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Sunday, March 18, 2018

On My Journey Home

"Each individual has inestimable worth and something unique to contribute to others"
-My Daddy David

     Sometimes on the 18th day of the month, I yearn for home. I miss the warmth of family and friends in the mountains of Inkom and the streets of Woods Cross as I am here in my L.A. surroundings. I long for a home, the stability and contentment that I feel has eluded me like chasing a butterfly since Marshall's death. I don't think home is a place as much as a people.

     Did you know some monarch butterflies go 3,000 miles every year back home? Or even more compelling is the arctic tern who travels 60,000 miles a year back to ANTARCTICA!? Hello!? Antarctica??? What's the appeal there in the freezing temperatures? I came to LA for some warmth. If I could talk to them I would love to ask them how in the world they know their way around the world without Siri. I can barely make it down the street without her. But more importantly I would like to ask them how in the world do they know where home is? I relate in that I can never forget the winding Rapid Creek roads back to the mountains of Inkom that were my home as a child. I even helped my grandpa McKee build some of those roads. I had no idea at the time how valuable it was for my wonderful grandfather to allow myself to be a female engineer at such a young age. Not the kind of engineer that has an engineering degree and gets paid loads of money for all their projects. The kind of engineer that is holding really expensive equipment in the middle of nowhere to be sure the road does not exceed a certain gradient for free for their dear grandpa that always gave his grandkids tootsie rolls. At that age, it was just practical and useful; not something I realized would be such a neat contribution to others on their trips up the steep canyon. Word of warning: cellular navigation is mostly non existent on the canyon roads. These country roads will serve for years to come, past his recent death and eventually past my own death, to bring people back home.

     If one thinks of Lehi's dream and the long and arduous journey back home to the fruit is it really about the fruit or is it about the people who take the journey with us? For the monarch butterfly is it the place they are going or the other butterflies they are traveling with? Emerson said, "Life is a Journey, Not a Destination". Our most important acquaintance on our journey may be Christ who's been down this dark road before and knows the way toward the light. If you find yourself on the path needing to reacquaint or recommit yourself to Christ then do it now. What blessing do you really desire? More than anything else, good health, prosperity, success- I would like exaltation. With exaltation, no matter what things went wrong in this life or what wrong turns I made into darkness, detours I took, or back roads I followed before realizing they led to nowhere, I have a chance to figure out how it all works and map it out if I have forever. Oh how very grateful I am for the company other travelers give me on my detours and main roads instead of as a lone monarch butterfly fluttering aimlessly- 'minha mariposa' as Marshall would call me. Being stretched and painfully morphed into a whole different being is also a necessary part of our journey if we ever want the wings to fly back home. "Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow. Set me free to find my calling and I'll return to you somehow" Marta Keen.

     When we see others along our journey home being morphed in their cocoon, shaped, polished, we need not judge, compare, or feel less than. Don't be distracted so much by the comings and goings of other travelers that you get run over in your own path or wander aimlessly and not learn and do what God intended for you to do on your journey. "No time to tarry here, no time to wait for you, no for I'm on my journey home". Bad things and pain happen to good people because He wants us to learn about His existence, His purposes, and His timing and become all that we can; to give us our own beautiful set of wings with their own unique and distinct set of markings unlike anyone else's. We won't learn those things or we will miss out on all that He wants us to become in our life if we are too distracted, too self-absorbed, or too busy flaunting our colors to reach out to others in the midst of their struggle to morph. We can get out of the dark and dreary parts of our journey home and find the light by focusing on others and helping them overcome their dark and dreary moments, by discovering and developing our own spiritual gifts, and by asking the Lord about what specific assignments he has for us to do just like the specific assignments my grandpa would give me while building roads.

