Friday, December 1, 2017

Speaking of Bionics . . .

I am the bionic woman. Seriously. I jest not. At least that’s what my diabetic specialist is thinking these days. I had an appointment with him yesterday and to say that he was stunned by some test results would be putting it mildly. He also seemed a bit overwhelmed and kept saying things like, “So this is the future.” “What is my role going to be with all of this?” etc. and so forth. 

I understand his confusion. I was feeling similar items about 3-4 months ago. Back then I was feeling overwhelmed and wondering what my role was going to be. Long story short, I was given an opportunity to join a study for a brand new type of insulin pump. As a Type 1 diabetic, I’ve had my share of experiences with insulin pumps. They have been part of my life for years. They function as an artificial pancreas and have done a great job of keeping me alive. Instead of giving 6+ shots a day (for some reason, my body balked at allowing me to mix long lasting insulin with fast acting, but I digress) I merely changed an IV site every 3 days and tada, I could program the pump to punch in needed basal and bolus amounts of insulin. 

Fast forward to this past year—now it is possible to allow an insulin pump to figure out how much insulin you need. It’s like wearing a tiny robot 24/7. It “talks” to me when my levels are getting too high or too low, and has a tendency to be a little bit of a dictator. Just sayin’. But the cool thing is, my A1C (diabetic lingo for blood sugar averages—it goes back over a 3 month period) is now lower than it has ever been. Ever. This is impressive. This means I’m under better, tighter control and I may be able to avoid some of the complications that tend to go along with diabetes.

I’ve been dealing with this disease since I was 19. They figure I actually started having problems with it in high school, but we didn’t realize that symptoms like having chicken legs (a term of endearment from my mother) always feeling hungry, and drinking water like a camel were signs that something was amiss. It would take a couple of years in college for my body to go into total rebellion mode. Things got so far out of whack, I began passing out in class, and having seizures. I would later learn that those were symptoms of out of control Type 1 diabetes, something a specialist told us about when I was finally diagnosed.

Unfortunately, most Type 1’s are in rough shape by the time they are identified. As in my case, big red flags are passed off as other things. “Cheri is a toothpick with eyes because she’s always on the run.” “Cheri is constantly running to the potty because she drinks so much water.” “Cheri is exhausted because she is always on the go . . . literally.” So on and so forth. 

Type 1’s are usually about half starved by the time the light bulbs click on. Since our bodies don’t digest food properly, in part because the insulin levels aren’t strong enough to process what we’re eating, we lose a ton of weight. And while this may fit the current trend in society to resemble twigs and such, it’s actually not healthy . . . at all. 

When it was finally explained that I would be dealing with diabetes the rest of my life, I was ready to celebrate. Having been told that I had items like a brain tumor and/or epilepsy while traversing the diagnosis trail, finally knowing what I was really dealing with was pretty much a relief. I know this type of reaction isn’t normal, but I never have been classified as such, so it was typical for me. Instead of throwing myself or having a meltdown, or screaming that my life was over, I tried instead to learn everything I could about this new challenge.

Through the years, I have tackled odds that seemed rather stacked against me, and currently feel like I have done okay with this particular marathon. I haven’t had perfect control, but I have had good control. This has permitted me to have 3 healthy children. I still have most of my body parts, and though I may possess a bit of an attitude when it comes to life, it is due in part to the fact that I have been fighting for my life for years. I treasure things like family time, personal space, and the ability to accomplish important goals. I realize there are no guarantees with this disease and there are days when I feel like the proverbial last chapter. I did end up with a little heart glitch a few years ago, but we fixed things and I am trying to slow down and take better care of myself.

Since I am the bionic woman, I do sometimes tend to take on more than I can handle. So I am striving to remedy that. (You can hear my children cheering in the background.) I’ve had to pick and choose between activities that I love and adore, but can no longer keep up with. Perhaps in time and with the addition of this new amazing super pump, I will be able to jump back into the fray of life as I once knew it. I know this, I will not go gently into that dark night. When this life is over I will more than likely throw down a very worn out body with a grin on my face that says it all: “I truly lived!” And now, back to showing this new pump who is the actual boss!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Time has Come to Talk . . . of Wibbies & Icebergs

I’ve noticed a tendency in my life—when I’m facing overwhelming trials, I avoid keeping a journal. For example, during the two years following my father’s death, there is no record of how I survived. Looking back, I now wish I would’ve made an attempt at keeping even a small journal. However, there are other things that I did write: poetry, songs, and my first attempt at writing a novel. Those pages contain snippets of how I was feeling and items that helped me endure.

