Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy New 'You'!

Have you ever thought of "The New Year" like tax season?
-It is proceeded by a couple of months of stress and craziness-
-You must pinch your pennies and find ways to make ends meet before its over-
-All of your hard work from the months before pays off on a single day-
-Things will be "NEW" with the final pay off before the hard work begins again-
The new year's eve party is like the day you receive your tax return. It's full of hope for the future, plans for change and excitement over how filling your life with something "New" will change everything.
Granted, if your doing it correctly, the party is more public and the aftermath less devastating, but the anticipation and reward are often very similar.
On Sept. 11, 2009, my pay off arrived. It was the culmination of years of sickness, exhaustion, pain, and the deterioration of my body all wiped away in a single morning. My older brother gave me his kidney. I awoke from the surgery on that day feeling more alive and vibrant than I's felt in 15 years.
This wasn't New Years Day though. So...Why tell this story?
The New Year's eve of 2008I went to my mother's house, ate junk food, played cards with my family and celebrated the coming of 2009. New Year's Day...I didn't wake up.
During the night after my husband and I drove home and put the kids to bed, my blood sugar crashed. This meant that I had so little sugar in my blood, my body wasn't capable of its normal processes. Erik found me that morning, turning blue, stiff and cold. He thought I'd died until he felt a whisper of breath beneath my nostrils and found a faint pulse. He called an ambulance and took me to the ER where for the next twelve hours they pumped fluids, sugar and medication into my veins. I did not however, wake up.
Occasionally I'd open my eyes and ask what happened or where was I, but I was unconscious again before he could answer. My brain had shut down. Much like an overworked computer, it refused to reboot. He finally went home to check on our kids around midnight, never knowing whether or not I'd awaken ever again.
Well...I did and over the next 8 months I had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital another half dozen times. The final time before the kidney transplant, my doctors discovered a medication I was taking was stopping my heart.
Three weeks later I had the transplant.
The four months following the surgery started off with my family happily clutching our "tax return" and planning a better future. However...
Due to the high levels of anti-rejection drugs in my body I was too weak to function. My normal weight of 110 pounds dropped to 91. There were days when I couldn't get out of bed. The days when I could, I'd prop my body against a wall, the kitchen counter or the furniture until I could get my kids off to school and then I'd collapse. By the time New Years Eve rolled around again, we wondered if we'd made a terrible mistake.
Recovery was a daily battle for over nine months. Eventually though, the long hard year paid off.
Like all of our most important moments in life, the one's that truly change us aren't calendered. The beginning of the new year is a great time to plan and resolve to do better, to make this year the best ever, but the truth is far different.
Different being the key word. 2009 was the year when my life changed for the better. In a large portion due to the four hour surgery and gift of my brother's kidney. The rest of the year was not so glorious if I look at it one day at a time though. Sept. 11 was "the day" when the world, the future and life seemed on the brink of glorious things. The days before and after though were the 'difference' in my resolution to be a good wife, mother, and person coming true. It wasn't the celebration day that changed me as much as the journey there and back again.
When you blow your horns, light fireworks and yell Happy New Year bask in the moment when the year is brand new and full of promise.
Then lower your head, hold on to those you love and brace yourself. The celebration is over...but the New you is about to begin.
Happy New You!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I Still Believe

