Wendy VonSosen Photography » childhood. beauty. life

Quite Honestly

Quite Honestly Project

With the onslaught of social media coming at us from all directions, it’s easy to be deceived into believing that life is perfect for everyone else.  With a feed full of beautiful photographs of happy families, perfect outfits and glamorous vacations, it’s hard to remember that life isn’t perfect for anyone.  When life presents us with challenges and struggles, it’s easy to feel isolated, alone, and inadequate.  Hiding these trials from the world is our natural instinct.  But instead of hiding the imperfections of life, what would happen if we shared them instead?  Would we find people struggling with similar challenges?  Would we be able to pass along wisdom we’ve gained?  Would we be more likely to celebrate each other’s wins when we know what challenges were overcome to get there?  Would we be kinder with ourselves? And more understanding of others? 

Through the Quite Honestly Project, I’m hoping to combat the “perfection deception” of social media and support each other through all of life’s experiences by sharing the honesty of the human experience.

If you’re in the San Francisco or Salt Lake City areas and would like to share your story through your words and a photo created with me, CLICK HERE.


ERIK

erik5

I’m not really sure when it first clicked in my head that I was gay. There wasn’t a big “aha” moment where I gasped and the camera zoomed in on me as a musical number about my newfound gaiety started playing. I think I just kind of knew my whole life, but until I learned what the word even meant, I just didn’t care. By seventh grade I had learned what being gay meant and being an active member of the Mormon church, I was scared. I had heard friends and people talk about how “the gays” are an abomination to society and are “ruining the sanctity of marriage.” I managed to get through seventh grade (probably one of the worst years of my life) in denial of who I was. As the next year began, that disguise of denial began to fade. I found myself in a state of constant depression, and I was struggling in school. At this time that small prickling of a feeling had grown into a heavy feeling of doubt and self loathing. This anchor of depression was pulling me under the sea of self hatred, with no way to swim up and the comments from people at school and church pulling me closer to the seafloor. Then one day it just had to come out. I was tangled in the sheets of my bed, that anchor practically ripping them to shreds, in a puddle of my own self hatred when my mom came into my room and wanted to know what was wrong. After a lot of prodding and pleading by her, the words tumbled out my mouth, and suddenly we were both crying. I felt the weight begin to ease. She then went on to show me a video from the church’s “official” website about “our same sex attracted brothers and sisters.” It talked about people like me going to BYU and even marrying someone of the opposite gender. I felt myself sinking back down to that place. I don’t want advice on how to live my life from a church that’s too afraid to even use the word “gay.” She told me this is just a small piece of who I am and there’s a lot more to me, so I shouldn’t focus on it. That completely crushed me, the shards of myself crashing to the ground and scattering in all directions. I felt like I wasn’t even comfortable being myself around my own mother. Although it took her a while, my mom has grown with me, is now a strong ally to the LGBT community, and my strongest supporter. They may not understand right away, but people around you grow with you, if you connect and share with them. She’s told me I can be whoever I want to be and that I should be myself. I’ve grown in my own ways as well. All the things I used to imagine doing in my head back in those days of denial are now things that define me as a person. I joined Youth and Government and discovered my love for speaking out and using my voice to help people like me. I’m out to practically everyone I know. I’m finally able to explore my passion for makeup, something I used to dream of doing but was too scared to try. If you get anything from this story it’s this: don’t stop yourself. If there’s something you want or need to say, do it. People around you may not understand, but like you, they grow in their own way alongside you. We’re all small seeds, growing and twisting around one another in an attempt to reach up and touch the sun. Let your doubts go and stretch until you feel the warmth of your own happiness.


STACY

Quite Honestly Wendy VonSosen

Challenges can hit us from all directions and levels in life. One challenge I have struggled with over the years is self-confidence. My childhood was filled with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. There were many tumultuous and chaotic experiences I went through that were life altering for me and my family. Through these trials, I struggled with self-image and I worried about being accepted by the people I looked up to. I never wanted to disappoint anyone. I was worried about not being good enough at something and at times I felt like I couldn’t take steps forward to achieve what I wanted to achieve. Like many, there have been moments where I have felt totally alone and wondered to myself how I was to overcome these feelings and emotions.

Mastering self-confidence is something I continue to work on to this very day. I don’t have all the answers, but for me, it takes a lot of patience. It takes learning and understanding with yourself and others and lots of practice and reconnecting positive reassurance after moments of failure and disappointment.

Right now for example, I am trying to get myself into song writing and learning the guitar. I love to sing and so playing an instrument would be nice to go with my voice, but it’s not so easy. Then I start to think I can’t do it, I’m not good enough, that someone would judge my lyrics, voice or guitar playing…………….

but what if it makes me happy and I miss out?

So I took some basic guitar lessons a couple years ago and a month into it my teacher asked me to write a song. My first song. I was so nervous. I thought for sure I would make a fool of myself. I pushed through it and wrote out a silly comedy song about my relatives on thanksgiving day (lol). I played the song for my teacher, slipping up on a few chords with a nervous smile and when I finished he said that my song was hysterical and he honestly wanted to hear more.

It’s always nice to hear positive feedback or compliments from others. It gives us a boost of self-esteem and confidence that can help us take the next step forward. I’ve always been grateful to friends and family who have spoken encouraging words. It reminds me to also be encouraging to others.

