One Week Since Surgery

It has been a whole week since surgery, now, and I can’t believe it.

I slept all night! I woke twice, but both times I was able to go back to sleep. When I woke at 5am, Nathan helped me get out of bed and reposition myself, and I went back to sleep in the bed again instead of having to sit in the reading chair. This is like a miracle to me!

It also meant I woke for the day at normal hours, which meant I had a small window of energy while my kids were still home! I cried for being so happy to spend time with them! Five and I did school, and he finished his last PreK workbook and is officially in kindergarten books!

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The toddler and I did some coloring, some sorting, some tracing, talked about the letter F and the number 5, and did some cutting and pasting. She is doing so great that SoonerStart is going to discharge her from services! Her attachment is good, her trauma therapy is good, her behavior is so much better, and her speech is catching up so quickly. I am so proud of her!

I really love them so much! We had so much fun spending time together, really, for the first time in a week. They were as excited and happy as I was!

Many thanks to Nathan, who was patient trying to deal with us all. He worked really hard to give us an illusion of normal, and I think it did us all some good.

I needed a good long nap after that, of course, but was able to wake in time to eat with Nathan, and sat at the table for the first time since surgery! Not only that, but I could get back up again! It wasn’t easy, but I am so glad to be functioning a little bit more every day.

I had no fevers today!

I was supposed to walk today, but it was too hot outside, so I did this instead:

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It’s a giant world map in the kids’ hallway! I left the decal pages on the bed in our bedroom, and walked back and forth to stick them up in the hallway. That’s how I got my walk in today! I also did some planets on the other wall, and included Pluto, so don’t be a hater:

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That, of course, also wore me out. I am to the point of being able to be awake for about two hours at a time if I am resting, or about an hour if I am up and trying to be active. That’s so great!

My incision is healing nicely, and still have no problems with that. My follow up for that is next Friday, I think, so we will see what the doctor says. My pathology reports and lab work should be back tomorrow, so I think that is part of why I tried to be busy today while awake. I am anxious but not afraid, and just want to know, and have had so much waiting lately.

I also held down all my food today, even having a pretend real meal with Nathan of a tiny few bites of roast, a few carrots, and a few bites of potato. It was so good to have normal food, almost as a relief as that fish and broccoli I had some of yesterday. My body is waking up and remembering what it is supposed to be doing.

Even as a I type now, I had to stop and blow hair off my iPad. There is hair everywhere! I will be needing to get my head shaved soon to make things easier, but it’s not quite time yet. I still have a lot, and we are adjusting the kids to everything as best we can. The doctor told me I can’t do it until after Monday anyway, I think.

Tomorrow is Nathan’s birthday. Last year I got him foster kids for his birthday. Not really, of course. His gift was private lessons at the glass blowing school in Tulsa, but our first foster child came on his birthday, poor guy. I feel like this year I got him cancer for his birthday, and am not really well enough to be able to do much for him. He is a good sport.

But, since today I can finally at least stand up and move around a little, even if I can’t do anything else, then that’s what I did for him. I waited until he was gone to get the kids, and after I had another nap, and then I put this up in our room above his nightstand:

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James Barrie has always been Nathan’s favorite playwright, and a related play was one of Nathan’s first plays that was ever produced. So it is special to him, and obviously our love has definitely been an adventure. I think he will like it.

Except now that is all I have in me, after such a marvelous day, and so I think I will go to bed and sleep until next week sometime!

Toddler’s Room Finished

Many thanks for all the help, and for all the butterflies!

My apologies for some of the strangely cropped photos, as I had to be sure all of her pictures were cut out and not showing. I am so excited to surprise her later this weekend!

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Our Story, Updated #tbt #love #marriage #dating

The Beginning:

In January 2011, I accidentally got a second job working at LDS Family Services a few hours a week.  I really wasn’t trying, and it really was an accident, but that’s another story.  The point is that’s where I met Nathan’s cousin, Dan.  He kept me on my toes throughout a very hard year, with my mom having surgery on her spine and my father dying of cancer, and caring for my four year old niece that was staying at my house.   This hardest-year-of-my-life also brought the gift of time with my family, which was as healing as it was challenging.  I finally came to truly understand that nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than my family, and really began to appreciate them in new ways and realize how very much I love them.

By January 2012, this family-love-fest had prepared me to want to start my own family, and I finally began dating again for the first time since getting baptized.  That’s when I wrote The Art of Dating. Again.

However, these dates were disasters.  Serious disasters.  That’s when I wrote Dating: Skunks, Snakes, and Weasels Need Not Apply.

But I didn’t give up.  I decided needed to just do a better job of choosing dates.  I finally came to understand that I could use my own agency to create my own fairytale.  That’s when I wrote Finding Princes, Making Fairytales.

