40 years of lessons …

Gift2012
I captured this picture two years ago today. This was the very moment my Dad was reunited with my Mom after her double mastectomy. Their 38th wedding anniversary will always be remembered as one involving MUCH faith.

Today is a special day, it is my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. They got married on April 9, 1974 here in Salt Lake City in the middle of a freak spring blizzard. In fact the wedding party got snowed in at the reception center. My parents, grandparents and some of the bridesmaids ended up sleeping on the reception center couches. In fact the situation made its’ way into national news and was mentioned by Walter Cronkite among others. The situation could have been deemed a wedding failure but both of my parents laugh about the situation to this day.

The beginning of their marriage really set the tone for their marriage and for the rest of our family. Life brings uncertainty and circumstances out of our control, but it’s always how you act and exercise your faith that will make the most out of anything life throws at you. This attitude has served our family well over the past 40 years. Whether it was dealing with the hope of starting a family, complicated pregnancies or health problems with kids or spouses my parents always taught us to deal each situation with faith and a good attitude.

It was even this faith that my Mom exercised most valiantly getting me to school despite EXTREME separation anxiety. That faith and attitude also served the whole family well when my Mother became the caregiver to my Grandparents while they had Alzheimer’s and even now with as my aged Grandmother lives with us. That same faith was ever present for the past two years as my mother was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Whether it was the double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments or the numerous reconstructive surgeries … they were all faced with an unflinching faith and determination.

Observing my parent’s marriage from my perspective there have been five major themes it has taught me as I continue to prepare for marriage some day. They of course are not lessons everyone is going to get from their own parent’s marriage, but these have provided me great lessons that (hopefully) could be beneficial to others.

LESSON ONE: Don’t compromise your standards and beliefs for anyone.

When my parents began dating my Dad was not a member of the LDS Church. My mother who was born and raised in the faith grew up with a strong foundation etched in Pioneer heritage. She was also a great granddaughter of the fifth President of the LDS Church, Lorenzo Snow. So, for her, she knew what she wanted and expected in a future marriage.

It was the Temple or Bust!

Even though my Dad proposed to my Mom numerous times (he says three, she says twice) the answer remained the same … she wouldn’t accept anything less than a temple marriage. This was a major heartbreak to my Dad, because he really, truly loved my Mom and the same could be said about my Mom’s feelings towards my Dad.

They eventually broke up and it wasn’t until a couple years later that my Dad joined the church. It’s quite a story in itself. It wasn’t a conversion made for my Mom or anyone else. He made the changes and conversion because he finally realized that the path he was currently on didn’t lead to happiness and he knew where to find it.

My Dad was baptized in September 1972 and less than 18 months later my parents were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. My Dad’s enthusiasm for the church and the gospel is invigorating. It even changed his planned career. He went from an expected career in gerontology to working in Human Resources for the LDS Church Offices for over 30+ years.

All of this would not have happened (well, at least this way) if my Mom wasn’t insistent on her desire to remain faithful to what she knew was true. She wasn’t going to compromise her beliefs nor was she going to accept a conversion anything less than for the right reasons.

All of us kids have taken note and won’t accept anything less as well.

LESSON TWO: The greatest blessing you have is family.

When my parents were young they spent a lot of time with their grandparents and extended family. My mom remembers spending afternoons with her Grandfather going over multiplication flashcards. Similarly, my dad has fond memories of picking dandelions off neighborhood lawns with his Papou for that night’s dinner. Not to mention they shared a duplex with them as well.

More than anything both of my parents’ early lives revolved around family. And, as they grew older and started our family they wanted us kids to have similar experiences. My Dad rebuffed job offers from Las Vegas, Arizona and Southern California. Even one with the Walt Disney Co. (that one I am still upset about). Because, my parents wanted us to have the opportunity to make memories with family closeby.

Even within our family of eight my parents fostered an attitude of inclusion. My parents made sure to create and stick to traditions, whether it was birthdays, holidays or church. Some of my fondest memories are Christmas Eve dinners at my Aunt’s house or my Mom’s orange rolls on Easter Sunday. I could make an endless list. But, the point is my parents made tradition a priority and it really brought us kids and extended family together closer than any other means.

I am glad that my parents saw the value or remaining close to family, those relationships we created have meant the world to us. Whether it was visiting family close by or in elsewhere around the country during family vacations it all started with that commitment my parents made over 40 years ago.

LESSON THREE: It’s not about what you have, it’s about what you do with what you have.

Growing up I never really knew we didn’t have much money. I actually was somewhat oblivious to the fact (I was actually oblivious to a lot of things as a kid). I should have taken a cue to the fact that at one point I shared a bedroom with every sibling or that a few of our vacations ended up being overnight stays at hotels down the street. But, that ever really mattered to me or my siblings.

My parents would make sacrifices for us kids. They wouldn’t just go without so that we could have a great birthday or Christmas, but they would also sacrifice their time for us and others. On a dime, without hesitation. And, if someone needed anything they gave it willingly. Again without hesitation.

One thing my father loved to do was coach. Over the years he has coached well over 100 teams … soccer, baseball, basketball, etc. For as long as I can remember he’s always coached our teams whether it was a rec or church league. He loved coaching, but more than that he looked beyond the game and how he could make a difference in the lives he coached.

