Friday, April 13, 2018

Spoons


“Spoons” is an analogy that has been adopted by the vast community of people dealing with chronic illness. The story goes that a woman was trying to explain to her friend what it was like to be constantly sick. She grabbed all of the spoons on their table and the tables around her, handed them to her friend, and told her that the spoon represented her capacity to do something. Each decision she made throughout the day had the potential to take away a spoon. Cooking, cleaning, working, etc…each thing took a “spoon” away from her, and when she ran out of spoons, she was simply out of spoons. Some days she started with more, some days she started with less. And each day she had to decide how to use the spoons she had.

There are some things I like about this analogy and some things I don’t. A close friend went to a support group when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and decided that her life was not going to be dictated by her disease. My dad used to tell us that we felt sick because we were acting sick, and that if we acted like we felt better, we would. I believe in the power of thinking positively and how, even when we don’t feel good, things still need to get done and life must go on no matter what. I also know that my own personal struggle with pain is nothing compared to the struggles other experience. In spite of all of that, I wanted to share some of my thoughts.

Since a few months before grad school started, I have been experiencing pain in my TMJ muscle (aka jaw). This is generally accepted to be the result of stress, grinding your teeth, bad posture, etc. A large number of people struggle with it and mine comes and goes. Sometimes it’s just a minor irritation that only shows its face when I’ve over exerted myself; sometimes it’s omnipresent and impacting every second of my day. This is one of those times.

TMJ pain starts in my shoulder blades and ends with my headaches. It makes every muscle in the upper half of my body tight and sore. The muscles that connect my shoulders with my head literally radiate pain when I’m having a flair up. With TMJ, it hurts to smile. And laugh. And sing. And talk. And eat. And look interested in what someone else is saying. And to sit. Or stand. Or lay down. You can find at least a hundred home remedies for TMJ problems through online blogs, books and professional help. I have about 20 exercises I do daily, a huge foam roller I use for my back, a mouth guard for sleeping, a back brace I wear about an hour a day for my posture, I ask Spencer to rub my neck as hard as he can (sometimes multiple times a night), and I get acupuncture. I don’t chew gum, bite into apples, eat bagels or gummy candy, or rest my chin on anything. I don’t remember how my tongue used to rest in my mouth, because I’m constantly readjusting it to make sure I’m not pushing it against my teeth. Trying to alleviate the pain, or at least not aggravate it, takes over my life a few times a year and is a constant presence in my day to day.

I recently tried a new kind of acupuncture – instead of just sticking in the needles, they stick in the needles and then send electric shocks through the needles into your muscles. It was painful, and I wasn’t sure that my tensing muscles at the pulsing electricity weren’t doing more damage than the needles were doing good. Before we got started, the doctor said, “I’m pretty sure I know, but I’m required to ask; what’s your goal for this treatment?” Somewhat jokingly, I said, “That my jaw will stop driving me crazy by clicking constantly in my ear every time I move it.” And then, more seriously, “And that I won’t sit on the edge of my bed and cry at the thought of leaving the house and having to use my face to communicate with people.” I get so tired of not being able to enjoy things, of being in constant pain, of praying for conversations to end so I can relax my face, of not singing along to the radio…anyway, I could go on.

I wish I had more spoons. But I guess, don’t we all? We all have our struggles and our things that take up more of our capacity than we’d like. Whether it’s physical pain, emotional pain, mental incapacitation, demands on our time (including positive, happy demands), taxing jobs or callings, relationship struggles, loneliness, pregnancy, and on and on. The demands of mortality often take more spoons than we have. I look back on some of the incredibly dark, painful times and I wonder how on earth I survived it without completely losing my mind, but I did. Somehow, strength beyond my own kicked in and I made it. I think I don’t often realize how much extra help I’m getting – I feel as though I have reached the end of my rope and it’s only by sheer will power that I carry on. But how much of that is me actually being carried and I don’t even know how much of the weight is being shouldered for me? I once told my dad that I didn’t like wearing my mouth guard because I didn’t notice a difference. He said that I couldn’t know that, because I wouldn’t know how much worse it would be if I wasn’t wearing it. I’m so grateful for a loving Heavenly Father who gives me more strength than I have the ability to recognize. Who listens to my repeated pleas for relief, knowing that he has already begun to grant it to me, but who doesn’t reprimand me for continuing to ask. And who shows me the way to find joy in the journey, even when resolution is far in the future. 

