Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Me, Unvarnished

I am very careful about my public and private image.  Even Ron does not really always get what makes me tick. Heck, I don't even get what makes me tick.  I like dividing the good days very distinctly from the bad ones. Bad days are handled privately, not necessarily because I like being stoic, but because I do NOT like a scene, negative energy, or undue attention.  I have a great, fantastic life.  I would prefer to concentrate on that.

Public me
But I've been challenged to write my personal history.  Not one to shy away from a big assignment, I might as well make it a good one.  So, here it is, the unvarnished truth.  It has a happy ending, so no worries.

I've made no secret about the fact that when I was 21, and pregnant with my second child I went through the Big C, or maybe we should call it The Big M?  I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma.  And it was really big and really scary and I was told to prepare for "The End".

Except that the end never came.  I waited and waited and low and behold, it didn't come.  There was no noble battle.  I didn't go through major treatment - because they honestly thought there was no use.  Was the diagnosis wrong?  No - I definitely had it.  I just got better.  A bit battle-scarred, but better all in all.  I can't explain why.

So I am grateful.  Incredibly, humbly grateful.  I got all the things that I was told I would lose.  Watching my children grow.  Living a full life.  Seeing graduations, and weddings and every Christmas and birthday. Holding grandchildren.  Getting to retire.  Going on our mission.  I hit the lottery.  Hurrah!

Conversely, my skin has not necessarily been super friendly.  I've had - let's see....at least 2 squamous cells and dozens more basal cell carcinomas.  Then there's the pre-cancerous fellas.  I have no estimate on that. Suffice to say these things just start 'popping up'  Year in, year out.  None have been dire.  They are just annoying.  Sometimes really, REALLY annoying.

There are different treatments.  Scraping, burning, freezing, various forms of surgical removal, and deep tissue laser restructuring.  I've had them all.  The Mohrs is a multi-hour to two day process.  I've had four of those in the last two years alone.  And the aggressive epidermal laser surgery back in 2003 was, to be honest, far worse than all of that put together.  Trying to avoid the sordid details, I received an aggressive version of laser surgery performed in-hospital that burned away my top three layers of skin.  It was gross and it hurt in a way I simply cannot describe.  It was two months before I was comfortable in leaving the house without fear of scaring little children and four before I actually began to look semi-normal again.

Fearing that I am coming across as whiny and pitiful, let me assure you that I don't really mean to be.  I do what I have to do to keep going. I had that surgery in an attempt to attack these errant cells way down deep, and it worked exactly how they said it should - for 10 whole years.  It was nice to have that break, and my little reward is less wrinkles.  But I've definitely determined that it's not something I will do again.  So instead I head off to the dermatologist every few months.  I've gotten into quite the rhythm now.  I gird my loins.  I accept the treatment plan.  I go through the procedures and the after care.  I remove the stitches and take the meds, and use the army of creams and oils and acidic treatments.  I wear long pants and sleeves even in the summer, use hats and umbrellas in the sunshine and generally follow my dermatologist's instructions to "look like that obsessive crazy woman in the crowd."

....and in the meantime, I thank God I'm still alive and healthy.

But in the morning, and again at night, I look in the mirror and I see those scars.  Scars on top of scars. Most people don't even know they're there.  I can see everyone of them.  I wonder, how many more there will be, and whether they'll become more and more obvious.  Whether the next time will be the the "Big One."  But most of all, I ask myself "what am I suppose to learn from this latest experience?" To me, that is the biggest test.  Because if I'm not learning and growing, I'm wasting valuable time.

                                          ....and the unvarnished me                             *Portraits by Dede

Let me explain.

I was 21 when I had the melanoma, and I was devastated.  Facing death with a newborn and a one year old will do that to ya.  I slid down the pity hill at breakneck speed.  I was not strong.  I was not brave.  I was not faithful.  I let the cancer completely take over not just my life, but my soul as well.

After discovering 5 years later that apparently I wasn't going to die after all, I looked back at my experience and thought MAN, what a waste!  I was determined that I would not let it happen again.

