Saturday, July 15, 2017

Not All Diseases Are Created Equal

I have a disease called Multiple Sclerosis, MS. It's an auto-immune disease which means the body attacks itself. In MS, the myelin sheathing around nerves is attacked by anti-bodies that think they are protecting me from an outside infection.  When I was diagnosed, the prognosis was anything from very few exacerbations to a constantly worsening that would leave me in a wheelchair.  Twenty years in, I am happy that the course of the disease is only moderately disabling for me.  I did have to retire early from teaching, but I will walk a 5K next week with my grandchildren with few difficulties. Summer is wretched because of the heat, which makes all former symptoms come back for a curtain call and I am more tired than I was even in the first trimesters of pregnancy, but all in all I have been very lucky.  As diseases go, I'll take MS.

My parents both died of cancer, so obviously, that particular disease scares me, but in true Scarlett O'Hara fashion, I choose to not think about it.

There is one disease that I am incredibly grateful is not likely to visit me--addiction. Aside from a sweet tooth that has plagued me, I have had no affinity to addictive substances.  I never started drinking, so I don't know if I could have stopped. Likewise for cigarettes, which I watched my father struggle with his entire life.  The few pain killers I took as needed left me pain free, but not addicted, but that may be because of the short duration I took them. I guess I'll never know if I could have been an addict, but I love someone very much who is one.

My oldest son started smoking when he was 14 or 15. It was during the time that my then husband and I separated and eventually divorced, and drinking alcohol followed soon thereafter for this teenager who felt confused and betrayed. Illegal drugs came next and while he tried several, the only one that held on was marijuana. Only about 8% of people who smoke pot become addicted, but Cody is one of them. By the time he was 18, he was stealing things out of cars to pay for the substance abuse that was quickly stealing his future. He was caught, pleaded guilty and I was the mother of a felon.

Two disclaimers here. The universe has convinced me that I am an enabler and that Cody and I are co-dependent. Guilty as charged. All I knew for years was that I loved this boy more than words can express and he was in 97 kinds of pain and trouble. I tried to protect him. I tried to save him. It didn't work so I tried harder. I nagged. I begged. I tried to be perfect in the false belief that any blessing due me could be transferred to him. I prayed and prayed and prayed.

The second disclaimer?  I absolutely positively believe that addiction/alcoholism is a disease.  I didn't always believe that. At first, I fell in line with the attitude that Cody just needed to make better choices. He did. But the bottom line is that he needed treatment. His addictions are accompanied by ADHD, depression and anxiety. He's never been to rehab, but he's been in jail--a poor person's rehab to be blunt.

Two of the groups that inspire little to no compassion are addicts and felons. Cody is in jail right now for drinking and smoking pot--both parole violations. Of the poor choices he has made while on this journey through hell, I am happy to say violence has never been a road he has taken. Unfortunately, theft has, and since stealing is a definite 'no' in the 10 commandments, I'm left with little credibility to defend him. And frankly, I'm learning not to defend him. I get treatment for my MS; my parents sought and received medical treatment for cancer. Cody has not always been compliant when offered treatment. In fact, he has rarely been compliant.

I visited Cody today in prison. He is very depressed. I don't mean he feels crummy. I mean he is clinically, severely depressed. He started taking anti-depressants again, but on the second day, the guard said something snarky so he didn't go back the third day. I encouraged him to reconsider, trying hard not to enable or be co-dependent. (I truly hate those terms.)  He said he can't find any hope, any purpose. The only thought that brings any happiness is his nieces and nephews, but then he crashes into despair thinking he has ruined any future relationship with them.