The Introduction:

One day at work, Dan told me about something funny his cousin (living in NYC) said on Facebook.  He had told me about his cousin before, and this cousin really did make me laugh, and so I looked at several other posts that delighted me.  I saw that he was posting via Twitter, which somehow had the illusion of being more public and less creepy than Facebook, so I replied to his post on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Nathan’s mother told him about me (via Dan).  Nathan knew there was no way to start a relationship from so far away, and so didn’t take her seriously.  Except that’s when I popped up on Twitter, the very next day.

We were shy, with simple messages back and forth before finally beginning to send actual emails.

This was our epistolary introduction, which was tender and sweet as soon as it finally began.

That’s when I wrote Message in a Bottle, maybe one of my most favorite blogs ever.  It might just be one of my favorites because by then I think I already knew that I loved him.

Also, we were very witty and clever, naturally.

By May, I knew I had caught something.  Or it had caught me.  I wasn’t sure what.  But it was real enough and serious enough that I had to revisit the Skeleton Woman story from Clarissa.

Our first real live phone date was on May 6th.  I was too scared to mess it up, so I didn’t tell anyone except my heart-sisters and my “fathers”, to whom I tell most everything even if just to hold myself accountable.  I was too embarrassed of my sappy self to write about it, and so only blogged these pictures.  We talked on the phone for three hours that day, three hours of awesome.

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But by May 16th, we had been giggly-googley enough that our friends were starting to figure out that we were drowning in sap and choking on cuteness.  So Nathan made us public to the masses on Facebook, warning me only seconds in advance before the onslaught began.  I returned the favor by writing a poem about a headless chicken named Mike (true story!), always the sure way to a guy’s heart.

The Engagement:

By June, our families and close friends knew things were getting serious.  But when the rumor mill started buzzing with everyone else, that’s when we knew it was time to really start sharing with those who were wanting so badly to celebrate with us.  That’s when I wrote A Thing Created is Loved Before It Exists.  We began to plan our dating spree of a visit to meet each other’s families.

On June 21st, we met at a park in Bartlesville, running toward each other in delight after being separated so long from so far away.  It was a moment that explained all the longing of mortality, and a moment sweeter than relief and comfort and joy combined.  It was a moment of deep peace, of knowing, of remembering.  We held hands, and we were happy.

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We spent the week together, a week I will never forget.  That’s when I wrote Remember, Remember, the story of our week together meeting our families and getting engaged, writing our story so that I always would remember, so that I would never forget, so that our story of our very own week would be written down, documented, passed down, shared with those who wanted to remember what it was like to fall in love and enjoy every minute of it.

We did meet and spend time with our families:

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(EDIT: That was one of the only pictures, besides our wedding pictures and one at Christmas, of all five of us before my mother was killed three months later.)

And after a week of long walks, family talks, ballroom dancing, tire changing, priesthood counsel, and many other adventures, he did propose and I did say yes!  He asked me in sign language, because he knows me and he loves me!

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We had our engagement photos taken in a local old bookstore:

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After much discussion with our schedules, our bosses, our priesthood leaders, and each other, we settled on four options for wedding dates.  We called the temple to check the days that were available, and checked with the Owasso building for reception availability. Then we took those options to our sign language interpreters to check their availability.  When it was all said and done, the best date for us happened to be October 13th.

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The Wedding:

Because we belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we were married in the temple in a private ceremony earlier in the day. Our closest temple is in Oklahoma City, so that is why we went that far just to be married. We think it is worth it, and it was very special to us!  However, our public reception in the evening was in Owasso, at a public chapel everyone was welcome to attend.

Because we are writers, and because symbolism is very important to me spiritually and intellectually and part of my background professionally, everything in our reception has a sacred meaning behind it. Some of those things we have chosen to share below (see the sections for “The Decorations”, “The Invitations”, “The Rings”, and “The Dress”).

If you are really interested and like nerdy stuff, skim through and enjoy!

If not, scroll down to check out the pictures.

More of the story below the wedding details, so keep scrolling.

THE TEMPLE

Why the temple? In the Family Proclamation, it states:

The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

LDS beliefs include the idea that since we are eternal beings not limited to this mortal life only, we can be married for “time and all eternity” instead of just only for this life on earth like in a civil marriage. But for something to be established in heaven as well as on earth, it must be “sealed” by one with the power and authority to do so (see Matthew 16:19).

The sealing ceremony in the temple is a simple and solemn ceremony where Nathan and I will kneel at the altar and make covenants with God.

