Moving On…

The breast care center called this morning. My biopsy was negative.

Huzzah and a huge sigh of relief.

Honestly, over the last two weeks, I have examined my own mortality and plumbed the depths of my soul. I feel that this whole thing may have been a heavenly-imposed exercise in acceptance and trust.

I was prepared to receive different results. I’ve spent the recent days questioning my life and my spiritual readiness. Am I actually ready to accept all things that God allows to unfold in my life?

To be frank, I agonized.

But just yesterday as I meditated about this experience, I said to myself, “I know God loves us and things will work out in the end. Whatever happens, I trust Him. It will ultimately be okay, even more than okay.” And I was peaceful.

Then I spent roughly 10,000 hours on the phone with Jack’s doctor, support coordinator, principal, and residential care director because Jack is doing the same aggressive/destructive things at his new school that he did at his old one. So after talking sensory integration diets, med changes, crisis intervention plans, communication strategies, and even a different door for Jack to enter and leave the school (so he won’t knock little preschoolers down in the halls), we have a better course of action to follow that will keep everyone safe and allow Jack to progress beyond the negative behaviors that are his stumbling block to academic growth.

The last few weeks have featured me walking around blindly, holding onto hope that God would see us through the darkness.

Today, light is shining again on me. I am flooded with thanksgiving that Jack has such a marvelous and dedicated team working on his behalf. I am thankful for another day of life, of health, of drawing breath. I’m dazzled by the slanty golden sunlight of a mid-October afternoon.

Once again, Jesus showed up. He lifted the load that was crushing me.

This will never stop being remarkable to me.

That Sucked

October 7, 2017

I had a breast biopsy this week.

I’m going to be frank about this nightmare-before-Halloween experience. Feel free to check out now if you’d just rather not. I get it.

I tried hard to be funny while writing it, guys. But it didn’t really work, because TRAUMA.

The biopsy took place on a state-of-the-art, brand-new piece of equipment (I know this because they kept telling me). It was installed only days before my procedure, meaning no one really knew how to use said equipment.

What they told me would take ten minutes took sixty.

For sixty minutes, I lay face down on a table that was raised high in the air, my chest pressed into a literal hole in the table. My legs, bum, head, and arms splayed unattractively akimbo because the table was subtly bowl-shaped, making my pose like that of a spider squashed in the part of the bathtub where the sides meet the bottom.

Does anyone know how I can tweet out my thoughts on this design and tag the engineering team who thought it was a good idea?

Because no one knew how to work the new software and machinery, a random stranger who worked for the medical equipment company spent an hour in the space below the table coaching the doctor and techs in the uses of the stereotactic biopsy table and needle FOR, I repeat, ONE HOUR while my delicate parts were “compressed” (i.e. smashed), a needle stabbed me, and the techs complained that I was moving too much. In my defense, you really can’t move when you are being “compressed” in this manner.

“Are you uncomfortable?” they would ask me, with an air of shocked disbelief, as if I were behaving like a petulant preschooler.

“Yes, I’m uncomfortable!” I retorted. This procedure and the position into which I was locked FOR AN HOUR were the very definition of uncomfortable.

The room was quiet with tension—my hatred of the table and the needle and the stupid questions, and their unspoken sentiment that I was being unnecessarily grumpy.

When they raised the table, it brought me eye-level with the framed hospital “art” hanging on the wall. It looked like a computer was commissioned to copy Monet—fuzzy impressionistic poppies in a fuzzy field overlooking a fuzzy beige view. It was the art equivalent of muzak.

I could see myself in the reflection of the painting’s glass. I looked bizarre, my bum, swathed in a too-large front-closing hospital robe, sticking in the air because of that “ergonomic” table; my Nikes dangling slightly above me (remember, bowl-shaped table?); my tenderest parts clenched in the flat fist of the machine’s paddles below the table.

I know the breast care center exists for the benefit of women, but this experience felt like a bunch of people without breasts got together and brainstormed ideas for “how to dehumanize female people while also hurting their most sensitive parts.”

