Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Road of Infertility

Infertility is an interesting road to travel.

There was a period of time in the beginning where it felt a bit ambiguous of when we were infertile.  Yes, the medical community has an official 12 month marker but there are no physical markers or symptoms except the lack of the obvious.  The lack of a successful pregnancy occurring.

There was a not so fun period where we had to learn how the other grieved and how to best support each other based on the other's preference, instead of our own.  The Golden Rule does not always work since what helped me didn't always help him and vice versa.

Followed by the period of time where Xan and I had to figure out based upon our introverted preferences and tendencies of how long we work through this privately and at what point we felt ready to talk about it more publicly.

There were the mix of medical appointments where we had to sort through what was going on medically outside of infertility and how aggressive we wanted to look into medical treatments.  Some appointments were not so pleasant.  There was the time I went in to convenient care and they wanted to X-ray my leg.  The nurse had me do a pregnancy test and said the doctor would come in with the results.  A few minutes later, the doctor came in and said they would have to figure out another way to treat me since there was a pregnancy.  My husband and I looked at each other in shock.  I tentatively asked, "I'm pregnant?"  The doctor looked startled, rechecked her notes, and said, "Oh, I see a test was done but I need to go check the results."  When the door closed, Xan and I looked at each other and I remember how happy Xan looked.  We talked about how funny this would be if we found out I was pregnant this way.  It was the only 5 minute period I have where we basked in the possibility that I was pregnant.  Well, the doctor returned cheerfully to report that "Tests went our way!  You're not pregnant so the X-ray technician will be in soon."  I cried for the rest of the appointment and it had nothing to do with my fractured leg...

Infertility diagnostic tests were longer than I expected.  Maybe it is weird, but my favorite test was the hysterosalpingogram where they inject dye that fills the uterus to check for blocking of the tubes.  The technician was super nice (as was the medical student observing... awkward...) and he turned the ultra-sound screen so I could watch what was happening.  I snapped a shot of my potentially only cool uterus picture.

Once I did open up, I had to deal with a whole bag of various responses.  Some helpful, some not so much. I began to read more about how others dealt with infertility and found that everyone is so very different.  The same things that I found incredibly hurtful and/or unhelpful were often things that my friends or others were posting as things that help them!

There were those awful times whenever my weight was a bit up and I got the bigger stomach bulge and I would get asked how far along I was or when my baby was due.  This is not an issue of being over weight. This is an issue of not being able to get pregnant.

 Note on infertility etiquette: Only I get to say when this is funny.  When I am the one initiating the post giant lunch - how many months do I look? - then it is okay.  And this day, I was in a good place and it was pretty funny!

I know; the rules don't always make sense to me, either.

Something that I was not expecting was how hard it was at times to talk to other women who were infertile.  There were so many wonderful conversations and connections!  There were also many times I felt conversations were filled with defensiveness and justification.  It made a lot of sense, once I thought about it. And I certainly am guilty of participating.  So many of us are still figuring how we feel about things, what steps we want to take to move forward, seeking validation from others, and feeling defensive if someone is doing something else.  It felt a lot like Mommy Wars.

I think what most surprised me about infertility was my own reaction.  Prior to infertility, I was a pretty easy going person.  I felt anger, sadness, grief, fear, and jealousy.  But, I could always move past them given a few days.  For the most part, optimism was easy for me.

But infertility was a different beast.  It impacted every aspect of my life.  It was... is... my plan A and life long dream to be a stay-at-home mom.  I had... have... all these plans.  I read about toilet training infants, infant led weaning, cloth diapering, Montessori bedrooms, made a baby carrier, began to buy baby books, and bought clothes that style could also be worn early to mid pregnancy.  I applied and worked at jobs that were meant to be temporary.  Jobs that I could quit as soon as the baby was born.

But, a baby never came.  I was angry I still had to have a job.  I resented that empty third bedroom that remained unused and waiting to be filled with a growing family.  I felt guilt whenever I heard those classic optimistic Mormon quotes about having optimism and things are not as bad as they seem. I found a hiding place at church where no one could find me that I used as needed, such as Mother's Day or heavy on the wonders of having children lessons or those dreaded baby blessings. It wasn't necessarily even to cry.  Often, it was just to escape to avoid crying.  Xan graciously drove me home on the Sunday's I couldn't even make it through Sacrament Meeting.  Infertility, particularly the first handful of years, is brutal...

