Tuesday, June 29, 2010

. . . . . . . Celebrating Again!

Sometime during the night while I was sleeping peacefully, my little blog received its 30,000th visit (since September, 2009)! Wow! I continue to be amazed! In addition, this week we will hit another milestone, and if you can guess what it is, you could be a winner!!!

This week will mark how many posts since the start of the blog? Mark your guess in a comment and you could win a fabulous gift card! Everyone loves to win, so give me a guess!

A) 300 posts
B) 400 posts
C) 500 posts

That's all there is to it, A, B, or C. If you reallllly want to win, you could go back and count them all, but I'd hate for anyone to waste that much time! :) So, just estimate and give it your best shot. Even previous winners can enter to win again. All winning guesses will be in the prize drawing!

BTW, I have been told by some local companies that I can get gift cards to give away for free on the blog if I use this for marketing. Since I don't have endless funds to purchase prizes, here's the deal:

For every person you refer to the blog and they 1) post a comment with a guess to win, OR 2) sign up to "follow" the blog, you get your name entered into the drawing twice (no correct guess needed)! Yep, that's 2 chances for every person you refer. New readers also receive 2 chances to win (no correct guess needed). They simply need to list your name with theirs on their comment, or send me an email with the info. Easy as pie. (Now, if the companies follow through and give me the gift cards, I will do a little shameless promoting. :)

Good luck!

Monday, June 28, 2010

. . . . . . . We're All Family

This morning I received a phone call from my dear friend, Randy. He and I have served together in church and been friends for about 5 years now. He was excited to tell me a story from yesterday, when he went to his parents' home for dinner. It turns out that his niece is dating my cousin. They figured out the connection when Randy's sister shared a story about her brain tumor experience (eerily similar to my own). At that time, Brian mentioned his cousin had a brain tumor last year. Randy's wife made the connection and soon they were sharing my stories from the last year.

It's funny how "small" the world is. It really is a small, small world in so many ways. We are all so connected to each other, through family, friends, and faith. Randy and I may end up becoming "family" if his niece and my cousin get married, but even if we don't he still feels like family to me. And, as he reminded me today, we really are all family anyway. Somewhere down our family lines, we have a common thread. And, more importantly, we are all children of God, and that makes us brothers and sisters in the Gospel.

It has been years since I have seen my cousin, Brian, and his family. I am glad my good friend helped us get together in spirit, if not in person. His mom is an angel who visited me and brought me strength in the hospital when my struggles were far greater than they are now. I have a great love for that family, though I don't see or know them as well as I'd like.

I am also so grateful for all of you, my "extended family". It is your strength that keeps me going. Thank you.

Friday, June 25, 2010

. . . . . . Sleeping in Your Own Bed

No matter how much you love a vacation, a trip around the world, or camping in the great outdoors, there is just something wonderful about coming home and sleeping in your own bed again. :) Is it the comfort of being back where you belong? Is it the reassurance that you know exactly what to expect in your surroundings? Whatever it is, it is a warm, welcome feeling. I enjoyed that feeling until my little Daven squeaked open my bedroom door and awoke me this morning, with the cutest plea, "Mom, can I have breakfast now?"

This week the kids and I went to Orem and stayed with my mom. She is here from Hawaii to help when my sister's baby comes (any day now!!). So, we had a great time with Grandma and the cousins. We had so many wonderful adventures! We went to BYU campus and played in the streams, got candy, and hiked around. We went to the pool. We went to Bridal Veil Falls. We got snow cones. We played at the park. We had family dinners and barbeques. We roasted marshmellows. We did all the things summer is made of.

One of my favorite activities was watching my brother, Scott, cut out cardboard swords for each of the 8 kids. Each sword was 3 cardboard layers deep, then covered in duct tape, for extra strength, of course. Of all the things we did that week, they were most enthralled with the cardboard swords, of course!

I took a ton of picture, (okay, not a ton, only 158), but here are just a few of my favorites. Perhaps there will be another 158 summer photos by next week. :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

. . . . . The Path of Life

I have often referred to life as a journey, one in which we are placed on a certain path on Earth and our challenge is to travel that path the best we can.

This weekend my family went on a hike, and they all expected me to stay home, but I decided to go, to both strengthen and test my body. As the hike, or path, began, I remembered the achy feelings in my legs that come from this type of movement. It was a mental game and many times, I thought to myself I just have to move one foot in front of the other, just keep moving, just keep moving.

