Tuesday, June 17, 2014

To authorize or not to authorize...that is the (stupid) question!

I knew, once I was diagnosed, that cancer would be hard. And I thought I understood what the upcoming hard things would be.

The very first really hard thing? I couldn’t have imagined it if I’d tried. I had been mammogram-ed, spot-compressed, ultra-sounded and biopsied. I had received the diagnosis in a less than calming way, and had been felt up by two ultrasound technicians, a mammographer, a biopsy doctor, an MRI technician, my female surgeon and my male plastic surgeon. I had little dignity left.

I opted, for several reasons, to have a double mastectomy. I wanted the cancer out, and I didn’t want to find it in another breast another time and repeat the process. And I wanted reconstructive symmetry. So surgery was scheduled on June 13, 2014. (Yes it was a Friday. Friday the 13th...)

On June 10, a nurse called asking me to call the patient advocate at Select Health Insurance as they were taking their own sweet time with the authorization. Remember those words. Patient. Advocate. I called and a woman named Marie answered. I explained my problem. She was unmoved. I told her I was trying to work around my work, FMLA, etc. (I might have begged a little). She asked:“While you were at the doctor did they say you were in imminent danger of losing a limb or your life?” “No” I said, but I thought “I am losing my breasts.” She told me there was nothing she could do but mark it urgent and someone would let me know. Some patient advocate, huh? (I later found out that until my surgeon called, no one had even looked at it!)

On June 11th, my surgeon called and told me that the MRI she’d sent me for a few days prior showed that there was cancer in my right breast as well, that insurance would definitely authorize the procedure and we were good to go. I know it sounds weird, but I was so happy!

On June 12th, we found out that, no, insurance was still not definitely authorized. My surgeon said to show up an hour early for surgery for an ultrasound and biopsy to verify right breast cancer as well as left, and then insurance would no longer be a problem. I had thought that was already the case, but did as I was told. This second ultrasound doctor said he could find no trace of cancer, even though the MRI (more accurate) had found two masses.

Around 12:45 pm on June 13th, I was taken to a pre-op room and prepared for surgery. I had blood drawn and an IV put in (5th try's the charm!). I had been given instructions by the nurse and also by the anesthesiologist. At 3:55 my doctor came in. She said the insurance was still fighting us, stating they had until the 16th (Monday) to decide but that they’d make a one-time exception for her and would ask the nurse committee that decides these things. She'd know by 4:00.

Five minutes later she came back in shaking her head no, and tearing up. She said that because she did not think having two separate surgeries was wise for me with my clotting issues, she advised postponing surgery until the 23rd and in the meantime would schedule an MRI-guided biopsy on Tuesday to prove to the insurance what they should already know.

I was un-IV-ed, dressed, and sent on my way, a little depressed. It’s a hard thing on everyone to gear up for this big a thing, and have the rug pulled out from under our feet at the last second. I know the insurance company had until the 16th, but really that consisted of one more hour on the 13th, and then it would be the 16th. Really insurance people? Really?

It was a rough weekend. I won’t lie. Everyone was crying, stressed out, snappy and slept a lot. By Monday I had come to accept the thing I could not change. At 10:30 a.m. (and without the required biopsy) my surgeon’s nurse called me to say we had authorization. So it took them less than half a business day to authorize what everyone knew they would have to in the end.

And me, and my loved ones are gearing ourselves up again. We’ve had a practice run, so I’m sure we’ll be really good at it this time!

Now where did I put those last two brain cells?

Last week, I got all ready for work only to discover that Lloyd had taken my keys to work. I called him and said, “You want to check your pockets?” He cussed a little and asked if I wanted him to bring them to me. I said I’d get a ride to town if he’d bring them to my office. Which he did.

Around 4:30, after a hectic work day, I was clearing off my desk so my friend could take me to my car, and right there in the middle of my desk was a set of keys that looked a lot like mine. I couldn’t figure it out. I thought, “did I have these all morning? I could have driven myself to work after all?” I was mystified. I called Lloyd.

Me: "So when I called you this morning and said to look in your pocket for my keys, did you even look?"

Him: "Um…yeah"

Me: "And they were there?" (Okay, I was a little sarcastic that he was toying with me like this)

Him: "Um…Yeah."

Me: "Then how come there’s a pair of keys that look exactly like mine in the middle of my desk?"

Him: (quietly, and probably a little scared) "Because I brought them to you this morning."

Me: *stunned silence*

So it appears that not only did I forget that Lloyd had brought me my keys at 9 a.m. that morning, but also that I had set them on my own desk seconds before I called him.

I fear it’s only going to get worse…

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Who needs Lawrence Taylor?

While pondering the adversity in which I currently find myself, I see that I am trying to play offense. I want to be proactive and do everything in my power against the other team: Cancer. (I can't imagine what their mascot must look like...ew). I want to let the other members of my "team" do their jobs (the things I cannot do for myself), and help me trounce my opponent.

It reminds me of a movie, Blind Side, which I love. The film begins with this narration;

“There’s a moment of orderly silence before a football play begins. Players are in position, linemen are frozen, and anything’s possible. Then, like a traffic accident, stuff begins to randomly collide. From the snap of the ball to the snap of the first bone is closer to four seconds than five.

“One Mississippi.

“Joe Theissmann, the Redskins quarterback, takes the snap and hands off to his running back.

“Two Mississippi.

“It’s a trick play, a flea flicker, and the running back tosses the ball back to the quarterback.