And so, I look across the table and see a still handsome 37 year old who has a disease. I will try not to be too sad as he continues to struggle with his choices and his lack of choices. I will try not to be too frustrated with a system that gives little care or hope to those similarly afflicted. And I will pray for a cure.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Gardens Take Time

I love flower gardens. I have been to several botanical gardens and am always impressed by not only the beauty, but by the number of years some plants have been growing.  My grandmother grew flowers,mostly perennials and flowering bushes. Every Memorial Day she would fill bottles and cans with peonies, lilacs and snowball bush flowers (I'm sure there is a real name for that bush, but I don't know it.) and take them to cemeteries.  They called it Decoration Day.  My mother didn't really go in for decorating graves and made a bit of a show about leaving Utah and her youth behind her, but I realize now that the main flowers that greeted me each Idaho spring were peonies, lilacs and snowball bushes.  I have planted all three as well, along with the bleeding hearts I loved when I was young.  In my home of two years, I have two small lilac bushes, three peonies, and a bleeding heart plant but no snowball bushes as yet. She and my dad also grew petunias and snapdragons and a few roses. Me too. I've even added some they didn't grow--lavender, columbine, and plants I don't know the names of. But I digress.  This blog is not about flower gardens--it is about THE flower garden, The Garden of Eden. And me.

Let me explain.  I believe that Heavenly Father directed his son, Jesus, to create the Earth.  I love the creation story and believe it is true, as far as we understand it. I think it took longer than 6 of our days to complete, and I believe that He worked through natural laws. The Garden of Eden would have taken a very long time.  In every depiction I have seen, and I know these are only artists' depictions, this garden was lush with every plant, flower and tree that existed then and exists now.  Maybe more. The point I am trying to make is that it took time for this beautifully perfect garden to be finished.

I am 62 years old.  When I was younger (so much younger than today!) I thought my life would be figured out by this time.  I thought I would be finished, not perfect, but well on my way to being something I could present back to my Heavenly Father with satisfaction.  I knew I would still be polishing up the rough surfaces, but I'm serious--I thought I would be done with all the hard stuff.  I was wrong.

Back to my beautiful garden analogy.  It turns out that I wasn't all that ambitious about the garden of my life. I was content with some pesky weeds and as long as I added a few new perennials every year, I was good. My life's garden was a lot like my new house garden--not lush by any means, but pretty in spots.  Heavenly Father had more in mind for my stay here on earth.

Gardens take work.  I love working in my yard. I like to feel the soil under my fingernails.  I like to dig and stretch and water and watch as my efforts make one little patch of yard beautiful.  My gardening skills are novice, my budget is tight, but all in all, I take pride in my efforts.

My life garden is okay.  In fact, parts of it are beautiful. But it's hard work and I am lazy at times. Good enough has been my overall philosophy. I mean, really.  I'm a pretty good writer sometimes. I'm good at crafts.  I can cook if I want to.  I'm a good teacher. Again, it's hard work and I get tired. The most important part of my life is the honor I have been given to be a mother and grandmother.

Lately, life has been hard.  I have a beloved son who struggles with substance abuse and mental health issues. It's hard to always do what's best for him and what's best for me.  Weeds like inconsistency, enabling, and excusing crop up, even when I know better.  Sometimes I can't tell flowers from weeds, and sometimes I just want someone else to be the gardener for a while. Turns out that, at 62, I'm not done. There's more to do, more to learn if I am to become the mother I want to be, the daughter of God I want to be.

My son's life is also a garden.  He has rare and exotic plants and flowers and amazes me with his gardening skills.  He also breaks my heart when he lets the garden grow wild, without the care and pruning it deserves. Sometimes I have neglected my own garden, trying to fix his. Neither garden flourishes.

I have been humbled enough by what I considered my failures at parenting, that I have finally asked for help and started listening to people who love me give me counsel and advice.  I have knelt in prayer and felt loved and chastised at the same time. I have, figuratively speaking, felt my life garden be redesigned. Borders have been enlarged, soil is being improved with compost and nutrients. Weeds are being pulled out, some of which have long, stubborn roots. New varieties of plants are being brought in, and I have to admit that I'm not completely grateful for the pain of this new growth. Many tears have watered these new plants and I will not even pretend that the work is done.

Eventually, I will be finished and the life I present back to my Heavenly Father, beautified by His hand and perfected by my Savior's Atonement will be much more than I was willing to settle for. Unburdened by my attempts of control, my son will have the chance to allow his life to be changed and healed.

