You're Stronger Than You Know

So... I've been MIA for the last few months.

First, I was really sick at the beginning of this pregnancy, so I basically did nothing for over 10 weeks, and it was kind of miserable honestly.

Then, when the sickness lifted some, I got really depressed and discouraged.  I felt like my life was literally in ruins, and it was all my fault.  I felt so guilty for all the days that I had let my daughter watch TV while I laid in bed trying to survive the constant vomiting.  I felt completely overwhelmed at how far behind I was in EVERY part of my life.  I felt the weight of not being able to work out or get out in the sunshine or be productive doing good things, things that usually help lift my spirits.  I felt alone, like there was no one I could tell about how awful I was feeling, especially because I'm pregnant and should be so happy and thankful for this blessing (which I am, but that doesn't take away the difficulties).

When I finally opened up to my husband, I told him that I felt myself essentially giving up.  I didn't care anymore, and I couldn't find a way out of this dark hole.  I didn't know how to try to lift myself up, because I was so tired and so deeply buried in darkness that it seemed like there was no way out.  It really seemed like there was nothing that could help me.  I felt beyond reach and beyond hope, which is not exactly my favorite place to be.  Everything I did or tried to do seemed to distance myself more from where I wanted to be, and I continued to feel that my mind and my spirit were giving up.  I thought I had given all I had to give, and yet, the struggle continued with little relief.

As I was now spending hours of every day crying and feeling so much weight and darkness, I began to feel some bitterness creeping into my heart.  Why, if I did the right thing by getting pregnant even when that was a very hard decision for me, why was it so hard now?  Why didn't God give me an easy pregnancy as a reward for having so much faith to go off medication, to go forward with our infertility doctor, and to eventually get pregnant when things already felt so hard?  I thought I had done all the right things, and yet, here I was struggling now more than ever-- emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

I was clearly not in a good place and not in a place of finding joy at all through this struggle.  I was exhausted and was sure that there was nothing left for me to do but pray that God would take all of this away.  It seemed like too much to handle, and definitely more than my weak body and spirit were capable of enduring.

So I prayed.  I prayed hard.  I prayed for lots of things that I knew in my heart wouldn't be answered, but I said them anyway.  I knew deep down that things weren't going to get better right away, that asking God to take away all the struggle or to take me away from all of this pain was not going to happen, and I knew that giving up was not an option, as it never is.  But I was beyond the point of praying for strength to get through this struggle, because I felt I had already gone too far, and nothing small or simple could make this better.

As I continued praying every day for the "wrong" things, something happened.

One day, I was feeling so so discouraged about being a mom, and I distinctly felt to reach out to two people.  I didn't know why those two people, but my heart sure hoped that they could offer some peace and comfort to my brokenness.  It turned out those two people knew exactly what my heart needed to hear, one of whom was feeling discouraged herself about similar things, and helping me rise above my discouragement helped her as well.

A few days later, something similar happened.  I was feeling great concern and heaviness about some other things, and a thought came to my mind of who to ask for help.  Once again, I was able to get a little bit more help, and some hope started to return to my heart.

Then, I had the thought to return to writing in a tender mercy journal about all the ways that I see God's hand in my life.  As discouraged as I was, I couldn't commit to lots of writing, so I committed to write down just one thing every day.  My mind could handle that simple task, and slowly my spirit began to soften again as I realized all the little ways that God was blessing me and my family.

One evening, as my husband and I were talking, we decided to start getting up early to read scriptures together again since I wasn't throwing up all morning anymore.  This was something that was impossible to do on my own, but with him at my side, I could do it, and I started to feel little bits of light returning to my life.

One weekend, I went to a baptism for my cousins and was asked to play the piano.  I didn't know beforehand, but they also wanted me to play in the middle while the boys were getting dressed.  As I began to play some arrangements I had written a long time ago, I felt the Spirit for the first time in months, and I knew that I still had so much to offer, even when I felt so broken.

After several weeks of experiencing a series of little miracles, God helped me realize something that I hadn't thought about in too long.  I am stronger than I know.  Each of us are.  We are asked to go through some really difficult things, things that seem impossible to handle, and sometimes they are impossible to handle on our own.  But God sees us for who we can become, and He knows how to help us.  He sees how much we are really capable of handling, and He sees how our growing pains lead us to become someone new, someone we were content with not becoming because of all the pain it would take to get there, but someone that God knows without a doubt that we can become.

I look back at the last couple of years, and I see so much change in myself.  Some of that change is heartbreaking as I realize that I am not carefree or energetic or motivated or happy all the time like I used to be.  But some of the change is breathtaking.  I see how God has taken my broken heart and made it into something greater than what it was-- much more compassionate and loving and caring, much more responsive to the heartaches of others, much stronger and more capable of handling the heartaches that sometimes accompany this life.  And I hope that the breathtaking changes outweigh the heartbreaking ones.

I used to pray that God wouldn't give me any more struggle, because these continuing emotional struggles seem hard enough, but I have come to realize that praying for less struggles just causes me to feel bitter and upset when the additional struggles come.  So instead, I have returned to asking to find and recognize the glimmers of joy through the struggles that are sure to come, because that leads my heart to God and His love instead of away.  Doing this has reaffirmed to my heart that I am stronger than I've ever been able to imagine or see in myself, and that it is far better to feel heartache to become someone better than who I once was than to be content with staying the way I am.