When I was a little girl, I loved being out in the mountains and surrounded by nature. It was therapeutic for me. Mountains are symbolic and make me feel safe and give off a sense of strength. Mountains remind me to be brave and remind me of my Heavenly Father in Heaven who I have relied upon every day of my life and who has blessed me with so much. As difficult as challenges can be, they have helped me grow and gain prospective. I love the scripture which states, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” -Ether 12:27


TIFFANY

quite honestly wendy vonsosen

Before him I was annoyed by dogs. Simply put, I was not a dog person. It seemed that every one I encountered knew it but tried to convince me otherwise by jumping up on me, sniffing me, licking me or rubbing up against me leaving a trail of hair behind on my clothes. All began to change in 2005 when I first met “Arizona,” a six-week old Golden Retriever puppy. I had a great idea…I’d purchase a purebred Golden Retriever for a very special man I was dating. It was his 40th birthday and I wanted to go big! I had heard him speak so highly of the breed and say several times that one day, when he was ready, he would welcome one into his home. I decided he was ready so I started my search. At the time, I knew nothing of the breed. All I knew is that David wanted a purebred male Golden Retriever with a blocky head. As I came across photos of litters on-line, I thought all the males looked like they had blocky heads and honestly, I couldn’t even tell them apart. I realized fairly quickly that I needed to interact with them personally before making a decision. I kept returning to a litter of puppies living in South Eastern Utah. I liked what I read about the parents both being the family dogs and how the puppies were being cared for. I also liked that they took the time to name their puppies (each one after a different state) and provided multiple pictures of each. I followed my gut and picked up the phone.

The day I made the four hour drive to meet the puppies was a warm, sunny May day. I sat on the grass and waited as the children rounded-up the puppies for me. It seemed an impossible task…how could I choose one? They were all the cutest, sweetest creatures I had ever beheld. I played with, snuggled and intensely studied each male but could not decide which one would be David’s new best friend. As time passed, one by one wandered off to explore something new; that is, all but Arizona. I looked down and he was still by my side with his head resting upon my leg. Done! I didn’t have to make a decision after all. Arizona chose me. Because I am someone who typically doesn’t make impulsive decisions, this one seemed guided and inspired. Even though my head was questioning, my heart was rejoicing. I wrote the check and made arrangements to pick him up in two weeks. I had a week alone with Arizona before flying with him across the country to make his debut on David’s birthday. It was filled with lots of puppy snuggles, play, mischief, and more mischief. I had several moments of panic once I realized what I had just done. What if David wasn’t ready and didn’t REALLY want a dog? I started crafting back-up plans in case my gift was a total bust. Fortunately for me and Arizona, David’s tears upon opening the box said it all. He couldn’t have been more thrilled. As we took Arizona on his first official walk in Virginia, we spoke of possible names for this four-legged fluffball. I had been thinking “Luka” for the past week but felt that David should name his dog. David had always wanted to call his dog, “Maximus.” He asked what I thought and I just didn’t see it. We continued to brainstorm but nothing seemed right so I offered my thought of Luka. As soon as I said it, David lit up. It fit him perfectly.

David then commented about Luka being a 12-15 year commitment and now that we have him, our lives would change. Huh? Our lives? Until that moment, I hadn’t thought about how my life would be affected by my elaborate gift. In fact, it didn’t sink in until a year later when David and Luka moved to Salt Lake City. Our world revolved around Luka and at times, I resented Luka for it. David and I were finally living in the same city and I wasn’t happy about being inconvenienced because of the dog. For example, 1) there were nights we didn’t go out because we both worked during the day and David didn’t want Luka to be alone at night also; 2) because I worked closer to David’s apartment, I was tasked with walking Luka during my lunch-hour; and 3) there was that time that while walking this rambunctious puppy in heels, I fell and ripped a very expensive pair of pants. The list goes on and on. I loved Luka but I struggled with the realities of being a pet parent. I reluctantly settled into our new normal and that included Luka. I went through the motions of walking him, feeding him, playing with him and trying to snuggle him (when he’d finally calm down) but my heart wasn’t totally into it. David reminded me several times that I was the one who made this decision for us, so I needed to suck it up and participate. It became a routine for me and something I did only for David.

As time went on, my relationship with David started to crumble. The arguing, complaining and disappointment reached an all-time high and we decided to part ways. As I watched David walk out of my house that evening, I fell to the floor and wept. My sadness was overwhelming and emptiness completely filled my soul. I can’t say how long my tears flowed but when I finally raised my head and looked up, there was Luka, sitting directly in front of me; watching over me; patiently waiting for me to grieve; letting me know that no matter how long I needed, he would be there. As I sat in front of him, our eyes locked. Neither one of us moved a muscle, other than for him to wipe away my tears with his tongue. In that moment, even though no words were spoken, his spirit spoke to mine. I had always believed that our Father in Heaven uses others to comfort, teach, and do his errands here on earth but the thought never crossed my mind that one of his messengers would walk on four legs instead of two.

Everything changed for me after that experience. Luka and I had connected in a way that I had never known. The immense love I felt for him, in my mind, was likened to what a mother feels for her child. I was consumed with his well-being; I looked forward to spending time with him; and playing tug-of- war until my hands turned numb. I didn’t mind the begging, shedding or slobber. I was more calm, more compassionate and most of the time, more patient. I was truly happy and caught a glimpse of what it is like to love unconditionally.

David saw the change I was experiencing and acknowledged the connection with Luka was real. He agreed that Luka would spend half of the year with me in Utah and half of the year with him in California. That first exchange in 2009 broke my heart. I cried the entire drive back to Salt Lake City from Mesquite. I was a mess without Luka for the first couple of months but as time passed, and knowing he was in good care, our time apart became bearable. I immersed myself in work and patiently watched the calendar. When it came time to make the drive to Mesquite to get him for the next six months, I was elated! This arrangement continued for the next six years. David and I were no longer committed to one another, however, we remained committed to Luka and his well-being. Neither one of us was willing to let him go, until we painfully learned that we were not in control. During the early morning hours on Friday, November 20, 2015, I awoke to Luka suffering a seizure. On Sunday, two brain tumors were discovered after an MRI, and on Monday, he was gone.

His final day was a beautiful one.  Grammy and Grandpa spent several hours with David, Luka and me. We all reminisced about our favorite memories of Luka and all the trouble he caused over the years.  My favorite memories include:  hearing Grammy’s blood curdling screams from the garage one Thanksgiving after Luka had eaten ½ tray of beautiful fruit tarts that she had slaved over; Luka jumping into the front passenger seat of a police car while the policeman was in the driver’s seat because he loved to take a drive over anything else; the two speeding tickets Luka helped me get out of just by loving on the officers when they came to my window; walking into Grammy and Grandpa’s house after being out and hearing Grandpa singing to Luka and playing “name that tune” with him; and who can forget the Christmas Eve when all of us were gathered together sharing memories of our favorite Christmases and Luka getting busy with his blanket right in the middle of our gathering!