      He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
      He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
      To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
      To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
      When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
      When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
      When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
      Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
      Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
      Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
      Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
      The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
      His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
      His power no boundary known unto men;
      For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
      He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

All The Wisdom Experience Can Instill

I love taking pictures. I love capturing people, feelings, moments, thoughts and memories. I feel like pictures take me back to where I was, remind me of things that I’ve forgotten, and tell stories that would be impossible to communicate otherwise. Obviously there are pictures that are more significant than others – I take a picture of my pedometer every day...those pictures probably aren’t significant in the grand scheme of things. As I’ve been reflecting back on 2017 though, I wanted to tell a story with the pictures that mean something to me.

I took this photo on New Years. I was heartbroken, terrified about the future, uncertain of what I was doing, and freezing to death. Celebrating with friends at Top Golf as 2016 counted down, I ran into the bathroom to hide. As I looked into the mirror, I distinctly remember thinking to myself in a quiet voice, "...I look pretty." It was such a simple thing, but it was the boost I needed to keep going. I decided to take a "bathroom selfie" to remind myself that feeling my lowest doesn't diminish my worth. And that 2017 was going to be better. It was going to bring flowers. Because I had spent 2016 planting flowers.


I spent a good portion of the new year praying that I could feel confident in what I was capable of - praying that I would have the guts to do what I knew would be necessary over the coming months. As per usual, God came through in spectacular fashion. I was asked to speak at an event based on the TED talks about how hard things end up shaping us more than any easy part of life possibly could. A good friend flew out to watch, and I was reminded of how amazing my life has been.


On the way to my nephew's graduation, I grabbed a fortune cookie. Turned out to be prophetic, as I was offered my amazing job at Larry H Miller Sports and Entertainment shortly after I took this picture! My job is a huge blessing in my life - I love what I do, who I work for and the people around me. 


I decided to go back to grad school because I felt stagnant in my life - I felt like I wasn't really progressing, and grad school sounded hard. Well . . . turns out that it was! Hard in ways I anticipated, and in so many ways I didn't. I felt like I had every weak part of me laid open for the world to see. Graduation was such a happy, beautiful way to commemorate everything I went through and learned. Mom and dad flew out, and I took this selfie as we were headed to the ceremony. It ended up being very significant in my life, because it's the picture I chose to load into the Mutual dating app . . . 


5 years ago, I was serving as Relief Society president in my ward and desperately lonely. In exactly the child-like way you're envisioning, I asked God if he would please send me some friends. The ladies in this picture were literally an answer to that prayer. One of them met me, and the thought immediately came into her mind, "The Relief Society president needs a friend." As per my previous posts, my 31 birthday was filled with trepidation and sadness, but these ladies threw me the perfect birthday party, full of my favorite things. It was the perfect way to calm me down and get me focused back on how lovely life can be.


Because mountains. And hiking. And pretty.


This man. Geez. I don't even know how to describe how perfect he is for me. We went to the Lantern Festival together. On his, he wrote, "I've never been happier. I love Amy." I was so terrified to tell him that I loved him, even though I knew I did. As the music played and the lanterns were rising into the air, he pulled me into his arms and told me he loved me. It was the most perfect moment I've ever experienced. I kissed him, and as I started to pull away to tell him that I loved him too . . . a lit lantern came crashing into his head. From a few feet away, someone yelled, "Sorry!" amd we dissolved into laughter. It only took me another 2 weeks to work my courage back up to tell him what I felt. :)




The contrast between the end of 2016 and the end of 2017 is so stark, it almost feels fake to me. From Arizona to Utah, from heartbroken to engaged, from student to career, from anxiety to peace. I have no delusions that any of the amazing things that happened this year were brought about by me: sometimes life hands you something lovely, and I just happened to get caught in the cosmic cross hairs of goodness. But I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I was in the right place at the right time. A huge thank you to my cheering squad, my amazing family and friends, who incredibly never seem to lose faith in the future. "Year's end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us." May your days be merry and bright, dear ones.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

One Plus One Equals Both

“Hi Amy! You have a really nice smile. :)

I received that message from a guy with gorgeous blue eyes late in the evening on July 5th. He asked for my number on July 9th, took me on a date July 10th, on a second date July 11th, and the rest, as it turns out, is history.

