For the first time in three weeks, my darkness suddenly lifted today.  We were randomly walking around Goodwill, when it felt as if someone had taken a huge weight of bricks off my heart.  I took a deep breath and let it out as a sigh of relief as I remembered once again that this isn't me.  There's something chemically wrong inside my brain, and it isn't my fault that this terrible darkness encompasses my heart so often.  I also sighed as I celebrated surviving another very dark, very painful storm.  I now have another success to add to my list of all the times I didn't think I could survive but I did.

Of course, I didn't do it alone though.  I am positive that I would never be able to do it on my own.  I feel so incredibly blessed to have earthly angels all around me who are willing to pray, text, talk, and serve me in those darkest hours, when I am in the most need of love and support. 

Sometimes when a storm passes, I feel overwhelmed at how dark the last storm was and how hard it is to imagine that the struggle is going to come back again.  But instead of looking to the future with worry, I have learned to just enjoy the light for as long as it lasts, since it might only last a few hours or days before my night comes again.

Right now, I feel so so thankful!  Thankful that I can breath easily again, thankful that I can feel and see things as they really are for a time, thankful that I get a break from the weeks of struggle that I thought would never lift, thankful that I've been given so many incredible blessings in my life, thankful that I'm even stronger now than I was before this latest storm, and thankful that I didn't give in or give up when all hope and light seemed lost.  I can do hard things, one dark storm at a time!

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My Christmas Miracle

These last few weeks have been among some of the darkest and most painful weeks of my entire life.  I have felt as if I have been fighting for my life every single second and constantly needing to remind myself that this will pass eventually.  I've struggled eating and have had several days in a row that I haven't managed to eat more than a few bites all day because of the extreme nausea caused by the unrelenting darkness.  I've woken up several times in the middle of the night and struggled to catch my breath because of the suffocating cloud of depression around me.  I've cried or felt just moments away from crying nearly every second I've been awake every day.  And hundreds of times each day, the unpleasant and unwelcomed thought has come into my mind that I should not continue on.  It has taken all the effort I have in me to push that thought away over and over and over again with little success in keeping it away.  To say that it has been exhausting and discouraging is not the adequate way to describe this experience, but those are the only words I can find to attempt to explain it. 

As Christmas Day came nearer and nearer, I prayed continually for a miracle.  I just wanted some relief for Christmas.  I wanted to enjoy the day with my family and not have to fight this continuous battle.  But on the days leading up to Christmas, the darkness continued, so I tried to focus on the great blessings all around me that were giving me the strength to persist and endure such heartbreaking pain.
  • On Sunday in church, several people mentioned light in their messages.  Each of these times brought immediate tears to my eyes as I was sure that what they were saying was exactly for me.  Being surrounded by thick darkness made even the word "light" bring flickers of hope to my broken heart that someday I really would feel and see light again.
  • I was asked to give the prayer for the end of our special Christmas service. While I hesitated in my mind to say "yes" because controlling my tears seemed like it could be an impossible feat, it also meant so much to me.  It felt like a special, tender way for Heavenly Father to help my heart know that this isn't my fault and that it doesn't make me any less worthy or valuable and that I still have something to offer even when I feel terrible.
  • My husband had a long weekend because of the holiday, which was a blessing in and of itself, because it was so nice to have him around on the days when I seemed to struggle the very most.  But on top of that, he did the dishes, laundry, and cooking while he was off, which took some of the heavy burden off of me, so I could focus on conquering the other burdens that no one could relieve.
  • Our family was invited to do some holiday things with other people.  As in years past, this meant so much to me so that I didn't feel like I was ruining my family's holiday celebration with my inability to do the little things that I would love to do if I was feeling well.  They didn't know I needed this, so it was very special.
  • Someone said something to me last week that gave me hope and allowed me to feel so capable of fighting this battle.  As I was explaining some of how I felt, they said, "You have been to the lowest point multiple times before, and then you've made it back up again every time.  You can do that again this time as well."  The strength that came from those words became a lifeline that I held onto.  They allowed me to feel courage and to know that I could win.
  • I have been given one of the best gifts recently-- the gift of new friendship.  And beyond that, I've been given the gift of understanding friends who care about me and want me to be okay, even though they hardly know me yet.  One person in particular told me that they read my blog, know about this struggle, and are on my side.  That alone has given me indescribable strength to know that I'm not alone here anymore.
  • I found a way to get a gym membership soon so that I can start exercising and hopefully start feeling a little better again.  It came about so randomly that I can't help but see God's hand in it.  We were invited over to someone's house and were talking about kids learning musical instruments.  I went to say something about this topic and started it with, "When I used to teach piano..." Immediately, the mom got excited to hear that I have taught before, because she has two kids who want to take lessons.  I agreed that I could probably do that.  Later, I was talking to someone else, and they told me about a wonderful gym in the area. When I looked up how much their memberships cost, I was a little overwhelmed, because it was more than I expected.  I didn't think there was a way we would be able to add that to our budget.  And then I remembered that I will be able to teach a couple of piano lessons, and the money I make from that will be the exact amount I need to get a gym membership!  Another sweet tender mercy that shows me that Heavenly Father is mindful of me and will help me do what I need to do to feel better.
I woke up Christmas morning and did not feel well, but I pushed through it for my family.  I was a little disappointed that I hadn't gotten "my miracle," but I was determined to make it a great day, so I carried on.  After spending the morning with my family and opening presents, I took my kids to the nursing home with some crafts we made to visit and make others smile.  It was all I could think to do to maybe help lift some of the heavy darkness on my heart.  We went to a few different buildings before ending in the biggest building there. It was lunch time, so we walked around talking to all our sweet new friends and giving them small and simple gifts.  When we got to the last table in the back, there was a couple who were obviously not residents but were visiting.  They asked who we were.  We told them that we just moved here and didn't know anyone so we were just visiting everyone.  The woman said something that brought tears to my eyes immediately and continues to do so now.  She said, "We were watching you with your kids going around visiting, and you simply radiated light.  We had to make sure we got to talk to you." I couldn't believe it.  Me, of all people, being in darkness, still shone light, and this wonderful woman took the time to tell me.  I'm not sure she'll ever know how much that meant to me right then.  We visited a while longer and then left.  My heart was beaming, as I was so gently reminded that I can still be a light for others, even when my heart is broken and doesn't know how it can go on.  I can still try to uplift others, and sometimes it uplifts me in the process.