“Three  Mississippi.

“Up to now the play’s been defined by what the quarterback sees. It’s about to be defined by what he doesn’t.

“Four Mississippi.

“Lawrence Taylor is the best defensive player in the NFL and has been from the time he stepped onto the field as a rookie. He will also change the game of football as we know it.

(TV Video of the actual play in the background)

“…And we’ll look at it with the reverse angle one more time. And I suggest if your stomach is weak you just don’t watch…Legendary quarterback Joe Theissmann never played another down of football.

“Now y’all would guess that more often than not the highest paid player on an NFL team is the quarterback. And you'd be right. What you probably don't know is that more often than not the second highest paid player is, thanks to Lawrence Taylor, a left tackle. Because, as every housewife knows, the first check is for the mortgage but the second is for the insurance. And the left tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback from what he can’t see coming; to protect his BLIND SIDE. The ideal left tackle is big, but a lot of people are big. He is wide in the butt and massive in the thighs. He has long arms, giant hands and feet quick as a hiccup. This is a rare and expensive combination the need for which can be traced to that Monday night game and Lawrence Taylor. For on that day he not only altered Joe Theissmann’s life, he altered mine.”

So far, every person checking in on my team is altering my life.  I’m thinking about all these people who are expressing their love, offering their gifts, in essence: protecting me, and my own blind side. There is so much I don’t yet know about this thing I have to fight. Lots of things I can't see coming...But doctors, surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, lab techs, nurses and every other medically trained person who will help to cure me will have trained for years, and have even more years in experience. They have a game plan of which I am not yet aware. That’s hard for me as I am a “plan” fanatic. But I am the quarterback, not the coach. And a quarterback does not a whole team make (though some of them might think so.) I have to do my job, trust their duties to them, and know they have my back.

More importantly I have team members, friends and family, who have reached out with their deep wells of love and willing hearts, their strong hands, and their tears quick as a hiccup. I have the power of infinite numbers of prayers. I have been given one Priesthood blessing by my husband when we first found out the mammogram was abnormal, who told me that whatever was wrong would be easy. His patriarchal blessing reveals he has been given the gift of healing.
We are both given Priesthood blessings today that were powerful and specific. My husband is blessed with courage and strength and understanding and the knowledge of how much his Heavenly Father loves him. I was told, unequivocally, that I will be healed, and I will be restored to wholeness; that angels will attend, that more angels than doctors will be at work on me at any given time, and that I am the matriarch of a large family who needs me, and I will live long into the future. The Spirit was powerful and this moment in time will be my fall back when doubt creeps in, as it always does. But I’ll be able to say: No! I had that blessing and I will be restored to wholeness as promised.

With all of these resources working to protect me, how can I fear? There are things I do not yet know…they're on my blind side…but it would appear I have battalions of left tackles.

Looks like me and my left breast are headed to the Super Bowl! Who needs Lawrence Taylor?

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The good news is...

May 25, 2014

The good news is I’ve been wondering what book I’ll write next. This might be it. I’m toying with “Cancer is a Bitch!” for the title. I’m quoting my daughter, who’s also fighting the disease. The bad news is I’ve been diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer. It’s been 30 years since my last mammogram. I should have had one 16 years ago. I waited until two weeks ago. I have become an object lesson!

This is my story of overcoming the next Goliath. I know it’s a story of survival, because I am a survivor. I have survived my own and others’ battles with mental illness, divorce, addiction, health issues, death and just last year stared down a pulmonary embolism and won. Really it’s not me that’s the strong one. It’s Heavenly Father. I’ve just learned what to hand over, and what is up to me. I’ve learned the power of love, prayer and priesthood blessings, and inspired medical teams with cutting edge technology at their fingertips.

I’m grateful for it all. The friends who encourage me with words like “fight like a girl” and “you’ve got this” and “whatever you need”. The family members who are at the other end of the journey I am just beginning, who’ve already kicked this disease’s backside to the curb. The doctors and nurses, the radiologists and lab techs ready to take this cancer (I refuse to call it “mine”) and toss it out with tomorrow’s trash. Like Audrey, whose firm “I’ll handle it from here”, put me at ease while she performed the mammogram that likely saved my life. The son and daughters who are here at my door within minutes of hearing my news. I’m deeply grateful for them all!

I’ve been in a lot of hard places, carried heavy loads and had mine carried. I’ve had my name whispered in prayers in many temples, and even more homes. And I’m constantly in prayer for others. I believe in prayer, and I’m planning to spend a lot more time on my knees. Right now I’m praying it was caught early enough. I’m praying that I can handle the nausea, and that I’ll get to keep most of my hair. And I’m praying every woman I know will learn a lesson from my experience.

Have a mammogram. Have them regularly. And be grateful for even the worst results…for therein lies God. I can’t wait to see what blessings come next.

Remind me I wrote this when I’m cursing chemo, will you?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Life in the slow lane…

The Eagles have a song called “Life in the Fast Lane” (Did I mention they are my all-time favorite band?) Don Henley (my all-time favorite lead singer) sings this line:

"Life in the fast lane
surely make you lose your mind, mm...Are you with me so far?"

I had an experience that totally brought that home. Except that it was life in the slow lane…and a few of us kept our minds intact, thanks.

