Look at Me

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(I was trying to avoid writing another post that stems from my experiences in 2005, but I’ll trust that you’ll appreciate it for its relevance and look forward to more dynamic inspiration sources in future posts. The thing is – there are some experiences that anchor us and serve as fertile soil for self-discovery. Here is a little tidbit I picked up along my path.)

You turn a corner in the grocery store and, coming down the aisle, you see a woman with one arm. She begins walking toward you. Where do you look? What do you do?

You are walking in the park where a severely scarred man sits on a bench. As you come nearer he looks up and your eyes meet. What do you say? Where do you look?

You see a friend who just had her baby. Excitedly, you come close to get a peek at the tiny child and see that her little mouth is deformed with a cavity cutting through her upper lip to her nose. What do you say? What do you do?

Before I became the elephant in the room, I had no idea what to do in these situations. I would look straight through the lady in the baking aisle. I thought this would help her feel normal. I might divert my eyes from the scarred man, so he wouldn’t feel my stare. I might smile at the new mommy and talk about anything but her baby’s cleft palate.

In 2005, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24, my husband and I had two little boys. As my surgeries and chemotherapy treatments began many family members took turns flying up to Alaska from the lower 48 to be with me and my family. They were an amazing help to my little crew.

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So that my  helpers could know how best to help in our home, I had two main rules. Rule number one: if at any time my little boys wanted their mommy, no matter my drowsiness, nausea, etc., they could come to me. I would be available to them. Rule number two: I wanted to do the grocery shopping. It’s a funny thing, but buying groceries for my family was important to me. As my hair fell out I needed to make a choice about how to present myself in public. A dear lady from church ordered a cute wig for me and I used it a time or two. Chemo and Lupron threw me into a temporary menopause and I got a good taste of the lovely hot flashes associated with that phase of womanhood. The itchiness of the wig and the hot flashes were too much for me. One day after church I pulled the wig off, my skin crawling from the irritation, and I swore off ever wearing it again. I began thinking that bandanas and handkerchiefs were going to be my cover of choice. There were times, though, that even the bandana was too hot.

I didn’t want to make a spectacle of myself. I didn’t want to be a distraction in church. I didn’t want to make others uncomfortable but, dang-it, I had cancer. I was already feeling so powerless to control my body. I didn’t feel like I should be required to endure greater anxiety and discomfort for the sake of silly social norms. For me anxiety and discomfort came from the wig and sometimes the bandanas and knitted caps. For other cancer patients the anxiety and discomfort of not wearing a cover on their head would outweigh the discomfort of the various head covering options. In the end I opted for skin with the occasional scarf/head wrap.

I was nervous at first. Wondering if my brazen disregard for social norms would receive fierce backlash. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my church community was supportive of this. I was even encouraged in it as congregants would share what a great time of learning it was for their children to see and experience the cancer process with me. I was also pleasantly received by the other park-goers when I’d take my kids to play at our neighborhood park. Among my friends and neighbors I felt pretty normal. I noticed that my most poignant moments of social stress were at the grocery store.

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There I was, pushing my cart down the aisle. A young woman, with a cart full of groceries, sporting a shiny scalp. Something was obviously amiss with me compared to what’s usually met with. After a few weeks, the lack of stubble on my dome indicated that I hadn’t just “Bic-ed it” for fun. As I made my way through the store I noticed, time after time, other shoppers just looking through me. I was the elephant in the room and no one acknowledged me. When I had hair people would warmly nod as we passed in the dairy section, or not notice me at all as they went about their business of choosing which brand of peaches to buy. Without my hair many would fix their eyes on their chosen sundry item and remain that way an unnatural length of time until I passed.

I did not take offense to this because I knew exactly what they were doing and why. I had done the same thing thousands of times. I found it, rather, as an intriguing observation that I wanted to learn from. What did I want from them? How did I wish they would interact with me?

I wanted them to look at me.

“I am not a transparent ghost. I’m not dead yet. I am alive and standing right in front of you. Look at me. Acknowledge my presence. You don’t have to give me sympathy, you don’t have to comment on my obvious oddity. Just don’t look through me. I don’t demand that everyone smile and nod my way, but if you notice me, it’s okay to . . . notice me.”