I came home with a big smile on my face and more light in my world.  I got my Christmas miracle after all, just in a different way than I imagined.

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My Tribe

Although I often wish that depression wasn't a recurring problem in my life, I'm also thankful that this isn't my first rodeo.  By now I've learned that I need my tribe fighting with me and loving me through the terribly dark and awful times that sometimes accompany this chemical imbalance.  Moving away from my comfortable circle has been incredibly difficult, but in the last day, my new tribe has begun to form, and I'm so so thankful.  I'm thankful for the wonderfully caring people who love as the Savior loves, even when I often feel unlovable or easy to give up on.  I'm thankful that I don't have to do this alone, as I'm not sure that would even be possible.  I'm thankful for this Christmas season, for the beautiful music, the sparkling lights, and the strengthening hope that comes through the Light of the World.  Because of Him, there is no darkness so penetrating that it cannot be overcome.  Even when everything hurts so much and the darkness makes me nauseous and physically sick, I know that it won't win, because I have the Savior, my family, and my tribe here to lift up my weary heart and give comfort, encouragement, and strength when I need it most.


Finding Joy Through Family

"It's a bad time of year to move."  My husband has said this a few times, and I completely agree.  I always struggle with more depression during the winter, so moving to a new place with new people just after I started to experience depression again and during the winter (not to mention also having a baby who has had a terrible adjustment and is not very happy and doesn't sleep) has been very difficult. 

Some people who know me and know about this struggle have asked how I have been doing since moving.  And when they've asked, I've been fine that day or hour or minute, so I haven't thought to tell about the other days and nights filled with tears and prayers and talks with my husband.  That's one of the confusing things about depression.  I can be just fine one minute, thinking that maybe the depression wasn't real or wasn't as bad as I thought it was in the moment, and then crying the next.  And when I'm struggling again, it seems like it's been forever, like I never actually felt well and will never feel well again. 

One thing I've been so thankful for recently is the fact that we may have uprooted our whole lives and experienced so much change in the last month, but we're together as a family doing it.  I don't have to do this alone, and I find so much comfort and joy in having the most important people in my life right here where I need them to be.  I can get through another dark winter knowing that I have my family to love me through it.


Finding Joy Through Accepting Things As They Are

A few posts back, I wrote about this part of me that is broken.  It's a very specific part and very difficult for me to explain or for anyone else to understand.  Very few people know about this, and it will probably stay that way forever.  It's not really something I want to try to explain anymore, as it only leaves me more frustrated that there is no way anyone can understand it or know how to help.  I'm not sure if there is even anything to help it, besides someday having my heart healed and made whole in the arms of the Savior, a promise that I hold onto with all I have.

Sometimes my heart cries out, "No one understands, and no one will ever understand!"  That is so scary to me.  With all the people in this world, no one can get inside my heart and feel it as I do.  I can try to put it into words, but those are always inadequate.  There is no way to form words to explain the depth of pain that this one thing has caused me. 

But time and time again, when I am on my knees telling Heavenly Father that I am so alone, He speaks peace to my heart and mind through the Spirit reminding me that someone does understand perfectly, and that someone is the Savior.  He doesn't just understand depression, He understands my depression.  And He understands, because He actually felt what my depression feels like.  He did that by choice, so that He can give me the wonderful gift of saying that He really truly does understand.  I'm so thankful for that! 

