Thursday, August 03, 2017

More Reflections on Choice (Don't Worry, it's Short)

The vacationing is now over. Reunions were attended, #5 was baptized, birthdays have been celebrated, summery-summer things have happened and next up... school! School starts in two weeks.

I will have 6 children in school (if you didn't know this already) and they will all leave in the early morning and return in the afternoon. This leaves little girl and me alone all day. She will become my buddy and it will be the first time since #1 was a baby (before her sister was born) that I will only have one child with me all day during the school year.

So. Weird.

I told my therapist recently that because I'm doing so much better mentally and emotionally, it's time to focus on getting physically healthy. I won't say anymore to this, because I have some goals. But I don't want to make those precious, raw, and vulnerable goals public, for fear of imminent failure (and the fact that it will be very slow going). Sufficeth to say that I have time, now, for this particular goal --time that won't be interrupted by anything but my own agency.

I'm on the other side of having children, too, and this will help tremendously. We counted it, and I have been pregnant for 5 1/2 years (maybe slightly longer). I have also nursed babies for just about 7 years. So, for nearly 13 of the last 18 1/2 years, my body has been used for others (in a positive way, of course). That means I've been through a lot of change, back and forth, over and out, inside, and upside down.

During that time, I did do things to keep myself healthy. I haven't always been so overweight. It's ebbed and flowed and I feel like I've done a good job. I won't beat myself up for doing the things I needed to do to get through the years when I was stretched so paper thin you could see yourself reflecting back in the sheen of exhaustion. What's done is done.

I want to focus on tomorrow and today. Mostly today.

Did you know, dear reader, that I have been able to make my bed every day for several months, now? In fact, I have been making our bed so long, it's a habit. I also have been feeding the cats every day. I have done it so often, that it's just part of what I do. This is an example of how well I am doing mentally. I can make choices. Daily, small, normal choices. And not only do I make them, I am making the right ones. Not because making my bed is morally good (honestly, who cares half the time, right?) but because making my bed shows I care, I can choose to do it, and that I did it. My goal: make my physical health the same kind of habit. To care about it, to choose it, and then to do it.

Agency is one of the most underrated and overlooked tools we have as mortals. The ability to choose is powerful. Choice is powerful! There are consequences to choices, of course, but the fact that we can make them is miraculous. Agency is a gift. And as someone who was limited in her agency due to the sickness in her mind, I don't want to ever take it for granted, again.

This is why my bed making is crucial --it proves I can choose. It's one of the biggest hallmarks of my mental healing.

So, dear reader, when does school start for your kids? How many will you have in school? Do you make your bed every day? What do you do for your physical health? What good choices have you made, lately? 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Overcompensation (a poem)


I over-watered the orchid.

It drowned in a pool of soil and hydrogen and oxygen,
petals falling one by one
as the stem withered, gasping for breath

and I feel horrible.

Cheryl S. S.
(May 2017)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Super Fast Update


*I've been writing more at LDSblogs! You can find everything I've written so far right here.

*We got a new cat! His name is Luthor and we call him Louie for short (considering his name was Louie when we adopted him, that works). Walter (our other cat, whom Louie looks like, only Louie is much bigger) is not a fan quite yet. Well, actually, Walter has warmed up to him and wants to play, but Louie takes every interaction as an assault and lashes out at him, so we're at a stand-still. Which is frustrating to me because we got Louie so Walter could have a buddy!

*My kids keep growing up and they need to knock it off!

*I finally got the piano tuned and now it sounds heavenly.

*I love, love, love Spring in Kansas. Seriously, it's like heaven. Pure heaven! Maybe not the road construction part... but all the flowers, the trees, the air... so much green!

*The kids have exactly 9 days of school left. NINE.

*We went camping last weekend and it was awesome! We went to a place just 20 minutes from our house, but it was lovely. We even rented some canoes during our last day and had a great time together. Here are a few pictures:

*I swear, by Fridays, I'm so ready to be finished with all the chores and house stuff and yet this is when it gets worse... I'm gonna revamp the chore system for the summer so we can stay on top of it! (Which is what I say every time I revamp the chore system and well, we all know life is about starting over and over and over again...)

*There is nothing better than connecting musically with other people. I had the opportunity to accompany 3 kids at State Solo and Ensemble festival, and it was lovely. Last night, I accompanied one of them at the final high school orchestra concert, and I just loved it. It's been so long, dear reader, since I was accompanying on a regular basis outside of church. I've missed it.

*I have the most amazing friends on Earth. And I regret the past friendships that didn't last. I'm feeling some mourning/grief for the people who no longer like me.

*I'm trying to be more loving in my interactions. It's hard. I'm not very good at it. I fail a lot. I'm grateful for the people who give me the benefit of trying again and love me in spite of (or because of!) my shortcomings.

*Major trips this summer include: five days with Brandon in Nashville (yay!), a family trip for three family reunions (two from my side and finally, after FIVE LONG YEARS, we are returning to Brandon's annual family campout! We are so dang excited we finally get to go, again! Hooray! Here's a link about the last time we went. And what's great is they've started to switch it out every other year. So, last year it was in CA, this summer it'll be in UT --which means we can go!), and #1, our oldest, is going to Peru with her class. It's all coming so fast! Plus there's Cub Scout Day Camp, Scout Camp, Youth Conference, Girls' Camp High Adventure, and...