If you meet an amputee on the baking aisle and don’t know where to look, or what to say . . . look at her in the eyes and say, “Good morning.”

If you are caught looking at the man’s scarred hands and face . . . look him in the eye, easily smile, and say, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

If you don’t know how to react to the baby’s unexpected mal-formation you can offer, “She’s beautiful!” If you want, you can follow that up with, “Is her palate cleft? Isn’t modern medicine amazing, the way they can help us in all sorts of ways?”

I am very comfortable asking bold questions of other breast cancer survivors. I already know them on at least one fundamental level and so my ignorance of their situation is no longer a barrier. But, there are a billion other experiences which I haven’t had, so I am still unsure how my actions will be perceived and received. So I recognize that these suggestions are not 100% failsafe responses to everyone. Sometimes elephants like to be invisible.

I simply suggest that when there is an elephant in the room, if you smile at her or acknowledge him, the elephant usually transforms into a person. This approach can even work with heavily pierced, tattooed, chrome contact-lensed fellow-shoppers at the thrift store. (It’s fun, try it.) We know that we don’t look quite “normal,” but if you look in our eyes, and see us as a whole soul, you’ll make our grocery shopping experience a little nicer. Your smile will make our day at the park brighter. Beyond that, perhaps, you’ll remind us that we are not only a bald head, a webbed scar, a missing body part or a one and a half-inch gauge. That reminder is sometimes the simplest and most needful gift you can give.

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It’s okay . . . Look at me.

I Don’t Need Plastic Surgery

Willis (79)Today I have decided to share with you something big that happened this week; to share what is truly on my heart. Sharing such a personal experience on such a public forum may make some uncomfortable, but I hope that the discomfort of some will be made up for in the lives of those who need this message.

For those who have read my manuscript, you have come to know me pretty well. You know my weaknesses and my hopes and the strength I have found through Jesus Christ and my gratitude for the amazing power of Virtue. This post will have more meaning to those who have read Daughters of Virtue: The Price and The Promise.

I don’t need plastic surgery. I thought I did, but I don’t. Neither do you.

This Monday I sat in the office of a plastic surgeon.

This is no small step for me. Last time I set foot in a plastic surgeon’s office was in about 2009. I left the office that day feeling like nothing could be done for me. Feeling like the cancer was abusing me again; making decisions for me; controlling me. (I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24. We had two little boys then. I was treated with surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a clinical trial drug called Herceptin.) From what I learned that day, there was no good option for me for reconstruction after breast cancer. (Risk of capsular contracture due to the radiated tissue, complications with future cancer screening, etc. None of the options at the time seemed like a good choice for me.) I had lived with the results of my partial mastectomy for 5 years by then. During those years I bore my daughter and nursed her for nearly a year and then we welcomed our third son and I nursed him for nearly another year, both were nourished from just one lactating breast. I had given my body freely to the needs of my infants. I was reminded a hundred times a day of the cancer’s effects on my body with the incredible asymmetry that occurred, especially while nursing. After my youngest was weaned for a few months I decided to explore reconstructive surgery. Going to the surgeon’s office was a big step then, a big disappointing step.

There is a procedure called a fat graft. Through liposuction fat is removed from other parts of the body and then it is used to fill the cavity left by the surgeries and helps to reshape the deformity. This was an option available in 2009 but the “keep rate” of the fat transferred could be only around 50%. I had had a port surgically placed in my body, through which I would receive my chemotherapy treatments. I felt like a cyborg with that small round metal port under my skin just below my left collarbone. I had it removed as soon as it was no longer required for my treatment.

With the potential for my radiated scar tissue to encapsulate an implant, the potential for follow up maintenance surgeries and my aversion to medically unnecessary objects in my body, the option of implants lost its appeal. The fat transfer was the most intriguing option, but I was not pleased with the percentages and the varying potential results.

So, prayerfully, I approached the plastic surgeon’s office again. This time, though, I had a plan.

A few months ago I heard of a new twist to the fat grafting procedure. Rather than simply piping harvested fat into the breast they add the step of harvesting my own stem cells and mixing them with the fat before they inject it. The stem cells help build a supportive blood supply that allows the transferred fat to thrive better in the new location and the keep rate is closer to 80%.