While I can't put into words what I feel and will possibly never be able to, I find so much comfort and joy in accepting that the Savior is the only who understands, and that's okay!  That's all I need.  And when the pain seems too great to bear, I picture myself in His arms, gaining strength and courage from His perfect love.

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How Do You Do It?

How do you do it?  How do you move somewhere far, far away surrounded by complete strangers and attempt to help them get to know you for who you really are when who you really are isn't quite there at the moment?  How do you tell someone that at the moment you have this dark, gloomy cloud hanging over your head, but it isn't you, and it's just this small and sometimes large piece of who you are called depression?

I keep thinking about this, especially as it seems that my dark cloud is intruding more of my day, not just the evenings like it has been the last several weeks.  I know I'll be okay; I just don't know how I'll do it yet.

How do you tell that first person that this is your struggle?  How do you know who is "safe" to tell and who just won't get it?  How do you know who else is silently struggling and wishing for someone to understand, someone to be a friend, when all of this is such a hidden pain?

My mind keeps turning back to when we first moved to Iowa.  It was such a hard move on me.  I was convinced that I was the only person in the whole state who struggled with depression.  (Yes, I really did think that ridiculous thought.)  Come to find out there were people all around me who understood and had felt the same pain, but I didn't know that at first.  So I hid it, kept it to myself, and attempted to bury it deep, but it got worse and led to the very first time when I really thought there was no hope.  It was a terrifying, exhausting time that I don't want to repeat.

In some ways, things are different now.  I've opened up way more now than I ever did before we moved to Iowa, mostly thanks to this blog which has allowed me to write freely and openly with less fear of how I'll be received.  I've learned to not be ashamed of mental illness, as it is a struggle just like any physical struggle.  My eyes have been opened to just how many people struggle with this darkness, even people I never would have expected.  I've learned that speaking up blesses me as well as those around me who need to know that they are not alone.

But how do you do it?  How do you take that first big, scary step of telling someone?  How do you swallow the fear that they might judge you for it or think it's your husband's fault or never see past it to who you really are?  How do you bring up something that so many people feel awkward talking about, including me sometimes when I realize that the other person feels uncomfortable?

I don't have any answers, and the thought of leaving all the wonderful people who understand and love all of me seems overwhelming.  I know I'll be fine somehow.  I just wish I didn't have to start over.


Finding Joy in Opposition

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about this sweet boy.  I love him so much, and I don't mean to complain, but he has been challenging.  He's very rarely happy for more than just a few minutes at a time, and he cries more than any baby I've ever known. 

But that's not the part I want to focus on.  I want to focus on how his nearly constant crying has taught me to be thankful for opposition.  You see, whenever he is happy, I immediately drop everything I am doing to talk to him, see his cute smiles, hear his adorable coos, stare into his beautiful blue eyes, and take in every second of his happy times, knowing they are fleeting and will soon turn into cries again.  They are the highlights of my day, and I feel myself absorbing them and trying to tuck them into my memory to remember forever.

One evening, I was really struggling.  I was explaining to my husband how it's hard that my good times are getting shorter and farther between, and it's likely to continue this way for a long time.  That's so hard to accept and embrace.  But then my mind turned to my sweet baby boy and how his frequent sadness has made me appreciate his fleeting happy moments so much more.  The light clicked in my mind.  My days might be filled with darkness, sadness, and lack of energy now, but boy have I learned to love and cherish and be thankful for the moments that aren't like that.  The sudden boosts of energy are so refreshing.  The days when I am not on the brink of tears all day are beautiful.  The times when light seems so clear and bright are rejuvenating.

But would I appreciate these the way I do if darkness was not part of my life's story?  Would I know exactly how wonderful those moments are if I didn't know how heartbreaking and painful the opposite can be?

Just writing that makes me feel so blessed.  I never would have known to be so thankful, and that brings me incredible joy.


Finding Joy in Brokenness

There's this piece of me that is broken.  So broken that time and time and time again, the bandaid over this unhealed wound is suddenly torn off and the raw, damaged patch of hurt is exposed once again.  It doesn't make sense, this brokenness.  But it is there, and I continually try to make sense of it.  Sometimes I cry out in desperate loneliness, realizing that no one in the world can possibly understand this piece of me that even I don't understand.  I often pray that it can be healed, taken away, made better, or at least made understandable to me.  But it remains.  And it might always remain until my broken brain is made whole someday. 

At times when the hurt seems unmanageable and the pain feels like it will engulf me, God answers my prayers, not by taking away the hurt or the pain, and not even by helping me to understand it (I'm not sure there is much to understand about it), but by giving me someone to sit with me in that dark moment until I can find a portion of light again.  Most often, this is my angel husband, the man who loves, cares, and comforts me like no one else can. 