I hope in a few years when I look back, I will be happy that the work made things better and maybe I'll even be able to help other gardeners.  Until then, I trust in the Lord and am willing to accept His direction.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

For Kristen

When I turned 18, I automatically became a member of the largest women's organization in the world, the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Among the excellent aspects of this organization is being a part of the visiting teaching program.  In every congregation, women are assigned two visiting teachers. These two companions go to the homes of the women on their 'routes' once a month with a message of hope/encouragement/inspiration as a way to form friendships that will then enable them to ascertain the needs of these women and make sure these needs are met.

For example, Mary is visited by Jane and Emily.  They could be the same age or not, have similar family situations or not, be devout members of the church or not.  Jane and Emily probably have 2-4 women they visit.  Say Mary has a baby.  Jane and Emily will either take a couple of meals into the family or ask other people to do so.  That's easy enough.  But say Mary is battling severe depression, is struggling to take care of herself and her children, and is possibly even wondering if life is worth living.  If Jane and Emily have truly become friends with Mary and love her as a sister, they have an opportunity to help this woman out of a deep hole. They listen to her, watch her children, take her to doctor's appointments, and if the situation warrants, talk to the Relief Society president about getting more help and support for her.  But Jane and Emily will never know about any of this unless Mary trusts them.  They can't just show up once a month, give a five minute lesson and blithely say, "Let us know if you need anything," as they hurry out the door.

When I was 23, I was the Relief Society president of a single adult ward, and thereby oversaw the visiting teaching in my ward.  Every woman was assigned visiting teachers unless they absolutely refused to let them visit.  Few did, even if they never attended church.  Who doesn't need two more friends watching out for you?  All women were asked to be visiting teachers; most accepted; some were consistent in their monthly visits; some were consistent and compassionate.  Great acts of service were accomplished by these consistently caring visiting teachers.  Great acts of service were even accomplished by the ones who only made visits occasionally because the important aspect was making friends with the women you taught--establishing relationships of trust that enabled them to ask you for help.  Even when these acts of service weren't necessary, something pretty wonderful usually happened--lasting friendships.

I'm 62 years old.  I have been a visiting teacher for 44 years. I have been visited by other women for 44 years.  I have served and been served. I have been consistent in my visits at times and have been horribly inconsistent during other times.  I have had incredible visiting teachers who became life long friends and others who did not visit me.  We're all human and this program is as simple as it sounds, but not easy. Calling women you may not know and asking to come to their homes can be scary.  Getting to know them can be difficult.  Developing friendships takes time and effort.  People move; there are times in our lives when adding one more duty seems daunting if not impossible.

Starting in my mid 40's, I took more than I gave.  I was a single parent, worked full time, had health issues, money problems and challenging parenting issues.  My visiting teachers were wonderful, but I wasn't such a great visiting teacher.  The Relief Society presidents switched my companions and my routes, and there were times I rose to the occasion, but I slowly lost confidence in my ability to adequately handle my own life, let along help someone else.  I still reached out to others and served in other areas, but I didn't feel like I was the kind of visiting teacher I had been in the past.

I left a ward I had been in for for over 30 years and moved into a new ward almost two years ago.  I was asked to be a visiting teacher and given a companion and a route.  It was slow going.  They were all strangers and I was still working full time and dealing with all the same issues of the past 15 years. One Sunday, the Relief Society president let me know that a sister on my route had reached out and asked to be visited. At first I felt guilty that I had to be reminded, but at least I knew I was welcome.  I visited Kristen alone a few times, with my first companion a few times, and then my next companion. Not every month, but often enough.  I started making friends with this young mother of three who looked like she belonged in a Jane Austen movie.  I retired almost a year ago and Kristen and I continued to form a friendship.  She had a fourth baby and she and her husband moved in with his sister and her family.  Four adults and eleven children lived together as Kristen and Adam helped the larger family financially while his sister's husband recovered from an illness.

