Thursday, November 26, 2015

More Than an Attitude

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Note: I had trouble getting my post up at Segullah today due to problems with the website. Thanks to Sandra for trying to remedy the situation over there. Until then, I thought I'd post it here. Full of thanks today. For so many blessings.

So I’ve been driving round town listening to Brene’ Brown for the last month. No doubt most of you are familiar with her work, her research, her books. I can’t wait to dive into her newest release, Rising Strong. But of late I’ve been listening to her talks on vulnerability (developed from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection). I love what she has to say about wholehearted living. She offers ten guideposts to those who want to live more open, more joyful, and more fulfilled. Things like letting go of perfectionism, creativity, play, rest, and gratitude.

What she had to say about gratitude made me laugh out loud. 

It would be reasonable to say that I have a yoga attitude. The ideals and beliefs that guide my life are very in line with the ideals and beliefs that I associate with yoga. I value mindfulness, breathing, and the body-mind-spirit connection. I even have yoga outfits. But, let me assure you, my yoga attitudes and outfits don’t mean jack if you put me on a yoga mat and ask me to stand on my head and strike a pose… I’ve never practiced yoga… I’ve never put the attitude into action. So where it really matters – on the mat – my yoga attitude doesn’t count for much.

Those who live wholehearted, she says, have more than an attitude of gratitude; they practice gratitude. They have a ritual, a place to write it down, or speak it aloud. Maybe it’s around the dinner table, or just before the kids are tucked into bed. Maybe it’s scribbled in a gratitude journal, or tapped onto a note on an iPhone. There is something, she says, about seriously practicing gratitude as a ritual, that writes joy into our human hearts.

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Five years ago I read Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Giftsand it completely altered my world. I have to say there is something magical about practicing gratitude. It takes whatever we have, and turns it into enough. Some days it shrinks the big, panoramic lens through which I’m seeing life and feeling overwhelmed, down to a maple leaf, carpeted below the last november rose, all splayed across my daughter’s palms. Her offering to me. The last treasures of Autumn.

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Other days it takes the micro lens through which I’m viewing my world - the minutiae, the work, the list of things not going well, the miscommunications, the failures, the small but discouraging things, and blows it wide. Pans my perspective way out. To help me step out of the madness and see the beauty, the scope of what’s really going on.

To count gifts is to layer joy and contentment into our lives. 

So this month we created a gratitude book for our family. A place we can come and write anything we’re thankful for, at anytime. And I’m hopeful it will become a practice that brings us closer to each other, and to God.

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This week we counted: the fish we ate tonight (Ali), owls and my new alarm clock (Sami), leaves to press and a coat to keep my body warm (Eliza). Eliza and Sami's artwork (Cath).

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Mayflower by Eliza

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"Hairy" the Turkey by Sami

REI’s return policy and being at home with family (Doug), cheese pizza and David’s new guinea pig (Gordon), my Grandma coming home (Spencer), and yes, my mother coming home from the hospital after brain surgery and a month long stay in inpatient rehab (Cath). 

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It took her ten minutes to make it inside to her favorite chair. But she did it! With the help of a four point cane, gait belt, my sister Deb, and my Dad. She has a tough road ahead. Learning to walk again, radiation 5x/week for the next six weeks, PT, OT and speech therapies several times a week. It will be exhausting. And she keeps saying she looks like a little old lady. 

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But this is such wonderful progress, all we can do is cheer! 

This Thanksgiving we are feeling incredibly blessed.
Brene’ Brown thinks of wholeheartedness as the north star. We don’t really get there or live it perfectly. We just know when we’re headed in the right direction. But practice always points us north. And having a guidepost like gratitude gives us orientation and light. 

Happy Thanksgiving friends. May you see (and speak or write) your countless gifts today.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Her Perfect Work

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Two weeks ago, after a second brain bleed, my Mom was admitted to University hospital for monitoring. They gave her a spacious room in Acute Neuro where she could see the life-flight helicopter coming and going. Big enough we could crowd in, bring our little people and our sunflowers, try to brighten the room with color and hugs.

Over Halloween weekend, however, she sustained a second hemorrhage of the tumor. This bleed was more extensive. She lost complete use of her left arm and left leg. A change concerning enough that her Occupational Therapist flagged the neuro team and they revisited the idea of surgery.

Previously, the tumor board determined it wasn't worth risking a loss of motor function in an attempt to remove part of the tumor, as it bumps up right next to her motor cortex. This day, however, her neurosurgeon decided evacuating the blood was imperative. If they didn't, results would be catastrophic. And while he was in there he would try to debulk the tumor as best he could. She already had deficit, so it was agreed that taking some of the tumor would not leave her any worse than she already was. 

We all knew it was the right course to take. Earlier discussions with words like "permanent deficit" would have deterred us, but now, it was a matter of saving her life. 