I found that on the nights I couldn’t sleep, it helped to write out everything I was feeling. Then I would shred those pages and throw it all away. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was doing my own form of therapy following an extremely traumatic episode in my life. I was, in essence, getting rid of toxic emotions that were tearing me apart following Dad’s suicide. 

It worked! Writing has always been an outlet for me. I feel a sense of calming peace when I write. And I feel like I have been guided somewhat on what to write, after I get rid of “the wibbies.” (A family term that means something scary.) 

This past year has been filled with “wibbies.” Lots of change, serious illness, parental decline, earthquakes, weird weather, and heartrending trials within our family. And we won’t even go into the daily tragedies we have witnessed on the news. There are days when I feel like I’ve been strapped to the front of the Titanic just as it hit the iceberg. But there have also been numerous tender mercies that have kept us all going. 

Probably one of the most challenging items I’ve dealt with this past year was my mother’s serious illness the end of April. For some strange reason that we’re still trying to figure out, her electrolytes plummeted dangerously low. Her condition mimicked a stroke. She went from being a fairly vibrant character, to someone who couldn’t walk or talk. We have spent months helping her regain a sense of self, and to relearn skills most of us take for granted, like using a TV remote, or telephone. 

My mother has always been a fighter, and she has, for the most part, bounced back from this year’s challenging “wibbie.” Since I’m the offspring that lives the closest, (I only live 4 miles away) I’ve been the one to primarily help Mom through this adventure. My siblings all rallied when everything hit the fan, but eventually, they had to return to their own adventures at their respective homes. Shortly after Mom was released from the hospital, she came to stay with Kennon and I for a few weeks until we felt like she could return to her apartment, with some assistance. I’ve made countless trips from our abode to Mom’s apartment on an almost daily basis the past few months to help in any way that I could. And it has worked! She is now pretty much back to her independent self—with just a glitch here and there. 

So the past few months have been a bit of a blur—and there were other character building moments going on at the same time—enough that most of us have felt like we’ve faced one continuous emotional tsunami. Can I just say that 2017 will not be one of my favorite years? And, true to form, I have not kept a record . . . at all. There is no new poetry, no new songs—but there are a handful of blog posts, and (drumroll please) two new manuscripts that I have tinkered with inbetween all of the fun. We’ll see what happens with that.

The thing I have noticed in my life—there does seem to be a plan. Even when life becomes complicated and my heart feels shredded—the pieces begin to fit together to form a picture I would have never guessed existed. I surmise this is where faith comes into play. I’ll admit, when one is strapped to the front of the Titanic and an iceberg is imminent, it’s a little bit difficult to believe that somehow, things will be okay. The “wibbies” fill us with fear and doubt becomes a real adversary. 

There is a scene in one of the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movies where the main character is frozen in place. He is inside of a cavern and the item he is seeking lies across an impressive gorge. As he is thinking there is no way possible for him to cross to where this item exists, he is told that he must have faith—he must believe there is a way to accomplish this task. Eventually he gathers his courage and takes a step into what appears to be thin air. And as those of you know who have seen this movie, there is a sturdy path that only becomes visible after you take that first important step. 

That image has come to mind a lot this past year. I’ve found myself facing a few impressive “wibbies,” and it has been scary to take that step into what appears to be “air.” What I have found . . . again . . . is that there is a path through daunting obstacles. Faith is crucial to possess these days, and it truly is the simple things that give us the strength to carry on: prayer, searching the scriptures, meditating on what really matters, and taking care of our physical selves. (Yes, I actually said that last item. I’m not always a good example of that, but I’m striving to do better. Sleep is starting to become my friend again, exercise is important, and thanks to this new impressive insulin pump, my blood sugar levels are even better than before. Now to kick the pop habit . . .)

Back to my original topic: I may not have kept a journal this past year, but I have kept journals during other adventures in my life. There are enough of those that my posterity will ponder what to do with all of those volumes. I’m sure some of it will be discarded as silliness. But hopefully in some of what I have written, there will be snippets that will make sense and possibly even help when they are facing a difficult time. And when there appears to be a gap or two, I hope they’ll understand that there have been moments that were too difficult to record. Those are the times when they may have to search some of my poetry, songs, blog posts, and books to read between the lines and understand the lessons I learned when “wibbies” surfaced and icebergs seemed too close.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Are We "As" the Army of Helaman?