     You have divine assignments specific for you. The Lord has more in mind for you than you have in mind for yourself. If you are reading this asking yourself if you can make an important contribution to the world you can. Think of Stephen Hawking and all the limitations he had during his time in mortality. Yet, look at what he was able to accomplish! Write down what you're grateful for and do not let life's distractions eclipse the light you have to shine to others along the journey back home. Don't let rocky, steep mountains stop you from carving out the roads you were meant to build on your journey home. "If I could move this mountain before me, then I would lose the faith that He can do it for me".-Marshall Jensen. Marshall’s last words to his friends and family at the end of his epic journey were, “See you when we get Home”. How grateful I am that my grandpa McKee had the patience and took the time to allow me to contribute to the building of the roads of life. We each have an inestimable worth and something unique to contribute. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


It's Winter in my mind,
regardless of the season.
Memories burn like footprints
in the softly falling snow.
Through a landscape cold and dreary
Marks the winding path I chose.

Weary from the Journey
I stop to catch my breath,
And ponder where I'm traveling
and why it was I left.
A part of me I've left behind,
A sacred part I cannot find.

So I turn back from whence I came
And shudder in the Arctic frost.
And I retrace my careless steps
In search of where, my way, I lost.
But time has drifted like a snowstorm
And has buried deep my tracks.
               -Marshall Kenneth

Friday, November 10, 2017


I took a break for a while. A break from writing. A break from music. A break from the world. Marshall wrote a song once called A Break From the World. I wish I could ask him to play that song for me now. There isn’t an English word sufficient enough to describe how much Kez and I miss him. So I use this Brazilian word, saudades that comes closer to satisfying how much we yearn for his presence now. I've heard other widows and widowers say that the second year is harder than the first. YES! The second year was harder than the first without him. All the memories, holidays, anniversaries, birthdays happened without him and unlike last year where people went out of their way to stand by us through the hard days, this year we did them mostly alone.

I've had a whole lot of advice given to me this year. Many people telling me how to grieve, live, and to move on. The fact of the matter is that Kez and I will not move on. Not when Marshall's very blood runs through my son as a forever reminder of what we had, what we loved, and what we lost. Marshall was a big personality, a person who put effort into putting others above himself, a beautiful soul. November brings memories and anniversaries of our wedding day, his death date, viewing and funeral. For me it has already been an explosion of tears and unwelcome emotion as I navigate this month without him.

So as Kez and I slowly move forward, we will remember him in every heart beat, in every song, in every breath. Please let us talk about him. Use his name, talk about the happy times and the love and memories he left behind. This month especially but every month. We have some big changes coming that we hope will help us miserably wallow less in his memory and breathe and live a little more happily without him. The break is over and now is the time to write the book that's in my soul and to sing the music again. There have been many women and men who have lost their significant other this year through death, catastrophe, violence and there is a book I helped write called Encouraging Widows. I will give more details as it becomes available in the spring. Saudades. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Where Nothing Begins or Ends

He forgives all that was not perfect
He loves all who he never met
He sings with you in your car rides
He is of nature
He is of friends
He is of family
He exists where nothing begins or ends
He is the clarity in your daily meditation
He is with you when decisions must be made
He is with you in the high mountain
He holds you on winter nights
He fills the night with stars you can wish on
He walks with you barefoot on summer grass
He soothes your searching foot
He encourages you to keep dreaming
        -Landon Gallant

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Remain Unafraid Amid the Rising Doubt

A few months ago, I was asked to speak in an October Conference. I was pretty shocked and stoked at the same time. I was shocked because I had been widowed for less than a year and feeling like the weakest person in the whole stake. Stoked because I actually love public speaking. Though I have been through a whole lot in my thirty years, I still almost called them the night before to say I'm the last person who should be giving this talk. The Lord knows us and what we are going through personally and knows how we can grow the best in this short time on Earth. At least, I believe that if I'm not in a doubting moment. Here's the talk- initially, there were 22 pages of my ideas, but don't worry- I dwindled it down to 5- I'm a bit of a researcher on any topic:

"Jesus answered and said unto them. verily I say unto you if ye have faith and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed and be cast into the sea, it shall be done." Matthew 21:21

I used this scripture because of the reference to mountains. The biggest mountain I ever had the privilege to climb in my life, however, was not removed the way I thought it should be when my husband died from leukemia last year. I'm sure many of you knew Marshall somehow because he served you or inspired you as he fought the battle of his life and moved many mountains through his faith. At the time I thought, "Lord's Will Be Done" but since then I have had more, "how could THIS possibly be the Lord's will?"  thoughts- DOUBTS you may call them.

