Cleaning the Inside of the Cup; Confronting Abuse in the Church

This family picture shows an ordinary LDS family in Pocatello, ID. They were targeted and victimized by predator Robert Berchtold.

I just finished watching, “Abducted in Plain Sight,” the documentary about Jan Broberg’s abuse by Robert Berchtold, the pedophile who kidnapped and brainwashed her as a teenage girl. The Broberg’s and the Berchtold’s were families actively involved in their LDS ward. Berchtold’s predatory behavior, as documented in the show, was enabled on many levels within the community. Social structures such as parents, church leadership, and law enforcement were ill equipped to confront Berchtold’s behavior. Although I believe we are much better now at protecting our children from pedophiles, this documentary is an important glimpse at our vulnerabilities and how a predator was able to exploit them.  If you haven’t watched it, it’s currently on Netflix.

There are a few things that stood out to me.  First, the total honesty of the Brobergs in their interviews was remarkable.  The honest account of everything that happened, including their shockingly bad judgement, had the ring of truth to it even though it was incredibly bizarre.  So bizarre, it defies rational comprehension, and yet who would make it up? The homosexual blackmail, the seduction of the mom, the multiple abductions of the girl, the bribing of the Mexican guard, the abysmal failure of the justice system to protect the public and this poor girl from her abuser, combine to make an unforgettable story.  If it were fiction, I would think it too improbable to gain a wide audience. 

I want to explore the ways that Robert Berchtold was able to manipulate the social structure of the membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints to enable him in his crimes.  He was a master manipulator who, as most predators do, was able to create a culture of silence through shaming his victims, hide behind a convincing facade of charisma, and finally twist the sympathies of victims and authority figures in his favor by casting himself as a victim.

First, he used shame as a tool to create a culture of silence. He seduced both of Jan’s parents and in doing so, he was able to blackmail them and dull their moral sensibilities. He had them so concerned about their own sins that they couldn’t see that he was orchestrating it all for his own ends.  If they did see it, they felt powerless to fight it because he had fooled so many other people. He felt no guilt or remorse. He walked into the church building each week, took the sacrament, looked other members in the eye, while committing the blackest of sins. Predators sin with no remorse. They shame others while being themselves free of it.  They entrap others in sin and then control them with guilt and threats. These are good people and often children who are manipulated, shamed, and lied to. They are kept in a haze of emotional exhaustion that keeps them from seeing what should be obvious. The problem is, it isn’t obvious, because predators are often incredibly skilled at living a double life and putting up a convincing facade that often includes societal status and money.  That leads me to the second point.

Second, Robert Berchtold was able to use a facade of charm and financial success to mask the demon within. Members of the church are vulnerable to manipulation from flattering men who appear successful at business.  There is something about the LDS culture that my seminary teacher observed many years ago. He mentioned it in class and I’ve never forgotten it.  He said that many people see riches as evidence of God’s favor. We see someone who is wealthy and charismatic as righteous because he has success in the world.  He said that you hear people in church mention that their money is a blessing from God. He argued that riches are no more a mark of righteousness now than they were at the time of the Savior.  The reason I remember this point was because I was raised in the church and had never questioned that idea. “Of course,” I thought, “If you’re righteous God is going to give you money and success.”  The dissonance of that seminary lesson has stayed with me, but over time I have found myself in firm agreement with my seminary teacher. In fact, I have often seen men who have power and influence, money and status, who have shown themselves to be predators both inside and outside of the church.  

For anyone who is in doubt about the tendency of LDS culture to be vulnerable to the “money equals righteousness” fallacy, look at the fraud statistics.  We are far more prone to involve ourselves in get rich quick schemes like network marketing, real estate schemes, ponzi schemes, or other high risk investments. Summer sales jobs are extremely common within our membership where promises of easy money are tossed out casually when the reality is often quite different.  The Brobergs were good, simple, naive people who were vulnerable to the charismatic manipulations of a man who was nothing like them. Robert Berchtold was suave, seductive, an accomplished liar, and had most, if not all, of the church congregation and surrounding community convinced he was a good guy. Even after he abducted Jan and took her to Mexico, the church community was supportive of him.  Why? Because they were victimized too. If a member of the church comes to us with a charismatic smile, a high profile calling, a good job, and a few flattering words, we are like putty in their hands. They victimize us and we are unprepared to defend ourselves. That is part of the reason Utah has the highest rate of financial fraud in the United States.  

There was an article published in the Deseret News last April called, “Does Utah deserve the title of ‘fraud capital of the United States’?”  It explains the reasons we as members are vulnerable to financial predators, but I suspect the same things could be said about our vulnerability to sexual predators.  Thankfully, there is now a dedicated regional U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission office for Utah to combat fraud.  It is the only state that has one. Hopefully that will help curb the trend. The state lawmakers have also stepped up creating a white collar crime offender registry similar to a sex offender registry to help inform and protect potential victims.  As members, we can’t afford to be so naive as we have been in the past. It is time we started being as wise as serpents and not just harmless as doves.

