Life Stinks: A Talk on Perspective

February 27, 2009

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, then you probably remember that I lost a pregnancy this past fall. At the time, I tired to be relatively quiet about the whole situation--discussing my feelings, but not too many of the nitty-gritty details.

In case you're curious, I'll let you know that I was eighteen weeks pregnant and my due date falls this week. The circumstances of the actual miscarriage were beyond traumatic, and I don't know that I'll ever write about in a public setting like this.

The last five months have been very, very sad for me--but unbelievably happy at the exact same time. But, beyond everything else, I've grown. I've grown as a mother, a wife, and a human being in general.

Two weeks ago, I was asked to give a talk in church based on an address titled "Come What May, and Love It," by Joseph B. Wirthlin, one of the former leaders of the LDS Church. In honor of my little boy's due date, I'd like to share my talk with all of you.

It's far from my best writing (cut me a break, it was a talk), and it's got a whole lot of Mormon lingo goin' on, but I hope it will help you all appreciate what I've been though and how I've managed to come out as a broken, yet stronger, person on the other side.

***

Life Stinks
by Amy Lawson

Brothers and sisters, I am here today to testify of the truth that from time to time, life really stinks. You all know what I'm speaking of. It can range from scratched bumpers to questionable job security to ill parents, but every now and again we all go through long, dark seasons where our lives are absolutely horrible.

On the other hand, I am here to today to tell you that life is good—really, really good. Again, the goodness of life falls on a spectrum, ranging from a well cooked steak, to a windfall of money, to a new baby. But there is no denying the fact that lots of times, life feels great.

I find it interesting that something as important as life itself can be so conflicted—that two opposites statements can be true at the very same time. Life is great, and life does stink...now what? What are we supposed to do with that kind of disjointed knowledge?

According to Elder Joseph B Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve, we are supposed to accept what comes our way in life, and love it. Not deal with it or put up with it, but actually love it.

He begins his talk by discussing the little annoyances of life—things that we're all to familiar with, like getting lost on the highway. Years ago, Elder Wirthlin was on a road trip with his family to Cedar City, Utah. He and his wife were both under the impression that they were headed in the right direction until they saw a huge, light-up sign that read “Welcome to Nevada.” Instead of screeching on the breaks, muttering some very unholy words, and announcing to the entire station wagon that 'the vacation is now ruined,' Elder Wirthlin laughed—and probably took his family to lunch--in Nevada.

He's a good man to react in the way he did—after all, he had eight children and this was before the days of DVD players in minivans. Come to think of it, it was probably before the days of air conditioning in cars, too. Would I have the ability to laugh about something so discouraging, something so annoying? I hope I would—because basically, there were only two possible outcomes to his navigational mistake.

Elder Wirthlin and his wife could have become angry. They could have yelled at each other and at their kids. This probably would have riled up the eight children, caused all kinds of fights and spills, and genuinely ruined their trip.

Or Elder Wirthlin and his wife could have laughed about their flightiness. Stopped the car, let the kids stretch their legs and kept on going.

His story reminds me so much of my Grandmother, or Memere as I used to call her. She was a tiny woman, but a tough woman. A woman who was forced to temporarily leave her kids in a convent to seek a better life, a woman who battled and beat breast cancer in the 1950s—when the disease was shameful and survival was almost unheard of. She was a woman who single handedly supported her large family, since her husband was failing from heart disease, and most of all, she was a woman with perspective.

She died when I was five, after, but not from her second battle with cancer. Since I was so young, I only have two real memories of my Memere. I remember that she was always singing—when I'd go to visit here at work, or watch her wash the dishes, or listen as she put on her makeup, she was singing happy little songs in French.

And other than that, I remember a specific event...

When I was in kindergarten I refused to wear anything but overalls. I even wore overall dresses. One day, as I was playing in my parents' living room I noticed how shiny their rocking was—I distinctly remember thinking, “That chair looks fast.” So I backed up as far as I could, ran across the living room, and slid onto the seat of the chair on my belly leaving two deep, long scratches in the wood from the buckles on my overalls. My Dad yelled, my mom cried, and my Memere? My Memere said, “Oh lay off it you two...someday you'll love those scratches.”

Like I said, she was a woman with perspective.

She was right. Over the years the scratches have become a happy memory. My Memere was obviously a woman with a light outlook on life...didn't let herself get too worked up about the minor inconveniences. But do you think she felt that way when her kids were in the convent? Did she brush it off when the doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer before there was a cure? Did she sing her happy songs when her husband was on his deathbed?

