Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

One of the biggest reasons I started blogging was because I wanted to learn to accept my mental health condition. I had been hiding it for so long behind a mask of normalcy that I had split myself into two people. One version of myself did her best to seem normal, embraced the values of perfection I had been conditioned to persevere toward, and tried not to get in the way of others around me. The other version of myself understood that the world around me and the value system I had been conditioned to accept was fundamentally flawed; that life was messy and hard and full of complex realities. This second version of myself kept wanting to assert herself and push the other, more compliant version, aside. These two sides of me seemed to always be in conflict. On the outside, I was a good Mormon mom who cared for her children, went to church every week, didn’t cause problems, and did what she had been taught. On the inside, I was full of doubts, fears, and building resentment.

This blog was a way for me to give voice to my hidden version of myself; the self that is broken and needs the Savior. The blog became a place I could be proud of my suffering and rejoice in the ways it leads me back to Him who is Mighty to Save. Why then have I struggled these past months to post?

My mental health recovery path has been full of difficulties, but the greatest one has been acceptance. Each time I take my medication, each time I can’t get out of bed, each time I finish another counseling session, each time I fall short, I remember my broken. It is so hard to see the beauty in it! I wish I could be whole and healthy and normal. I wish I wasn’t faced with the reality of my broken mind every day, but that is the life I’ve been given.

There is also so much beauty. I went to the STEM Academy meet the designer night last night. My second son started high school this year. He proudly led us to his various classes and introduced us to his teachers. He’s an excellent student with exceptional teachers who will help him achieve his potential. He’s taking his first AP class, so he will already start earning college credits. His older brother is in the top band as a Junior and is also college bound. My third son is thriving in his STEM Academy. My youngest loves kindergarten. In spite of my failings and flaws, my boys are growing and learning and off to a good start in life.

My second son with his chemistry teacher.

No one has a perfect life. We all struggle mentally and emotionally. Death, disappointment, illness, and accident visit everyone. It’s messy and hard and unfair and complicated; but every life is known to God. He suspends his judgment until the end of our lives. In the meantime, he asks only one thing of us; that we be honest with ourselves and others; that we confess and forsake our sins and follow the Savior. Why is that so hard for me?

Why am I so tempted to live a lie? Why am I so determined to put on a mask of conformity to please other people instead of an authentic image that pleases God? Why am I afraid to post on my blog? Why am I afraid of the judgement of those who don’t yet understand? We are broken! Not just me. We are all broken. That makes us all equals. I need not cower in shame.

Yet shame is what I feel and I can’t make the shame go away. And so I wander. I’ve left churches and temples made with hands and return to Eden; to the garden. I feel a pull to plants, animals, water, and soil right now.  The last two months have been intense.  Lots of joy, lots of sadness, lots of change.  Bombs, pandemic, deaths, injustice, man’s inhumanity to man……it takes its toll.  Every day I’m reminded that this world isn’t safe.  The world is not a safe place.

We have a butterfly garden we started four years ago.  The first year, we couldn’t keep enough milkweed in the garden!  The monarchs laid so many eggs, I could hardly keep up.  We released something like 32 monarchs that summer.  Every day we would release the butterflies to fly away to Mexico for the winter.  It was so amazing.  For the past three years, we have grown milkweed and it has had nothing but aphids.  This summer as the months passed, I thought that this year again, the monarchs would miss us.  I was wrong.

We started getting eggs the second week of August.  Lots of them.  We also found little caterpillars everywhere.  We scooped them up and put them in our crates and enclosures.  We didn’t have enough.  We bought more crates.  There were more caterpillars.  We gave some to friends.  We drove along the freeway to find milkweed growing in the wild because we were running low in the garden.  Twice a day we would clean out the cages and check on our babies.  We had over fifty!

The Monarch caterpillar lives encased in a chrysalis for fourteen days before emerging as an adult butterfly. They are motionless and still as though dead, but they are very much alive and busy reforming themselves in preparation for life as a new creature.

Once we brought in a leaf that had predatory eggs on it that we didn’t see.  A caterpillar ate the eggs and got sick.  It split open to reveal the larvae that had killed it.  Even with all our precautions, our caterpillars were not safe.  We started washing every leaf before putting it in a crate.  We felt relief every time a caterpillar would make its silk button and “J hang” because that meant one less caterpillar would be eating and pooping.  The chrysalids began piling up.  

Occasionally we would lose a caterpillar to “the black death” which is assumed to be some kind of bacterial infection.  We would remind ourselves that of all the monarch eggs that are laid each year only about five percent survive to adulthood.  Our efforts were dramatically improving the odds of success for our little friends.

The day we had our first butterfly eclose, or emerge, from chrysalis was magical.  It is a miraculous thing to behold.  The chrysalis begins to darken.  There are no signs of life, and black is usually synonymous with death.  If you look carefully, you can see the muted orange of the wings concealed behind the membrane, but even knowing this is normal, it looks eerie.  Then the chrysalis splits and the animal within unfolds.  At first it looks misshapen and wrinkled, but within ten minutes, the enormous wings flatten out and the transformation is complete.

The second day of school after dropping Austin off for Kindergarten, I took pictures and videos of these animals as they made this miraculous transformation.  I don’t believe that this experience has happened by accident.  I know that God sent the butterflies.  I know that he knew that I needed them.  He knew.  He cared.  He sent his winged messengers.  The world isn’t safe!  The caterpillars know that.  The butterflies know that.  The Afganis know that.  The marines who died in the bombing knew that.  Their families know that.  There is a 100% chance that each one of us will die.  Eventually this world will take our remains back into itself and we will decay and crumble into nothing.  That is our fate.  And yet, today we live.  Today He loves us.  Today He sent His butterflies to me.  He also sent me a dream.

I dreamed I was witnessing a wartorn group of refugees leaving their homes and traveling together in families.  But instead of people, they were monarch caterpillars.  There were large ones, presumably parents, and there were small ones that clung to the backs of the larger ones.  What did this dream mean?  I feel that the caterpillars were Afgan refugees.  The dream made them into caterpillars because to me, the monarch caterpillar is full of beauty and potential.  God sees the refugees as full of beauty and potential too.  The world won’t understand.  They will see the mess and the work of caring for them; the protection they will need and the space they will require.  God sees those things, but also the beauty that comes when his miracle transforms them.  

