In the Book of Mormon, there is a record of a family who traveled from the Tower of Babel to the American continent. The family of Jared soon received their first glimpse of a vast, stormy ocean, having been required of the Lord to crawl into some mysterious air-tight vessels they were promised would carry them safely to a better place. As they gazed into the deep, moving water, they breathed the unfamiliar sea salt and felt the ice cold water lap at their feet. "What will become of our family?" "Can we do this thing that God requires of us?"

These were the questions we asked as our family stood on the edge of a new journey in February 2011. Before Cathi was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, we saw the waves of an unfamiliar storm brewing and felt the fear of anticipation. When the cancer was certain, our family was required to wade into the cold water, crawl into a mysterious vessel and trust the Lord would be in charge.

The family of Jared was given stones touched by the finger of the Lord that provided light inside their vessels "that they might not cross the great waters in darkness......and it came to pass that...(they) set forth into the sea, commending themselves unto the Lord their God. And it came to pass that the Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind. And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind. And it came to pass that when they were buried in the deep there was no water that could hurt them, their vessels being tight like unto a dish, and also they were tight like unto the ark of Noah; therefore when they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters. And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind. And they did sing praises unto the Lord; yea, the brother of Jared did sing praises unto the Lord, and he did thank and praise the Lord all the day long; and when the night came, they did not cease to praise the Lord. And thus they were driven forth; and no monster of the sea could break them, neither whale that could mar them; and they did have light continually, whether it was above the water or under the water." Read the rest:

This blog is the captain's log of our family's journey. It will serve to keep all of you updated on Cathi's condition but also be a place where I can express the lessons we are learning so that it might be a source of strength for others who are going through difficult challenges. We are certainly not unique in this regard. I hope to continue trusting in the light we have been given and to lead our family when we are encompassed by the dark ocean or tossed by its waves. We sincerely seek for your faith in asking the Lord to calm the water, give strength beyond our own and lead all of us of us to a better place.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Our Silver Wedding Anniversary

(Cathi surprised me this morning by writing this post as part of her gift to me on our anniversary...I also wrote a post about her...this coincidence was NOT planned!)

It was twenty-five years ago today--August 13, 1986--that Jerry and I were married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. What a wonderful day, being surrounded by many loved ones and looking forward to our lives together! I couldn't imagine being happier than I was that day. Since then, as Jerry and I have lived quite a bit of life together, life has gotten better and better. We've added five wonderful children to our family--Sam, Andrew, Leah, Emma, and William--and we've learned and grown together as we've raised this family. (We're STILL in the process of learning, that's for sure.) We've lived in many places--Provo, UT; Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, PA; Boston, MA; Indianapolis and Bloomington, IN; Houston, TX; and now Castle Rock, CO. We've loved every part of the country that we've lived in and cherish every friend we've made along the way. And we've learned to know and love each other more every day.

As Jerry and I have gone through this cancer journey together during the past six months, I've learned even more about what kind of a guy I'm married to. He's not perfect, but I think he's pretty great. He's helped me through some rather rough times and has been there every step of the way for me. Here are just a few things I'm grateful for:

Jerry has let me know that his love for me is unconditional. I remember taking my bandages off a couple of days after my mastectomy. It was very frightening, both physically and emotionally. I remember getting a bit nauseated during the process and having to sit down for a minute, but we just took it slowly. When the bandages were totally removed and it was time to look in the mirror, it was a bit shocking, but Jerry's first words were, "We're going to be okay." He let me know that he loved me just as much as ever, even though my physical body had changed quite drastically. Now, I've been bald for months and I have just a fraction of my eyebrows (although my eyelashes are still there, for some reason) and my appearance drives me crazy. I'm so ready to grow hair back once again! But Jerry lets me know that I'm fine just as I am and that my baldness has never bothered him in the least. I think he truly means it.

Jerry has helped to make these crazy months of surgeries, recoveries, and the long process of chemo as normal as possible for our family. He's helped keep things clean, orderly, and comfortable, and that has meant a lot to a woman who is a bit of an order freak. He's made sure that the kids have had fun and have had normalcy in their lives, even when I haven't been able to do things with them or take them places. It's been a great blessing for me that our family life has stayed constant, even with this major health challenge.

Jerry has been a listening ear, more than he's ever needed to be in our entire marriage. He's listened, counseled when he's needed to, wiped away plenty of tears, and let me know that rough times don't last. He's helped me develop stronger faith, hope,and trust in the Lord. And oh yes, he's helped me laugh a lot. I can't imagine our marriage and family without lots of laughter. Jerry's quirky sense of humor is one of the main reasons I fell in love with him!

Jerry has let me know that he would do ANYTHING for me, and he has. For example, a couple of weeks ago, as I was going through the roughest few days of my last chemo round, I didn't feel so great. I had been trying to take very little anti-nausea medicine so that I'd avoid the jitters and blurry eyes that drove me crazy in the past. But because of this, my stomach didn't feel so great. I just didn't know what I wanted to eat. Finally, I realized that some KFC mashed potatoes sounded good. (I know, that sounds awfully bland.) Jerry didn't hesitate when I made my request, even though KFC is not at all close to our home. He told me that he'd gladly buy or make anything I wanted, any time of day or night. And I believe he would!

I could go on and on with my "gratitude list" regarding my good husband, but I'd better stop before he dies of embarrassment (or possibly gets a big head). I'm just very grateful for the blessing of having met my best friend in January of 1985, having married him in August of 1986, and having the privilege of spending my whole life with him.

I love you, Jerry! Happy 25th Anniversary!