At times, the path was sandy, steep, rocky, or muddy, but we all kept going. As our journey on the path continued, I felt myself becoming invigorated, I knew I was going to make it! Just as we neared the top, we had to pass an area covered in small rocks on a steep slope. I told the children to be careful not to fall. We were only yards away from the top, when I stepped on a loose rock and fell to the ground. I hit hard on my arm, hand and part of my chest. Trenden hurriedly came to my side and helped me up. I was bleeding a little and bruised a bit, but I was too close to give up. The kids helped pick me up (Tolan was further behind, carrying Daven and hiking with his parents), and together, we all carefully climbed the last several feet.

That is the way life is sometimes, we have periods of relavtive ease, and other times when we slow down and struggle. We get excited to reach a destination, only to stumble and fall, leaving us bleeding and bruised. But the key is to keep moving forward and keep your eye on your goal. When I caught a glimpse of the waterfall, I knew I could make it, no matter how hard the final steps. Our own focus can push us along, even when the path seems too steep to travel.

Then we can reach the top and experience the joy and beauty that God intended for us, and only then do we see that every moment of the journey was worth it!

At the trailhead, all eager and ready to go!
Enjoying the beauties along the way!
Scenic stops on the path.

Loving the sounds and sights of the water!
We made it, together, one step at a time!

. . . . . . Dad's Day

Happy Father's Day! The love and dedication I feel from my father still amazes me every day. There are too many examples to tell them all, so let me share just one.

The day I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, we made only a few calls, to our families. We were not ready to tell the world. We did not even tell our closest friends and neighbors. I was not prepared yet. That very day, my prayers ceased for a while. In a time when they should have increased, they stopped. I had not lost faith, I just didn't know what to say to my Heavenly Father.

Luckily, my own father did. Not only did his fasting and prayers begin in the first moment he heard the news, so did his pleas for help. While we hadn't told anyone, he had already told all of his closest friends and associates. He asked them all to pray for me, to put my name in temples throughout the world. He asked them to pray for miracles on my behalf.

His strength and faith far surpassed my own. Many of you are reading this today, not because of me, but because of my father and the love you have for him, and me through him.

Thank you, for your strength and prayers then, and for your loving care now.

Happy Father's Day to the most incredible father, the one I am blessed to call my own! These are a few special moments with my dad!

To the father of my children, well, words cannot touch those feelings either. I was blessed to witness one special father moment this morning, when our youngset son came into the bedroom, before we were quite ready to get up. Daven's daddy pulled him into bed with us and cuddled him in his arms, then on his chest. Then Daven did the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" on his daddy, and so his Father's Day began.

I am so grateful my best friend is also the father of my children. They will be truly blessed because of their righteous, faithful, fun, loving dad! Some of these photos explain why we all love him so!

Friday, June 18, 2010

. . . . . . Here Comes the Sun

Sing with me, "Here comes the sun, nananana, here comes the sun"! Hooray! The sun has been found, and it is finally right here in Utah! :) This is so desperately what my body needs right now!

If I were a super hero, or the heroine in a book, I would, of course, have an arch nemesis. If I had to name such a nemesis, I would say it would have to be the wind. Only it wouldn't be called the wind, it would be something like the great "air bender" (pardon the blatant borrowing of terms).

The series of storms, drop in barometric pressure, cold temperatures and air bending that has taken place over the last few weeks have caused havoc in this not-so-super-hero-like person. My head was filled with pressure and aches and my eye was quite nonfunctional, due to the massive amounts of air bending, twisting and blowing going on.

So, sing with me again, as we celebrate, "Here comes the sun"! For most, the summer sun is a welcome sign of carefree days, but to me, it is so much more. It is warming, healing and caressing for my whole mind, body and soul!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

. . . . . . The Final Anniversary

Today could have been the last Saturday before Christmas, as far as my schedule was concerned. I ran from appointment to appointment and place to place all day long. In a conversation with a friend at one of my appointments, I realized that today is the one-year anniversary of when I was released from the hospital! After 35 days in the hospital, 4+ weeks of spinal fluid leaks, 3 brain surgeries and countless shots, medications, IVs and headaches, I was able to return home and let the healing begin...
My body, mind and spirit have come a long way in the last year. I am not the sick, weak, feeble person I was. I am still getting stronger each day. Though I have not come "full circle", I continue to feel blessed for my life, for the miracles that mean I am still here and for a loving Father in Heaven who allowed me to come home to my husband and children for a while longer.

A year later, I am still learning and growing, while appreciating each new day!