I guarantee that she did not.

In his conference talk, Elder Wirthlin asks, “How can we love the days that are filled with sorrow?” His answer? “We can't—at least not in the moment.” And brothers and sisters, we are not expected to feel joy or peace or happiness in the middle of a horrible life event. Heartbreak is not a sin.

In his sermon on the Mount, the Savior himself says “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that in life, there are times to weep, and times to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. There's a time to break down, but also a time to build up.

Mourning and grief and struggle are all pieces of the human experience that should never be denied—we've all probably met the people that pretend to be okay, or even happy after a terrible life event. This is not what's expected of us as Children of God. We are not asked to downplay our true feelings—and actually, it's a dangerous habit to fall into—a habit that can lead to a life of emptiness and loneliness and pain. But I also believe, and I think Elder Wirthlin and the Savior would both agree that mourning and grief and struggle should be reserved for life situations that truly warrant such feelings—not rumors that fly around at school, or an ugly glance from a stranger. Certainly not a dent in your car.

I experienced true, gut wrenching grief for the first time this past fall, and I can tell you that I've never felt such raw pain in my life. I couldn't eat, or sleep, or smile. I was angry and confused and physically I felt like I had been run down by a truck. I was just not willing to pretend that everything was okay.

And then, when I didn't know if I could take it for one more second, I got a card in the mail from a casual friend in New York. She had experienced a similar loss, and her inscription in the card read, “Amy, the only advice I can give you is this: Grieve, but don't wallow. Mourn, but don't dwell.”

And that's the advice that put me on the road to healing. I took it to mean, it's normal and okay to struggle with this, but when you're ready, let yourself move on.

Just like Elder Wirthlin said,
"How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t—at least not in the moment. I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life. If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness."

And he's right, in these recent months after my biggest trial so far in life, I believe that I have grown. I also believe that I'm the happiest person that I've ever been.

Is there a piece of me that's broken beyond perfect repair? Yes. At least for the duration of this life. I'm shattered, but more importantly I'm patched. I still think about what happened every single day, and I still cry when I talk about my loss—but honestly, I'm happy. I laugh. I'm funny. And I have changed.

Now when someone tells me that I dropped the ball at work, I don't waste my time feeling angry or attacked—I listen to what they have to say and decide whether or not it has merit. If it does, I change it.

When my three year old accidentally puts a dent in the wall with a toy, I don't give him a timeout and continue to let my anger rise every time I see the belmish in the sheetrock. I give him a timeout and if the dent is truly bothersome, I repair the wall.

But I'm still human. I worry about the economy and I worry about our income—but when I feel the worry getting the best of me, I stop and tell myself, “We're definitly not going to starve to death.” and then I get on with my day and find something to smile about.

Elder Wirthlin is right, in the midst of my loss, there was no way I could feel happy. But now, five months later I've grown, and I'm a happier person because of what I've been through.
This attitude is yours for the taking, but you have to take it. You have to choose it.

Elder Wirthlin takes it to the next level when he says, “
"I know why there must be opposition in all things. Adversity, if handled correctly, can be a blessing in our lives. We can learn to love it."

To circle back to the beginning of my talk, life stinks—it's part of the deal. We agreed to it when we came to live on this Earth. But life is also good. We can't control the trials and adversity that are thrown our way—no matter what you do, they'll come, and they'll be painful and terrible and hard. But you can be happy, you can be positive, and you can grow. You can choose to let the Refiner's Fire shape you into something new, instead of reducing you to dust.

And I'll leave you with the words of President Gordon B. Hinckley, “In all living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.

***

My little boy was barely around, and probably won't ever be remembered by anyone except my family or by God himself. But honestly, I'm just as grateful for him as I am for Jared and James. He changed my life for the better, and if that was meant to be the extent of his mission on Earth, then I can accept it.

He was tiny. Small enough to hold in the palm of my hand. But to me, that little boy is huge.

50 comments:

mommymelb said...

This was the best church talk I've heard in many years! I wish you could come and give it in my ward.

I only know you through your blog but I sure think you're awesome! You are a great personal example of what you write. Thanks for putting some perspective back into my life.

Rhien Family said...

thanks for sharing this.

It's something I needed a reminder about so I could re-evaluate what trials merit real grief and which require perspective and humor to overcome.

Rosie said...

Thanks for sharing this.

Ashton and Shanda Call Family said...

Thank you for sharing that talk! It brought tears and laughter. Perfect talk. I neeeded that one.

