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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: A Story of Hope

Article Date: 
22 July, 2011 (All day)

 

“It has been a challenge. I get people asking me, ‘how do you do it?’, and I tell them, ‘truly, it’s a gift from God.’”

At first glance the Larsens appear to be just your average family, a group of loving, kind-hearted people. It would seem they don’t have a worry in the world; at least they seem average until you have the opportunity to hear their remarkable story. 

Jerry,  father of three and loving husband to his sweetheart Connie, was treated for Polio as a baby. He spent time in an iron lung and had leg braces until he decided it was easier to get around without them. In school the kids would laugh at his desire to play basketball, calling him “handicapped”. His unrelenting determination to prove himself caused a fight that resulted in a broken femur in his left leg. Despite all this, he’s always had a “Polio personality” of drive and determination. At age thirteen he got his first full-time job pumping gas. He loved motorcycle racing and became #1 in the state in 1975. To make it possible to race he built a ski binding to clip onto the foot peg to keep his polio damaged foot on the bike. Jerry became an electrical contractor and met Connie, who was a secretary at Weber State at the time he ventured in to ask for a job. They hit it off from there, got hitched, and have run Jerry’s business called “Light’n Up Electric, Inc.” together for 40 years.  They have loved every moment.  Their son, Eric, took over the hard labor when his dad was confined to a wheelchair.

Shortly after they were married, their daughter, Jennifer, was born with transposition.  This is a condition in which the two main arteries to the heart are switched, preventing those affected from getting sufficient oxygen. She had open heart surgery when she was only 6 months old to reroute her blood flow. During her first heart surgery, their insurance company went bankrupt. Rather than choosing to declare bankruptcy Connie and Jerry did all they could to pay the bills, “putting in twenty hours a day” of work and having many garage sales. They say they “own their kids free and clear”.  Jennifer received her first pacemaker at age 20 and now has a defibrillator.

In the meantime, their 5 year old son, Eric, got Rhabdomyosarcoma cancer in his right eye. They battled his cancer as he was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. After 2 years he finally won, although it did leave him without vision in that eye; however, at age 18 he was fortunate to receive a new lens in his eye. He can now see very well.

 The events that occurred were draining, to say the least, but they were somehow able to endure it all, maintaining a very positive attitude and a constant love towards life.  Their trials, however, didn’t stop there. Jerry’s love of working proved to be detrimental to his health.  At age 37 he got “Post-Polio Syndrome” which the doctors say was much worse because of the driving forces of work, and play, in his life.  The disease attacks the entire body, causing extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, and pain. This confined Jerry to a wheelchair where he’s been for the past 20 years. Some people may complain about going to work, but Jerry tells his wife, “I would do anything to be able to go to work today”. It tugs at your heartstrings, but he’s accomplished a lot in his life. When Jerry helps someone, “he feels the pain, fatigue, and muscle weakness in extreme for a few days after that, but it’s worth it to him.” He enjoys helping people. In fact, every Sunday Jerry assists at the Family Tree with sacrament meeting, taking people to their rooms, home-teaching, and just being a friend.

The Larsen’s are indeed a miraculous family. Even Sharlee, now age 20, is an angel. She hasn’t had physical trials as did her family, but she has always been one to assist with lightening their load with her contagious smile, charismatic energy, and help. She selflessly goes out of her way to make everyone feel valued and loved. She’s majoring in math and currently teaches simple math up to trigonometry at Acer Placer in Ogden.

Connie has learned a few things over the years, including how “to be a mentor, a nurse, dietician, chauffeur, psychiatrist, and psychologist”. Despite all she and her family have experienced, she continues to focus on all she can do to serve others. Connie has kept an optimistic attitude through her trials and those of her family. She says that “if we could all focus on the positive and not the negative, this would be a better world, and our lives would be easier”. Her favorite book is Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and she truly lives by what it teaches. 

She does not hold much value for the material things in life. She, instead, values her family above all else, because “there’s more important things in this life than money.” Connie and her family inspire those they come in contact with as others notice the Larsens’ great joy in simply being alive and serving.  She said, “I think I could say that the best thing that can come from trials is experience, learning, family unity, service, humbling yourself a little, and of course blessings.” We all need to learn how important it is that we handle trials of every kind in a positive way because what we learn will be invaluable, and an important step towards Heaven.” Today the Larsens live in Stoddard and continue to do all they can to volunteer and serve others.