A Book, "A Future As Bright As Your Faith", reminds us that faith and doubt dispel each other. Cast out doubt. Cultivate faith. STRIVE to retain that childlike faith which can move mountains and bring heaven closer to heart and home. Mark 9:24 "And straightway the father of the child cried out and said with tears, Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief." Wait- he believed and unbelieved? How does that work?

To quote President Uchtdorf,
"Some might ask what about my doubts? It's natural to have questions. The acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the church who have not at one time or another wrestled with serious or sensitive questions...the church itself honors personal agency so strongly. It was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers. Respect those who honestly search for truth, honor their right to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience just as we claim the privilege of doing". Uchtdorf openly acknowledges that after 200 years of church history there are things that cause people to question.

The struggle is how do you take something infinite and convert it to something finite? (This idea came to me from a podcast of Dehlin and Prince). It's history becoming theology. We tend to get hung up on trying to hold the church to historical criteria. How can you put on paper an infinite experience? Joseph struggled with this. I even struggled with this after an experience I had when my husband died (I still have yet to write here about that experience- it seems trying to put it in some finite language would take away from it's glory- can I use Portuguese? :).

Uchtdorf says, "Sometimes questions arise because we don't have all the information and we need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn't make sense before will be resolved to our satisfaction.

One of the purposes of the church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith. Even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is the HOPE for things that are not seen, but which are true." Then his famous line, "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must not allow doubt to hold us prisoner from the divine love, peace and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ."

I like to use analogies. I think of DNA (science major here, sorry). The two strands that supply physical life look perfect. If you zoom in on either DNA leg though- you'll see fragments of 'garbage'. Code that was once used and vital for life now cut off, discarded, strewn aside the leg. Since that may be too technical for the kids, there's also the analogy of the Grinch. Whoville was trying SO HARD to be perfect and happy, they didn't realize all the GARBAGE they were producing. The Grinch had a different perspective up on his mountain filled with garbage they were throwing out. Until a child, Cyndi Lou-who came and you know what she said? "I myself am having some yuletide doubts." "HYPOCRITES" said the Grinch. And he was right.

Uchtdorf says, "If you define hypocrites as someone who fails to live up perfectly to what he/she believes then we're all hypocrites. None of us (especially me) are as Christ-like as we know we should be, but we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and be better. "I suppose the church would only be perfect if it were run by perfect beings. But God works through us, his imperfect children and imperfect people make mistakes (ALL of us). And now if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men." Despite our human imperfections, there are many great souls on earth. How can we find healing to our wounded souls? Do you feel distant from heaven's embrace- less than perfect?

"Each of us will have our Fridays- those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again...But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death- Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, no matter our desperation, our grief (I would add our doubts), Sunday will come. IN THIS LIFE OR THE NEXT (thanks for the inspiration Karly Lay).

We can have that brilliant Sunday, Christmas, Life moment of light the Lord sends us. Then it can be followed by days, months, even years of darkness, gloominess, and doubt. For those experiencing spiritual and life's gloom- maybe you feel you don't fit in or that your testimony isn't strong enough, HOPE for the sun, for Christ to come. And for those basking in the Sun, Christmas, life- reach out and listen to us grinches. We are right too from our perspective alone on our mountain we just climbed. Help, ask, stay(even take a gander from our view that's much different than yours for a while), refrain from judging, and allow each person's unique process.