There were also moments of healing, hope, and understanding.

➽  I learned that when I am grieving or feeling vulnerable, I do not find comfort in being told what I should believe or do.  Being told it will all work out or to trust in God's timing was not helpful.  What I learned I needed, and is so hard to do when I find myself in a comforters position, was to just have someone be with me in my grief.

A defining moment for me was when my sister called to tell me she was pregnant with baby number 5.  She was so sweet to call and tell me personally.  I appreciated her thoughtful gesture of recognizing that this information was very bitter sweet.  After I got off the phone with her, I went into my friend's office which was next to my own.  This friend and I had worked hard at our friendship.  I had applied Brené Brown's advice to dare greatly by having the courage to be vulnerable, ask for what I needed, talk about how I felt, and have those hard conversations when something either one of us said hurt the other.  I closed her office door, said, "My sister is having another baby," then broke down into sobs.  She wrapped me in her arms and did the exact thing I needed.  She told me she knew how happy I was to be getting another niece or nephew.  That the tears were about my own grief for what I was missing.  Then she, not a member of my same faith, proceeded to repeat to me my testimony that I had shared with her a number of times about Eternal Marriages, Families are Forever, if I am not blessed with children in this life, I would have them in the next.  She didn't tell me how I should feel.  She repeated what I had shared with her in the past that were comforting things for me when I am struggling with infertility.  Her statements were based upon reaffirming what I already believe instead of reminding me what I should believe.  Subtle, but apparently important to me.

➽  I also began to better accept it was okay I was not being perfect with this trial.  At first it was hard.  I felt like every time I had to get up and leave, every time I avoided a baby shower, every time I took a different route to avoid the couple with the new infant in their arms, every time I didn't handle myself how I felt I should be able to, I was not being enough.  But, that just isn't true.  I began to apply the Good, Better, Best talk in a whole new light when I read a talk by Ardeth G. Kapp, a former Young Women General President who remained childless with her husband their whole lives.  It is entitled Just the Two of Us - for Now.  She writes,
Brother Kapp and I understand and remember some of the pains and much of the suffering that you suffer. We remember the emotional highs and lows with every month, including the fast and testimony meetings when testimonies were borne by those who asked in faith and were blessed with children. We know how you return home and put two dinner plates on the table and recall the marriage covenant to multiply and replenish the earth and your desperate desire to qualify for that honor in righteousness. You can’t explain your feelings to each other, much less to your family and friends; and your whole soul cries out as did Job, “If I be righteous, … I am full of confusion; therefore see thou mine affliction.” (Job 10:15.)
[...]we grow from the time when everything hurts and offends us until, with faith in God, we are neither hurt nor offended. But I want you to know I understand if you feel hurt or offended now.
 [...] I don’t know how long it will be for you. For us it was years. But one day you will gain an eternal perspective, and you will feel peace not pain, hope not despair. I would have liked so much to have received that insight years before, but I know that had that happened, I would have been deprived of the growth that comes from being comforted by the witness of the Spirit after the trial of my faith. 
Those words, "But I want you to know I understand if you feel hurt or offended now," and that it took years for them to achieve that peace and hope in an eternal perspective were the most validating thing I had ever heard.

It would be best if I could achieve that eternal perspective now - I think it would make life A LOT easier!  But, holding onto my faith in the midst of my grief?  It is still GOOD.  That is the word used to describe the creation of the world!  Good is good enough until I get better and eventually reach best.

➽  And lastly, I am learning to not expect everyone to feel as strongly about the same things that I do.  My life is wrapped up in a number of causes to promote awareness: Infertility, Autism, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, and Invisible Illnesses.  This is not an exhaustive list of causes.  The reality is that there is no way to be completely educated and devoted to every cause that exists.  Looking at my list I wrote on the spot, I have personal connection to each of these.  I have all of them minus Autism - which advocacy come through my job of supporting both children and adults on the Autism Spectrum.  Just as I say tactless and insensitive things out of ignorance about a number of other causes I am either partially, kind of, or not at all aware of, so too, will people say tactless and insensitive things to me.  I really can't think of anyone who intentionally was being tactless or insensitive.  I can still hurt.  I might not seek those people out on a regular basis.  But, I can still believe they are good people who meant the best.