God works his will in large and small ways.  He sees the refugee and he knows the beggar in his need.  He never will forget his people and his hand will never be stayed.  His majesty will transform the Earth and the inhabitants will rejoice.  I will live each day and pray that I can be the person he wants me to be.  I will serve where he calls me to serve.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

I am broken and blessed. I can live authentically and honestly, embracing the redeemed person I am, unfettered by the sins of the past. I am broken, just as those who came before we were broken, but the present brings opportunities for renewal and rebirth. Our God is a God of transformations and redemptions, so I rejoice in my broken and I rejoice that my sins have brought me to Christ who heals me; not in the way I want to be healed, but in his wisdom he leaves the scars. I rejoice in my scars and refuse to hide them. They make me His and I rejoice that I am His. Fearfully and wonderfully made.

The Joy of Thy Lord

As I’ve progressed in my faith journey/crisis, I’ve pondered on what values I want to pass onto my children.  Society is at a crisis point in values.  Is it virtuous to wear a mask, or stand for freedom and go without?  Is it virtuous to welcome refugees and desperate migrants into your nation, or to build walls to shut them out for the safety against those who would do us harm?  Conflicting messages, laws and policies are shouted from leaders.  “Defund the police!” “Build the Wall!” “Don’t tread on me!”  This is a confusing time to live as an adult, let alone as a child. I have my work cut out for me in raising my children with a coherent value system. 

As I’ve tried to orient myself and discover my core values, there are a few things I’ve learned.  First, the value of a joyful life.  I’ve lived poor and I’ve lived with money.  I’ve lived in bad weather, and in good weather.  I’ve lived in sickness and in health.  I haven’t lived in joy very often.

I remember in my childhood, my Grandma Henrie’s apartment complex had a swimming pool.  I looked forward to our visits to see her each year mostly because I got to go swimming.  I would cling to an inflatable tube and spin in circles for hours.  That exhilaration was something I looked forward to through all the months of snow and ice in Idaho.  Now as an adult, I have a community swimming pool nearly in my backyard.  It is so close, we can walk to it in less than five minutes.  Yet for the four years I have had access to it, I have hardly ever used it.  When I would take the kids swimming, I would usually stay in the shade on the side of the pool and watch them joyfully splash and play.  Maybe I thought joyful living was supposed to be for kids.

I got an Apple Watch for my birthday this year, and one of the features it has is the ability to track swimming for exercise.  This changed things for me.  By the middle of the summer, I was going to the pool with the kids every day.  I would swim laps while they played and I would get my exercise in.  It was a little boring after a while, but it was refreshing and it was good for the kids.  Austin would cling to my back as I plowed through the water.  I taught him the strokes I was doing and he picked them up.  It was beautiful to see him relax and learn to move in the water with confidence.  Later, I watched a synchronized swimming routine in the Tokyo olympics.  I read about artistic swimming.  I watched videos on how to do a few moves.  I ordered a swim cap and some nose plugs on Amazon.  

I went from swimming laps in the pool for exercise, to doing somersaults, handstands, and all kinds of acrobatics in the water.  It was fun!  I remembered what it felt like to be a child and rejoice in the ability to move joyfully.  I stretched and swam and spun in circles.  I felt alive in a way that I hadn’t felt for years.  I felt awake after years of sleepy depression.  It has been almost a month since I rediscovered the joy of swimming.  I’ve been doing it every day.  After my morning swim, I feel energized, and clear headed.  I feel a rush of ideas about other joyful things I could do to fill up my days.  Planting a new flower, making some delicious food, planning lunch with a friend, or doing some art; these ideas prance through my joyful mind and the anxieties of the pandemic and Afganistan crisis fade into the distance for a while.  No matter how stressful the circumstances of my life are, a few moments of joyful, purposeful living can make those burdens easier to bear.  

This is me after my joyful swim this morning.

The value of joyful living is one I want to pass to my children.  Rather than pack their schedules with classes, chores, and activities and then nag them all the time to practice and work harder, I want to instill in them the need for regular joyful living.  I want them to find the thing that makes them feel alive.  They don’t need to do it for a living or even become good at it.  It isn’t the task or activity itself that matters, it’s how you feel when you do it.  God said that men are that they might have joy.  When we live joyfully, we fulfill our highest purpose.  When we deny ourselves of joyful living, we deprive ourselves of a core need.  

Another value I want to pass on to my children is the value of kindness.  We live in a world full of people.  There are millions of us interacting with one another on the roads, in the stores, and online.  We are witnesses to thousands of deaths, births, sicknesses, failures and triumphs every day.  It is easy to begin to believe that people are not valuable and that our lives have little meaning.  Each act of kindness renews our faith that there is worth in the human soul.  When our act of kindness blesses another person, we make an impact on the world.  We matter.  Even if the person we are kind to is most insignificant and the kind act imperceptibly small, it makes the world better.  

The third value is introspection.  It is so easy to see sin and folly without.  It is much more difficult to see it within.  Introspection is the often uncomfortable scrutinizing of our own selves.  We get to see our flaws with razor precision when we introspect.  When we are familiar with our own soul, its strengths and flaws, its twists and turns, its folds and flaps, we are less vulnerable to flattery, less desperate for affirmation, and more realistic with our expectations.  This leads us to the final virtue.  Compassion.

Anyone who has done much introspection knows that compassion is the only remedy to the pain of self knowledge.  To see yourself accurately, you have to reckon with the painful reality of your own sins and fallen nature.  If you have children, this pain is compounded with the knowledge that you have passed these things on to your posterity where they will likely repeat themselves in an eternal dance of despair through the following generations.  Compassion is the ability to love fallen things; to see beauty in broken.  Our children, our parents, our family, our friends; we are all broken and fallen things.  We cut one another with our broken parts.  We bleed because we are alive and we dare to love one another in spite of the risks.  Compassionate eyes can look at this messy scene and see the beauty in it.  We can love the participants without judgement and without shame; knowing that we are all in need of redemption.  Somehow, all these things will work together for the benefit of all of us.  

