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. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

School of Hard Knocks

I’m going to share something this morning that many people may scoff over. It is, nevertheless, true. I was once painfully shy. I seemed to be fine around those I knew well, namely my siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, etc. But whenever I was in the presence of those I didn’t know, I remained silent. This wasn’t always a good idea. Things often happened that threatened my well-being, but instead of letting others know that I was in pain, or frightened, I silently suffered through whatever had taken place, as I did my best to blend into the woodwork, as the saying goes.

One of my earliest memories of first grade was not a pleasant event. It started out innocent enough. For a year and a half, I went to the same elementary school that my paternal grandmother had once attended. It was an old rock building full of interesting sounds. Floors creaked, pipes rattled, and the very walls seemed to echo with children’s voices from years gone by. Some of the students were convinced the school was haunted. Since I didn’t know what that word meant yet, it didn’t bother me. I was more fearful of my classmates and teacher than of items that may have happened in the past.

I had reason to feel that way. One afternoon I crossed the room to sharpen my pencil. I heard a sharp sound and glanced out of our open classroom door. Horrified, I watched as our first grade teacher broke a yardstick over the unfortunate posterior of one of my classmates. That image stayed with me for months. It explains in part why I was hesitant to tell this teacher anything. One of my goals for that year was to stay unnoticed by this person who seemed mean and oppressive. 

It didn’t help that one of my classmates happened to be this woman’s niece. This young lady was a bit spoiled and she made the most out of being related to our teacher. Her word was law. One fall day as I stood out among the giant trees in the playground behind the school, this girl decided to include me in her game of make-believe. It was a common practice to pretend that the bases of the giant trees were houses and families were made up of other students as homes were set in order. That day during lunch recess, my teacher’s niece pretended to be the mommy in our pretend family. A young boy was assigned to be the daddy. I was relegated to the role of the child. Things seemed to go along quite well for a time. Then “mommy” came up with a brilliant idea. She turned to “daddy,” and said, “Let’s help Cheri learn to hold her breath.” 

This didn’t sound good to me, but I was small for my age and unable to fight both of them as they held me down on the ground in our makeshift home. “Mommy” sat on top of me and held her hand over my mouth. She then instructed “Daddy” to pinch my nose shut. “Daddy” wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even he realized this wasn’t a good idea. “She won’t be able to breathe,” he argued. “I know,” ‘mommy’ giggled. Meanwhile I tried to free myself from her grip, but remained pinned on the ground. I felt overwhelmed by a horrible feeling and I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t cry out because her hand was still over my mouth. Things grew worse as “daddy” finally gave in and pinched my nose shut.

I’m not sure how long we remained in that position. I know I struggled as I never had before, but they were too big for me to budge. I nearly lost consciousness and thought that I would perish. Before all went black, I remembered something I had learned in Primary about prayer. I knew we were supposed to pray when things weren’t going well. I silently sent a frantic prayer heavenward. As soon as I asked for help, the bell rang. My captors immediately released me and ran toward the school. I lay in the dirt and gasped for air.

When I felt like I would live, I shakily stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves from my dress. Then I walked alone toward the school since everyone else had already made it inside. Needless to say, I was tardy, but for some reason, the teacher didn’t say anything to me. She was up in front of the class reading a story to my classmates, something she did every day after the lunch break. She merely nodded at me as I quietly sat at my desk and pondered what I had just survived. I was only six years old, but I knew something significant had taken place. It was more than the brutal treatment by two of my classmates. I had felt a strong sense of comforting peace moments before the bell had rung. I knew in my tender heart that my Father in heaven had heard my prayer that day. Not only had I survived my near suffocation, but I was not out in the hallway being punished for being tardy. That in and of itself was a miracle. 

I never did tell anyone what had happened that day—but it never happened again. For a time, I was left alone, though I never felt that I was. I knew my Father in heaven was very aware of me and that He was protecting me. It was a knowledge gained at a young age, and something I treasured—most of the time. I was not a perfect child, but I did strive to make good choices. I still had a lot to learn, but that one experience shaped me in ways I would not fully understand for many years. 

There were other experiences that reinforced what I learned that fateful day behind the school house. I knew that in times of trouble, God was only a heartfelt prayer away. This knowledge has provided an important lifeline during my mortal journey. 

I mentioned in my last blog post that I would share some of the experiences that have helped shape me into who I am today. I am doing this, hoping that these items may help others who are struggling, who are seeking to find their way. Today’s lesson: Prayers are answered—immediately when the need is great, but often in ways we may never understand. We are watched over throughout our lives, even though at times we are permitted to experience pain and sorrow to fully appreciate the joy that also exists.