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She was moved that day to Neuro Critical Care and on Tuesday morning, November 3rd, was prepped for surgery. I dropped my boys with a friend and drove to the hospital. As soon as I saw my Mom, she squeezed my right hand and said, "Thank you for coming." We held hands and cried a bit. She was not afraid. She was moving forward with acceptance of whatever might be. I was so humbled by her submissiveness. Her trust. Her willingness to let God do what he would with her life.

Sometimes experience brings us low. So low. We no longer pray for a miracle or try to bend God's will. We just trust. We know. We accept. 

I kissed her glistening cheek and clasped both my hands around hers. Then my Dad and I walked next to her bed as they wheeled her to the OR. 

She had done this before. This was her fifth brain surgery. But this time it wasn't stereotactic, meaning she wasn't awake and being asked to move certain parts of her body so they could ensure function. She went to sleep. And we waited.

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Hours later we got the news from my Dad, that she was in recovery and doing well. The surgeon had removed all the blood and a substantial amount of tumor. He remarked that the bleeding was even worse than noted on an MRI the night before, that surgery had been absolutely necessary. 

We won't know long-term deficits for a while, but as of that evening she could bend her left arm and her left knee, which was more than she could do before surgery.  She was alert, able to laugh, and requesting pear truffles.

I couldn't go to bed that night without seeing her face, hearing her voice, knowing she was still here. Still Ronda. Still ours.

I wish I could have captured the sacredness that evening as I watched my Dad care for my Mom. He fed her. Placed melon on a fork and slipped it into her mouth, held the straw with warm broth to her lips, wiped her face, and tucked the napkin into her hospital gown. It was so tender, so reverent. I had never seen my parents like this and I thought, This is marriage. This is selflessness. This is what it means to love someone more than yourself.

My Dad has been such an incredible comfort to my Mother. I have no idea how we would be weathering this season without him. He has been a vigilant, well-informed advocate for her care. He has kept the nurses on their toes and charmed everyone with his kindness and silly jokes. He never tells the staff he's a physician, but after a while they clue-in and ask, "You know a lot. Are you a doctor?" He lets them do their job, he makes them feel valued, and I marvel at his steadiness.

He is upbeat and ever positive. When things have felt heavy, he has been there to keep it light, to speak faith, to lean us into joy.

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A few days later, Mom was moved to inpatient rehab. Deb came and washed the blood out of her hair, trimmed it short, and gave her this darling do. Deb has been doing her hair for 15 years or more. And as my mom slowly lost the use of her left hand, Deb's visits became more frequent. She would drive up to clean, do laundry, help in the yard, and style my mom's hair. I want to be like this sister of mine. She gives and gives and gives. I love you Deb. Thanks for all you do for Mom.

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Thursday I spent the afternoon with my Mom, so I could observe her rehab progress. She has been in rehab for one week now. The PTs and OTs are working her hard. Yesterday, the triumph of the day was level 12 on the Total Gym, and standing with assist, straight and tall. "Tomorrow," I teased, "Kilimanjaro!"

Earlier this week "the big therapist," John, had my mom walking with a one handed-walker, a leash around her left leg to advance it forward, and a tight grip on the gait belt around her waist. My Dad was so nervous watching, wanting to step in and steady her, that he had to leave. He's decided it's better if he's not there and just lets them to their work. But he did tell me on the phone, and his voice cracked when he said it, that he had the impression Mom will walk again.

I'm so proud of my Mom. She is doing hard things, creating new neural pathways, trying to command a body that doesn't want to listen. This coming week she will start radiation. And yet, she is not frustrated. She is grateful she is here. Grateful she has been given more time. Grateful for the mercy of a loving Father in Heaven.

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Her sisters came to visit on Friday. They came from Arizona, Idaho, and northern Utah. They have been so kind over the last several months. My Mom needs them now and it touches me to see them all together.

After surgery I shared these verses from James with my Mom.

"Count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions. Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1: 2-4).

It's easy to feel put upon when afflictions trouble our life. But within these challenges run divine currents of change. Of potentiality. Where patience can begin her work. We go lower, but our heart opens wider. We ask for less, and need less. And soon, we want nothing. Only what God wants. And that is my Mother. She is letting patience have her perfect work. 

p.s. My heart is broken for the people of Paris. Can't stop thinking about the horror there, the tragedy. And for other places in the world that continue to suffer. #prayforparis #prayforpeace

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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Halloween 2015

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This year, no kidney stone. But darn it, hospitals seem to be a habit for us in October. 

An update on my Mom next post. Boy has she been a trooper.

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Liza lovin' the 50s look.