The third point I wanted to make was how Robert Berchtold was able to manipulate the sympathy of those around him.  He convinced Jan’s parents that part of his therapy for his pedophilia was to lay next to their daughter in bed alone with her.  They thought by giving him access to their child that they were helping him recover. They were so consumed with fear and guilt that they felt obligated to sacrifice and do the “right thing.”  Like Abraham offering up his son as a sacrifice, they were offering up their daughter to atone for their mistakes. I am convinced that the Brobergs not only allowed Berchtold’s abuse out of coercion, I believe they thought they were redeeming themselves.  They were being charitable by allowing him to do this. This was AFTER he had abducted her and taken her to Mexico. I would find such manipulation to be unbelievable if I had not witnessed it with a predator and his victims in my own life. Skilled manipulators are able to convince their victims that they are the victims and that by enabling the abuse, you are doing a noble thing.  If you call out their lies, you become the bad guy.

The manipulation of Jan was horrifyingly fantastic.  He used the conditioning that we use with our children in the church to his advantage.  He convinced her to believe a religious-like narrative in which her obedience to her omniscient alien parents would secure the safety of humanity.  Her disobedience would bring calamity and destruction to her family. Children have an exaggerated view of their own power and are vulnerable to this kind of ego-centric narrative.  By convincing her of this religious narrative, he made her into something of a cult member. Now, her parents were not only battling their own shame and their own sexual attractions, they were also battling their daughter who was as obsessed with being with Berchtold as he was with being with her. I can’t be certain, but I don’t think any of the Brobergs were aware of how other members of the family were being victimized until Jan was much older and no longer the object of Berchtold’s obsession.  A culture of silence ensured that Berchtold was able to continue his abuse by isolating his victims.

So how can we, as members of the church, guard ourselves against these kinds of predators?  First, we can say no to shame. There is no sin that is worth hiding. Christ has suffered for all of it.  Confess it, forsake it, and give it over to Christ. The Savior can’t save us from the sins we hide. The scriptures say, “There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man.”  We all sin. Let’s be real about it and deal with it rather than obsess about what other people will think if they know. Predators take the mistakes people make, sometimes mistakes that they set them up to make, and use them as blackmail.  If enough church members say no to shame and embrace the reality of the Savior’s atonement, those threats lose their power. The forgiveness of the Savior is empowering to victims. It allows us to regain our confidence and emotional strength which we can use to fight the abuse.

Second, we can learn the lesson my seminary teacher taught me all those years ago.  Money and charm do not equal righteousness. Yes, most members with high callings have good jobs and nice stuff.  It’s easy to think that the trappings of Earthly success are the mark of God’s favor. This becomes a kind of materialist faith in which God is a banker doling out material blessings to the faithful.  The truth is, callings, money, jobs, and all the rest are what people see. God looks on the heart. None of that means anything to the Lord. There are plenty of our members hiding in high places in the church community who have black hearts.  They can be doctor’s, lawyers, judges, church officials, and politicians. Sometimes they are brought to justice in this life and sometimes they aren’t. As disciples of Christ we need to start seeing one another as He does and not as the world does. If we do, we won’t be as easily deceived.  

Third, we can talk to our kids about predators.  We can tell them that it is never okay for an adult or anyone to touch them sexually.  We can warn them of people who might use the church or other religious ideas to manipulate and victimize them.  Before we can talk to our kids about predators, we have to be willing to accept their existence ourselves. The Brobergs seem like stupid people for believing the lies they were told.  In truth, the only reason they believed Berchtold’s lies was because they wanted to believe them so badly. They wanted to believe that LDS men who go to church and have wives and families are good people who can be trusted with children.  We cling to the illusions we want to have about the world and the dangers we are surrounded with. We don’t want to believe that evil exists and that it can take the shape of something that appears harmless and wholesome on the outside. We want to believe the false reality we believed before the evidence showed something else.  If that means ignoring, minimizing, or denying that evidence, we will do it. Anyone can be a victim.  

I’ve seen people manipulated by predators.  I’ve seen entire family systems under the control of predators.  It happens. I’ve been manipulated by them too. I’ve felt the guilt and shame of being a part of an enabling system; trapped in a false reality where good is evil and evil is good.  Speaking lies is required; speaking truth is blaspheme. A culture of secrecy and silence keeps us from being agents of change to make our society better. As the world becomes more wicked and our national social fabric unravels, abuse will become more widespread.  The internet makes the whole world a stalking ground for the predators of the world. We need to arm ourselves against the evils of our time. We need to say no to shame, no to materialistic religion, and no to a culture of silence that feeds the illusion that it doesn’t happen in our church.   