. . . . . . The Very Best

I am so in love with my children! They are the very best kids in the whole world! Though we all have our "days" of frustration with each other, I am reminded over and over again how truly wonderful they are.

This morning I took the little boys to Karate Kick Camp and the big kids stayed at home. In the meantime, I had an appointment, so I was gone the whole morning. When I picked up my little Karate guys and checked in with the big kids, they gave me the update that they were just starting on their daily homework assignment, after having finished their chores and outside jobs.

I smiled to myself, but really I was amazed and in awe. There was no one at home making sure they did their assignments and chores, but they did them anyway. They worked together in the yard and sat down to do their homework together at the kitchen table.

My Karate guys had a great day. They were adorable bowing to their Sensai and practicing their new moves. I cannot explain how much I adore these little people!

The Lord has blessed me with the very best kids...for me. :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

. . . . . . Searching for Sun

Summer break started more than 2 weeks ago for my children, but I think someone forget to tell the Sun. We haven't seen him around much the last few weeks and I, for one, am ready to go on a Sun Chase to find him.

The cold, blustery weather is the very hardest for me. I have been plagued by pressure headaches for weeks, since my ears cannot accomodate for the changes in the barometer. Every time a storm or coldfront comes in, I am struck with pain and pressure. So, perhaps it is time to find the sun!

I found it in Hawaii months ago, and it healed me, warmed me, and strengthened me more than I could have imagined. Since then, I have been looking forward to the summer and the warmth that would envelope me once again. I am ready to heal. I am ready to get strengthened. I am ready to be warm, inside and out.

Will you help me? I will look where I am, you look where you are, tell me when you find him, and maybe we can convince him to come play here for a while.

Jodi Brown, Riverdale, Sunday, June 13, No sign of him here today. I see his friends, the clouds, and I can hear his cousin, the wind, but no sign of the Sun. I will keep looking...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

. . . . . . . Healing Therapy

Today was not at all what I anticipated. I went to SLC for my first facial therapy appointment, where I thought I would learn a trick or two to help me gain more use of my facial muscles. What I received instead was a different kind of therapy altogether, it was healing, calming, loving and teaching.

The "aha" moments from today are far to great to record them all, so I will choose a select few to share. I hope you will see a little further into my world because of them.

* Research has demonstrated that different illnesses or events cause different amounts of trauma. There is a "trauma scale" that indicates these differences. A minor accident may be a 5 or 7, while having a stroke is usually about a 30 (I believe more in some cases). Having a terminal illness, such as HIV/Aids, is 40-45 on the scale. Facial trauma, however, causes the numbers to spike, reaching to 60-65!

My first instinct was disbelief - worse thatn Aids?? But as the explanation came, my "aha" moment hit. Your face is a representation of your soul, your spirit, of YOU. It is how you express yourself, your love, fear, anxiety, happiness... It is how people know you as you. To "lose" any of your face, either through disfigurement or paralysis, is traumatic and LIFE CHANGING!

* Any loss requires some amount of grieving before healing can take place. I AM NOT THE SAME PERSON WHO WALKED INTO THE HOSPITAL ON MAY 13, 2009. No matter how normal I look, I will never be that person again. Today, my gut feelings and personal experiences were confirmed and I know it is OK to grieve for what was. I must grieve in order to move on.

The grieving process can take place one step at a time, or all at once, quickly or slowly, and it can happen over and over again. It can be triggered by a photo from the past, a hard time, a frustration, a comment, etc. Thank you, Janene, for confirming that what I go through is normal and OK.

* "Looks" are not an indication of functioning, when it comes to paralysis. People look at me, and I look pretty normal again, but the nerves and muscles "behind the scenes" still do not function as they should. My outer appearance is not an accurate representation of what is happening inside. What happens inside my face affects every other part of my body! When my eye is dry, irritated and painful, I put on an eyepatch. The patch causes headaches. The headaches cause tightness in my neck and back. The tightness causes sleeplessness. The sleeplessness causes.... You can see the cycle.

This is how I have felt for so long, though it didn't really make sense to me that my body should struggle so much a year later. Now, I understand that my "gut" was right, it does affect all of me.

* Healing is as much mental as it is physical. I have longer believed this, and today proved it with statistics. I can still heal, improve, regain functioning and have my face reflect more of how I truly feel. I am still getting better. The process will likely take 2-3 MORE years! (That was a shock.)

