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What do you do when the storms of life leave you battered and bruised? When life seems chaotic on every level and there is no relief in sight? When the very worst thing you can imagine happens to you?
When author Merrilee Boyack faced a series of difficult trials — including a diagnosis of cancer — she had to confront those questions head-on. Drawing from her own experience, Merrilee shares the valuable lessons she learned about overcoming adversity, finding physical and spiritual healing, and embracing joy. She reminds us that in trying times there are things you can change and things you can't change — but you always have choices.
Whatever challenges we are facing, we can choose to accept the divine help that is available to us. We can choose to embrace the opportunities for growth. We can choose to find tranquility in the midst of turmoil.
In her most powerful book to date, Merrilee Boyack examines the essential choices that confront each of us in trying times and offers insight and encouragement for us to just keep trying.
- Size: 5½" x 8"
- Pages: 148
About the Author
Merrilee Boyack is a crazed woman who loves eating out and taking naps when she can. She is an estate-planning attorney who conducts her law practice from home. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in business management—finance, and from University of Santa Clara Law School. Merrilee is also a professional lecturer, featured for many years at BYU Education Week, and a published author. Her interests include reading, camping, talking, eating, and helping children in Africa. She’s now a pesco-vegetarian and is having to relearn how to cook!
She is the author of several books and talks, including The Parenting Breakthrough, Strangling Your Husband Is Not an Option; Toss the Guilt and Catch the Joy; and her most recent, In Trying Times, Just Keep Trying. Merrilee and her husband, Steve, reside in Poway, California, and have four sons, one grandson, and a granddaughter on the way!
Facing the Storms of Life
It’s been a year. An unbelievable year. I was talking to a friend recently and she said, “Who would have ever believed so much would have happened in the last year?” I replied that if I’d known, I would have gone to bed and pulled the covers over my head and taken a pass on the whole thing!
A year ago I was racing through my life having a great time. It was a crazy life, I admit. I have four adult sons and five part-time jobs. Two of my boys were still living at home. I was serving as the Relief Society president—for the second time in the same ward—as well. I was also lecturing weekly and traveling all over the country often. It was so much fun!
The summer was really going by fast. I serve on the city council for my city and was in the middle of a busy re-election campaign running for my second term.
Then I heard the news. I live in Southern California and the Protect Marriage Amendment (Proposition 8), favoring traditional marriage, had qualified to be on the fall ballot. I knew what that meant.
Nine years prior, I had served as the area coordinator for Proposition 22, coordinating the efforts in my area to pass the traditional marriage law. It had been an incredible and incredibly difficult experience. And I knew this time it would be significantly harder. And I knew that I would be asked to help again. So night after night, I sat in my rocking chair on my back porch and just wept. I could feel the freight train coming.
Sure enough, a few weeks later a meeting was called and I was asked to attend to give everyone an organizational framework from my past experience. At the end of the meeting, a counselor in the stake presidency said, “So, Merrilee, what are you up to now?”
I recounted that I was campaigning, working on a book, traveling, speaking, and oh, yeah, I was Relief Society president. He and the committee were shocked.
He said, “Wow, you really don’t have time to do this, do you?”
“No, I really don’t,” I replied. “But if you ask me, I will say yes.”
He looked me in the eye and said, “We’re asking.”
Now this was one of those moments where you have to mentally think, “Hold it. Just hold it in. Do not fall apart now. Just hang on.” And I did.
I said yes, of course, and held in my emotions all the way to the parking lot. Then the tears came. (Frankly, I’ve done a lot of crying in parking lots this year. I’ve come to look upon them with fondness. They are such wonderful, comforting places of anonymity and privacy where you can just let it all out.)
I flew out the next morning to speak at BYU–Idaho Education Week. As I was driving to Rexburg from the airport in Utah, I prayed mightily. I longed to have a deep confirmation that this new assignment was the Lord’s will in my life. I mean, I knew it was coming. I just wanted to know. After hours of driving and praying, the confirmation came. This was my next assignment. I knew it without a doubt.
And then life really began to speed up. As the regional coordinator for the Protect Marriage Amendment, I was organizing hundreds and thousands of volunteers. We distributed more than eight thousand yard signs from my house and more than sixty thousand pieces of literature.
The hard parts hit as well. Early in the process, we had set up a Web site that became quite the focal point for outrage throughout the country. I began to be deluged with daily e-mails from all kinds of people from all throughout the area and state and country. And many of them—perhaps even most of them—were not kind. It became very painful day after day to wade through the work that was required of me and to keep my chin up and spine strong. Thousands of e-mails were going out almost on a daily basis. I was receiving hundreds of e-mails in return. The messages were averaging about two per minute. Sometimes I would just sit there and watch them pop up. And every single one of them had to be answered.