*I'm taking an Institute class on the Book of Revelations this summer! I'm really looking forward to it.

*I might (if it gets planned) attend my 20th High School Reunion this summer. We'll see. I'm not entirely sold on the idea, yet.

*I just spent a good chunk of my paycheck (piano lessons) on music for my studio. Lots of music! I'm so excited to have my students start learning the pieces I found.

*The End.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Pondering on Choices and Repentance

Before you start reading, please promise me you'll read all the way to the end and especially read the end! The end is the most important part. In fact, if you'd rather just skip everything and go right to the end part, that would be just dandy! 

I've decided something. It's the product of ruminating over the various reactions to what I share on social media, but it's also in response to new people I meet in real life. And it's this: I want people to look at my life, see the things I've done, and realize that by practicing what I preach, I've found lasting happiness.

Maybe it's not the kind of happiness you think you want, maybe it's not even what you would call happiness, but what I'm shooting for is long term. I want things that last. I'm not interested in the things that promise nothing outside of an immediate high and soon-thereafter crash-and-burn.

I don't want to belly laugh at crude jokes and have a hilarious evening of raucous behavior that ends when the sun comes up and replaced with feelings of shame or guilt. I'm not interested in "finding myself" if that means I give up on my good marriage (that isn't abusive). I don't think finding my "inner-child" should mean spending money I don't have to do things that I will regret almost immediately. I don't want to worry about losing my agency by using substances that might impair my judgment. I want to have a clear mind that can focus not just on short-term consequences, but long-term consequences as well.

I want joy in my life. Real, unfettered, radiating joy. That doesn't come quickly, and it doesn't come in the way society tells us it will come. It comes through very simple, easy, "old-fashioned" ways. Morals, values, principles of faith, religion, chastity, love, service, self-sacrifice, etc. It comes through following Jesus Christ. That is where I've found true joy, dear reader. I've found it there, even in the ashes of mental illness. Because only through Christ and emulating His kind of behavior, thought-process, and idealism can joy be created, attained, and shared.

I wanted joy from a young age. On my pathway to find it, I observed the actions and decisions of others very, very carefully. When I was 12 years old, I realized that older teens and adults didn't have it all figured out. So, I tried to find those that did. I didn't realize it at the time, but I have always been observant. And when I watched the choices my friends (and extended family members) made that were contrary to what they were taught, I found myself digging deep and asking God, my parents, and even myself if I had it wrong. Well, dear reader, I have seen, 20 plus years later, what those choices my friends (and extended family) have yielded in their lives. For some, repentance and forgiveness was their path and they came back stronger. For others... well...

Are they happy? I'm sure they feel they are very happy. I'm sure they might even claim that my assuming they are not happy is incredibly offensive. And that's okay. But I saw what they chose, I saw what they picked, and I didn't want that path.

I picked the path many people thought (still think?) was naive. They thought I was too innocent, too hopeful, and much too young to understand real life.

And I heard about it. I heard it all. I still hear it. I know what have said (or thought) about me:

I was a failure because I chose the Mormon university where I couldn't get the degree I had wanted (I auditioned twice and never got in). I was washed-up by 22 because I chose motherhood over a career. I'm a prude and a Molly Mormon because I wouldn't let blind dates kiss me and I even turned down an offer of kissing from a quite-possibly-nice new boyfriend. I saw holding hands as something important. I saw kissing as intimate and exclusive. I've wasted my life because I chose to keep having children past the acceptable number. My body is a joke because I've used it up making and feeding babies. I'm boring because my husband was the second man I kissed and the only man I've been intimate with. I'm wasting my mind because I'm a SAHM. And one that still hurts after all these years: I'm a loser because my talents are wasted at church.

Even more: I'm blind, because I follow prophets of God. I'm a bigot, because I believe in the doctrines of the gospel of Christ. I'm naive, because I still think the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STD's is an education in morality, chastity, and the realities of what sex outside of marriage might produce on an emotional, spiritual, and mental level, not just physical.

The truth is this: I'm 38 years old with many decades of life still before me. Because of my choices, that life will have a large family around me, supporting me. Chances are very high that I will be a grandmother. I won't have any tattoos I'll regret. I won't have any drunken nights I can't remember. I won't have any infected piercings. I won't have to worry about STD flare-ups. I will never have to worry about regretting an abortion or wondering if I should get one. I have plans for my future that include a Master's degree, continuing to teach music, writing a book, serving a mission (or more!) with my husband, continued church service, serving in the temple, being a grandmother, and hopefully living until I'm ridiculously old, where they'll wheel in the birthday cake to my bed in the nursing home, with dozens of people around me, lighting up the 100 candles and turning on the fire alarm and sprinklers...

Look, before you start to comment, I get it. I know that life isn't always roses and it doesn't always mean my choices will yield the results I want. I know that, because I understand that the agency of others can influence us and even change our goals/plans, etc. I know that's why rape, murder, assault, theft, and abuse happens. I know that I don't have control over my husband and his habits, I know addictions occur, and I know that not every man is faithful.