Three weeks before that, I wrote a blog post about turning 31, how hard it was, how difficult it was to hold onto hope, and that it was exhausting to continue watching the people around me land their “25 inch trout” while my constant reeling wasn’t yielding results.

Spencer Hunter is the youngest of 2, with a married sister. We share a deep love of books, movies and music – he has a voice that makes me weak at the knees. He’s very intelligent, a hard worker, and ambitious. He brings out my silly side, but we have equally as many intellectual conversations as ridiculous. He’s patient and isn’t afraid of facing hard things in life. He has a spectacular family, who have accepted me without question. More than anything, he’s the kindest human being I’ve ever known. He makes me happy, calms me down, and lifts me up.

Our initial messaging conversation was full of movie quotes, debates about our favorite books, excitement over upcoming movies, and a healthy dose of hope. The weeks after we started dating felt happy and overwhelming to me.  My long, painful dating history made me wary and nervous about any guy who showed enthusiasm for me, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, while at the same time enjoying every second of getting to know this incredible man. The night he told me he loved me for the first time, I simply responded with, “I know.” He has been so patient, so loving, so encouraging as he waited for my insecurities to fall away. Our relationship has been shockingly easy, but real. We are different in ways that compliment each other and similar in ways that make it simple. 
 
Two weeks ago, he told me that if I “wanted to dress nice on Wednesday, that would fun.” As in so many things, he knew me well enough to know that I’d want a heads up that something special was going down. When he picked me up, he handed me a flower and told me that the theme of the evening was “Just go with me.” On my seat in the car was another flower, a jewelry box, and a card.  Spencer is incredibly gifted with his words, and he had written me a beautiful poem – at the end of each stanza was a question. The first question he asked me was, “Beloved, will you go with me?” and inside the jewelry box was a luggage lock.

We drove to downtown Salt Lake and walked around temple square. As we got to the reflecting pool, there was another card, another jewelry box, and more flowers. The second stanza ended with the question, “Beloved, will you build with me?” Inside the box was a house key. (Apparently his dad was standing guard nearby, but I was a little distracted and didn’t notice.)

From there we went to the Roof Restaurant, where the last stanza of the poem, jewelry box and roses were waiting. The final question he wrote was, “Beloved, will you create with me?” and inside the box was a pacifier. (And yes, I was sobbing by this point.) Dinner was spectacular – we sampled every single dessert they had. When it was over, he grabbed my hand, said again, “Just go with me.” And we walked back to the car.

He told me to put on some music, as we had a bit of a drive ahead of us. I threw on the playlist of my favorite love songs, and we listened, sang and mostly just grinned at each other. As we were pulling off the freeway, our love song came on (totally not planned). It’s a country song that I first heard a few weeks after we started dating, and the first time I heard it, I started crying because it so perfectly captured what I was feeling, fearing, and hoping.

You say what if I hurt you, what if I leave you?
What if I find somebody else and I don't need you?
What if this goes south, what if I mess you up?
You say what if I break your heart in two then what.

Well I hear you girl, I feel you girl but not so fast,
Before you make your mind up I gotta ask:

What if I was made for you and you were made for me?
What if this is it, what if it's meant to be?
What if I ain't one of them fools just playin' some game?
What if I just pulled you close, what if I leaned in,
And the stars line up and it's our last first kiss?
What if one of these days baby I'd go and change your name?
What if I loved all these what ifs away?

After the song finished, he switched the music over to his phone to play me a song. He’s mentioned several times that he had a favorite love song, but has never told me what it is, nor let me listen to it. Don McLean came over the radio, singing, “And I love you so / The people ask me how / How I’ve lived till now / I say that I don’t know.” Just as the Timpanogos temple pulled into sight, the strains of “Peace Like a River” flowed through the car, and we both started crying. He walked me to the front of the temple, asked if I would go with him, if I would build with him, if I would create with him, if I would marry him.