There are women out there who have undergone double mastectomies and reconstructive surgery. And chemotherapy and radiation. To these women, I say, “I am weak. I bow down to you. The biopsy alone shook me.”

They took a couple of traditional mammograms after I disembarked the torture table. Then I sat in a big chair and swooned a bit as I watched a tech taping my wound together with steri-strips. It was a big hole. Big enough to insert a titanium hat-shaped marker into my breast that will remain there. (“I know, let’s make the metal marker in a HAT shape, because then it will have a pokey part that sticks out and isn’t smooth! Genius!”)

Jeff drove me directly to Kneader’s, where I ate carbs, including a perfect mint brownie.

The results should materialize in a few days. Meanwhile, I’m eating chocolate. And I have temporarily stopped reading my book (World Without End by Ken Follett) because my favorite female character is being horribly mistreated by evil monks and I want all women everywhere (including pretend ones) to be treated with dignity and respect, with no threats whatsoever against their lives or their boobs.


Faith and Trust are Symbiotic

October 2, 2017

Last night, I picked up the boys from behavior therapy and we met Jeff and Henry for dinner.

When we got home, I tidied the kitchen.

We put on our pj’s and brushed our teeth.

I read the boys picture books on my bed.

I read aloud from 1 Nephi to my family.

Charlie said our prayer.

The little boys “went to bed,” meaning they played and talked and teased each other in their room for a good 75 minutes before finally falling asleep.

I read my book (World Without End by Ken Follett) for a good 75 minutes before falling asleep.

I had the distinct impression that life is good.

Jack is being cared for, and the way that has all come together and is progressing is miraculous, in the sense that God’s fingerprints are all over his life and mine.

My other boys now benefit from having regular, reliable family scriptures and prayers, and family nights where we can go out and do things together.

There is a sense of calm manageability in our home, at least much of the time.

This is a sea change.

I feel like a grown-up, where before I usually felt like an awkward adolescent who was inadequate and barely holding on. I feel as though I’ve emerged from one dark, cold corridor of my life and stepped into another. This one is brighter and warmer.

And yet. I went in for my first ever mammogram recently and was called back (to the big flagship hospital’s breast care center this time) for a follow-up scan which revealed calcifications which may or may not be cancerous. Later this week I will have a biopsy.

Because I descend from a long line of folks who excel in worst-case scenarios, I’ve spent ten days contemplating my mortality. For years, it seemed as though my life and struggles would never end. There were periods where I could not fathom continuing with my burdens for another week, let alone another 40 or 50 years. I recall days where I would tell myself, “Just try to last through the next 30 minutes.” And after that half hour passed, I would tell myself to focus on making it through the next 30 minutes. In the worst times, this is how I survived Jack’s childhood and my littler boys’ babyhood.

Now, ironically, as life is sunnier and calmer, I am looking at my life and wondering what will happen.

We are making progress in helping our boys in all the areas in which they have needed help for so long. Because of the things we learned when Jack lived in our home, we have brought a bigger perspective and softer hearts to our new reality. The real change is that life seems short to me now, where before it seemed impossibly long.

During this last ten days, I have again asked myself if I am willing to accept God’s will for me and my family.

In my meditations, I have moved between fear and sadness, and peace because I do trust God. I have faith that whatever he gives me will be for my benefit. But, I’ve asked myself, what about my children? If they have to lose their mother at an early age, will he help them through it? Would they be able to overcome such a loss and its related effects? Would he help them with this added challenge, as well as with their disabilities?

I know I can do hard things with God’s help. But I worry for my children. I want to be here to help them through their trials, particularly while they are still little. This big question mark in my life may be the hardest exercise in trusting the Lord I’ve experienced to date. Do I trust him to actually help my boys if I am not here to fulfill the role of mother?

I have a new appreciation for nurturing and for the value of people who engage in it as their life’s central work.

I do not know what I will learn from my upcoming biopsy, but I have learned that trusting God is a process that continues to unfold for me. With each level of added understanding of his love and care for me, I find I then face new avenues which again try my trust.

I have to believe that these lessons are symbiotic. Each bit of yielding my heart to God and his plan offers a rung on which I can step, climbing to the next level of spiritual understanding.

