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

Defiled Dreams

Photo by Adrien King on Unsplash

When Trump came to power in the Republican Party, I knew I had a choice to make.  I knew who Trump was and what he represented; the worst aspects of white America.  Entitled, lawless, selfish, consumed with lust for the things of the world, and everything I had tried to think I wasn’t was embodied in the person of Donald Trump.  I wasn’t like him!  He didn’t represent me and “real conservatives.”  We are good people, I told myself.  As my illusions have been stripped away this past year or two, I have become conscious of the true depth of our predicament and my own enabling role in what has happened.

Rick Wilson wrote the book, “Everything Trump Touches Dies,” which has been shortened to #ETTD, an enduring hashtag on Twitter.  The truth is, even those of us who have fought Trump the hardest have been touched by him.  Some of us fought off his assault, and some of us froze and let him, some of us invited him in and revelled as he defiled us and others.  The truth is, all of us have been touched.  The question is, will we die?  Will we pull together and cast off the evil that has overwhelmed us?  Is it too late to heal the deep wounds that have been self-inflicted on the body politic?  The defiling and desecration of the capital was the physical representation of what has been spiritually happening for the last five years.  The breaking forth of white supremacists and their hateful bile spilling out into the sacred places of public trust, defiling our public offices, and wounding the soul of the nation parallels what has happened in the hearts and minds of our citizens.  It is clear for all to see if they will open their eyes.

And still many refuse to see it. The Republican Party has been poisoned.  That poison has been distributed throughout the nation into our churches and schools; our homes and families.  Perhaps forgiveness is the path Christ wants me to take, but I am loathe to put my foot on that path until I have fully processed the trauma of what has happened to me and the deep feelings of betrayal and disillusionment I feel. To deny the reality of the awful state of the church is sin to me. It is up to the leaders of the church to address the poison within it and I pray that they can.  It is up to them to make it safe for me and others who suffer from the sins of this plague of disinformation and sin.  I will retreat into the core of my own soul and rebuild the shambles of my own belief system.

I wrote a few days ago a post called, “Confession.”  I am exploring and reflecting upon my fears of black people; fears that had been seeded and nurtured by bigotry.  Bigotry I had mistaken for culture; a culture I needed to learn to operate in and survive in.  Perhaps that was true fourteen years ago when I moved into an apartment complex full of beautiful black faces.  I wasn’t afraid of them until white people told me to be.  I learned fear.  But today I can choose to unlearn it.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday.  I thought about the schema I have erected in my mind about the civil rights movement, the red scare, the position of my church on black members and hundreds of other interactions I have had with black people since I moved to the south.  I remember my dad telling me about his mission in Virginia and South Carolina where he saw horrible racist attacks on innocent black victims.  He said one experience that stood out in his mind was when he saw two well dressed black women walking down the road in the rain.  A car drove past and purposefully swerved into the gutter to splash the women.  He told me he would never understand the kind of hatred that would inspire that kind of behavior.  He said the black people he met were always kind to him as a missionary.  He was not allowed to preach the gospel to them.

As a girl I read every book from Ezra Taft Benson I could get my hands on.  His words spoke into my mind as though he was there next to me.  His warnings about communism and socialism awoke in me a fierce desire to protect my nation and bring freedom to those who suffered under communist regimes.  I read about his trips through the iron curtain to meet with members who lived there.  His commitment to the principles of freedom inspired me.  He lit a flame deep within my soul to fight for freedom all the days of my life for every child of God under heaven.  Ezra Taft Benson didn’t say much about the civil rights movement except that communists had tried to take advantage of the racial divides in the nation to overthrow the government and institute communism.

I had always viewed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with ambivalence.  I felt like I needed to respect him, but not too much.  I couldn’t be a liberal.  I think I read his “I Have a Dream” speech in school and I liked it.  I thought he wanted to heal our racial divide and I wanted that too.  After all, the communists couldn’t use black grievance to overthrow the government if the black people aren’t grieved.  It was my view that black people just needed time and patience and that eventually they would integrate as other cultures have into the fabric of America.

Moving to the South I have seen that it just isn’t that simple.  Segregation still exists.  The schools are integrated, but more often than not, there is a divide between black and white.  Black people in our community talk differently, interact differently, and worship at different churches than white people.  Even at work, my husband seemed not to work with very many black people.  I’ve encouraged my sons to be kind and accepting of all people who are different.  I’ve tried to be an example of friendship and compassion.  But I see that there is more I can do.

The Savior wants me to look forward and not obsess about my sins which he has paid for.  He also wants me to face the uncomfortable truth and change to live in accordance with it.  I bought the book Strength to Love by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  I think perhaps if I listen to him and others who brought the civil rights movement into existence, that maybe I will have some subjects to talk to black people about.  Maybe if I take the time to see Dr. King’s vision, I can see myself in it and find a new path to Zion.  

The end of one road is always the beginning of another one.  The Savior tells me to keep the faith and put one foot in front of the other, like my ancestors did as they crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley.  I have a dream that one day I will sit down with the suffering and feel the embrace of true fellowship.  I have a dream that one day I can be surrounded by people who value and love me.  I have a dream today.