The wonder of Christmas brings the holiday alive for me in the sparkling eyes and perpetual smiles of the children. Their anticipation, happiness and wonder as they await a visit from Santa Clause makes the shopping, crowds, and clean up worth while. Controversy rages over the idea that we lie to our children when we tell them about Santa Clause and his reindeer only to break it to them years later that Santa isn't real.
Well...there's the problem. Santa is real. When the sensible, realistic, mature members of society ask you to be rational and honest with your children about Santa Clause...Do it.
#1-Offer Proof. A few years ago, I was recovering from a transplant that nearly killed me. The organ only lasted 30 hours, I bled into my digestive tract and I was hospitalized for two weeks. Erik missed work, drove back and forth between Salt Lake City a number of times and pickens were slim. My oldest was in and out of Juvenile detention and between the court costs, the missed work for arraignment and the fees and fines, my other kids didn't have much of a Christmas to look forward to.
Christmas Eve arrived with the sound of the doorbell just as we were putting the kids in bed. When we opened the door we were met with stacks of wrapped presents and a red bag full of treats, toys, and a jar full of cash and change. I swear I heard reindeer hooves on the front lawn!
-#2. Take proof of the opposite opinion. A lady I know is spending Christmas alone as her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson are stationed in Okinawa, Japan. "Santa was a fun idea," she told me. "When my son was little. This time of year is just lonely and empty because all of the hope and joy surrounding Santa Clause is missing without kids in your life." I watched this dear lady receive secret treats and gifts every day for two weeks before Christmas with no person delivering them. I watched members of her family, her friends and her neighbors deliver visits, hugs, and service to her, all followed by "Merry Christmas". If you don't believe because the holidays are  hard and no one is showing up with secret gifts or unconditional love, its not Santa who is missing. It's the people who work for him. The individuals who don't believe and forget that Santa is all about sharing, loving, and spreading anonymous Joy. Prove to me there is no Santa.
-#3. Santa is a myth, magic, Superstition...True. True. And True. The powerful magic Santa has is a gift God gave to the world in the birth of His son Jesus Christ. Santa spreads this magical power and shares his reputation the same way The Savior does. He is known all over the world by both believers and non-believers. To some he is as real as the jolly man in red who visits the mall. To some he is just an idea promoting love, generosity, and unselfishness. The bottom line is...He works for God. He finds the hearts and homes who need him. He fills the rafters and rooftops with hope and faith. He is a tool in the hand of God. Even if you don't believe...you can't deny He is in your life. Like it or not.
So if you'd like to criticize people who tell their children about Santa, ask yourself why? If Santa Clause works for God and we work to help Santa take care of those he can't reach...then All the world is touched by the love of God through Santa Clause and those of us who still believe. Those who believe in his mission, in his purpose and in his magic. I don't "break" it to my kids that there is no Santa. I believe there is. I've experienced his gifts of magic, love, unselfishness and hope throughout my life. Sometimes from his master and mine, Jesus Christ. Sometimes through his clandestine, visits and sometimes through the hearts and hands of the people who work for him. I tell my children that he is real because you can't prove to me he isn't. So whether you believe in the gifts of God, The jolly man in the red suit, or the boundless goodness of your fellowmen. It doesn't matter. You, too, Believe in Santa Clause!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cut Your own Tree

