did wonderful Home Health nurses as my very determined mother fought her way back to a sense of normalcy. We were assured that in time, she would probably make a full recovery. This gave us an important hope to cling to on challenging days.

We found ourselves rejoicing in small victories, like mastering how to use a cane, and seeing bits and pieces of my mother’s personality resurface. In time she impressed the nice physical therapy people, and they released her from their care. As she recovered, we all realized the next step was to ease her back into her normal routine, and so we loaded her up and moved her back to her nearby apartment where she could relearn daily skills that most of us take for granted, like using the television remote, and the phone. I found myself reliving the emotions that went with sending our kids off to college. Was she ready for this? Had we taught her all she needed to know? True, I was only a phone call away, but it was still a bit of an adjustment.

I came in each morning to help her get ready for the day and to make sure meals, meds, and exercises were on track. Again, it was a challenging time that consumed numerous hours. The first few ventures into public realms, like the local grocery store, were entertaining as we worked on rebuilding strength and social skills. Friends and family members often called to check on the progress being made, and some were disappointed to find that Mom wasn’t quite back 100% yet. 

We learned that it was a miracle that she had survived. We were told that younger people had died when their sodium level wasn’t as low as Mom’s had been. This knowledge put things into perspective as others not acquainted with all we were dealing with continued to offer interesting advice.

We are seeing the light at the end of this particular tunnel. Mom’s memory is improving by leaps and bounds. She is acting more and more like herself, and her stamina has increased greatly. I count blessings daily, grateful for her example of perseverance, determination, and courage. She has faced yet another character building moment with considerable grace and fortitude. 

Imagine waking up in a hospital setting, unable to move, or remember much of anything, dependent on others for the most basic human needs. I will probably never forget the look of terror on her face the first few days, as my siblings and I did our best to help her reclaim her life.

She is indeed the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” as we have often called her during other challenging events. Hopefully her tendency to never give up will influence the rest of us to hang in there during these taxing latter days. We are all being stretched in some manner. None of us are immune to difficult trials that often descend without warning. How grateful I am for the tender mercies we saw on almost a daily basis, items that helped us know we weren’t alone in facing an overwhelming test. None of us know what the days ahead will bring, but it helps to know that prayer is real, faith soothes inner wounds, and our Father’s love dispels fear on even the darkest night.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Perced to the Roote

Our mother is a gifted woman. She can still quote lines from poetry and classics that she learned years ago in school. One of my favorite lines is the title of this blog post. Mom was always very dramatic and entertaining when she quoted those lines from The General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. As kids, we thought it great fun to use that particular line whenever we felt that we were critically wounded. I actually felt like I was pierced to the root of my being one day during the middle of my first grade year.

There I was, minding my own business, sitting quietly in front of my teacher’s desk. My desk had been moved next to hers in the hopes that I would somehow pull out of the shyness I had slipped into. If you read last week’s post, you will note that I had my reasons for withdrawing into a shell of silence. 

Our teacher was up at the front of the room, reading us a story as she did every day after lunch break. While she was doing that, we were supposed to staple our papers together. The large stapler had been handed to the student at the opposite end of the room. It was one of those old-fashioned heavy gadgets made out of steel. It terrified me. I had never used a stapler before, let alone a humongous thing like that. I had no idea how to staple my papers. In my defense, I was only six years old. Keep that in mind.

I frantically watched as the students in the row next to mine successfully placed their papers together and stapled them without any problem. Taking a deep breath, I assured myself that when the time came, I could do the same thing. That moment finally arrived. Since I was the student closest to our teacher’s desk, I was the last one to use the mighty stapler. Following the example I had observed, I organized my papers, then, placing the stapler over one corner, I hit it with all of the strength I could muster. I failed to realize the importance of moving my tiny thumb out of the way until it was too late. Instead of adhering my pages together, I managed to bury a rather large staple into the nail of my thumb. Since my fingers were so small, the points of the sharp staple penetrated my thumb and stuck out the other side.

In severe pain, I was also mortified. To my credit, I didn’t make a peep. Remember, I was terrified of my teacher, and the last thing I wanted was to bring attention to myself. Instead, as my poor thumb throbbed, I did my best to remove the staple. I grabbed the only tool I could find in my desk, a number two pencil. I pried as best I could, but only succeeded in making my thumb bleed worse than it already was.

Glancing up, I noticed that the row I was in lined up perfectly with the door to our classroom. A plan came to mind: I would crawl under the desks and run out of the classroom, certain that no one would notice. Then I could hurry down to the girls’ restroom and try to fix my problem. Gathering my courage, I crawled down under my desk and began my journey out of the room.

My plan worked as I had hoped, I made it out of the room. However, my escape had not gone unnoticed, as I had thought. I’m sure everyone in my row was very aware that I had crawled under the desks, and our teacher certainly saw the entire escapade. 

Despite what I thought, this woman was very perceptive of my shy tendencies. She didn’t want to do anything that would alienate me further. So instead of coming down herself to see what was the matter, she sent her niece (yes, the same girl who nearly suffocated me earlier that year) to check on me. When the teacher’s niece followed my blood trail into the restroom, her eyes widened and she did what any self-respecting first grader would do, she screamed for help. Then she ran to get her aunt.

By then my thumb was a mess. I was still trying to get the staple out with a pencil, and my attempts had only made things worse. When my teacher arrived, I was in a sad state of affairs. But to my stunned amazement, she wasn’t angry. Instead, my teacher was very gentle and kind. She sent her niece to find the janitor. He, in turn, would have to locate his tool box and a sturdy pair of pliers. My teacher gave me a candy bar to soothe things over as the staple was removed. My thumb was bandaged, and my mother arrived to take me home to recuperate. 

What did I learn from that experience? Aside from the importance of asking questions whenever I didn’t understand something, I learned that my scary first grade teacher was actually quite a nice person. I had misjudged her. And since her niece was the one who first tried to help me, I realized that maybe she wasn’t as bad as I had first thought. I learned that people can make mistakes, and it’s important to forgive. This girl who had tried to snuff me out of existence during my early days of first grade, became a friend. And the teacher who terrified me, gave me a great gift—the ability to read. She used a new pilot program to teach us how to read that year, and I took to it like a duck to water. I became the top reader in our grade.

Years later, as this same teacher lay dying from cancer; I was informed that she was feeling a bit down about her life. She wondered if she had ever made a difference with any of her students. I sent her a letter, thanking her for her influence in my life, and sent her a few copies of my published books. I was later told that this had been a huge boost for her during her final days. When people came to visit, she proudly displayed my books, and talked about one of the shyest students she had ever come across during her years as a teacher. 

Moral of the story: there are reasons why we are told to withhold judgment of others. We don’t always know what is in someone else’s heart. I have found that it is better to give others the benefit of the doubt, just as they have often given me the same.