These are just a few of the MANY things I learned today. I also learned exercises I can do to help improve my condition. I learned that most people will still never "get it". They will look at me and say, "You look great. Don't worry about the little things (ie, smile, eye, etc), you are a survivor, and that is what counts." And while they mean well, they won't get what is happening underneath my appearance. That is OK though, because I know they love me and mean well. And, there are a few out there who do understand and can help me when I struggle.

And for me, there is always a faithful, patient blog out there, waiting for me to pour my heart out in a string of sometime incomprehensible words. These words are also my therapy, these are often the feelings I cannot express in person. So they live here, in my online universe.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

. . . . . . .Thoughts on the Simple Things in Life

A few thoughts for the day...

Thought on Life: Monday we had a "Celebration of Life" in honor of my 1-year survival anniversary. Casen, my 5-year old helped me make homemade cake and homemade frosting. Lindi made decorations and posters that said "Celebrate Life". Tolan made homemade ice cream. We were joined by Tolan's parents and our Aunt Celia and her family. Together we visited, enjoyed treats and truly celebrated what is important to us, Family. :)

Thought on Summer: Yesterday I felt like I was "running" all day long. We had a playdate at the park, watched some children, did jobs and schoolwork, played games, made food, cleaned the house... At 7:00pm, I went into the backyard and sat on my swing. There I rested for a moment, being serenaded by the sounds of the trickling water in my stream, and the birds visiting my yard. I felt the warm penetration of the sun on my skin. I closed my eyes and just took it all in. These are some of my favorite quiet moments.

Thought on Marriage: After basking in the yard for a while last night, Tolan and I went on a walk with Daven. It has been ages since we have gone on a walk together, when the two of us could really talk. We pulled Daven in the wagon and he was content to chatter to himself as we visited. This together time is SO important. We need more of it to strengthen our relationship. After that wonderful time together, I have decided to make this a priority again, focusing more effort, time and energy on my best friend and eternal companion.

Thought on Motherhood: I had today all planned out. After jobs and music practice, I was going to treat the kids to a movie at the summer movie club at the mall. We loaded everyone in the car and took off. Upon pulling into the parking lot, Casen said he wasn't feeling well and he thought he was going to throw up. I hurried to park the car, but was too late. The poor little guy was sick all over in the car. I jumped out and helped him out of the car to finish getting sick. So, instead of a movie, we loaded everyone back into the car, rented a movie and came home. I spent the rest of the morning cleaning out the car, the clothes, and helping one sick little guy. Though things don't always turn out the way we plan, part of our challenge in life is to react cheerfully and make the best of the situation. So, on the bright side, the car hasn't been cleaner in years. :)

Hope YOU have a wonderful day and make the best of the mishaps in life!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

. . . . . . Celebrating Life, 1 Year Later

One year ago today, on Sunday June 7, 2009, I laid in my hospital bed experiencing what I believed were my last hours on Earth.

The following thoughts are extremely personal and are normally guarded with great care. I am choosing to share them now in hopes of helping others learn as I have.

Time has brought new perspective to those "final" moments, but they remain in my mind as a spiritual, emotional, and physical experience.

I pray the physical pain of that day will never be matched in my lifetime.

The emotions cannot adequately be described. As I received calls from worried family members who were begging me to keep fighting, I could not agree to their requests. I was not choosing to give up, but rather, I simply knew that it was the end of my mortal life. Every inch of my being knew it, a physical body can only endure so much before the end is inevitable. So it was for me on that night. After nearly 4 weeks in the hospital, the previous days being plagued by an unknown additional illness, my body could not take any more. Finally, sometime early that evening, I accepted Christ's will for my mortal life to come to an end.

It was in that moment, when I realized the end had come, and I had truly accepted it, that I was flooded with peace. The Spirit of God filled me like never before and I knew that even death would be okay.

I did not see a light, or walk a tunnel, I simply felt peace in the thoughts of being reunited with my dear grandmother and in awe of the opportunity to meet my Savior.

No sooner had those thoughts occurred than I had a renewed burst of "energy" to fight for life. I could not let my darling two-year-old son grow up without me, for I realized he would not even remember me as his mother. I could not let my best friend and eternal companion, feel I had given up on our family.

Suddenly, I knew I had a choice and I chose to stay.

The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ intervened and within minutes of receiving a powerful priesthood blessing, the doctors ordered the test that determined the cause of my extreme sickness. I was rushed to critical care and began receiving treatment for "air on the brain" or tension pneumocephalus, a life-threatening complication of brain surgery when too much air fills the brain. Without the cushion of spinal fluid, and extra air in my head, my brain was literally hitting against my skull. Truly, that night should have been my last.