I usually try to avoid telling him why I can't stop the tears from falling, because it hurts to admit that I'm no more healed at that moment than the last time this happened, but when he wraps me in his perfectly loving arms, I know that he is my safe place, and that no amount of frustrating sorrow can come between me and him. 

Over the last six years, five of which have been years of struggling with depression, I have learned so much about joy.  That finding joy is possible, even in the darkest times.  That joy is not about my circumstances but about my perspective.  That joy is a matter of faith in God's perfect plan, even if that plan includes many, many evenings with a splotchy face and puffy, red eyes.  That finding joy takes effort, but the result of increased faith and an overwhelming sense of God's mindfulness of me is so worth that effort.  That joy somehow turns my feelings of bitterness into feelings of gratitude.

I had one of those broken moments tonight, but what started out as a desperate prayer filled with hurt and tears later turned into a prayer of gratitude for the wonderful man God has given me to help me find joy, even in my brokenness.  And once again, I am reminded that finding joy is always possible.


8 Good Months

I have had 8 glorious, beautiful, wonderful, light-filled months.  That's honestly the longest I have gone without struggling with depression in the last 6 years.  Before that, my record was 4 months.  And that's about it.  1 year in the last 6 years has been good and depression-free. 

In the last couple of weeks, I have felt the darkness of depression creeping back into my life.  I'm sure it's partly the weather-- dark, cold, and depression seem to go hand-in-hand.  I'm sure it's also partly the fact that I'm still not getting as much sleep as I need with a baby who needs me in the night.  And then, of course, there's the fact that my baby is difficult and cries on and off most of the day.  It's wearing and exhausting.  But whatever the cause, I have felt the darkness creeping back in, slowly and steadily.

First, it was a night when my husband was gone, and I cried for a couple of hours about how I was sure that I was a terrible wife and mom, and he deserves better than me.  Thankfully, he came home, wrapped me in his arms, and reassured me that he loves me and needs me. 

Then, it was another night when I had made a mistake, and I was positive that my husband would stop loving me and would leave me if I told him.  Once again, thankfully, he wrapped me in his arms and helped me see things clearly.

And finally, it was another night (hmm... notice a pattern?) when I was at church for the women's session of General Conference.  I was already feeling the emotion filling inside of me when one speaker started talking about how mothers are primarily responsible for gospel teaching in the home.  Suddenly, the tears started flowing as I felt so much inadequacy, fear, and panic.  As soon as he was done talking, I ran out of the room and cried in the bathroom until the meeting was over.  I was positive that I was not cut out for the task and was failing.  This time, I knew what to do.  After some hugs and comforting words from friends, I hurried home, melted into my husband's arms, and felt his calm reassurance that I am not failing at this.  Once he started listing off things I have done/am doing, my mind could see clearer and my heart felt some peace. 

All of these times, the depression was so deceptive.  I was 100%, positively, unmistakably sure that what I felt was true.  It didn't seem like there could be any other way.  It wasn't until my husband acted as my eyes for truth that I could see clearly. 

I'm not sure that I'm ready for this again.  The last few times I have struggled, it has been at least a year before things improved.  That's such a long time to look ahead and see struggle.  But I've done it before, and I can do it again.  I'm guessing more writing about joy is coming in the future.  I think I'm going to need it.

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Finding Joy in the Good Days

I haven't written on here in a while, because honestly, things have been so good.  I haven't had much to write and haven't needed to write, because I've simply been enjoying this good time.  But in the last several weeks, I have felt the burning impression to write a little bit about this good period for a few reasons: 1) I don't know what the future holds for me emotionally, and writing about this good time could help me to look back on it someday if I really struggle again.  2) This is part of my story, and I want to have it written down.  3) This time has been such a testimony builder for me that Heavenly Father truly knows what is best and sees perfectly.

To make a long story short, in September of 2015, we started trying to have baby #2.  This was later than what we had wanted to start trying, but we didn't have much of a choice because some complications from Brooklyn's birth needed to heal before we could have another baby.  I was excited to start trying and was very good at convincing myself that we were pregnant multiple times, only to later realize that we weren't.

Fast forward to a year later, and I was starting to get a little bit frustrated, because we still weren't pregnant.  Why wasn't this working?!  I was ready, and we weren't having success or really any chance of success yet.

The next month, I started to experience the new emotional symptoms (the ones that I've written about on this blog) that suddenly shifted my whole world.  Everything crumbled beneath me, and I literally thanked Heavenly Father every day that I wasn't pregnant or didn't have a newborn at that time, because if everything would have worked according to my plan, that would have been the case, and there was no way I could have handled that at that time.

Suddenly, I didn't want to hold a baby, see a baby, hear a baby, etc. because the thought of ever having another baby seemed impossible and completely overwhelming to me.  I was already convinced that I was failing my one child, so the thought of bringing another child into our home was not a possibility in my mind.  I could do it again if all of this emotional struggle stopped, but otherwise, we would have to be done and appreciate the one sweet little girl we were blessed with.  Those seemed like the only two options.