I’ve shared some fairly personal things in my last two blog posts. That was for a reason. There are some people that I know and love who are really struggling right now with their testimonies. It occurred to me that they may not know why I believe the way that I do. They don’t understand what I went through to gain the testimony that I treasure. So I shared some of the experiences that shaped me into who I am today. These are pieces of my life that helped me realize that God is real and that He does answer prayers, although not always in the way we envision. He helps us through difficult times, though not always in the manner we wish. And I have found it is because of trials that we grow—if we so choose. 

I think often of the stripling warriors, when I’m facing something that isn’t very fun. These 2,000 young men faced overwhelming odds fighting for something they believed with their entire hearts. (See Alma 53, 56, & 58—yes, I mean the entire chapters.) They relied on teachings from their parents, and the example set by them, plus their own beliefs to become the strong force that helped turn the tide in important battles. They fought bravely to maintain the things they treasured most—freedom to worship as they desired, and to protect their loved ones, and those who dwelled alongside them.

I mentioned a key point—they not only relied on the example and teachings of their parents, but they found out what was true for themselves. I learned long ago that we can’t lean on the testimonies of others. We have to find out for ourselves what is good and true. I had worked so hard to gain my own testimony while in high school, that it became one of my treasured possessions. I wrongly assumed that others felt the same way. It wasn’t until I went to college and saw those I knew from active LDS homes make some terrible mistakes once they were “on their own” that I realized the importance of having your own testimony. If you don’t understand for yourself what is truly important, when you hit important crossroads in your life, it’s difficult to know which way is the correct path. 

Back to the Stripling Warriors: the following scripture is one of my favorites with regard to this courageous army: “But behold, they have received wounds; nevertheless they stand fast in that liberty wherewith God has made them free; and they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day; yea, they do observe to keep his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments continually; and their faith is strong . . .” (Alma 58:40)

The stripling warriors earned their testimonies through experiences that strengthened them and helped them to know for themselves what was true. And once they gained that testimony, they accomplished what others deemed impossible.

We’ve been asked in recent times by our prophet and his apostles, to read the Book of Mormon frequently. We’ve been promised the strength we need to face the challenges of our day if we will do so. I testify that this book of scripture is sacred and it was preserved for us. Our Father in heaven knew we would desperately need the teachings it contains to survive all that would take place in our time. This book of scripture has helped me endure countless trials. It was where I drew my strength when I was facing some pretty intense trials during my teenage years. It continues to be a source of comfort and peace during those I face now.

We are all here on earth to grow and learn. And because we’re all different, we all learn in varying ways and times. What works for one person, will not work for someone else. One thing remains constant—the fact that our Father in heaven loves us and is there for us whenever we remember to turn to Him. We all make mistakes and we often learn the most from those mistakes. (I still have a face, even though I did my best to burn it off—see last week’s blog post to understand that comment.)  There is always a way back to where we need to be, if we’ll humble ourselves enough to seek a better path. We’re all in this journey together, and together, we can keep pushing forward toward a time when things will make sense and we can understand we were more watched over than we ever imagined possible.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Saving Face--Literally

Saving Face (Quite Literally)

So if any of you read last week’s epistle, you know that I went through quite an adventure my sophomore year of high school. What I didn’t mention was that was the year I was trying to gain my own testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was one of the most difficult years of my life! My maternal grandmother died, someone I’m named after—and I was her oldest granddaughter. I always felt like there was a special bond between us. And despite everything—medical attempts, prayers, etc. she passed away. This loss shredded my heart. Shortly after that, one of my best friends was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Lupus (after I watched what she went through, you can understand why it hit me pretty hard when I was diagnosed with this same disease in 1997, but I digress). The Lupus attacked my friend’s kidneys right off the bat, and she spent several months in a hospital in Salt Lake City as she fought for her life. This was before the advent of cell phones, text messages, and things like Skype. So keeping in touch was difficult at best. Long distance phone calls were made sparingly because of the cost. (This would have been in 1976. Just sayin’.) It was a difficult time.