These four values are the core values I want to pass on to my children.  I hope that I can teach them through example the benefits of living this way.  I wrote a short parable I am planning to share with them tonight at dinner.  Hopefully this will help instill in them the values I want them to learn.  

The Joy of Thy Lord

“The baby is crying again!” he said with disgust.  “What’s wrong with it now?”

“He just wants a little snuggle,” his mother said softly as she picked up the squalling child.  “See, now he’s feeling better.”

Later, at play, “Mom, I stubbed my toe!” he screamed in pain.  

“Here, let me kiss it better.  Do you need some ice?” his mother replied.

“No, I’m a tough kid,” he said, rubbing the tears from his eyes.  Somehow the kiss always made it feel a little better.

Later at school the child saw a boy teased and rejected, chased away from the others.  “What’s wrong with him?” he thought.  He remembered his mother and thought, maybe he just needs some love.  And he invited him to play with him and his friends.  The playground was a kinder place.

Many years later the boy sat trying to do his schoolwork as his younger siblings played loudly behind him.  “Can’t you make them stop!” he roared to his mother.  

“No, I can’t, and if I could I wouldn’t.  It’s frustrating when you’re trying to concentrate, isn’t it?  Try to be patient.  They are young.  They will learn to be quiet just as you have learned.  Some things cannot be rushed,” she replied.

He went to a quiet place to finish his work.  He thought angrily of how easily the other students seemed to complete their assignments.  Why could he not learn this faster!  Then he remembered his mother and he thought, “Be patient with yourself.  You will learn it, just as they have learned it.  Some things can’t be rushed.”  He took a deep breath and started again.  The bedroom was a kinder place.

Years later the boy came home to visit from college.  He ate a full meal and packed up food for his small apartment pantry.  “Thanks Mom!  I’ve been SO hungry.  I wish I could cook as good as you can!” he thought of the macaroni and cheese he had been eating for a week.  

“It takes time to learn to provide for yourself.  You will learn.  There is always food waiting for you here until you do,” she said as she kissed him goodbye.  

On the way home he saw a weather beaten man with a cardboard sign that said, “Hungry.  Please help me.”  He thought of his mother and wondered why this old man hadn’t learned to provide for himself.  Sometimes these things can take time, he reasoned.  He took some bread he had taken from his mother’s kitchen and gave it to the man.  The neighborhood was a kinder place.

And so the boy became a man and he learned patience and love.  He gave to those in need and he waited patiently as the Lord worked his miracles in the life of each person.  And he knew God.  And the world was a kinder place when he left it.

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.  Thou hast been faithful over a few things.  I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matthew 25:21

What I Need

Parenting is a marathon.  It feels great while you’re doing it, it pushes you to the mental and physical brink, and there is a let down when you stop.  Of course, I’ve never run a marathon, but that’s what I imagine it’s like.  This morning I got ready to send my son to summer camp for a week.  As his car drove away, Pepper and I walked into an empty house.  The remains of last night’s chicken nuggets and butterfly shrimp littered the kitchen counter.  Baskets of laundry seemed to me to sit pondering in the silence; wondering where their owners had disappeared to.  

My mind has been ruminating endlessly the past few weeks.  Wesley is constantly on the computer playing Minecraft and the computer is my preferred writing place.  Rather than fighting him for the computer, I’ve taken the path of least resistance.  Instead of siphoning off my thoughts Dumbledore style, they are crammed in my head screaming for release.  Now he’s gone and I have a few hours to myself, I’ll see what comes out.

This morning in my quiet room with only sweet Pepper there to receive my love and nurturing, I sat on my bed and looked at her gorgeous soft, shiny coat.  It’s black, but I’ve learned from drawing it that there are places that are white and light grey.  That’s what makes it look shiny.  Things are always more complicated than they seem.  The human brain, always aching for simplicity, wants to see Pepper’s fur as a single color.  It is black.  It isn’t midnight, moon grey, scintillating silver, or morning fog.  That’s too complicated.  Black and tan.  She’s a chihuahua mix.  But she isn’t.  She’s a mutt with bloodlines that are uniquely hers; an angel crafted through time and given by God to me to comfort me in my blackest midnight. But it isn’t just black.  Life is like that.  It isn’t black and white.

So many colors in her fur! So many more than just black and tan. Still, it’s simpler to say she is just that.

But I understand that if I had lived a different life, I wouldn’t see the complexity either.  And I would relish the simplicity.  Nature is always yearning for simplicity, stasis, harmony, balance.  Rivers take the smoothest and easiest path.  The brain craves rest.  Thinking takes energy.  Seeing is work.  And yet I think.  And yet, I see.

And for that I will never rest.  I will run the marathon.  So today I paused in my frenzy of thought and prayed.  It has been a long time.  Sometimes it’s easier to feel the guilt and push it away than actually do the thing that will put the guilt to rest for good.  Praying felt good.  God reminded me that I’m not such a bad person as my brain likes to tell me I am.  

My brain likes to insist that my good intentions pave my road to hell.  Every glass of milk I give my child is half empty, not half full.  My efforts are never enough.  It is like the God in my head is a version of my teenaged son with a gift for ferreting out my every flaw and hypocritical act. The real God sees me different.  And in that quiet moment, I remember that He isn’t the demanding perfectionist my brain likes to think He is.  My heart poured out to Him all my shortcomings and failings and He calmed that storm with a simple thought.  “Do you think I need your efforts, my child?  Don’t you remember that I am the one with the loaves and the fishes?  I am everything you need.”  

But I need a functional government and a church community.  I need assurances that my children are going to grow up to be competent adults.  I need money in my bank account and friends to affirm me.  I need.  I need.  I need. I need to understand it all right now!!

But I don’t need.  I don’t need anything but Him.  He leads my soul to the still water.  He soothes the wounds the world has given me; the wounds I give myself.  And He heals me.  And I remember what I forgot.  He is everything I need.