Easier said then done but I am finding the road a little easier than those first few years.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Aida at the Met

Quick update:  Xan graduated from Cornell with a PhD in Medieval Studies and is currently hired as a Teaching Associate of the Spanish language.  He's teaching 2 beginner Spanish classes and a Freshman writing seminar.  It is a semester by semester contract and cannot be extended past 2 years.  He is on the job market again to find an academic post.  

Last weekend, he took me out to NYC through a trip Cornell arranged to see Verdi's opera, AIDA.  Most everyone was speaking Italian (including Xan).  The bus left Ithaca at 6:00am and arrived in NYC in front of the Met Opera House around 10:15.  That bus driver had skills!  The opera didn't start until noon so the group split apart to roam around.  Xan and I opted for a walk in Central Park.  I was wearing one of those 24 hour heart monitor things so I pushed myself more than I might have normally, all in the name of good and solid data.  (I finally got around to seeing a cardiologist for potential POTS.  Referral for Table Tilt test has been referred and I'm waiting for approvals).  And, I had Xan to steady me when I got dizzy.

The day was beautiful!  The weather amazing!

No coat needed in November!!!

I hadn't realized the NYC temple is practically across the street from the Opera house.  The theater was big, squished, and crowded... but very impressive!

The entire Opera, I thought I was one of the only people using the subtitles since I could only see my own and another person's in front me.  Before the show, and between acts, many people were speaking in Italian.  Xan explained to me later in conversation that the screens are designed so that they can only be seen at a specific angle.  He apparently had his on the whole time, too.  Although, he lamented that he didn't realize Italian subtitles were an option until after.

The Met really knows how to put on a show!  My favorite part was when there were a pair of horse on the stage hooked up to an Egyptian carriage and one of them did NOT want to be there.  I sniffled through the end of the tragedy.  The voices were beautiful!  I think I still prefer the Aida Broadway - much more entertaining and funny.  :)

The opera ended at 4:00pm and the bus didn't leave until 9:00pm.  We went exploring again.  I logged over 25,000 steps on Saturday.  We walked a lot!  I'm still paying for it but it was well worth it.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

EDS Awareness!

This past Thursday, Xan and I got in our car and drove the 2 hours to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY for an appointment with Genetic Counseling.  To be honest, neither of us were absolutely sure which outcome we were looking for: For the doctor to say you are fine or for the doctor to confirm a diagnosis we suspected.

Xan first became aware of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome a couple years ago and despite EDS being a fairly rare syndrome, he has since become friends with 4 people who have it.  One with the Vascular type (the severe and life threatening type), one with possibly the Classical type, and the other two with the Hypermobility type.  As he has gotten to know each person better along with their specific health problems, a light bulb went off in his head that I appeared to have a lot of similar issues as those with the Hypermobility type.

Between my habit of lounging in weird positions that are deceivingly comfortable...

To frequent injuries for things like standing up, walking down stairs, and putting in the clutch while driving (no trauma or rolling of ankles, mind you...)

And some of my joints having no end to their range of motion minus physical obstacles... such as my back.  (I feel absolutely no stretch to the muscles in this position...  Hyper-flexible cervical spine = chronic headaches, migraines, knotted shoulders.)

He began to put the pieces together and started encouraging me to look into it.  He knows me well and simply planted the seed and let my mind run wild... eventually.  ;)

I'll be honest.  As soon as I read a lot of the symptoms, I immediately thought NO WAY!  I would know if I had EDS.  I mean... have you read the symptoms???