When I was being manipulated by a predatory system, I knowingly put my children at risk.  I allowed the predator access to my little boys because I was shamed into thinking that if I put up boundaries to protect them, that I would be hurting the predator’s recovery from depression.  It was hard to open up about the situation. I felt like I couldn’t even write the truth in a private journal. I couldn’t even pray about it out loud. I wished I could just forget the things I had seen, heard and been told, but they kept intruding into my thoughts.  The truth would not be denied. I broke the culture of silence. I talked to my bishop and my therapist. I prayed and pleaded to know what to do. The answer was unanimous. I was to protect my children. I did. I put up boundaries. When questioned by enabling family members, I was rejected.  They denied telling me things I knew they had told me. It was implied that I was fabricating stories I would have never made up and wanted to forget. Even then, I desperately wanted to preserve a relationship with them. I stuck to the boundaries I had set, and to my knowledge, my boys were not harmed. I and they were lucky.  I’ve overcome the need I felt to keep the secrets of the predatory system I was a part of. I don’t need to protect their secrets anymore. If any members of it read this, I suspect they will have no doubt of the identity of the predator. If they choose to read my next post in the series, there will be no doubt. They may be angry at me for tarnishing his memory, and that’s okay.  I am done with playing this part.

He was a lifelong active member of the church who held many callings.  He taught elementary school in two different states. He married in the temple and had six children.  He also sexually victimized women and girls for decades. I don’t think anyone outside his immediate family knew the truth, and we were all shamed and manipulated into silence.  We were told he was not responsible for his acts and that he had repented, and yet the behavior continued. If we did not forgive and forget each new offense, we were hurting his recovery from depression.  We were judgmental and unforgiving. He wasn’t on any sex offender registries and had no criminal record. He was smart and careful and was the most manipulative person I have ever met. They are out there.  We need to be honest with ourselves and others about the reality of their existence. We need to be aware of the grooming behaviors that predators use. We need to be vigilant and refuse to ignore the warning signs.  It can happen and it does happen in our churches and in our families.  

I bring my personal story of a family predator into the discussion, not to speak ill of the dead-he is deceased- or pass judgement on him.  I leave that in the capable hands of my Savior. I bring my personal experience in to show empathy to those who are victimized by predators.  Some watched this movie and had disdain and revulsion toward Jan’s parents. I don’t. I disagree with the choices they made, but I understand why they made them because I lived in a social system that was controlled by a manipulative narcissist.  I’ve seen first hand how it works and why it works. We rely on the people around us to give us a sense of what truth is. If what we see is drastically different than what those around us seem to see, we question our own perception. It is only as I have cultivated a relationship with my Savior and consulted with mental health professionals that I have found the confidence to challenge the social systems around me.  Even then, it takes tremendous courage. Even as I write this, I have to remind myself that I am not obligated to keep the family secrets. The denial is still strong with many members of the family and they can choose to live in it, but they don’t get to write my story or keep me from telling it.

As I live my life, I am amazed when I find victims who are strong enough to tell their stories for the benefit of others.  Jan’s resilience and strength is incredible to witness. My favorite part is at the end when she confronts her abuser in court.  He tries to imply that she is motivated by book sales and fame. She tells him coldly that she is motivated by the desire to expose predators like him to the world.  She has become a powerful advocate for child victims because she and her family had the courage to face the truth about themselves and what happened to them. In some ways, her parents have had to have even more courage because their experience is less likely to elicit sympathy and more likely to elicit judgement and condemnation.  Their willingness to submit to that judgement rather than lie to themselves and others about what they did has made Jan’s recovery and the family’s recovery much more complete. Secrets and lies destroy. The truth, even when it is uncomfortable, sets us free.

The only way we can destroy the evil among us is if we talk about it.  I hope my words help to shine a light on a problem that we face within our membership.  As we confront evil with courage and honesty, as the Brobergs did, the Savior can heal us and those we love. His grace is sufficient for us!  His angels stand ready to assist us as we take the steps necessary to purge the church of the evils of abuse. A culture of silence polishes and shines the outside of the cup while allowing filth to grow and fester within.  Christ wants us to be better. Let us roll up our sleeves and commit ourselves to battling the abusers in our midst and purge their behavior from among us. Let us clean and sterilize the cup on the inside.  That is what the Savior would have us do.

This is the Broberg family today. They have accepted the reality of the abuse and worked together to bring their abuser to justice and support Jan in her complete recovery. Lesser families would have denied and hidden the terrible truth of what happened and what they did to allow it to happen, but instead they become advocates for abuse victims by sharing their story for the benefit of others. They are a model for the rest of us that hope and healing are possible when we confess and forsake our sins. Abuse happens in families, but the Broberg’s show that there is healing and hope through our Savior who has the power to save.
This is Jan Broberg’s Twitter photo. This beautiful vibrant woman is a survivor and a warrior. Through her faith and resilience, she has recovered from her abuse, forgiven her family, helped lead them to healing, and become a personal hero to me.