Here is a picture of a sealing room from the Kansas City temple, where my whole family got to tour before it opened (the picture is taken from the church news site that has more pictures if you want to see):

Nathan and I have had to work hard to prepare and qualify to be married in the temple because the temple is a sacred place, just as described and demonstrated in the Old Testament. Also, eternity is a big deal!

Some of the things we have had to do to prepare and qualify to be married in the temple include (see this article for more details):

  • actively developing our faith and belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, and doing our work to develop and improve those relationships;
  • understanding and applying the atonement the Savior, which is to know that we often fail at being who we were created to be and are weak in trying to become more than our past mistakes – but that the Savior bridges that gap for us, has paid the price for us, and has suffered for the consequences of our sins, and by Him we find both mercy and forgiveness. But it is also knowing that He also suffered and paid the price of the sin of others, and for the injustices against us, and so we are to forgive others just as we have been forgiven, and to love them with the same kind of grace we have been loved;
  • understanding and sharing our knowledge that the full Gospel plan has been restored with its authority and ordinances just like in the Old Testament and New Testament;
  • sustain (support, pray for, and help) the leaders of our church and understand that God uses prophets today just as He always has;
  • dressing modestly and remaining chaste until we are married (complete fidelity after marriage);
  • learning to love our families;
  • participating in groups and organizations that teach positive principles of God;
  • attending church and keeping the covenants we have made;
  • learning to be honest;
  • paying a full tithe;
  • not using any alcohol, coffee, tea, or tobacco;
  • wearing our temple garments;
  • asking church leaders for help with any serious sins and doing the work to overcome them; and
  • finding ourselves to be worthy and prepared to enter the temple – this is a big deal – we sign our own “temple recommend”, which is like a permission slip to enter the temple. It does not mean that we think we are perfect or are even “good” yet, but that we are learning the plan of Heavenly Father and feel His grace and love for us; and are empowered and enabled by the atonement of the Savior; and are corrected, guided, and instructed by the Holy Spirit.

Some people see these things as “legalistic” or rules that are too strict, but we know they are good and healthy boundaries that the Lord has set for us. Choosing to live within these boundaries teaches us how to make good choices, and our lives are better because of those good choices. It really does bring us happiness, and give us strength and guidance when the challenges of real life come our way. It gathers us as a family, and makes miracles happen!

And this is a miracle for us, that we have found each other and will be sealed together for time and all eternity!

And that is worth celebrating!

THE RECEPTION

Our first reception was a brunch in New York City.  It was an adventure in which a wizard and his dragon unexpectedly showed up to bless us!  While not very LDS-like, it made perfect sense in New York!

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Our local reception was in Owasso the evening after we were married in the morning, and we planned a very special celebration.  Because Nathan was in New York and I was here, and so much of our relationship has unfolded through our “epistolary introduction” (the first time he said that is when I knew I loved him!), our family and friends missed out on the dating experiences we normally would have shared. So we have written a little play that will share our story in a special way. Then some youth performed “I Love to See the Temple” in sign language, followed by an exchange of rings and our official presentation as a couple led by my “father” Donn Mason.

The celebration had already begun with the wedding showers! There were four showers: one in Bartlesville hosted by Nathan’s mother to introduce me to their friends and family; one hosted by TSHA (the local United Way non-profit agency serving the Deaf community of Oklahoma) for my friends; one in Broken Arrow hosted by Brookhollow and Cedar Ridge for church friends; and one in my ward in Owasso.

THE INVITATIONS

Our invitations were mailed, inviting friends to join us for our “story”:

In fact, it begins the story that will continue at the reception!

We even have an “about the authors” page, in case you only know me or only know him:

THE DECORATIONS

Since Nathan and I are both writers, our reception theme is “words”. We are using purple and silver, but words are the theme and main focus. Our decorations are simple and handmade, creating the most exciting DIY summer we have ever experienced! Instead of trying to turn the church gym into a foo-foo castle, we are letting the walls be the covers of the book and you simply enter our story. I don’t want to give away all the details, but the highlight has been all the help we have received making paper flowers (thank you!):

The purple in our wedding represents royalty, all of us being children of God, all of us striving to become holy – even if “holy” today is “better than yesterday”. God loves us so much, and does want us to feel loved, to experience peace, and to discover happiness.

The silver represents our unity, not only with each other as a couple, but all of us, as one people, no matter our diversity, backgrounds, or experiences. We are all equal, all of us being children of the same God. We are each unique, but all of us created “in His image”, which is to say after the pattern of our Heavenly Parents just like we look and act so much like our own parents. We are all different, but each of us has traits and characteristics that are given to us by God, holy like God, and with potential we cannot yet comprehend.