Because of those bonds my parents opened our home to our friends and neighborhood kids. Many were latchkey kids and simply needed a place to be. The rule was that front door and the fridge was always open. It didn’t matter who it was. My parents are still Mom and Dad to a number of those kids in our old neighborhood. And, that attitude comes from their belief that what we have isn’t really ours’ in the first place unless we’re willing to share it with others.

This attitude has changed my life and perspective in many ways. It changed my involvement while in school and even now. Giving isn’t necessarily about donations or money, it’s about time. The greatest thing we can give others is our time. It shows others that we really do care about them even if it’s a great sacrifice to us. Something both of my parents … still … do.

LESSON FOUR: Never tell another what they can or cannot do, only support them.

When I graduated from college I had one of the most profound conversations with my Mom. It was, of course, the evening of the worst day of my life and quite honestly the conversation more than likely was what spurred the changes I needed to make in my life.

The two of us sitting in the car at the hotel in Cedar City had a conversation I will always remember and cherish. My mother expressed how proud she was of me for graduating college and how at times she didn’t think I would have ever gotten to this point.

Having suffered from severe separation anxiety as a kid, my mother recounted how proud she was of me when I got my first 4.0 in high school and how never expected me to graduate high school, leave for a LDS mission and stay out for the whole two years, get through college and then move away from home for college as well.

She expressed her admiration for being able to stick through many difficult situations and to overcome what once paralyzed me immensely as a child. She told me that her’s and Dad’s parenting style was to NEVER tell any of us kids what we can or cannot do. They wanted us to be the captain’s of our own destiny.

My parents probably had every reason to warn or caution me about paths I wanted to take based off of past experience, but they never did. And, as I sat in that car with my Mom I really started to realization that I could anything and everything I set my mind to. It really was the catalyst that helped me start my weight loss and running journey. The journey had to be mine and it had to start with me, like everything else I’ve done in life.

LESSON FIVE: Face every situation with faith and with an eternal perspective.

Two years ago when my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer I will always remember the calmness in my parents’ voice as they told me over the phone while I was at work. They didn’t really know what was next or exactly what they were going to be facing. They didn’t know how serious the cancer was. There was a chance my Mom would survive it and there was a chance that she wouldn’t.

But, my Mom’s faith that everything would be turn out to be okay was unwavering and extremely reassuring for the rest of the family. Her testimony that this life isn’t just “it” shown through to each of us. Even if the cancer claimed her life, it wasn’t lost and we all knew that we would see her again.

My parents always taught us the importance of exercising faith in every aspect of our lives and no matter how difficult a situation might be, there was always a bigger picture to it. Sometimes they’ll be seen right away, but most times in their due time. There’s always a bigger picture.

In the midst of my mother’s cancer treatments my Aunt broke her leg and had to stay with us for a few weeks (since she lived alone). My parents have always opened their doors to family or anyone in need of help, so there wasn’t a question that she would stay with us while she mended. A few weeks into her stay her home ended up having a pipe that burst flooding the house and causing mold to spread through the structure. Again, she was unable to stay there and my parents once again opened their doors to her.

The situation was anything but convenient. My mother in mending from double mastectomy and preparing to start chemotherapy and having an extra person to worry about was difficult. Not to mention the need of taking care of the house and the damaged items. The timing wasn’t ideal, but my parents ever driven by faith knew there was a bigger picture to all of this … no matter what happened.

Eight months into living with us my Aunt got a liver infection on the day before Christmas Eve. She hadn’t been drinking as much as her hunger left her. We knew she would probably have to be admitted to get hooked up to an IV and restore some of the fluids. What ended up as a perceived routine hospital stop quickly turned into a month long stay in the ICU. Her liver started shutting down and she was in constant pain. Christmas was spent by her bedside hoping for the best. She was in and out on consciousness during that month long stay. Eventually she started to turn around and she was moved to an assisted living center near us. But, despite the progress, a week later her heart simply stopped.

At her passing it was evident to all of us that the past eight months was a gift to her. She never married, never had children and lived alone for nearly 12 years after our Grandma passed away. She was a second mother to all of us kids. And, while she had an opinion on everything (this is an understatement) and could be somewhat frustrating at times during those eight months, she was given that opportunity to be a part of a family. She was there as support for my mother during her treatments, she was constantly buying meals for everyone and wanting to contribute to make our burdens light, she got opportunities to be “Grandma” to my niece and to simply get that opportunity to be a part of a family.

In retrospect, the eternal perspective was a blessing for ALL of us, even if we couldn’t see it entirely at the time. But, because of my parents’ faith and perspective they didn’t (and will never) turn down an opportunities to serve, provide and give time to others … family or not. What a great example to me and the rest of my family.

These past 40 years have provided MANY more lessons that could be shared, but this post is plenty long enough. I will always be grateful for my parents and what they’ve taught me, encouraged me to do and pushed me in the direction of my dreams. The lessons continue to be taught and as I prepare myself for marriage one day I hope that I can remember all of those lessons great and small so that I can pass them along to my children.

Happy 40th Anniversary Mom and Dad. Thanks Mom for not budging one bit on your values. And, thanks to both of you for always believing in me and my siblings. Keep your face!

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