The Miserable

I haven’t posted in a long time and there are several reasons for that.  I have been helping a friend who is going through a really hard time and although I have had a lot to think about and write about, I haven’t been sure how to do it while still keeping confidences.  I’ve thought about writing a parable or something, but everything is still so raw and sensitive that there really is no way to express how I feel even on a private blog without revealing something.

So I just pray that I can write something that will do no harm, but might help someone even if that someone is only myself.  The biggest take away that I have had from the last three weeks is that there is real suffering in this world and that there are some people who, through no fault of their own, become victimized again and again.  These people have tremendous potential for good, but often cannot see it in themselves because society writes a script for them and they believe that they cannot break out of that script to write their own story.

Les Miserables is my all time favorite book.  I’ve read it several times, the last time I read the unabridged version in which I learned more than I ever wanted to about the streets of Paris and Napoleon and French politics. Most of it I have forgotten.  The most memorable parts of the book for me have been the characters. Who can forget Fantine? She was lovely, she was good, she was so devoted to her child that she sold her teeth and hair to pay for her fictitious medical bills.  Her daughter Cosette was destined to follow in her footsteps; a waif, enslaved by the monstrous Thénardiers, robbed, deprived, and abused in every way.  But when great evil exists in the world, the hand of God is also revealed.

Consider the Bishop Myriel.  He was the embodiment of the Savior, fearless, compassionate, and wise.  When Jean Valjean, the despised convict, brings his vitriol and bile into the Bishop’s home, steals his silver candlesticks, the only things of value in his sparse abode, and flees as a literal thief in the night, the reader expects that the Bishop will allow him to be punished to the full extent of the law as he is caught and dragged back in chains to be identified.  Instead, the wise Bishop sees something in Jean Valjean. He sees the man beneath the pain, beneath the course exterior, behind the crimes he has committed. He sees Jean Valjean as the Savior would have seen him, with the eye of hope; the vision of the possibility that Jean Valjean could change. He could live a life different than the one society had carved out for him.  He acted on that faith, sent the law enforcement officers away, insisting that the candlesticks had been a gift. When the threat of the officers is gone, he tells Jean Valjean that the candlesticks are a gift to him, a ransom in the similitude of the Savior’s atonement, and that he should use them to make a new life for himself.

Then Jean Valjean continues his life of crime.  He even steals from a child, terrorizing him before taking a coin from him.  He sees the yellow paper he is required by law to carry that marks him as a convict and forces him into the role he has been told he is to play on life’s stage; a vagabond, a thief, a vagrant.  Then he thinks of the Bishop and the candlesticks and the possibility that he could carve a different path for himself. Could he, Jean Valjean be redeemed? Could he have a new life as the Bishop told him he could.  He kneels down moments after the child he stole from flees in terror and he weeps at the man he has become; a man he despises. He feels the bitterness, the anger, and the pain melt away in the sunlight of the Bishop’s faith.  He throws the yellow paper aside and begins his new life, with a new name, and a new vision for the man he wants to be.  

If you aren’t familiar with the story, I highly recommend that you read it or watch the many dramatic reenactments that have sprung up in its wake over the decades.  The remarkable life of Jean Valjean as he battles against the social construct of his time, symbolized in the fascinating character of Javier, to live his life of service and moral principle is as inspiring as it is entertaining.  Jean Valjean tries to save Fantine, but tragic circumstances result in her death. He is determined to rescue her child Cosette. The child becomes his life, his one and only love, his whole world. He saves her from a fate destined to follow the tragic footsteps of her mother, and gives her a charmed life instead.  She is given an education, fine clothes to wear, the love and protection of a devoted father. Instead of victimization and slavery, Fantine’s daughter is married into a wealthy Bourgeoise family where her every need is met. Victor Hugo’s descriptions of Cosette’s happiness are heavenly and they are made possible solely by the incredible sacrifices of Jean Valjean.

In this world of sadness, heartache, abuse, and pain; there is also righteousness, redemption, and noble sacrifice.  Jean Valjean would not have become the man he became without Javier, the Thenardiers, the galley slave ships, the yellow convict papers.  The evils within the fallen society of France, which could be any place on this Earth, forged Jean Valjean into the man who was able to save Cosette.

I’ve often thought of the name of the book, Les Miserables— the miserable.  Truly, it is a story of misery.  War, unjust punishments, slave galleys, prostitution, rape, poverty, the slaughter of student protesters in the streets, greed, exploitation of children; there are so many ways in which we humans can create hell on Earth and many of them are explored in depth in this book.  And yet, in Bishop Myriel and Jean Valjean and Fantine and Eponine, we see that redemption is possible through love and compassion for our fellow travelers on this road of misery that is life. The Bishop inspired Jean Valjean who comforted Fantine. Fantine inspired Valjean who then rescued Cosette.  Cosette inspired Valjean to save Marius. In the end Valjean even cracked Javier, his ultimate nemesis. Javier is the symbol of justice in the story, the personification of fallen human construct, self-righteous and void of compassion. He is at last overcome by Valjean’s character which can no longer be denied or explained away.  Like the Savior, Valjean’s love and valor were not of this world and this world cannot rule it or understand it. Just as the Savior broke the bands of death and walked from the tomb, Valjean broke Javier; shattered his stereotypes, his cynicism, and his calloused assumptions about the potential of the fallen human soul.