When I heard of this a few months ago I adamantly rejected it. I had only just had the epiphany of Sacred Scars and had just finally begun to truly grieve for the losses I incurred with the cancer. There will be a post about grief in the coming weeks. I’ve got more to say on that point. Just know that accepting my body was a wonderful, new, liberating blessing in my life and entertaining the temptation to get a boob job was insulting to my brand new progress.

After a few months my peace has continued and I have enjoyed some major healing; coming to a more sound place. I have landed in a place where my happiness does not hinge on my body’s curves. In this place, and with a real life option, I also no longer feel offended by the idea of the blessing of reconstruction. As a coping mechanism, to be okay with the deformity I was bound to, I talked myself into despising the idea of the surgery I could not have.

Now, with this new procedure in existence, I began extensively studying and I allowed myself to hope. I learned that this Stem-cell Fat Graft option’s availability is VERY limited. The office in L.A. where it was performed on Suzanne Somers was the first in the US and they have only been doing it for a couple years under a clinical trial, as it is not standard of care in the US. I also learned that it would cost me thousands and thousands of dollars.

While at the doctor’s office for a sprained rib I received a few weeks ago (while sparring at my Karate Dojo) I also asked for a referral to talk to a plastic surgeon. A few weeks later the appointment was made and that is what brings us to Monday of this week.

I am seen by military doctors at military installations. I am the wife of an Army Chaplain. I have only had good experiences with my military doctors but there is a running joke about how bad military medical services can be. I didn’t know any doctors in the Plastics clinic. I had no idea what to expect for my appointment. I just knew what I wanted.

So I’m sitting there in the exam room in my lovely hospital drape and in walks my doctor. He doesn’t seem much older than me. He asks me what I have come to discuss. I tell him my cancer history and my hope for as much symmetry as possible. After he brings a chaperone into the room I show him my scars.

He seems almost relieved and says that he believes that I could be very pleased with a simple augmentation with implants. I tell him softly and clearly that I don’t want anything foreign in my body and that if I could have exactly what I want, I would get a fat transfer with stem cells. “Is that possible?”

He asks me what I would do if the fat graft with stem cells is not an option. Would I still want a basic fat graft? I reply that I would be willing to wait a few more years until the stem cell procedure becomes more available. He steps out to speak with another doctor. When he comes back in I am relieved to hear that his colleague has been working on putting together a clinical trial for exactly my situation. It won’t be ready for a few months, but he believes that I would be a great candidate for this protocol.

Hallelujah!!! I love it when it looks like I’m going to get exactly what I am hoping for!

As if this wonderful opportunity wasn’t blessing enough for my timid heart – I learned, at the end of my consultation, that my doctor and I share the same faith background. I believe that many coincidences are actually a message from heaven. The message I received through this is that my Heavenly Father knows exactly where I am, and he makes his involvement in my life known by orchestrating these choice encounters. I felt like my Heavenly Father was telling me, “I am okay with this direction for you.”

I came home with a happy heart, so different from my disappointed hopes at my first plastic surgeon consultation. I felt known, I felt peace, and then I felt something that surprised me more. The day after my meeting with the surgeon I looked in the mirror. I saw myself with the same scars I’ve had for nearly nine years and I actually thought, “You know, I really don’t ‘need’ that surgery.” I have ached for symmetry for years. I was a coveter and I thought I would be complete if only I had my womanhood, my breasts, back.

I will continue to consider this stem cell fat graft option. It would just be a happy gift to receive after such a long road to inner wholeness. It was a wonderful realization, though, that I am okay without the surgery. Had I undergone reconstructive surgery years ago my hopes for wholeness would have been disappointed, because there were many hidden self doubts that would not have been healed by surgically fixing my outside.

In all these years I have never been in a position where I had a viable option; the options to choose and to not choose. I have resented my lack of choices and felt stuck – but that extra time forced me to face the real demons inside.

What a wonderful gift I received this week. The gift of choice.

I’ve spent the last several years in a monumental inner battle: gratitude for my life vs. disgust with my body, embarrassment vs. a husband’s true love, deformity vs. keeping up with the magazines. I really hated the humbled state I was compelled to live in. There were no Band-Aids for me. This week I am grateful for the inner healing I have received through finishing the proverbial fight. Though I felt beaten – in this round gratitude won, love conquered and magazines have lost much of their power.