In addition to all the sharing of memories and lots of rubs and loves, Grandpa gave Luka his final vanilla ice cream cone and we created his paw prints as keepsakes.  Grandpa and Grammy said their goodbyes and then David and I took Luka on his final walk, one last car ride, and picked him up a double bacon cheeseburger on the way home.  Once home, Luka was very tuckered out so we laid down together and took some final pics before our vet came.  Luka was very peaceful in that last hour; it was almost as if he knew.  After a while of snuggling with us, he got up from the mattress we had placed on the floor and walked over near the kitchen.  He laid down and quietly waited.  When the time came to say goodbye, I laid down in front of him and with my forehead pressed to his, I thanked him for all the love and joy he brought to us; told him how much we loved and would miss him; and that we’d see him soon.  Within a minute, he was gone.  It was a beautiful moment and I’m so grateful for it.

Luka was buried in the pet section of a cemetery at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon.  We placed him in the vault, lying on his bed, with his blanket that he loved so much wrapped around him.  We also placed his two favorite stuffed animals, tennis balls, leash, collar and the house booties he wore at Grammy and Grandpa’s house in the vault with him.  I picked a plot right next to the dog bush, under a tree.  Perfect resting spot for him.  All who loved him most were there as Grandpa dedicated his grave.  It was a perfect ending to a perfect life.  I’m sure some are thinking, “crazy dog lady” and that’s ok.  Some are blessed to love, nurture and look after those who have two legs and some are blessed with those who have four. I’m honored that my Father in Heaven and Luka, himself, chose me for this task.

Several lessons were learned through this experience but those that most stand out to me are, 1) We must not be so hard on ourselves. For several months following Luka’s death, my mind returned to every time I scolded him and I questioned if Luka knew how much I really loved him. I felt a tremendous amount of guilt for working long hours some days or being too tired to take him to the park. To this day, I would be lying if I said that those thoughts still don’t cross my mind but I am comforted in knowing that although my actions weren’t always perfect, the love I had for him was and still is. 2) Our Heavenly Father knows us; he loves us and is mindful of our needs. I once asked a very wise woman what she believed to be our true purpose in this life. I’ve always felt like there was a deeper answer to that question (other than the standard responses you typically hear) but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Her gentle response pierced my soul and I will never forget it. She simply stated, “We are here to learn how to love.” During my many moments of sadness and tears I still shed, I keep hearing her words and can’t help but think that this four-legged fluffball became the most influential of my teachers of how to love. He truly was the closest thing to God’s love that I have experienced and I predict that I will continue to miss him each of my remaining days.

For others experiencing the loss of a beloved pet, allow yourself time to grieve your loss. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Be grateful for every moment and memory, even the mischievous ones. Most importantly, be thankful for the love our animals bring into our lives. And, when the time is right, consider opening your heart and home to another. I’m not quite there yet but know, one day, I will.


JENNIFER

Quite Honestly

Once upon a time, I fell in love with a house. If you’ve happened upon my blog sometime in the past four years, you might have heard of this little 1905 historic home I’ve been restoring. I named it the #1905cottage. You can read about how I fell in love with the home here. When I bought it, I thought I’d grow old in this home, that I would see my children grow up here and that I would welcome my grandchildren into this home. As I sit at my desk looking out my bedroom window on Mother’s Day eve, I see a For Sale sign staked into the lawn.

In a world saturated with blogs and Pinterest, it’s so easy to fall in love with “perfect” images and ideas. I love pretty things as much as anyone. There’s nothing I love more than a beautiful Pinterest page. Sometimes I think it’s easy to get caught up in wanting our lives to reflect those idealistic photos in our feeds. But as I’ve grown older and have experienced more life, I have learned that nobody’s life is perfect. Every single person has struggles. Life is hard. Life can be ugly. I’ve spent the last 8 years sharing the happy, beautiful, fun side of my life on my blog.

Today I want to get real and show you a little more of my not so picture perfect side.  As scary as this is for me, I hope my story will help someone else or at least let you know that life isn’t perfect no matter how it may seem online.

One of the things I fell in love with when I started blogging 8 years ago was the sense of community I found online. This community brought me some of my closest friends.  You see, when I began blogging, I had been suffering from severe depression for many years. I got married when I was 21. I thought my life would turn out just the way I had always imagined it if I just stuck to the plan, stayed on the right path, and did everything right. What I didn’t realize at such a young age is that life doesn’t always go as planned. You can stay on the path, but when other people stray from the path, their decisions can change your life.

This happened to me.

Many years ago, just after I had my second child, I discovered some heartbreaking information that destroyed everything – my marriage, my faith, and my self-esteem. In hindsight, I should have left the marriage then, but I didn’t. I thought I could overcome these revelations through perseverance and the love of my young children. I didn’t want to give up on my marriage so I stood by my husband with hope that things would change.  I did this for many years. We had two more children, I went to church, I volunteered for the PTA, I did everything I was supposed to do but I was drowning. I felt the need to hide what was happening in my marriage from everyone in my life because I was afraid people would judge us and that we wouldn’t be seen as the “perfect” family. Every week I would go to church and feel awful and anxious because I felt I was living a lie. Depression was taking over and I was losing the ability to find joy in my life.

Then, we moved to Utah and my sister encouraged me to start a blog. I found that blogging was an outlet for my creative energy and a way to take my mind off the struggles I was going through. I found friends. I was connecting to people again. I felt energized and creative. I felt like I was contributing something good to the world. I loved that feeling. I read every comment I got and I loved getting to know people from all over the world. I poured my heart and soul into my blog.