Janille said...

That was really great, Amy :) I know it was all so horrible but I'm glad you're in a good place now. He'll never be forgotten or replaced but someday you'll see him again.

Erik said...

I always look forward to your posts Amy, mostly because the laughs are many.

This is probably your best so far. Thanks so much for sharing.

E

Machen family said...

thank you

Miranda said...

Thank you for sharing...I needed to hear these words and they couldn't have come at a better time.

NorahS said...

Beautiful talk. You can speak in my ward anytime!

Julia said...

Very well said. Come what may and love it is my theme for this year. Sometimes it runs through my head in a sing-song tone and others times it's a bittersweet irony I'm reminded of. Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective.

I love reading your posts!

Kalli Ko said...

how much do i wish i had been sitting in that congregation???

i can relate on a few levels here, but like you say, loss is different for everyone.

i loved elder wirthlin, i still do. what a wise, wise, lovable man.

Stuffbymichele said...

Thank you Amy

VICKI IN AZ said...

Amy, this is a hug to you. ♥ Love that talk. BTW it is in the high 80's this weekend, I love to laugh, come to AZ!

Andrea said...

wow great timing for my family and how true is every word. Thanks

Holly said...

Thanks, Amy.

Rachel said...

Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who has done great things: O God, who is like unto thee! Thou, which has shown me great and sore troubles, shall quicken me up again, and shall bring me up from the depths of the earth. Thou shall increase my greatness and comfort me on every side.
Psalm 71:19-21

Kevin said...

Excellent writing hence the reason that "The Lawsons did Dallas" is one of the blogs that I read first. Thank you for sharing.

Heather of the EO said...

I'm so glad you shared this, Amy. Thank you.

chirunner said...

Amy,

Beautifully done. I can only hope to have such a wonderful perspective and attitude when I am faced with such a challenge.

jennie w. said...

I know that when I lost my baby at 20 weeks it both shattered my world but also became a real turning point for my faith. I really had to figure out what I believed and what everything meant. It strengthened my testimony unbelievably.

It also made me into a waaaay more compassionate person.

I wouldn't wish this kind of thing on my worst enemy because it really sucks, but I have to say that I'm glad it all happened. It will be five years for me in March and the pain is so much less than I ever imagined it would be.

AMiller said...

Thank you.

somethinggirl said...

Yes, this was the best church talk I've heard in years, too. You made me cry. I've been dwelling upon similar thoughts lately, too, about how to enjoy the hardships. I really feel like I've been able to somewhat, only in that I am able to look into the future and see how I will laugh about x then or feel enriched by y or have wisdom from z.

I'm very sorry about your baby. One of my most favourite people on earth lost her baby at 8 months pregnant, after a miscarriage. It was her third baby. She's not LDS. I believe she's agnostic. It's been almost a year and a half and she's still very much broken, without a belief system to cling to. It all makes no sense and there's no comfort to be found. She's retreated into herself so deeply and I worry about her all the time.

These heartbreaking parts of life are so earth-shatteringly shocking when they happen to us. It almost feels like I want to yell out, "Why didn't anyone tell me this could happen? Or why didn't anyone tell me it would be THIS painful?" As my friend James once said, "One day, I'm going to punch pre-existent me because he didn't know what he was talking about."

somethinggirl said...

Sorry-- I just re-read my comment and I'm not sure it's clear. My friend's baby was birthed stillborn and the pregnancy was right after a miscarriage. She's also had three miscarriages since. So sad.

RazZDoodle said...

That was incredibly powerful. Thanks for sharing that part of your life with all of us.

Charlotte said...

Amy, this is one of my favorite quotes. I thought you might like it, too:

"Joy is an emotion of the spirit. It comes through righteous living. It is not a casual or shallow feeling, ever. If we equate fun and pleasure with happiness, we may think pain must always be equated with unhappiness. But that is not true. Joy is not a stranger to pain. We may not feel deeply enough to know joy unless our hearts have been hollowed out by sorrow. A heart may not be big enough to know real joy until it has been stretched and pulled by trials and hard things. In 2 Nephi 2:23 [2 Ne. 2:23] we find this phrase: “having no joy, for they knew no misery.” Our capacity to feel joy actually increases as we righteously endure our pain."
-Barbara Workman, “The Quest for Joy,” Ensign, Jul 2005, 50–54

Blake and Kayce Pearson said...

This talk is the reason I love your blog. I have had 2 miscarriages in the last year, both at about 6 or 8 weeks. I didn't know about either pregnancy until I love the baby.