It wasn't always easy for Kristen to merge her four young children with seven older cousins, less room and different family habits and lifestyles.  One day, I asked if she wanted to bring her kids over to my house once a week or so, let them play in my (awesome) toy room while she and I sat in the living room with her baby and talked.  It seemed like an easy offer to make, but it made a world of difference for a couple of months.  I loved the feeling of helping and she felt loved and cared for.  And her kids liked the toy room. She cooked a couple of times--she missed having her own kitchen and mine is largely unused.  We laughed together and shared hopes and frustrations.

Kristen is moving to Florida tomorrow morning. New city, new house, new job, new friends.  She'll have new visiting teachers, too.  I hope they love her as much as I do.  Thanks, Kristen, for reminding me that I can help another woman in small and simple ways.  There's a reason that we call each other sisters in our church.


Monday, January 2, 2017

I Can't Believe It's Been This Long



     I started writing in journals when I was a teenager. Sometimes I wish I had saved them, but I threw them away.  Perhaps it is just as well.  They were surely filled with the angst of teenage drama.  I started another journal before I graduated from college and I began almost every entry with the title of this essay.  Oh, there were times I wrote weekly or maybe monthly, but more often I would open up the book and realize it had been many months or even close to a year.  I stopped keeping regular journals some time ago, although there are several lying around with an entry or two.  This blog is not a journal.  It began as a collection of essays so that I would be challenged to write, edit, and rewrite on the off chance that someone would actually read one and so it still is.  But it's been almost two years. 

     Much has changed in my life and some of those changes will undoubtedly be reflected in upcoming blogs.  Since one of my 2017 resolutions is to write more, I'm sure there will be a respectable number of essays before I stop again.

     This essay, however, is about the opposite of change.  

     A much repeated adage about choosing one's mate is to never marry someone you think will change.  It's not that people can't change; they can and do in sometimes remarkable ways.  It's just that you shouldn't think you can make them change.  The older I get, and I am getting there quickly, the less I believe I have changed much in my life. Sure, I have matured and improved in some areas.  I have set goals and attained them; I have even successfully prayed to have certain weaknesses become strengths and watched in wonder as they have. I have also struggled with some of the same problems most of my life.  Altogether, the fundamentals of my personality are much the same as they were in grade school.

     I loved approval as a child and I still do.  I received plenty from my parents and older brothers, so I was disappointed when I went out into the world and received much less.  The problem was that as much as I liked approval, I liked sharing my opinions more.  Opinions that were not necessarily in the mainstream.  And sharing is the key word.  A lot of people have differing political views from friends, but they don't talk about those views when outnumbered.  I seem to only share them when I am outnumbered.  I was a Democrat in 1972 when I started attending BYU, and I just voted straight Democrat in the 2016 election.  There are plenty of Mormon Democrats, some even get elected, but the ones who want to be popular in Nampa, Idaho keep it to themselves.

     I loved having pets as a child.  I loved having pets as an adult.  Especially cats.  But when I bought my home almost 2 years ago, I knew I wouldn't have a pet cat.  First of all, two of my adult sons have developed allergies to cats and have indicated they would feel less loved if I brought a cat into the home they visit once or twice a year.  Seriously.  The other reason if I'm honest, though, is that I like to pick up and go for a week or two at a time now that I'm retired and the last cats I neglected paid me back by ruining carpet. Cat owners know what I mean.  I have new carpet and flooring in my house. It's horrible to admit that I don't want it ruined, but I don't.  I also have grandchildren who are even cuter than cats. All of that said, I jumped at the chance, or maybe hopped, when a student at my last teaching job needed someone to adopt his rabbits.  So, I have had three rabbits for a year now.They take neglect better than cats, and they are super cute to watch hop around the yard when the weather is nice.  When the weather is very cold and snowy like it is now, they require me to change out their water bottles when frozen and convince my daughter to do so when I want to drive to Utah to see the grandchildren there.

     As a child, I liked collecting things.  Dolls, rocks, marbles, books and to a lesser extent, shoes and purses.  I downsized quite a bit when I sold the house I'd lived in 24 years, but anyone who knows me has seen what most people would consider too many dolls, rocks, marbles, books and yes, shoes and purses in my house.  And dishes.  And plants.  And nativity sets.  That's all I'm willing to admit to right now.