Looking back, I can truly say that blogging saved my life.

Then three years ago I found out more heartbreaking information about our relationship and knew this time our marriage had to end. I had to decide whether to stay in the home we had been living in or move to the cottage I had been working on and loved so much. So I made the decision to move into the cottage and add an addition so that there would be room for me and my kids. If I had known how hard this process would be I don’t know if I would have done it. But I was in love with this cottage and all the hard work I had put into it and I really wanted to make my life work there. I struggled trying to find the energy to create things and keep my blog going since it was no longer a hobby but became my job, the way to keep food on the table for my kids and me.

The funny thing about creativity is that it slows way down when you’re sad. I was struggling making it through every day. My mind was on everything but blogging. I was dealing with crushing depression as I felt guilt about ending my marriage. I felt depression as I tried to navigate dating again after 25 years. My self-esteem was at an all-time low after everything that had happened. Over the years control had gradually been taken from me. I no longer had access to or experience with the things that most adults do like balancing a checkbook, paying bills, servicing the car, etc.  I had to learn how to do those things all over again.

 During this difficult time, I began taking anti-depressants which initially made things worse and I began to feel suicidal. I started self-medicating with alcohol – anything to not feel this debilitating sorrow all the time. Over the next few months things got worse and worse until the day of (what would have been) our 25th wedding anniversary, I told my friends I wanted to kill myself and things came to a breaking point.  I got the counseling I desperately needed. I got my medication figured out. I broke a cycle that was truly spiraling toward death.

It’s been a long road. I’ve had some set-backs. But I am so happy to say that I am doing so much better. I’ve rediscovered my creativity. I feel so much happier. I love my blog again. I’m working on repairing the relationships I almost ruined. I made a lot of mistakes. But I’ve learned some of the most important lessons of my life from them. Little by little my self-esteem is improving.

I am taking back my life.

My ex-husband recently remarried and they live in the house we shared for many years. Unfortunately, the cottage is also in that same neighborhood.  As much as I love my cottage and all the work that went into it, selling the cottage and moving seems to be the right choice.  It will allow me a fresh start and give me some distance from the heartache caused by a broken marriage.  It is not easy to begin a new life after divorce.  Living in close proximity to the person I lived with for many years and being constantly reminded of the past. Of past promises that were broken. Of past hopes that have vanished. Is too hard.  I am ready to move forward and heal.

I wanted to stay in the 1905 cottage forever. But for me to move forward with my life, I had to give up that dream. I’ve made the difficult decision to sell the cottage and start over in a new place and create a new future with my kids. When I was so depressed taking this step seemed like too much to handle. But through the love of my family and the support of friends, I know I am strong. Much stronger than I ever thought was possible. After 25 years, I am finally in control of my own life. I can make it anything that I want. I can be happy and make a happy home for my kids anywhere as long as we’re together.

So as I sit here looking out at the for sale sign staked in the yard, I’m sad but I’m also reminded of how strong I am. It’s a symbol of my new life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading my blog and for all of the support I have felt over the past eight years. Sharing this personal story is scary and it makes me vulnerable. But I really felt the need to be authentic and share what has been happening in my life. I hope it might help someone who is going through a hard time in their life. Or give people pause to be empathetic to others who are struggling. I have such hope for the future. I hope you will follow along with me in this new chapter. I think it’s going to be an amazing one!


 

Wendy

quite honestly wendy vonsosen

Life is unpredictable.  Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you realize that you really don’t know much of anything.  At least it seems that way at times. 

I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), or what most people refer to as a Mormon.  I was born and raised in a Mormon home with Mormon parents who had Mormon parents who had Mormon parents, etc…  My Mormon heritage goes back a long way.  If you know anything about our religion, you’ll know that “church” doesn’t happen only on Sundays and special holidays.  We eat, breathe, and live our religion day in and day out.  Mormon culture and Mormon doctrine are ingrained in us from the start. Sometimes it seems we come into this world with a complete Mormon vernacular. I’ve always loved my religion and have had tremendous faith in what is taught.  I’ve clung to the promise that my family can be together after this life when sealed in the temple. What could be better than that? I cherish the tight community of friends that feel like family. I’ve never really had to question any of my beliefs or the doctrine of the church before.

As a teenager, I had a plan typical of most Mormon girls my age; go to BYU, get married in an LDS temple to a nice Mormon boy, settle down and have kids, live the commandments (repent when needed), serve my fellow man, and endure to the end and live together forever with my family. I knew if I followed that scripted path, everything would turn out as perfect as it could be.  The key to this plan was to be married to my husband in an LDS temple so that any kids we had would be sealed to us forever. 

So I did just that.  I got my teaching degree from BYU, married my (newly converted to Mormonism) fiancee, was sealed time and all eternity to him and to our future children in the temple, and have been working on enduring to the end.  We’ve since had four kids and we’ve been raising them in a similar fashion.

If you know anything about Mormonism, you’ll also recall that our church has been in the news recently for a lot of controversy surrounding marriage equality.  The LDS Church strongly supported Proposition 8 in California in 2008 which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry.  We lived in Idaho at the time so we weren’t involved in it and only heard bits and pieces from friends. Prop 8 has since been overturned but even more recently the Church initiated a new policy that bans children living with same-sex couples from baby-naming ceremonies and baptisms and declares members in gay marriages to be apostates subject to excommunication.

What does that have to do with me?  Growing up I wasn’t aware of anyone that was gay.   The subject of homosexuality was avoided at home. It seemed to be this taboo “thing” that happened to people like Elton John and Billie Jean King and not something I would ever be exposed to.  As far as I knew, it was a choice people made and certainly not something that a Mormon would ever dare to choose. Since living in the San Francisco Bay area off and on for the past 18 years, I’ve become more familiar with LGBTQ issues but really hadn’t had any personal experiences that would cause me to examine where I stood.    