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Ali as a Utah Cheerleader. Halloween happened to be a game day. Utah vs. Oregon State at 5:30. Which posed a tough choice for some of our neighborhood fans. Trick-or-treat or football seat? 

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Sami resurrected our Pippi Longstocking costume. I thought she made a fantastic Pippi.
Even if Mr. Nilson did get lost at school that morning.

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Spencer as Ironman.

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Gordy as Indiana Jones. 

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He looooooved being in character.

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Our A-Team.

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Trick-or-treaters hitting the streets. 

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This year the girls got together for dinner with friends before trick-or-treating. Such a cute bunch.

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Rebecca was so kind to host the girls and feed them dinner.

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Here's Eliza's group of friends.

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I loved this perspective. Posted by our friend, Margit. Her view as she opened the door. What a crowd!

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Cotton candy next door was a huge hit.

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And the night before Halloween we caught a bunch of high school boys stealing the pumpkins off our porch. The pumpkins my Dad grew for all the grandkids. Unfortunately, we didn't catch them in time. So none of our kids had pumpkins to carve Halloween morning and we tried several super markets until we found this one little pumpkin Doug turned into our lone jack-o-lantern.

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Mahas' bubble wrapped stairs were a blast. Always a favorite stop.

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And our favorite jack-o-lanterns of the night? This gigantic duo. Grown and carved by the Larkins. A-ma-zing.

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And of course there was Deb's annual Halloween bash. Deb and Will dressed up as Kip and Lafawnduh. I laughed so hard. Don't they look the part? My sister Sarah came as Jem from Jem and the Holograms. Does that take you back?? And have you heard? A Jem movie is coming out in the Spring?

Rachel and Eric dressed up as the Holy War. Utah vs. BYU, with little Emma as their pigskin.

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Will and his buddy Silas crafted this minion and stuffed him with candy. Their piƱata skills always blow my mind. So. Much. Work. 

And if there hadn't been a U game, I might have coerced Doug into joining me at Woodstock. But alas, I went solo as a hippie. And I have to say, I kinda miss having hair.

Hoping your haunts were safe and happy.

Peace. And Love.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Sorrow and Light

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It is that season. When the sky darkens early. Berries shrivel. Leaves redden and release their petiolar holdI open the kitchen window and watch them skitter across the street, hear them scrape across the asphalt. 

Some of them rain like gold, floating down from Bette's canopy, sunlight filtering through branches. In time they will scroll into themselves, fade. And by winter's end they will be changed into new soil, new life.

The symbolism of all this dying and living sobers me. It is different this year. So much sorrow mingled with light.

My mother has stopped chemotherapy. Her tumor has grown from grade 2 to grade 3. She has been suffering from increased seizures, has lost the progress she made and is stumbling around the house, unable to use her left arm, sitting on the edge of her bed, close to tears. I sit next to her. "It is a mountain climb," she says to me. And I don't know what to say. We speak of submissiveness and my eyes brim with water.

CT scans show another bleed in her brain, so they admit her to the neurosurgery wing of the hospital to monitor her for a couple days, hoping the bleeding will decrease enough she can try radiation in November. 

There is still fight inside her. But she can't trust her body. She is unsure of what lies ahead. "This is hard," she admits. And a farm girl like her doesn't just say things are hard. I nod, "Yes. It is." And after we hug goodbye, I get into the car with my boys, and cry.

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My Dad clips the pumpkins he grew for the grandchildren and I see him this morning, pulling into our driveway, delivering a pumpkin for each of my children. He is strong. He is happy. He is positive. I stand in my pajamas in the cold October morning and hug him on our porch. Wordless at the love he shows me, my siblings, and our mother.

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We speak of the funeral this coming Friday. Services for our dear friend, Mark. Who passed away last Wednesday evening due to complications from his lung disorder, PCD (Primary Ciliary Dyskinesa). I can barely handle the sorrow I feel for his wife and their two children, his parents and family. I am heartbroken for them.

I first caught a glimpse of Mark's remarkable spirit while waiting for an interview as a young single adult in the foyer of an LDS chapel. A young man was reporting on his mission to Hawaii and I couldn't help but listen in. It was Mark. He had a way of conveying truth that was powerful and stirring.

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Mark and I were in Israel at the same time. We hiked the high places of Petra, En Gedi, and Wadi Qelt. After Israel, we spent hours studying with other close friends for pre-med weeder classes at the University. We taught gospel doctrine together for a few years in our singles ward. We would talk often about our lessons and how to get at the heart of scripture. One of our friends called Mark "The Oracle" - someone God spoke through. And the nickname stuck.

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He was a trusted friend. We had many deep and meaningful conversations. Mark was one of the wisest individuals I've been privileged to know. I learned so much from him during those years. He always wanted to know God's mind, understand His ways. And I admired that about him. 

This summer, Mark and I, and our friend Stacey, organized our 20 year Israel reunion. Mark hadn't been feeling well. He told me he weighed less than he did in high school, but to our delight, he made it to the reunion. It was so good to reconnect, to visit with him and his wife, Elissa. 

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It was a truly joyful evening.

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Mark with our friend Amy.

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So much is shared when you live for six months in a foreign country together. Long bus rides, hotel stays, classes in the auditorium, adventures around the city. Feelings, beliefs, life.

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These are friends that prayed and fasted for my mother when she was diagnosed with her first brain tumor. We were all together then, and I was upheld by their love and concern.

Now, they have resumed prayers for her and I am humbled by their goodness. 

20 years is long enough for the unexpected to happen. Kelly (above left) fought her own brain tumor. Some have divorced, some have lost children, some have adopted, some have never married. Yet we share a common place of knowing. And now we have lost one of our own.

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Oh, these are people I will love all my days.

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Each face holds a handful of memories for me. And I'm grateful so many of these friendships have continued strong over the years.

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Yes, I love these people. 

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We have been praying for Mark's wife and children, for his parents and siblings. This is such a hard loss. And I feel an emptiness for them, for all who knew Mark.

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October has been full of worry and heartache.

Two weeks ago, Kara's precious little Caleb (age 2) was run over by an SUV. This horrible accident left Caleb with a broken leg and lacerations all over his body, but miraculously, no internal bleeding or brain damage.

My heart was heavy for Kara's family, as they lived between home and hospital. Kara and Dave were traumatized, exhausted, and okay because Caleb was okay. But Kara was still nursing her year-old twins while trying to manage Caleb's care in the neurotrauma unit.

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She showed me the tire marks on the road, the points of impact. It is unreal, unbelievable that Caleb will be fine. I thought of his twin brother Isaac, of Kara's grandfather, of others living in the come-and-go between earth and spirit, and it was obvious, God intervened. Angels came rushing. 

When I visited Caleb in the hospital, I brought him a soft little owl and love from all of our family. My children were so worried about this sweet boy who gives them hugs every time they stop by. His gift to me was this smile. As he whispered each of my children's names, said hello, and I videoed.

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To cheer him up, sweet Israel friends, Saydi and Amy, arranged for Caleb to receive this rainbow bouquet of happy. I think it did the trick. 

Wonderful kindness. Light amid sorrow. 

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And one last dose of light and love.

This quilt. Made for my mom by her neighborhood friends.

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I was so touched when I saw it. The hours. The compassion. The gorgeous hand-stitchery.

Needle after needle into cut cloth, with Ronda in mind. I especially loved this square. With a "b" for Bob (my Dad) and their six children, K for Keddington, and my angel Mom hovering over her garden, beneath the stars.

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These women thoughtfully pieced together a gift of tenderness and strength.

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With a soft, minky side, so she can be warm while sitting on her favorite couch.

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I can't stop thinking about this quote.

Thank you to all the angel women who created this gift of love.

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Kara and Dave walked down to our home the evening of my birthday, Caleb bundled into a stroller. And Kara gave me this print of Jesus' tomb, by Walter Raine. It is titled He is Not Here.

She wrote the following,

This year I remember my son. I mourn a friend. And the friend of a friend. And I feel burned by the vision of my boy, broken on the road. When even in loss, life was saved. The blood and silky hair washes away in the rain, but his limpid form lies cradled in my arms and he turns his face to the stars and astounds us all with the poignant truth, "God loves me." 

And so God sent His Son. And the tomb emptied of its prize, and there is redemption for the world, and for my son, and my friend, and my friend's friend. And life again on this beautiful earth. 

Angels will rush to a car and a child. They will cradle him in their protective arms. Leaving me breathless with awareness. 

Those robes lying there. Fallen on cold stone. The moment of moments. Then He bends over, lifts them up, folds them so carefully, and steps out into the light.

I could hardly breathe at that last phrase, at the thought of Christ stepping out into the light, of Mark stepping out of this place of light and into another. Of Caleb pointing to those glow-in-the-dark stars in the dim of his hospital room. Of my Mom, as I tucked her into bed and we laughed at the same fluorescent stars, glimmering on her bedroom ceiling, as I sang to her, like she did to me, when that corner bedroom was mine:

"Yes, I know Heavenly Father loves me."

While looking at Raine's painting, Kara said, "It is this, and only this, that makes everything okay. Mark, your Mom, Isaac. This one thing makes it all okay."

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And she is right.

So, I will place this image of draped cloth on our mantle at the first sign of Autumn, not Spring. "The season of death. Of descent. When the sun draws away from us."

So I can remember, as Kara said, not all is an ending. Life is so much more than here and now. And like the trees thinning beneath the sky, our sorrow and brokenness leave us open to the light.

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