And yet we understand Him so imperfectly.  We imagine Him to be a simplistic version of our own creation.  We remake his image like a child with a crude crayon on brown recycled paper.  We hold it up as the true God of Israel and then the sheep stray.  We forget that He is not our toy soldier. He is not our mascot to be remade at our convenience.  The human mind could study Him for a lifetime and never unlock His secrets. He is not of this world and no human mind can comprehend Him.  

How Great is Our God?  How Great is Our God?  How Great, How Great is Our God?!?  Tongue cannot tell, nor heart can frame.  Yet we rise from the dust of our creation.  We reach for Him and He reaches down to us.  For a moment, He opens my eyes to see; I am more than this world.  I was born for a better world.  My heart is comforted in my uncomfortable; I will never fit here because I belong with Him.  He and I know that and it is enough.

Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash

Finding My Voice in a Faith Crisis

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Last night I couldn’t sleep and I started reading old blog posts.  I realized that it has been a couple of months since I posted.  I’ve written a lot in my journals, but haven’t felt able to post anything.  Honestly, the faith crisis I’ve been going through over the last six months has been brutal on my self-esteem.  I didn’t realize how much of my faith in myself came from my church membership.  The card I was carrying in my wallet that told me I was a good member of my church meant more to me than I realized until that was gone.  Now I have to stand before my Savior without any of that and somehow believe that he still loves me; that I still have work to do for him just not in the way I thought.  

So I’ve been tepidly attending a protestant church of some kind called Lakeside Church of Christ.  It’s the church that runs the preschool that my sons attended.  One of the weeks I attended I looked around at the congregation.  The gathered people looked so different from the ward I used to attend.  They weren’t just unfamiliar, they were different.  There is a look to Mormons.  That look isn’t at Lakeside.  I felt the spirit whisper to me, “They are my people too.”  I knew that it was true.  I haven’t wanted to look outside of my tribe to find his people.  I was too busy serving my kids and my ward and looking within the church to take the time to see that there are his people everywhere.  My neighbors.  My son’s classmates.  The server at the restaurant.  They are looking for his love.  They are known by him, but not by me.  My eyes have been opened.

It isn’t that I want to start preaching the Book of Mormon to them.  I have no desire to make anyone into a Mormon.  I want to listen to their stories.  I want to learn from them.  I want to see them the way my Savior sees them.  My Lord knows there is a time to listen and a time to talk; a time for questions and a time for answers.  I feel so humbled.  I came to Texas thinking I knew so much.  Now I feel full of questions.  

As for my blog, I’ve been afraid.  I’m worried I’m going to say something that will hurt someone or influence someone to leave the church or to judge me for leaving.  I’ve been distracted by the need to please everyone who reads my words.  Me posting again is me accepting that you are responsible for what you do with my words.  This is me remembering that God knows you.  He will guide you on your path just as he is guiding me.  This is me finding my faith again.

The growth I have experienced in the past six months has astounded me.  The pain of loss has been torturous.  It has been not just in my mind but in my body.  In my neck and left shoulder; in my hips and legs, in my head most of all.  The struggle to manage the responsibilities of my home and family while enduring constant pain has been intense.  I had an injection in my neck, but it didn’t help.  Thankfully, my orthopedic pain specialist prescribed me some medication that is helping me.  I also started going to the gym again which has reduced my anxiety and helped my self esteem.  Better times are ahead.  

I started a new book called The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a pastor in the Lutheran church and an early vocal opponent of Adolf Hitler in Germany.  He was arrested by the Gestapo and killed by order of Himmler only days before the concentration camp he was imprisoned in was freed.  This book is part of his journey of discipleship in which he became conscious of his own heroic path to become a martyr for Christ; a testimony to what Christ would have done in Nazi Germany during the rise of Hitler.  He was a brave and honorable German whose faith and sacrifice inspires me.  During a dark time when Germany lost it’s soul to darkness, there were people like Bonhoeffer that stood firmly for humanity and truth.  Germany and the German people are no longer in the grips of a madman thirsting for the blood of the Jewish people.  They have taken their place in the world as an example of humanitarian aid during the refugee crisis.  Somehow, I feel certain that were it not for those brave few who kept their integrity, Germany would not be the place it is today.  I know the days ahead will be dark.  As my nation becomes more radicalized and demagogues lie and inspire violence, who knows what the future will bring?

One thing that is certain to me, we are headed down a dark path and there doesn’t appear to be any course correction coming any time soon.  Anyone who refuses to be drawn into a tribe right now is going to be left exposed to the persecution of those who belong.  I am ready to take on that role.  The testimony of my Savior, his courage, his teachings, his love will be my only creed.  I will have faith that it will be enough.  His tribe is the only tribe I want to belong to. 

There isn’t only darkness.  There is also an increasing awareness of human suffering.  The subject of mental health is on the cover of magazines as I stand in the checkout at the grocery store, it is the topic of discussions at church, it is on everyone’s mind in a way I have never seen before.  I feel like standing up and saying, “I was talking about mental health BEFORE it was cool!!”  I spent a few hours watching the documentary The Me You Can’t See that was put together by Harry the Duke of Sussex and Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime TV.  It was excellent.  I wish so many people didn’t have to suffer and die before we got to this place, but I’m glad we are here.  If the pandemic leads us to better understand our own minds and what we need to be happy, that can only lead to a more mentally healthy society.  

I hope all of you are surviving the end of the pandemic.  I hope and pray that outbreaks around the world will begin to fade and that everyone who needs treatment, both mental and physical,  can get it soon.  The suffering of so many for so long is hard to comprehend.  I’m sure that more people are hurting than even what we know, and what we know is overwhelming.   

It is hard to get a sense of where we are post pandemic, but I have a feeling that the secularization of our society is only going to accelerate.  As mental health takes the stage of our consciousness, we will likely see the influence of social science swell.  This trend was already happening, but will likely accelerate.  This secularization will accelerate the diminishing influence of the church as new social norms are established around social science.  There will be a focus on childhood trauma and perhaps an even more intense pressure on parents to be perfect.  This will result in lower birth rates as people avoid parenthood and the increase in social judgement.  More young people will choose not to have children.  Social services to children will take priority, largely in the federal government as the Democratic Party holds increasing power in the federal government.