In fact, I'm very aware that my kids may leave the church. One of them might be gay (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but difficult in my church), end up addicted to something, or go to jail. I know we may have death, disease, pain, and misunderstanding. (Most of which we've already dealt with. Doesn't every family have death, disease, pain, and misunderstanding?). I know life will not always be easy (is it ever "easy?"). That's the point of mortality, dear reader.

I know this. I do. I'm not stupid.

But I'm also not blind. I cannot, in good conscience, pretend, even for a second, that my choices are somehow out of my hands. I have to teach my children that their choices matter!

And sure, now that I'm thinking about it, if I'd had sex in high school (once, twice, dozens of times), I might not have contracted an STD. I might not have been emotionally harmed for life (and emotionally scarred). I might not have gotten pregnant and had an abortion. But guess what? By choosing not to engage in sex before I was married, I took the power out of "might nots" and "what ifs." Making that choice gave me a lot more choices, and I've tried, as best as I know how, to make good ones.

I made these choices, even when it was becoming increasingly popular amongst my church friends not to make these choices. I chose to stick with the church, even when social media was making sure dissent was the topic for a few decades. I chose to strengthen my testimony, even when people I loved were leaving because of things they read online. I chose my education, my husband, my eternal marriage (something I'm always choosing every day), my children, and my life.

I made these choices, and I have been blessed beyond belief for them.

Have I always made the right ones? No. I've hurt people, I've said stupid things, and I've made bad health choices (exercise and diet). But with the stuff that matters long term? I think I did pretty good.

BEFORE I FINISH, I want to address something incredibly important, more important than the fact that Cheryl has made good choices (big whoop for Cheryl).

I don't want anyone to think that I feel I'm above anyone else, that I think I'm better than anyone else, or that I think I'm somehow superior because of the choices I've made, let alone the consequences of them. I understand that we all make mistakes and sometimes we make big ones. Sin is something we all partake of because we are mortal. And sometimes, we find that the choices we make, no matter how difficult, are the best with what we're working with.

Sometimes, we are raised by people who don't teach us how to make the best choices.
Sometimes, we choose to rebel against what we've been taught because we are curious, scared, or persuaded.
Sometimes, we struggle with faith and want to learn things on our own.
Sometimes, we are the victims of others' abuse and then are shamed for it.
Sometimes, we are are surrounded by a culture of abuse, addiction, and pain, and we aren't sure how to get out of it.

Dear reader, it doesn't matter what choices you've made in the past, are making now, or are planning to make in the future. It is never too late to change. It is never too late to try again. It is never, ever, ever too late to find joy.

Yes, life is easier when we follow Christ from the beginning! We do avoid more pain and anguish. But I also know that choosing to follow Christ supersedes every single choice we've ever made. EVERY SINGLE ONE. It doesn't matter when we choose to follow Him, all that matters is that we do.

The best choice you can ever make is to choose Christ. With Him, we can repent of every mistake and sin.
We can be forgiven for every mistake and sin. We can change and become what He knows we can be, because He has made it possible.

I once heard the following in a talk in church (my ward). I can't remember who said it, but it was pretty recent! I loved what they said and it has stuck with me. I think it might help you, too, dear reader:

Repentance wasn't God's second choice. Repentance has always been Plan A. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017



Dried out, that's how I feel
Consuming exhaustion that doesn't happen because I don't get enough sleep;
I get plenty of sleep
But I don't get to rest from 
worry and frustration
from wondering constantly if I will ever be
good enough. 

Good enough for what? Excellent question
that can't be answered with trite or cliche
and instead burrows even deeper into my mind and comes
out to play when I need it to disappear the most.

Vulnerable rejection based on mistakes in my behavior 
but not in my character
Except --what makes a character if not the behavior?

I rely too much on the outside when I should be 
illuminating from the inside
and attempting not to change my environment or the people around me
but my own awkward perceptions
found deep in the bottom parts of my soul.  

It's a cavern full of dried up, masticated doubt 
and every single time I get to the place where I 
think, this! I am finally rid of that annoying
It leaps up from the shadows and 

April 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

So. Much. Random. Ness.

We are in the throws of Spring Break and the weather decided to take an ugly turn. Why, Spring, why? Yesterday, you were so glorious that we had all the windows open, the kids were running amok in the yard, and the sun shined upon my face in such gloriousness that I felt so glorious-i-fied! Now, it's windy, cold, and threatening rain. Boo.

Our oldest is off on an adventure! She's gallivanting with friends during spring break and I get to just stay home and worry and pray that she'll survive and come back to us. This is a good trial run for when she goes to Peru this summer with her Spanish class. And college in 2 years. And a mission in 3 years. Sigh... why do they grow up so fast? I love this girl and I will miss her so much when she moves out on her own.

Life continues to go along as normal. I never have enough time to do the things I want to do and I always spend too much time doing the things that won't help me do the things I want to do --it's really kind of ridiculous when I think about it.

