Change, Memoir, Personal

Unpack Your Bags

In one of our women’s meetings at church, our teacher brought in a suitcase and rolled it around the room.

She asked, “How many of you have unpacked your bags?”

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She confessed that she has lived here for years and never mentally or emotionally unpacked her bags.

She said when we don’t unpack our bags, we live with one foot out the door. 

I wasn’t the only woman in the room thinking,”This lesson is for me.”

I heard women whispering, “This is for me.” And saw others nodding their heads as if it applied to them too.

Maybe carrying around our metaphorical packed bags gives us an escape clause or an excuse to hold back, and make fewer commitments.

The question then is what are we missing if we trek through life with a packed bag –always feeling like our circumstances are temporary?

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When we think we’re on our way out of a community, a job, a relationship, or any other situation or commitment, we automatically hold back and contribute less, which of course means, we get less.

Our teacher advised, “Whether you are going to be here for one week, one year, or the rest of your life–unpack your bags.”

I thought about that while walking one morning because sometimes I miss the familiar sights, sounds, and faces of my old life.

I wondered if after eight months whether I’ve unpacked my bags completely.

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When I see a friend volunteering at the White House Easter Egg roll or other friends going to Washington Nationals games; or groups of friends celebrating a birthday in one of my favorite restaurants without me, I get a little nostalgic — not desperately homesick like I made a drastic mistake in moving, just a little wistful.

While thinking about this on my walk, my thoughts were interrupted by the quacking of a beautiful duck floating in a pond, and then a chirp of a fascinating, unfamiliar bird.

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I stopped to look around and was awed by my new scenery.

I thought about the new sounds, places and faces I’m now appreciating, and I realized that unpacking is probably a process, not a one-time event.

Maybe we all need to continually work at unpacking because we don’t want to miss anything on our journeys, wherever those journeys take us.

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Brené Brown said in her book Rising Strong “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Sometimes it takes courage to show up, and it seems easier to live life with your bags packed, with one foot out the door just in case…

But, what do we gain when we choose that kind of timid, fearful, cautionary life?

I want to be like my friend, Laura, who has moved frequently, and after every move, has said, “That was my favorite place!”

Every place becomes her favorite because she fully unpacks her bags wherever she goes and she decides every new place and new experience will be her favorite.

I read about a military family that learned that the difference between misery and happiness is unpacking your bag and settling down—whether for days, months, or years.

They learned that if they believed they could be in a place for many years, they were happier. They invested more of themselves and in turn, had deeper relationships and better experiences all around.

This lesson applies not just to physically moving, but to all the areas of our lives where we hold back and carry around that symbolic tightly packed bag.

I love this bit of Buddah wisdom: “Be where you are…otherwise you will miss your life.”

Family, Memoir, Relationships

Forgive me Dad

Dear Dad,

I owe you an apology.

Remember after I moved to Washington, and every time I talked to you, you said, “When are you moving back to Utah?”

I remember when you finally stopped asking me that.

It was after one of your visits to Washington, and, at last, you seemed to understand why I loved living in D.C.

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We were standing at a busy intersection in Georgetown, and you said, “I can see why you love it here. This is your kind of place. You really are a city girl.”

So, now that I am back in Utah, I think of you nearly every day.

I think of how you loved the beauty and uniqueness of Utah’s mountains, rivers, and streams, and how I never appreciated them.

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I keep thinking about when you took us to Boulder Mountain, found a perfect camping spot for our trailer house, and planned a weekend of hiking, fishing, Dutch oven suppers, and thrilling in the beauties of nature.

Yeah, well, I hated camping.

Camping was b-o-o-o-r-i-n-g.

There was nothing to DO.

Remember how you called me “The Go-Go-Do-Do-Girl” because I couldn’t sit still?

Well, camping was torture for a girl who liked to be on the go.

And then there was the fishing.

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Just when I thought camping couldn’t get any worse, you took me out on a boat, put a worm on the end of a fishing rod, cast it into the lake, and handed me the pole.

And, there I sat for hours in the blistering sun, holding that pole with a worm dangling on the end of it, waiting for a fish to tug on my line.

You tried to make it fun, tried to help me see the excitement of reeling in a “big one.”

I’m sorry, dad. To me, it wasn’t fun. It was woefully unfun.

And, about that Boulder trip… You were so excited about that trip.

You talked it up like it would be the most fun our family could ever have.

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First thing on the agenda was to hike to the lake, hauling our fishing gear all the way.

It was probably a one-mile hike, but to me, it was Mount Everest.

I whined.

You cheered me on, telling me to concentrate on the beauty around me, and to envision how fun it would be to reel in “a big one.”

I wondered why we just couldn’t drive to the darn lake.

No vehicles were allowed. That’s what you said.

When we finally got to the lake, we saw our neighboring campers packing up their truck to go back to camp.

No vehicles allowed?

Mom and I were not too proud to ask them for an immediate ride back to camp.

You were probably thrilled to have me gone so that you could actually enjoy fishing without my unpleasantness spoiling the fun.

Fast forward to my life now.

Dad, I came home.

I am living in your beloved state.

And, I am hiking, and discovering what you loved.

And, guess what?

I’m not whining, asking for rides down the mountains or using the word “boring” to describe my adventures.

I am awed by the beauty around me, and I am sorry for being such a wimpy, whiny child.

I hope you will forgive me.

But, before you start thinking I’ve made a complete turnaround, I must tell you this: I still hate fishing.

I know it’s blasphemy to say that when I belong to a family of avid fisherman, but Dad, really, fishing is so blasted boring.

But, maybe you could give me a little credit for finally appreciating the beauty and uniqueness of the state you so loved.

From the News, Memoir, Uncategorized

That Time I worked for the President

At this time of the American Presidential Inauguration, and since the hospitalization of George H.W. and Barbara Bush, I have been reminiscing about the privilege I had to work as the communications director for the Bush ‘41 Presidential Inauguration.

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I remember standing on the lawn of the flag-draped U.S. Capitol when he said he wanted his first official act as President to be offering a prayer for the nation.

With cameras rolling and the world watching, he asked God to make us strong to do his work and to yield to his will. He asked that we write on our hearts the words: “Use power to help people.”

That message resonated with Americans in 1989.

It resonates with me today.

140329064024-george-bush-10-horizontal-large-galleryOrganizing a Presidential inauguration is a mammoth job. From the day after the election, you have only a few short months to pull off one of the world’s most momentous events.

For those working for the George HW Bush inauguration, after the election in 1988, it meant transforming an old government warehouse into a professional office building in a matter of days – literally building walls, bringing in computers, desks, tables, phone systems – everything from the ground up, all geared toward ensuring the “peaceful transition of Presidential power” that is so uniquely American.

Working on the Presidential Inauguration was the most exhausting and intense professional experience of my life, but it gave me some cherished memories including:

  • Dancing at an Inaugural ball with my dad. My dad was a true-blue Utahn who believed the only clothes a man needed were flannel-shirts, Levi Strauss, boots, and a ball cap. He hated crowds, big cities, and nonsensical fuss of any kind. But, he flew to Washington, dressed up for one event after another, and even donned a tuxedo for an inaugural ball. He spun me around the dance floor like a pro. It was an unforgettable night for me, especially since he died a couple years later.
  • Sitting in the press box with President and Mrs. Bush to watch the inaugural parade. Honestly, even though it was one of the great honors of my life, I could barely keep my eyes open.
  • Having a gold “All Access” pass to every blocked off street, and every event going on in Washington during what is surely one of the grandest times in that beautiful city.
  • Going to a small party at the White House with the Bushes just after they moved in. I wrote in my journal about that event, “Doug kept whispering ‘is this really happening? Are we actually in the same room with the President and the First Lady? Are we seriously going to meet them? Pinch me and let me know this is really happening.’” I felt the same way.

stocksnap_rfky6o3x2gWhen we went through the receiving line, I introduced myself as the communications director, and he said, “Oh, well you certainly did an excellent job of communicating. We couldn’t have been happier.”

He then addressed the group of exhausted staff, thanked everyone for their work, and said, “There is an interesting mood in this room. I wouldn’t call it one of irritability, but there is certainly a tension from long hours and sleepless nights.”

Barbara leaned over to whisper something in his ear. He smiled, and then said, “Please be careful not to step on any of our grandchildren.”