Related image


That We Might Have Joy: Shelby's Story

February is Heart month and the week of the 7th-14th is CHD awareness week!!  Now you might be asking what is CHD and why should I care about raising awareness?  I felt that same way 4 years ago.  

CHD stands for Congenital Heart Defect or Congenital Heart Disease.  1 in 100 babies are born with some kind of heart defect.  That makes CHD's the most common birth defect, yet the research for this is severely underfunded.  More children die from heart defects every year than all of the childhood cancers combined.  This is a crazy statistic, yet we never hear anything about it! This is why we are sharing our story in hopes to raise awareness.
Our daughter's story begins in April of 2013.  I had just found out that I was pregnant.  Things were going great!  I wasn't very sick, and the baby was growing.  We were nearing our 20 week appointment where we would find out the gender of the baby.  I had been busy on Pinterest trying to decide what I wanted the nursery to look like.  I was excited to finally find out and start decorating.

Our 20 week ultrasound was in August.  The ultrasound started.  They, of course, checked all of the other body parts first to make sure the baby looked good before they told us the gender.  I was on pins and needles.  Then finally, "IT'S A GIRL!!!"  We were so excited.  The ultrasound tech continued checking a few more things.  Then, she was trying to get pictures of the baby's heart.  The baby wasn't cooperating, so we kept trying to move her around.  The tech just kept saying, "I'm not seeing what I need to see."  We were in the ultrasound for about an hour, which is much longer than normal.  She finally told us that the doctor was going to have to talk to us about a few things.

We went back into the exam room and waited for the doctor, not really knowing what was going on.  When the doctor came in, she was very flustered.  She started saying all these things about the baby having a hole in her heart and that there was something else wrong, but she wasn't going to say anything until a specialist looked at her.  She said that we were going to need to transfer care to the University of Utah and go to a high risk OB/GYN. 

My husband and I were very overwhelmed.  What had just happened?  Just a few minutes ago we were so excited, and now we felt like our hopes and dreams of having a healthy baby were being crushed.

We were referred to another doctor, and she did another ultrasound and confirmed that, yes, the baby had a hole in her heart.  Yet again, we were told that there was something else that they were concerned about, but they weren't going to say anything until we had a fetal echocardiogram done.  This is an ultrasound done specially for the heart.  They are able to see things a lot clearer than just a normal baby ultrasound.

So yet again, we had to wait for someone else to look at our baby to give us answers.  We were referred to Primary Children's Hospital, and in October, we went in for our first echo.  The room was dark, and the lady doing the echo wasn't saying anything.  It was a very tense hour.  After they were done taking pictures, we were taken into a consultation room.  There was a doctor, a nurse coordinator, a social worker, and a couple other people all crammed into this tiny room.  We were very intimidated by it all. 

They pulled out some papers that had diagrams on them and pulled out a model of a heart.  They began explaining to us that our daughter had a Congenital Heart Defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, Pulmonary Atresia with a Ventricle Septal Defect, and something called MAPCA's.  This meant she was missing her Pulmonary Artery, which takes the unoxygenated blood to the lungs to be oxygenated.  Her body tried to compensate for not having a Pulmonary Artery and grew a bunch of little veins the size of angel hair pasta and smaller (these are the MAPCA's).  The Ventricle Septal Defect was the hole in her heart.  They also began to tell us that sometimes there are genetic abnormalities associated with this defect.  The most common is called DiGeorge Syndrome.  They said it ranged in severity from she has it and you don't know, or she could be severely handicapped.  They continued on to say that they weren't sure if they were going to be able to do surgery on her when she was born.  They would do an echo after she was born to determine if the MAPCA's were big enough to do the surgery. 

As they were telling us all of this, we were just in utter shock.  How is this happening to us?  Why is this happening?  We just couldn't believe it.  I was crushed and sobbing uncontrollably. We are going through this pregnancy, and now you are telling us that our baby might not even survive?!?!

We left there numb.  What do we do now?  We told our families and for the most part they were very supportive.  When you receive devastating news like this, it takes time to accept it.  You have to go through the grieving process.  I felt like my baby was already gone, and I hadn't even gotten to hold her yet.  Even trivial things were hard.  Do we have a baby shower for a baby that might not make it?  We eventually decided to have the baby shower and try to focus on the positive.  If she wasn't going to be here on earth with us for very long, we were going to try and enjoy her as long as possible.

The rest of my pregnancy came and went.  We had lots of ultrasounds and echos and did lots of stress tests towards the end.  It was January 2nd, and we went to the University of Utah Hospital to be induced.  My labor wasn't anything out of the ordinary.  We were, however, in a special delivery room that had a direct window into the NICU.  When she came out, the doctor held her up, my husband cut the cord, and she was sent through the window.  It was a couple hours later that we finally got to see her.  

She had to be life-flighted to Primary Children's Hospital (more like the life-flight team walked her across the catwalk).  The first four days were rough.  We didn't know what was in store.  They did an MRI on her at three days old to see if the MAPCA's were big enough for surgery.  They also took blood to begin the genetic testing to see if she had DiGeorge Syndrome.

We finally got the results back from the MRI-- the MAPCA's were big enough to do surgery.  We were so happy!!  They did caution us that even though they were able to do surgery, we were still not out of the woods yet.

So at four days old, we sent our baby off for an eight hour heart surgery.  I cannot even begin to describe the agony of sitting there waiting to hear how things went.  The doctor finally came out and told us that the surgery had gone as well as they had expected. 