I still shed tears at the thoughts of those moments. It is still more than I can comprehend.

These are more details than I had planned to share, because it is the lessons I learned that are far more important than the details.

What I have learned from that experience is that our hardships, whatever they may be, are opportunities to prove ourselves and our commitment to a loving Father in Heaven. They are chances for personal growth and testimony building. What we initially describe as trials, I believe we will later describe as gifts.

For this new perspective, I am eternally grateful.

For my life, I am eternally grateful.

Today and tomorrow, I am having a celebration of life, not just for my own life, but for the opportunity of life we all have. May we choose to live it well.

. . . . . . Winning Night with the Bees!

This morning I found a lovely thank you email from Tina Allred, winner of the Salt Lake Bees tickets for last night's game. Despite a little mix up at the will call desk, all turned out well and her family was able to enjoy spending time together at the game. She kindly shared a few photos from their evening together.

Not to date myself, but the last time I saw Ashley, who is the darling young newlywed in the photo, she was only about 3 years old! Wow, how time flies! So glad the Allreds had fun at the game. Family is truly the purpose of this life!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

. . . . . . .The Challenge of Surviving

Have you ever noticed that when you learn a new word, you start to hear it everywhere? The same is true for a diagnosis or medical problem. From the minute I found out about my tumor, I started hearing and seeing story after story of others with brain tumors. Have these stories always been around, I wondered to myself, have I just not noticed them before?

Today was one such day. I opened the newspaper, just like I do everyday. But today, there was a story that hit too close to home. In the obituary section was a photo of a man just a few years older than me. The cause of his death were complications from brain cancer. I did not read any further in the article. The tears had already started.

Moments like these can be difficult for me to process. Why was my life preserved when his was not? Why am I here today, a year later, doing well as a survivor? The blessings of miracles can also feel like the burdens of surviving. I know I must have a purpose to remain on the Earth. My time almost came, but my life was preserved.

I continue to be eternally grateful for the miracles and blessings, and I WILL NEVER forget that I was granted the chance to finish out my role as a wife and mother here and now. I know I must make everyday worth living and in the process, I must also find a way to touch others with the feelings of love and peace from our Savior that I have felt. Surely this must be why I am still here.

There are challenges to being a survivor that I never anticipated. The tears are more frequent now, as are the feelings of guilt that creep up when I read about others whose outcomes were not as blessed as my own. However, I will take these moments, along with all the wonderful times, because it means I am still here, to feel, to process, to be sad, to love and to live!

. . . . . . First Days of Summer

I love the first days of summer, the anticipation in the air, the relaxing of schedules, the newfound freedom for all! We started out our summer on a Memorial Day trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, with our dear friends, the Rhoads. We have been making this trip since before we had any children, and now our combined 7 kids have all become the best of friends.

We played at the park, we swam in the pools, we enjoyed games, movies, food and fun together. We had many moments of laughter and joy and for the first time in years, the adults took an evening and went out together without the children, a new freedom we have enjoyed since our eldest kids are big enough to babysit!

We are so appreciative for these times where we get to enjoy one another's company and remember how blessed we are to be a forever family!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

. .. . . . . .Reflections on a Year of Prayers

One year ago today, I was in surgery, my second craniotomy, this time attempting to fix a nasty spinal fluid leak that plagued my body and the doctors' wits. The interesting thing is, we had prayed and prayed that I would not have to have the surgery. We pleaded with the Lord to avoid further procedures that would open up my delicate scars in my head.

The fact is, though we prayed (many of you prayed along with us) with mighty faith, what we were praying for was not the Lord's plan. Whether part of a divine plan for my life, or simply the effects of a stubborn spinal fluid leak, the surgery was necessary. The funny thing is, that surgery didn't fix the leak either, but still it was part of the process I needed to go through to get to the end result.

How often, I wonder, do we pray and pray, only to realize later that we wre praying for the wrong thing? Like the famous words of Garth Brooks, "thank God for unanswered prayers". More than ever before, I know that the Lord's plan for my life is far greater than my own well-thought out and planned plan. Things are not turning out how I anticipated, but they will likely be far better than I would have imagined for myself. Such is the wisdom of God's unanswered prayers!

I hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and spent time thinking about your loved ones, both here on Earth, and those who have passed on. My grandmother, Vearis Anderson Orgill Lisenbee, passed away on January 17, 2009, three months to the day before my first hospitalization. I now know that I needed her on the other side, as my guardian angel, as I experienced the struggles from my tumor. Yet another blessing from the Lord.