For those of you who hurt inside and hope your insecurities will go away with surgery, I say they might – for a while. Friends have shared with me, though, that years after cosmetic surgery they are still plagued by the same insecurities they were trying to escape.

Bigger symmetrical breasts won’t heal your soul. I suggest that seeking out healthy relationships, healthy food and activity, a stronger connection to God and a focus on virtue and service are good beginnings to inner healing.

We don’t need plastic surgery. We need inner healing. If you need someone to say it, I will, “You have permission to look like you’ve lived the life you have lived. You have permission to take care of your inner struggles at the expense of keeping up appearances. You have permission to change and heal from the inside out.”

For me reconstruction would be an outside celebration of my inner victories. I wouldn’t have chosen it this way for myself, but I reverence the principle I learned. This is an underappreciated cause.

I share my story with you, hoping I am not alone in my struggles. If I am not alone in these struggles, maybe by sharing my experiences, you can find hope that the Lord’s way of healing us is real. I hope my story brings you hope in your struggles.

Perhaps you and I can find healing before we opt to go under the knife. Then, in a place far from desperation, we can see clearly to choose . . . or not to choose. We’ll slow society’s run to cosmetic surgery and we’ll call it the “inside out plan.”

The Organist

Once upon a time I was in the district 4th grade Spelling Bee. It was one of my first words in the qualifying round. The judge said, “Cornstalk.” I got all excited inside because I knew this was a tricky word with a silent “L.” I knew the trick. So, unafraid, I began, “Cornstalk, c-o-n-s-t-a-l-k, cornstalk.” The judge apologized and informed me that I had spelled it incorrectly. I was so confused. I asked my mom, who was there with me, what I had done wrong. I was so disappointed to find out that because my focus was so much on the tricky part, I hadn’t given enough attention to the easy part.

This is the story if my life.

I know things. I think things – and then when it comes time to translate my thoughts into verbal communication I end up omitting a few vital points and the brilliance inside is lost and embarrassed.

I feel like I know a lot of things about a lot of things. There are very few topics, however, that I have studied extensively. “Jack of all, master of none,” comes to mind. For example, I play the piano. I can play the hymns in church, but that’s about it. I pretty much always deflect invitations to accompany any choir presentations. I can do hymns well enough not to embarrass myself. That’s where it ends.

When it comes to playing hymns, I actually care less about whether or not I embarrass myself and more about not distracting those who are listening. When playing prelude music in church and accompanying hymns I prefer to metaphorically disappear and simply provide an atmosphere of praise.

Some are able to play each hymn or music piece so beautifully that it seems as though they are like an iPod- where you push play and the music flows in perfect time with precisely played notes. I, however, feel frantic with each anticipated accidental, natural, and approaching sixteenth note. I can frequently play a hymn perfectly in practice, but wind up missing a lot of notes when it comes to performing.

Years ago I read a little book, Small and Simple Things, by Sister Marjorie Hinckley. In it I found a story that helped me hope that my offering, imperfect as it is, might be less offensive and more endearing than I thought.

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From Sister Hinckley’s book:

Some years ago I had a friend who decided at the age of 50 that she was going to learn to play the piano. She courageously started out with Thompson’s Book I. Each morning she went to the church at 7 o’clock, where she would practice on the piano and, later, on the organ. After about a year they asked her to play a special number for one of the Relief Society lessons. She said she didn’t feel ready, to give her another three months. The three months passed, and she consented to play a special number that she had memorized. This was her first public appearance on the piano. She started out beautifully. It went well for about three measures; then she lost it. Everything went blank. Her music teacher, who was present, said, “Don’t be ruffled. Just start over.” She started over and made it all the way through without a single mistake.

We have never loved my friend more than we did that morning. Perhaps it was because she faltered a little in the beginning and we were all pulling for her, saying to ourselves, “Come on, we know you can do it.” If her performance had been flawless from the start, we might all have been defensive and said, “Oh well, she can learn to play the piano because her husband is the kind who will get his own breakfast while she practices and her children don’t make demands on her” and so on and so on and so on. As it was, she faltered a little, and we loved her the more. That experience has given me great comfort. I figure that if I fall a little short of what is expected of me, perhaps my sisters in the gospel will be compassionate and love me for trying.