"It's the day after Thanksgiving. Time to get our Christmas tree."
A chorus of groans erupts around the room. Okay...its not a chorus, it's just my mom. My brothers and sisters and I are excited. It was a tradition in my family every year and we loved it. After my Dad died when I was seventeen, it was too much for my mom to drag all the kids out to cut our own tree and the tradition died. My sister and I cut one some years ago when we were both in college. We had a great time and I didn't really understand why my mother dreaded the excursion.
Well mom...now I get it!
With the exception of a couple of years, my family cuts our own tree as well. When my husband learned of my dead family tradition, he reinstated it with our kids. I don't know if there is a  curse from Christmas tree farms everywhere, damning us to disaster or if its just my life, but every year something goes wrong.
If we're not fighting over who picked the best tree, or gets the last doughnut. We're driving through a snowstorm  in Tooele, Utah after sitting all day long in the INS offices. That year we pulled over in the blizzard, cut the first thing that looked like a pine tree and shoved it in the back of our car. We pulled pine needles out of the back of the car for years afterward.
The most memorable year though was a few years ago.
It was about 16 degrees and snowing, a magical feat when you live on the edge of the Mojave desert, but this Christmas it happened. We were headed for Dixie National forest with our permit, hoping we'd make it on the rutted muddy roads. After bouncing along for what seemed like days, we pulled over and Dad announced we'd be hiking over the next knoll to find our tree. The kids all jumped from the truck, making snowballs, throwing icicles at each other and falling in the mud. I hate the cold. I lack the ability to maintain my own body temperature even in the summer so I'm always cold. This day I was in 250 layers and still a Popsicle. When my husband said "uh-oh", I knew it would be a long day. "I forgot to bring a saw," he told us.
A Chorus of moans and groans later, Dad had a plan. Using a cement stake he found in the bed of the truck, and a hammer from his tool box, we'd break the tree off and then take it home and clean it up. With his confidence and my reluctance to start all over hours later, we trudged up the 'knoll'. A mud slide and a snowball fight later. we'd narrowed our choices down to three trees. My job was to sit by Dad's tree while he took the kids the forty miles between trees to look at each one. By the time they returned to my tree, I didn't care if we hung lights from my plastic potted tree in the living room at home. I was done.
A "winner" was finally chosen and Dad went to work with the cement stake.
Well, evidently, this tree was father by one from the petrified forest, because after we'd scarred the bark and battered the trunk for another hour, Mr. Tree wasn't budging.
Defeated, cold, wet and covered in mud, we agreed we'd have to come back...with a saw...the next day.
A heater in an old truck never felt so good. Sore but content to try again, we drove back to town, stopping to get gas for the return trip before going home. Now only six blocks from my fireplace and fuzzy socks, my husband groaned again. "The back tire is flat."
Even the kids complained this time. "Worse," he said, "I don't have a spare or a jack."
There's a lot more to this story, like our neighbor driving to our house and bringing us the tools and spare we needed, but the moral of the story is this...
We eventually got a tree and we eventually had to clean up the sap all over the floor, the dead needles in the rug and the fire hazard it became by Christmas day. More than all the trouble though is the memory.
We still laugh, grumble, and reminisce about the year we tried to cut our own tree with a cement stake. Our 'Charlie Brown' Christmas trees aren't majestic, gorgeous, or even shapely. They are...symbols of all the love, fun, forgiveness and laughter that cutting our own tree provides. I've heard a lot of people say-"I love your little tree. We don't cut our own because...its too much trouble, its too messy, we bought one a few years back that comes out of a box."
You're right about all of that. Those trees are probably prettier, cleaner, and less work. That's how we prefer our lives, right?
Our trees are often pathetic, ugly, or down right, painful to bring home. However, through it all, the time we spend with our kids and each other is worth the trial of the tree.
When life offers you the opportunity to ease your experiences from a box, or have them delivered neat and clean. Take a deep breath, strap on your hiking boots and say, "No thanks. I'll cut my own tree."

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Between Gethsemane and Golgotha

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the tendency we have as humans to become a little more divine. Our hearts, hands and even our wallets open for our brothers and sisters who aren't as fortunate as we are. The down side is that we also see those unfortunate fellow men and experience a bit of their pain as we reach out to them.
Over the past few months and especially these last few weeks I've heard the stories of family, friends and neighbors who find their health, their happiness and their hearts a bit heavy. Many of them have experienced long painful journeys that don't seem to end. Some are experiencing miracles but some are just beginning the climb. No matter where each finds themselves at this time of year. The example of our Savior still prevails.
My youngest son told me his shorthand version of 'The atonement' of The Savior. In his words..."The worst part was in Gethsemane, but it was all bad Mom. Even after the worst was past."
His simple, honest appraisal of The Savior's suffering weighed on me as I followed up with some of my suffering friends and family. "The Son Of Man hath descended below them all..." and yet we can't relate our own pain to his in any way. Why?
Imagine, if you will, such excruciating pain that you sweat blood. Take the worst physical, mental or emotional pain you've known. Even in memory, our minds and bodies shy away. I'll bet you never sweat great drops of blood though?
Between Christ's road from Gethsemane to Golgotha he  remained perfect. His journey lasted forty hours. In  the beginning  his physical agony robbed him of blood, tears and strength. In the garden, an angel stood by his side to help him. When this most horrific pain was past, he'd been suffering all night. His most beloved friends failed him. His chosen disciple betrayed him. The Sanhedrin mocked, scorned, spit up on him and then took him to be judged by the Romans. He had no food, water, sleep or defender. A mob of his brothers and sisters demanded his death. Jagged thorns from a cruel crown pierced his brow. Bits of bone and metal dug into his back as he was flogged and stripped almost naked. All of this before he was condemned.
This wasn't the half of it...
Weak from blood loss, hunger and thirst, he carried his cross, a beam speculated to be a few hundred pounds for 3 miles, up hill. He collapsed from the strain. This wasn't even the worst part.
With Heavy mallets they drove spikes through his palms, his wrists, and both beet,until  his own weight drug his body downward, tearing at the bones, tendons and flesh. He watched his mother weep at his feet but couldn't comfort her. He took abuse from soldiers and grief from friends. He was left to die alone.
And this wasn't the worst part.He was weak, tired, and drained from The atonement. The crucifixion, though less painful, came when his strength was spent, his patience was tested and his support system was gone. 
In the midst of our struggles, we also cry out "My God, My God Why hast thou forsaken me?" because the pain, the suffering and the fear are more than we can bear. What ever it is you go through. Whatever pain assaults your mind and body. Whatever dark abyss of the soul you must travel remember to hang on. "Its all bad, but it's not the worst."
An often forgotten gift of the atonement of Jesus Christ is that in his crowning achievement...resurrection. He claimed the power to offer you the balm of Gilead. The real miracles in life are His power to cleanse you of sin. To comfort, cradle, and control your pain is amongst His minor abilities.
During this Holiday season, if you can be the hands that comfort, the arms that cradle, and the strength from which others draw...God bless you! If you're in need of those arms, hands and strengths...reach for The Savior. You'll find Him somewhere between Gethsemane and Golgotha.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