The flowers made from journaling paper represent our own work we must each do individually to maintain our relationship with God first and foremost, through prayer and scripture study and blessings and pondering and reflection and temple worship. There are some flowers that have a simple alphabet pattern, symbolic of the basics of communication and interaction upon which our relationship was built and which we must do the work to maintain. There are other flowers made out of postcard pattern and handwriting patterns that symbolize our relationship that has unfolded through words, which we both love, by letters we have exchanged from far away. There are some flowers with music in them. These are a shout-out to Nathan’s efforts at writing musicals, and enjoyment we share of music in general.

The small flowers and table toppers were made from the pages of two books:

The Red Tent, an historical novel written about one of the daughters of Abraham and her experiences growing up amongst her brothers (who became the twelve tribes). It is a marvelous recounting of ancient women, their understanding of God, Mother Earth, each other, their husbands, and their children. It is about the hard work of daily life, the experiences that give meaning to life (love, childbirth, marriage, death) and how it is the meaning that gives us the courage and strength to grieve, to face the hard things, to conquer challenges, and sometimes just keep our head above water.

Women Who Run With the Wolves, also seen in our wedding invitation bookmarks, is written by a Jungian psychoanalyst (the kind of therapy I studied). Jungian psychology is all about narrative, meaning the stories we tell as individuals and cultures, and how everything around us is both “temporal and spiritual” (see D&C 29:31). Each piece in the story, every room, every object, every person, every character, everything represents a piece of ourselves and has something to teach us literally and something to teach us spiritually. The literal symbol is only there to help us recognize (remember) the spiritual lesson (and do something about it). In this particular book, the author tells fairytales from all over the world, one for each chapter, and then explains its meaning. While I am not so lost in one particular branch of psychology to agree with everything (of that type of psychology or this author), the temporal/spiritual principle is a true one and part of what prepared me – “a line upon line” for me long before baptism – to choose redemption, gain scriptural understanding, and appreciate temple worship.

The punched out hearts are all from pages of my favorite childhood classics, read repeatedly for the first twenty years of my life and still repeated from time to time. Understanding this makes Emily World make a lot more sense. We cut these shapes out of Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland, and Little Women. I wanted to use poetry, especially Emily Dickinson, but the phrasing was so short that it didn’t make for very pretty flowers (ironically enough). My friends would not let me use any Plato or Aristotle, which I wanted, because they found it boring (despite my pleas that it was historic, ancient, and foundational), nor would they let me use any Bronte or Austin due them being the “trash novels” of their time despite classic status today. We had some pretty fun discussions deciding which texts to use, as well as the gut-wrenching drama of actually tearing out pages from books. They were carefully chosen, and in honor of how these words helped us to “become”. However, the sacred-est of texts, such as the Scriptures, the Discourses, the Wolves book, Little Prince, and others will be displayed rather than cut into flowers. We had to draw the line somewhere!

The pattern and paper flowers with letters in the middle represent family and friends, our loved ones that have poured their hearts and souls into raising us and caring for us well. It takes a village to raise an Emily, and a city to raise a Nathan, and an act of God to bring us together. We are grateful. Thank you.

IN MEMORY

My dad passed away a year ago, and we will have his picture with a “candle” to honor him specially.

The garter I will wear was made by Nathan’s aunt (Dan McClellan’s mom), who passed away two years ago. That’s really special. She sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to meet her (again) someday.

I will also be wearing a charm bracelet of my mother’s, which she wore during the time she met my dad. There are charms he gave her and other memories from their time of dating and getting married. Also super-uber-special.

THE RINGS

The ring story has been an adventure in itself.

Nathan proposed to me, without a ring, while we were filthy from changing a flat tire.

He then bought me a little tiny somersaulting monkey, though, out of the nearest quarter machine.

But there was no ring.

Later that night, we returned to the park where we had our first date, and he gave me a necklace with a small ring on it. This was symbolic, he said, because he knew I would be mad if he spent money (which was true). I loved it, and was perfectly content. I didn’t take it off until it wore out several months later. Sadness, but a lovely memory that kept me close to him during our weeks apart.

Then we walked around the lake to a bench on the far side where we first held hands and talked so long on our first date. Butterflies and dragonflies danced around us, the sun was setting, and it was very sweet and romantic. Then fireworks went off, and he pulled out another ring out of his pocket. This ring was an heirloom ring (white gold art deco) passed down from his family. It fit perfectly, and I loved it so much!