So, we had five birthdays in the past month:
#2 turned 14 years old
#4 turned 10 years old
Then #7 turned 2 years old (wha?!)
I turned 38 years old
#6 turned 5 years old

We are all caked out! So many birthdays means our February budget is also much higher. It's insane, but not in a bad way, necessarily, you know? I want the kids to feel loved and happy on their birthdays because we are genuinely glad they were born!

I continue to teach piano lessons. I still want more students, but I'm not too worried. They'll come.

Depression is stupid, but I started taking vitamins and upped my exercise (from hardly anything to almost something) and have been eating healthier, so I feel loads, loads better. Loads!

The toddler girl is now speaking a lot. She is too adorable! She repeats (or tries to repeat) everything we say and it really is cute. I love communicating with her more, now, because I can understand her a lot better.

I remember when life was a lot more simple. Simple in that we could take our kids and, almost spur of the moment, go hiking or camping. We could decide to go out and do some fun family activities and it was easy because our kids weren't busy and they were all little. Now that our kids are growing up, it's become really difficult to find time to do this. We have so many different schedules to juggle, not to mention different opinions about how people want to spend their time, and it means this spontaneous trips and outings have become very few and far between. I mourn for those days, a little bit. I hope we can still squeeze them in as much as we can before all the kids are scattered to their various life-winds.

I was talking with a good friend, yesterday, about how conflicted I've been about my purpose online. Specifically, I was added to some political FB forums, and I'm just not sure if I belong there. I know some women have a great push and desire to be as involved as much as they can in the political process and I've felt I need to be more involved than I have been in the past (which is pretty much just voting, the end), but I just don't think I can spend that much time involved with it. There's so much reading, research, and discussion --I can barely keep up! And then there are women who are doing these things for their jobs --they are speakers, writers, journalists, professors, businesswomen, and volunteers. They are right there, in the trenches, doing all they can to make sure they are involved, their voices are heard, and that our government is focused on the ethical governing of our country. This is great! I'm glad they are doing this! And I know it's important to be civic-minded, but it's just not my calling. I really don't think it is.

So, what is my purpose or calling? Obviously, motherhood (duh), but outside of that, I honestly think I'm doing okay with what I'm doing. I try to stay informed, I question news sources, I write my observations, I ask questions of others, and now that I've started writing for a Mormon audience at LDSblogs, I find myself thinking more about the gospel and how it applies to this society I live in. Maybe this is simply what I need to do. There's no big calling I feel other than to write my thoughts and share information with the few people who appreciate what I write.

In other news, we're coming to Utah in July. We have three family reunions to attend (holy cow, it's gonna be a tight squeeze), but it'll be nice to see everyone. Also, for the first time in 5 years (!!!!) we'll be going to Brandon's family's annual camp out. We are so excited! I hope it all works out well and the dates all line up correctly. We'll see. We have such a rigid schedule to keep if we're gonna get #1 back to Kansas in time for her departure to Peru.

I've read some great essays, lately. Here are some of my favorites:

Here's a story of a couple who planned a wedding in five days!

This is a fantastic blog post about what it takes to be a good Mormon and why it makes all the difference.

This blogger writes about how her mental illness does not make her a survivor (I love this one).

Here is a beautiful, poignant, inspiring, and truth-filled essay about what the point is of every interaction we have with each other. It is so, so, so good.

Happy Tuesday, dear reader!

P.S. Here are two more blog posts I wrote over at LDSblogs:
"Spiritual Tornadoes"
"What Do You Know?"

And soon, I'll be sharing poetry over there, so watch for those! *insert smiley face, here*

Thursday, March 09, 2017

LDSBlogs (dot com)

Guess what?

I've been asked to post frequent content over at LDSBlogs! They'll be sharing a few posts I've already posted here (like my recent marriage one) and I've already started writing new posts for them.

My first original post went up today!

Go have a look, dear reader. And while there, take some time to read all the other wonderful posts they have published. They've got a good group of excellent writers sharing some pretty inspiring things!


I read this post at Segullah, recently, and I really liked it a lot.

Background for you (that you may or may not already know):

I was a well-rounded teenage girl. I had some talents, yes, and they gravitated toward music. I played the piano rather well, but I also enjoyed other aspects of music, and so I was involved in a lot of music classes like choir, band, and drama. I loved being around other like-minded kids, and it was fun to be able to try out new things.

I remember my sophomore year of high school. I was involved in marching band, choir, S.A.D.D., Tri-Hi-Y (mock government), National Honors Society, drama club, percussion ensemble, music theory, pep band, and then I was asked to join Jazz band to learn jazz piano. At the time, my current piano teacher told me I needed to find another teacher, as I was surpassing all she could teach me. Wanting the best, I went and auditioned with a highly reputable teacher in another city. I passed the audition, and she accepted me.

I remember it was a 40 minute drive. I didn't have my license, yet, so my mom drove me until a friend of mine, who also took from this teacher, would pick me up (she could drive). My teacher would sit at her baby grand piano while I sat at the other baby grand piano, and she was very demanding. She was very good! I really respected her talent and her authenticity. But she expected at least 3-4 hours of practicing a day. I didn't know how in the world I was going to fit that in, and honestly, I couldn't. So, I started to resent practicing. I started to resent lessons. I started to resent the piano, itself.