If I'd Only Known...

"There is a fifty percent chance your baby will be born blind, with mental and physical handicaps, if he survives at all."
The doctor's voice was somber and serious, but my husband and I just smiled and nodded. "If this pregnancy doesn't kill the baby, it will most likely kill you." I grinned at the well-meaning OB/GYN.
"I know."
I didn't really "know". I didn't have the quiet assurance that I was going to die if I had this baby. I "knew" all the statistics, facts, and projections for  diabetic, kidney failing patients who became pregnant. This baby however, would not end up one of their numbers. I "knew" that, as well.
It didn't matter if he weren't perfect. It didn't matter how hard it would be. I'd been through a premature birth, 12 weeks of bed rest, and a traumatic 96 hour labor with my oldest. I "knew" what to expect.
I didn't expect my Kaison.
He was born,ten years ago  today Dec. 3. He came  eight weeks premature, after a C-section in which I had seizures and ended up nearly paralyzed from an overdose of Magnesium, but he was perfect.
Even at four pounds and 15 ounces he was a fighter. The doctor tried to pull him out and he scrambled to the top of my womb to get away. His little underdeveloped lungs struggled to take in breath, but he screamed his head off anyway. 12 hours after his birth he popped his right lung and had to be put on a ventilator for another 2 weeks, but he never stopped trying to survive.He wouldn't eat as fast or as much as the doctors wanted him to, he was never in a hurry. He laughed, smiled, cuddled and played more than any of my other kids. I worked non-stop with my first baby to make sure he hit all his developmental stages. Mostly I worried non-stop. Not with Kaison. He was a light, a warm flame that seemed to chase away fear, worry, and my over-active, over-analytical brain. When he was with me, all the world stopped and waited for the two of us to just be. It was a peace like nothing else I'd ever known with another child.
Don't get me wrong. There are times when he refuses to eat anything but hot dogs and Cheetos. He cries and fights when he is sick and won't let me help him. He falls apart when he thinks he's failing because he's not as good as his brothers, but his flame never falters. 
Now its his tenth birthday and my little, angel baby is too big for me to carry around anymore. He's brilliant, funny, handsome, kind, sweet and a light like no other. All those years ago when all the doctors could see were statistics, probabilities and percentages, I "knew" he was so much more. Even though I didn't "know" what a treasure he truly was at the time.
The world wants you to believe what it "knows", what it can prove with numbers and calculations. The problem is...
There's no way to calculate how much one smile, laugh, kind word, or gleaming eye will spread joy, or  to whom. There's no way to guess or fathom the love, faith, hope, and peace your worst struggles will leave you with when you look back.
I wonder if I'd "known" really understood the long hours, hopeless terror, pained body parts and helpless tears which would go into the births of my children, whether or not I would have done it.
Then I have my baby curl up in my lap in front of the fire on a rainy morning. I smell the soap on his skin. I feel the smooth lines of his cute little face and I "know", I would. I'd do it all and more
Happy Birthday Kaison. I love you bud!.