The future is unclear.

I exercise faith.

God comes through for me and mine.

God propels me to a new plane of comprehension of his plan for me.

New trials arise.

I choose faith.

I struggle.

Jesus lifts me up, and on and on it goes, apparently.

There is a pattern, and while I am living it, I’m still learning it.

Doubt, Perspective, Belief

Yesterday I had the kind of day where stress coiled my right shoulder and neck into a tight, angry thing. I couldn’t sleep well. I was tired and burdened. It was just a lot to internalize. I’m not being specific, but it was the kind of day that makes me say, “Oh hey, world. I really love you, but wow, you aren’t the easiest thing to navigate, are you?”

We went to In & Out for Family Night (five thumbs up) and I read 1 Nephi 16 to the guys on the way home. The thing we noticed and discussed after our latest reading of this passage was that when his family was hungry in the wilderness and Nephi’s bow was broken, Lehi doubted. The prophet Lehi doubted. He did not know if he believed that God would deliver them. He began to wonder if he had made the right choice in listening to God and taking his family into the wilderness.

I think this chapter includes Lehi’s wavering faith because we have all been there or will someday be. We can be obedient and faithful and try and try and try, faithfully maintaining hope. And at times, we may look around and wonder what is happening. What are we even doing? Is it ever going to get better?

I’m not in that place right now. But it’s easy to find oneself there, which I think is something that God allows to happen to us so we can question and wallow and decide for ourselves what we actually believe.

Anyway, back to the things that were weighing me down yesterday. They are things that are out of my control. They are worrisome things. But worrying about them doesn’t achieve anything. I believe in allowing myself to feel all the feelings I am feeling, letting them pass over and through me, without judgment. I know I will emerge on the other side and that there is no sense in carrying all those emotions with me. I will undoubtedly move on to other emotions. It’s a progression.

It was another one of those days where I was Lehi. And Nephi. With a little infusion of Laman & Lemuel. I believed in God and I believed God. Yet, the details of my family’s life were foggy and the weight of it was heavy. Heaviness can make you doubt, possibly because the weariness overtakes you and clouds your perspective.

But I found myself saying to the boys in the car while they drank their shakes, “When Lehi asked God to forgive him and to help them, God showed him exactly where to go to find food so they could eat.”

Because he did. They approached him sincerely and he provided what they needed.

My life has shown me that he will and he does.

But we will still have the days and the years and the harrowing experiences which challenge us and make us wonder when things will change and how it will be possible. My life has been a study in seeing that we need to experience the hunger and the fear, so we will turn to God and he can show us where to find exactly what we need.



Love Was the Theme

I drove home through the rain from the General Women’s Session of LDS General Conference tonight. It’s cold here, suddenly. Fall showed up promptly on the autumnal equinox.

I didn’t want to go to the church and make chit chat during the dinner. I wanted to sit home and watch the broadcast on my couch, surrounded by boy children. Every six months when the General Women’s Session happens, I always get irrationally grumpy about the fact that while women everywhere are posting selfies with their daughters at the broadcast, I get in the car by myself and drive to the church alone.

I have a rich family life so I’m not sure why I get so weirdly bugged about this. But I also signed up to bring large women’s underpants to contribute to the birthing kits the women of our stake are sending to Zimbabwe. It was the underpants that got me to the church.

Then when I arrived I saw Bea, and we sat together, and I got to “borrow” her daughters. Bea asked about Jack. I love it when people who have known me forever do this. Bea was my visiting teacher (like a ministering neighborhood angel person) years ago when Jack was five and Charlie a toddler. You know, that glorious period when Jack hated Charlie and screamed every. single. time. he saw him, day in and day out? She’s known me through all of that.

Anyway, my point is Bea knows. And we love each other. I felt that tonight.

My friend Debbie is the stake Relief Society president and stopped in the midst of her rushing around to give me a hug and tell me that she LOVES teaching piano to my Charlie (who is nine, has autism, and has gone to exactly one lesson thus far). She squeezed him into her already crazy schedule and tells me that it is HER honor. For real. I told her I never know what is going to come out of his mouth. She said she loves him. Excuse me while I sob awhile about the beauty of the people in my life.