About six months later, I was still in the depths of emotional struggle, when I felt the very distinct feeling that we needed to start trying to have a baby again.  I was taken back by this feeling because 1) I hadn't felt the Spirit or anything like this in months, 2) I wasn't "better" yet like I thought I had to be before we could have another baby, and 3) I was terrified!  Literally nothing scared me more than having a newborn and taking on more in my life, when simple things like doing the dishes and staying out of bed seemed impossibly difficult tasks to accomplish every day.  It was especially difficult to imagine, because my last pregnancy, I was an emotional wreck and cried nearly every day for the whole 9 months.  I couldn't imagine adding more emotions to what I was already experiencing on a daily basis.

I prayed harder than I had ever prayed before that Heavenly Father would show me how this would work out.  If I could just see what was to come, then I could do it.  I knew I could if things were going to get better, but otherwise, I couldn't.  I didn't know how.  It seemed impossible.  I kept praying, but I didn't get any kind of confirmation that things would be okay or that I would be able to handle it.  All I felt over and over and over again was that I needed to move forward in faith and trust in the things I couldn't see or understand at the time.

With more fear than I've ever felt in my life and with the love and support and strength of my husband holding me up, I made an appointment with an infertility specialist to help us get pregnant.  I still couldn't comprehend how this was going to work, but I moved forward, hoping and praying (and crying every day) that it would all be okay.

Six months after that, we were finally able to try a procedure for the first time, which ended in more emotional pain and turmoil than I have ever experienced and more than I hope to ever experience again.  I wanted to take a long, healthy break from all of this, but I knew that I should at least give it one more chance before waiting a while to try again.

The next month, we tried again, skipping the infertility medication this time that had caused so much trouble the time before.  The morning of the procedure, I was still somewhat afraid, but I also felt peace.  Somehow, I was going to be okay.

Two weeks later, we found out that the procedure had worked, and I honestly cried the happiest of tears that over two years after we started trying, things had finally worked.  But even more, I cried happy tears that I was genuinely excited and happy to welcome this sweet baby into our family, a feeling that I had been so conflicted about in the previous months.

Suddenly, the weight that had burdened my shoulders so heavily was gone.  At first, I thought it was simply because of the excitement that this new change brought into my life.  But it stayed.  It didn't leave.  There were moments of fear or sadness, but they were so fleeting, and I felt fully capable of talking myself through them until I felt better.  I struggled physically in the first trimester and that led to some emotional struggle for a few weeks, but for the most part, I was okay, and peace filled my heart.

While I would say that I have struggled much more physically this entire pregnancy, I have been doing so well emotionally, and for that, I am very very thankful!

For so long, I dreamed of getting to the point of feeling emotionally stable and healthy for long enough that I didn't really even think about mental illness anymore.  I dreamed of feeling peace and light for so long that happiness seemed like my normal, not sadness and darkness.  I dreamed of reaching the day when I would no longer fear making plans or adding more to my day, because the worry of ending up not feeling well and cancelling would be obsolete.

That day is here, and I could never be more thankful!  Not a day goes by that I don't thank Heavenly Father in my prayers for giving me this time of peace and joy.

Quite honestly, reading back through some of my most difficult experiences in the last several years brings me to tears and feels like a dream or another life.  Surely I didn't struggle that much.  Surely that must be someone else's story, not mine.  But it is mine, and I will never ever forget it!

So while this beautiful time of light and peace and joy is here, I want to write a few things that I can hold onto if things get tough again:

  • Right now, I am in a very blessed place of being able to serve and give so much to others.  It feels wonderful and so so fulfilling!  But should I have to cut back again, should I have to simplify my life to the very basics again, including how much and what capacities I am able to serve, it's okay!  It's okay to have my best and everything I have to offer be less than what it is right now.  It's okay to have to say "no" to take care of myself and my own family first.  It's okay to have to be the one asking for and receiving help for a time.  That's the beautiful part of life.  Sometimes we are on the giving end and sometimes we are on the receiving end, and both are okay!
  • I am a good mom.  One of the most wonderful and cherished parts of feeling well is recognizing that I am not a failure of a mom.  I'm definitely not perfect, but I fully realize that I don't need to be perfect.  I'm trying and who I am and what I have to give is enough.  My daughter (and now my son coming soon) need me, not some other mom.  
  • Things always get better.  They really do.  No matter what kind of pain I may have to experience again in the future or for how long, the light will come again, and it is more than worth it to hold on!  This time has been glorious, and I'm so thankful that I'm here to experience it.
  • Heavenly Father truly knows what is best.  I never thought that I could feel so blessed and emotionally well while being pregnant, especially when the months leading up to getting pregnant were harder than I had ever imagined possible, but Heavenly Father knew what I was capable of and knew that everything would be alright when He gave me that first feeling that it was time to start trying to have a baby again.  I would like to say that it won't be hard to trust in the future because of this experience, but I'm sure it will still be difficult when the next struggle comes along.  I do hope to remember this experience though and to let it carry me when I am unsure of what Heavenly Father is asking me to do.