Nathan picked his ring to show symbols of us being tied together, which is actually a very native and Hispanic tradition where the wedding couple has a rope placed around them during the ceremony to “seal” their “ties”. There are many layers of meaning to this, and it was special that he found a ring to show just that:

For the wedding, my engagement ring sits inside a wedding band. This created a flower that matches my tiara (with the Star of David turned into flowers (“Ephraim blossoms as a rose”), picture below). It makes seven diamonds, which is symbolic of Creation with a capital C, as in the eternal plan that is accomplished even as it is in process (present progressive!). It also gives me the circle/square combination, a temple symbol that I love (the four corners of the earth meeting the celestial sphere). There are other layers, too, but they are personal and sacred for me. So yes! I love my ring!

THE DRESS

My veil is a long Jewish veil with lavender trim to match the birthstones (amethyst) in my tiara, all of it made by friends and given to me as a wedding gift.

Designed by Palestinian friends (converts to LDS), the dress is a Muslim style but embroidered and beaded with temple symbols of Garden of Eden vines and flowers. The flowers are made of a Star of David design turned into flowers (like in the tiara) with structured beading to symbolize celestial-ness. The dress is draped around the front to symbolize the apron and also the pioneers, representing our journey to the promised land. The beading also includes butterflies and dragonflies, a sweet touch commemorating the night Nathan proposed to me by the lake with the fireworks. All of it is very subtle and woven into the vines, classic of poetry written in Farsi or Hebrew. The dress is so amazing!

 

THE HONEYMOON

Because I was able to take a trip to New York for a reception there before the wedding, including getting to stay with Nathan’s bishop’s family (and so confirming he really was a legit decent guy!) and meet his amazing friends, we decided to stay within our careful budget and travel close to home.  I inherited a cabin on the lake between Springfield and Branson, and that seemed the perfect place for our writer’s retreat of a honeymoon.  Because we were already grownups with two households to merge, our gift registry was a creative online fundraiser that allowed people to sponsor different activities or meals for our getaway.  It was fall in the mountains on the lake, and so beautiful, and it was so perfect for us.

20121016-171037Little did we know that just a few months later, we would be sent to Israel, and get a second honeymoon quite unexpectedly!  What an experience that was!

Our courtship and marriage were absolute bliss, beyond fairytale perfect.  It really was.

But we both understood that it was being given to us as a gift, as a respite, as a time of gathering strength, as a bit of a celestial experience before getting to work.  We both sensed that hard times were to come, though we did not know specifics.  It all unfolded quickly, though.

We applied to be foster parents while still on our honeymoon, after feeling that prompting from the Lord.

Nathan had to go back to New York two weeks after we were married, and didn’t actually move to Oklahoma until Thankgiving, when we had our first miscarriage.

He had to fly back to New York again for work, and got caught in Hurricane Sandy.

He came home for Christmas, for good, and we had an amazing two weeks together culminating in doing my father’s temple work the first weekend of January.

My mother was killed the following week.

We had another miscarriage after that, and a third on Mother’s Day weekend.

Our first foster child arrived on his birthday in July, and we have had 26 kids come and go since then, in only a year’s time.

This year I got cancer for his birthday, and we are down to only two foster kids that are now becoming adoptive placements.

Our marriage has been just as fairytale as our courtship, though not as easy, as it has included all the heartbreak and grief and challenges required of a good adventure narrative.

We do not complain because we know that’s what makes our love real.

We are not sappy-happy because we are newlyweds or because life has been so good and amazing.

We are happy because we choose to care and serve each other before ourselves, because we know our love is worth doing the hard work to protect and nurture it, and because we know our love is eternal.

And it’s the eternal piece that promises a happy ending.

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Drive the Shadows Away

Today was the day the shower drain was filled with my hair by the time my shower was finished.

Like, a lot of hair.

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I cried.

Rachel was there to help me, and she went to get Nathan.

He came running, saw the shower, and just held me until I was done crying, and then kissed me and told me I am still as beautiful as always.

And then I cried some more.

And then I declared today to be a time out from cancer.

So Rachel and I played in the toddler’s room, me sitting in a chair trying to get down toast while Rachel climbed all over my childhood furniture, and this is what we made so far:

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It was amazing! It was so much fun! It was so normal, and made me so happy!

We didn’t finish today, but we got a good start!

And it was easy and good and happy.

I loved it so much.

And then I slept three hours, because it really wore me out, which is hilarious because all I did was sit in a chair while she worked really hard.

But when I woke up, the parents had the kids and Nathan had our supper, and we had a date night!

How sweet is that?!

In my pajamas and hair falling out and everything!

He even used the gift card from the care package to go get a pie, and made a whole sweet date night for us!

Here we are doing a cheers with some ginger ale!

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I guess you can’t see, but my hair is thinning quickly, but lots still there. It was good to have quiet time together, truly.

And I made it the whole day without any fevers!