     So what's the point of this essay, because, I do try to have a point.  It's really all about why I am writing--why it's a resolution.  I started writing 50 years ago.  I wrote poetry and stories as a 12 year old. I took creative writing classes in high school and college.  I wrote a song or two, a roadshow or three, and have wanted to write and be published my whole life.  It was third on my list.

     First, I wanted to be married and have children.  I'm not married now, but I have the exact kind of children I wanted and 11 grandchildren as an incredible bonus.  Second, I wanted to work with other people's children. I graduated in Child Development, worked professionally with developmentally delayed children before my oldest child was born.  When he was three,  I created and taught two days a week in my own preschool for 15 years.  When I needed to support myself and my children, I received a teaching certificate and taught middle school for 15 years.  I didn't write as much as I wanted to during the years I mothered and taught and I don't regret the choices I made. I had a few things published; I've won a contest or two, but not on the level I dreamed of.

     Now I'm retired.  I don't have much confidence that I can write as well as I used to, but I need to try.  I bought a marvelous blue leather office chair at an estate sale a few days ago and have been sitting comfortably while I have been writing this.  The hard wooden dining room chair I was using made any attempt at writing painful after 10 minutes. I still have ideas; my plots for children's books are never hard to revive.  I would like to write personal histories for family members and even a few friends who have excellent stories, but no feeling for how to put them on paper. And when poems form in my mind, I'd like to do the work necessary to make them real.

     I don't have many regrets about my life.  It has been quite wonderful. Since I have a gift of time, though, it seems silly not to chase that third dream.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Calm, Loyal, Loving, Strong

Seventeen years.  That's how long she's been gone if my math is correct.  That is such a long time to miss your mom.  Of course, since my dad has been gone almost 40 years, I guess it's all relative.  I'm none too happy they didn't both stick around longer--cancer is hard to argue with sometimes.  I thought of that when I turned down supplemental cancer insurance yesterday.

On her cemetery tombstone (do we still call them that or is there a more pc term?), we wrote "Calm, Loyal, Loving, Strong" because those were the four words I thought described her best.  No one argued with me because I wasn't at my best that week.  As I reconsider, I'm not sure I would change any one of them.  Here's a snapshot of a wonderful woman:

Calm:  Well, okay, I didn't get that gene.  She put up with a crummy boss for 20 years.  My record is two.  She also didn't ever spank me.  (Okay, there was the one time when I was a mouthy teenager and said something sassy in public and she slapped me.  We were both shocked.  I guess even the calmest person has a limit.)  She didn't yell much.  In fact, truthfully, I can't remember her yelling at all.  She did use some colorful language once in a while; that trait skipped a generation to a couple of my kids, but only one or two favorites and they usually are apt.  I have been known to yell and while spanking wasn't my go-to parenting style, I remember reaching my limit with my kids when they were younger than five and giving a few swats.  I regret that.  Mom took things in stride.  She accepted what couldn't be changed and dealt the hand she was given.  I should have tried harder to learn that.

Loyal:  If someone said something to her against one of her children, I imagine they only did it once. She thought we could do no wrong. lol  But it was more than that her thinking we were perfect.  She was loyal to confidences.  I learned only a few years ago that my neighborhood best friend's family across the street had police visits for domestic issues more than one night.  I never knew.  My parents didn't talk about people. Well, except for J.R.--the boss.  Bless his heart.  (That's what my daughter and I say right after we imply something mean about someone.)  I did learn this trait from her.  My best school friend in 5th grade had the last name of Kawamoto.  This was in the 60s when Japanese people in Twin Falls were appreciated mostly for their restaurants.  My dad was in the Pacific theater of WWII, but there was never an indication from him or my mom that my friendship with this cute girl was anything but good.  Mom probably should have objected to some of my later friends in junior high, but she may have known more than I thought she did and just trusted me.  She was also loyal to her family and made sure I had a good relationship with her parents even though they criticized her choice of a husband more than once.  (I think they eventually realized that he was perfect for her and a great husband and father.)