Radicalization of the Christian church in response to their increasingly diminishing influence will continue as we have seen with the rise of Donald Trump and other populist leaders.  This radicalization and preoccupation with political influence will accelerate the loss of credibility with the rising generation who will see frantic and fearful defenders of the church with increasing disgust.  

The questions we must ask ourselves are: what are the consequences of the centralization of political power into a single political party in the United States?  The government is the most likely vehicle by which social justice priorities will find expression.  How will society change when government becomes the primary source of moral and spiritual guidance?  What form will religious worship take now that it is no longer a conscious practice?  Because religion has evolved with mankind for thousands of years, is it possible for us to supplant it with modern studies, statistics, and scientific analysis that spans only a century?  If religion is to remain an influence in society, what ways does it need to change?  How can it prove its worth to a generation of young people who find it antiquated and irrelevant?

These are not easy questions to answer.  I wish I were more certain about the future or more able to influence it.  I feel like a cork floating down a stream.  I hear the coming waterfall, but I’m powerless to fight the current.  Trust in the Savior and faith that he hasn’t abandoned humanity is my only hope.  

During a faith crisis, it’s hard to know what I even believe anymore.  Sometimes I feel pretty cynical.  Most of the time I understand that everything that is happening has a plan and a purpose even if I don’t see what it is right now.  

The Natural Man and the Three Parts of Me

Photo by David Matos on Unsplash

Mosiah 3:19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever and ever.  

Period.  For some reason the rest of the scripture didn’t seem to matter much.  The enemy must be annihilated, obliterated, and completely destroyed.  Right?  Isn’t that what you do with enemies?  The enemy of God must be completely and utterly defeated.  That was what I believed until my life came apart.  Now I see that there is a comma at the end of that phrase “forever and ever.”  There is a comma, and the words after it contradict my original interpretation.

In counseling, college classes, and personal reading, I’ve learned that very smart people have theorized about the natural man in social science.  There is the theory of the Id, the ego, and the superego that Sigmund Freud used to explain the conflict between conscious and subconscious impulses.  If I think of the natural man as split into these three parts, a lot of things make sense.  The id is the base instinct of man.  Think Tarzan.  No civilization, no manners, no concept of anything other than the drive for food and maybe for sex.  When I first learned the theory, I thought the Id was the natural man.  He is only a part.  He’s a rather pathetic character wholly ill equipped to survive in a social system.  Much more problematic is the superego.

The superego at first glance seems to be a much better character than his Id brother.  He wants to achieve.  The superego doesn’t want to sleep, eat, or do anything that might interrupt his drive for excellence.  To the superego, second place is the first loser.  To the superego, the drive for power is paramount.  The superego isn’t content with a hot fudge sundae, he wants to own the shop.  He doesn’t have time or patience for the Id who is an embarrassment to him.

The ego, much maligned in colloquial terms, is a more likeable character than his counterparts.  He is the pragmatist.  He is the one who tells the superego to chill out when he insists that he can run five miles in the morning, work all day, take classes in the evening, and then stay up all night studying.  The ego tells the Id that eating that second box of Oreos is a bad idea.  The ego has a tough job; somewhat like the exhausted mom wrangling two brothers determined to fight.  (Yes, I speak from experience here.)

Most of the child rearing in a society is consumed with subverting the Id.  The job of a caregiver is to provide the child with a superego and later with an ego.  Sometimes, as was the case in my childhood, the superego was encouraged and enlarged and the Id was shamed and banished.  The ego I formed was somewhat like a parent who shows blatant favoritism toward one of her children over the others.  The superego was the favorite and the Id was the red-headed stepchild.

So what is wrong with that situation?  Why shouldn’t a parent want their child to achieve?  Why shouldn’t that drive for perfection be encouraged?  Doesn’t that drive lead to success and happiness?  I think the facts speak for themselves when it comes to my life.    

An unrestrained superego leads to resentment, stress, and chronic health problems.  If someone has an unrestrained Id, society will step in.  Schools, jails, and social punishment will likely correct such a problem.  What about an unrestrained superego?  You will be hard pressed to find a teacher who criticises a student for trying too hard, caring too much, or being too conscientious.  Unfortunately, an unrestrained superego leads to misery with no apparent cause.  A superego driven person can achieve incredible things, have a beautiful life with everything anyone could ask for, and it will never be enough.  There will always be someone with more or some greater achievement to reach.  The unrestrained superego is never satisfied and endlessly full of entitlement.  When failure comes, as it always does, the superego cannot process it.  The rage of an out of control superego is incandescent.  He will take out his rage on whomever he deems responsible for the failure.  If he can find no one, or it is considered unacceptable to blame another, the ego and the id will take the blunt of his fury.

“I could have won the state championship if it hadn’t been for that idiot on my team who missed the final shot!”  “I could have gotten an A in that class if I had stayed up every night all night like I wanted to!  Why am I so lazy?”  “I could have been the CEO of this company if I had just tried harder!  What the heck is wrong with me?”  These are all the rantings of the bloated superego, convinced of his own omniscience and consumed with the belief that all things are within his personal control.

There are two problems with the super ego and the reasons why I believe him to be the more problematic part of the natural man rather than the humble and much abused Id.  First, the super ego has a warped sense of what perfection is.  Second, the super ego doesn’t want or think he needs a Savior.

First, the super ego has a warped sense of what perfection is that is based mostly on the  values adopted in childhood in the family of origin.  If his parents praised and idolized a pop star, the super ego will value pop music.  Even if the child is a genius at the piano, the superego may forever wish he had a different set of talents that had enabled him to sing with weird hair and strobe lights in front of a crowd of stoned fans.  If a child is raised in a family that shames nerds who love science and school, he may refuse to develop his intellectual gifts thanks to a warped superego who believes such gifts are worthless.  The superego believes that his perception of perfection is reality, but it isn’t.  It is the vain ambition of man, blind and doomed to fall into the ditch.  Rather than reflect on the values instilled in him in childhood, rather than question the validity of his own assumptions and perception, the super ego steams ahead into the folly of his own immature and unrealistic expectations into the failure he so desperately wants to avoid.