So when my 15 year-old son tearfully confided in me that he was gay over a year ago, I was faced with an overwhelming internal conflict.  Two things that my life revolves around, my faith and my family, at odds with one another. Here was my sweet, thoughtful, sensitive son that I know and love who faithfully follows every single rule to a T coming to terms with an identity that our church has historically discriminated against and claimed was a choice.  Knowing that if he were to remain an active member of the LDS church, he would have to remain celibate for the rest of his life with no chance of having the love and joys of companionship.  On the other hand, if he were to choose to marry a partner, he would possibly be excommunicated and definitely be denied entrance into the temple to receive the saving ordinances that we’ve been taught are crucial to living with our family in the next life.  I couldn’t imagine the struggle that was going on in his heart.  I told him that it was OK, that I loved him just the way he is, that I didn’t have all of the answers, but that we would figure it out together.  My husband was out of the country at the time and it would be an entire week before he came home and was able to hear the news from our son.  What a relief it was for my son to finally come out to someone but what a long week it was for me. 

I certainly don’t expect anyone outside of the Mormon church to understand the depths of this conflict.  It seems like a simple thing to just leave a church that discriminates in that way. I wish it were that simple.  I’ve done a lot of questioning and searching and reexamining my faith in the past year and a half and I continue to do so.   When I attend church on Sundays, I do so through a new lens.  I see and hear things from a new perspective. I’ve been able to separate what I know from what I’ve assumed is true but really never truly examined to determine what I believed (like homosexuality). I’m sorting through and separating the doctrine of the gospel from the policies and the culture of the institution of the LDS Church. I don’t agree with this most recent policy change.  For a church lead by Christ and that claims the family is central to God’s plan, this is wrong for so many reasons. 

Countless prayers have gone up asking God the same thing, “What do I do? How do I reconcile this?” And the resounding answer, every single time, has been, “Just love him.”  What a beautiful answer.  And isn’t that what Christ would do?   I have peace that somehow everything will work out in the end.  It’s not my responsibility to figure out how it will happen, thankfully.  But it is my responsibility to love my son unconditionally and support him no matter what. And that’s what I intend to do.

This amazing son of mine has taught me so many things in the past year, the most important of which is unconditional love.  To say that my mind has been expanded would be an understatement. I’ve learned so much about LGBTQ issues and I know that sexual orientation isn’t a choice, it’s something you’re born with. I’ve learned the importance of putting yourself in another’s shoes when you don’t understand them.   I’ve learned that family comes first no matter what.  I’ve been humbled by the unexpected support and unconditional love from those in our community. I’ve learned that there’s strength in being honest even when it’s uncomfortable. I’ve learned that we’re all in this together and the beauty that comes with sharing life’s challenges whatever they may be. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for owning your own beliefs.

This past year I’ve found a community of mothers going through similar struggles who are stellar examples of unconditional love.  I have a new appreciation and love for the LGBTQ community, especially the youth in the LDS Church who struggle to reconcile their place in their families and their religion. These kids are courageous, fabulously talented, beautiful people and I count myself lucky to be the mother of one of them.


 

Krista

 

Quite Honestly Wendy VonSosen

One night during finals week one of my daughters, after seeing what I had made for dinner, begged me to take her to Baja Fresh.  Yes, of course, I was totally insulted but she had worked really hard that week and I thought she did deserve something nice and perhaps something that wasn’t so Minnesota casserole-ish.  So I agreed to drive her over to the restaurant but I told her that since I was already in my pajamas (I had had a headache and wanted to lay down) that I was not getting out of the car and that she had to run in and pay/pick it up all by herself.  The last thing I remember was her getting back in the car from picking up the food.  I then apparently drove to Costco, shopped, and while we were checking out, told my daughter that my head really hurt and then I stumbled.   I fell unconscious on top of my 15 year-old who then fell on top of an older gentleman.  I then began to have a gran mal seizure right there in Costco,  in front of the hot dog pick up line.  I bit through my tongue so lots of blood.  Costco couldn’t find my pulse so my 15 year-old daughter thought I was dead and the ambulance was called.  I have no memory of the entire event. I was referred to two different neurologists.  One local and one who only treats seizure patients at UCSF.  Part of my challenge is that I’m now getting significantly different messages from both of the doctors and that my safe, happy world has suddenly changed.  I have lost all of my freedom, I am having trouble with my short term memory, I can’t drive, and I really don’t know what my future life will be like.  It’s scary.  Fear takes over more than I would like to admit.  Probably the hardest part of this whole experience is that my husband and I have been together for 26 years and our relationship is very strong but for the first time we’ve started fighting  – always about little things but we have lost our way of communication.  It’s unsettling to me that my health can have such a negative impact on my family and on my relationships. 

I have never felt the need to hide what happened to me physically from other people but I do feel that people just can’t understand the complicated emotional side to this.  I feel isolated everyday.  I feel powerless.  I feel inadequate. I feel invisible.  The meds make me feel like a stranger.  Someone I don’t recognize, don’t understand.  Just not me.    I think those raw emotions scare people. They are strong emotions.  I have found myself pulling in, not wanting to be social because sometimes its hard to pretend everything is alright.

For others going through something similar, I have come to realize that sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey but that’s ok because it’s not for them.  How I handle this will define me and no one else.

I have found that people are interested in knowing what happened to you but their lives move on and they forget.  It’s nothing personal just life and its your own transition.

You are not crazy.


Jack

Jack5b

I was born with a rare heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.  My mom and dad  found out about it the day after I was born and were given two options;  a series of fairly new surgeries throughout my first three years of life, or to take me home and let me die peacefully.  Lucky for me, they chose the surgeries.   After 3 open heart surgeries, I am left with a long scar running down the middle of my chest. The surgeries allow my heart to function with one ventricle (or pump) instead of two so my circulation is a little different.  Because my heart works harder, I have a limited ability to run, play contact sports, and I tire out pretty quick.