Now, if you know me, that doesn't sound right, because piano is my favorite thing.

After 3 months of this, I started canceling lessons. I did a no-show once. That was not like me, at all! My parents weren't sure what to do because they'd never had to struggle with me and piano before. After another cancellation, the teacher called and told me that if I couldn't' take this seriously, I'd have to find a new teacher, and then she hung up on me. I was so relieved! I told my parents I hated this and couldn't do it anymore. I wish I had just been brave enough to quit before I started acting like a brat, though...

A few weeks later, my mom told me she heard of a friend who was willing to take a few piano students. She wasn't as well known as my previous teacher, but she was just as educated. She lived 10 minutes away and would be charging for less than half what the other teacher charged us. She didn't care how much I practiced, as long as I didn't waste her time (i.e. learn the music and learn it well!). I remember driving to her home (by this time, I had a license) and looking forward to all the lessons. With her help, I managed to win the talent portion of the local Junior Miss Pageant, as well as the graduating senior scholarship competition (there were only 3 of us competing, but still!). I ended up practicing about 1-2 hours a day. And not because I was compelled, but because I just loved playing! I enjoyed practice, I enjoyed lessons --I enjoyed that I could live my life without making piano the sole focus of it.

See, I went on to be the drum major of the marching band for two years. I was still in all the clubs and all the music classes. One semester in high school I split one class period between Symphonic Band and A capella Choir! I did AP Music Theory for four years. I also was heavily involved in church projects, plays, and activities. I accompanied, on average 25 separate solos and ensembles for the music festival every year. I accompanied a lot of the choir performances, too. And I had a job! An after school job where I worked for 2 years (at a dental office). I also ended up with a 3.75 GPA and an acceptance letter to BYU!

But most of all, I was happy. I had zero pressure to decide my life's purpose at 15 years old and I had all the support in the world to have fun. I went on dates, hung out with friends, and did random things like accepting a nomination to be a representative for our mock government trip to Boise (we took over the capital and basically ran a session of Congress amongst ourselves). I got to play jazz piano, audition as an Alto II for All State (and got in!), and write music. I had a wonderful high school experience, and I really believe it was because I got to do what I wanted to do without the expectation that I should do only one thing perfectly.

I have to say that I hate the rise of inflexibility of teachers, parents, and programs that don't allow kids the chance to be well-rounded. It's like this idea of, "Jack of all trades, master of none" is to be completely rejected, just for the fear that not being a master reduces employment opportunities. And they are bringing up these worries before the kid has even reached high school. I mean... wha??

The average change of majors at a university is three. Three. Most people change majors at least once in their life time (my husband did! I did! Granted, I couldn't get into my major, but whatever). A lot more don't even make money at what they majored in, either. So, I find it interesting that 13 year old kids are being told to hurry up and decide on a career. What's the rush? Seriously, who cares?

There's nothing wrong with a Jack--Jane --of all trades. I mean, seriously, look -- "This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God" and "the glory of God is intelligence" and "what we attain in this life will rise with us!"  -- Aren't we to learn all we can? A good well-rounded life means someone is learning new things. Focusing on a career can be important, but let's wait until adulthood before that pressure, okay? Let's let our kids be kids, explore, learn, and enjoy being able to experience a lot of great opportunities so they can actually discover their talents and find what it is that they'd like to do with their lives.

Were you a Jack/Jane of all trades? Did you focus on one talent? Do you think kids these days are being pressured into deciding their futures too early? 

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Longest Post on Marriage You'll Ever Read (probably not, but still)

It's come to my attention that my marriage is being held up as an example to others. A positive example! That's not so bad. It's flattering. It shows that others have noticed we're doing just fine. But it also makes me pretty uncomfortable. Not because I've been lying about my marriage, but because A. I don't want my relationship to be held up under such scrutiny, and B. reality is always multi-faceted and there's no possible way people can see (let alone understand) all that happens in a marital relationship.

I want to explain this all in more detail, but first, here are some ground rules before we move ahead:
1. Abusive marriages won't apply to what I say because I'm not in an abusive marriage.
2. The vast uniqueness of human beings means virtually every marriage will also be unique.
3. Nobody can fix somebody else's marriage. Except Jesus. But it can't be done without agency on the part of the married people.

I honestly have never met a married couple with the exact same marriage dynamics as my own. It doesn't matter if we match up in religion, ethnicity, socio-economic situation, education, job, talents, or shared goals-- our relationship is unique! Even the couples that are closest to us are not the same. Even the couples that are related to us are not the same.

This just makes sense. When a marriage is created, it becomes a new entity. One unique person + one unique person = one unique marriage. When the scriptures say, "and two shall become one," it's not just metaphorical. It can be very, very real (not in a weird sci-fi way, dear reader, you know what I mean). This is why divorce is so difficult. You aren't just separating two people who no longer want to share a life together, you are, in essence, tearing apart an entity. I've spoken to people who have divorced and even though they knew it was the right decision, they still mourned the death of something that was supposed to be lasting and beautiful. Divorce is like death because something really has died.