Love was the theme of the evening.

The speakers were all my favorites, and they spoke about love: love for unlovable people, love for self, love for people with different lives and opinions, love for God and his commandments. I couldn’t even absorb all of it. It’s going to take re-listening and unpacking their talks to fully appreciate them.

As the speakers talked about loving each other as a means to healing our lives and relationships, I thought of my university students. I am not kidding when I say that when I teach them and walk among them on campus, I feel immense love for them. I honestly feel that I see them as the amazing people they will someday become, that they are on their way to becoming. It’s a true sense of love, though most of them are strangers to me.

I felt this way at the library today when I went with Charlie, and at the gas station when we stopped for a soda. All the people out and about struck me as being very different from me in lots of ways, but as people. Like me. I loved them.

Yesterday, I sat waiting to turn left at a red light. Cars were turning in a steady stream into the lane to my left, and as each one rounded the curve, they were blinded by the setting sun and immediately reached for their car’s sun visor. It was like clockwork: car turns left toward me, driver is blinded, driver lowers visor. And it happened like eleven times in a row.

Watching this, I thought about how we are all people and are all essentially the same. Outwardly we are different. Inwardly, we are human.

I’m not sure if I know this because of Jack, or because of my sisters in the gospel, or because God just allowed me to feel it. But I have found that God loves us, that we can love ourselves, and when we do, loving each other isn’t that difficult.

The Rigidity of Autism

I’m sitting in an armchair in front of a big picture window with a pastoral parkland view in the foreground and mountains in the background. I’m at a library which is near the autism center where my boys have therapy.

They’ve had a two-month behavior therapy hiatus because of some issues, but we are back at it tonight. And I have PTSD because there was an hour and a half precursor of Charlie screaming and writhing on the floor before Jeff and I coaxed, enticed, threatened, and finally coerced him into the car. Charlie thinks therapy is babyish. Because his friends don’t go to therapy, he thinks he shouldn’t have to go either. I’ve told him all the reasons why he needs it, but sometimes autism looks like a brick wall. A brick wall that can shout at you. Because I’m the parent who gets to take and pick up from therapy sessions, I will enjoy listening to the lamentations both there and back #perksofbeingamom #yay

The rigidity of autism is a weeping blister on the back of my heel. It’s a cut at the base of my thumb, a wound that gets wet with frequent hand-washing, is overused and stretched, which makes it reopen and bleed. This inflexibility is a heavy steamer trunk I drag along relentlessly behind me. Because I can’t leave it behind without leaving my children behind.

My kids’ brains can get stuck on something—whether it is something they want or something they most assuredly don’t want. You can try to change their minds, but you will find that it’s painful and awful and doesn’t usually work.

I’ve learned from all the behavior therapy that has happened in our home over the years that as a parent, I must outlast the tantrum. Giving in ensures duplicate behaviors next time I ask the child to do whatever thing I am asking him to do. When I outlast the tantrum, remaining calm and neutral (ha!) in the midst of screaming, I win. The child learns that negative behaviors don’t work, but that I am here and ready to help him do that difficult thing, as soon as he is calm.

I outlasted the tantrum tonight, but at what cost? I’m ready to go to bed and it’s 4:42 pm. The atmosphere in our home and car was war zone-ish. I’m ready to throw stacks of pottery at a wall and cry myself to sleep. Jeff and I have to assume a totalitarian role at times like this, because unless Charlie is made to go to therapy, he will never agree to go. The bigger the child with autism, the bigger the belligerence.

It’s the same story with Truman and church. He will NEVER NEVER EVER willingly go to church. EVER. This is because he doesn’t want to wear church clothes, sit quietly, and deal with the sensory overload of the chapel during sacrament meeting. He prefers tooling around at home in tiny shorts and no shirt, and playing while eating crackers. Getting one’s family to church is always a circus (I assume; what do I know? My kids aren’t like other people’s kids), but Truman takes circus to the next level. Jeff and I have to “process” him, meaning one of us holds him (angry, screaming, kicking), while the other one puts his church clothes on. Once he’s processed and we arrive at the church, he cools off and does okay.