Loving:  Oh, but she loved us.  She wasn't verbally demonstrative, but she rubbed my back for hours at a time; she snuggled with me and with my children whenever the opportunity arose.  Now that I realize that she showed love through touch, I regret not rubbing her back or her feet more often.  She was a widow for over 20 years; she probably missed that.  She showed her love through service.  She worked to give her children more educational opportunities.  She sewed for me and for my vast array of dolls because I loved those clothes (and dance costumes, bridesmaid dresses, quilts, etc), not because she loved to sew.  She kept herself busy in Twin Falls after my dad died partly by planting a huge garden of raspberries.  She hated picking raspberries, but she knew that her children and grandchildren loved the jam.  (I'm really hoping she gave some of it to my brothers!  I sure got plenty!)  And if bragging is a way to show love, she loved us more than anyone has ever been loved.  I heard every story about my nieces and nephews as soon as she heard anything new, and I'm sure my brothers heard everything good about my kids.  After all, she had the most intelligent, athletic, musical, accomplished and clever progeny in the world.  And whatever we weren't good at wasn't important and should never be mentioned.

Strong:  She worked hard.  Her mother worked hard.  Sometimes I work hard, but compared to them, I'm a lightweight.  When I arose this morning, a day off, I immediately thought of doing something fun.  I'd play Words with Friends with my nephew and brother; I'd read something I wanted to read; I'd find something to help me relax.  Me, me, me.  Then I heard the NPR radio host say it was the 30th and immediately started thinking of Mom.  What did she do for herself?  For fun?  Um, she bowled.  For my dad.  She golfed for a while.  For my dad.  I don't remember her reading. She played games with her kids--was that for her or for us?  She watched TV, but I think Dad and I chose the programs, at least when I was there.  If I ever find out that Dad hated Lawrence Welk, then I'll know she chose that for herself.  Mom didn't complain.  She did what she had to do.  Later in her life, when depression settled in like a fog that wouldn't lift, she didn't do the amount of gardening she had before, and I wonder if that had been something she liked.  My kids won't have to think a nano-second about what I did for myself.

I miss my mom.  I miss calling her.  I miss shopping with her, especially those times when I had "forgotten" my purse.  I miss knowing that there was one person on earth who loved me more than they loved anyone else.  That was the gift we gave each other since we didn't have spouses that filled that role.  I will honor her today by working hard and by adopting the phrase, "Keep Calm and Carry On."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Was a Stranger and She Took Me In

Garneta Gee.  Rhymes with Juanita--her mom's name!  So, there I was.  Monday, April 7 with no place to sleep that night or the next.  Not exactly homeless.  My soon to be for sale house in Boise still had a comfortable bed waiting for me on weekends.  But alas, my job in Hansen was a 2 hour commute.  Okay for a weekly drive, but not daily!

I had been living in a comfortable basement bedroom in Twin Falls with an elderly woman for the school year.  I thought all was well until her daughter told me it wasn't.  No need for details, but I'm sure my 4 days there 3 days gone schedule was difficult for a lovely but declining in health and memory 90 year old.  Her daughter told me one Thursday night I had to be gone by June 1 (the original plan) but today would be even better. (My own daughter will be equally blunt if she ever thinks someone else's needs are impinging on my well-being.) So I packed up my belongings, loaded my car and headed to Kaysville, Provo, and Salt Lake for conference, R & R with the Smith's and grandchildren holding, not necessarily in that order.  Monday morning at 4 am, I left Utah wondering where I was going to sleep that night.  Some wonderful co-workers at school had been scouting around and knew that Garneta had a basement bedroom.  But Garneta is shy, they said, and certainly would not want a boarder.  They called her anyway, and she agreed to talk to me that afternoon.

I walked up the stairs to the front door of a 100 year old house and into a living room reminiscent of my grandparents' home.  Garneta's three little guard dogs barked for 3 seconds and let me in, wagging their whole bodies as they wagged their tails.  They seemed to like me.