We were in the hospital for 22 days.  She came home on oxygen and a feeding tube.  We had 2-3 doctor appointments every week for the first year of her life.  Again, we were very overwhelmed with having a special needs baby, but we witnessed another miracle.  The results from the genetic testing came back, and she did NOT have DiGeorge Syndrome.

We were hoping that she wouldn't need her second heart surgery until she was six months old, but her little heart wasn’t going to make it that long.  At four and a half months old, she had her second heart surgery.  This one was 12 hours long.  We were in the hospital for 17 days after this surgery.  She wasn't doing very well after the second surgery, and they starting telling us we might need to prepare ourselves for making her comfortable and letting her go.  After countless prayers and blessings, we were trying to come to grips with this.  But she proved us wrong again!!  She is such a fighter.

She continued to need intervention as the pressures in her right ventricle were growing too high.  She had 4 heart caths (going in through the femoral artery and winding their way up to the heart to work on it) over the course of 2 years to balloon open and place stents to try and keep those arteries open and the blood flowing well.  

Then, in January of 2016, after going in for a routine echo, our daughter's cardiologist told us that the pressures were building in her heart again.  She would need another open heart surgery.  He told us that we were running out of options for her, because the ballooning and stenting were not solving the problem.  He told us that the surgeon at Primary Children's would review her case and see if he would be able to do the surgery.  He also told us about a doctor at Stanford.  His name was Dr. Hanley, and he was the world renowned expert for Teagan's condition.  

At first, we were hoping that the local surgeon could do the surgery.  Going out of state for heart surgery would surely be financial ruin for us.  As time went on though, we felt that if this was our last chance for our daughter, we wanted to feel like we did absolutely everything in our power to help her.  After a phone conference with Dr. Hanley, we decided we were going to California.  I started to cry when we got off the phone with him, because I was not sure how we were going to make this work financially.  Our insurance didn't cover out-of-network doctors and hospitals, let alone the cost of hotels, food, and my husband and I having to be gone from work for a month straight.  This was such a big trial of our faith to move forward with this decision.
After lots of fighting with the insurance, we finally got the approval to go to California.  When we finally got our surgery date from Dr. Hanley's office, we were still 6 months out.  This was very frustrating, because we were watching our daughter's health decline.  She would get tired really easy, and if she ran around like a normal child, her lips and hands would go blue.
January finally came, and we drove to California.  They wanted our daughter to have a cath before the surgery, so they could have a better idea of what was in there before they actually opened her up.  The cath went well, but her lungs didn't like it, and she had to be on oxygen for a few days in the hospital.  While we were recovering from her cath, they told us that the surgeon had come down with the flu and that he would be unable to operate on our child.  They were sending us home.  It was very discouraging since we had just driven 13 hours to get there.  So reluctantly, we went home.

Dr. Hanley's office called a few days later and gave us a new surgery date of February 1st.  We chose to fly this time, since the drive was hard with a 3 year old.  We arrived again to the hospital for all of her pre-op testing.  Unfortunately, she had started in with a fever that morning, and it is very dangerous to do heart surgery if the patient is sick.  They were sending us home again!  I started crying, because it was costing SO much money to come back and forth to California.  We later found out that she had come down with RSV.

Dr. Hanley's office called yet again, and we had a new surgery date of March 8th.  We hibernated in our house until then and finally made it to the hospital healthy and ready for surgery.  Our daughter's surgery ended up being 13 hours long.  We met with Dr. Hanley after, and he said that he was able to bring her pressures down significantly.  He also said that hopefully she will never outgrow the arteries that he was able to create for her.  It was such wonderful news!!  We knew immediately that we had chosen the right decision to have surgery in California.  We were in the hospital for two weeks, and then we were able to come home.

Our daughter came home on a feeding tube again, so that was another hurdle that we needed to overcome.  She also had some vocal chord damage from the open heart surgeries, so she was aspirating thin liquids.  The nerves for your vocal chords run down by your heart, oddly enough.  She ended up having to have a surgery to help with that also.

It has now been just about a year since her 3rd open heart surgery.  After countless days and hours in the hospital, doctors' offices, and therapies, she is now eating on her own and off of the oxygen.  She is growing and developing.  I can't even begin to tell you what a blessing she has been in our lives.  She has touched the lives of so many people.  She has strengthened our faith along with many others.  She has provided many opportunities for others to give service.  So even though this journey has been SO hard, we wouldn't trade it for anything.  We have had the opportunity to see the hand of the Lord in our lives and meet so many great people that we never would have gotten the opportunity to if she hadn't been here.  While she still has a long road ahead of her, she goes through it all with a smile.  She is a miracle.  Each day we get with her is a miracle.

I have come to accept that our daughter will never be out of the woods, but a friend once told me that "sometimes the woods can be beautiful too!"  Despite your situation, you can choose to be happy.  Some days you'll have to fake it 'til you make it, but we were meant to have joy!  Just because we are a "good" person or just because we are "religious" does not mean that the hardships of life will pass us by; it simply means that as we try to live a good life and lean on our Savior, we will be better prepared to weather the storm.

President Russell M. Nelson said in his talk about joy and spiritual survival: "Men are, that they might have joy."  He goes on to say that "life is filled with detours and dead ends, trials and challenges of every kind.  Each of us has likely had times when distress, anguish, and despair almost consumed us.  Yet we are here to have joy?  The answer is a resounding YES!"