When I was in middle school, I wanted to be like everyone else.  Middle school is all about blending in.  Nobody wants to stand out in middle school.  So I hid my heart condition.  I didn’t tell my friends about it and I didn’t even like to talk to my parents about it.  I was especially embarrassed by the scar, but I realized that there was nothing I could do to change it.

Now that I’m a senior in high school and am preparing for college in the fall, I’ve come to terms with my condition and my limitations.  My friends know that I have a heart condition but I don’t let it define me and continue to live a very normal life. I  explore my limits and do all I can with what I have.  I don’t sit around and feel sorry for myself because I’m limited.  I never turn down the opportunity to try something new because I want to see how much I can do and I don’t want to miss out on life’s experiences.

 I feel blessed that I am as healthy as I am, because many people go through situations that are much more difficult. We are all the same in God’s eyes and it’s important to be thankful for all that we do have, rather than what we lack.


LINDSAYLyndsay3blog

I have Alopecia, a super fun (not) condition where my hair falls out on my entire body. I was diagnosed with it at age 5 and 35 years later it’s just a part of my being. There are many challenges that come with this but the most challenging is the insecurity that comes with not “looking normal”. In a society like ours everyone wants to be “perfect” and being a young girl, a teenager, a young adult being bald does not fit that mold. I was teased in grade school for having bald spots, I was stared at in stores for being bald and I have been approached by many wonderful people who feel the need to pray for me. Being bald is not ideal. As a woman many times I didn’t feel beautiful, sexy, worthy, and so much more. The challenge was trying to hide it from the world while desperately trying to love myself at the same time.

I have always felt isolated with this disease. Being diagnosed so early in life there really weren’t that many cases and doctors really didn’t know what it was from. I was told that my hair fell out from stress at 5 years old. I had to take 7 huge pills a day full of vitamins in hopes that it would grow back. I had multiple shots in my head to jump start regrowth. I had to style my hair in different ways to hide bald spots. I didn’t want to be around boys in junior high in fear they would notice. In high school it finally got to the point where it was time to wear a wig. Thank God I had an amazing group of boys and girls who have known me since grade school who supported me. I tried my best to hide it from everyone. I became very depressed, got severe anxiety to go out in public and eventually had to go to therapy. I didn’t want to be different, I wanted to be like everyone else. Eventually as I matured and and grew up I realized I am an amazing person inside and out, beautiful, confident and caring. It took some time but to be honest my husband helped a lot. He met me with my hair on and he urged me to go without. He asked me to marry him when I was in bed, bald and vulnerable, because that’s how he loved me best.

If only we could teach girls to be confident in who they are from the minute they enter this world. If only I knew what an amazing person I was the entire time I wouldn’t have had to go through all the struggles of trying to fit in. Sometimes I think if I went to the support groups and conventions they provide it might have been different. But….. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t go through what I did in my past. To anyone in my position, I would say embrace who you are, accept it, teach others about it and your differences, be confident and if you ever need…..talk to someone.  You’re never really alone.


MO

mo

I have Dyslexia. It’s pretty bad and I’ve struggled my whole life with it. I remember sitting with my mother at a parent teacher conference with Sister Martha in 3rd grade and being told that I was “mildly retarded.”  I was not correctly diagnosed with Dyslexia until the 2nd quarter of 4th grade. I missed all the lessons on phonics being taught in the years beforehand so I REALLY can’t spell.

My mom taught at my catholic high school as the English dept. head. She is VERY smart but tends to be passive aggressive. Long story short, one day she unknowingly insulted my 10th grade English Lit teacher. Soon after he gave a true false test, which I did very well on, but I misspelled “false” every time. He took my test, transferred it to an overhead transparency, and used my test as the teacher’s answer key in front of the entire class. He spent the majority of the time pointing out to the class that the department head’s 10th grade child can’t spell a 2nd grade word.

At times I feel less than smart. I can’t spell and I don’t like people watching me type or write. I have an unbelievable fear of spelling the word wrong. I get such anxiety! It’s hard to take notes or do dictation in front of anyone. And don’t get me started about having to read a passage out loud in front of a crowded room. I start moving whole words into different spots. I get nervous and sweat starts to run down the back of my neck and I freeze up. If writing in a note pad in front of people I feel judged and I try to write messy so people can’t tell I’m spelling words wrong. The problem with this technique is that I can’t understand my own notes later on.

There was a time when I thought I would go into a career as a school teacher, but decided it would highlight my disability too much and give the kids too much ammunition to make fun of me.  I spent a year of my professional career as a mortgage banker – not the career for a dyslexic. The loan could be for $12,000 or it could be for $21,000. True story. I also transpose letters and numbers. I ruined more than one of my roommates’ dating lives by writing down the phone number of their potential suitors wrong. Oops!

To others challenged with Dyslexia, I have one word for you -TECHNOLOGY! Spell check and computers have made life so much better! Surround yourself with good people with the skills you lack and outsource to those people. Have co-workers or friends be your editors.  Know what you are good, if not great, at and exploit it. Through the years I’ve developed coping mechanisms of humor and, oddly, I love public speaking if it’s a subject I know and can talk about off the top of my head. I must love the sound of my own voice! And don’t let anyone break down your self esteem.

I remind myself all the time about the famous successful people who are also dyslexic: Albert Einstein, Charles Schwab, Henry Winkler , Daymond John, John Irving, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, and Brian Grazer to name a few.


Quite Honestly Wendy VonSosen

I read a quote once that said,”Parenting is like looking both ways before you cross the road and then getting hit by an airplane.” In his freshman year of high school we started noticing some unsettling behavior in our oldest son. He had always been happy and easy going, so we thought his new behavior was a result of teenage growing pains. We read and did everything we could to try and help him navigate this new phase of life. But we quickly realized that he needed more help than we could provide so we took him to a professional. The diagnosis – Depression and ADD. The solution – hospitalization. That was the moment I was hit by the airplane while crossing the road!