Let’s be honest. The work was scary. No one wanted to go door-to-door. No one wanted to stand on street corners with political signs and have drivers “point the finger of scorn” (1 Nephi 8:33) at them. (Lehi and Nephi were right on the mark with that one.) But I also drew strength from the many volunteers who demonstrated their amazing courage on a daily basis. I have seen more faithfulness and valiance and devotion in the last year than I have in a lifetime.
The days were crazy. One minute sending out an e-mail to several thousand people. The next minute answering a phone call from a sister in the ward who was in distress. Then helping my son apply for college. Then preparing a speech for my campaign. Then drafting documents for a client. On and on it went. I was at my breaking point.
But I knew a joyful couple of days were coming. I had been asked to speak at one of several Time Out for Women events. One event had been scheduled for Anchorage, Alaska. Oh, how I wanted to go! I had been to forty-nine states; Alaska was my last one. My friend Carolyn Rasmus, who was scheduled to go to Alaska, graciously agreed that we could switch assignments. I was so excited!
Alaska is a beautiful state! It was so wonderful, and I enjoyed a peaceful couple of days, relaxing and sightseeing and visiting with the wonderful sisters of Alaska. Too soon we were on the airplane flying home.
That night I was lying in bed watching TV. My thoughts turned to the news I’d heard while in Alaska—my friend, Pat, had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. I realized that I had gone three months without doing a breast exam. Normally, I check faithfully each month. So I checked.
And I found a lump.
Hmmm, that’s different, I thought. I decided to go to the doctor the next day. I wasn’t really worried, though. My doctor had previously commented that I had lumpy tissue. And I had absolutely no family history of cancer that I was aware of.
The next day I went to my appointment. The nurse practitioner examined me and said, “Well, it’s thicker there. Let’s get it checked out.”
Mammogram. Ultrasound. I knew what those meant. I hadn’t made it home when the doctor called. Back I went.
“Well, it doesn’t look good,” she said. “Let’s get a biopsy.”
I drove home thinking the whole way, Wow, I could have breast cancer.
I could barely believe what was happening.
The next few days were a blur. I flew out to speak at another Time Out for Women event. I led all the women in doing the “Dance of Joy” while thinking, If you only knew. I flew home and had a biopsy. I organized hundreds of volunteers for a huge
Protect Marriage walk scheduled for the weekend, worked on my campaign, attended to my legal work, checked on the sisters in my ward, got my family squared away—and I flew out again for the weekend.
The next week, I was officially diagnosed with cancer. I had to fly out the next day. I couldn’t tell my mom or my in-laws or anyone because I hadn’t had a chance to sit down with my husband and tell my own children. I remember walking around at the Time Out for Women event in Logan, Utah, trying to cheer up. I started skipping up and down the hallway, smacking my cheeks and singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” so that I’d be revved up to go on stage and dance and speak of joy.
Oh, my poor heart.
The months trudged on. My own campaign was warming up. I had more tests. One evening, I attended a debate and while I was on stage, I noticed a woman in the audience wearing a wig.
I realized that would be me in a few months.
Let’s just say there was a lot of crying in the parking lots.
We decided not to tell anyone beyond our immediate family about my cancer. I told only the bishop and the stake presidency. No mention was made of me stepping down from my work with the Protect Marriage Amendment. We all knew I was supposed to do the work.
Thankfully, shortly after my diagnosis, the bishop gave me a blessing, promising me that I would be completely healed. The stake president later confirmed that blessing. I came to rely heavily on that promise. I would live. I wasn’t going to die.
(Now, let me pause for a brief public service announcement to all women out there and all who have women they love. Please do a monthly breast exam. That is what saved my life. My doctor missed it; she called the area “bumpy breast tissue”—uh, that would be a TUMOR. My mammogram missed it, though I faithfully got tested every year. I had no family history of cancer that I knew of; I had breastfed all my children. I had no risk factors other than being a woman and turning 50. You must check yourself regularly. You can save your own life. End of announcement.)
After the first lump was discovered, an MRI revealed a second lump. That meant more testing. More bad news. More cancer. I had to have a mastectomy.
My surgeon called. The surgery had to be done on November 4. I said we couldn’t possibly do it on that day—it was election day! She asked if I was a poll worker. I broke out in rather hysterical laughter and told her that not only was I a candidate but I was also the regional coordinator for a major issue on the ballot. She told me I had no choice. We couldn’t delay the surgery for even one day.
Was this some kind of cosmic joke? Of all the days of the entire year it had to be on election day?
In the middle of all of this we were also dealing with my son needing some corrective surgery. So while I was sitting down
meeting my surgeon for the first time, my son was literally in surgery with his father texting me updates the whole time. Our lives were spinning out of control.
Election weekend arrived. That Saturday, we had a giant
Protect Marriage rally in our community with many hundreds of volunteers. It was such a joyful day of standing for truth and righteousness. What a tremendous experience to stand shoulder to shoulder with miles of volunteers and their families.
After the rally, I went home and sent out an e-mail telling our volunteers that I would not be with them on election day. I asked them to be valiant and work hard to the end.
On election day, I went to the hospital. (Not how I pictured that day going, frankly.) I learned the cancer had spread to one lymph node and that it was not two tumors, but one large one (5.2 cm).
And it didn’t stop there. I had to have a second, small surgery. Then chemotherapy. (I went bald right after Christmas. Man, that was weird.) The chemotherapy threw me into menopause a hundred miles an hour. I had constant hot flashes and absolutely no sleep. More chemotherapy. I developed bronchitis. For a month. Then I had a weird allergic reaction to some plant residue; I broke out in hives literally head to toe. For a month. Bronchitis and hives at the same time? I thought I would go insane.
I finished chemotherapy and had a couple of weeks to “recuperate” before I started my radiation treatments. That was when the stake president asked me to give a talk in stake conference. I said to him, “You do realize that I’m in the middle of all this?” He said he did. And he asked me anyway. Being able to speak about dealing with adversity while I was in the middle of dealing with adversity was a powerful experience for me.
We were hanging in there. Barely. But I guess that wasn’t enough.
A couple of weeks later I was in my office and my husband was sitting on the couch. “Merrilee,” he said. “I’ve been laid off from my job.”
Shock. There is no other word for it. Complete shock to the core. It was not a complete surprise, but I had hoped and prayed that the Lord would decide we were suffering enough.
“I am going to have a hard time dealing with this,” I said to my husband. I got up and went upstairs to my bed.
And proceeded to have a nearly complete emotional breakdown. I began to howl. That’s the only word I can use.
I howled for hours and hours. My poor husband was beside himself, pacing the room. He would alternately beg me to calm down and declare he was taking me to the hospital. But I couldn’t stop. At some point, I remember my youngest son holding my hands and my husband giving me a blessing. I seem to recall that he also gave me some sleeping medication. Finally, after many hours, I fell asleep. I woke in the middle of the night and the dawning reality of our lives hit me again and I began to howl some more. More hours went by.
I have very few memories of the days that followed. I had not slept more than a few hours for months because of the chemo and menopause. I had absolutely no reserves left to be able to cope with this new trial.
I reached depths I never knew were possible. I would sit in my bed—bald, sick, and scarred. Devastated.
How would we survive? What about the health insurance? What about the mortgage? I still had to finish my cancer treatments. Why? Why now? Why all of this?
A few days later, I started daily radiation. And then I received news that an inactive member of our ward was dying of cancer. His wife was trying to care for him as well as her young son. She needed help. That snapped me into action. I was the Relief
Society president and this family needed relief. So I would get my radiation treatment and then I’d go upstairs to the ICU to help this sweet woman care for her sick husband. And then I would go home and scramble to reduce our bills, take care of Relief Society business, and on and on. The man passed away a couple of weeks later. It was strange to arrange a funeral when you’re wearing a wig and in cancer treatments yourself. It was the second funeral that year in our ward, and it was only March.
The mayor of our city was also in the same ICU dying of cancer. When he passed away a few weeks later, there was a lot of political “swirling” and speculation that I could be appointed mayor since I had been open about the fact that I had planned to run for mayor the following year.
After seven weeks of radiation treatment—and with only one more to go—I attended a city council meeting in my wig where the discussion included the possibility that I be appointed mayor. Talk about surreal. To make it worse, a young woman from my ward who had been writing letters to the newspaper editor saying that I should not be mayor because of my efforts on the Protect Marriage Amendment was at the meeting and spoke out against me. Then, a fellow council member who had been my ally for thirteen years publicly betrayed me with no warning. That was painful. I was not appointed.