Yes. Every day, yes. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

My 25 Inch Trout

I've driven from Phoenix to Pleasant Grove twice recently. 10 days ago in a moving truck with all of my worldly possessions, and yesterday in my 215,000 mileage car. In preparation for the second trip, I took my car to my mechanic and told him to fix anything he thought might break on it. $1300 later, he and I both felt good about making the journey. After the events of last summer, I have been extremely paranoid about getting stranded with my car broken down, especially since there are stretches during the drive when I don't have cell service. So when my check engine light came on during one of those stretches, I took a few minutes to rail at God. Because that's always productive. Frequently, in spite of doing all that I am capable of, life doesn't go like I plan.

Today I was in a lesson at church led by my parent's stake president. He started by telling a story from his past week - he had just returned from his dream vacation of fly fishing in Alaska. He has been fly fishing for years, and his one dream from this trip was to catch a 25 inch trout. The day arrived that they were going to the location where he was mostly likely to catch one of these huge fish - the Gibraltar River. All day the people around him caught fish after fish, and eventually each member of their group had one of the coveted 25+ inch trout, including an 11 year old boy who had never been fishing before. Everyone it is, except him. He, the most experienced fisher in the group, barely caught anything at all, and certainly nothing near the size he had hoped for. He was frustrated and disappointed and decided he would rather have not gone on that trip. He too expressed that life frequently doesn't go like he plans, and that it can be hard to deal with the consequences that arise. He then asked if anyone had any Gibraltar River experiences. I raised my hand.

I turn 31 in a week. Kind of an unremarkable birthday to most of the world, but in my world it means that I'm too old to attend the Young Single Adult congregation at church. The YSA program has been the source of most of my social life for the past 12 years, providing friends, entertainment, opportunity, spiritual growth and protection. Oh yeah - and pretty much every boyfriend I've ever had. It won't be a surprise to anyone reading this but just for the record: I want to be married. And not just married for the sake of it, but married to someone where there is mutual respect, someone who is kind and intelligent, someone who is willing to face uncertainty and work everyday to make a happy life together. I'm not overly dramatic about it - I know that I'm young and have so much life ahead of me. But I also do analytics for a living. And I know that the older I get, the worse my odds get. So while there is a whole new life awaiting me on the other side of 31, this birthday has felt like the end of hope in some respects.
So I raised my hand, said that I was unmarried and turning 31 on Saturday. That people were landing "fish" all around me and had been for years. That in spite of my having, what I consider, fantastic technique and great experience, the fish keep swimming past my bait. (Ok, you can definitely push this analogy to an uncomfortable level.) And that yesterday while I was crying and yelling at my windshield, the words that came into my head were, "Don't you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead."

President Osguthorpe came in the middle of the class, sat next to me, pulled out his phone, and showed me a picture of himself holding a 27 inch trout. He caught it the next day. "Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right, then it is not yet the end." And I believe that.

Friday, April 14, 2017

He Lives

I attended an Easter fireside this morning. One of the speakers spoke of losing his daughter several years ago. They were on a walk with his other children, and she darted in front of a car. He talked about doing CPR on her tiny 4 year old body, and praying with all his might that she would be saved. Later that day, his wife gave birth to their fourth child. In his own words, "I have never been closer to both heaven and hell."

He also spoke of Christ, more specifically, Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. A huge number of people gathered to see him through the streets. They laid their clothes in front of his path, they sang Hosannas, they waved palm fronds. However, many in the crowd were not cheering him on because they thought he was the Savior of the world. They thought he was the one who would save them from Roman rule. The expectation was that he would go through the streets straight to the seat of government and overthrow it. Instead, he turned left and went to the temple. Among this congregation, those who joyously sang his praises, would days later demand his death.

Many times, we face unmet expectations. We see clearly the path that we want the Lord to take on our behalf, but he instead turns left. We stand there, hearts broken, disappointed and unsure, begging the Lord to please explain what just happened. Why did you turn left?? I have been standing here, waving my palm frond for a long time, waiting for you to come. Turning right would have saved me from my pain, from my discomfort, from my uncertainty. Turning right would have given me what I want most. At that point, we have the choice. Will we continue to sing his praise, or will we walk away?

This Easter season, I simply want to say that I believe. I believe in him. I believe in his ways. I believe in his power in our lives through the Atonement. I believe that his way is higher than mine, and that eventually, as we allow him into our lives, all of the "lefts" will be made right.

Happy Easter, dear ones.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

You Can Have Something Better

Ever get an ominous feeling about the future?