So next time you see great evil; the next mass shooting, the next victim of abuse, the next road rage incident, the next murder– don’t forget, great evil can inspire great love and courage.  There is compassion, service, and sacrifice. There is a choice that each of us has; the same choice that Jean Valjean had that day as he knelt in the field. We can walk the path that society dictates; the slut, the abuse victim, the convict, the addict, the helpless spectator, the greedy user, the coward who casts blame and expects others to solve problems.  We can walk that path, or we can choose something different. We can cast away that yellow paper no matter what the consequences our fellow men threaten. We can forge our own lives, make our own path, and counter the evils of our time through repentance and the grace of Him who is Mighty to Save!

Perhaps you think there is nothing you can do. Perhaps you believe that you are powerless against the tide of wickedness that is permeating our society.  Perhaps you feel you are meant to wait on the Lord who will come rescue us from our peril. I have felt that way too, but something tells me he expects more from us.  He sees in us what the Bishop saw in Jean Valjean; a man who can inspire, uplift, and strengthen others; a man capable not of waiting for the Savior to rescue him, but of being the Savior’s hands to rescue others.  I picture the Bishop extending his candlesticks to me. “Take these and make of yourself a righteous woman, a handmaid of the Lord.” What potential would he see in me? What could I do with the opportunities that I have around me?  

I have had the tremendous privilege to serve some of “the miserable” in the past months.  It has given me powerful insight into the way the Savior views each one of his children. Each and every person is of eternal value.  It is natural to harbor fear which cripples faith and paralyses righteous action. Those who suffer are often sensitive, easily offended, and difficult to foster a relationship of trust with.  Sometimes they may even victimize us as Valjean did to the Bishop. (Fortunately, those I have helped have done no such thing.) When I fill my heart with the sure knowledge that each and every one of God’s children is of eternal value and that his grace is sufficient for them, my fear is purged away.  When I follow his promptings and strive to see His children as He does, I know that my efforts will be enough.

Praise be the name of my Master!  Glory be to the Son! In Him I find my strength.  In Him my weakness is swallowed up. In Him I find meaning and purpose in my life.  Blessed be His name!

Jean Valjean rescues Fantine.

Dear Heather, I hope you read this…

After my last post, a woman named Heather posted a comment on my post “Giving Grace; Have a Tutu.” She said this:


You chose the wrong place to spout your “beliefs” you should talk to your Bishop. Poorly done.

Heather

This woman’s comment is classic Mormon woman aggression. Mormon women can and do shut each other down, shame each other, and make life hell for people like me who struggle with mental health issues. Heather is unusual because she is so direct. Usually we are much more subtle in our aggressions, usually couching them in many “concerns” and assurances of our “love.” Heather was able to capture in a mere two sentences, the essence of Mormon woman aggression and the problems it poses. At first I dismissed her comment as a troll remark, but now I see it as a gift. I’ve sent this post to her email in hopes that she will read it and perhaps she can learn from her post as well.

I’m going to start by looking at the first thing she takes issue with, my temerity to actually put my thoughts and feelings on a blog. According to Heather, that is my first mistake. I’ve heard this sentiment from others. They are basically uncomfortable with feelings being shown at all. In their minds, if feelings are to be shared, it should be with a trusted friend or group of friends, not the whole world on a public blog. It isn’t something they would feel comfortable doing, and they aren’t comfortable with me doing it either. The big question is……why?

We all have thoughts. We all have feelings? Did God make us to experience life in a personal vacuum, grappling with issues alone and without the tools to solve them? I don’t think so. You are free to disagree of course, but why are you so upset that I choose to post? It is me that is taking the risk, not you. You are free to ignore my posts and go play Candy Crush. Why does my choice to speak bother you? Maybe its because you are afraid of the truths I might reveal to you that might challenge some of your own beliefs? But if your faith is so strong, why is it so threatened?

The next thing to analyse is the word belief, which she puts in quotations. The assumption is that my thoughts are unworthy of the word beliefs, which would indicate something good and wholesome. My thoughts are nothing of that sort to Heather, so she chose to put the word in quotations.

She admonishes me to talk to my bishop, which title she capitalizes. This shows that she values church authority, is clearly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, probably card carrying. She neglects to mention what sin I should confess, assuming that I must already know. My words are the devil’s spawn. She has no empathy or compassion for me or my bisexual friend. She knows little to nothing about me, and yet feels totally comfortable discounting my views and shaming me.