I was at the local DMV last week, which in our small neck of the woods is only open two days a month. I needed a driver’s license renewal. I arrived mid-morning, unaware of the fact that this was the division’s first day in its new office space. I took a number, as indicated. At 10 a.m., my number was already 27. There were a dozen people sitting in the chairs for those waiting, and I took one of the two remaining. There were several people up at the counter and one trying to take a written exam with an uncooperative computer system.

I filled out my form and opened my kindle for a long wait. It was okay, I had time.

As we waited, I overheard people talking about how long they’d been waiting. Mostly, they were pleasant conversations, with a few huffs of impatience here and there. It soon became apparent that new office computer glitches were frustrating both the staff and the patrons. Still, it was calm for the most part. Several more people came in and soon there were not enough chairs for everyone.
About 45 minutes later my number was called and I turned in my paperwork (and almost my firstborn child) for the driver’s license renewal I sought. They snapped my photos, handed me my papers back and told me to stand in a different line for the next available representative. Kind of a physical “on-hold”.

Only one of the two available computers was working and a supervisor was trying to resolve that. The testing computers were also on the fritz. As I stood in line to be served next, a trio of English-accented (and very funny!) people arrived for the third time that morning, having once forgotten necessary paperwork, and then the checkbook (30 miles round trip to retrieve each). And they were still happy. And funny. Just the kind of natural stand-up comedy the place was needing about then! They jumped to the front of the line, while the staff explained that since they’d already been handled according to their number, they’d been given an “appointment” to return and not have to wait again.

As I waited, I realized I was not going to finish before I had to be at an 11:00 a.m. appointment, so I asked for, and received an appointment to return at 11:30. I left.

When I returned the place was still packed, and the EXACT SAME PEOPLE were still at the counter being served. I gave my appointment slip to the lady at the first desk, and she directed me to a position at the front of the line of people standing (to be attended to BEFORE the row of people sitting). New people had come in during my absence, and the heightened stress level was palpable. The next person’s number was called, only for him to find out he had to fill out an application first. He sat back down, none the happier. (That instruction wasn’t posted. I had just followed the example of the person before me.)

I’d only been standing in line a few minutes when a gentleman approached the counter, slammed his number 31 on the counter and demanded service, saying that others were being served before him. The lady explained the “appointment” process, but he was undeterred. He loudly demanded service saying “here’s my number 31” in a heavy, and heated, Hispanic accent. She told him, gently (and a little frightened, I’m sure) that they hadn’t yet gotten to number 31. He nearly threw the number at her, turned and crashed out the door, very angry.

At that point, the DMV supervisor stood and explained to the overflowing room that this was their first day in this office, they were trying to resolve computer issues and everyone’s patience would be required. He also stated that since it was approaching the noon hour, the staff would be leaving for lunch and some of the people would have to return at one, but they would get them all taken care of as quickly as possible. It seemed that his plea served only to incense several people. One woman stood up and tersely complained that “some of us” took their lunch hour to come and get their newly qualified drivers licensed. Another stood and said, more loudly, that it was costing her wages to wait. A third, even angrier, stated that she lived a good distance away and coming back was a huge inconvenience.

I sensed a riot brewing. Then: beauty...Another man came to the first desk and quietly told the staff that he was not in a hurry and could come back later. I followed suit, hoping to free up some time and set a good example. I sat in my car for a little while. No one else came out.

I returned at 4:00 p.m., quickly received my temporary permit and thanked them all. I expressed empathy for their tense morning and told them I appreciated all their efforts at making everything work. By then all systems were up and running. They seemed greatly relieved, anxious for the harried day to be over, poor souls.

So even though the lane was slow, and a few return trips were necessary on my part, I was grateful that due to recent life lessons, I knew that the anger and the fight and the disrespect (while I honored those women's rights to have their opinions) only served to slow things down and make them more difficult. I felt for the women and the pressure they felt. I truly did. But it did not further their cause. It was totally counter-productive. It’s not the example that their totally embarrassed children appreciated. And even the guy who slammed out would have to come back and eat some humble pie as it’s the only place in town where a person can get a license, unless he thinks travelling to the packed big city DMVs are going to be faster. That’s a tough life…in whatever speed of lane you find yourself.

So thanks, DMV, for the life lessons. Thanks to the English family who kept us in stitches and gave comic relief to the waiting crowd despite their personal trifecta of inconvenience. Thanks to the staff who did their best, and took complaints in stride with grace and kindness (for the most part). Thanks to the man who set the example of humility and service for me. And thanks, especially, to Heavenly Father, for teaching me to live a patient life in the slow lane, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has recommended.

This quote by him is my goal for this year about slowing down and staying connected to what’s important:

“We need to turn some things down, and turn some things off. We need to be quiet.”

Don Henley sang it, too in “Learn to be still.”

Of course he also sang “Get over it.” Also good advice.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I don't know why...

Re-post from private blog on Feb 7, 2011. Great memory:

The office today is surreal. It is full of people. That’s normal. People talking animatedly to each other about whatever lights their fire at the moment. People talking to children in soft, high, feminine voices until they misbehave, and then in loud and stern bass tones. There are people chatting louding on cell phones, having exited the offices next door, so as not to disturb anyone. (They don’t realize they are standing in MY doorway). There are people in and out of the front door, shuffling papers, texting and picking up or dropping off checks (depending on whether they are stopping at the tax office or the insurance office). Also normal.

The every day communications of humanity with humanity? That, I get. What is surreal is that none of it is happening in a language I understand. Not a single word. (Unless you count my own very feeble attempts at telling them I do not speak their language.)