Breakdown of my current situation. I could give you a very monotonous rundown of everything I have to accomplish in the next 7 days, but suffice it to say my goals at this point are all around surviving. I graduate in 7 weeks. My lease is up in 2 months. I turn 31 in 3 months, which isn’t significant in any other culture, but in Mormon culture means that I’m too old to attend the singles program at church. (I’m single by choice . . . just not my choice.) I don’t have a job yet, nor do I even know which state I will end up in. I feel like I’m out to sea in uncertainty desperately paddling in a circle, creating a whirlpool that’s sucking the boat out from underneath me.

I recently had two amazing opportunities present themselves to me. Sometimes it feels like God or the universe (depending on what you believe) is pointing you in a specific direction and telling you to believe in a specific opportunity. That’s how I felt! I was certain they were two distinct answers to my prayers – that I had been led to this point because this was what was meant to happen. Yesterday I discovered that wasn’t the case – that both of these “miracles” in my life were actually dead ends. And instead of finding the direction I’ve been desperately seeking, I found myself feeling foolish. Foolish for believing. For hoping. For trying.

Ultimately, yet again life is turning to a different course than I wanted. There is a lesson that I am learning the hard way, but it’s important: as long as I continue to do my best, God will lead me to where I’m supposed to be. It sometimes requires doors slamming shut, false starts and heading down the wrong road. Sometimes you have to head down a path simply because it’s the fastest way to discover that’s not the right path for you to take. But these false starts and dead ends can bring new strengths, new lessons, and new opportunities. “A new calling beckons us away from comfortable routines wherein the needed competencies have already been developed.”

Have faith in the process. It will all work out. Doesn’t mean that I’ll get the killer job. Doesn’t mean I’ll meet the Mormon version of Matt Damon. Doesn’t mean that I won’t get cancer or that my hair will always look great or that people will always be nice. It means just that – it will all work out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Daring Greatly

I’ve been trying to go to sleep for the past two hours, but this demands to be written, so I’m relenting in the hopes that my brain will shut off.

Miranda Hart wrote an inspiringly hilarious book called “Is It Just Me” where she chronicles years of awkward moments, bad jobs and sticking her foot in her mouth on her journey to achieving something she didn’t quite dare even dream: becoming a comedian. She gives amazing perspective on things like manicures (“basically just holding hands with a stranger for forty-five minutes whilst listening to Enya”), Christmas (“Each year, from at least November, well, September, well, if I'm honest, May, I look forward to it hugely”) and the pressures of being a woman (“You may look at me and see a slightly frayed, wool-clad woman with an inexplicably hefty rucksack, but I look in the mirror and simply give thanks for all I've opted out of”). She also talks about the importance of remembering to dream. To dream big. To reach for the stars, take risks, and keep believing in yourself. In her words, “…holding onto the bonkers dream might just turn out to be the most marvelous thing you ever did.”

As most of you readers know, I recently went through another heartbreak. While that might seem unremarkable in the larger scale of things, to me heartbreak tends to feel like an atomic bomb in my life. My initial reaction was simply that this isn’t worth it. It hurts too badly, and I don’t want to feel it anymore. Inevitably of course, I start to come around because in the end I really do WANT to find someone. I’m a hopeless romantic. And I need someone to call my cell phone when I can’t find it.

I recently spent some time with a good friend. He and I tried dating, and it didn’t work, but we are the best of friends now. He gets me. He knows me. He thinks that I’m fantastic. He is one of my greatest cheerleaders. As I left dinner with him a few weeks back, I had the thought, “If I can end up with someone who views me and treats me the way he does, all of this pain will have been worth it.”

And that’s the beauty of risk, isn’t it? That risk, in the end, can pay off! We start businesses, we quit our jobs, we move to New York for the stage, we participate in clinical trials, we start a new diet, we love again and again because the potential payoff is worth the potential setback. But . . . what if there is no payoff? Businesses fail. We end up in dead-end jobs. People take medication, do therapy, change their diet and don't feel better. Is beauty only found in success?

I have a new goal. To be grateful for the moments when I feel like I failed. Because it means that I tried. To stop feeling like every dead end means that I screwed something up, that I missed the road to fantastic glory. I want to be happy for the experiences that I’ve had, not because they are preparing me to be successful in the future, but because I had the experience. Because the experience of fighting for it, of risking for it, will be what defines me rather than the end result.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt