From my Bookshelf

Emma Lou, I’m so glad I found you

I discovered a treasured gem in my e-mail inbox.

It was a link to a story written by one of my favorite writers – Emma Lou Thayne.

I clicked on the link to the Huffington Post and discovered Emma Lou writes a religion blog.

“How did I not know this?” I said aloud, waking up Nikki who was sleeping peacefully by my feet.

“How did I not know she blogged?  How am I not a follower?”

I clicked through her blogs and then googled (love that verb) her name and discovered that not only does she regularly blog, she also has a new book called “The Place of Knowing: A Spiritual Autobiography.” I immediately went to Amazon and purchased the book. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

By googling her name, I discovered she was in a terrible car accident that took away several years of her life.  Her book is about what she experienced during those years.

Lois Collins, a reporter for The Deseret News wrote, “For a long time, people told poet and writer Emma Lou Thayne that the six-pound metal bar that flew through the windshield of the car she was riding in should have killed her. It smashed the glass and then her face above her right eye socket before lodging in the rear window. For her, it meant a number of surgeries and a sensory-numb recovery that seemed to lack color, joy and life.”

“You could have died,” friends said, exclaiming over the nearly three-foot L-shaped rod that lives now in a corner of the coat closet off her living room, a not-too-ready reminder.  It was built to hold a mud flap on a semi.

photos by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

She said she lost three friends or parts of herself in that accident – the wizard in her head who could “plan, create and figure,” the genie in her heart that “could fathom joys and woes,” and the tiger in her bones who “could muster, leap and frolic.”

Now 86 years old, she said she felt like she was in someone else’s skin, which is exactly how I felt during my fight with cancer.

I cherish Emma Lou’s deeply personal writings. An autographed copy of her book “As for Me and My House,” sits prominently in my bookshelf, and has been there since it was published in 1989.

Her “meditations on living and loving” as she subtitled the book, sank deep into the soft cavities of my bones all those years ago where I’ve tended and nurtured them ever since.

When I had my first daughter, almost 22 years ago, the world was a confusing place for women.  I grew up listening to the loud, shrill voices of too many feminists who made motherhood and homemaking seem like the most fulfilling, demeaning jobs in the world.  I used to joke about “housewifery” and how I could never be “just a housewife.” I couldn’t imagine myself staying home all day with children and not having a job outside the home.  I felt claustrophobic just imagining the drudgery of such a limiting lot in life.

But after about two years of trying to work and take care of my family and home, I decided to quit. I couldn’t seem to hit the right balance between my work and home lives. Plenty of women can and do.  I could not. It initially overwhelmed me.  I couldn’t help looking at the clock and thinking of how much more productive and confident I felt in the office than at home.

Emma Lou elevated my perspective.  “Nothing is more personal than the house, the home, the place that I live in.  Nothing more reflects my sense of the world or my regard for what is important.  Through it stream my passions, my people, my phases, and my philosophies.  Into it I allow the programs the pages, the food, the habits that persuade my days and occupy my nights.  It is my shelter, the husk of me.  In it I am warm and cold, from happy to sad, thoughtful or automatic, active and passive, sometimes touched by the divine, always subject to being human…How I live in it counts, not only to me and mine but also to others who are beneficiaries…of the good will that derives [from it]. Every household, like every person, makes a difference.

On the days I wondered whether my staying home mattered, I thought of her essay “On Mattering.”  She wrote “We all need to matter – to someone else, to a project, to a day, to ourselves, to God.” She logged the activities of her life and all the seemingly mundane tasks of her day and showed how she made them all matter, mostly by keeping perspective.  At the end of the day she said, “The jobs are done and I can’t even remember doing them.  Only that I liked it – a lot.  It’s the people, not the jobs…I must remember I can endure enormous stress or enjoy generous contentment if I feel that what I am doing matters.”

I learned from her to give myself a night out for my own creative endeavors.  She dedicated Wednesday nights for her personal writing time, and even set up an office where she could go every week just to concentrate on her writing.  I followed that example and took one night class a week for several years to earn my master’s degree in writing, something I will never regret.

In another essay on “Learning by Being There,” Emma Lou wrote, “Things happen.  They simply happen.  In a home or away from home.  Dealing with what happens is most crucial to being part of that home.  To ask why? or why them? or why me? Can be the least productive of concentrations.  Why not me?  Why not any of us? would seem more reasonable. And more efficacious. The unpredictable life is often the best teacher, the saving grace of flexibility, the thing learned.  And faith to pray not so much for “Please, with your omnipotence change all this,” as for “Please, with your strength help me to manage.”

I’ve learned that truth for myself over the years, starting with when my dad died unexpectedly in 1992. Asking “why” never led to a satisfying answer. I quickly learned to ask, “What can I learn from this?” When I was diagnosed with cancer, it was hard to ignore the begging “why?” questions, but I did the best I could, and focused on asking, “What can I learn from this?  How can this make me a better person?” Those kinds of questions make all the difference between short-term pain and long-term misery.

A few years after becoming acquainted with Emma Lou’s writing, Utah State University, my alma mater, invited me to serve on the university’s alumni council. It delighted me to discover that Emma Lou’s husband, Mel, also served on the board.  So at one of our council meetings on campus, I met Emma Lou.  We sat next to each other on a bus when we toured one of the school’s new facilities.

I introduced myself, swooned over her book and all she had taught me through her writing.  She asked how my writing was progressing, and since I had a toddler and a baby at the time, I told her writing in my journals was about the best I could do. She said, “Well, just keeping turning the corners of your life, you never know what you’ll find on the other side.”

What a lovely motto for life I thought.

“Just keep turning the corners of your life.”

It suggests a degree of grace in the journey.

I titled my graduate school thesis, “Turning the Corners” because it consisted of a compilation of writings that represented just that – the corners I’d turned during a transitional time in my life.

I subscribed to Emma Lou’s blog and I will devour her book, hoping to soak up any wisdom she might have for me now, after suffering through a terrible accident, and looking at life through her crystal clear 86-year old eyes.

It doesn’t matter that Emma Lou doesn’t even know me.  What matters is that even without knowing me, she’s taught and inspired me.

We all need at least one Emma Lou. Who is yours? I’d love to have people share.

Who makes you think?  Who makes you recognize what’s good in your life? Who brings you to your senses, and back to the true you when you lose perspective?

That person could be your Emma Lou.

The Emma Lous are the people who remind us that we matter, and that our lives, in all their messiness and constant change, are uniquely and wonderfully ours, and we should own them, be proud of them, and never stop trying to make them better.

I’ll leave you with one last gem, a piece of her poetry that at one time I memorized:

About Time

Each of us wants to be friends with time,

Comfortable waiting for toast to pop,

pleased to pull at the garden knowing

no season is going off with us.

The trick is to find out

whether a minute is worth more

crammed or empty.

And, either way, to get on with it.

Thank you, Emma Lou Thayne for reminding me by your poetry, your books, and your life“ To always get on with it.” I’m sure that when I read your book I’ll discover that’s exactly what you’ve been doing all these years  — trying even harder during the dark times of recovery and healing — to get on with it.

I just know it.

I can’t wait to read all about it and to soak up every life lesson I know you’ll share.

Change, From my Bookshelf, From the News, Uncategorized

Finding Your One True Calling

After Oprah’s lengthy goodbye, I debated whether to watch her last episode.  But since my daughters and I watched all the shows leading up to the finale, we felt committed.

When I saw her standing on her stage for the last time looking glamorous and regal in her soft pink dress with her matching audience, I softened.

Oprah’s speech was beautiful, inspiring, and delivered with her usual poise and personality.  She said, “We are all called.  Everybody has a calling and your real job in life is to figure out what it is and get about the business of doing it.”

What is my calling? I wondered.  Whatever it is, it’s small and weak when it’s in the same room with Oprah and her big old calling.

Oprah and her team of experts have been telling me for years to uncover my passion, discover my dreams, and live my best life.  I’ve taken this advice to heart and read many of Oprah’s recommended self-help books trying to understand my big, hairy purpose in life.

I wrote long, searching journal entries, prayed and pleaded to discover my higher path because surely it was more than the ordinary life I lived every day.  I had skills, talents, gifts that needed opportunities for expression and development, but life kept getting in the way.

Once I wrote a long list of things I wanted to do and then thought, “Maybe after I finish running my daughter’s school newspaper club, planning girls’ camp or schlepping to soccer practice and girl scouts, I’ll have time to discover the life that is waiting for me.”

Then I learned an important lesson.

All the things I think are merely distractions and detours in my life ARE my life.

For years I thought that once I raised my kids, I would get back to my life, get back on track, back to pursuing my mega-mission. My life would be bigger, grander than fixing dinners, going to ballgames, and grocery stores, and shopping for prom dresses. Maybe my big, purposeful life would include a book, an exciting job, or oh, why stop there?  My own show like Oprah!

But the day-to-day demands of my life kept getting in the way of my calling, and pushing me off track.

After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I spent months in a chemo-induced stupor, and had plenty of time to wonder about life’s purpose.  Is this really what you want my life to be? I asked God.  Surely he did not intend my life to just be a cancer battle.

All I knew was that, it was my life.

Most of us are not going to discover a grandiose mission that allows us to feed and educate nations or give cars away to brightly colored audiences.  And if we keep looking beyond the mark of where we really are in life, we will miss the real lessons that God is sending our way through the ordinary day-to-day lives he gives us.

I love the idea that a calling is out there just waiting for me to claim it.  I want the spark, the juice and the inner glow that come from doing exactly what I should be doing in my life.  But sometimes I wonder if the idea of one true calling is a myth.

Our callings seem more random than focused.  They seem to grow out of opportunities, relationships, and the occasional risk of trying something new.

Most of us are not changing the entire universe, but we are probably changing a piece of it.  We might not be illuminating the world, but we are likely lighting up a corner here and there.  So with that in mind, consider this last bit of Oprah advice:

“Each one of you has your own platform…Mine is a stage in a studio, yours is wherever you are with your own reach, however small or however large that reach is. Maybe it’s 20 people. Maybe it’s 30 people, 40 people, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your classmates, your classroom; your co-workers. Wherever you are, that is your platform, your stage, and your circle of influence. That is your talk show, and that is where your power lies. In every way, in every day, you are showing people exactly who you are. You’re letting your life speak for you. And when you do that, you will receive in direct proportion to how you give in whatever platform you have.

“My great wish for all of you who have allowed me to honor my calling through this show is that you carry whatever you’re supposed to be doing, carry that forward and don’t waste any more time. Start embracing the life that is calling you and use your life to serve the world.”

Sometimes the life that is calling us is the one we are living now, and our lofty purpose is right under our nose just waiting for us to recognize and embrace it. Sometimes our callings come in the form of our responsibilities, and we are so busy looking for the more glamorous life that we miss the splendor of the one we’ve got.

Change, From my Bookshelf, Uncategorized

Lessons from Martha Beck

I’m sitting in the waiting room with my daughter waiting for her to be called back for surgery to repair her torn ACL.


The room is quiet except for the loud hum of a humidifier and the muttering of a woman across from me who hates to fill out forms, can’t read her husband’s illegible handwriting, doesn’t know why doctors need so much information anyway, and can’t understand why her husband always walks away from problems and can’t have a civil conversation with her.


Then I burst out laughing.


I can’t help it.  I’m reading a very serious O Magazine article that outlines the 20 most important questions we should be asking ourselves. I am nodding my head, thinking I should share some of these questions with friends who are trying to find their happy place in life.


Then I read Question 13: Am I the only one struggling not to {fart} during {yoga}?


It just plain cracks me up.


I look at the muttering woman across from me and notice a scowl on her face.  My mood is not improving hers. I want to read the question aloud and see if it might make her at least smile.


I share the question with my daughter and she joins me in the moment of levity.


I’m not confessing anything here but suffice it to say that in a silent, contemplative yoga class that is the bodily function that absolutely must be suppressed.


(A little aside here…I’m fighting feelings of guilt as I write this because my mother’s voice lurks in the back of my mind telling me not to use that f-word because it’s ugly.  She prefers the word stinker if the topic has to be addressed at all.  I can just hear her saying, “Well, I don’t see why you need to talk or write about something like that in the first place.”)


I’m surprised I’m reading this article because it was written by Martha Beck, and I’ve been bitter toward her since she wrote her book Expecting Adam and dissed her parents, her marriage, and her religion.


But in this article, she has listed some good questions.  The point of the yoga question is to substitute your greatest shame or fear and then realize you’re not alone.  Everyone worries about faux pas and once you realize you’re not alone, you take a step toward better mental health, Martha says.


So when I laugh at Question 13 I imagine my yoga teacher, flexible Jane, speaking in her calming, meditative voice as she reaches, stretches, and twists her lithe body.  Then I think of her struggling not to relax too deeply into her poses because … well, you know, the inherent risk of a certain type of overexertion.


Suddenly there is sweet justice in the world.


If I imagine her struggling in her downward facing dog or tipping slightly in her tree pose, there is hope for me.


I like the fact that Martha Beck led me to realize that yoga teachers and everybody else for that matter are not as perfect as them might seem.


Now I’m on a roll.


I think I can even forgive Martha. Maybe she has her own yoga like struggle.  In fact, maybe the complaining lady across from me is just having an off day.  Maybe she’s got her own kind of fill-in-the-blank challenge she’s trying to overcome.


Then I realize.


I’ve gone too far.


Why does everything have to turn into a big life lesson when really it’s just about a little yoga fart?


Reel it in, I tell myself.


Get some perspective.


I reread Question 13 and giggle all over again, and tell myself to lighten up.


After all, sometimes we just need a good laugh.  And the idea of a little yoga faux pas is pretty darned funny to me.