I am not sure why it is a family event to have one’s taxes done, or why, since it seems to be a family event, nothing has been planned for the children’s entertainment. I am not sure why some businesses, touting they are child-friendly to employees, bring their children to work, and then send their children to tend themselves in the communal waiting area outside my door, but they do. Nor do I know why a language I do not understand feels louder and more like mental clutter than one I speak. But it’s a fact, Jack, and I can feel my blood pressure rising with every unfamiliar syllable.

And just when I am about to be unhinged, and to begin speaking yet another language (if you get my drift), a moment of grace. A smiling woman, points to me, and then nods to her tiny granddaughter. "Beautiful, eh?"

That word—I understand.

And it is.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Losing a friend...and finding her again...

Recently I re-connected with an old friend with whom I had lost touch. It was at my daughter’s funeral, and so I was already very emotional. Seeing her light up when she saw me there and our subsequent conversation was a true blessing. A few weeks later she wrote me a letter, and I wrote one back. We are reclaiming our friendship, which is worth reclaiming!

We first met around 1979 when our husbands were just starting out as rural police officers. We both had babies the same age: mine, twin girls, and hers a daughter. We were both shy, new to the area and shared a lot of common interests. We were both artistic in different ways: she a gifted artist, and me a writer and lover of all aspects of art. Soon, we were talking and visiting nearly every day. We both had two more sons around the same age and daughters at the caboose. Of course the children all became fast friends.

We had a blast together. My friend (I’ll call her Elle to protect her privacy) has a wit as sharp and precise as the beautiful bone structure of her face. I tended to be more the silly blonde. We were a good fit. We could both talk fast and furious and had many a great conversation! We loved and supported each other in pretty much every way. Since small town police officers are almost always working on major holidays and town events, we attended them together. We spent lots of time sewing at each other’s homes…clothes for our kids and shirts for our husbands. And clothes for ourselves. And lots of craft projects.

Often we’d be in my living room with kids and toys all over the place making the craft of the day. She was so good at it and she tolerated my meager abilities.

She had mad skills as a tole painter. She made the most amazing rocking horse I have ever seen, and gave me one that I have since passed down to my daughter. I still have an oval plaque with two hands clasped that says “Welcome Friends” hanging above my door. It’s beautiful, and a constant reminder of her.

We took our children to the park, and the drive-in movie. We attended their ball games and school programs. We made bi-monthly trips to a discount grocery store 90 minutes away in our respective rattle trap vehicles, hers a jeep, mine a Toyota something or other. It was our girls day out, and we relished it! We sat by each other at church, and everywhere else we ended up being at the same time. We watched each other’s children, and heard each other’s deepest dreams. We were there for each other through thick and thin…and there seemed to be a lot of “thin”. We were young with financial challenges, emotional upheaval and just the general challenges of being mothers to a lot of tiny people. And there were some really big…things (too private to mention) that we helped each other through as well. Our bond grew deeper and closer. We met each others’ extended families, and she was another sister to me. I. Loved. Her.

And then, on Christmas Eve 1994, my husband left me for someone else. She was the first person I told, besides my parents. I was devastated. She comforted and supported me, and then for some reason I don’t think either of us truly understand, gradually we began to drift apart. While it hurt my heart for a while, I think I understood it. It happened to me over and over again during that time. I lived in my ex-husband’s town of origin. The people we knew were either related to him, dated him, played sports with him, worked with him or served in the church with him. I was a transplant. When there were choices to be made, he was theirs. There were some people who just plain didn’t know what to say, and some who felt threatened as they faced my situation. It made it seem more possible that it could happen to them and they didn’t want to look at that head on. Sometimes I dealt with the upheaval in my life with a healthy dollop of crazy. That scared people. And then later, I was a not-too-unattractive single woman. That didn’t make women very comfortable with me.

All in all, most of the people I felt the closest to, over the 17 years I lived there, faded away. (A few stalwarts remained, and over the years I have reconnected to a few more.) But the loss of Elle pained me the most. And yet, it was the very lack of everyone. Everyone. Including her...that forced me to my knees and the realization that the Savior was my closest friend. I’m not sure I could have known that as powerfully or deeply had anyone else remained. Maybe, but either way? I forgive her. I forgave her a long time ago. She was too beautiful to hold a grudge against.

Over the years our paths crossed once in a while at weddings or events that drew me back to the small town I, early on, had to move away from. I thought of her often. Missed her. Kept tabs on her kids via Facebook. We even reached out to each other a couple of times, but the time wasn’t right I guess.

This time is perfectly right, and beautiful. I LOVE that it began with letters. As a writer, I cherish that form of communication. We are catching up, getting to know each other again, and it is a blessed thing. Today she sent me a letter with a crocheted bookmark. It made me cry. She is among the women I have loved best in my life, and I’m so glad to have her back!

And to know that once again…she has mine!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Show me how big your brave is!

It's not even Mother's Day, and I got the coolest gifts! My daughter and her family sent me two adorable books on how to babysit a grandma/grandpa. They made me cry. I love them. Another daughter gave me both an angel and a dragonfly. (Tears, again!) Two of my favorite things.

And they give me the gift of children whose lives are happy, and beautiful. A mother loves it when her children are doing so well!

Another child is doing well in a different way.