Second, the super ego has no need for or desire to have a Savior.  He cringes at the thought of God’s first born son.  Why wasn’t he the favored one?  He wants to prove that he can achieve just as well as that humble son of God who gave his life for us.  “It isn’t so hard to live a sinless life!” he reasons.  When he does sin, as he inevitably will, he can justify his behavior and insist that next time, he won’t fail.  And he does fail.  Again.  Whether or not he will humble himself depends on how robust his super ego is.  How adept is he at rationalization, at blaming others, at shaming the other parts of himself?  How resistant is he to self reflection?  How long before he realizes that he isn’t in control?  That he doesn’t have all the answers?  That he needs help?

That is when I finally come to the other half of the natural man scripture.  …unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

It isn’t the Id, the Ego, or the Superego that saves us.  They are the warring parts within us that need to learn to love one another and live in peace.  The superego needs to see the Id as worthy of love and compassion.  The Id needs to let go of the resentment he has stored up.  The ego, the most mature and sensible of the trio, must make the choice to learn, reflect, humble himself, and adopt a more realistic view of himself and the measure of his creation.  He must entice, not force the compliance of his other parts.  He must allow the spirit to enlighten the mind and enlarge the experience.  Only then can the natural man become a friend to God.

So what can I take away from this?  As a parent?  As someone who is learning to love herself?  As a person who wants to become more like the Savior?  As a parent, I can see my sons as having three parts to their natural men.  The key to effective parenting isn’t to drive my children to achievement, but to help those boys create harmony and cooperation between their three parts.  I will model self reflection and personal growth and change.  I can confess my sins before my children and share my gratitude for a Savior who shows me a better way.  When my superego screams at me that, “When there’s no pain, there’s no gain,” I can pat him on the head and eat an Oreo.  I can also recognize that I have ego needs.  Sometimes I need to post that humble brag on Facebook.  Sometimes I need to celebrate my achievements and give myself a pat on the back for the extra effort I made.  In the end, if I am going to be saved, it will be all of me.  All three parts.

Maybe There Shouldn’t be Forgiveness

“Maybe there shouldn’t be forgiveness!!” he shouted at me with righteous indignation that only a teenager can pull off without seeming over the top.  I had to stop and think about that.  All my life I was taught to forgive.  Even before processing the sins of others and their full impact on me, I was supposed to forgive them.  Maybe my son was on to something.

We had been talking about the shooting in Atlanta of six women at spas and massage parlors.  They were all women of Asian ethnicity.  The intersection of race and sex and gun violence had obsessed the collective psyche of our society in ways not seen since the Donald Trump was banned from social media.  My oldest son took the tragedy especially hard.  When he’s not at school, he’s watching anime shows on his phone.  He won’t watch them with English translations.  He insists on listening to the original Japanese voice actors because he thinks they are better.  He doesn’t understand Japanese, so he has to read the English subtitles; impressive since he has dyslexia and that means significant extra effort on his part.  One of his best friends at school is Vietnamese.  We watches a lot of “woke” Tic Tok videos, that are heavy on societal judgement. He was angry at the world and had no patience for nuance.

We were a racist country and we always had been and nothing had changed.  Looking back I think I was a little scared of his intensity.  I tried to inject some calming dialogue into his raging tirade.  “Things have gotten better,” I insisted.  “We still have a long way to go, but it isn’t as bad as it once was.”  I told him the stories my dad had told me about how it was after World War II and how people loathed the “Japs.”  He gleefully leaped from the topic of World War II to the containment camps calling them “concentration camps.”  I continued my futile efforts to quell my son’s righteous rage against the nation he was born into as he trashed the police officer/spokesperson who minimized the attacks by saying the perpetrator “had a bad day.” 

I had mixed feelings toward that officer.  He was the target of a torrent of social media driven societal judgement and fury that I felt was disproportionate to his crime.  He had been insensitive.  He had posted a racist Facebook post about the coronavirus and China.  He was wrong and he used some bad judgement. His decisions were harmful and hurtful to the victims and the nation. I disagreed with the idea that somehow this man should become a pariah for all time as a deterrent to racists.  That was where I unwisely decided to plant my flag. 

I told my son that when we shame people for making stupid choices like that officer did, that we create a backlash.  Millions of people have posted racist crap on social media.  Millions of people have said racially insensitive things.  Does that say something about our culture?  Yes.  Do we need to be better?  Yes.  Do we need to make it clear to that officer that he needs to do some introspection?  Yes.  Does it help to create a martyr out of a police officer that many people know and love and can relate to by publicly shaming him and disregarding anything good he has ever done in his life?  No.  My son wasn’t having it.  That was when he unloaded on me.

I was just as bad as everyone else.  Would I be defending that shooter if he wasn’t white?  (Incidentally I did not defend the shooter, nor will I ever defend such acts.)   Why was I so quick to jump to my forgiveness line?  Why did I feel compelled to defend racist behavior?  That was when he said the statement that has echoed in my mind ever since.  “Maybe there shouldn’t be forgiveness.”

I’ve pondered on that sentence for a while. Maybe there shouldn’t be forgiveness. Yesterday I got a text from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that suggested that a good thing to do before Easter is to forgive someone. I’ve pondered on my own tortured relationship with the concept of forgiveness. The way some devout members talk about forgiveness is seems like they are mistaking it with Easter candy, something we can pass out to everyone without thought or concern. It’s like in their world lives are never shattered, abuse is never a problem, and we are all carrying around petty grievances that we can choose to set aside and everything will be roses again. Maybe some people live like that. My perspective is different.

The first time I chose not to forgive someone was in fourth grade. I had been in a tortured and toxic relationship with another girl for two years. She was bad for me on so many levels. She was spiteful and vindictive and treated me like dirt. Once we were playing a game of pickup sticks and she insisted that I had moved a stick when I hadn’t. Usually I would just let her have her way, but this time, I held my ground. The game ended in a rage and I knew that she would be expecting my groveling apology so we could make up. She might take a week or so to punish me before she accepted. That was our usual pattern. This time I was mad. I was tired of her games. I didn’t apologize. Weeks went by and I stood by myself on the playground fighting the urge to go and fix our broken relationship. When eventually she came to me to make things right I told her I didn’t want to be friends anymore.

