A key ingredient to thriving is feeling connected to others, and family is a natural setting for nurturing those emotional ties. Quentin L. Cook said, "We should be connected to both our roots and our branches." Today I thought about both aspects. My sister-in-law welcomed a new little one in to her life and instantly we all were connected to him through the miracle of modern technology even though we physically were many miles apart. The branches of our family tree all focused on the new little one, oohed and awed over his tiny little fingers, and cherished each wonderful photo. In my busy hectic day, I could pause and reflect on the life of each one as they congratulated my sister-in-law and think about their particular trials and situations in life. Branches. Individual families connected together through a common root. Being connected to other branches gives our lives a richness and joy we would not otherwise experience if we were just alone as a single trunk. Branches don't have to just be families. Some of us weren't given the opportunity to share this life with large families, but we still are connected to friends and other important people in our lives through some common root. By design, I believe we were meant to reach outward and connect with others, intertwining our lives with theirs.
I also thought about roots today. My daughter is reading "Man's Search for Meaning" in school and so we had a chance to talk about her Jewish ancestry as well as German ancestry. She is interested in her roots and would like to know more. Again, feeling connected to others brings a richness to our lives. In exploring our roots, we learn of legacies and inheritance. We begin to recognize the varying pieces that end up contributing to our own lives and characters. Perhaps we have Grandpa's eyes and Grandma's propensity to worry about things. Maybe we have Great Grandmother's love for dancing or Great Uncle's interest in music. I remember feeling a special kinship with a great great grandmother who was also a kindergarten teacher like I was. Though I had never met her, I felt a keen love for her knowing we both enjoyed working with children and educating young minds. I watch my children as they grow and begin to explore their roots and how it helps them feel connected to a past. It gives them strength and a sturdiness in a world of winds and storms attacking who they are. Yes, I believe we should be connected to both our roots and branches. A tree needs both leaves and roots in order to harvest sunshine and water and create life-sustaining food. We also need both to feel the life-sustaining energy and to be strengthened and nourished. Reach out to your branches and explore your roots and you might just feel a little more like thriving.
Many people follow celebrities, pop singers, movie starts, politicians, and other famous people on social media. Unfortunately, many of them do not live up to the admiration they garner. This weekend, though, we were reminded of what it's like to follow true greatness. Over three hundred Brigham Young University Singers gathered for a reunion concert and to honor Dr. Ronald Staheli, who is retiring this year after directing BYU Singers for thirty years! Laurent had the privilege of singing with this magnificent group from 1991 to 1993 and learned incredible life lessons from Dr. Staheli. Generally one can only name a handful of people who have truly changed your life, but this man definitely falls in this category. It was incredible to feel the honor, love, deep respect, and admiration felt for him and the work he has done over the last thirty years. This is just one of the tributes that expresses how truly great Dr. Staheli is. We are incredibly grateful for Dr. Staheli and wish him the best as he embarks on his new journey.
An old proverb says, "You life me, and I'll lift thee, and we'll ascend together." I was reminded of this message many times throughout today, so I feel this is the message to share with others. As we cooperate together, we can help each other thrive.
This morning I had the opportunity to drive Paradigm High School students to a choir festival and watch them perform. How important it was for them to sing together with a common purpose. Yes, they sang different notes and each had a part, but they all sang under the direction of one choir director who led them in a group effort to perform beautiful pieces. Choirs are obvious examples of cooperating together for a particular goal.
Later in the day, my mother shared a song performed by another choir, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, that also emphasized the wonderful results of synergism and helping each other. When one listens to the beautiful music of "You Raise Me Up" , one can't help but feel the grandeur and inspiration of being lifted up to more than we can be on our own. We draw strength from standing on the shoulders of others who are able to bear our burdens and lift our hands that hang down.