At some point, my husband and I decided to sell our home and downsize both the house and the mortgage. Our youngest son was going off to college and, with my husband unemployed, it seemed like a good decision. We prayed about it and felt it was the right thing to do. So through weeks of radiation and two funerals, we were busily repairing, cleaning, and organizing our home. We held a giant garage sale to help raise money and to downsize our belongings. The house was finally ready and miracle of miracles, we found a buyer before we even listed it! Surely, the tide was finally turning!
You know how the tide goes out before a tsunami hits? It was kind of like that.
When they did the physical inspection, they discovered that the house had inexplicably settled three inches. There was no way to know when it had settled or if it had stopped. The buyers understandably fled. We now had a house we could not sell for several years.
The circumstances of our lives had profoundly changed in a year. The next night our family prayer was short. My husband prayed, “Father, please bless the food.” There was a long, quiet pause. “And . . . Thy will be done.” We all said amen. And all of us in unison said, “Whatever.” We started to laugh. Boy, was that our lives. Whatever . . .
So I’m still in the middle of it. My husband, Steve, is still out of work. We can’t sell our house. Thankfully, I’ve finished my treatments and I’m now on medication for five years and under close monitoring. Soon, I’ll begin the first of two extensive breast reconstruction surgeries.
Yup, still in the middle. Still praying that it will slow down.
I have felt that the storms of life are beating us to a pulp. I have felt the rain, the sleet, the hurricane, and the tsunami. I feel at times like I’m just barely dog-paddling along. For several months, I was just floating on my back, trying to survive. At least I’m back to doing a little dog-paddling now.
It’s been like being in a riptide, those powerful currents that run underneath the ocean. If you’re in one and you try to swim directly to shore, the riptide will drag you back out to sea. As you continue to try to make forward progress, it will sap your strength. Many people have died trying to make it to the shore in a riptide. The key to surviving is to swim parallel to the beach until you find a safe area where there is no riptide.
That’s pretty much where we are these days, swimming sideways and hoping that the powerful forces that are buffeting us will slow down so we can make some forward progress again. Some days we’re swimming strongly, some days we’re just dog-paddling along, and some days, we just float, trying to keep our heads above water. We just do what we can.
In the end, I know that my seemingly endless trials—my seemingly endless swimming—is bringing me to a place where I need to be and is making me the person I need to be.
But this book is not all about me. This book is also about you. And your own journey through trying times. When we layer on the challenges of the latter days and the difficulties facing our marriages, our children, our work, and our communities, it is likely that you, too, have a long list of trials and tribulations (which I lovingly call “TnT”) that are buffeting you and weighing you down.
So what do we do? Do we curl up in bed and pull the covers over our head? Do we give up?
I’m convinced that in trying times, you just keep trying!
Merrilee is a beacon of "happy" light!
by Sharon - reviewed on April 05, 2010
Merrilee Boyack faced a true tsunami of trials and let us into her mind and heart with this book. I was in awe of her ability to choose to be happy and cheerful despite the onslaught of serious problems. I appreciated the fact that she wrote this book while in the midst of the problems, not afterward with hindsight. She didn't know the end of her story as she wrote and her insight is profound. A book that every person with trials.... all of us... needs to read!
Seriously, Who Doesn't Need This Message?
by Christen - reviewed on March 19, 2010
I loved this book. I read the first two pages and couldn't put it down. If there is one message I think we all need to hear from time to time, it's this one. It is very well written and the author really opens up her heart - a very candid look at her life and struggles and how she persevered. I found this book very applicable to my life, and found new insight in dealing with my own obstacles.
by Michelle - reviewed on April 05, 2010
Although Merrilee seems to almost apologize for writing this "in the middle" of her trials, her characteristic faith, humor, and strength still ring through loud and clear. In fact, I appreciated a book written "in the middle" of it all, because I think that often life doesn't present the resolution that we often want, even crave. Her honesty was really meaningful to me. Merrilee explores several different facets of choice we have in our lives, regardless of what trials we may face. The power of agency is real; even when life is out of control, there are things we can focus on and make choices about. Those things can help strengthen our faith in God and strengthen character. What an important message. She inspires me to want to be better, more faithful, more patient in suffering, more active in choosing light and faith and hope and trust in God. There is so much in this book. I'm already wanting to read it again to let more of the truths sink in. I read it the first time in one sitting; I think next time I'll read through it more slowly. Each chapter gives important things to really ponder.
This is an awsome book, I am buying it again for my nook.
by Jennifer - reviewed on July 28, 2011
I know so many people who could benefit from this book. I think Merrilee says things we can all understand in a way that makes us feel we can change and grow from our trials, and not give up when our trials in this life overwhelm us.