I mean... I had some of them but my joints didn't dislocate.  Which they actually haven't... to my knowledge... yet.  Most of my subluxations are from tendons snapping out of place and quickly springing back such as those at my ankles and hips.  But, I do have patellas that creepily go completely off to the side and back to the center sometimes when I stand up or straighten my legs while sitting or often while going up stairs.  My hip, too, recently started to slip out (not full dislocation) while driving and I managed to contort in my seat to force it back into place all without even swerving in my lane.  :)  

But back to the days when I didn't realize that some of this stuff was happening as early as last Fall.  It wasn't until I started to see a physical therapist at the end of October 2015 who specialized in TMJD, and blessedly happened to be familiar with treating hypermobile joints, that I began to consider EDS Type III: Hypermobility a possibility.  


Without me mentioning anything about EDS or Hypermobility, I was only in her office for 10 minutes telling her of my medical history before she had me standing up, touching my toes, straightening legs/arms, and pulling fingers/thumbs down.  I score 8/9 on the criteria below.  She looked at me and told me I had joint hypermobility.  She knew the signs.  She knew what to look for.

10 minutes, you guys!  After a lifetime of TMJD, Raynauds, Chronic pain, chronic fatigue, frequent injuries for no reason, mild depression/anxiety, possible fibromyalgia, and seriously believing that I was a hypochondriac.  You see, most doctors have similar reactions to EDS as I did.  They learn about it in medical school and they think, "I would definitely be able to identify that!  It would be so obvious!"  But the symptoms of EDS vary from severe/life threatening to benign but debilitating.  

Don't worry; I have a benign type!  Meaning... it is not life threatening; simply symptomatic.

My physical therapist did not have the authority to diagnose me so I began to work with my Primary Care Physician who was wonderful and freely admitted to not knowing enough to diagnose me.  She then referred me to Genetic Counseling.

My stomach was full of knots as we drove to Rochester.  I'll be honest.  I wanted the diagnoses.  Not because I wanted the syndrome with all of its wonderfulness, but because I wanted the validation.  I wanted to be told, "No, you are not crazy.  There is a reason why your body falls apart... literally...  It is not all in your head."  I was nervous and falling over my words as I attempted to relay to the Genetic Counselor a lifetime of health history with what pieces of my family's medical history I could pull together.  I was terrified when the doctor came in and began asking more specific questions, requesting me to demonstrate some of my "party tricks,"  and asking more probing questions about my parent's health.  I am so grateful I brought Xan with me to fill in a few bits here and there when my brain skipped them.

And then... there it was.  "I will write your Primary and let her know that I think you have EDS Type III: Hypermobility."  And so it begins.  

This syndrome has a lot of complications.  Sometimes it can take a couple tries to stand up if I feel things are out of alignment.  Sometimes I limp on my left leg.  Sometimes on my right.  And it gets really awkward when people notice I've switched the "limp leg" mid stride.  

I will often secure ice packs in place at work with a rubber band and attempt to continue doing my job.  I get a lot of skeptical looks when people sympathetically ask, "What happened?"  "Oh... I opened the door to Team 8 and my wrist sublaxed..."  "Ummm... okay?"  I don't always feel like explaining... as this post has shown... it is complicated.  

But having a name to the problem... an official diagnoses... brings answers.  Answers always come with a world of possibilities and tools.  I now am eligible for handicap parking. I can choose the elevator over stairs and proudly ignore everyone's judgement as I go up/down even just one flight. We might consider renting a wheelchair for traveling where a lot of walking and/or standing is required (NYC anyone???).  I can ask for special accommodations on airplanes such as early boarding.  Someday, maybe I will get a service dog for mobility!  Xan said he would consider it if we got a Great Pyrenees.  See below.  Hook... line... sinker.  It is officially on my bucket list!  

Xan would like to note that this Great Pyrenees is not fully grown...  But so cute!

Yes, life has ups and downs.  But having answers to explain the down times helps to get through them.  Pass on the awareness as it might change someone else's life for the better like it did mine!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Lazy Sunday Morning Lessons Learned

I love getting ideas for things to try and new ways to do my hair.  Currently, I am on the search for how to get my hair to hold beautiful curls without hairspray or hours of a curling iron.  Sleeping with rollers or whatever is out as it gives me a headache without fail the next morning.  So, I decided to try out a method where you twist or braid your hair, then take a flat iron to create a beach wave look.  The middle picture below shows how unimpressive it was...  Lesson learned.  The curl didn't hold evenly or for very long.  Might try it with braids next time...  

Next, I tried a faux hauk.  It looked like fun!  But I am simply just not good at poofy hair.  My hair rebels and ends up looking frizzy and a mess.  The look didn't quite fly when my braid was done more tightly.  Lesson learned.  Probably won't be trying this one again.

I ended up with an old stand by updo for when I feel like having a bit of fun.  Pretty sure this one came from Anne of Green Gables.

Next, I went to look at my soaps.  Thursday evening, I made a new batch of soap.  I wanted to play more with color designs and had just discovered two silicone baking pans at Hobby Lobby for only $7.99 each!  How could I resist???  I mixed up my batch of soap.  I ended up improvising and making some oil substitutes when I discovered I didn't have as much palm oil as I thought.  I substituted it with some castor oil and olive oil thinking I would be fine.

Waiting after I made it to be able to cut into them has been, as usual, annoying.  I mostly used hard or fixed oils in my batch so I assumed I would be able to unmold them the next day.  But they were too soft.  Last night, I took the single bars out (bottom of picture below).  They were a bit sticky but pretty much set so I left them out and placed them up to finish curing.

This morning... I couldn't wait any longer.  The molds felt hard and set.  So I put some wax paper on my cutting board, set the mold upside down, and slid the mold off the loaf.  It looked gorgeous and I was so excited!  I trimmed the bottom to neaten the shape.

But... when I went to cut the slanting ends of the loaf off, my heart sank.  The soap stuck to my knife. I finished cutting off the two short-side ends anyway, stuck all the bits and pieces into a plastic baggie to repurpose down the road, and slipped the loaves back into the molds to sit back on the shelf for up to 2 more weeks.  If they are not set by the end of 2 weeks, what is done is done.  The single bars should be fine as is but I won't be able to cut up the loaves if they stay this sticky.

Lesson learned: When improvising from a recipe, write down the measurements of each ingredient I use so I can evaluate by percentages where the problem is to fix.

Lesson learned: Too much castor oil can make soap stay sticky and tacky.  Since I didn't write my exact measurements down, I can't be sure this is the problem.  Too little lye can also cause the soap to be sticky and tacky which might also be the problem.  It can still be used but won't last as long as most will come away in a thick lather in the shower/bath.

Lesson learned:  According to online forums, should my soap loaf not harden and unstickify (made up word but I like it), I can melt it down in a crockpot and add it to another batch with a recipe for rock hard soap.

Lesson learned: My color designs were beautiful!

Decided I would review the other bars of soap I have made so far since a few people have been asking.

Shampoo bars (bottom right corner below): It took a try or two to figure out how to wash all my hair, which is pretty long, with a bar of soap instead of liquid shampoo.  But when I get that part right, my hair has been fabulous and can actually go 2 full days without being even the slightest bit oily at the roots.  :)

Castille soap (stacked in the bottom left corner below):  This stuff has been fantastic!  It lathers thickly and I have found it makes a perfect shaving lather.  That will save me money on shaving cream!

Lavender soap:  The color contrast was not as stark as I was hoping but it is still fun.  The lavender buds kind of trailed down the soap and left a few brown streaks here and there.  I'll have to figure out a way to reduce that.  But overall, it looks fun.  And smells amazing!  The lavender buds combined with the Rosemary Lavender scent is still going strong.  It still has a bit more time before it can used, though.

Happy Sunday everyone and enjoy the second half of General Conference!

Friday, March 11, 2016

To my Nieces and Nephews: My Choice about a Full-Time Mission

To my Nieces: Arianna Christine, Grace, Janessa, Brynna, Bree, Kaitlyn, Halle, Danielle, Samantha, Olive, Petra, Poppy and any future additions

And to my Nephews: Timothy, Sam, Derek, Zachary, Thomas, Preston, Parker, Elliot, Bodhi, Archer, Hamish, and any future additions

And to any other Youth of the Church who reads this:

I had the opportunity to listen to Face2Face for Young Single Adults with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland this past Tuesday evening.  A question was posed that I once had to face and they evoked many strong and emotional memories.  As I listened to the answer, I felt an overwhelming desire and urge to share my story with you.

The question was asked by 2 young sisters of the church (40:52):
"How can we help girls who haven't gone on missions remember that they are not any less than those that did serve?" 
"I know it is not my duty to serve a full-time mission and I feel at peace with the Lord about my decision.  But, the social rejection is sometimes unbearable.  What am I to do?"
I will first share Elder Holland's answer that I have typed out:
 "Those are great questions and we have strong feelings about this. By we, I mean, the Presiding Officers of the Church.  I was in the Missionary Executive Council with President Russell Nelson when we wrestled through this issue to lower the age to 18 for young men and 19 for Young Women.  And, indelibly imprinted on my soul forever was President Thomas Spencer Monson thumping the table, pointing a finger, declaring what we would and would not do on this.  He was very supportive.  You remember the announcement in that electric moment when he announced that in general Conference. But more privately, he had said, and of course, he said it publicly, too, but this was in the formative period of the policy.  He was adamant that we were not going to create a second-class citizenship for young women who did not serve a mission.  We lean on the young men to go as much as we can.  We are pretty straight forward about that.  We do an arm twist and a knee pull and a, you know, go for the jugular on the men.  But even there, even there, let me be serious and say even there, if a young man doesn't go that does not preclude him from our association and admiration and his priesthood service and his loyalty and love of the Lord and future in the church.  That ought to be true for young men, as well as young women, but adamantly for young women. President Monson never intended for all of the young women in the church to go on missions by dropping that age.  We're very grateful for those who go.  It's changed the face of the church.  It's going to continue to change the face of the church.  We went from some something like, I don't know Don, 8 or 10 or 12% to 30 or 35% of the missionary force of the church being young women.  And, everyone knows that a sister is twice as effective as three elders.  But, we do not want anyone feeling inadequate or left out or undignified or tarnished because she did not choose to serve a mission. And we're a little irritated with young men who say, well, I'm not going to date you because you didn't serve a mission.  That seems to me just almost unconscionable.  What we're dealing with here is the worth and merit and wonder and beauty of human beings and choices to be made and agency that exists.  And we really feel strongly about this.  If you can't tell this, I'll lean a little more forward that we do not want that kind of climate over dating or marriages or who is really faithful in the church or who isn't.  Those are all decisions we make and some of us don't ever know about our neighbor.  We don't know the reason why somebody didn't go.  We don't know all the backstory on sometime's even our closest friends about circumstances that exist or conditions at home or of financial anxieties or health conditions that may have played a part in that kind of decision.  But, it isn't our place to pass a judgement or to in anyway offend one of God's little ones.  And, you are all God's little ones."
In the summer before I turned 21, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with my life.  I had always been told and believed that I would get married early, have babies, and that I only needed to get a degree for my own self development and as a back up should something happen to my husband and I had to work.  I was good with that since all I, myself, have wanted to be was a stay-at-home mom.  It is still my #1 dream even though I may not get it in this life.

Well, there I was.  Almost 21.  Facing the latter end of my college years still single.  I did not want to go on a mission and it was not something I was contemplating.  But, the voices of others were still there.  Even when the age was 21 for young women to go on missions, I still had some young men tell me that they would not date me if I didn't serve.  Many men, in friendly confidences, expressed an unyielding desire to only marry a returned missionary.

I was sitting in a sacrament meeting one Sunday, with an ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend a few rows behind me, and I was contemplating with the Lord what I should do with my life. I recieved a very powerful and strange prompting that led me to see my Bishop to figure out how to follow through with it.  (It was not to go on a mission.)  When he asked me if I had ever thought of serving a mission, I laughed and reminded him of my health status (my usual quick response that almost always got people off my back).  His wife had the same health condition and he said, "I know the struggles it poses, as you are well aware, and I can tell you that if you choose to serve a mission, it will all work out."  He also added, much to my eternal gratitude in hindsight, that if for whatever reason and at whatever time decided that I didn't want to serve a full-time mission, even halfway through my mission, that as a sister, I had that right and that ability to receive a genuine honorable release.

I went home that afternoon, shut myself up in my room, and stared at a wall while I sorted through my thoughts and emotions.  I acknowledged the prompting I was given, told the Lord that the only way I knew how to fulfill that prompting was to serve a mission, and please, God --- if there was another way, I would LOVE to hear it.


I had studied it out in my mind, I had asked, and knew the next step was to move forward with a choice and God would either confirm it or correct it.

I agreed to serve a mission.  Just as Marianne from Sense and Sensibility written by Jane Austen could do nothing without her whole heart, I, too, once the decision was made, went all in with serving a mission.  I was excited, terrified, and ready to serve the Lord.  And most importantly, I had peace from the Lord that I was moving in a good direction.

In the course of preparations for my mission, I was able to fulfill the prompting I had been given.  And that is when things changed.  A little while afterwards, I went to a soccer game with Xan.  We began to spend a lot of time together, date, and fall in love.  He admitted to me that he didn't feel we had been together long enough to justify asking me to stay and fully supported my decision to go on a mission.

The last couple weeks preparing for the MTC were a bit of a hazy blur that the only thing I remember was constantly waiting and wanting someone in a leadership/authority position to tell me I could stay home.  No one did.  Not trusting in my own ability, I interpreted this silence from others as the Lord's way of telling me I made a commitment and I need to fulfill it.

I entered the MTC.  I loved it!  I love the scriptures, I love learning languages, and for the first time in my life, I was ahead in class.  I knew the scriptures. I had elementary knowledge in Spanish.  I loved being committed to the Gospel in large groups 24/7.

I also loved the letters I received from Xan everyday!  I was conflicted...

After a week in the MTC, I realized I needed to own my choices and choose once and for all what I should do.  I battled for days.  My poor missionary companion had to suffer from my bipolar emotions of one moment being so sure I was supposed to stay and the next, being so sure I was going to go home.

I learned 3 important things during this experience.

  1. The Lord answers the question that I ask.
  2. Equally good choices exist and sometimes the right choice is simply the choice I choose.
  3. It is my responsibility to own my choice despite what others say.  I cannot change others, only myself.

It wasn't until I asked the Lord the first of two right questions that I was able to make my decision.  It was one of only three occurrences in my life, so far, that I have received revelation in the form of words/sentences instead of peace/impressions/one word answers.  The first was the prompting I had in that sacrament room mentioned above.  The second is as follows, paraphrasing as I never actually wrote it down until now, but it has stayed written in my heart:
"You can choose to stay on your mission and I will heal you.  I will support you.  You will experience great joy .  But, Xan will not be there for you when you get back.  There will be other choices and other opportunities for you.  It is a good choice.
Or you can choose to return home and I will heal you.  I will support you.  You will experience great joy.  You may experience opposition from your choice.  It may not work out with Xan.  But you can make the choice to find out.  It is a good choice.
This decision is your choice as both options are equally good."
I was dumbfounded.  It had never occurred to me that this choice even existed for such an important decision.  It dawned on my that the Lord was answering my prayers all along because He was answering the question that I asked, "Is staying on my mission a good choice/the right choice?"  "Is going home a good choice/the right choice?"  Well, yes to both, right?

I squared my shoulders and made one of the bravest choices I have ever made and I made a choice based upon what I wanted and knowing that the Lord truly honored my choice.  I left the MTC 2 weeks after entering.

It was awkward.  A lot of people said some pretty unkindly things. But I clung to the answer.  I told people I came home for health reasons (not a lie as that was a big part of the decision) and that deflected a lot of probing questions at a time I was not ready to share such a personal experience with just anyone.

My family, many friends, and Xan were very supportive.  I pursued treatment for my health and I received a blessing the night before surgery that I would be healed.  God's promise was fulfilled.  I truly can say, to this day, I have never regretted that decision.  I have owned that choice and do not let myself ponder which was more or less righteous.  I hold to the answer I received and know that if it was right for me then, it is right for me now.

My nieces and nephews:
You will face a time when that decision will loom before you.  Arianna - you are facing that option now.  Tim will soon follow.  My prayer and my hope for all of you - niece or nephew - is that you will trust in making the right choice for you about whether to serve, when to serve, and how to serve, as well as respecting the choice made by others for themselves.  The overall message that I felt from that devotional last Tuesday was to learn to discern how the spirit speaks to you, trust in the Lord to guide you, keep him as the core foundation as you seek out what your own and personal life mission on this earth is.  I promise that you will find peace along the journey despite the push and pull of voices around you.