Jake wrote me a poem from his recovery center:

For Shirley

Battered and abused,
her war-torn son
marches forward, bravely on,
sword in hand.
She taught him well
to stand for truth--
her love his beacon
in his diligent pursuit.

I don't have words...

Okay, I didn't have words for a while...

but then I wrote some in response.

And I hope they apply to every mother whose child battles thorns in the flesh. I hope you feel this way. And I hope your children feel you feel this way. It's part of what adversity is for.

Dear Jake,

Thank you for the sweet Mother’s Day letter and poem. It might be the best letter you’ve ever sent! I am so proud of your strength and courage in this challenging process of healing. I’ve been reading a great book about people with your struggles that has really helped me see things from your point of view. What you are accomplishing is epic! It’s inspiring! It’s more than most mortals can handle. Truly!

I'm glad you are working the 12 steps. You're right: Step 4 can truly be brutal, I agree, and thank God it’s got some great rewards in Step 5. I hope you know…No, really, I want to state this boldly: As far as I am concerned, you are ALWAYS forgiven before you ask. I get why those things happen, and I get that I have the agency to choose my reaction. I choose forgiveness and peace. I know the power of the atonement in my own past mistakes and want that for you and for everyone, really. Your journey has given me great opportunities for personal growth, for wisdom and understanding. I have been gifted with strength I didn’t know I had, and my compassion is deeper and wider and fuller than I could have imagined. I sometimes feel like I have been given so much at the expense of your own suffering that I need to be vigilant in “giving back”. Not only to you, but to all my Heavenly brothers and sisters. God is indeed a consuming fire. The truth, the love, the insight…they burn in me.

And we have been able to change the world (remember when you wrote me that desire while in the mission field?) with what we have been through (and continue to go through)! I know my own experiences allow me to help others in ways I wish I’d had in my own days of brutal suffering. In totality, it’s both a bone-crushing and brilliantly beautiful thing. I am lucky to be your mom. I get to have given birth to a Phoenix…I can’t wait to see what’s next!

I love the poem you wrote. It could be a companion poem to “Within”. (see http://learningtowalkinrubyslippers.blogspot.com )

You, like many geniuses and great artists, have amazing gifts. And like many of those who came before you, your gifts are often birthed in struggle. Yet you put your foot forward one more time…every time. You pick up the pen and write the next sentence. You make the next brush stroke on the canvas, you sing the next note, climb the next mountain, and slay the next dragon… I am so proud of what you are doing! Only you know how much it takes to do it all, but I have glimpses-- and your journey is profound. It humbles me. It inspires me. And it’s interesting you are starting to heal from that perception of being “a child of little worth” (as did I) at around the same age that I did. It’s a tender mercy that I am deeply grateful for.

And since you are working Step 4, I must also say this: I was proud of you even in what appeared to be your darkest moments. The strength to bear up under such tremendous adversity; the ability to survive your thorns in the flesh and serve others despite your pain; and the fact that I knew, as no other mortal could, that in the moment you entered mortality, I whispered to you what Spirit had roared to me: that you were meant for great things. I can always hold on to that thought (given me by the Spirit) in one hand, hold the Savior’s hand my other hand, and be at peace with what is. Bless you for allowing me that. Bless you. And Bless Heaven.

My new ring tone (and best song of the moment) is the Sarah Bareilles “Brave”:


You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

So I will continue to be brave, and I know you will to. It’s who you are. I’m lucky not only to know you, but to be bound to you by blood. Thanks for letting me be your imperfect-but-trying mother. I love you!


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Writing Letters is not a lost art...for me! Here's a sample!

Dear _______________,

Wow! Where did April go? And for that matter, why is it still as cold as winter? It was getting hot in the afternoons, so Lloyd gave in and opened up the swamp cooler (no small task for an old guy with a gimpy right leg) and since then it’s been frigid! Welcome to Millard County, I guess. Plus we’ve had horrific winds every other day that have toppled trees, sent trampolines into neighbor’s yards, and blown part of the Oak City Fire Station siding off.

I need some quiet weather, and quiet afternoons. It won’t happen today though. It’s supposed to freeze tonight (there go the lilacs…again) and we both have to go get haircuts after work. Since Lloyd doesn’t get home until 6:30 or 7:00 and I go to bed at 8:30 or 9:00 (when did we get to be such fuddy-duddies?), it’s a small window of time spent relaxing at home. It's more specifically time that Elway spends mostly making us get up and down off the bed to answer his every need since he’s BEEN HOME RESTING all day! Something about this doesn’t feel quite right!

Last weekend, I was so worn out from the three prior weekends, that I (who rarely naps) napped THREE TIMES!! And then watched a movie, which kind of counts as a fourth nap since it was one Lloyd picked out and we SO don’t have the same taste in movies. Lloyd, although he won’t admit it, seems to have more energy since the advent of the CPAP, which he abhors. I love it, because he doesn’t snore. Also because it’s saving damage to all his vital organs so I won’t have to take care of an ornery old bed-ridden geezer in years to come. Since he started it right when spring allergies hit, it’s hard to tell if he feels better because he feels crappy. And it’s also hard to tell, because he’s convinced he will always feel crappy…it’s his destiny. But take it from me, he is up and around more. And he’s WAY less grouchy.

Right now he’s studying the new C++ computer something-or-other. He’s read way more on his Kindle than I thought he would. Don’t panic. He still watches tons of Netflix on it too! It’s not time for the straightjacket just yet!