How do we find this joy?  How do we not focus on these hardships that seem to take over our every thought?  How do I be a good mom, when every time I look at my daughter I wonder how much longer I will have with her, and I just want to hide away somewhere and cry?  

The answer?  "The joy that we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives."  A thankful heart is a happy heart!


Depression Isn't Always Sad

I know depression is most commonly associated with sadness and crying, but it's definitely not limited to that.  It has only been in the last couple weeks that depression has started to show itself in the form of crying again.  For the last few months, depression has been:

Struggling immensely to get out of bed every morning.

Getting back into bed 100 times a day, spending hours in bed each day, and not knowing how to get through life any other way.

Wondering every morning why people get up and do things and where the motivation comes from.

Feeling absolutely nothing at all, until it builds up for long enough and comes out in a day of intense crying, before going back to feeling nothing again.

Knowing that I'm not keeping up, but not caring enough to try to actually keep up.

Wishing I can change, but feeling completely overwhelmed the second I start to think about how.

Feeling discouraged before even starting a task, so I don't start at all.

Staying inside for days at a time and not seeing anything wrong with never leaving the house or doing much of anything.

Having this feeling of wandering aimlessly and wishing for some kind of purpose to life again.

The desire to do anything that can make time move forward, even if that means wasting time for hours on end.

This kind of depression is so hard to identify, and possibly even harder to work through.  I feel nothing, do nothing, and only occasionally does that bother me.  Of course, I was really sick with pregnancy for those few months too, but it was only recently that I realized how much I have been struggling without really knowing it.  I guess this has become almost like a new normal, so it doesn't feel so different anymore.  Yesterday and today I have been really sick again, but once I start feeling better, I am determined to start doing more with my days again.  And when I feel overwhelmed or hopeless, I will remind myself that this is a season, and so soon I will be able to get help with a medication again.  There are happier days ahead!

Related image


That We Might Have Joy: Emily's Story

I have a vivid Memory of New Year’s Eve 1997.  It was 10:00 pm, and I was alone in my grandma’s basement in Salt Lake City, hearing the grandfather clock tick, tick, tick. A few days earlier we had been driving from Colorado to Utah for my cousin’s wedding and hit some black ice on the road and got into a terrible accident near Evanston, Wyoming.   My Dad had spent the last 2 days at the Salt Lake hospital with my mom, who had broken her neck in the accident, trying to decide which procedure would be the right thing for her.  He hadn’t slept in days and had gone to bed.  My grandma, who had sustained injuries in the accident including a dislocated shoulder, had also gone to bed.  We had buried her husband just a month before, after an unexpected heart attack.   I am the youngest of 4 and my two oldest siblings were on their missions—my sister Allison in Russia, and my brother Zach in the Philippines.  My older sister, Lindsay, just 2 years older than I, was gone.  She had died in the car accident, on the cold windy plains of Wyoming.  I had never felt more alone in my life then I did that night.  And at 10:00 pm, coming to grips with the situation, with the ticking clock as my only companion, I didn’t feel like it was going to be a very happy new year.  I looked at the rows of family pictures running up and down the basement hallway at my grandma’s house and cried and cried and cried.

And then, I reached up to Heaven.  I prayed.  And I opened the scriptures and began to read.  And kept crying. As I read and prayed and pondered, one particular verse came with great power into my heart.  I read in Mosiah chapter 5, verse 4: “And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.”  The words resonated in my soul, and the Holy Ghost brought exceedingly great joy to MY heart.  I looked again at all the family pictures lining the walls and felt grateful for such beautiful memories and such wonderful people in my life, and the Spirit communicated to my heart with absolute certainty that families really can be together forever.  I felt, through the words of that verse and through the power of the Holy Ghost, that the gospel principles I had learned throughout my life were true and powerful and important and vital to my success in navigating through what lay ahead in my life.  And my faith, on the things which my Great King had spoken to me through the scriptures and all the prophets, brought me to a great knowledge, that allowed me to rejoice with exceedingly great joy.  And so at midnight on that quiet, solitudinous New Year’s Eve— after praying, and journaling, and reading, and crying,  I was able to have hope for a happy new year—knowing that my Great King was aware of me, that I was not alone, and that my faith on His words would be connected to exceedingly great joy for the rest of my life.  That experience was truly a gift.  It didn't take away the sadness, or the struggle, or the buckets of tears that I would cry in the days to come over losing my sister, but it helped me understand that even in the darkest, loneliest, saddest of times, there is joy.  And that the Prince of Peace has never left us comfortless and that He can wrap us in "peace that passeth understanding" if we turn to Him.

***Also, check out Emily's website about finding joy HERE and listen to her beautiful original song about finding joy below.


That We Might Have Joy: Charlee's Story

My name is Charlee. I am 24 years old, and believe me I have had my fair share of medical issues. When I was 18 years old, about to graduate high school, I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes a few weeks before my high school graduation. This was in May of 2011. This was extremely shocking and changed my life immensely. I have been through ups and downs with disease, and it is extremely hard to handle, but it has also introduced me to some incredible friends!

In April of 2017, I had been soooooo sick! I was exhausted. I would come home from my job as a teacher and fall asleep before dinner, wake up to eat, and go back to sleep for the rest of the evening. I had lost weight and was having terrible stomach problems and anxiety. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with Hashimotos Hypothyroidism and borderline Celiacs disease. Hashimotos is something that messes with your thyroid. Your thyroid controls your hormones. When this is compromised, you can become very emotional, exhausted, anxiety ridden, and overall out of whack.
I began taking medicine for my thyroid and stopped eating gluten. I started to feel great again, and life went back to normal.