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This story gave me the green light, or permission, to share even though my offering is imperfect.

In one congregation I attended there was no organist and I was the only attendee who would admit to playing the piano. The Bishop, the leader of the congregation, asked me if I’d be willing to play the organ for our Sunday meetings. I replied, “I don’t know how to play the organ but I’ll try.” So I did. I turned on that big old organ and started pushing the buttons, or pulling the stops, to see how they changed the sounds. Mercifully, I was tipped off to the fact that there were some pre-set buttons I could use which provide the full familiar tones of church services.

In the beginning, one Sunday, I played the introduction to the wrong hymn. When I realized what I had done, because the chorister was looking at me funny, I said aloud, “Oh, shoot,” and laughed as I turned my hymnal to the right page. The congregation chuckled with me and then we sang the right song.

I hear some legitimate critiques of the pace and volume of hymns played in congregational meetings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the critiques are valid, I thought I’d tell you a little about my experience sitting on that hard bench in front of double decker keyboards.

I play the organ like a piano, except the piano boasts a lovely “sustain” pedal of which the organ is without. I’ve only toyed with the foot keyboard on the organ. An organist must learn to move their fingers from one note on the keyboard to the next by adjusting their fingering all the time to prepare for a quick switch to the next note, releasing each key only when the tone is no longer needed. Fingers crawl across the keys like a tarantula.

After I play the introduction to the hymn I watch for the chorister’s cue to begin. His/her arm falls in the downbeat and I press the first notes. It takes a split second before the sound vibrates through the organ and blasts into my front-and-center eardrums. The voices of the congregation follow the cues of the chorister and often fall both before and after the beat, the sound of their voices hitting my ears long after I’ve pressed those notes. The chorister moves on and I struggle with the discord of sounds. It sounds disjointed and my inner metronome is lost. I imagine this phenomena as being one prominent reason for the belabored cadence of some otherwise peppy hymns.

One fellow-organist I spoke with instructed me, “You are the biggest kid on the block, just play and let them follow you.” I have tried that approach and it works well. I also respect the tradition of following the chorister, so I incorporate their cues as much as I can.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a song at church played too fast. When in doubt, pianists/organists, speed up. I also have never experienced the organ being too loud, from the vantage point of a congregant. When in doubt, crank it up.

My experience as an untrained organist leaves a lot of guesswork. I would never have guessed that turning the volume up so that my ears bleed, and the organ bench rattles, would be a pleasant experience for the congregants who want to sing out those hymns of praise but are stifled by a mousy organ presence. Yet, that’s the feedback I receive.

Making a mistake quietly feels a lot more comfortable than the mistakes that are broadcast loud and proud through the organ. But, if my best efforts provide a service that would otherwise be absent, I play. I play with the hopes that the congregation will appreciate it for what it is, and not for what it isn’t.

Like in my childhood spelling bee, I may leave out an important piece of the music when it comes to performance time. Instead of excusing me from the “spelling bee”, please offer support and gratitude for my attempts. Timely and positive suggestions are welcome along with your prayers for me when you hear me struggling.

I may seem like a lost cause, but I’m just the nervous organist.

Next time you go to church, thank your local organist; no matter how perfect or mistake riddled their performance, It ain’t an easy task.

A Clean House

My mother-in-law says that her house is too clean. She says she likes the toys on the floor and the extra laundry that accompanies our visits.

My mom told me that after we leave she likes to leave the handprints left by my children on the windows, and she’s sad when she wipes them off.

I am a bit of the artistic type. Visual art is not my forte, as you’ll come to know. I love to bake and write and record music. Baking is messy and writing music takes time. My house is in perpetual disarray. Not because I like it that way, but because there are so many other fun diversions that I value more.

I let my kids climb on the wall, we call it Spider-man. It teaches coordination and it is just plain fun.IMG_1410 This leavs build-up and smudges on the walls. I trade clean walls for fun times. Then, once a week, the kids are assigned to wipe the walls. If there’s a choice between doing dinner dishes right after the meal and making Jello Popcorn and cuddling my kiddos – I am more than okay waking up to a counter full of dishes. There comes a point, though, when the fun is inhibited by the chaos – so I clean.