The parents brought the kids home, and we played with them a little before bed. It breaks my heart when the toddler reaches for me saying “Up! Up!” and I cannot pick her up. Five is confused why I am still sick if sometimes I can stand up now or sit in a different chair rather than only being in bed. We are all learning together, and trying our best, and happy for a better day with less pain and more normal.

We are trying to make bedtime extra special on the nights I am well enough to help, with extra cuddles and songs and tickles and prayers and stories and tucking in.

The toddler loved it, and I am glad she is comforted. I am relieved she wants to be comforted. We have come so far, and she really is attaching so well. It’s amazing to see her grow so quickly as now she can sing all the words with us while we tuck her in. Her smile filled my heart, and then I melted as we left and heard a little, “I love you, Mama!”

Five relished the extra attention, especially as we told his “gotcha” story since his “gotcha day” is coming up (the anniversary of him coming to our house). Then, after prayers and before we could tuck him in, he asked me for a slow dance.

So I pulled myself up as carefully and strong as I could, and did a small foxtrot with my son who needed to know I will be okay. Nathan sung our music, and five was so sweet and gentle with me. I gave one final twirl and we tucked him in, all smiles.

I really love these kids.

Nathan and I kissed Five good night, and then we very slowly and very carefully slow-danced our way out of his room as we sang:

Sing your way home,
at the close of the day.
Sing your way home;
drive the shadows away.
Smile ev’ry mile,
for wherever you roam
It will brighten your road,
it will lighten your load
If you sing your way home.

And just like that, with kids loved on and happy and asleep, we were back to date night.

I love my family.

Care Package from Owasso Actors

Look what we got today from Kasey Greene, Heidi Rae, Chris Larson, and Mary Ann VanCuren!

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The crazy awesome contents of the care package included:

Glow wand
Kids sanitizing hand wipes
Instant washcloth
2 mini puzzles
Animal crackers
2 Grab & Go Play Packs
Bubbles
Car/truck stickers
Fish stickers
Fairy stickers
Dinosaur stickers
Personalized pencils for Five
Personalized name stamp for Five
Pencil sharpener
Butterfly sticky notes
Lined sticky notes
Veggie Tales book
Golden Book book
Markers
Kids’ art paper
Animal matching game
Toy flashlight
Toy car
Tiger wobble ball
Shiny dress-up skirt
AAA batteries
Garden vegetables
Sausalito cookies
Gluten free chocolate chip cookies
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Dying to Swim, Swimming to Live

I always thought dying was like slipping into a pool, something warm and inviting. I thought it would be a relief, after the pains and struggles of mortality. I thought the water released you, lifting from you the heavy burdens of gravity. I thought it was a choice, jumping in and sinking down until touching bottom, then being catapulted up toward the light, faster and faster until you can finally fly.

That is part of it, but only part.

There is also the setting aside.

I slept in my faux silk pajamas last night, and when I woke and stood, they moved with my body. They blew in the wind of the fans that keep me cool. They moved as I moved, went with me where I went, and covered me while I did the things I did.

Until I was ready for my shower, and my pajamas were tossed to the side.

That’s when I noticed it, how my pajamas just lie there by themselves when I am not wearing them.

This isn’t Dr. Seuss. My clothes are not animated. They don’t go without me, or move around on their own. They cannot move on their own at all. They need me inside them to go anywhere, or to do anything.

That’s the setting-aside part of dying.

It is true that dying is a release, an approved escape from what has been hard, because you have been called to a new assignment elsewhere.

But the other part of dying is the setting aside of this body that I wear like pajamas, letting go of the part that cannot move without me, laying down the part of me that can do nothing while I am not wearing it.

I know I will get it back, resurrection and all, like having a good shower and putting on fresh pajamas once I am all clean.

I know that when I die, it will be because I have been called to serve my parents, to finish duking it out with them, to joyfully be reunited with them, to be forgiven and embraced by them.

When I die, it will not be because of cancer.

It will be because I finally got my call, the envelope I have been waiting on, legitimately assigned to go serve my parents and finish what we started here.

But I also know that day is not today.

I know that I get a voice on when my papers get submitted, and that my agency matters. I know that for now I get to choose Nathan, and that I can choose him without abandoning my parents. I know they are happy with my choice, and that they are helping me through this cancer because they support my choice.

And because they love me.

I do choose Nathan, even though that comes with the heaviness of mortality. I choose because I love him, and because there are still things for me to do. I cannot do things if I cast my body aside.

But that means keeping my spirit strong, which means refusing pain medications unless I really need them. It means praying before eating my food, even though I won’t be able to finish it. It means reading my scriptures every morning, even though I might fall asleep. It means looking pain in the face, and breathing my way through the wind of it.