Have I ever mentioned that transitions suck for my kids?

So why am I writing about this?

I’m in an unhappy state as I decompress from the therapy drama. It will ramp back up in an hour when I pick the boys up after their session and hear how Charlie wants to be rewarded for his horrific behavior. I’m weary, being the front line for all of my boys’ neuroses. It’s a painful place to dwell. No one wants to live on a war front.

But this is where I live. And (perhaps depressingly) it’s vastly easier than it was in the past because I’m not handling Jack’s behaviors in tandem.

Just this morning as I stepped out of the shower, I thought about how my parenting life has really taught me to trust God. I’ve seen how he comes through for us, time and again. I am not the best at remembering this when Charlie is screaming and Truman is kicking the walls.

I think I need a mantra phrase to literally cry out when I’m in one of these craptown battles against the autism wills. Something like “Push Through,” or “I Will Win,” or “Children are an Heritage of the Lord,” haha.

I’m open to suggestions.

Bite-Sized Book Reviews

Sometimes I post about what I am reading. Today is one of those days.

A couple of disclaimers about these reviews:

A) They don’t necessarily summarize the book.

B) I’m no longer an English major being made to read things. I read what I want. Sometimes it’s YA. Sometimes it’s literary. Sometimes it’s chick lit. The end.

C) Because I love books, I’d love to hear your book recommendations and feedback, too. Chime in!

Let’s commence.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

This book is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set it modern day Cincinnati (and New York and the Bay Area). I resisted reading it when it was published a few years hence, because I didn’t want the modernity of it to ruin what is basically a perfect original book. I stand corrected. It ruined nothing. I loved it. It was masterfully reworked into today’s world—the characters, the plot, and even the dialogue. I’m a little in awe of Curtis Sittenfeld for doing a retake on one of the world’s best books and doing such a bang-up job of it. True Jane-ites who relish the Regency time and setting may not go for the modern updates, but they totally worked for me.

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

While visiting my sister over the summer in San Francisco, we saw the newest film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel late one night in the Embarcadero. It inspired me to delve back into the moody drama of du Maurier’s books. Frenchman’s Creek is less psychologically dark and more culturally and romantically driven. It tells a familiar tale from literature of a disaffected upper-class woman looking for fulfillment. It’s du Maurier, so it’s still dark, but also skillfully rendered and fresh, considering it was published something like seventy years ago. I liked it okay and I still think Daphne du Maurier is cool.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisburg

This is one of those books everyone should revisit because it gets better with age. It’s a Newberry winner and it’s definitely dated. Most of the events in the book would never happen now because technology is so different. Yet it’s a glorious time capsule for a not-too-distant era during which young people felt similar things to young people today, and of all time periods, frankly. It’s kind of a magical take on the “running away from home” and also “taking a journey” tropes of YA lit.

A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos

You know what I love about YA fiction? You can read an entire book in a day. And if you choose wisely, much of it is just so terrific. I’m stuck on Newberry winners currently, which is a good place to be. Joan Blos’s book was published in 1979 and sucked me right in. It’s beautifully rendered and historically deft. I felt slothful after reading about the work ethic and never-ending daily necessities of these New Hampshire townsfolk. The characters are based on real people who lived in the area, but are vividly imagined and rounded out in this story which has stayed with me for days after finishing it.

Chalice by Robin McKinley

This is Robin McKinley at her weirdest. And yet, I still love her. I feel like you might have to already be a devoted McKinley fan to jump into this fantasy book, though. It’s very her. It’s like she took her characters and plot lines and fantasy elements from The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, and Beauty—all better-known books, put them on steroids and said, “Screw it. This is what I like and this is what I do. Read it or don’t read it.” Do you like how I project personalities onto writers? This book is crazy. It’s about honey and how honey saves a kingdom, basically. I liked it.