I believe that we are here to learn important lessons that are essential for our eternal potential and understanding.  If we don't learn it the first time around, it will come back.  But it will be bigger, and it will be harder.  Obviously I had something to learn.  I've thought about it long and hard, and here is what I've come up with:

There isn't anyone out there who doesn't have scars.  Inside or outside, big or little, we all have them.  But Heavenly Father loves us anyway.  Or maybe He loves us because of our scars.  Do I value my scars or do I regret and hate them?  My wonderful bishop was burned terribly as a child.  He has a very large scar. But you know what he told me?  "I can't see that scar on the inside, Nina".  He's right!  If I don't take the time to look in the mirror, I really don't think much about how I look at all.  So, whether big or small, obvious or imagined, the reality is that a scar is only as big as one allows it to be.  As a follower of Christ I know that He does not judge any of us by our appearance, status, intelligence or ability except the ability to love and trust Him enough to follow His example.  To prove it, He took mankind's scars and made them His own.

So, I may have lots of scars, but  I hope that when people notice them they say to themselves, "Man, she has fought the battle, and I can too!"

I also hope they think, "I'm going to start using sunscreen".


Special thank you to Dede Bessey, of Portraits by Dede for your patience and wonderful talent.  I felt safe in your hands and I love my 'real me' portrait!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In Honor of Mother's Day - Lets Unite to Support, Embrace and Defend One Another's Inner Beauty and Talents

My mother figures, including the beautiful woman who bore and raised me are not here to honor in person this Mother's Day.  Although I cannot send them cards to tell them how much I love and appreciate them, I know that I did everything I could to make sure that they knew it while they were here.  I'm sure they still know it.

So on this Mother's Day I want to honor my girls - who are the most marvelous creatures I could ever wish to bless my life.  I would shower them with jewels and chocolate if I could, but all I have this year is the following reflection:

Dear Daughters:

Being a woman in today's society is not easy.  We are measured and judged by impossible goals that no one can live up to, nor should ever be have to because they really aren't about true beauty, true values or true joy.

Look at these headlines to articles that came across my desktop just today:

Julia Roberts, Sally Field Have a Curse-Off for Jimmy Kimmel After Ripping Tequila Shots (See Video)

Worst Dressed Met Gala 2014: All The Stars That Failed On Fashion's Biggest Night

The Top 10 Ugliest Celebrities (now with your suggestions) from The Good Surgeon's Guide

May I first say, upfront - shame on Julia and Sally.  If that's your idea of female enlightenment and abilities, I want no part of it.  Women are more valuable than that!  And the other headlines speak for themselves.

What in the world are women suppose to think when this is the nonsense they're reading?  It breaks my heart to see how much we are asked to worry about how our bodies aren't good enough, our lives aren't fun enough, our jobs aren't fulfilling enough and our men aren't 'man' enough?  I am especially concerned about the attitude of deserving to have "IT ALL" when that means that our families must suffer for it.  Like Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz, "I've learned....that if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I shouldn't look any farther than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, then I never really lost it to begin with."

Why in the WORLD are we letting these be the voices in our heads?  It's tough on society and it's especially tough on a woman of faith - as if faith is some sort of silly little shortcoming to be ridiculed and reviled.

I was researching for an upcoming Sunday lesson and stupidly paged down into the comment section of a recently posted news article where a woman went on a rant because she felt that Mormon women were glassy eyed victims of lustful old dictators. As much as I realize she is the extreme viewpoint, it still just completely throws me how women who believe in God are constantly being accused of being ignorant automatrons.  I mean, really.  Does any one who knows me actually believes me to be mindless?  A victim of a chauvinist husband?  Ignorant of the world?  I am the captain of my own ship, thank you very much, sink or sail.

I might not be the most gorgeous woman in the room and I'm okay with that.  I might not be the most accomplished. I am definitely not the most educated   And you know what?  I'm okay with that too.

What I'm not okay with is the fact that I have, at times, taken on these self-doubts.  It's my fault I've struggled with self image.  It's my fault that I haven't always taken good care of this wonderful vessel Heavenly Father gave me to house my spirit.  It's my fault I dropped out of college because it got 'too hard.' It's my fault I married the first guy who came along (luckily for me - he ended up being the RIGHT guy - but that's God's miracle, not mine).  My parents didn't make me do that.  My religion didn't either.  Society may have played into the mindset, but ultimately I can be a sheep or I can be a shepherd.

So, even though I'm shocked and angry at stupid headlines, I'm really can't blame the media for this warped view of the world.  I'm blaming me.  Because I CAN stop this.  Maybe not alone, though I will if I must.  But better yet, I think we women should join together and reject the promotion of all things unworthy and unhealthy.