I have a friend with MS who I know is in terrible pain each day, but whenever I see her she deflects questions about her condition and asks me how I'm doing. I know she has days of discouragement and heartache, but when I see her she flashes her beautiful smile and focuses on the good. Another friend of ours has fibromyalgia and doesn't let his pain keep him from thoroughly enjoying his hobby of photography. His pictures capture the vitality and emotion of the sports events he shoots. I was always grateful when he happened to be shooting an event in which my children participated. I know of another friend who is a nurse with Parkinsons who continues with such a positive smile and calm demeanor about her. She makes a difference in the lives of the children she works with every day. All of these friends, and others throughout the world, are great examples to me of continuing on through pain. I know the popular book "Fault in Our Stars" talked about the fact that "Pain demands to be felt" and I don't pretend to comprehend the kind of pain they are talking about. All I knew was that my respect for those experiencing that kind of demanding pain who continue on with life grew just a little bit more in reflecting on their examples and lives.
Pondering the role of pain in our lives also causes me to reflect on the greatest example of all, even Jesus Christ. The scriptures say that he bore our sorrows and grief. He experienced pain that we cannot comprehend in Gethsemane that an angel was sent to comfort Him. He suffered excruciating pain on the cross at Calvary and all of it He endured with such dignity and perfect love. One of my favorite quotes is from Elder Henry B. Eyring, "“It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. … And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.” (May 2009). It's incredibly comforting to know that Jesus knows what we are going through. Laurent often sings the song "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen. Nobody knows but Jesus." We can indeed feel peace at knowing that He knows how to comfort us. If you would like to read a beautiful talk on the subject, read, "The Atonement Covers All Pain" by Kent F. Richards. We are reminded that Christ is the true Balm in Gilead, to heal our souls in whatever kind of pain we experience. Christ is the way to show us how to thrive through pain.
You know it's been a thriving kind of day when you happily sit down in the evening and realize you feel satisfied. We didn't have any grand experiences or events in our lives today. On the contrary, we simply made cookies as a family and delivered them to friends. The time spent together was dusted with flour and sprnkled with laughter. We teased each other good naturedly and lovingly talked and chatted about our day as we worked. Making cookies together is definitely a recipe for thriving.
Today's thought is short and sweet (sugar-filled actually!) Find some way to spend a little time together doing something simple. Perhaps it's washing the dishes together after dinner or cleaning the living room. Maybe you have a favorite board game you like to play together or a cherished book you can read aloud to each other. It could be that taking a walk, riding bikes, or playing catch in the yard is a simple activity your family enjoys, or maybe you would rather take time to look through old family pictures and reminisce about fun vacations and happy memories. Whatever you like to do with your family, invest a little time with them today and the returns could be especially sweet. Happy thriving today!
Allow me to take a small detour or scenic stop on our journey to thrive as I share a little bit of a musing about the music we sing in primary with the children in our church. I was asked to give a talk about that very subject today and am grateful for the opportunity I have to share music with children ages three to 11 in our area. As I reflected on how music invites reverence, helps us feel the Spirit, causes us to feel joy, and teaches us important truths, my mind turned to a beautiful song by Calee Reed entitled "She Put the Music in Me." How beautifully this song weaves bits and pieces of numerous songs into a joyful tribute to mothers and music teachers everywhere.
In that same spirit, here is a little reminder of what we learn through the beautiful music and melodies that enter our hearts and stay with us like good friends throughout our lives.
Over the years, I have had to remind myself to "just breathe". In fact, when the stress of work, busy schedules, long to-do lists, and obligations start to cause me to tense up and feel like I'm drowning, I often stop for just a moment and take a big breath in, hold it for a couple of seconds, and then breathe it out. This simple action helps me focus on what is most important and to keep going. Learning to "just breathe", in my opinion, is an important factor in thriving during difficult times.
Laurent had been in the Neuro Critical Care unit about 3 weeks when I remember really hitting the anger stage of the grieving process. At first the doctors had seen enough progress such as opening his eyes and responding to some commands that they thought he might be able to go from the ICU down to the rehabilitation unit within the University of Utah Hospital. You can guess how elated we were with the progress and looked forward to Laurent continuing to receive therapy services daily from this excellent facility. We were on the uphill side of the “Brain injury roller coaster” and thrilled.