It was summer. I had just finished running a race called “The Bix”. It is a 7-mile road race in the middle of the summer. It is physically grueling and emotionally challenging. I ran the race and never felt better! I felt healthy and like I could conquer anything!

Fast forward a few weeks. I started school to pursue a career change. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education, but I wanted to be able to teach in a different way. I was on my path to becoming a diabetes educator, and I was loving it! I loved all of the things I was learning in my classes, and I was making plans to run my next race in the Fall. About two weeks into school starting, everything changed, and I soon felt like my world was crumbling around me.

I had been having some numbness on the left side of my abdomen since June. I initially brushed it off thinking it was strange, but it didn’t hurt so it must be fine, right? As the months went on, the numbness started to spread to more parts of my stomach and down my left leg. I decided it was time to get it checked out. I went to several doctors who had no idea what was going on. I was then referred to a neurologist. I went to the neurology appointment just like any other doctors appointment, expecting it to be nothing serious.

Boy, was I wrong.

I was at the appointment for several hours, and finally, the doctor said that they were transferring me to the local hospital for further testing. I knew this wasn’t a good sign, but he still had not told me what he thought was going on.  I called my husband and told him the situation. He was in class but went home to get my things and came to the hospital right away. That night I had an MRI of my lumbar and thoracic regions of my spine and TONS of blood work. I stayed in the hospital that night and the next morning the doctor said that all of the tests came back clear. I thought this was great news…

The second day in the hospital, I had more blood work as well as an MRI of my cervical spine and my brain. The nurse said that she would let me know when the results came back and that she would call the doctor about them and I would probably be able to go home. About half an hour after the MRI, she came back in and said the doctor was on his way to discuss the results with me. Now anyone who has ever dealt with medical issues knows that this is generally not a good sign, especially when she is telling me this at 11:30 at night.
The doctor came in and was very hesitant. Little did I know, the next four words he would say would change my life forever.

“You have Multiple Sclerosis.” Excuse me what???

This is the moment where I broke down. I felt the room spinning, and all I could hear were the sound of my screams and my husband’s worried sighs.

How was this possible? Aside from a little numbness, I felt fine!

I left the hospital that night to try to process the news of being diagnosed with my fourth Autoimmune disease. My husband and I went to a friends house to pick up our dog, and we told them the news. The night was filled with many tears and an abundance of prayers. How was this happening? I was at a point in my life where I felt like my relationship with God was stronger than it had ever been and then this happened. I am not proud of it, but this diagnosis definitely shook my faith for a few weeks. It was extremely difficult for me to accept. Way harder than the other diseases I was dealing with.
The weeks that followed were filled with pain, doctors, and hospital visits multiple times a week, and sadness. I felt numb. It was a strange feeling, and I was not sure how to accept this new life-altering diagnosis.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Multiple Sclerosis is defined as, “an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.”

This disease causes vision problems, nerve pain, numbness, weakness, memory loss, brain fog, fatigue, and many other symptoms. This was my current situation and my future.

I spent the coming weeks trying to cope with all of this all while dealing with an allergic reaction from steroids that were supposed to help my symptoms. I had never been so sick in my life.

One Sunday morning my husband and I got up and got ready for church like always. I still felt numb and angry, but we went anyways. We got to the service, and I did not expect what I was about to feel. The worship band started singing a song titled “I Am Set Free."

A wave of emotions came over me, and I cried. I broke down sobbing in the middle of the church service and sang through my tears. I was letting go of everything I had been holding in for the past few weeks. I let go of the anger and the blame and the misery. I felt a sense of love and hope come over me, and for the first time since my new diagnosis, I felt like I would be okay.

Since that day, I still struggle, but I am doing my best to cling to God and know that He has a plan. I am no longer in school, simply because I could not keep up between all of the doctors’ visits and sick days. I work part time as well as working from home selling cosmetics and skincare which has been an incredible blessing. Maybe one day I will start again or maybe not. Right now I am just trying to get healthy and rely on God for strength and encouragement.

If you would like to continue following Charlee's inspiring story, you can visit her blog HERE.


That We Might Have Joy: Jennifer's Story

I used to be a singer, dancer, & actress.  Previous to college, I travelled Europe and sang in the cathedrals. I also performed on the Disney stage at Walt Disney World.  Later, I went to BYU and received a bachelor's degree in elementary education with a minor in music. While at BYU, I was on the Ballroom Dance Team, in the Women's Chorus, and in an A Capella Group. After BYU, I was an elementary teacher for 1st grade, 2nd grade, K-5 music, I subbed all the grades in the elementary classrooms and in P.E., and I was a K-12 math tutor.

By 2004, I was married and had 3 kids, 1 boy & 2 girls.   I was a very active mom.  I was 30 years old when I had a severe brainstem stroke in 2004, losing the ability to speak or move.   (I am in a wheelchair, I have double vision, I no longer have control of my emotions, my left side doesn't move, and I barely move on my right side.)  My kids were 2, 4, & 6. Naturally, I was devastated!

While it hurt to be unable to sing or dance, the stroke has helped me to simplify my life & re-arrange some of my life priorities. My family brings me the greatest joy in life, & the gospel allows us to be a forever family!

