I’ve had a really hard time this week with worrying about what other people think of me. It’s hard when you live your whole life trying to please everyone, to make the kind of shift I am trying to make. There is only one person I have the power to control, and that is me. There is only one person whose opinion of me matters, and that is my Savior. I know that, but teaching my brain to think differently takes time.
Last night I had a session with my counselor. She is pretty amazing. She was very sympathetic and encouraging, which I always need. She had a lot of good questions for me about why the opinions of the Relief Society sisters in my ward are so important to me. My whole life I have allowed them to shape my behavior. I’ve felt driven to be the person they think I should be. She encouraged me to work on developing a support network outside of the Relief Society. She suggested a hobby or something. I need to be with people who can give me permission to be myself, color outside the lines, and be okay with messy.
The thought of reaching out to people outside my faith and trying to find acceptance and love is daunting to say the least. Still, sometimes the Lord’s path leads me out of my comfort zone. Maybe its time to venture a little and cast my net on the other side of the ship like Peter did.
I fell asleep early last night, but then awoke upset at about 3:30. I couldn’t go back to sleep and ended up waking Ben. He talked to me for a while, and gave me a blessing. In the blessing he encouraged me to seek for the Savior in the scriptures and to find his peace. I opened my phone to the Come Follow Me manual and I read the lesson.
Reading scriptures and conference talks can be tricky when I’m struggling with depressive symptoms. It’s like my brain is on high alert for any judgement from anyone. I even find it when it isn’t there. It’s kind of like after you watch a scary movie. Every shadow hides danger, every noise indicates a threat, every innocent looking person is a serial killer. It isn’t reality, but telling your brain that doesn’t change much.
Part of the reason I have a hard time when people tell me to read my scriptures when I’m depressed is that they don’t understand that sometimes the scriptures help, and sometimes they hurt. Same with going to church. The depressed mind takes well intentioned correction like a knife to the heart. Even the most gentle reproof can be excruciating when you feel you are at the emotional breaking point.
Anyway, I was anxious to read the lesson for fear it would send me over the edge, but on the contrary, it was just what I needed. It helped me to clear my mind and see the hand of the Lord in my suffering.
Saturday night Pepper came down with a bad case of diarrhea. Overnight she started vomiting as well. Her poop looked like piles of melted chocolate all over her pen mixed with what might have been vomit. It was awful. I was planning to go to church. Devin was giving a talk and I wanted to be there, but Pepper wasn’t getting any better. She was clearly miserable, so I took her to the Animal Emergency Room. I had a black dress on for church, and I put a paper towel on her bottom to try and keep the filth off of me. It didn’t help much.
After tests and X-rays, we still weren’t sure what the problem was. They prescribed her a bunch of medications and gave us some special food to give her. I brought her home with the understanding that I was risking her life. Taking the more economical and conservative treatment path might result in her death by bowel perforation. The more aggressive treatments and tests would cost up to $2,000. I took that decision onto myself and decided to bring her home.
As I sat with her on my lap, so weak and helpless, I thought of how badly I would feel if she did die. She reminds me of the sheep in “Mary had a Little Lamb.” She follows me around everywhere. She loves me so much. She has helped me learn what the Savior’s metaphors about shepherds and sheep mean. She hears my voice and she follows me. I love her as she is and she trusts me. Even when I have veterinarians poke and stick her, she still comes to me for comfort and love. Just like I trust the Savior, that whatever happens in this life, it is part of his plan for me, and that he will help me through it. Unlike my children, she will never grow up to be my equal. Our relationship will always be of master and pet. Because of that, I don’t completely understand why I love her so much. In the scriptures it says that the good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep. He would, as a human, give his life for animals? Yes. Just as the Savior was God, he gave his life for us lowly humans. Such love for something less than has a sacred quality about it.
As I pondered on these things, I felt the love I had for Pepper swell inside me. I wished I had the Priesthood, so that I could lay my hands on her tiny head and bless her. I thought of the power of the Savior; that perhaps through my faith, I could bless her, not with a Priesthood blessing, but with my own faith and humble prayer.
I stretched out my hand and laid it between her big furry ears, and said a prayer. I prayed that God would have mercy on my little sheep. That she would recover. That she would be healthy again.
The kids and Ben came home from church and the chaos of Sunday afternoon swept all of us up in its wake. Pepper started eating and drinking and peeing. By bedtime, she was playing and running. It wasn’t until this morning as I pondered on Pepper’s rapid recovery that I realized that she had been healed. My prayer was answered!
I also noticed that Ben had woken up to help me. For anyone who knows how soundly that man can sleep, that is surely a miracle. Also, the words I read in my scriptures were exactly what I needed to read.
The Come Follow Me lesson for this week is all about hypocrisy, Pharisaical worship patterns, and the ability of the Savior to see the hearts of men and judge righteous judgement. Whether the widow who cast in her mite, or Zaccheus the righteous chief publican, the Savior was able to see his sheep. They also know him.
In Matthew 23, the Savior has some serious shade to throw at the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. I imagine it was shocking for the people to hear their leaders criticized so sharply by the Master. This man who was so gentle and forgiving to the harlots, sinners, and publicans, was filled with rage at the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership. They appeared so righteous on the outside! I don’t think we have any idea how much respect they commanded from the people, and yet the Savior was not impressed. The lesson warns us about focusing on the outward appearance in our religious practice. We each have the capacity to become Pharisees.
It occurred to me how much I have changed in the past year. I can’t say that I am completely stripped of pride, envy, and vanity; but I feel like I am more honest about myself. This talk, On Being Genuine, by Elder Uctdorf was linked to the lesson. I felt like it was especially powerful. He said:
We come to church not to hide our problems but to heal them.Elder Uchtdorf
In the past, I have done everything possible to hide my mental health problems from my ward. I have put up my Potemkin village, hoping I would not be found out. No more. In being open and honest about my struggles, I can more authentically testify of my love for my Savior. I don’t need to hide.
With patience and persistence, even the smallest act of discipleship or the tiniest ember of belief can become a blazing bonfire of a consecrated life. In fact, that’s how most bonfires begin—as a simple spark…… And if we continue to embrace and live true principles in our personal circumstances and in our families, we will ultimately arrive at a point where we “hunger no more, neither thirst any more. … For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed [us], and shall lead [us] unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes.”Elder Uchtdorf
The whole talk is really good. It was exactly what I needed to hear to give me the courage to continue on a path of authenticity. Miracles have come into my life as I have earnestly sought after my Savior. As I learn to be kinder to myself, surround myself with supportive friends, and continue on my path to recovery, I hope that I can see those miracles and remember that my Savior doesn’t judge my outward actions. He sees my heart. And it is His.