Then came the devastating news and downhill plunge. The doctors changed their minds and decided Laurent really wasn’t ready and would be moved to a room in 3rd North until I found a care facility somewhere in the area. We never really knew why there was a change of thought. I guess they had just not seen the consistent progress they originally had anticipated. All I knew is that it meant a change of plans and not for the better. Though a rehabilitation care facility sounds good on paper, what it actually translates to is a nursing home with a rehab unit in it. The news was disappointing to say the least.
I stood at the window of Laurent’s hospital room, which looked out to the north with the mountains on the right and the Salt Lake City valley on the west. I stared out in a state of shock, reflecting on the last month of events. The worries and pressure of “handling it all” pressed in on me. Questions raged through my mind. “Why did this have to happen? Why did the doctors tell me one thing, only to change their minds? At a nursing home my 29 year old husband would be surrounded with elderly people also recovering. How would he regain his vivaciousness and love for life in this environment?” As my anger and self-pity grew, I let myself feel the resentment of the whole situation. “Why did the woman have to cut Laurent off? Why did he have to be riding his motorcycle home from Jon & Anne’s house? Why couldn’t he have taken his car instead? Why did we decide to have me go with the children on vacation while he stayed home? If we hadn’t have gone, then he would have been in the car instead of on a motorcycle and would probably be safe. Maybe none of this would have happened.” My frustration and sorrow bubbled and churned inside me, like the sulfur pots at Yellowstone, the steam rising until I was sure I was going to blow. Normally, I’m a very calm person on the outside but a worrier on the inside. However, at that moment, I looked at the blinds covering the window and felt an intense desire to rip them off the wall and throw them across the room! I wondered what would happen if I did so? I could imagine my hands gripping the cold aluminum slats and yanking the blinds from the walls, pulling down chunks of plaster as they tore from their anchors. I pictured hurling the entire set of blinds across the room toward the other window that separated Laurent from the nurses’ station, clattering against the cold glass, and perhaps even cracking or shattering the smooth glass surface into tiny fragments and shards. My dreams and plans for our future together now seemed to be shattered like these shards. How could I pick them up and rebuild a life together? Contemplating further the idea of tearing down the blinds, I wondered if I would feel relieved to give in to my rage, or would I simply be embarrassed and humiliated that I didn’t “handle things well”? At this critical juncture, I breathed. My rational self drew strength from each breath in and battled my emotional self to blow out the anger and rage until finally the logical side won out. I relaxed my balled up fists, walked over to the other side of the room, sat down in the chair, and sobbed. All of the emotion and grief from the last month poured out through my soul into this sterile hospital room with its tubes and machines. I cried aloud, not caring at this point that the nurses could hear my desperate cries. I sobbed into a pillow on my lap for several minutes, allowing the disappointment and grief to completely envelope me and finally escape. I did not know what would happen in the future and how I would make it through the rest of my life. At that moment I did not care. I simply cried.
A couple of weeks later, Laurent did finally end up in the hospital's own rehabilitation center instead of a care facility. That story will have to be told another time. Suffice it to say that through a couple of tender mercies the team of therapists and nurses assigned to Laurent finally convinced the doctor that Laurent had made enough progress and to allow him to make the move. I will always be grateful to them for their courage and care for my husband during that stressful time.
I'm also grateful now, that I learned important things about myself. First of all I learned that anger is one of the normal stages of grief. Though I don't want to let it control me or cause me to harm myself or others, I realized I needed to accept that some situations do cause me to feel angry. However, I've also learned that I have choices as to how I respond to those angry feelings. Back in the hospital I had the choice to rip down the blinds and throw them across the room, or to learn to breathe and find another way to deal with my emotions. Emilie had the choice to try to play the basketball game in a state of rage and anger and possibly cause other people harm, or breathe and focus until she was calm enough to continue the game in a healthy manner. Each day we make hundreds of decisions and the reminder to "just breathe" when the difficulties arise might make the difference between surviving that day and thriving. The next time you are feeling stressed and can feel the tension mounting, take a little moment to breathe.
Laurent and Kerrie Neu love sharing music with others. It's such a blessing to be able to interact with people through music.