When I listened to President Monson's announcement to lower the age to 19 for women to serve missions, I felt conflicted.  My heart rejoiced for those who would now be able to choose to serve a mission as many of my female friends sincerely always wanted to serve a full-time mission but many got married well before they were 21.  But I was also filled with dread at the social pressure that it would put on young women.  My thoughts immediately went to my beautiful nieces and I fervently prayed for all of you, including those to come, that you would have the strength to make your own choice.

Whether to serve a mission is just one of many, many choices you will face in life.  We all make decisions on a daily basis that others are quick to judge.  Our choice of media, clothes, occupation, friends, leisure time, how to spend the Sabbath Day, and on and on and on.

Sometimes in your life, you will experience clear answers to questions.  It will say, "Do this."  In my experience, those do not come very often.  Most of the time, we will be faced with equally good decisions.  The choice of going on a mission may or may not be answered with a clear and distinct, "yes!"  Even you, nephews, who unlike your sisters and female-cousins, have been called by the duties of your Priesthood office to serve a full-time mission, may for whatever reason as discussed by Elder Holland above not serve or delay a while to serve.

You cannot control how other people will respond to your actions but you can choose how you respond to them.  By developing the Gift of Discernment promised to all of us, I promise that you, too, will be able to stand tall and proud by any decision you make and know you are following the footsteps of Christ to lead you back to our Father in Heaven.

I love the story You Are Special by Max Lucado and frequently refer to it in my mind when I am asking myself how I measure up to other people.  I am reminded, as I want to remind you, that the only person who's opinion eternally matters is that of God, our Father.  Others will try to tell you what to do and how to live the gospel "more righteously."  Heed the words of the prophets and do not get so caught up in the culture of how other people live and the choices they make that you ignore how God wants you to live out his commandments and your personal mission here on Earth.

Even though I am so far from all of you and haven't even met some of you yet, I pray for you, I love you, and I am always here for you.

Aunt Ashley

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Saturday All to Myself

Xan is taking a Winter Camping course through Cornell and this weekend he was gone from Friday evening until... I think that is him coming up the stairs... Door opening... Yep!  He just got back a little after 1pm. This meant an entire Saturday all to myself!  As an introvert... it was amazing...

I woke up at 6:00 am and lounged/snoozed until 6:45 am with the two cats.  As someone who gets up on weekdays at 4:30, this was luxurious!  I did a bit of cleaning and got ready for the day.  I used one of my flower soap bars from last month!  And of course, used some amazing Essential Oils.

I took a minute to realize how long my hair is... it's usually up in a bun or something.  I think it is just about as long as it was when I cut it four or something years ago.

I've been reading books, articles, and what not to work on some emotional self-therapy for my mild depression and chronic illness.  I'll probably blog about that in the near future.  My assignment for today was to watch Silver Linings Playbook.  I've seen it before and it remains one of my favorite movies.  

I folded some laundry and put away some clothes before getting creative and working on a new soap batch.  I experimented with color this time with purple and white.  I also added lavender buds to the mx.  The scent was an all natural Lavender and Rosemary blend.  The whole apartment smelled amazing for HOURS afterwards.  I didn't let it trace enough (thicken) before mixing the colors so i won't have the swirl design quite how I planned but it hardened overnight so we will see what it looks like in a couple days when I take it out and cut the bars.  :)

 Here's a close up I just took now to better show the fun top design I got with the last traces of the white.

I have become a responsible adult ... Mom - sit down before reading this ... and cleaned up after I was finished.  AND put all the tools and ingredients away.  

Took some selfies with my cat while listening to an audio book.  I am a big fan of Maria V. Snyder and am listening to her Poison Study series... again... for who knows how many times.

In the evening, I went to babysit this adorable guy.  His big brother was already asleep so I only heard occasional murmurs from him.  But this cutie wanted to stay up the whole time.  I was not complaining!

Came home, worked on a jigsaw puzzle on my Kindle, and went to sleep.  It was a very good day!