That was an appropriate warning because there were children running around everywhere in the White House. The family definitely felt at home there. In fact, one of the Bush sons came into the reception wearing a casual jogging suit. I now wonder which one of the sons we saw that day…

As the President mingled with everyone in the room, he approached Doug and me, and stopped to visit. He took my hand in his, and held it throughout our conversation, which I thought was so warm and personable.

He asked to know more about us. I told him we were married just a few days before I took the job at the inauguration and that there was an article in Utah’s Deseret News that said immediately after our honeymoon, I left my husband for another man: George Herbert Walker Bush. The President laughed, and said to Doug, “You can have her back now on one condition: That we can call her back once in awhile because we need her energy.”

Meeting the President left an indelible impression on my life. I’ve always had great respect for him. So, on this 45th inauguration, I reflect on the 41st, and the President who called for “a kinder, gentler” America, and a man that prayed for the nation as his first official act as our great leader.

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At the end of his inaugural address, he said, “I see history as a book with many pages, and each day we fill a page with acts of hopefulness and meaning. The new breeze blows, a page turns, the story unfolds. And so, today a chapter begins, a small and stately story of unity, diversity, and generosity — shared, and written, together.”

A new breeze has blown, a page has been turned, and a new American story will unfold again. And I want to believe his words are as true today as they were in 1989 when he said, “There is much to do. And tomorrow the work begins…I do not mistrust the future. I do not fear what is ahead…Our problems are large, but our heart is larger. Our challenges are great, but our will is greater. And if our flaws are endless, God’s love is truly boundless.”

Thank you George HW Bush for that beautiful perspective. May it still ring true.

Happy Inauguration Day America.

 

 

 

Health, Memoir, Personal

Cancer Graduation Day

It finally came.

The day I’ve been looking forward to for 10 years.

I went to see my oncologist yesterday and she said, “Congratulations. You have graduated from oncology.”

Oncology — the study and treatment of tumors.

The field of medicine that is devoted to cancer.

About a month ago I went to the breast surgeon’s office and she said, “You don’t need to come back anymore unless it gives you peace of mind to keep coming.”

No thank you, I told her, I will not be back.

I am done with cancer.

I am done with the doctors, the drugs, and the anxiety that is caused by every visit to a medical facility.

I wonder if doctors understand the impact of their words when they tell a patient their cancer case is closed.

The sudden rush of emotion surprised me — so many memories flooded my mind.

  • Sitting across the desk from doctors talking to me about treatment options and survival rates.
  • Looking out the window of the doctor’s office at the trees for a brief mental and emotional escape from what I was hearing.
  • Sitting for hours hooked up to a chemo cart with bright red fluids infusing my body.
  • Friends streaming into my home with food, cards, flowers, and endless amounts of love and support.
  • Doug organizing my medications, running to the drug store at all hours of the night, and showing up unexpectedly for doctor appointments and chemo treatments.

“I never have to come back?” I asked her.

“Only if you want to come back or if there is another issue,” she said.

Another  issue…

That worry will always haunt me, but for now, I will celebrate the end of the cancer era.

Ten years is a long time.

One minute everything was normal.

The next minute, I was processing words about invasive ductal cancer.

What have I learned in those 10 years?

I’m not sure I could cover the lessons of 10 years in one blog post, so let me name just a few…

  1. I’m never alone. Even in the dark of the night when pain and anxiety will not subside and sleep will never come, I am not alone. I have God to “hear my soul’s complaint” as the church hymn goes. And, I have friends and family who astound me with their love, support, and kindness.
  2. I am stronger than I think.  I like what Elizabeth Taylor said about doing hard things. “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, and you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” I would amend her list — you fight, you cry, you curse, you pray your heart out, and then you go about the business of living. It’s that prayer part that gives you the strength to go about the business of living. It might sound silly but from the day I was diagnosed, I promised myself I would never spend one day in my pajamas or in my bed. I would get up every morning, shower, put on my makeup and get dressed for the day. No. Matter. What. For some reason, those small daily routines made me feel stronger. I also decided I would always cover my bald head with a scarf or a wig because, for some reason, I felt less like a victim of cancer when my head was covered.
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This was taken when my hair had grown enough for me to lose the wig! What a great day.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office yesterday, I stopped and texted my family to tell them the good news.