Sometimes I wish I could have a maid whose sole responsibility is to follow us around, straightening up after we are done playing. Then I consider how much I would pay for that service. I think to myself, “If I do the work, that’s like getting paid to do it because the work would get done and we’d keep the cash in the bank account.” Then I hire myself to be a maid for an afternoon. This trick works a couple times a year, but overall I struggle to keep my home clean.

I read those little poems about “handprints” that remind us to enjoy the kids while they are little, and I embrace the excuse to decompress the expectation for my house to look like kids don’t live in it. Because, frankly they do, and it is silly to place that kind of pressure on myself.

My standard: I like to be able to raise our home’s tidy-level to “Not Embarrassing” with 10 minutes of crazy-head cleaning.

I used to feel swamped by the volume of work to be done, then I remembered that I am not the only one capable of cleaning. I am not the only one making the mess. It defies reason to assume that I can homeschool my kids (that means they NEVER leave) while simultaneously keeping up, single-handedly, with the mess made by myself (yes, I make messes) and four kids (and hubby).

I have tried various chore charts, but none of them fit the needs of my home exactly so I just threw together a chicken scratch chart, to which I add tasks I see are neglected (thinking: someday I’ll type it up cute). As part of the kids’ homeschooling requirements they complete the chores of the day. It has worked well for the last few months. Nothing fancy. (Remember, I am a lover of visual art – not a creator of it.)

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One more thing I have to remind myself: Some women are just better at this than I, but, being a military family – moving homes on average every 2 years, it sure is difficult to settle in to “a place for everything.”

This lost cause is only tolerable when I allow the cleanliness of my parents’ and in-laws’ home, which I so desire, to be my goal for my own home when my kids are raised. I recognize that my strengths and weaknesses are individually mine and where I fall painfully short – I make up for in other ways. The state of my house doesn’t constitute my worth as a human, or even as a “home-maker.” So – I’m okay with a clean house being a lost cause . . . for now.

Green Drink and the Husband

This seems like a lost cause in the most fundamental way.

I made a goal in May of 2013 that I would change the way I ate and add exercise to my regular routine. Over the last few years I had seen the numbers on the scale increase by about 5 lbs. annually and I knew the trend would continue if I didn’t make some changes. These are the changes I implemented:

Breakfast would consist of some form of protein. Eggs with a little salsa or Greek Yogurt, for example.

Lunch would be a combination of fruits and veggies spun into a green drink.

Dinner was whatever the family was eating.

I would not eat after 9:00 p.m.

I would exercise 25 minutes a day, five days a week. (I would run about 20 minutes and then do 200 bicycles and 60 pushups [broken up through the day at first])

I would only eat homemade sweets.

This was the plan. I kept to it pretty well too. I started to see about a pound a week drop off. Just 2 weeks into this new lifestyle I reached my hands up to wipe my face and was amazed by the softness of my skin. These changes were making a real difference.

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When I had lost 20 lbs. I strapped those 20 lbs on my back, Biggest Loser style, for my evening run. The change was dramatic and after my first lap around my neighborhood (about 2/3 mile) I was so happy take that 20 lbs off again. When I had lost about 22 pounds I had hit what I deemed my ideal weight and slacked off a little on the eating late thing and I started to add some granola to my greek yogurt.

This was a great, doable, lifestyle change for me to reach my desired weight. However, when the 6 month goal was over I dropped off the entire lifestyle and indulged in the deliciousness of the holiday season. My skin is a testament to the nutrition I have begun to withhold. It is scaly and dull. My energy levels have plummeted and I feel sluggish.

Enter the husband.

I am married to a perpetual 20-something. He is 4 years my senior, but his genetics has proven that he has no risk of becoming obese. People always told him, “Just wait until you’re married, then you’ll put on a few pounds.” We’ve been married 14 years and still no gain. “Just wait until you have children, then you’ll get a gut,” they said. Nope. “Just wait until you’re 40. That’ll get ya,” they say. He’s a mere 37 so we’ll just have to wait and see, but I am holding out little chance for this. He heard of an opportunity to join a movie project which needed extras that looked “emaciated” (really that’s what they asked for). He sent in his picture with his application. He got the part.