In Marshall's case, his DNA had 3 copies of chromosome 9 initially (more garbage and trans locations later after treatment) which ultimately led to his physical death- though his spirit was thriving (I often found him reading scriptures every minute he could get to them). Let's not allow our own imperfections or the imperfections of others or church (any organized people) to lead to our soul's death. Neal A Mawell described one of the fundamental choices of mortality: "Within the swirling global events- events from which we are not totally immune- is humanity's real and continuing struggle: whether or not, amid the cares of the world, we will really choose, in the word's of the Lord to care for the life of the soul". Let us be gentle to those who's worlds are changing and rearranging. In the case of the Grinch he realizes Christmas can still come without packages, boxes, all the garbage.

Christ will come. Christ is more than details of church policy and procedure, of world policy and procedure. He is becoming. He is the change of heart that only comes after a struggle of doubt, after a realization that the garbage isn't needed, after all the terrible mistakes and unbeknownst harm they caused. It's a messy life full of sin, doubts, imperfections. But a perfect atonement and only a broken heart that leads to Him, the Son of God.

"While Peter's eye was fixed on the Lord, the wind might toss his hair and the spray might drench his robes, but all was well. Only with wavering faith he removed his glance from the Master to look at the furious waves and the black gulf beneath him, only then did he begin to sink...(Ensign 1992)."
...As individual people, as families, communities and nations, we could, like Peter fix our eyes on Jesus we too might walk triumphantly over the welling waves of disbelief and remain unafraid amid the rising doubt.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thirteen Months

I reserve the right to keep the grief time period in months until two years just as a lot of people do with their children. I can't believe it's been over a year. So far, I'd say this year has been harder than last.

However, I am about to call on the enabling power of the atonement in my hopes of changing that. I may not be able to change my circumstances, but I can change myself in my circumstances. Yet again, I'm going to reinvent this blog and try to focus on what I am doing to "Get Up and Marshall On" just as my son's shirt read today. He wrote the saddest song just begging for his daddy to come back on Christmas day after visiting with Santa yesterday.

I've had a few powerful talks with my Uncle Sam. No really people, not the government (who I may add I am still mad at for not allowing Marshall to try a second round of t-cell therapy in a more timely manner), but I have a real, true uncle Sam. I also have a brother who was named after that uncle Sam, so my son also has a real-life uncle Sam. I remember the first powerful talk was when I was 16. I was so mad at my parents on a fourth of July that I was ready to run from home and attempt  living a life alone already. Gratefully, during that talk I ended up sitting on an ant hill. To this day, I remember the red ants crawling all over my leg and biting me at will as if to say, "Wake up!". I've recalled that talk many times through many experiences.

The second talk happened today at a good 'ole McKee family Christmas party. Sam reminded me just how many strengths I have. I've fallen into a bit of a grief rut lately where I've felt like the powerful impact Marshall and I had through his fight and cancer experimental therapies were enough. Like caring for, researching, and ultimately experiencing the death of my partner were enough! Why do I have to keep going when he was finished? Can I just tap out now? No! Sam reminded me that the difference I can make with what I've been through at just 31 is phenomenal. That the experiences I've received through it all can set me on a course for making even more of a difference in this messed up world.

Sam said he always thought I would be a doctor or a scientist or a researcher. He asked if the cancer route was too painful now? I didn't know how to answer these questions. I just told him that when a friend asked me what I enjoyed or what I would like to do, I remember staring at them like a deer in headlights. It's been so long since I have thought about what I enjoy because for years I was taking care of someone else and now I am taking care of Kez.  My life was pretty swallowed up in the researcher, caregiver, scientist roll.

So today, in order to get up and Marshall on- I am starting a strengths finder book he left for me. I'm going to find my strengths and the things I ENJOY and head in that direction. I'm going to "go confidently in the direction of my dreams and LIVE THE LIFE I've imagined". That's what Marshall would want me to do- to continue making a difference with every breath I'm given.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Oh My Son

This Christmas season has been difficult for our little family. Last year may have been the first Christmas we celebrated without Marshall, but this year we really feel it. Last year since he had just died, there were so many people buoying us up and wanting to do something especially for my son. Also, I had just experienced one of the most spiritual experiences of my life that was also holding me up as the life I had dreamed and planned for was crumbling around me. I was able to hold up my son and he was exuberant that his daddy had just graduated with angel powers.