They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires,        
Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom’s new-lit altar-fires;           
Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we, in our haste to slay,
From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away    
To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of to-day?  

New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth;         
They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth;     
Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be,           
Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea, 
Nor attempt the Future’s portal with the Past’s blood-rusted key.

The Present Crisis by James Russell Lowell

Pepper’s Lesson

“I can totally make my own dog food,” I thought to myself confidently.  We usually feed Pepper the best dog food from Kroger; the expensive kind that has to be refrigerated.  We combine it with the dry kibble she won’t eat otherwise. She has always been a little small and slow to eat, so finding the right food has been something of a challenge.  It has been almost two years since we brought her home as a tiny pup.  When the grocery store stopped giving us her food they said they were out of stock.  

I did some internet research.  I’ve had some quinoa sitting in my pantry for a long time because the kids won’t eat it even though it is really healthy.  Sure enough, doctor google confirmed, quinoa was a good food for dogs.  I cooked especially prepared chicken with no seasonings, shredded it up, combined it with cooked quinoa, shredded carrots, squash, or sweet potatoes.  Even though the websites like the American Kennel Club insisted that a veterinarian should approve the recipe, I was sure that the food was just what Pepper needed.  I threw in a handful of grated cheese for flavor.  She loved it and ate it up.  I’ve been happily feeding her the homemade food for about a month.

Pepper has been one of the few things in my life right now that has brought me peace and joy.  My depressive symptoms have resurged and I am struggling to function.  Pepper never judges me and that is a precious gift.  She sits in my lap and licks the tears from my face.  She has been a constant source of comfort.  No wonder when I saw her squatting on the carpet with blood dripping from her bottom, I panicked.  She couldn’t die!  I had just finished telling my Bishop that I wanted to leave the church on good terms.  I had just had one of the most difficult moments of my whole life, and now the little animal that had been by my side through every trial of the past two years was vomiting and pooping blood.  Pepper couldn’t die.

I pleaded and cried to my Heavenly Father.  I wrapped her in a blanket, called the veterinarian and Ben and I rushed her to the animal hospital.  She was vomiting and bleeding and peeing everywhere and whining piteously.  They admitted her to the hospital and the tests revealed pancreatitis, a disease that is usually caused by excessive fat in the diet.  I found out that it can also be caused by mites in old dogfood that is not properly stored.  I threw away the dogfood I had made for Pepper as well as the old dry food bag just in case it had mites.

Little Pepper suffered a lot.  She was in the hospital for three days and now she is recovering at home.  Today Ben carefully measured out the prescribed dogfood and I mixed her medicine into it.  She wouldn’t eat it unless I scooped up small pieces in my hand and held them out for her to lick the food and medicine from my fingers.  As I provided Pepper this simple service, I thought of the food I had lovingly made for her.  I don’t know for sure if that caused her pancreatitis.  She might have eaten something out of the trash, or it might have been mites in her old dry dogfood.  It doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt Pepper or not, I likely did hurt her.  In my confidence fed by online subject matter I didn’t fully understand, I decided not to consult authority.  I thought I knew of myself.  I thought I could skip the important step of checking the diet with Pepper’s veterinarian.  

The internet can make us feel like experts.  We have vast amounts of information in our pockets.  This can lead us to think we know things we don’t.  I threw away the dog food I made for Pepper because I love my dog more than I like being right.  I am now feeding her a strict diet of prescribed food until she is completely recovered which will probably be at least a month.  When faced with a big veterinarian bill and a very sick puppy, I had to face the reality of what I didn’t know.  If I continued to feed Pepper the food that made her sick, I might kill her.  She is much more important to me than my own ill advised dogfood experiments.  

God sends us experiences to teach us wisdom.  I learned a lesson about myself and my internet “research.”  I learned that an innocent mistake made with loving intent can still hurt.  Those hurts must be treated, just like Pepper’s pancreatitis had to be treated.  Sometimes it takes time.  Sometimes we have to change the way we do things.  Sometimes we have to listen to those who know more than we do.

Another lesson I learned was in the face of my eleven year old son.  When we got home today, he went in the house and brought Pepper out to me while I was still in the van.  Pepper, weak and sick with the hair shaved on one tiny leg, was still just as happy to see me as ever. She licked my face and wagged her tail as I cuddled her close. My son beamed with joy as he watched the reunion.  The love and care and patience that I show to Pepper and the unique bond between us teaches my sons about Christlike love and service better than any family home evening lesson.  As I knelt on the floor with wet stinky dogfood in my fingers feeding my sick fur baby, my sons were upstairs.  They didn’t see that quiet moment of service.  They didn’t need to because they have seen me do such acts before.  For their brothers, for them, and for anyone, or animal, who stands in need.   

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to save the world online.  The truth is, the Savior has already done that.  Its my job to learn.  I keep coming back to him who is Mighty to Save.  He sees the mother in her humble role.  He sees the child and the dog.  He gives his love and his light to all those who come unto him in faith.  He doesn’t live in buildings built with hands, but in hearts crafted in the furnace of affliction.  I will sing his praises all the day long and into the night.  He will sanctify my tears and magnify my witness.