This weekend I’m keeping two promises to three grandchildren. I’m attending a soccer game and having a sleepover. Even though it means yet another weekend of travel, it should be fun, AND it’s also supposed to be great weather. BONUS! The next weekend we have no plans…yet. And the following is Fathers and Sons if all goes as planned (which as you know, for us, is rarely true.)

I am attaching [the talk I posted below this post] (plus I taught Relief Society with a portion of it as well). I love the atonement and all that it promises for all of us who struggle with our various challenges and weaknesses. It gives me hope. I hope (see? There it is! LOL) it gives you hope too!

Hope all is well and I’m so proud of all you are doing to grow spiritually and to heal. You are in my prayers, and I love you.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Kiss Goodbye

Val’s Funeral Talk – Saturday, April 19, 2014 – Mt. Pleasant, Utah

Chris asked me to talk today about some of Val’s core beliefs, namely the atonement and the plan of salvation as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She’d been a member of this church since baptism. Val was a valiant woman with a strong testimony of these doctrines. She struggled at times, and had weaknesses, as we all do. But at other times she was a warrior woman, who boldly served and obeyed her Heavenly Father like a Queen Esther, Eve, and Emma all rolled into one.

I met her first when she was 16 and immediately felt like I’d known her forever. The fact is I had…in the life before this one: the pre-existence where we existed in love as one large eternal family, all gathered together in support of our Savior’s plan of salvation, That is evidenced by our presence here today. She and I always felt like we had chosen each other before passing through the veil into mortality.

At first, she was my daughter, borrowed from her own sweet mother, a fact for which I will always be grateful. And then we grew to be close friends…no, more than that: sisters who share in common a Heavenly Father. That is a family relation Val shares with all of us, and will for eternity.

Val was a woman of impressive gifts and talents, and great strengths as evidenced by the beautiful family she was not quite through raising. We each carry memories of the ways she used her talents to benefit our lives. For a moment, let’s do something out of the ordinary. (Val would love that, wouldn’t she?) Close your eyes and picture her in your mind and join me in spending the next sixty seconds remembering specific things she did that made us love her, that made us laugh or cry, that let us know she loves us. Are you ready? Let’s begin…

(let 60 seconds elapse)

Thank you. And please notice now how the spirit in this room has swelled to overwhelming with the Spirit, and with the love she had, and still has, to share with each of us. I hope later we’ll sit together and share the things we’ve just been thinking about. I suspect there will be tears, but I’m hoping there will also be smiles and laughter at her antics. She’d like that.

She was the kind of woman, who while serving with me in a Young Women’s presidency in this very church building, could have the girls in tears at her testimony one minute and the next be teaching them to tie their dresses between their legs and roll down temple hill. I have watched her take surly, arguing teenagers and make them stand nose to nose saying “I love you” until the fight was forgotten and all were giggling friends again. I have seen her share her own triumphs over trials with a sobbing young woman in that healing way she has, and then within the hour make that same girl howl with laughter at the live lizard hanging halfway out of her mouth. Those girls, like the rest of us, loved her as a person, and because of that they loved and followed her example. She was a force for good in mortality and there will be many a person on the other side who will credit her for helping them join her there in her Savior’s presence.

Val worked hard to fulfill her mission as a woman of great faith and compassion, and we have all benefitted thereby. She often did so under great adversity, as many of us do. She received her patriarchal blessing, and her temple endowments, and encouraged her children to follow in her footsteps. She raised her children with a love for the Lord and taught them to follow His teachings. She knew that she had lived a full and beautiful life with all of us in the pre-existence, and that we would all join together here in mortality. She knew we were here to obtain a mortal body, and to be refined and tested. And tested she was. But she was also humble and valiant and patiently endured her struggles. She had no doubt of a life after this one where she would be able to raise her beautiful son, Corey, and spend time with all those she’s loved and lost. Furthermore, she knows she can still have influence on each of us from that place. Watch for those tender mercies, because we will be her mission still.

While still serving together in the Young Women’s program, we heard our Stake Young Women’s president, Lois Lister, share a story that I would like to share with you.

One day there was a young boy walking down the road swinging a cage full of terrified, squawking birds. He nearly bumped in to a man standing on the side of the road, who asked him “Where did you get those birds?” The boy replied proudly, “I’ve been catching them in my bird traps.” The man thought for a moment, and then asked, “What are you going to do with those birds?” “Just play with ‘em” said the boy. “What about when you are finished playing with them? By this time the man was concerned for the birds. “Aw, I think I’ll just feed ‘em to my cat.” Since it was obvious that the birds were in peril, and that the boy had little investment in their survival, the man tried a bargain. “Do you think you might like to sell those birds?” The boy furled his brow in consideration. Finally he tilted his head, squinted one eye and asked, “How much”? The man emptied his pockets of coins and bills. “I’ll give you every penny I have,” said the man. “Deal,” said the boy and took the cash, then handed the birds over to the man. “You just bought yourself some dumb old birds, Mister,” he said as he ran away laughing, thinking he’d pulled one over on the man. When the boy was out of sight, the man opened the bird cage, and gently, one by one, set the birds free, watching them soar until they were out of sight.

That is the blessing of the atonement. We are all tossed to and fro by the adversary, caged by our own fears and weaknesses. He cares not for our pain or our progress. He only toys with us and we mean little to him. We worry about our futures and feel guilty about our pasts so that here, in the present moment we are in bondage all the while yearning to fly free. We need only accept the gift of the atonement, knowing the price for our past mistakes has already been paid by the loving sacrifice of the Savior in Gethsemane and Calvary. Our future is in the hands of a loving Heavenly Father and because of that we, too, are free to fly...to serve…to bless…to obey…to love.