Lastly, she posts two words, “Poorly done.” This is interesting. It is like Heather has decided to be a fifth grade writing teacher judging my writing to be sub-par. It isn’t just my ideas, but the presentation of them that offends her. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but even a fifth grade writing teacher would surely have something more constructive to say. Heather can’t be troubled with constructive criticism.

All of my views came from Facebook referrals, so I have to assume that Heather is either a Facebook contact or the contact of the two friends who shared my post. Regardless, it isn’t Heather’s feelings that I take issue with. It is her failure to own her feelings.

In my blog post, I engaged with vulnerability. I shared personal information about myself and my experience in Relief Society, with my bisexual friend, with my own changing views of gender and sexuality in light of the experiences I’ve had. Heather is uncomfortable with my experiences. Guess what? I am too! This hasn’t been a fun easy path for me. I wish I had all the answers! I wish simple and easy solutions worked. This life is messy and complicated and confusing. Can we be real about that? Because for every five or so members of our church sitting in a Sunday School class with a Family Proclamation handout in their lap, there is one thinking, “My son told me he is gay. He will never be accepted by these people. No one can ever know.” Or maybe its, “My sister told me she wants to get a sex change. She wants me to think of her as my brother now. I wish I could tell my ward family and have them understand how hard this is. Instead I’ll just nod along and pretend this isn’t hard for me.” Can we listen to what they have to say? Can we resist the urge to judge? Can we choose to show love first? Some can’t do that. In fact, they are so afraid and so insecure in their faith, that they feel compelled to lash out. They pour acid into the wound. This makes church an excruciating experience for those who most need to feel the love of the Savior.

The truth is, Heather’s comment has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her. She feels uncomfortable, and she wants to blame someone. Its me. I must be evil. I must be apostate. I need to repent. I need to learn to write better. She read my post and now she feels bad inside. It must be my fault.

The only thing is, I didn’t do anything wrong. I even prayed and begged the Lord, “Show me my sin.” And He said, “You said what I wanted you to say. Be at peace.” Even after his assurances, and the assurances of friends, I still felt tortured with grief last night. Ripple effects from what happened Sunday have continued to cause conflict in the ward. I laid awake sobbing, struggling with suicidal thoughts after a day of being nearly incapacitated with depressive symptoms. This morning I’m angry. This is not my fault! I didn’t create this mess. Someone crapped in the Relief Society room. I didn’t do it and I’m not going to sit there and pretend it doesn’t stink. I’m going to express my feelings. I’m going to be real about my experiences. That’s what HE wants me to do.

So if I’m saying what he wants me to say, why do card carrying members of our church, like Heather, have such a visceral negative reaction to it? Because the truth is real and its uncomfortable, and sometimes it reveals things that are hard to deal with. But that is reality. Members of the church need to grapple with that reality and their feelings, not blame the messenger.

So my message to Heather, or any others who find themselves feeling like her, I encourage you to engage with your feelings. Explore them. Why is this so uncomfortable for you? I’m going to make a few assumptions. There is a lot of confusion, a lot of Satan’s lies, a lot of anger, a lot of societal upheaval around sexual issues. You feel that the Family Proclamation is an anchor in the storm. You take comfort in the unchanging principles that the prophets have revealed in a world of changing social moors. You feel that there is safety in following the prophet and that if people are righteous, they will be able to live as straight, happy, married people. That makes sense. If people can’t do that, they are the ones living in sin. They are to blame and deserve to be shunned and excluded.

So if that is the whole truth, why do my words cut you? You hear my sincerity. You know in your heart that shunning and excluding someone because of inner struggles with gender and sexual attraction is wrong. You know that the Savior you claim to worship would show empathy and love. You know it, but that makes it hard doesn’t it? How do you love and associate with someone when you disagree with their choices? How do you help a depressed sister when you can’t fix it? It’s hard. It’s okay to admit it. Own your feelings. Own your doubts. Don’t blame me because I showed you that life is complicated and hard.

The Savior said that he was the physician, and that the sick are the ones that need him. If the Savior is the physician, then that makes the church a kind of hospital. If the hospital is full of healthy people, that makes things really easy, right? No late nights, no stinky bandages, no gaping wounds, no testing to do, no vague symptoms to diagnose. The shifts are short with lots of time to chat and sit around.

Are our church congregations safe for the injured? Do they get the help and support they need? Are we like our Master, the great physician? How can we do better?

Except under those nursing scrubs there are festering injuries, debilitating diseases, torturous rashes-all of them treatable, if only people could just have the courage to tell someone they are there. If someone does have the tremendous courage to take off part of a bandage, what will the reaction be? Will the staff jump up to assist with competent treatments at hand? If not, you can guarantee there will be no more healing in that hospital. Not only can the staff not get healthy themselves, how are they going to help any patients who come through the door?