My attendance started slacking at work, I didn't want to get up in the morning, everytime I looked at my daughter I would cry because my other kids would never experience what she did.

My best friend pulled me out of my funk. She told me that all those babies needed was a body. They didn't need to be tested, they didn't need to be born, or even breathe. They needed their body so they could be resurrected with my eternal family.

It's so hard to pull yourself together after a loss, but I think you are an absolutely amazing woman. I envy your resolve and knowledge.

audgepodge said...

Hi Amy, thanks for sharing such a wonderful post. I look to your blog for many laughs, but this is probably my favorite post as there are a lot of good reminders about living life to the fullest.

Bahston Beans said...

That was beautiful Amy. Love you so much.

Marissa said...

Amazing! You have such a way with words Amy. Thanks for sharing your struggles and triumphs.

Liligurl said...

Great post, I also understand your loss as I have suffered numerous losses such as yours. They do not get easier, you just learn to better adapt. Life is joyous, sometimes you just need to find that joy. God Bless you and your family. The pain doesn't ever go away, you just see it in a new light.

Amy said...

Thanks.

Rosie said...

Today I got my daily poem, from the "writer's almanac." The poem for February 28, 2009, Michael Blumenthal's "What I Believe," seems an appropriate addendum to this post. Here's the link, so that there won't be any copyright violations. http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/

Pauly said...

My wife found this on your blog and had me read it. Thank you or posting this as it definitely helps me put things in perspective. My wonderful Mother just passed away on Tuesday and was buried yesterday; to say I'm having a hard time with it would be the understatement of the year but reading this post does help to give me a different/better outlook on the situation.

Thanks again and I'm sorry for your loss.
Paul.

jennifer said...

The only way it could have been better is if I could have heard you give the 'talk' in person. Excellent.

I am sorry for the loss of your little boy but your attitdue and the words in that last paragraph have blessed my heart today. So he has touched the life of a stranger way down in Alabama too.

Maraiya said...

Really beautiful talk. Thank you.

akshaye said...

Thanks for sharing your talk. That was amazing.

picoides said...

That was beautiful Amy! Thank you for sharing!

Michemily said...

I just got to read this since I was in Frankfurt on Friday and Saturday and had to tell you how lovely your talk was. I always think personal examples are what make talks good. (Of course, last time I couldn't think of any good examples but I had some good life analogies.) Anyway, while I was in Frankfurt, Elder Oaks and his wife spoke. I loved what she said. She was single until she married Elder Oaks in her 50s or 60s. She said, "You're going to have lonely times. Don't deny your feelings. They are a part of life, and they can become blessings that draw you closer to your Father in Heaven."

Reluctant Runner said...

Wonderful talk. I really loved the story about your grandmother. I will look at all the little dents and scratches around the house a bit differently now.

Take care.

Joy Through Cooking said...

((hugs)) Amy. You are such a strong woman, and I am so glad to hear that you are happy now.

You have been in my thoughts since you shared your loss on here.

Shelle-BlokThoughts said...

That was beautiful!!! Thanks so much for sharing and taking your time to let us in your experience! :)

I bet you gave the talk way better than I read also...wish I was there! ;)

Melissa said...

Amy,

Thank you for sharing something so intensely personal with people who are virtual strangers to you.

I admire your strenth, your positive attitude, and your tender humanism.

Congratulations for becoming the incredible person I hope to be someday.

And I hope you don't mind it when I plagiarize large sections of your post for my next talk!

Peace to you,
Melissa

JAMIE RBZ said...

Thank you, Amy.

Shelby Lou said...

amazing.

Grandma said...

love you Amy:))))

Navylangs said...

Thank you.

jkrunning said...

What a beautiful message. Of course your little boy will be remembered. I think we all quietly remember our losses, even when we go on to other things. I had a miscarriage at only 8 weeks but I think about that baby all the time.

Katy said...

I love you Amy. I'm proud of you.

Lindsey said...

Thanks for sharing this Amy. I have been reading your blog, but I hate to type comments one handed, and I usually am reading blogs when I am nursing (extremely mulit-talented, I know. ) Anyway, I have been thinking about you and wondering how you are coping. Thanks for sharing. I just had nother friend mis-carry. She is devistated and I struggle (especially b/c I have a newborn) with how to comfort her. Hope all is well with you. You will be trying again won't you???

Smarry said...

Thank you for sharing that talk! It brought tears and laughter. Perfect talk. I neeeded that one.

___________________
Smarry
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