My Comfort Playlist

When I am struggling with depression, I struggle to feel the comfort of the Spirit or to feel Heavenly Father's love for me.  It has taken many months and years to recognize that this is simply a part of depression and is in no way a reflection of anything I have done wrong or how Heavenly Father actually feels about me.

Although I cannot feel normal, good, happy emotions at these times, sometimes I can feel a little bit of something, or at least I can remember what those good feelings feel like, when I listen to music.  It's usually the same several songs that play on repeat in my playlist until the darkness lifts, as each of these songs contain little gems that give me hope and peace in the midst of struggle.

So I thought I'd share my "comfort playlist" with you (in no particular order):

#1: "It Is Well with my Soul" by Vocal Point

This song is such a good reminder for me to not become bitter or angry at the struggles when they come.  It reminds me to find joy, to be patient, and to trust in Heavenly Father, as He really is in charge of my life and is simply preparing me for better things to come.

#2: "He Will Not Let Go" by Laura Story

This short and simple but very touching song has brought so much comfort when my heart has been the most broken.  It brings into my mind the beautiful image of being in the arms of the Savior who can heal all of my brokenness and make it into something beautiful.

#3: "If the Way Be Full of Trial, Weary Not" by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

This beautiful song gives me the strength and hope to keep going on even when things are so difficult.  It reminds me of all of the remarkable people who have faced much more difficult things than I have who have not given up and who have remained faithful.  It literally brings energy and motivation into my heart as I strive to be someone who patiently and bravely faces whatever comes my way.

#4: "Beautiful Heartbreak" by Hilary Weeks

This song is my motivation for writing this blog and for finding joy, as I strive to turn my heartbreaks into something beautiful and purposeful.  It makes me think of all the beautiful people who have become they amazing people they are today because of the many struggles and heartbreaks they have faced with faith and courage.  It also gives me a greater perspective on my trials, that even though I would rather not face so much sadness and darkness, it is worth it for the wonderful experiences I get to have as a result of facing pain.

#5: "My Kindness Shall Not Depart from Thee" by Rob Gardner

This masterpiece of a song is the perfect reminder that Heavenly Father is really not far away like it feels when I cannot feel Him near for weeks or months at a time.  It also reminds me that these painful feelings only last for a period of time before they pass and good days come again.

#6: "Just Let Me Cry" by Hilary Weeks

This song is sometimes just the right song when I need to remember that it's okay to cry instead of trying to be strong all the time.  It reminds me that it's okay to feel the emotions as they come, while still keeping the faith in God's perfect plan.  My favorite line is: "When I agreed that God could put this heart inside me, I understood that there would be a chance that it would break."  For some reason, this brings me so much comfort as I recognize that it's okay for my heart to be broken.

#7: "Falling Slowly" by 92 Keys

While this song doesn't have lyrics, I turn to this song when I need to remember to breath and just hold on.  It brings hope and peace to my heart as I listen to the beautiful violin and piano and see the beautiful scenery.  It's almost like this song takes me away from the current struggle for just a moment.


That We Might Have Joy: Sarah's Story

Today at church we discussed what our “hard” is. What do we struggle with? What can we learn from it? I listened intently, reflecting on my entire life, my hardships. It actually wasn’t till later that week that I realized my hearing loss is a hardship. I’m astonished. I have finally arrived! It takes a level of acceptance and embrace to not view your “hard” as hard anymore.

I was actually focused on a different hard, my 5 years of struggling with infertility. Sometimes the hardest trials are when we have righteous desires, but the things we desire are outside of our control.

When life beats down on you, how do you stay positive? How can you have joy in the depths of darkness? I believe it’s important to learn from the hard times! You can do this by learning to identify things to be grateful for, things you CAN control instead of what you can not. It’s important to remain positive! This comes more easily with a grateful heart.

When I was about 3 years into the process of trying to get pregnant. I decided to stop sulking! I was done being sad. It wasn’t that simple; I was still sad! However, I shifted my thinking to a more positive outlet. I decided to start doing things that my pregnant friends couldn’t! I made a “Cradle List” of things to do before kids came along. I tried several new things like sushi, rock climbing, and even bungee jumping! We also planned a trip to San Francisco. These things were fun and distracting.  They did not cure my heartache, but they helped me climb out of the black hole of despair and rejuvenate my marriage and focus on being happy.

While struggling with infertility, I learned many lessons. I learned EMPATHY. There are many stigmas and ignorant comments that occur when trying to get pregnant. I learned to put aside judgments and criticism. There is enough anger and hate in the world. What we need is the benefit of the doubt that each of us, MOST of us, are only trying to have the best of intentions. I’ve learned to not judge the man who mumbles or the child that stutters or avoids eye contact or the mother with rambunctious kids. Only God knows what the story is behind the curtain.