The Girl I Married

Twenty-five years ago today, I married my best friend. I really wasn't ready for such a big commitment, but who is? We walked out of the Salt Lake Temple as Mr. and Mrs. Van Leuven, both of us naive about the future but thankful we were sealed to each other forever.

Cathi and I in front of the Salt Lake Temple

It all started at Brigham Young University when I moved into a new basement apartment just north of the Cougar Stadium. A couple of cute girls caught my eye at church and I began dating one of them. Soon I was making frequent visits to her house to watch videos, eat dinner, and hang out. One Saturday night, while holding her hand, I became acquainted with another roommate I didn't know named Cathi Carroll. I was immediately drawn to her sense of humor and her traditional background and way of thinking. As my date fell asleep (still holding hands), Cathi and I talked and laughed well into the night and finally stopped shortly before we needed to get ready for our morning church meetings.

Cathi and I posed for a funny church ward directory while at BYU

Our friendship continued to grow. We began to spend more time together and confide in each other.  One night, Cathi told me she thought she would someday be an old maid teaching school somewhere down in Southern Utah. Although she poked fun at herself and said it with humor, I knew she really believed it and it made me feel sad. Cathi was an intelligent, witty, talented near college graduate who easily stepped into the background when others took center stage. She wore a lot of beige and a
This was a "Daddy Daughter Date;" Cathi is at the far right.
practical hairdo. She was raised by older parents in small, rural Heber UT where she grew up with much older siblings. As she grew into a young woman, she was keenly aware of the fact that she was a lot taller and larger than most girls her age. While other girls became involved in dancing, cheerleading, sports and boys, Cathi focused on her studies, accompanying just about every musical performance on the piano and working a part-time job nearly every night. Some of her best friends were the older ladies she worked with at Palace Drug on Main Street.

One night, I made a risky decision based on the fact that Cathi and I had built a strong mutual trust. I didn't want Cathi to live beneath her potential and felt a growing desire to help build her self-worth. To that end, I created a contract and presented it to her the following evening for her signature. The agreement made me her official "mentor" in helping her to become a new and improved woman. As part of the agreement, I gave Cathi a list of scary changes she needed to make such as diet, exercise, make up, hair style, etc. etc. Since I wasn't an expert in much of this, I pulled out photos of my old girl friends and suggested she look at them for ideas. Tacky, insensitive male, huh? I even went as far as banning all self-depreciating humor and encouraging her to serve a church mission (something that scared her to death). She signed.

This is the infamous contract

In time, Cathi made a pretty dramatic transformation. Not only did she lose a lot of weight and look more fashionable, her confidence grew in part from the positive comments she constantly received. My little contract got her started, but SHE took it from there with great discipline and willingness to take personal risks. As you can well imagine, I started to see her in a different light. This was no longer just my buddy who baked me brownies and listened to me go on and on about girls I wanted to date.

Here's Cathi in her new, daring dress trying to look like Linda Rondstadt on the cover of her album, "What's New?"

Cathi sitting on a couch in my bachelor's pad

I remember one night, in the beginning of all these changes, I took her to the Mormon Arts Ball on campus. I bought her a corsage and slapped on some cologne, really wanting to create a special night for her. We had a wonderful evening together (of course laughing most of the time). After bringing her home, we walked to her steps and I kissed her on the cheek. I remember feeling such a tender, protective feeling for this girl, my best friend. Within the next several months, I found myself falling romantically in love with the best kept secret in Provo.

Cathi's BYU graduation
Cathi graduated from BYU then received her call to the England Manchester Mission, a dream place for an English graduate. One evening, as we walked near the Provo Temple, I felt like I would burst. I knew for some time that I would ask Cathi to marry me but was very cautious...partly because I was scared to death and also because I could never hurt Cathi by showing any uncertainty about how I felt about her.
Cathi organizing books (imagine that)

I finally blurted out, "Cathi, can we get married when you return from your mission?" It was the first time I confirmed my feelings for her. Later, she told me she had felt a growing desire to be more than just friends with me but kept trying to convince herself this would never happen. We kissed and held hands for the first time. (I know, sick...) Within the next few days, upon the advice of several key people, including local church leaders, Cathi decided not to serve a mission and instead, marry me. (Yikes! Much sooner than I had planned on...)

I have congratulated myself a few times for rescuing Cathi from being an old maid in Southern Utah. However, soon after we married, it was quite evident that I would get much more out of this deal than she would. Cathi is responsible for anything about me over the years that is new and improved. She didn't do it with a silly contract but with years of consistent patience and faith in my ability to rise above my weaknesses. Her gift of humor has gotten us through more than one challenge. She has born our five children and some serious health challenges with great dignity. She has brought refinement into our home with her love of literature, music, and classic entertainment. Her world has not been one made of performance reviews, professional clothing, worldly recognition and bonuses...but one of stinky diapers, laundry, longing for adult conversation, worrying about teenagers, driving a van, and fixing dinner (even though she hates to cook). Cathi is the foundation that holds our fort together. She's obsessed with order and cleanliness...but mainly, she keeps a very cool head when there's a lot of drama going on. The greatest bargain I got when I married this unassuming, observant girl that never dated, was someone who can easily look past the superficial things in life and lock onto the things that are lasting.

Twenty-five years ago, I took my best friend away from her small hometown and showed her a life she never would have known. Over these past years together, she has led me to a better life and continues to give me hope that we will both someday know something far greater. And I still think she's the best kept secret in town!

Cathi with her dad on our wedding day

Cathi with her mom on our wedding day

Cathi and I on our wedding day

Cathi and I with my parents

Someday, Cathi and I want to achieve the love shown by some of the happy, old folks shown in this video...