Now, it's been a whole year. I've read that it takes about one year for a child to truly mourn and my son is no exception. My heart breaks as Kez wakes up in the morning crying and saying how much he misses his daddy laying next to him on the bed or playing with him in the next room. A couple days ago he suddenly said, "Mom, I wish that this was all a dream- that my life was all a dream." "What do you mean?" I asked. He clarified, "I wish daddy dying was all a dream. That we could just wake up and he would be here again with us". All I could say was "me too" and hold him and cry with him.

Sorry to be the gloomy one during the holidays, but I have so much more compassion for those who struggle during these festive times. "We must see others as they are seen through their parent's eyes. Through God's eyes". I used to shrug off gloomy people and go along my merry way. Back when Christmas wasn't just one BIG, FAT reminder of who we miss and who we've lost. Marshall was such a huge light in the world and to all he knew at any time- not just Christmas when people try harder to shine their light. This year, I mostly just want to huddle in my dark corner until it's all over. I hope I will have the desire to embrace light again soon. That light was so, so bright after my experiences with Marshall and family and friends coming together for him that now my son and myself are feeling the difficulties and struggles of trying to get through daily without our father and husband. 

Now I understand why the holidays are so hard for some people. We will get through it. "It is always bigger than life when someone dies. People seem to idealize the deceased in a way that seems unrealistic". Sometimes I feel I will never be worthy of the exaltation that has been afforded to Marshall after living such a purposeful and meaningful life even if it was short. In that short time, he reached out to help so many and even his own death helped others in their fight to overcome physical and spiritual darkness. He loved life and light and exuded life and light. "Some of the most significant things have been done from hospital bed or jail cells." If Marshall were here today I can imagine him saying, "Do what you can from wherever you are today!" It's so overwhelming to think back on what we went through all of my son's life. Through the hardest and most far-reaching and impactful times of Marshall's life- he did life and especially the dark moments with brilliance. I received the sweetest letter from an amazing man in our former stake presidency reminding me that Marshall chose to marry me for a reason. That we "are cut out of the same cloth" and "those who face difficult challenges show the rest of us how to endure with patience, waiting upon the Lord and accepting of his love in our darkest times". My gift to Marshall this year is a promise that I will get up and Marshall on. As difficult as it is every day to raise his son without him, we can do this. There are many others going through even darker times in the world and our hearts go out to them. I don't think I'll ever be able to focus on the 'stuff', the 'gifts', the commercial aspects of this season again. I will focus on the people, the memories, the light of the world. "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, ...For where your treasure is there will your heart be also".

As we were buying some gifts in the store the other day, a complete stranger turned to me after listening to Kez talk for a few minutes and said, "He sounds like he's twenty". I was proud and sad in the same moment; my genius of a son who scored a 60 on the test most kindergarteners get about a 27 on has had to bear so much already and has been forced to grow up so quickly in his short 5 years of life. His whole life his dad fought for his own life and then to lose his own father at just 4 years old...I cannot imagine that- how would I have handled that? He handles it with so much grace and sophistication that he must be an old soul. How did the Lord handle watching his son go through so much pain? I truly wish I could take all Kezman's sorrows away from him, but then who would he be without the sorrow? Probably not a 5 year old boy who sounds 20 in a store. Again I am reminded that "we seem to be more concerned with how things turn out while God is concerned with how WE turn out".

In the same breath that I curse the Lord and the world for taking Marshall away from my son, I'm thankful for the broader life and world perspectives we've been given. While some people complain of this little thing or that, what appreciation we have been given for every breath. What Marshall wouldn't give to have 15 more minutes of life being stuck behind that train or just 1 more hour with his wife and son. I think of the song he wrote about living "another man's dream". He made every day he woke up his dream come true even through his sufferings. My hope is that I can be better at embracing the glowing embers that remain from his well-lived life instead of the ashes that I seem to be trying to paint something out of lately. For my son, I hope to be better at making this season a little more magical and a little less painful.