I continue to enjoy life & find ways to still do the things I love.  I love to scrapbook, & I have taught both digital & traditional scrapbooking.  (There will always be a "teacher" in me!) I even had a digital scrapbook page published! I still love music, but  I find enjoyment in other ways--like learning to play the guitar, piano, and autoharp (though I still attempt to sing)!  I love to write, & I also have had an article published in The Ensign, a church magazine. I would like to publish a book someday. A website was started in 2004, to share my stroke recovery with friends & family.   You can read all about me there!


That We Might Have Joy: Anonymous Story

Two years ago, right before Christmas, I lost all hope. I felt so emotionally broken that everything hurt physically. It felt as if it took all my strength and effort to even breathe. My will to live had vanished. It was an impulsive decision. I had not planned it. I didn't say any goodbyes.

That evening, alone, I attempted suicide.

A friend brought me to the hospital. I was admitted and stayed for one week. There I was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder type II. I was started on medication, but it was a long road to stability.

When I first came home from the hospital, I felt like things would never be okay. I was scared. Scared that my life had changed forever. People treated me like I was made of glass. I just wanted to be normal. I wanted to be treated like me, not as if I could break or snap at any moment.

Slowly, I began to get my spark back. I went to therapist appointments weekly. I saw my psychiatrist once a month. We adjusted medication. Changed medication. We worked hard to find a combination and a dosage that worked. I still see my psychiatrist every three months; I see my therapist every other week. I work hard at home by exercising and trying to find other healthy outlets for my emotions.

I still have bad days. I have days where I am frustrated, days where I am sick of feeling different from everyone else. I am scared of the judgment from other people. I am not like everyone else. I take three pills a day just to feel okay.

But, after two long years, I have finally reached a feeling of stability. The suicidal thoughts that used to invade my thoughts daily are rare and fleeting. I don't spend all day everyday worrying about how I will feel tomorrow or if I will want to hurt myself again. I feel more stable than I have ever felt.

I hit rock bottom. But with the help of friends, medical professionals, and hard work, I feel okay again. It takes time and work, but I promise that you will climb back up. Rock bottom isn't forever. It's a place to start over.


Walk in Faith Part 2

To read Part 1, go HERE.

November 14, 2017

No, we're not pregnant yet.  At least not that I know yet.  But I need to write.  There are so many thoughts swirling around in my brain, and I need to organize them and make sense of them as I write about the last couple of months.

First, we went to an infertility specialist.  After confirming that everything seemed to be alright, we moved forward with trying to do an IUI along with taking clomid.  As I wrote HERE and HERE and HERE, that was an AWFUL experience, and the fact that I lived through it is a miracle to me.  We skipped that month of doing an IUI, because I needed to recover from the terrible difficulties the clomid had caused me to experience.  I was just fine with skipping that month, because I was sure that the news of being pregnant would not settle well with my very broken brain and hurt heart at that time.

The next month (November), we decided to try again, except without the clomid this time.  The days and weeks leading up to our next attempt at an IUI, I felt so peaceful and even quite excited.  This was going to be a very good thing.  I could hardly stop thinking about ideas of how we could announce that we were pregnant and how my daughter would be so giddy at this news.

While I was doing grocery shopping the day before the IUI, I felt so much gratitude in my heart as I looked back on the long journey of the last 2 years trying to conceive and everything that has transpired in that time.  I thought about how God had planted the thought in my mind to start trying again to have a baby at a time when things were so awful, but maybe that was because He knew it would take time, and by the time it would work, I would be feeling somewhat better about things.  I wanted to cry happy tears as I reflected on how blessed my little family is and how we are experiencing so many miracles along with the difficult storms.

The next day, a Sunday, we woke up to snowflakes falling for the first time this season.  It was so beautiful, and it felt like a celebration of what was about to happen.  I started to feel a little nervous, but I tried to push those nervous feelings aside and remember how much peace I had been feeling.  Sparing any details, we did the IUI, I headed to church, and everything felt so good.  I held someone else's baby all through Relief Society and imagined how I would have one of my own to hold soon enough!  My heart felt calm, and I was thankful.

Unfortunately, that calm didn't last very long.  After church, I started to feel some sadness, but I pushed it away.  This was a happy day, and no depression was going to steal the happiness I was feeling.  I was determined to keep my spirits high.  But the depression wouldn't listen, and by evening, it had overtaken me.  I tried to feel good emotions, but all I could feel was sadness.  I was so overwhelmed.  What if this works and I do have another baby?  How will I do that, when I'm often unsure how I will even survive this long, dark, cold winter?  I'm failing my daughter already.  How will I add another one to that?  Why can't I just be healed, so I can be the kind of mom I want to be again?  What if I don't feel excited when I find out I'm pregnant?  What if I don't love my baby?  How will my brain react to pregnancy?  

I felt so much doubt that it was the right thing to try to get pregnant, and I was so afraid of what was to come.  No effort on my part could dispel these fears, but thankfully my husband recognized that there was a storm raging inside of me.  As we got ready for bed, he asked how I was feeling.  I told him that I was sad, but I didn't expound, because I didn't want to admit that I had fallen so far from where I was.  I had been so excited, and now, that excitement was nowhere to be found.  Without pausing, my husband asked if I was sad about having a baby.  I was so thankful that somehow he knew, and I didn't have to say it, only admit to it.  He hugged me as I broke down and told him that I just want to be made whole.  I want all of this pain to be taken away.  I want to go back to the way things used to be.