And yet that’s what I see too often in my fellow sisters. Under our well set hair, carefully planned lessons, and clean dresses, we have wounds. We have doubts. We have fears. We have struggles. We hide them and expect others to do the same. I’ve seen very positive trends lately of sisters in my ward who have had the courage to talk honestly about their personal struggles particularly with mental wellness. Unfortunately, I have seen a corresponding backlash against mental health treatments, sometimes even from the leaders. This backlash is against mainstream mental health treatments; not fringe scam treatments, but medically approved, insurance paid treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these treatments are even at LDS Services! Really?

I try to be patient. I try to explain and resist being easily offended. I try to take it in the teeth when my hard earned knowledge is scoffed at, cut off, and dismissed as “the evil philosophies of men.” I’ve done it for twenty years. No more. Mormon women, stop the hate. Stop it. I have mental health problems. No you don’t understand them. That’s okay, but just STOP the stigmatizing!! Each time you do it, you make it harder for someone else to get the treatment they need. If you are in church leadership, take the time to listen. Don’t think you know more than the therapist that is treating your friend. You don’t. Listen. Learn. Take the time to really tap into what the LORD is telling you about what this person needs. Have the humility to know that you weren’t called because you know what people need. It is because HE does and he trusts you enough to do what HE wants.

I have had too many church leaders tell me things that totally contradict my therapy plan. Not just a little bit. Totally contradicting. As in, my therapist tells me to explore my relationship with my parents. My leaders tell me to be grateful and forget negative past experiences. My therapist tells me to stand up for myself and confront an abuser. My church leaders tell me to forgive and forget. I am having a mental health crisis and my Relief Society President criticizes how I handled the situation. Rather than take steps to solve the systemic problems with mental health stigma among the sisters, she tells me not to talk to my counselor. In each of these situations, my leaders did not take the time to hear everything. They assumed. They minimized. They said to put the bandages back on. I looked just fine to them.

Heather, if you are still reading, I know you and those like you will be saying, “Now she’s criticizing her leaders! This is apostasy!” No it isn’t, because these leaders are me and you. We are the body of Christ. If one hand reaches out to help the other, that isn’t apostasy. That’s healthy behavior. Your words hurt me. But I forgive you! I forgive every church leader who has sabotaged my recovery. But can we talk about what I’m forgiving? Can we figure out how to stop hurting people like me who are trying hard to stay alive, stay functioning, and be there for our kids? If that’s apostasy, please excommunicate me. I’ll go gladly. I think we can get through this.

I have faith in YOU Heather. That’s why I’m taking the time to write this. I wasn’t so different from you twenty years ago. I can see myself writing something like what you wrote on a blog like mine. I hope you don’t have to suffer for twenty years before you come to see that what you did was wrong. I have faith that we are better than this. I have faith that we CAN and we WILL meet the challenges we face in our congregations. So I will continue to write, continue to speak, continue to shine a light on these problems. I will not put the bandages back on. This is not okay.

I’m grateful for the voice I have. God gave me this voice. Its a gift and a privilege to be able to write something that people actually take the time to read. I pray that I will be able to use this voice responsibly. I’m angry and hurt, but I feel calm right now. Anger and pain can be powerful to motivate. They drive me to my keyboard. I pray that my words will help and heal and not wound.

Transgenerational Trauma; Examining Psychological Roots

Dropping off Austin at preschool today felt so amazing. There is nothing better than to walk with your head up, not having to wrestle with a little ball of energy that tries to dart into the path of every passing car. With my brain free to focus for a few hours on whatever I choose, I decided to write for a while.

I’ve been doing a lot of pondering on transgenerational trauma, which is a growing area of scientific research. Check out an excellent article from Psychology Today called “How Trauma is Carried Across Generations.” One of the groups of people most often cited in studies of transgenerational trauma is children of holocaust survivors. The idea is, that the holocaust was so horrific and the trauma so great that one generation could not absorb it all. Holocaust survivors had to pass their trauma on to their children and grandchildren. Some studies even indicate that our genetic makeup can change in response to trauma. This article explores some of those ideas.

I wrote a blog post some time ago about my parents’ families and the trauma that has been suffered and the ways I have seen that trauma effect me, my siblings, and my cousins. In my scripture study, my internet research, and pondering on the experiences of my own life, I am coming to a greater understanding of the crucial role that family, and particularly our ancestors, play in our lives.

Like the roots of a tree are unseen, so the roots of our psychological makeup are unseen; given to us by generations long past.