See, in a marriage, everything is connected. You don't just share a house with your spouse. You don't only share your body with your spouse. If you are parents, you don't just share DNA together and create a new human. You share your trust, your goals, your future, your time, your talents, your effort. Everything affects the other thing. How you work through your finances can translate into your sex life. How you experience your sex life can translate into how you parent. How you parent can affect the way you view housework, job security, religion, and back to the finances and the sex. Everything affects everything else! You can't separate any of it into tidy little boxes. Your lives become, on purpose, knitted together and enmeshed into one beautiful mess. To separate any of it into check lists defeats the point and can, sometimes, make a mockery of marriage.

It's true that sometimes we have to break things down when we're attempting to fix things. For example, when I've discussed my marriage with my therapist, we'll often try to hone in on specific behaviors in myself that might be causing an issue. Sometimes we'll pick apart the behavior of my husband in order to understand it better. But I do not pretend that each behavior is independent and cannot have a profound influence on other aspects of our relationship. I recognize that the workings inside a marriage is like a machine with many moving and important parts. It's like a beautiful symphony. Yeah, a symphony! I like the symphony metaphor better...

Anyway, I think this is important to know. I think most people who have successful marriages understand this, too.

So, what does this have to do with my own marriage? Truthfully, I simply don't want people to think that there is one specific way to have a happy and successful marriage. I don't want people to assume that we've figured it all out and are going to spend the next 60 years in pure bliss. I'm happy to share things that I've learned, and I'm grateful people can see that Brandon and I are sincere in our commitment to one another. That doesn't bother me! I promise. I'm always happy to show the good sides of my marriage because they greatly outweigh the bad.

But I don't believe I'm helping people if they only see the good. Honestly, I can't stand reading about successfully happy couples who do everything right, never disagree, have never had an argument, and are constantly blissfully happy --because it feels so incredibly fake. The married couples I know personally (family, friends, church friends, etc.) do not have perfect marriages. I hear about the conflict, I see the struggles. I know it's not easy because it's not easy for me! So, it's hard for me to read articles or posts that tell me these unattainable, unrealistic, perfected marriages are normal and should be easily created.

This is the part where I look like a hypocrite, dear reader, because what is it I share on social media? I'm always accentuating the positive. I share the good stuff, just as much as those essays. Because even though I hate the sugar-coated pretend-stuff, I really do believe we need to focus on the good! I'm also very loyal to my husband. I will air my own dirty laundry, but I don't air his. I am devoted to him. This means I protect the vulnerable parts of our relationship. We can't work through our challenges if I weaken and cheapen them for a few likes on Facebook! For this reason, I tend to share the more positive aspects of our marriage. I think this is why people assume our marriage is so fran-freaking-tastic, and it makes me wonder if I've done a disservice.

I want people to know that our marriage is not always roses. It's not always easy. Sometimes, it has been really, really, really hard! We've had to work through things just like any other married couple needs to work through things and we've worked through a lot in the last 18 years. I've cried myself to sleep. He's stormed out of the house. We've ignored each other, yelled, said mean things, and hurt each other's feelings. There have been times when I wondered if I'd made a mistake. There's been times when he's wondered if he even wanted to come home after work. We've argued about everything a married couple usually argues about: sex, money, parenting, politics, and even religion. My mental illness has been very difficult for both of us! Sometimes him more than me. Having a large family has created very difficult situations and a lot of problem-solving on our part. We don't agree on everything. Our love languages are different. Our personalities are different. We were raised by very different people. Our goals don't always match up.

And because marriage is a connected entity, we could have allowed any of those things to dig in, fester, and then tear it all apart. If one part breaks down, then it breaks down the other parts, right? Isn't that what I've been saying? It is, after all, a very socially accepted conclusion that if part of a marriage feels un-fixable, then it must be un-saveable. Wouldn't my observation about the one-ness of marriage agree with these thoughts? Interestingly enough, no. It's not true.

Each part affects the other, yes. But that is why, dear reader, we can't allow the parts to infect the other parts. We have to fix the infection before it spreads. Once it spreads, it's really, really hard to clean it all up. It's not impossible, just really difficult.

But the point is this: you can fix it before it spreads. That is the goal. This is why it's imperative to understand how marriage is connected in the first place. You can't fix it if you don't understand it! And I think this is why Brandon and I have been able to have a successful marriage --not only have we put loyalty at the top of our priorities, but we've fixed the infections before they could spread too far.

You know those checklists you read from church leaders, therapists, authors, relationship gurus, etc. on how to have successful marriages? They're not wrong, you know. They know what they're talking about. Sometimes it feels trite to follow a checklist, but I think sometimes, we need them. We need guidelines from other successful couples to help us navigate our own relationships. We need experts (therapists, counselors, psychologists) to explain behavior to help us understand how to react (and not react).

You know the forever-used and sometimes-laughed-about triangle? This one:

It's absolutely spot on. It's probably the best marriage advice in the world! Even if you (or your spouse) don't believe in God, if the both of you are moving towards goodness --charity, love, compassion, honesty, integrity, civility, service, loyalty, selflessness, etc. --then you will be moving toward each other. You can't not create a better marriage when both of you are doing this! The marriages that are the most uneven in this area tend to be the most difficult. In fact, abusive marriages often have the abused spouse up there right next to God (because they think they can fix the relationship by repenting more, serving more, loving more, etc. and so they focus on God as much as they can) and the abuser is so far down on his/her side that there's no way they can see their spouse, anymore. The weight of it breaks the triangle. Abusers, I'm sorry to say, are not moving closer to God as long as they are abusing. If they could stop and repent, there's a chance. I wish more of them would...