I cried more as I told him all the things I used to do as a mom and how those things just aren't possible anymore.  I wanted to feel better, be back to normal, and then have a baby, but it didn't seem that was God's plan.  I was hurt and felt so alone.  My husband held me and repeated that he is so sorry this is my challenge and that we will get through this together.  I don't have to do it alone, because he will always be there to help me.

While his words were comforting, and while I did feel safe in his arms, the tears didn't stop for a few more hours.  I went out to our couch, so my husband could sleep, and kept sobbing.  Nothing I tried could bring peace to my soul.  Finally, I went back to bed and drifted off to sleep.  Sleep was my escape for that night.

I still feel so much fear at how unqualified I am for this task given the challenges I continue to face every day, but I am praying hard that I will feel some peace and genuine happiness when I find out we're pregnant (whenever that happens), so those happy emotions can carry me through the struggles to come.

November 28, 2017

The last time I wrote, I was so sad.  That sadness continued for a whole week, and I cried every single day.  It was so much to take in and handle.  I was beyond afraid and doubtful of my own abilities.  The week after (last week), I started to feel an enormous feeling of peace.  The darkness passed, and I knew and felt that everything would be alright.  I kept praying to feel peace and happiness, and God definitely answered those sincere prayers!

At the start of the week, I began to have some very early symptoms of pregnancy.  I was excited and nervous, but only nervous that I was imagining it, since it had been two long years of trying and tricking myself nearly every month.  By the middle of the week, I started to feel nauseous and very sensitive to smells.  I couldn't believe I was already feeling that, because I didn't start to feel that way with Brooklyn until I was about 6 weeks pregnant (I would have only been about 3 1/2 weeks pregnant at this point).  I continued to feel excitement and happiness, but I also tried to push away those feelings some, because I didn't want to feel disappointment if I wasn't pregnant.

At the end of the week, I took the pregnancy test.  I was going to wait until Sunday, but it seemed pretty obvious what the result would be, so I took it a couple days early.  It immediately showed a positive result.  Tears filled my eyes as I walked out of the bathroom all but shaking with excitement as I showed my husband.  We hugged, and I'm pretty sure there were some tears in his eyes too.  It worked.  It actually worked!  It felt like some huge miracle had just taken place in our lives, but perhaps the greatest miracle was that I felt so much happiness, peace, and JOY in the midst of finding out about our miracle baby.

I still feel somewhat shocked that it worked and that it's real, but the sickness I've been experiencing has been a sweet and tender reminder of the miracle forming inside of me.  The sickness has also been a huge tender mercy at helping to ease my fears of losing this baby, which would be a sure way to send me into a very long depression.  I have already experienced much more anxiety this pregnancy, but being sick has helped calm some of those fears and has been a big blessing.

November 30, 2017

I am a big ball of anxiety right now.  Like seriously, every second I am overcome with fear and worry.  What if this baby is stillborn?  What if I miscarry?  What if something ends up being wrong?  And will it all be my fault?  These thoughts constantly cycle through my brain causing so many frightening feelings.  The worst of them all is that I really feel like anything that goes wrong will be my fault.  I forgot to take a vitamin a couple of days, and those could have been the critical days when my baby needed that specific vitamin.  I took a bath, and maybe it was too hot.  I've just recently been getting on a better schedule reading my scriptures regularly, so maybe I don't deserve this blessing.  It goes on and on.  You wouldn't believe the things my brain can imagine when I have anxiety running through my system.

I think one thing thing that is causing this struggle is the fact that we have been trying for so long to have a baby, and I am honestly so afraid that it won't last, that it's not here forever, and then we'll have to start over.  I'm sure my first appointment in January will help me to feel some peace as I have an ultrasound and can see my precious baby's perfect little body.

These last few days have reminded me of a few years ago when I really really struggled with anxiety.  I remember how I kept telling my husband what I was feeling, and I kept repeating the word "fear" or "scared" or "worried."  Finally, after patiently listening, he suggested that I read talks and scriptures about the character of God, so that I could find out if those feelings came from God or from somewhere else.  I found great comfort in this gem of a scripture, and the truths it contains:

Image result for god hath not given us the spirit of fear lds

I continue referring to this scripture in my mind, as I remember that feelings of fear and anxiety don't come from God.  If this was a prompting from the Spirit telling me of something that is to come, I would feel an overwhelming feeling of peace accompanying this prompting.  I can find comfort in knowing that God does not want me to feel afraid, and He does not instill fear in me.

One of the big blessings that has come from this anxiety is how it has helped me to realize how much love I have for this sweet baby.  This has been a concern of mine for the last year, because of my lack of good emotions most of the time, but feeling anxiety and sadness when I think about how difficult it would be to lose this sweet baby has brought me peace and overwhelming feelings of love.

December 7, 2017

I am so sick this pregnancy!  All day.  Every day.  It has really eased my anxiety feeling sick, and I'm sure hoping the nausea and vomiting is a sign that everything is going well in growing this baby.

I'm so excited to be pregnant at Christmas time, as we celebrate the perfect baby born so many years ago who changed all of our lives.  Every nativity I see brings tears to my eyes as I think about what it will be like to hold my own precious baby soon enough.  This is a very, very good thing!

I have been doing relatively well emotionally these last few weeks, which has been a very welcomed and appreciated relief.  I am already a little bit worried about how my body will react after having this baby since that was such a hard time after having Brooklyn, but I know I am surrounded by wonderful family and friends who love me and will help me if that happens to be a difficult time.