My guy is like a lot of others I talk to. They all just want their ice cream and white spaghetti noodles and sugar and to eat whatever is yummy.

At the same time I hear holistic messages that tell me that sugar feeds cancer. I hear about the antioxidants in certain fruits and veggies and their amazing restorative powers. I learn about the nutritional value of quinoa. Brown rice over white rice. Romaine over iceberg. Fresh over canned. So many little choices that constitute the bricks by which we build our bodies, our immune system, our lives.

Having had cancer I feel an extra responsibility to eat well and to use my position as mother to build my children’s bodies on good things. I have started making green drinks with less veggies and more fruit – so that the kids will drink it. They do with little fuss. I feel fulfilled, knowing that I’m giving their bodies the nutrients they need as they grow. Sometimes I alternate whole wheat and white noodles in a lasagna to sneak in a little extra fiber. Sometimes I shread zucchini and layer it in the lasagna too.

Enter the husband.

“I am happy to each spinach, you don’t have to ruin a perfectly good smoothie by putting it in there”

“Whole wheat bread doesn’t really have the peanut-butter and jellyish taste . . .”

I get it. I like yummy things too. I can appreciate that enjoying the full texture and creaminess of a twinkie would be sabotaged if it were a wheat twinkie. I have tastebuds too. I enjoy comfort foods and my palate likes salt and sugar like the rest of the American trained palates. But . . .

What is a woman to do? With your husband and children craving the delicious processed foods, which come to the table with such great ease . . . it is so easy to just buy the box, cook it up, and enjoy the praise. But something in the back of our minds whispers, “Can’t this be a little better?” So we add a bag of baby carrots and a bottle of Ranch to the table to quiet the nag in our conscience. Then we see a post online that looks like a fabulous recipe that incorporates all kinds of wonderful nutritious foods . . . quinoa, zucchini, olive oil, peppers, lemon oil, tomatoes . . . we imagine the satisfaction of this wonderful food nourishing our family.

Enter the husband.

Dad doesn’t like the taste of quinoa, the kids feel the vibe and steer away from the nutrient rich salad and they eat a bowl of cereal with dad before bed.

Exit the motivation.

Lost Cause.

But, just because our family doesn’t immediately embrace the foreign (husband suggests I replace the word “foreign” with the word “dirt”) flavors and textures doesn’t mean we give up. Try again folks!

Sacred Scars

On a chilly fall evening my husband and I sat in a hot tub at the hotel that housed us for the weekend during an annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. For the previous three months I had progressively found greater and deeper shame and grief. I had received my scars nearly nine years earlier when I had undergone surgeries to remove cancer from my breast. I had felt re-victimized by the cancer essentially any time I saw advertisements or any sort of media highlighting the universal attraction to what had become my deficiency. Nine years of abuse, or teasing, or fault-finding (all happening in my own mind with each time I was confronted by the media’s portrayal of the ideal) had left me embarrassed and ashamed. I oscillated, teetering between self loathing and a fighting spirit – to show the world that I was beautiful despite my scars. On this particular evening in the hot tub my husband and I rehashed the same conversation we had each time I felt fragile and sad. This night, though, that conversation ended far better.

As I sat there hating that I was still haunted by this specter, feeling manipulated by media messages and feeling ashamed of my body I said to James, “Some people have scars that are in plain sight like on their face or hands, at some point these people probably wish their scars weren’t so visible. Sometimes I wish I could show my hidden scars. Nobody sees them. They just see me covered up and have no clue about the scars I have. I feel like they don’t see the real me.” James replied, “So, you see people with visible scars and wish yours weren’t in such a private place so your scars could be seen?” (Great reflective listening here, love) “Yeah,” I said. “Like they would know me better if they could see the scars. But this all sounds stupid because I spend so much time wishing I was ‘normal.'” James returned, “That sounds a little like Jesus.” I looked at him, awaiting clarification. He continued, “Jesus went around healing people. Helping them to be ‘normal’ again. But then after he died and was resurrected he didn’t hide the scars in His hands, feet and side, he used them as a sign – so that people could recognize him, to know who he really is.”