The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

I met Becky at a writing and teaching conference a couple of years ago. She is a tiny little live wire with big creative ideas and a huge heart. Her YA series The Keeper’s Chronicles starts with The Storyspinner. Book two is The Skylighter. I was enamored with the characters and the story arc in the books, both of which I raced through. Her pacing, shifting narrators, action, and beautifully envisioned world reaffirmed to me why YA fiction is so glorious. I love meeting writers in person AND on the page. Books and book people are the best. I’m a Becky Wallace fan.

The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King

Emily King lives in Utah, like me (yay, Utah writers!), and writes cool stories. This book’s setting and story were completely engaging to me. I’m also a fan of books with fully-realized female characters, which this one does in spades. It’s got the magical realism elements that so many YA stories do, and it injects them into the story of a girl being forced into a marriage as the hundredth wife of a rajah. It’s a coming-of-age, but also coming-of-awareness, ability, and competency tale as Kalinda takes her future into her own hands. This was a fun read.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

I am currently reading this book. Brooks is a gifted writer. One of my favorite books ever is her Caleb’s Crossing. I also loved Year of Wonders. This one is an imagining of David from the Old Testament. While the Bible is totally my jam, I haven’t always loved every movie or book which tries to flesh out biblical stories. The Secret Chord is so classically Brooks, though, meaning it is written exquisitely. She understands people and cultures and the undercurrents which drive them. I am relishing this book.

You Are Boring, But You Are Uniquely Boring by Louise Plummer and Ann Cannon

This is a memoir-writing book for the average person (yay for being average!), pieced out in lovely snippets by my two writing mentors and friends, Ann and Louise. They are so good at teaching the art of writing by making it accessible and entertaining. Read it and be inspired to write about your own life. I predict you may also fall in love with the authors.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This book and the sequel, Crooked Kingdom are a darkly imagined look at the “deplorables” I supposed you could say, of a fantasy city, Ketterdam. But are the thieves and slum-dwelling riff-raff the actual villains? These books showcase the rot that infiltrates humanity when it is driven by greed, abuse, and unchecked lust. They are exciting reads with an ensemble of relatable characters, despite their mystical gifts and probably because of their hang ups.


What are you reading? Please tell.

Creativity is Delicate

I listen to classical music when I drive.

This might make me seem like an elderly woman, to which I say, “Works for me. I like old ladies.” My station of choice is Symphony Hall (channel 76) on Sirius XM satellite radio. I like it because, in addition to beautiful music, they have smart commentary that teaches me a whole lot about the music and the composers. Also, there are no commercials, huzzah. And it does more for me than basically all other music (which I still like, a lot). It fixes my brain. I don’t know how, but it does.

Last week, one of the DJ’s spoke about an obscure (to me) composer who, he said, “went dark,” for a period of about three years during his prime composing age because “he was silenced by depression.”

This went straight to my heart. I understood that composer, whose name I can’t even remember.

Creativity is a delicate thing.

It operates at the mercy of factors that seem to change with the wind, the seasons, and all sorts of shifting circumstances. When my 24/7 life featured me running ragged for Jack’s care, I wrote prolifically and continuously. Now, I have more time and room to think, and I simply don’t care to write.

Just now I started to type, “it means nothing to me,” but I couldn’t. Clearly, writing still means something to me, but it means something different.

I suppose the things I have to say feel more private, less funny, less like “the old blog,” darker, and definitely more monotonous. I couldn’t care less about publication or numbers of hits as charted by Google Analytics. If blogging is a conversation with readers, I am not holding up my end of it.

Blogs are dead, or so I hear, though I have been defiantly blogging regularly the last 5.5 years in spite of the so-called death of the blog. Are they dead because nobody reads them anymore? I’m the wrong person to discuss this topic, because I obviously do what I want in the online pontificating sphere, regardless of internet trends. We can probably agree that it’s all about Instagram now, which I have no problem with. You can say everything you need in a lengthy (or brief) Instagram caption, and there’s a photo, and it’s all right there in ye olde news feed.

Or maybe blogs are dead because bloggers are tired of blogging.

Who’s to say?

Anyway, the fact remains that I have less to say now, and it isn’t lighthearted or even particularly enlightening.