Overall, I am thankful and happy to have this miracle taking place in my life.  I am very blessed and filled with JOY!

December 27, 2017

These last couple days have been very emotional.  The tears won't stop flowing, and once again, I'm so afraid.  In the moments when the fear seems overwhelming and like it's too much to handle, I remind myself that things are going to get better soon.  Once this baby is born, we will continue trying to find a medication to help me.  It's going to be okay.  This is just one very wonderful step in the process!  I remind myself that I have a wonderful husband and daughter who love me and are so patient with me.  We are going to get through this together!  Sometimes I think that, as a mom, I shouldn't feel these sorts of emotions.  Pregnant moms should just be happy and excited all the time, but I'm re-learning that emotions are real and that there isn't really a should or should not when it comes to emotions.  I have probably experienced every single emotion possible in these last 2 months, but that's okay.  It's real, and it doesn't mean that I'm any less thankful for this miracle or less in love with my baby.  I have seen God's hand working in my life in tremendous ways over the last two years, and that isn't going to stop now.  I will continue to walk in faith, and I know God will continue to bless my family.

Image result for walk in faith lds


I'm Back...

I haven't written in a while for several reasons:

  1. How was I supposed to write anything about me or my life when we weren't telling anyone yet about our huge, two-year anticipated secret of being pregnant?  I just couldn't find any words, so I didn't write anything.
  2. I have been doing relatively well emotionally since getting pregnant.  I was so worried about this a few months ago when we started trying again, and so far, it has been really good.  Yay!  (Therefore, I haven't had much to write in terms of why this blog is here.)
  3. I have been feeling unusually discouraged about writing.  It just feels like everything I write is dumb, not helpful, or annoying.  I have gone back to read the sweet messages people have sent to me about how the things I have written have helped them, so I have decided that I will continue writing, even though it is often a scary thing to put myself out there so openly.  
  4. I have been incredibly sick this pregnancy, and most of my days are spent just trying to get through the day.  It's kind of funny, because the result of being physically sick has been almost the same as being emotionally sick, laying in bed for hours during the day trying to find the motivation to do anything.  I'm sure hoping this part gets better soon!
In the coming days, I will have lots to share, including some very inspiring stories for my "That We Might Have Joy" project.  But for now, check out this collage of the JOYful things I found or that people sent pictures of this month in the beautiful celebration of Christmas.


Finding Joy in Christmas Celebrations

Yesterday was honestly the worst day I've had in a long time.  I had been doing so well for almost 3 weeks with very minimal emotional struggle, and then this last weekend, it all piled up on me, and yesterday it came out in continuous tears for literally hours straight.  I hurt so much, even more than normal, because it's Christmas, and I felt like I was ruining my daughter's life.  I felt like I was failing at making Christmas a magical, beautiful time for her.  Instead of making cookies, doing big things for the "Light the World" campaign, making ornaments, or going to fun events, I was laying in bed crying, still wondering how I would get the dishes and laundry done, let alone anything beyond that.

I couldn't stop thinking about all the wonderful Christmas traditions different families have and how my daughter must deserve someone better than me.  Surely, she needed some other mom who could fill her life with warm memories and sweet traditions, something that I simply can't give her much of right now.

But as I was wallowing in my own self-pity and allowing my mind to follow a destructive course of thoughts, I remembered that Christmas isn't really about cookies or ornaments or those other fun things.  It's about the Savior and His incredibly simple birth that changed the world forever.  So while there is nothing wrong with having big or fun traditions, there's also nothing wrong with making Christmas a simple time focused on the perfect baby born in the humblest of circumstances and the JOY that His birth brought to this world.

While I still wished that I could do more, I also felt joy reflecting on how this darkness can be overcome by the Savior and how it's the weight and the burden of mental illness that has allowed me to see the light of Christ shining brighter in my life, especially at this special time of year. 

And then I thought of an idea.  I wanted to look for the word "JOY" in the many decorations used to remember the reason for this season and focus on that joy that can come through Christ.

First, I saw the new nativity we bought this year.  I am so in love with it, and the simple message it displays so perfectly.

Then, my daughter and I saw two more joyful decorations on the way to our friend Betty's house and outside of her room.

After that, we went to the store and found joy all around!

When we got home, I saw the two beautiful gifts that people gave me last year to help me remember JOY, including the bag that I used as our church bag last Sunday.

By this time, I still had tears in my eyes from the difficult day I had experienced, and I still needed my husband to come home early and hold me while he repeated to me the truths that my broken brain had forgotten, but I also felt peace and JOY swelling in my heart.  It suddenly felt okay that I can't do everything I want to do this Christmas.  It felt okay that I have to simplify my celebrations, which is blessing me to have a more focused celebration.  It felt okay that my daughter doesn't have another mom, because she loves and needs me, despite what I can't do at this time.

And then this morning, I received a beautiful, thoughtful, kind gift that warmed my heart and brought a smile to my face.  Someone sent me this shirt that says "Joy to the World."  She didn't know what an awful day I had yesterday.  She didn't know that I was on a quest to literally find "joy" to get me through the sorrows that wanted to take over my heart.  It was perfect and filled my heart with joy to the very top!  There really is joy in the world and in my life because of Christmas.

***I'm still on my search for joy, so if you see any joyful decorations, make sure to send a picture my way!!!