How could I have missed the signs? I had failed my son. Rationally I know this is not my fault, but this has changed me. I look back through his childhood and think “what could I have done differently? Where did I go wrong?” I second guess my abilities with my other children. I feel like a failure. Even now that he is managing his diagnosis and thriving at work and school, I still panic and look both ways anytime he has a bad day…I can’t survive another airplane crash.

I have felt isolated at times, in part because I want more than anything to protect my son, but also because mental and emotional illness is still so invisible. People don’t understand it.

I would want other parents going through something similar to know that this is not a death sentence. It can be managed and your children can still live happy productive lives. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and keep the communication open between you and your child.


KATRINE

I have always struggled with my weight. I struggle with confidence in myself, my abilities and sometimes standing up for myself just because I don’t feel like I’m normal or valued. I can’t even begin to explain how frustrated I have been when I consider how long I have tried to eat healthy and exercise. It is extremely hard for me to lose weight. A lot of times I feel stuck in this body that I don’t feel belongs to me. I am trying to work on being positive and happy with where I am, but at the same time trying to overcome this weakness I’ve been given. I’m trying to be thankful for a healthy body. I have no health issues or health problems, and I eat healthy and exercise. But for some reason my body likes to hold on to everything.

I know many people struggle with this. I think most women do at some point in their lives, no matter what size they are. I have felt alone sometimes though.  There are lots of times that I have not felt like I wanted to go to an event or gathering because I have not felt comfortable in my own body.  I am often tired of wearing the same dresses that I always wear because I don’t want to see myself in jeans or other clothes that are tighter fitting. I am sure I have missed a lot of great opportunities to meet new people and missed great experiences because I didn’t put myself out there.

I have however realized that I do not need the world’s approval about how I look to feel good about myself. I have come to realize how important it is to be happy throughout my own process, not just when I meet my goals.  I love the person that I am and I know that I am a daughter of God. I know He has created me the way I am without making any mistakes.  When you look at an overweight person, don’t automatically assume that you are looking at a person who has poor eating habits or chooses to have a sedentary life style. Sometimes it is far from the truth.  The impact the insecurity of being overweight has had in my life, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy and, by the way, for a lot of years my worst enemy was myself.  No one needed to call me any names, I had plenty of those for myself.” 

I am choosing to let go of my own insecurities. I am learning to feel happier about myself. I am trying to live healthy. I have a wonderful husband and kids who love me no matter what size I am. I don’t want to waste any more time worrying about other people’s opinions or judgments. I am striving to be healthy and I am working on a better version of me, because I can always improve. Believing in myself and seeing myself as God sees me, is a great responsibility. As a famous quote says…”You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.


AMY

Quite Honestly Wendy VonSosen

At age 40 I became pregnant. I knew from the early stages of my pregnancy that this would be a different experience.   At my first ultrasound it was apparent that our son had a serious heart problem and would most likely need a heart transplant.  However, the ob/gyn also wanted us to see a specialist.  After an amniocentesis they discovered that the baby boy I was carrying had full Trisomy 18, a condition where there is an extra 18th chromosome, usually an abnormality “not compatible with life.”  Some babies survive this condition but most are girls.  Most full Trisomy 18 boys are either stillborn or live a short time after birth.

Needless to say, it was difficult to absorb this news.  Doctors asked if I would like to abort the baby or carry on with the pregnancy.  As my husband and I sat in the doctor’s office, I couldn’t believe they were talking to us.  It was surreal. My heart ached to understand why and how I would make it through the pregnancy.  I wondered how we would tell our other children.

We carried this knowledge for several weeks before letting people know.  It was difficult to know how to respond to normal pregnancy questions.  “Aren’t you so excited for this baby?” “Can we have a shower for you?” Kind hearted friends offered to share their gently used baby items. I knew in my heart that Baby Winston would never need a crib, a stroller, or baby clothes and worst of all, he would not grow old on earth with me as his mother.

The agony of knowing how best to navigate the heartache my husband and I felt was difficult.  We finally let people know because the normally harmless questions felt more like irremovable barbs to my heart.  I carried on with the pregnancy for several months knowing it would not end like most pregnancies.

Eight months into my pregnancy, Baby Winston stopped moving and his heart stopped beating.  I knew he was gone and I wished that my own heart had stopped too.

He was delivered like my other babies but without a heart beat.  We had some tender moments with our son before he was taken to the hospital morgue.   Leaving the hospital with empty arms was one of the most difficult experiences. Not only were my arms empty but it was Mother’s Day as well. It seemed like a cruel joke.

The weeks following the loss were challenging to say the least.  It was a dark time for me.  My husband, knowing my sorrow, worked hard to help me heal.  He bought me a mountain bike in hopes of encouraging me to get out.  We took some rides and miracles happened.  The heaviness started to lift.   It was the first time I felt peace.  I found that being in nature and pedaling healed my soul.  I started riding as much as I could.  As I rode I would feel Winston whispering to my heart that everything would be OK.  My husband, however, did not like me riding the mountain trails alone when he was at work.  Little by little, I found women to ride with. Women who were kind and understanding.  Women who occasionally would let me cry as I rode, with no judgement.  Women who were supportive and positive as I came to terms with my loss.

Despite years passing, every spring I revisit the loss as I remember my pregnancy.  Spring still seems grey despite the new birth of life and color.  Mother’s Day is still very hard.  Gratefully, I know that I can get on my bike and be surrounded by my mountain biking friends.  We are all different ages and have all different backgrounds.  The group dynamic changes as women have babies and come and go due to varying life experiences.  I have learned that we can deal with unimaginable pain and sorrow with the support of the right people.  With the help of my family and an amazing network of women, I have learned how to deal with the loss of Baby Winston.

Women who create loving, supportive, caring environments can be incredibly empowering to one another. My mountain biking group does more than climb mountain trails. We encourage and remind each other that we are not alone in the trials we face in life. We do not compete with one another.  We simple ride to improve ourselves physically, spiritually and mentally. Each of us has our own unique life trials and obstacles.  As we drive to the trails, we share our hearts and offer help to one another.  Then we climb the trails together. When I have been tempted to quit pedaling on a difficult trail, I have a group of people reminding me that I am stronger than I think and I am not alone.