There is a video floating around Facebook called Because of Him. I hope you find it, and watch it, and believe it. While showing photos of great historical events, it says:

It was unthinkable, impossible, unfathomable, unprecedented—
A single act that changed history, possibility, destiny…
He was a carpenter, a teacher, an outcast, a leader,
Yet He did what no carpenter, teacher, outcast or leader had ever done.
Like all who preceded Him, He lived. And He died.
But unlike all who preceded Him, he rose from the dead.
He lived again.
He lives. And because He lives you…and you…and he…and she…and they…and we
Will all live again.
Because of Him, death has no sting, the grave no victory.
We can start again…and again…and again because of Him.
Guilt becomes peace, regret becomes belief, despair becomes hope
Because of Him.
We have second chances, clean slates, new beginnings
Because of Him.
There is no such thing as the end…because of Him.

Val believed in Him. She shared that belief with each of us. She wants us to follow Him…until we can join her in His presence.

I wrote a poem that describes my personal feelings about the loss of Val:

The Kiss

How could I have known
this every-morning kiss goodbye
would be our last...

An ordinary moment
much too soon became our past...

I don’t know what to do...

These unfamiliar duties
so grievous and so new...

Then I feel the whisper
of your spirit brush my brow

An angel kiss that comforts me
for now...


s. westenskow

In the end, it’s not about what we lost when Val passed on to the life after this one. It’s much more about what we gained while she was here and what we will do to keep her legacy alive. Will we grieve? Of course we will. But there will come a point, a defining moment, when our thoughts will turn to her and the sadness will abate. We will giggle a little, and feel a rush of love. We will want to be more like her. We’ll want to know what she knew…what made her so full of life? We’ll ask ourselves in that moment, will we fill someone else’s life with love because she first loved us? Will we follow her example by following the Savior because He first loved us? I think we will. In fact, I think she’ll insist on it.

And we will look forward to being together with her again in the life that follows this one. We’ll tell her everything we’ve done while waiting for this spirit world moment, and I’m sure she’ll fill us in on all her Heavenly shenanigans. Of course she will, and that will be the best part.

I love you Val. Thanks for being right here beside me today.

I say these things In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What's in a name? Tons of stuff!

I hated my name almost all my life. Until I wrote a poem about it for a friend's daughter, who hated her name...also Shirley. I learned that my name was chosen for me by my dad, which, now that's he's passed on, really touches my heart. Then, as I practiced the art of writing, I learned that names are very significant to writers, and often chosen for very significant reasons, like their meaning.

For example, in the movie Dead Poet's Society, each character's name means something specific to the character trait that the actor portrays. A very simplified list: Knox Overstreet is the wealthy one: Fort Knox? Dalton, is the rebel or outlaw like the Dalton Brothers. He is the one who always goes just a step too far. Todd Anderson, whose name means the son of the Son of Man – or everyone, represents us all. Neal Perry means to kneel, and kneel suggests submission. Perry (or parry) suggests to fight and is also the root of the word to die. He submits to his controlling father, then defies him, with acting at first, and then in suicide. It is the only choice he has if he wants to remain free. And John Keating? He's named with the derivative of Keates, a romantic poet, and is also a Christ figure (his initials have the sounds of J and K like Jesus Christ) and is the character who sacrifices for the good of all. (He leaves the school but the boys are forever changed.)

See what I mean?

My name, when adding first, middle, maiden, sur- and nick- means: 1. Army, Warrior; 2. a female deer in the bright meadow from the western forest. It's kind of beautiful when I think of it that way, and I've learned to love it.

I remember a meme going around blog world for a while where you Google your first name and see what pops up. Who knew Charlotte Bronte wrote a book named “Shirley”. Of course, I got Shirley Temple, the name I was taunted with all during childhood. Shirley Maclaine popped up as did Shirley Booth who played “Hazel”. You have to be my age or older to remember that one. Also there is a Shirley Plantation in Virginia and a town called Shirley, Massachusetts. Both are now on my bucket list to see.

I named my children after family, but I love the meanings of their names:

Sonja means “wisdom, and clearing”. It fits her. Alice means “noble and kind”. CJ means “camp meadow” (I wonder if his meadow is near my meadow and Sonnie's clearing?) and “God is gracious”. Jake's means “supplanter” and “soul”, significant since he's the one entering rehab today. Elizabeth is “my God is an oath” and “God is gracious”.

I have a lot more kids, and won't name them all here, but names are significant in ways many of us, as parents never understood. Also the next time you watch a movie, try to figure out how their names apply. George means “Of the earth”. Notice how John Travolta gardens and is in touch with the earth in “Phenomenon”. Or how he knows God as an archangel in “Michael”? That's what the name means.

Google your own name. See what comes up. Or leave your name in a comment on this blog and I'll send you the meaning. (It's hard to check surnames but I'll try that too).

I can't wait to learn more about who you are!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Twilight Zone – The Blog Post

I'm starting to think I live in the Twilight Zone. I don't know if everybody has such odd things happen to them, but it's really got me stymied. For instance, today I was driving to work with only half-defrosted windows and the wipers working hard at the other half. All of a sudden, the driver's side wiper went left instead of right and rested non-chalantly on my side view mirror. I stopped, got out, and found that it was disconnected from the car. I hope it doesn't rain until I can figure out how to get the entire apparatus (not just the wiper blade) back to doing its job.