What else is on this checklist for successful marriages? Here's the not-so-short list that Brandon and I have tried to keep a part of our own marriage. Sometimes, we do this very well, and other times, we struggle. I promise we are not perfect at any of this! Please don't think my writing about this is somehow propping me up as an expert or the guru of marriage. I just like to share the good advice we received and what has worked for us. I honestly believe the following is what people are seeing us do when they say we've got a relationship to emulate:

*Be fiercely loyal to each other. If you have to choose between family members and your spouse, choose your spouse. You left them to marry your spouse and the married relationship is the most important (not the only important! Just the most important). Don't put each other down in public. Root for each other. Cheer each other on and support one another in your individual dreams and goals. This applies to parenting --be a united front. It's okay if kids see you don't agree on everything, but make decisions together and support the decision, even if you don't really like it. Put each other first above everything --even your children. Your relationship is the most important and if it's strong, your children will have much more security.
*Communicate about everything. Everything! You don't have to vocalize every thought (especially if it's mean) and you don't have to share every desire or hope your heart whispers, but communicate about your lives. Sex, money, sex, children, goals, jobs, sex, where to live, each other's families, sex, money, religion, sex, and sex. Dear reader, because sex is one of the most vulnerable and sacred things a human can engage in, it becomes essential for a married couple to discuss it. Nobody is the same. Not every thing will work for every person. Husbands cannot read minds! Just FYI.
*Put God first (see triangle).
*Never, ever, ever assume (this one thing could have saved me a lot of heartache if I had applied it generously). Do not assume feelings or thoughts. Do not assume motives or intentions.
*Forgive. Always. Constantly. Forgive and then forget. Leave it alone. Don't bring up past mistakes when arguing about new ones.
*Apologize. Even if you apologized first the last time. Even if you are the one who's right! Apologize, because you love your spouse more than you love being right.
*Fix the infections before they infect the whole marriage. Are you having financial problems? Hash it out. Are you not liking the way sex is going? Talk about it. Do you want more children and your spouse doesn't? Discuss at length.

*Spend time together! Date night, anniversary trips, sit by each other at church, hold hands on the couch, eat dinner as a family, pray together (we're horrible at this one --isn't that ironic? We really just forget and fall asleep... ), read scriptures together, run errands together, etc.
*Spend time apart! Do things for yourself. Hang out with friends. Follow your dreams. Do things for yourself that makes you happy and don't rely on your spouse to create your happiness. Their simple presence and existence should be enough to make you happy, so don't put all of these impossible expectations onto them; if you create your own happiness, you can share it with your spouse! And chances are, they will want to make you happy, too. Happiness begets happiness. You'll simply be spending time wanting to make each other happy instead of worrying about how they are or are not making you happy. Does this make sense?
*Argue with each other. I don't mean fighting (although that happens) and I don't mean being mean (that's bad, even though it sometimes happens), but don't be afraid to disagree. Honestly, if you never disagree with your spouse, then chances are one of you is being emotionally and mentally abused. Marriage is a beautiful training ground for how to discuss issues in a safe place. If you can't express your thoughts in marriage, then where can you? Your spouse is supposed to have your back in all things, and if they love you as much as they claim they do, then they will want you to speak your mind. Just be kind about it!
*Go to bed angry. Ignore the advice that tells you to: fight naked, never go to bed angry, or never disagree with your husband (GAH! That last one makes me so angry!). Usually, a good night's sleep will erase a lot of anger, disagreement, and/or frustration. The longer you stay up to hash it out, the worse it will get. Go to sleep!
*Be friends. Friendship is much more solid and long-lasting than romantic love, dear reader. Friendship can get you through tough times! Friendship is the breeding ground for respect and loyalty.
*Laugh. Laugh a lot. Make each other laugh. Flirt and tease each other. Some of my favorite memories are simply Brandon and I laughing so hard, we're crying.
*Don't compare your marriage to other marriages, unless it's to look for advice. Especially refrain from comparing to fictional marriage or relationships in books and movies (how many divorces came about because of unfulfilled expectations women heaped upon men after reading romance novels?). Don't compare with your neighbors, friends, or family members. If you are using the comparison simply as a litmus test to see where you are at, that's probably okay, but don't dwell. Your relationship is unique! And ESPECIALLY don't compare your weaknesses to others' strengths. You shouldn't do that with yourself (comparing your weaknesses to your best friend's strengths), so don't do it with your marriage! Some couples have a great sex life, some don't. Some couples have really easy kids, some don't. Some have communication down solid, some don't. Don't allow others' strengths to stop you from recognizing your own!