Of course, I was living in a small town. She ended up in my ward when my family moved and we had to be friends since all of our friends were mutual. Still, she never got to treat me like dirt again. I refused to forgive. Sometimes I think its worth resisting that urge to make everything pretty again. Its so hard to do though. Like a whitened sepulchre, its compelling to continue making the outside of a rotten relationship look good. You can’t change the smell though. Time only makes it worse. Sometimes you just need to move on.

“Move on.” If I had a dime for every time I had told myself to do that I would be a wealthy woman. What makes moving on so hard to do is that you’ve invested so much time and effort into the relationship that you don’t have anything else. Toxic relationships suck everything into them like a black hole. I didn’t have any other friends in fourth grade. I spent recess alone. There was that girl or there was nothing for me. I chose nothing. If I had it to do again I would chose nothing again. I’ve chose nothing again and again rather than have the comfort of dysfunction.

“Maybe there shouldn’t be forgiveness!!” My son’s rage at me the other day revealed what both of us know.  I want to jump to forgiveness with racial injustice. I want to make things pretty.  I want to think that we as a society are making progress on race.  I want to give grace and I want others to give grace.  I want everyone to get along and sing together in the songs of brotherhood and sisterhood.  The fact is, sometimes there shouldn’t be forgiveness.  Sometimes we have to sit in the uncomfortable mess that we have created in this world and feel the pain of it. 

Forgiveness is like my art. For me it is a process. That process only starts once I’ve healed from trauma. Healing and forgiveness can be beautiful, but they can’t be rushed. Just like art. Good things come to those who wait.

There needs to be individual accountability, and society is pretty united on that.  If some POS goes out with a rifle and shoots a bunch of women, he should go to prison for the rest of his life.  If some officer says some stupid sh*t that makes a painful societal wound hurt even more, he needs to be reprimanded and never made a spokesperson for the department again.  Society understands that people need to be held accountable for their sins.  But what about collective accountability?  That’s where things get hairy.

What about the person who sold the guy the weapon he used to commit the shooting?  What about the friend that noticed he was becoming unstable? (Assuming someone knew.)  What about the attitudes within the police department that made that officer feel like it would be okay to minimize the horrific crime against a marginalized population?  What about the creator of the meme that the officer posted that made fun of the coronavirus and its origins in China?  What about the former President of the United States who regularly stokes the flames of Asian American racism?  What about the people who voted for him or ignored him or even agreed with him as he spouted his hatred and mockery?  What about systemic racism?  What about societal sins?  

Individual sins are relatively easy.  A person breaks the law.  He runs a stop sign.  The law is enforced by the traffic cop who issues a ticket.  The perpetrator is punished by having to pay a fine or take a class.  They are forced to confess and forsake their crime by the society before they are able to drive again.  If they continue to engage in unsafe driving, their license is suspended.  Nothing controversial about this process.  Systemic problems are much more thorny and controversial. Sometimes healing and forgiveness can’t happen because wounds keep getting ripped open. Collective sin spreads like a pandemic.

Systemic problems run in families. Families can become dysfunctional in a heartbeat. Old unhealthy patterns and coping strategies get passed on and it seems like there is no way to change. Taking mental illness seriously and getting treatment is hard especially when families don’t want to change. Being a cycle breaker takes work and leadership. There’s not a lot of companionship when you’re blazing a trail. That’s okay. I’m with you.

There is a difference between forgiveness and healing. Sometimes moving on isn’t going to be comfortable and sometimes you have to end or drastically change relationships to do it. Moving on can be painful and lonely. Healing might seem like an etherical dream that comes to other people. It can happen. Forgiveness is harder. I’m not there yet, but I see the finish line. Someday I’ll savor that sweet draft of forgiveness. For now, I’ll sweat it out and keep moving on.

In Equal Measure

Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay

Sunday again.  I didn’t dread it quite so much this week.  Ben and I agreed that we would go on a bike ride this afternoon.  That will give me something to think about when my soul gets sucked into the grief.  I woke up to primary music.  That is the hardest music for me.  So simple, so direct, so unlike the feelings and thoughts inside me. My endless mental pacing is exhausting, and on Sunday it ramps up. I’m desperate to fix it; to make me whole again.

The truth will be paid for with confusion and suffering; searching and withholding judgement; patient waiting on the Lord until I am prepared to receive his truth. Patience.  Long-suffering.  Charity.  Hope.  Faith.  I have to hold to those things.  Tears came to my eyes again as I watched my boys leave the house with Ben dressed for church.  I put on my make up and my dress today. 

I started a drawing I had been planning for a few weeks.  It’s a picture of two dried roses.  I wanted to paint it in water colors, but I decided to just do a sketch first.  I used my new light board to do the preliminary sketch.  It was helpful, especially with roses since they are so complex.  They make my artist brain hurt.

I thought about Eve and her decision to take the fruit.  She did it because she wanted to have children.  She knew what she had to do and that it would have consequences.  She knew she would suffer.  She knew it would be hard.  She also knew there was no other way. As I drove to the church to pick up my sons, I wanted to turn around. I didn’t want to drive through the parking lot and remember who I used to be. But there was no other way.

They were beautiful playing in the sunshine under the battered and bare trees.  I smiled and asked them how church was as they loaded into the minivan.  They said Daddy spoke and that he was sad.  I had forgotten it was fast Sunday.  I thought of my tears and his.  It’s so sad.  I wondered again, as I have a thousand times if I should start going again.  Then the words of the Savior came.  “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”  

We are not one.  We are not his.  I am not one.  I am not His.  Trying to make sense of the schisms that exist right now in my nation and my church I feel a tearing inside.  Somehow I have to keep my integrity in the midst of unprecedented pressure.  To hold grief and gratitude in equal measure.  I bury my weapons of social media war deep within the Earth.  The battles of men don’t work the will of God.  Nothing I can do will fix the broken outside myself.