There are some experiences, which are required of us for transformation, that can only happen when they are endured consciously and intentionally. Sometimes that means not taking pain pills just because I have them, and other times it means not eating something just because it is there. Sometimes it means walking even though it feels far, and other times it means resting even though you don’t know when you will wake again.

To skirt the edge of mortality is to see the face of God.

There are some experiences that teach us the rules of mortality, which include enough sleep, eating nutrient dense food, and holding hands. Just as you cannot take pain pills only to escape your body, neither can you imprison it by refusing available help. It’s a dance of truth that takes practice, exploring how much are you willing to endure to know more than you knew before, as well as how skilled are you at the basics to care for you enough to have the strength for enduring?

I read these verses today, from 1 Nephi 17:47, 48, and 55.

Behold, I am full of the Spirit of God,
insomuch that my frame has no strength -
I am filled with the power of God,
even unto the consuming of my flesh-
We know of a surety
that the Lord is with thee-
worship the Lord thy God.

I know that dying is not always a choice. Our mortal lives are confined to the bodies that house our spirits, and so must be in good condition to contain us. My mother dying in a car accident was not a choice of timing.

But we choose our living. We choose how we spend our time in mortality. We choose what we do, and what we say, and how we interact with others. We choose the kind of life we want to life, now and into the eternities, and we choose the consequences we want to clean up along the way. Heavenly Father has a plan for us, my friend said today, and we choose the easy way or the hard way to get there.

Cancer is not my fault, and is not a consequence of some past sin. But it does make sense to me, in my context, why this would be a battleground I must cross. There are other things I have endured that seem harder to understand why that is an experience I had to endure. But what I know is that we can only progress by experience, and so Heavenly Father has given me a lot of experiences – as a mercy to me – so that I could make some progress.

And I can be grateful for the things I learn along the way.

Even if I still hate cancer.

And even if I don’t pretend to enjoy the experience.

And even if sometimes it makes me cry, because the pain is so bad or because the experience is so hard or because the treatment makes me so sick.

It makes sense that a lot has to happen to me, because I needed to make a lot of progress.

And cancer is just one thing.

One small moment.

It’s nothing compared to everything else. It might look scary when it shows up like dinosaur fossils trying to lasso my girly parts, and it might feel scary when the pain knocks the breath out of me and squeezes out hot tears I don’t want anyone to see, and it is scary when it is attacking or stealing my food or not letting my body work and when the only treatment is to actually poison me.

But it’s just one thing.

The rest is an illusion.

And it’s just one moment, even if it lasts for months, or even a year, is nothing to eternity.

I think that’s why I had to swim before surgery, that day I danced at the pool.

Because surgery is holding your breath and jumping into the pool of death and sinking all the way to the bottom, and then chemo is the water that tries to drown you before you can make it all the way back to the top for air again.

They say water a good thing, for swimming, but they don’t talk about drowning.

They say chemo is a good thing, for fighting cancer, but they don’t talk about poisoning.

In another week, I will have this surgery licked. I might not be strong yet, or able to lift my toddler, or carry Five around on my back. But my incision will be healed, and my organs all re-stitched and grown back into the places they should have been in the first place, and my balance relearning itself with bionic ears and no tailbone, and my hips less tender from having dinosaur fossils chiseled off the insides. I will be able to walk, to sit, to sit, and maybe even to get in and out of bed. No one will clap when I have a bowel movement, and no one will cheer when I wake up from a nap without a fever. We will have conquered surgery itself.

It will be like safely touching bottom of the pool.

But then the next two weeks start, which will be my struggle for strength enough to get back up (in time) for air. I cannot breathe in water. I cannot heal by poison.

The weeks that should be my recovery, a time of rest and moving slowly and gaining back my strength – those will be the very weeks it is stripped from me.

There will be good moments of light, where I can look up and see the sun through the water, like when I got to walk outside today. But mostly it will be a long swim to to the top, with no air to breathe.

There is nothing to do about it, but just keep on swimming.

I already jumped.

I can’t un-jump.

I can’t go back, except to swim.

The chemo is already in me, and the battle has already started. Just because I start to rouse myself for the post-surgery fog doesn’t mean I get to take time to think about whether to jump or not. I’m already in the water.

And there is no air here.

Except for love. Love is air. I get air from Nathan, and his family, and from our friends.

