In Black and White

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“In Black and White,” New Era, Jan. 1998, 12

In Black and White

Even in tough times, life is not only worth living—it’s worth remembering. Just ask Sharla.

For some reason, writing things down makes them easier to remember.

And Sharla Marrott from El Paso, Texas, has a lot of important things to remember. On a typical day, Sharla might have cheerleading practice or a student council meeting. Since she’s an honor-roll student, time for studies is also very important, as is time for her friends and family. Of course Mutual and other church activities are also an important part of her life, and occasionally Sharla might squeeze in time to play with the family’s two dogs, Gypsy and Sasha.

Sharla enjoys being busy, and it shows. With her schedule, keeping a list of what’s coming up is vital. But Sharla wants to remember more than just nuts and bolts. Sure, times and places are important, but thoughts and feelings are what make those times and places memorable. So every Sunday, she writes in her journal what’s been going on and why it was important to her. Starting when she was quite young, Sharla has kept a journal for most of her life.

“Life gets pretty busy,” she says. “It’s nice to take a little time to review what’s been going on. Writing in my journal gives me a chance to think about things.”

Keeping track

Sharla’s journal is full of the things that many 17-year-old girls would write about. Things like her thoughts about her first date: I’m so happy and excited. It was a blast! We went to a movie first and then a church dance after. Or how much fun she had at youth conference:

We did a service scavenger hunt for youth conference. It seemed like every person wanted their yard weeded! Still, it was fun. Later we had a testimony meeting. I never got up to bear mine. I was too afraid I’d start to cry and not be able to finish. But I listened to my friends’ testimonies, and it made me feel privileged to know them. This was truly a youth conference to remember.

Her journal has entries about everything from the first day of school, to an especially memorable backpacking trip Sharla and her mom, Heather, went on in Colorado.

“These are all things I remember really well now,” she says. “But people are human. I know I’ll forget them later if I don’t write them down.”

Page turner

Somewhere in the pages of the journal Sharla kept during her junior year in high school, the handwriting becomes difficult to read. It looks a little like Sharla was keeping her journal while riding in a car or making a trip on a plane during a bumpy ride. That year, Sharla did both of those things many times. But it wasn’t the shaking of a car or plane that made her handwriting look funny.

Her hand shook because she was undergoing an intensive round of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia—which was diagnosed just a few days after Sharla discovered an unusual lump on her neck. Her treatment started in El Paso and involved visits to several specialists. Then she and her mom flew to Houston, where she could receive a new kind of treatment not available in El Paso.

Sharla was spending all her time in a hospital bed, too weak to do schoolwork, see friends and family, or even speak above a whisper. It might not seem like the kind of thing that anyone would want to remember. But Sharla wanted to record it, not only to ensure that her journal would be historically accurate, but also because of the many spiritual experiences she has had as a result of her challenge. Sharla received numerous priesthood blessings. Her family held a special fast. She even had the opportunity to give a Book of Mormon to one of the nurses in the hospital where she was staying.

For a time, Sharla was too weak to even pick up a pencil, but she didn’t let that stop her from maintaining her habit of keeping track of important events. Sharla softly whispered to her mother (because she was too sick to speak in a normal voice), who took short notes about what Sharla felt was significant. Later, when Sharla felt a little better, she used the notes to help her remember what she wanted to write.

A family affair

Sharla says she owes her life, in a very real way, to her family. Her journal is full of stories about how her mother sat by her bedside, helping her eat, dress, and take medications. She has also written about how grateful she is for her father and sister and brothers for keeping things running at home. But Sharla’s not the only one in the family who keeps a journal.

Her younger brother, 13-year-old Jesse, wrote: The bishop and first counselor came over today and, together with Dad, gave Sharla a blessing. I feel so sorry for her. I don’t know what to do except pray and give her my love.

There are similar entries in the journals of other family members. In addition to worry and concern, though, every journal contains expressions of faith and hope. Every journal contains thoughts about Sharla, how much they love her, and how glad they’ll be when she’s completely well. Having a sister or daughter so sick is a scary thing, but, somehow, putting it on paper seemed to help the whole family realize that, just like other challenges, there were blessings to be gained and lessons to be learned in this hard time.

The road ahead

Life is much more normal for Sharla now, but it will be quite some time before she finishes her last treatment. It will be even longer still before her cancer is declared in remission.

Although she is much better than she was, the road ahead could be a difficult one. But if things get tough, Sharla can look back at her journal and remember that she’s made it through hard times before. She’ll also be able to see that, mixed in with the rough stuff, there were moments of happiness and laughter. Times when she could forget herself and focus on others. Days when she felt so grateful for her blessings she could hardly remember what her challenges were.

Because she’s been so diligent about keeping a journal, Sharla will never forget the good that has come from this experience.

It’s all there in black and white.

Illustrated by Keith Larson

Sharla (left), her mother, Heather, and the rest of the family have been through a lot together. And their journals are a priceless record of their love for each other and of the ways they have been blessed, even in difficult times.