*Don't sell out early when it gets hard. Be in this for the long haul. You know how the stock market works, right? There are always ups and downs in the stock market --you can't sell out when there's a temporary dip! I read a study where they said couples who stayed in their marriages for more than 20 years discovered that overall, they were much happier than they were at 5 years. It WILL get better. (If it doesn't, there might be abuse or addiction.) I can honestly, truly, cross-my-heart say that I love my husband more now than I did 18 years ago. Truly. Our marriage is so much better than it was even 2 years ago!
*Remember the 80/20 rule: In college, I learned about a study that was done years ago where they discovered (theorized?) that nobody could ever meet 100% of your needs. It's simply impossible. At most, your spouse will probably meet 80% of your needs and vice versa. However, people tend to get so fixated on the missing 20% that they go looking for it elsewhere. This is how a lot of affairs begin. They find that 20% in someone else, leave their spouse, and then discover that the person who had that missing 20% can only give them, at best, 80% of their needs, or just that 20%. In other words, don't leave your 80 for the 20. Focus on the 80! If the 20 is really important, discuss it, seek out a therapist, do what you can to figure it out. But don't think that you'll find 100% elsewhere. Chances are very slim you won't. (*Again, abuse is not part of this equation. It's the only exception.)
*Love each other. This one is kind of obvious, but sometimes it's easy to forget. Tell your spouse you love them. Show them. Tell your children you love their father/mother so much. My grandmother was a widow for more than 15 years when she passed away. She told me when I got married that I need to tell my husband I love him every day, because I will never know if it will be the last time he'll hear it.

I hope you have a good marriage, dear reader. If you don't, I hope you will be able to find one, someday. I'll also pray it's with the person you married! You deserve this kind of happiness. I promise --you really do. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Letter to Depression

Hello, again.

I'm really tired of you showing up uninvited. I don't have room for you in my life, anymore, but you always seem to squeeze right on in, anyway. It's kind of frustrating, because I've worked so very hard, for so very long, to get you out of my life. I think I always knew you would be lurking nearby. And honestly, I'm okay with you living next door, but I wish you would stop coming into my house and making yourself at home. You really aren't allowed to live here --so why do you keep coming back?

I was doing pretty well. Motivation was high, energy was good, and I felt confident I could make it this time. I figured you would constantly call, maybe drag me back a couple of times --catching me in the street and yelling things to make me look back at you --but I didn't think I would let you grab onto me and waltz back in through my front door.

What bothers me the most, however, is how I let you drag me down. I listen to you, even when I know you lie. I let you distract me, even when I know you offer nothing valuable. I take your advice, even when I know it can't help me in any possible way.

If you were a real, tangible, physical entity, I would be able to mark you as an abuser. I could get a restraining order against you. I could cut ties and work through the aftermath carefully and thoroughly. I could find someone better and we could make a beautiful life together, with you a very distant and small memory. But you are neither physical nor tangible, and so I can't call a lawyer and sue you for damages. I can't convince a judge to throw you in jail. I can't even get you on a registry so others will be warned about the personal damage you have inflicted upon my psyche.

You attack my self-worth, how I take care of my physical body, my motivation, my energy, and all of my goals. You rant and rave that I am a disappointment to those who love me the most. You laugh at me when I try to push you aside and ignore all of your lies. You taunt, pull, squeeze, cajole, and finally, when I am spent, I just lie down next to you on the couch, and you wrap your arms around me. We both lie still. I find comfort in the apathy. You find joy in the control.

I've learned a lot from you. I can't deny that you have strengthened me. Every step I've taken to rid you from my life has made me better. Stronger, empathetic, courageous, faithful, even...

But I still hate you.
You are the part of me I wish I could remove.
You are like a cancer that won't let me go.

And I don't have time to let you hold onto me. I don't have time for you to be here! You are a time waster, a soul-sucker, a desire-killer, and motivation-remover. I don't have time for that! I have a life to live! Children to raise! A household to oversee! I have goals, plans, talents to use... I have causes to fight for and people to help. I don't have time for you!

I don't have time for the fight!
I don't want to fight.
I hate that I have to keep fighting.

Why can't you be the one to ever get exhausted by the fighting? The constant fighting. The battle. The duel. The war....

I'll let you have today, then. Just today. Maybe tomorrow as well, since you've already taken several weeks. But soon, very soon, I will post the eviction notice. I'll gather the weapons. And when you think you've got me pinned again, I'll unleash all that I have in my arsenal against you and push you out of my house and my life! Gone! Forever! Never to return!

Unless you just move next door, again.

I'm not stupid. I know you bought that house.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Poetry: Refocus

For Brandon and the often overlooked things he does that proves his constant devotion. 


It is an easy thing to overlook true love.
Our eyes are searching for events and objects 
Found in movies, 
And journals bursting with dreams. 

We glance above the hazy reality. 
Our hearts do not notice the consistent presence 
Of loyalty, 
And dishes again scrubbed clean. 

~Cheryl S.S.
Feb 14, 2017

Happy Love Day, Lovely People!

I love all kinds of love. Romance, especially, makes my heart a bit happy. Enjoy some love, today, dear reader! Even if it's not romantic, love is good.

"Romance is the glamour which turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze." 
~Elinor Glyn

And now, for some reality: 

Happy Valentine's Day!