Then, adding insult to injury, I went through what I shared last week. I would say that was a pretty intense, heart-rending year! But I survived. And the testimony I had been seeking developed despite all of that. I’ll be honest—the months following my park adventure were horrible. I didn’t trust people—I felt like my Heavenly Father had let me down . . . a lot. (It would take a while for me to realize how watched over I really was.) I felt betrayed. Hadn’t I been trying to do everything I had been asked to do to gain a testimony? I had been reading the Book of Mormon, praying about it, and pondering things in my spare time. Then I was attacked in the park, and I basically became a bit of a hermit. I went through the motions—attended school, came home, went to my bedroom and studied, played the guitar, read. Worked at my dad’s drugstore once in a while. That was it. I found out later on that my parents were so worried about me, they agreed to let me attend a tri-stake youth conference in West Yellowstone that spring. My Young Women leaders went to bat for me, promising my parents that I would be watched over the entire time. It was everyone’s attempt to pull me out of the shell I had crawled into.

And it worked! I had a good time! I actually smiled and meant it periodically at the varying activities. My good friend who had been fighting Lupus had been able to come, and we had a great time attending the mini-classes. Then the final event took place, a testimony meeting—and the testimony I had been seeking, came together in a way I’ve never forgotten. There we were, in a large room that contained kids from all over the place, and I felt like my heart was on fire as I heard the first few testimonies that were shared. I found myself unable to remain in my seat as I marched toward the podium. And all of the pieces of my struggling testimony came together as I shared what was in my heart. I don’t remember what I said, but I’ve never forgotten what I felt as I gained a strong witness of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was on a spiritual high the rest of the night as we journeyed home. I had never experienced such joy—it more than made up for all of the sorrow and pain I had endured the months before. And after that, I came out of my shell. 

There was one problem—there were still things about the LDS Church that I didn’t understand. (Note: I came from an inactive LDS home.) Items like family home evening, family prayer, etc. eluded me. And I didn’t get how promptings from the Holy Ghost worked. I know—I’d had quite an example of that during my park adventure. But it would take me a while to comprehend what promptings were and the importance of heeding them when they came. So I had a refresher course during my senior year of high school. It’s how things work in my life.

By then I worked in my spare time at a local drive-in called The Frost-Top. I had started as a lowly counter girl, then became a full-fledged waitress, fry cook, assistant cook, and by my senior year, I was one of the main cooks. In the summer months, that place was hopping! We would fill the carport, the counter, and the dining room. It would take several waitresses, a couple of fry cooks, and one or two main cooks to keep up with everything. 

The winter months were slower. The tourist season (people heading up to Island Park and West Yellowstone) was pretty much over, and so our main clientele consisted of the local population. On the night in question, it was just myself, and Donna, a good friend of mine, who were working at the drive-in. Because it had been so slow, the owners stopped by with a list of cleaning jobs for both of us. They were on their way to Idaho Falls to pick up supplies and would be gone the rest of the evening. So I was left in charge and was instructed to make sure we cleaned up everything on the list.
Rolling up our sleeves, Donna and I began tackling the items we were to spit-shine that night. Then suddenly, the place filled with customers. The dining room was full, the counter was overflowing, and our carport was maxed out! We tried desperately to call some of the other girls to come in to help, but they either wouldn’t answer the phone, or they told us they were busy. We finally gave up, explained our plight to the customers, and dived in. 

We didn’t know there had been a snowmobile race in Island Park that day. And since we were the only drive-in around for miles, they all stopped in for dinner that night. They were all good sports. They could see our dilemma, so some of the big burly snowmobilers became waitresses for us, and Donna came around behind the grill to help me cook up the orders. We fed everyone, and they all left happy. Then we surveyed our mess and groaned. Dishes were piled everywhere. The floors looked horrible. And there were only two of us to clean it all up.

We panicked because it was already an hour over when we were supposed to be closed. And we hadn’t tackled hardly any of the items on the to-do lists we had been given. It never occurred to us how happy the owners would be over the money we had made them that night. Instead, we pictured how upset they would be because we didn’t get everything done in the time frame they had wanted. Already exhausted, we did our best to clean up our huge mess.