BECKY

quite honestly wendy vonsosen

After the birth of my second child the complications with the pregnancy and delivery left me unable to have anymore children of my own. I have always had a heart for adoption so the decision to adopt was a no-brainer for my husband and I.

After trying for almost a year with an agency, they had to close their doors so we switched to an amazing attorney in our area. She found us a match. We spent five months helping and building a relationship with them. When it was time to have the baby, we flew out and waited. The birth parents chose not to place. It was a feeling I can’t describe. After about another month we were matched again! The day before the birth, the birth mom decided against placing. We have not been chosen since. It’s been two and a half years of waiting. It’s painful and hard and frustrating and every emotion a human can have. You become exhausted and often question what the point to all of it is. And so you wait…

I would like others to understand that adoption is hard and it doesn’t always work out and it’s more complex than you know unless you have been through it. Adoption isn’t too common so while others are planning their family the conventional way, you are sort of out on open waters with not a lot of people who can even understand where your heart is. There are multiple ways to adopt (internationally, through the state, through an attorney or agency) and each one of these is so different from the next. It’s painful and hard and there is a hole missing in a family’s heart waiting for their baby. Offer your love and support!

Giving advice is a difficult thing with adoption. The best thing you can do is just say “if there is anything I can do, please ask”. There is so much going on that no one knows about that pertains to your situation. We have tried it all and have a team helping us. We just need support and love. Also whatever option a family chooses is because that’s what works for their family. Support and be happy for them.


JAICY

quite honestly wendy vonsosen

I got the feeling that I needed to participate in Wendy’s project many times before I actually got up the guts to email her. I kept telling myself – your life is good! Which it is, don’t get me wrong  there. But I was touched by the sentiment that life can be good even if we are sharing the not so good parts, better even. There is strength in openness and honesty.

   

It took us a little under a year to get pregnant the first time. 20 weeks in I was anxiously awaiting  our gender reveal and had planned a party that evening with our close friends. My doctor called  a few days prior with my second trimester blood screen results that cited a 1/32 chance of some  off the wall genetic disorder, told me not to panic, that they would check everything out on  Thursday. As we sat through the ultrasound they recorded the extent of the complications, the  mention of “it’s a girl” was shared awkwardly without fanfare. They lined up genetic counseling  and specialists over the next few months, none of which would end up knowing anything.

  

Fast forward 19 weeks, I was induced a week early to ensure that the delivery room and NICU  would be fully staffed with all the specialists needed for our baby girl, Torrance. I had a c-section  and they barely brought her by my face on the way to the NICU. A few hours later they wheeled  me upstairs where I was allowed to touch her hand in the minutes before the ambulance arrived  to take Torrance to the Children’s Hospital. It wasn’t until two days later, after my discharge from the hospital, that I was able to visit her and hold her for the first time. It wasn’t the bonding experience every new mom pictures. The physical and emotional separation I felt was  preparing me as Torrance passed away just shy of three weeks old. 

Losing a child has changed how I live and love. At the time I felt like it was a blessing that we  didn’t have other children so we didn’t fully understand the grief of what we were missing out  on. But I am realizing now that the grief will come throughout our lives as we pass each milestone without her.

Our daughter Colette was born in 2014 by way of IVF Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis  meaning her embryo was tested for the same disorder Torrance had before they implanted. It  was a long process with hundreds of needles to get pregnant, but besides a few extra steps she  arrived without complication and is perfect.

  

I am now 24 weeks pregnant with another baby girl and inevitably those fears creep back in. I  avoid talking about my pregnancy even though the doctors assure us that everything is all right.

 

I’m sure if I was on the other side of this table listening to a friend share these feelings I would 

 tell her how totally normal and understandable they are. I wonder sometimes why we can’t  extend ourselves the same mercy and love that we share with others. Now I would also share how therapeutic it is to verbalize our thoughts and fears in writing, even if they will never be shared, so that we can understand and overcome.  

I know that it will turn out okay, but I have learned that it doesn’t always mean it’s okay along the way. One piece of wisdom that has kept me going is “We either make ourselves miserable or  make ourselves strong, the amount of work is the same.” I try and remind myself that joy takes  just as much effort as fear. All things considered I can choose joy and come out feeling blessed. I  am so grateful for the growth that comes from challenges and the continued support of family and friends. I have a supportive husband and a beautiful 18 month old and I will choose to enjoy it.


MELISSA

quite honestly wendy vonsosen

Those nearest and dearest to me have compared me to a squirrel; Determinedly running full speed in a direction, only to suddenly turn on a dime, change course and run in another for no apparent reason at all.  Always busy with an ‘important’ task, yet a bit lost and confused in its purpose. 

As much as I’d love to deny this squirrel accusation, it can’t be argued. My mind is constantly swimming (drowning rather) in the list of things that need, must, HAVE to be done, that I find myself losing focus on my true purpose in life; motherhood. 

I’m well aware that I am not the first to feel overwhelmed with running a household and raising young children, but my circumstances are a bit different than most in my community… I am a single, working mother. 

I know that the title isn’t a rare one, and it’s not one that I am ashamed or burdened by owning. I feel extremely blessed to have all that I do, but when the women I work with, socialize with, volunteer with and/or parent alongside are not in my situation, they are most often able to do more and give more than I can. I find myself comparing circumstances and feeling inadequate in what I can provide my children with.  

Soon I find myself in a cloud of “busy work” having lost focus on my little ones and hyper focusing on all that I am lacking, turning me into the above mentioned squirrel who has lost her purpose. 

For others with similar challenges, I would encourage them to do exactly what I have trouble doing…  staying focused on what is most important. To simplify life with less distractions so you can be the mother you want to be, and the one that your children need. I know that when I do, that’s when I feel most at peace with myself and with my life.” 

‘Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,

For babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow,

So quiet down cobwebs. And dust go to sleep. 

I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.’