“I never expected this day to feel so HUGE,” I wrote.

Then, when I got into my car to come home, I cried.

Unbelievable relief washed over me.

I can never be sure cancer won’t terrorize my life again, but for now, after 10 years, I will celebrate that it’s finally part of my past; and I will move forward with profound respect for the magnitude and depth of the lessons it taught me.

I’ve enjoyed many graduations in my life, but this might be the best one yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memoir, Personal, Uncategorized

Weight Watchers Embarrassment

I’ve debated whether to share this embarrassing experience, but here goes…

Last week, I went to Weight Watchers.

That’s not even the embarrassing part.

After Weight Watchers, I went to the car repair shop, the grocery store, and Costco.

When I got home, I realized I never took off my Weight Watchers nametag.

Hello world! My name is Laurie.

I am a Weight Watcher.

I try not to advertise this because, for me, living the WW lifestyle is like slogging through mud.

Progress is slow and imperceptible, which makes talking about it very unpleasant.

Conversations go something like this:

You’re on Weight Watchers?

Yes

How much have you lost?

One pound

How long have you been on it?

A long time.

And that’s all you’ve lost?

Yes, thank you.

How much do you want to lose?

A lot.

How long is it going to take you?

The rest of my life and into eternity, thank you very much.

 Now let me back up to the Weight Watcher meeting that launched my horrible, no good, very bad day.

We were challenged to fit indulgences into our eating plan.

The logic is if you eat what you love, you won’t feel deprived and quit.

A lot of people said they eat a piece of Dove chocolate for their daily dose of deliciousness.

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I left the meeting determined to eat chocolate.

So now, let’s review what happened in light of the WW Chocolate Challenge.

First, at the car place, the friendly customer service guy told me his life story.

He’s part Iranian, part Turkish, and married a Latino. They have a five-month old baby girl, and said she’s a pretty good sleeper. He showed me pictures of her on his phone.

And, can you believe he hasn’t been to Turkey since he was two years old? He wants to go back soon.

As you can see, we established some rapport over the counter while discussing my wiper blades, oil change and tire rotations.

So, you think he might have mentioned the nametag, right?

No, he did not.

As I was leaving to get my loaner car, he said, “Do you want a snack from the snack room? We have some chips and candy bars.”

Remembering the chocolate challenge, I caved at the word “candy,” and took the fun-sized SNICKERS for the road.

But, wait a minute.

He saw my big old nametag, didn’t know about the chocolate challenge, and, still offered me candy and chips?

You call that good customer service?

I do not.

Next up is the grocery store, where, of course, I rose to the morning’s WW challenge and bought a bag of Dove Promises.

I can only imagine what that clerk thought as she scanned it, while noticing I looked like a Weight Watchers billboard.

Then there was Costco.

I wish I could say I ignored the old people in hairnets handing out food samples.

I did not.

I sampled a chip with guacamole on one aisle, a pretzel on the next, and ended with a sip of yogurt before I left.

Again, I can only imagine what people thought as they saw me stuffing myself with snacks while sporting that not-so-subtle WW nametag.

My errands ended up costing me a good number of WW points, and a lot of embarrassment.

But, wait, there’s more…

Later, that afternoon, Mr. Snickers Saboteur called to tell me my car was ready for pick-up.

“It’s very important to me that you give me a 10 on the customer service survey. So, is there anything else I can do to make sure you’re satisfied with our service?”

“Wait a minute. Did you see the badge I was wearing?”

“Yes.”

“So, you saw the WW nametag, let me leave still wearing it, and gave me a Snickers?”

“Um, yes, I guess I did. So, does this mean you’re going to give me a zero instead of a 10?”

“Probably.”

I hung up the phone and thought, “what’s the matter with people?”

It should be a rule that if customers come in wearing WW nametags, you should tell them before they embarrass themselves by eating things like chocolate and chips and guacamole while wearing a flashing neon sign that says, “I’m a Weight Watcher.”

No, that man handing out Snickers to Weight Watchers members is definitely not getting a 10 because if I blame him, I feel a little less embarrassed…

Just a little.