We can stop it in our own head by letting go of comparisons, the seeking of fulfillment through raucous and rash decisions, and judging others harshly.

We can stop it in our families by teaching our children to know that it is NOT alright to put people down, act disrespectfully, or promote self-hate any more than self-grandizement

We can stop it by speaking out when we see injustice.  By fully researching and joining worthy causes.  By opening our mouths even if no one else will.  By recognizing that the the worth of a person is so much more than what they look like and what they wear and what they drive and how popular they may be.

We can stop it by not buying glamour magazines, not clicking on articles that concentrate on warped values, not watching worthless television shows that do not uplift and inspire, and not joining into conversations that focus on the devaluation of others.

Okay, so I've gone and jumped on another soapbox.  But I want you to know that you are so very valuable and worthy and that anything you do for yourself and your family means more than any blockbuster movie, designer dress award or trending fad.  I want you to know the joy of a strong marriage to a worthy partner, the fulfilling challenge of raising intelligent and active children, the strength of an honorable day's work, no matter whether it is as a sales clerk, or an administrator, or a mommy.

My darling girls....you and your spouses are the BEST gifts I have ever received (well along with those amazing grandchildren of ours).  I thank Heavenly Father for you every single day.  You did not earn that right simply by being a family member.  You earned it through trial and failure and picking yourselves back up again. You earned it through your humanity and femininity and faith.  You earned it because you are the smartest, most talented women I know.  You are amazing for who you are right here, right now and there is even more potential before you.  Yet, as awesome as you are, none of that has to do with the right shade of eyeliner or the number of people you passed on some corporate ladder. Not even a little.

I'm so proud of you.  Thank you for being the women I admire most.



Thursday, May 1, 2014

Miracles Abound

Last Sunday I tried to chronicle in my journal the miracles that have been happening since we put our papers in for our mission.  Ron laughed as I said I had filled a whole page.  "I would think it would be a whole epic novel".  He's right.  It's been quite overwhelming, actually.  I ping pong between tears of joy and terrifying panic attacks.  It's a bold move, selling everything off.  I knew it would be hard - but most of the sales have been way toooooooooo easy!  For the fourth time so far, people have shown up at the door ready to buy huge amounts of our belongings.  I have no room to complain, but as I was trying to explain to our daughter Veronica, I haven't even had time to go through many of these things, look them over, shuffle through memories, research good prices.  It's just "I want that, how much?"....panic...."Oh, I think I want such and such"......"SOLD".  Grab and go.  Good-bye beautiful thing.  I shall miss you....if I even remember what you are.   Years from now, I am sure that I will be saying "whatever happened to......".

Here is my list.  It grows daily:

Miracles that have happened

  1. We have the means and faith;
  2. Clearly, in both our jobs, it is time;
  3. Our home sold in a very difficult market;
  4. ....to the exact right people;
  5. we have had great success in selling many of our possessions;
  6. Heavenly Father knew the exact, perfect mission for us
  7. He led us to that mission gently, but firmly;
  8. Our family is ready
  9. Amazingly, a change has taken place that will pay for much of Ron's Medicare costs (at least Part B - maybe Part D also)
  10. We will keep being led to making correct decision, both big and small;
  11. Missionary work has become a great joy and blessing;
  12. Our lives have become richer every day.
There are specific examples - and they are incredible, yet very personal.  I wish I was verbose enough to be able to write them out.  One of the loveliest parts is the generosity and support we have received from friends, family, co-workers and absolute strangers.  It's amazing what has happened when we share that we are leaving on a mission.  People, even those not of our faith, get so excited for us.  I love their enthusiasm.  They come up with such great questions. We have been trusted with keeping items we have sold until we leave....which is heartwarming when it comes from friends, but that absolute strangers are saying "no, no - let me pay for it now and I'll pick it up in a few months".....It's just overwhelming.

Ron and I have had such great opportunity to share the love we have for our Lord, which is what we've been praying for.  But more over, we have seen how good, supportive and humble other people are.  We can see that Heavenly Father truly loves all of His children - and for good reason.  We live in a cynical world, but that is our own shortcoming.  We love these wonderful people who have come into our home and hearts.  They are buoying and humbling us and we will forever be grateful.