Jesus our Savior lived and died and was resurrected but retained the scars left by the darkest, loneliest, most bitter event of his life. I relate to that, living with scars left by events infused with pain, uncertainty, confusion and sadness. But Jesus’ reaction to these perpetual reminders was not one of hiding them, but using them as identifying marks. He invited many to come see and touch the reality of His Atoning experience. He was not ashamed of the “imperfections” in his perfected body . . .

The scars in the flesh of the Savior of the World, like any other simile, do not translate straight across to my experience with scars. My life’s mission is different than His and so will be the use of my scars.

My scars are a physical account of my time on Earth. My body shows the marks of cancer, suspicious looking moles removed, scrapes from childhood, that snowboarding accident, etc. My body also shows surgeries to aid fertility, the stretch marks formed in pregnancy, scars of childbirth and the effects of nourishing my children after their birth. My body tells the story of my life. Though these scars make me different than the ideal portrayed in the grocery store checkout, they are sacred to me. Because of Jesus’ example of shamelessly (i.e. without shame) embracing his scars and their significance, I can try to do the same. Sacred Scars.

 

 

 

Virtue

 

I spent a six-month chunk of my life last year feverishly pursuing an understanding of virtue. I have a 250+ page manuscript to show for it. Though the first publishing company I shared it with didn’t run with it, I believe it to be the most comprehensive work on the subject ever compiled. I can say this without pride because I felt the guidance of Providence in this study so much so that I feel little personal responsibility for the finished product.

This lost cause has been abandoned by those who have not seen the full breadth of its context and application. Some have become offended at the word in this ambiguous incarnation. My purpose in highlighting the lost cause of Virtue is a lofty one. It is to inform and transform the way this word is used in our traditions, conversations and philosophizing, and most importantly, to do it on a large enough scale to breathe life back into its rejected soul.

My inspiration to seek out an understanding on virtue was prompted by Elaine S. Dalton, former General President of the Young Women for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After a brief meeting with her my efforts to understand became more intense and focused. Six months later I sent her a copy of the completed manuscript. This, in part, was her reply to my offering:

“I just finished reading your manuscript in total. You ask ‘What now?’ I would suggest if I haven’t already that you submit it to several publishing houses for consideration to publish . . . You have done sweet and thorough work. It is very instructive and enjoyable reading. It is as good as you are good! You are very talented and should continue on in what you are being inspired to do. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

My conclusions in the manuscript are not taught, but they are not so outlandish so as to be heresy. They received the nod of Sister Dalton and my husband, an LDS Army Chaplain. What are my conclusions? What is virtue?

For those who will read the manuscript and engage in thoughtful discussion, I will share my discoveries with you. I will share the lost cause of Virtue. You can find the manuscript HERE. I would love for you to read it and give me feedback.

I chose virtue as my first lost cause because it lays a foundation for my hopes for subsequent posts and how they’ll be received. So many blog posts that make it to the limelight of Facebook are reactionary and one-sided. They belittle and call out repentance to those sinners who would think differently or who have somehow offended the author of the blog. Then, within a few short days, comes the reactionary scathing post putting the first blogger in their place. This cycle is so uppity that I wonder if either side ever actually heard the other, recognizing the truths amid the poor presentation. In many cases I can see myself in both causes and shrink at the thought that I may have made the same tragic mistake which became so much bigger than the original message so as to bring down wrath upon my hypocritical head.

I begin this blog hoping that it won’t take fractionary drama to be appreciated, but that it might stand under the weight of scrutiny, steeled by simple truths imperfectly attempted. I hope that as I make bare my mind, the reader here will consider what truths I may have stumbled upon.

MJ’s Lost Cause

A lost cause could be otherwise defined as someone or something, a project, a purpose, or a plan which no longer has hope of winning. It is a defeated plan, a disappointment-laden purpose with a perpetual dead-end. The cause is fruitless, it is lost.

I am MJ.

Some brilliant “causes” are prematurely abandoned or take a long time to discover. When I discover a cause I will show it to you. No longer lost, it will be found; honored and promoted.

Welcome . . . to the world of MJ’s Lost Cause.