Another example, I can't even remember the last time my alarm didn't go off and even when it didn't I woke up anyway. Well, it happened yesterday. I slept two extra hours and was an hour late for work. Hasn't happened since high school, and then it may have been manipulation to get out of a few hours of school. My memory is going so who knows, but I suspect that might be true.

I can often feel my smart phone vibrating in my bra...when it's not in my bra. I also regularly get a case of hives. Make that one hive. One single insanely itchy hive. About every other day. Can you hear the Twilight Zone theme music yet?

And then there's my dog, a shaggy Shih Tzu named Elway, who is crazy. The other day, a friend was visiting and he hopped up into her lap. That's not unusual, he does that all the time. But then he climbed her stomach, pawed a soft place in her ample...um...bosoms, and made himself comfy. I've never seen him do that before and he's sat on many, many laps.

Also, once I had a car that, when the radio was off, I could hear the theme song to “I Love Lucy”. I know, straight-jacket material, huh?! In another car, if I pressed the brake and hit the right turn signal, the horn would honk.

Last week I put the back seat of my car down in order to bring home a door. Even though I've raised the seat back up bunches of times, this time I can't do it. Mechanical things are a problem. Like the door to our lobby at work. It has a lock that can be opened without a key for safety reasons (in case I have to make a quick getaway after a drug test goes bad or something). If my landlord is standing there, I can open it right up. If he's not, neither I, nor the guy in the next office, or even the cleaning lady can unlock it to save our lives. So far our lives haven't needed saving, but it could happen. Especially in the Twilight Zone.

Recently, my daughter asked if she could order some things through my Amazon account, where I had just browsed and ordered a toy for her son's birthday gift. About an hour later, I was balancing my checkbook and saw a whole list of toys had been purchased. I panicked, called my daughter and said, “I accidentally ordered like six toys. When they come, will you send them back and I'll give you shipping money?” She said, “Mom. Remember when I asked if I could use Amazon?” Oh, right. Technically that's more an estrogen-deprived-lack-of-memory issues than TZ weirdness but it felt pretty weird at the time.

As a bonus, I've learned a new language. It goes like this. Lloyd and I are watching television and I yell: “Hit pause”. Terrified by my outburst, he obeys. I say: “Those stairs. See them? They are the exact ones from that movie...you know...where what's her name hangs that stuff over the railing...and ...oh, who is that actor?... well her husband,? They leave and get back together? What was that movie?”

You get it, right? I got it too. Eventually. The next day I called Lloyd and said seven words: Hi. Bruce Willis. The Story of Us.” The weird thing is he knew exactly what I meant. And it really was the same staircase!

Just last night, dinner wouldn't cook, my television show didn't record and all our ice cream melted.
Seven words: Turn on oven, Wednesday not Tuesday, fridge.

I rest my case.

God is a God of miracles!

3/9/2014 – Oak City 2nd Ward Fast and Testimony Meeting

After almost a month of withdrawing into a corner, licking my wounds after the most recent emotional battering I took, I had a sweet visit from my Relief Society leaders that helped me turn that around and get back to center. I knew before I even had my makeup on this morning, that I would be bearing my testimony today. The Spirit told me. It did not tell me what I would say. But I know by the end of today's meetings:

In our womens' meeting (Relief Society), we learn about faith and repentance. I feel an intense spiritual confirmation...again...that our God is a God of miracles. I am reminded of the miracle the Savior worked for Nephi when commanded to build a ship. Instead of complaining about how hard it was, or that he didn't have tools or experience (which I am constantly whining about), he said “If the Lord commanded me to do all things, I could do them.” It comforts and strengthens me to know that Nephi's God and my God are one and the same and thus He will help me the way He helped Nephi.

I love that God is a God of tender mercies as evidenced by that meeting ending with the hymn “Be Still, My Soul” which has been a go-to source of comfort for me for 20 years.

Another tender mercy is that every word spoken in every lesson is for me today. In Sunday School, where we are learning about the Old Testament, we talked about the sacrifice Abraham was asked to make: the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. As the mother of a beloved son struggling with addiction, I can relate to Abraham. As I began to stop enabling behavior and trying to help create a “bottom” which would move his heart to change, it felt like that kind of sacrifice. It is not natural for us, as LDS mothers, to force our sons to sleep in cars if they are not sober, or to leave the comfort of our arms for desolate places when they cross agreed upon boundaries. Many times my Savior has intervened in my son's efforts at self-destruction. I know God sees those actions as love. I know the same God who saved Isaac, loves my son, and can save him too.

Joseph Fielding Smith said:

“Remember everyone has weaknesses. And there are two sides to every story. If you err in judgment, err on the side of love and mercy.” No one does that better than each of you (the members of my ward). No matter what happens in our family--and we do experience a host of almost bizarrely devastating trials on a regular basis--you show up. You support us. No matter how public and uncomfortable the situation, you err on the side of love and mercy. Not a person in this room has been without influence in our lives. Every time you express your love, perform some act of service, say your prayers, or even say amen to prayers to help those who are struggling, I feel your love.

I know my Savior lives. I know He is a God of miracles. I know He is both just and merciful. I know we are led by divinity, even in our weaknesses (and mine are many), as long as we are doing our best.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.