Most importantly, I have learned not to be easily offended. I have learned that most comments have more to do with the person offending than the person who it’s intended to offend. In other words, it’s not ME they have an issue with. It’s usually an insecurity of their own. Instead of being offended or mad (and sometimes I still was), I tried to ignore it or figure out why they would say or do hurtful things. Almost always, it is unintentional.

Most importantly, what carries me through any and all of my heartaches is my solid belief in my Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Jesus Christ is the source of peace…Whether they are personal struggles, family troubles, or community crises, peace will come as we trust that God’s Only Begotten Son has power to soothe our aching souls.” ~Jean Bingham

To follow more of Sarah's story, visit her blog HERE.


That We Might Have Joy: Anonymous Story

As a child, I was a victim of abuse and neglect. My own mother raped me when I was seven and again when I was in sixth grade. She would physically abuse me – hitting, slapping, kicking, choking, beating me all over my body with belts (sometimes metal embellished), throwing me around and into furniture. I’ve been made to sleep in dog feces. I’ve been stripped down naked for the sole purpose of her making fun of my physical flaws. I’ve been forbidden to see a doctor, even when I was very ill. I’ve been kept awake for three days without being allowed any rest. She did a number of other cruel things that were a bit less traumatic. My mom was also an extreme hoarder, and I had to deal with what that meant in my life.

When I was fifteen years old, the abuse was escalating, and I knew that if I stayed, I would likely either end up killed or be forced to kill in self-defense. I knew I needed to escape. I knew of the potential for abuse if I entered the foster care system and that I may not have the option I had in that moment to leave. I decided to keep my autonomy instead, and I ran away a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday. I lived with six families in two years. Some of them I knew would be temporary until I found something else. Some of them made me feel like part of their family until they changed their mind and kicked me to the curb.

Saying that this affected my mental health would be a gross understatement. Throughout the following years, I have suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe episodes of Depression. At one time, when my child was only a few months old, I spent a week in-patient, because I just couldn’t endure my unceasing suicidal urges any longer. I spent years trying out different cocktails of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, and mood stabilizers while working through my trauma in therapy, until I got to a point where I was functional despite still having some lingering emotional issues.

I began to plan for a future and eventually found myself where I am now, a senior in college studying psychology and also working part time in a psychology research laboratory. Through this lab, I discovered the research being done on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their impact on so many of the issues that plague our society. And I discovered Trauma Informed Care, the response to all of the research on ACEs. Learning about the impact of trauma in this context and the efforts being done to treat it was music to my ears. I was so glad to hear that this work was being done, but I didn’t quite understand it yet.

About a month ago, after years of unbelief, I gained a testimony of God and His power and sovereignty in my life – even through the hard things. I came to understand that this is what it means to live in a truly broken and sinful world, that we’re all broken, and that our brokenness just presents itself in different ways. I learned that the only people who hurt other people are the people who are truly hurting, and that for my mom to do what she did, she must have been through some truly horrific experiences without the opportunities for help and healing that I have been so blessed with in my life. I’ve come to understand, in some small measure, what Jesus Christ must have taken upon himself when He suffered for our sins and afflictions in order to forgive us. I’ve learned that just as He can now empathize with and comfort us in our struggles, I can also reach out and help others find healing, because I know what that kind of despair feels like. I know that I can hurt with them and walk them through it. And being able to help people on that level is the most rewarding experience and is absolutely worth anything and everything I’ve ever had to endure to get me to this point.


It Really is Worth It

Last Thursday, I had the best day I've had in a very long time!  It's not that I haven't had good days, and honestly I've been doing really well emotionally in the last few weeks, but last Thursday was even better than all of those other good days combined.  Last Thursday, we found out the gender of our sweet little baby.  When the ultrasound technician showed me the picture of my cute little baby boy, I started to cry such happy tears.  And for once, in several months, I was so thankful to be alive in that moment. 

Before last Thursday, I had been thinking about these questions on and off for several weeks-- When was the last time that I felt truly thankful to be alive?  When was the last time that I felt like all the pain and sorrow of depression was worth it just to be alive for that one moment? 

I have a very good and blessed life.  I have a wonderful, supportive, loving husband and a beautiful, sweet, spunky daughter with an active little boy on the way.  I have everything anyone could ever want and more, and yet struggling with depression often makes it hard to feel the wonder of those blessings.  It's hard, because I know I'm blessed, but even those many, many blessings can't take away or lessen the darkness that can sometimes last for months at a time.  It's hard, because I often feel guilty that I struggle so much, despite how many wonderful things I have been given.  It's hard, because I want to feel how blessed I am, but those tangible, good, happy feelings often don't come.  And sometimes that leaves me wondering if it's actually worth it, if it's actually worth holding on through so much turmoil just for the little moments of light in between. 