God gave me responsibility for one person and that’s me.  So I walk my path and submit to his will.  I don’t know his design, but I know He hasn’t forgotten me.  We walk together and he will give me what I need.  My grief is balanced with my gratitude.  In equal measure. The church isn’t a safe place for me. Maybe it never was. Maybe there is no safe place for me in this world. Still, my Savior gives me what I need. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

I have my children and my husband. I have my home and my art. I have so many blessings. Gratitude. Grief. In equal measure.

My Cross

My Cross

If I had loved her better,

If I hadn’t judged.

If I had lifted her burdens,

Instead of bearing a grudge

If I had seen the beam in my eye

And left hers well alone

Would we still be sisters?

But I hear a moan

Of time that passes empty

No phone calls, emails, or cards,

The memories we could have shared

Just an empty vase in shards

The beauty of what might have been

Fills my soul with regret

Each year that passes reminds me

That I haven’t yet

Removed the burden of guilt

I feel it on my chest

But reconciliation I fear

Will never give me rest.

So I will walk this path alone

My Calvary to find

I’ll follow my Lord to Golgotha

Pray for those I leave behind. 

His Grace for Me and for Thee

Photo by Stephen Hui on Unsplash

The other day I was reading about whole object relations.  Mentally and emotionally healthy people are able to see others as they are and resist the urge to either idealize them or demonize them.  That has been a skill that I continue to struggle with.  Black and white thinking was all I knew for half of my life and too often it is encouraged within church society.  Some people are socially savvy enough to pick up whole object relations, but many like me, have to learn it the hard way.

Donald Trump has been a particularly polarizing figure in part because people want to simply paint him as black or white.  He is the savior of democracy and America or he is the devil sent to destroy it.  The truth is naturally more complex.  Donald Trump, in my mind, is a seriously flawed individual with a fragile self-esteem who didn’t have the skills to lead and couldn’t cope with that reality.  The fact of his defeat in the election was simply something his mind could not deal with.    His inability to accept and acknowledge defeat was obvious to those who understand his psychology.  They predicted this outcome.  His former lawyer and fixer Micheal Cohen warned us in his congressional testimony.  His niece Mary Trump also warned that the transition of power would not go well.  They were right.

His psychology is fairly straight forward.  The national psychology is more difficult to understand.  Why did so many identify in a personal way with the former President?  Why did they project virtues on him that he clearly didn’t possess? Why do they vehemently protect him from any consequences he has earned including poor press coverage during his term and the impeachments that resulted from his irresponsible and dangerous behavior.  Why?  I assume that the lies they tell themselves about Donald Trump are similar to the lies they tell themselves about who they are.  The hardest lies we face are the ones we tell ourselves.

This world is inhabited by imperfect broken people.  We hurt one another and ourselves.  At best, we have social structures that encourage and reward pro-social behaviors and punish anti-social ones.  These structures are never perfect, but as they erode, we find that we miss them.  At worst, those structures fail us and complete chaos and brutality prevail.  I fear our once great nation is dissolving.  It started slowly, but it is accelerating.  Like the pandemic that rages across the land, the chaos, cynicism, and hopelessness are spreading exponentially.  We lack the mental resources to cope.  

As I posted on Facebook, I made the decision to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  For now.  I feel like God is calling my spirit to wander for a while.  I need to embrace the fact that I am a pilgrim in a strange land and my heart yearns for a homeland that doesn’t exist on this planet.  I keep going back to the same church and hoping my experience will be different, but sometimes the answer lies outside the box we place ourselves in. God is everywhere. He is in the stream and the mountains. He is in the wind. He can find me in my closet and sit beside me as I comfort a friend. He doesn’t live in buildings built with hands.

It has been tempting to see the church as evil; a deceptive organization that has hurt my recovery and shattered my illusions about God.  There are times I feel that way.  But when I try to conceptualize the church with whole object relations, a much more complex image immerges.  

My depression accelerated when I was newly married and starting a demanding Elementary Education program, I was unable to afford treatment.  My mom gave me some pills through my gynecologist at home so that I could manage my suicidal ideation.  I tried to get counselling, but the student counseling center hours conflicted with my schedule as a student teacher.  As I explained my plight to my bishop, he said, “I will be your counsellor.”  We visited weekly.  Looking back, it was a miracle that he was able to help me as much as he did.  The Lord provided support for me when I desperately needed it.  And he did it with a bishop who had little to no training in mental health.

After I graduated and I was able to go to counseling, I went to an LDS family therapist.  He became like a second father to me.  He helped me in ways I don’t think anyone else could have.  When I needed to change counselors to someone closer to home, there were no LDS therapists nearby. Even though my new counselor was not LDS, my bishop still paid for my sessions when we ran out of money to pay for them.  He made an effort to understand and I appreciate that.  The church invested in my mental health and I will never forget that.  If I can ever give back to the leadership or the members of the church, I will gladly do it.

On the other hand, I’ve seen in the members and some leaders an irrational and impenetrable resistance to the reality of mental health and what they don’t know.  As the Savior said, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  They hurt people like me.  They think they are helping.  They want to help, but they refuse to see.  I pray that God will open their eyes that they might be better ministers to the increasing number of suffering people.

The prophet and his apostles are trying to help us.  They have provided the resources in handbooks, websites, youtube videos and manuals.  Unfortunately, there are political and social trends more powerful than church leadership that have alienated members from the truths that could set us free from mental and emotional ignorance and the catastrophic consequences.  There are none so blind as they who will not see.

As I look back to my pioneer ancestors for inspiration I see that they chose to build, not to tear down.  They chose to serve, not to demand entitlements.  They chose to get better, not to get bitter.  That’s the path I want to take.  I hope that someday the church is a safe and healthy place for me to be.  Until then, I will go where He wants me to go.  I will serve where he wants me to serve.  I will be what he wants me to be.  I will give judgement to the Lord who sees with perfect whole object relations.  He is ever merciful to me as I plead for His forgiveness.  Can I fail to give it?  No.  I will forgive to seventy times seven as my Lord has instructed.  His grace is enough for me and for thee.  

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

Edward Henry Bickersteth