Friends who donate money to the cancer fund so that we can get a window unit air conditioner in our bedroom to help cool down the room as we fight fevers. Friends who quickly shift from folding clothes hot from the dryer to wiping me with cold cloths when the fevers come. Friends who call to check in me, who send cards, who send notes, who comment, who hold my hand for just a moment. Friends without faces who bring food, drop off silly gifts, or take a moment to read to my kids. Friends who check on Nathan for me, who bring him an orange cream slush from sonic for no reason, who mow the yard when he isn’t looking so that he has those hours to keep the kids from climbing on me. Friends who text me, laugh with me, let me cry, and quietly pick up hair off the floor. Friends who take my kids to see cows and pigs and donkeys, and friends who buy me wigs. Friends who aim the fan at me, cover me with a blanket, and lift my feet high enough to slide a pillow under my knees. Friends who wear teal, and pass out bracelets, and paint their nails. Friends who show up to sweep the floor, or run the vacuum, or do some dishes. Friends who talk cancer with me, and friends who talk normal with me.

I don’t know how you are doing it, people say.

Because I have friends like that, I say.

Some friends who don’t even know me, I say.

Friends who pray, I say, and give me air to breathe.

Sometimes that’s what keeps me alive.

Sometimes my body cannot swim another moment, and collapses into a fever sleep, and my spirit knows how to fly away. My spirit knows how to soar, how to see, and how to be free. I could let go then, and will have opportunity again as I have had in the past. It is tempting now, different than before, because my parents are there, because I am trapped in my body here and can be so busy there, because that light is so very bright.

But I know today is not that day, and I know that is not my choice at this time. My today is the husband I prayed for since I was a child. My choice today is the five year old redhead that I asked if he bit his lip and he said, “no, mama! I hit it in Nicholas’s head!” My choice today is the little brown two year old that I believe still has power to attach, so why work so hard all year and then un-attach? My choice today is the fiesty adult daughter just starting her life.

My choice today is to stay.

It is a hard choice, but not a regretful one.

This is when my fevers are the worst, and my pain is the greatest, when my spirit has to squeeze back into this body-trap.

But it is also how you will know that I am not dying, because my body is not quitting so much as my spirit has gone away to class. There are things for me to see, so that I can ponder. There are assignments for me to receive, so that I can “go and do” when I am better. There are things for me to learn, so that I can come back to testify.

I am grateful for the times when sleep or the nourishment and distraction of friends buoys me up through the water and makes time pass more quickly during this dreadful illness. I am. But I also have an understanding that internally, some of the most powerful lessons come from those moments where spiritual eons pass during a single moment of physical pain.

I do not think God wants me to be sick, or to be in pain.

I know that I do not want to be sick, or to be in pain.

But I do believe we can use it well.

My friends who do not believe they are spiritual beings will think all this nonsense is only the pain medication talking. That is probably why I am prevented from taking very much of it, actually. Other friends, regardless of religion, who know we are spiritual beings will understand pieces of what I am trying to say. Most of it is for me, to remember later, though I have learned enough not to write full accounts of every vision, dream, or understanding so publicly.

But I wanted you to taste it.

Because it is so very bright.

And it is worth swimming for.

For those who don’t want to taste it – although, if you couldn’t taste it even a little, you would not have made it through such a long, wandering essay. I’m just saying. – here are just the facts:

* Last night I slept better than I have so far, sleeping three hours before waking once and then another three hours before waking at 5 am, and moving to my chair and sleeping another four hours.

* Sherrolyn King, from Ranch Creek ward, who was my interpreter for missionary discussions and helped with my cochlear implant surgeries, came back today and made me cucumber sandwiches, made the bunk beds in the toddler’s new room, helped with fevers, massaged my feet, and folded laundry.

* Stephanie Merritt, a nurse and nursing professor from Brookhollow ward where I was baptized, came today and bought me fish and broccoli and took me on a walk and made sure my healing is going okay and talked cancer and chemo with me. She says MD Anderson is a good place, and is glad that’s where they sent my dinosaur rope of death pearls.

* We talked to the doctor today. My pathology results won’t be in until Friday, they say. They have not talked to us specifically about prognosis, other than saying that if I survive chemo, which has to be aggressive, then I have 39% chance of living another five years (if cancer doesn’t show up somewhere else).

You know what that is? That’s a statistic about other people with my kind of cancer on the same kind of medicine. It’s something I could find on the internet. It’s not me.

Because I am an eternal being, and I plan to swim.

That’s why I don’t always want to just give the facts.

Because the facts are just an illusion, like the sticker price on a car.

If we really learn to have visions, to discern, we know there is more than just the window pane. Beyond it, there are eternities to see.

What I know, what I know, is that surgery has been hard, but chemo will be harder and longer.

I know that I choose, today, and that my choice will be Nathan and the children, even though it would be so good and easy to go to my parents.

I know that I am not alone, and that I will learn to rely on friends and strangers while still being fiercely independent.

I know that love is air to my lungs, and that what is not-of-God turns us into dinosaur rocks.

I know that I am an eternal being, and that cancer won’t stop me.