The last time it had felt "worth it" was last June when my little family took a week long vacation together.  That week still feels like sacred time to me.  We did so many fun things and saw so many beautiful places together, but most of all, as we were together, I felt how good my life was.  I felt love and happiness, and I was so thankful to be alive. 

After that, I fell into months of seemingly unending darkness, including the very worst of it when I was trying to get pregnant with my baby boy and wanted nothing more than to be gone forever.  I couldn't comprehend in that dark, terrible week that anything could ever feel "worth it" again.  I couldn't comprehend that I would ever feel thankful that I had held on through such difficulty. 

Later, I found out I was pregnant, and then I got really, really sick, and I continued to wonder if I would ever feel that any of this was "worth it."  I was struggling so much emotionally and physically, and I basically felt like the rest of my life would feel like this, just holding on, waiting to feel good things again.  And I often wondered-- what if that "worth it" moment never came again?  What if I spent the rest of my life enduring and never felt happiness again? 

At moments, the darkness would lift some and things would be better, but for some reason, I still struggled with wondering if those good moments were really worth it for all of the struggle I had gone through for months and months before.  I worried about the future and all the pain that was sure to come, and I was overwhelmed with thinking about all I would have to endure for just small moments of light periodically.

But last Thursday, I felt for the first time in months and months that I was so thankful I had held on in those most difficult times.  I felt so thankful that I hadn't given up and that I was alive for that one moment of feeling such complete happiness.  In that moment, I truly felt that I would have willingly endured ten times the amount of pain I had endured just to feel that kind of happiness in my heart again.  It really was "worth it," and I can cling to the memory of that beautiful moment for months to come.

I don't know if I'll ever understand why the pain of depression must exist in this world.  I don't know if I'll ever understand how something can cause so much hurt and difficulty for seemingly no logical reason at all.  But I do understand that no matter what we have to endure to feel joy is truly "worth it."  I know that no matter how dark the present may seem, someday there will be a moment when all of that pain is swallowed up in the joy of that one beautiful moment when we can see how "worth it" all of the pain was. 

I'm still on a "high" from my wonderful day last week, but I know that whatever awaits me in the future, it will be worth it for the next moment when I feel a joy so complete and pure again.


Winter Always Turns to Spring

Every time winter lets up just a little bit, I realize just how hard winter is and has been for me.  Something about the cold, the lack of being outside as much, and the darkness that comes so early in the evenings really gets me down.  I use a "happy light," take extra vitamin D, and try to exercise, but the winter always seems like it is going to win over me.  I start out strong, but I slowly lose all motivation and most hope.  Every day seems like the same difficult routine of trying to keep myself busy as the hours and days slowly pass by with little purpose and little accomplished by the end of the day.

And then, one day, the sun comes back up, the temperature warms up, the snow melts, and I feel a literal energy flow into my heart.  It always surprises me how just one day of warmth and sunshine can renew the hope that had dwindled to almost nothing over the long winter months.  It's truly rejuvenating and refreshing!

A few weeks ago, we had our first really warm day.  The days and weeks before had been so difficult, filled with many tears, much guilt, and not much motivation to do anything that I "should" be doing.  I honestly didn't know how I was going to make it through this terribly rough patch, as I clung to any little glimmers of hope or joy around me.  It seemed like the winter blues had dragged me down so far that I didn't know how I was going to get back up.

But when the warmth of spring filled the air, I immediately felt the heavy and crushing burden I had been carrying lift off of me.  I had made it!  My long, dark winter had finally turned to spring!  I started to be productive again during the days that followed.  I no longer desired to get back in bed 100 times a day, and none of the little tasks I had to do during the day brought tears to my eyes.  I could be a "good" wife and mom again, I could feel happy again, and I could feel a little more like myself again.  Thankfully, this rejuvenating feeling has stayed with me, even weeks after that one warm day.

I've been thinking about this experience lately, how terrible I felt in the darkness of winter and how my spring was right around the corner and came again when I least expected it.  Sometimes struggling with depression can feel like being stuck in a long winter and not knowing if or when it will ever let up.  It can feel so hopeless, exhausting, and frustrating.  But these last couple weeks have reminded me that winter ALWAYS turns to spring.  There is always light and hope ahead.  I wish I could know when that light will come again, because it would make the painful days much more manageable, but I have been reminded and my hope has been restored that all difficulties come to an end eventually, and darkness will always be replaced with light.  Sometimes it takes months or even years, but that light will come again.

I can almost guarantee that I will experience darkness again in the future, not because I am pessimistic, but because I am realistic and know how these waves of darkness come and go.  But for now, I am basking in the warmth of the spring light I am experiencing and filling up my bucket with all the good, happy things that this life has to offer.

Image result for winter to spring quote

Image result for winter to spring quote


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.

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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!

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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.