Garneta was gracious, not unfriendly, but definitely cautious.  We chatted for a while.  She said she didn't cook.  I said neither did I.  She said she had a funny sleep schedule; I promised I wouldn't interfere with it.  Pretty soon, she said she didn't know why, but she was willing to let me stay there.  I said I knew why.  I had been praying all day that she would.  She looked at me and replied that it had been some time since she had been the answer to someone's prayers.

At that point, Garneta didn't even realize I would actually pay her (not very much) for staying there.  She just answered the promptings of the Spirit.  We grew rather quickly to love each other.  We had much in common in our viewpoints.  She is a talented artist, a loving mother and one of the most naturally beautiful woman I have met.  I should look as lovely as she does in 20 years when I am her age.  We attended the Temple several times together, each time a sweet, sacred experience. We watched TV together, but mostly talked.  We both cried a little when I left.

If I go back to my teaching job in Hansen, I will live with her again, but I don't know that I will be going back.  If not, I will miss you Garneta.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"She never complained," said nobody about me ever.

I have heard so many people say it about loved ones.  "He never complained even though his pain was horrible."  "She had such a hard life, but she never complained."

I knew early on that it was no use.  I'm pretty certain I started whining as a young indulged child, so I was not going to be one of those lauded for suffering in silence.  Oh, sure, I've held some things in along the way--some fairly significant, even traumatic, things.   The trouble was that those trials I kept to myself only got worse, while the problems I shared with friends got better.  Eventually, I was a convert.  Sharing pain helped.  And I had plenty of pain for awhile.

I've had a few health problems.  Nothing awful like cancer, but when the nurse asks you for the number on the pain scale, being brave and lying just prolongs the pain.  Better to tell the truth.

I've had a few losses.  When your dad dies when you're 22, it's okay to cry.  When your mom dies before you're 70 and she's 100, it's okay to cry.  Friends understand.  People send you cards and bring food.

I've had a few unmet expectations.  Only the most cynical people in the world get married expecting divorce.  I'm an optimist.  I expected marriage to last for eternity.  Mine lasted 17 long years and the scars reopen from time to time.  Sharing that pain is not always appreciated.  It gets old and there are very few people who understand.  I sense that it's something I should have gotten over.

I have also had a few of what I like to call first world problems.  That's what I have now.  There's a great You Tube video about these kinds of problems.  A young man kneels by the open trunk of his nice car moaning about "too many groceries to carry. I'll have to make two trips." 

Poor me.  I'm selling my house--it's too big.  I have to give away some of my clothes--I have too many.  I have to sell some of my furniture--it won't all fit into my next house.  I have to say goodbye to my rose bushes, my pets, my neighborhood.  First world problems all.  I keep abreast of current events.  I try to be aware of how people throughout the world live.  I know there are millions of people who will never have a home, children who don't own shoes, and neighborhoods where bullets are fired and bombs explode.

Still, while my problems are not monumental, they do exist.  I don't complain to God; I don't see Him as the deliverer of problems; I see Him as the deliverer of comfort and strength.  I've been told hundreds of times from the pulpit that if I serve others, I will lose myself and feel better, but I have to admit that I've never liked the idea of service being self-serving as it were.

I had a few miscarriages among my four successful pregnancies.  That was during my hold-things-in stage.  I didn't complain; I didn't even really allow myself to be sad.  After all, a miscarriage is the way the body deals with a pregnancy that wasn't meant to be.  It wasn't like a still birth or, even worse, a child dying after being born.  And I had other children and the promise of more.  They were just miscarriages.  I didn't complain or whine or ask for help or support.  I just moved on.

I may be more needy now when I go through painful experiences, but I think I like the me who can lean on someone and accept love and support more than the me who held everything in.  I think I am more compassionate toward others in their needs.  I think that it's good to be self-sufficient, but it's better to be part of a community who cares about each other.

I'm moving away from that community right now.  I'm leaving my Church family and my neighborhood and I'm feeling alone.  I'll try not to complain too much, but I'm not going to lie--I'm about a 7 on the old 1 to 10 pain scale.