An hour later, we had things looking pretty sharp. We had scrubbed, washed, and wiped down pretty much everything. Then I heard a disturbing sizzle. I had forgotten about the fryers. That night I was supposed to dump out the oil, take it around back to the grease barrel, clean the fryers, and put in fresh oil for the next day. Normally, we turned off the fryers to cool while we cleaned the rest of the kitchen. I had forgotten in my haste to tidy up that night. So they were still set at 375 degrees. Dismayed, I quickly shut them off.

I ran to the back room and found the large bucket we used to empty the fryers. Normally we emptied them one at a time into the large metal bucket and carried it outside to the grease barrel. That night I had a thought—I figured both fryers of grease would fit inside the bucket. It would save me precious time. The minute that thought entered my head, I felt an impression that this was a bad idea. I ignored it and dumped in the first fryer’s grease. As I reached for the second fryer, I felt that impression again, only stronger. Donna came around the corner just then and saw what I was about to do. She told me she didn’t think it was a good idea, but I explained I was saving us time. Just as I began to dump the oil from the second fryer into the bucket, I was hit a third time with the same impression that THIS WASN’T A GOOD IDEA!!! I ignored it and dumped in the oil anyway. It nearly filled the metal bucket. But I was young, and strong . . . and stupid.

I managed to carry the bucket outside—Donna held the door open for me, still giving me an exasperated look. I carried the bucket around back to the grease barrel. As I lifted it over my head to dump the oil inside the large metal barrel, I remember thinking, “See, everything worked out just fine.” Famous last words. Just then I slipped on the ice that surrounded the barrel, the bucket of oil tipped toward me, and doused my head, face, and neck with the hot oil.

I’m not a screamer, but I screamed that night. Donna came running, saw what had happened, and stood there in panic mode. Then the calming influence of the Comforter took over and she said later that it was like having someone standing beside her, telling her what to do. She dragged me immediately to a snowbank where she felt impressed to cover my face and neck with as much snow as she could grab. She had to sit on me to keep the snow in place. I was in so much pain and so out of it that I fought her a bit. Eventually she felt impressed to get me inside the building. We were both short and petite. I’m not sure how she managed to get me inside that building, but she did. She propped me up against the wall by the phone and put ice from the ice machine everywhere I was burned. Then she called my parents and I was taken to the local hospital.

It was not a pleasant night. I remember fading in and out of consciousness because of the pain. I remember hearing the doctor telling my parents that I would probably need numerous skin grafts, and that I would be scarred the rest of my life. I know they put layers of stuff on my face in an attempt to save it. At some point my mother had arranged for two men from our ward to give me a priesthood blessing. I’m not sure who these men were—by then my entire face was covered with medication and gauze and sight wasn’t possible. I don’t remember the entire blessing. I remember one line—that I would be healed according to my faith. It terrified me. I had a testimony, but I wasn’t sure how much faith I possessed. I was still working on that item. Then the pain meds blissfully knocked me out and I don’t remember anything else about that night.
The next morning, the layers of gauze and goo were slowly removed from my face and neck. I blinked as sight began to return. I saw my mother burst into tears and I was terrified that I now looked like a monster. A hand mirror was brought into the room and I was asked if I wanted to see how things looked. I didn’t, but gathering my courage, I reached for the mirror. I was stunned. I looked like I had a bad sunburn and there was just one blister on the side of my nose. Wow!!! It was a miracle of gigantic proportions. There would be no permanent scarring.

Naturally the doctor took all of the credit. He was a young guy who had just earned his degree and he had tried something he had learned in school to help save my face. I know it helped. But I also know my mother’s faith had a lot to do with how things turned out, that combined with the blessing I received . . . and Donna. Because she heeded the promptings she had received the night before, she had been able to draw out a lot of the heat from my face and neck before it cooked things. She literally saved my face!

Moral of the story: it is important to listen to promptings when they come. Don’t ignore them. You may never know why you were impressed to do or say something, but it’s important regardless! And priesthood blessings are real! I will never deny that fact.

So, yes, I learned a few important things the hard way, but I did learn them, and I’ve never forgotten how crucial they are. In this day of criticism, skepticism, and doubt, I stand as a witness to truth. When I say I know the Gospel is true, it’s because I know it with everything that I am that it is! When I share that priesthood blessings work and are real, it’s because I’ve lived it! And when I state how important it is to heed promptings from the Holy Ghost, it’s because those promptings have saved my life . . . repeatedly. And if you want to know these things for yourself, buckle up, buttercup, it’s quite a ride . . . but totally worth it in the end.