Parenting is so hard. This weekend was particularly crazy. Breaking up fights, taking sharp objects from the three year old, helping a child work through a melt down……all of those things are commonplace in our home. I have depression, we pretty much all have ADHD, and we have a toddler, which is like having a blender with no lid spewing chaos in his wake. We threw Austin’s shredded pacifier in the trash two weeks ago. He is still not sleeping well. I have resorted to driving him around in the van so he will take a short nap. If he doesn’t nap, he will scream constantly. A couple of days ago he was screaming at me, for twenty minutes non-stop. You try to tune it out, but it wears on your nerves. Eventually, I tried offering him some hot chocolate. He likes to eat the whipping cream that I put on the top. I tried giving him a spoonful of the white fluffy goodness half melted in chocolate. He turned his face away. I ate it myself and he was clearly offended and screamed even louder. I got him another spoonful. He was starting to get red in the face. Finally, after a loud game of toddler charades, I figured out that he wanted to spray the cream into the cup himself. I let him do it once and he was happy. Of course, he was furious again when I wouldn’t let him endlessly spray cream into the cup. So he was back to screaming.

If he is not screaming at me, he is finding scissors, knifes, paint, or breakable things. Sunday I thought it would be fun to have him play with some playdough on the kitchen table. A few minutes after starting the activity, there were playdough toys scattered in a twenty-foot radius. Pieces of playdough littered the floor in a ten foot radius. In the middle of this cyclone of stickiness, there was Austin, his church clothes embedded with orange and green splotches, standing on the table. With an expression of maniacal glee, he stomped and threw stuff.

“No, no,” Momma patiently insists. I take him off the table. “You sit in your chair.” I start sweeping playdough and picking up toys. Austin sits for less than a minute before trying to climb back on top of the table. “Austin, you need to sit and think about it?” He seems to ignore me, but my voice triggers a response in him. It seems as though the threat of consequences switches the chaos into high gear. With a swift gesture, he sweeps all the remaining playdough supplies onto the floor; a dramatic climax to an ill fated adventure. No more playdough.

I’m not even going to go into Devin and the adventures of teenager angst. The glazed expression of annoyance, the condescending tone, the irritation that we don’t understand his terms or care sufficiently about how cool or uncool we are. Sigh.

Parenting is so hard. We tried to gather the kids together on Sunday for our weekly gospel study. Austin sits for no one. The other kids are wandering around looking for scriptures and journals. Then they get distracted and need redirection. By the time everyone is sitting and ready to start, the tension is already high, and inevitably one of them needs to go use the bathroom. Mom and Dad start firing questions to get brains engaged. “Who remembers who John the Baptist was?” Stunned silence and vacant expressions. “Wesley, who was John the Baptist?” After a pause, “He was a baptist??” And so we work like house elves to draw their thinking out and get them to put something in their study journals. Yesterday at family dinner we talked about the importance of personal scripture study and prayer in developing strong testimonies. I asked them how they felt like they were doing in developing their testimony. Crickets.

Every day the impossible expectations of parenting weigh me down. The patient attentiveness, the alert awareness, the interactive presentness of good parenting is so hard to maintain for any significant length of time. With four children, the individual attention and love each child requires to function optimally seems eternally out of reach. If only I could clone myself!

I share these things with you, not just for you to laugh at, but also to consider the magnitude of the task each parent faces. We as parents stand in the place of God himself to our children. We are the all powerful creators of their reality. I feel much more like the Wizard of Oz with plenty of smoke and mirrors as I threaten my children with “serious consequences” for their disobedience, than I do a wise and judicious God who is in control of all things.

When my children become parents, perhaps they will understand me better. Perhaps they will find some empathy for what I was doing and have mercy on me for the multitude of ways I have fallen short in my parenting. One thing I will never do is hold myself up as the one who had it all figured out, with a set of rigid expectations for how they need to parent their own children. I plan to explore this issue in future posts, but I’m going to go in a different direction today.

Our parents shape us. There is no question about that. I have observed that the default human tendency is to exalt our parents. If we have superior parents, that follows that we are superior. That can feel pretty good. It’s also easy because we can parent just like our parent’s did, and all will be well. When we find fault with our parents and the way they did things, we are by extension, finding fault with ourselves. In addition, if our parents messed up, that means we have to work hard to do something different. This is so much more than just blaming parents, it is setting aside the illusions reinforced in the family narrative that is driving dysfunctional thinking and depressive symptoms.

Therapy is, at its core, intense and rigorous introspection. Like a cancer screening, you must enter each psychic cellular crack and crevice to find the places where unhealthy thoughts and behaviors take root. Sometimes those poisonous plants have seeds sown in previous generations. More problematic still, the prior generations are not likely to take kindly to suggestions that their methods were hurtful and wrong.

Ideally, we can split off from our parents, make our own paths, take the good that they gave us and go a different direction. Unfortunately, in dysfunctional families, that is almost impossible to do. Like crabs in a bucket, a dysfunctional family will pull one another back into the bucket each time one the members tries to escape. Scapegoating, gaslighting, and projecting are all too common in these families. The therapy patient can be overwhelmed with the reality of the awful state of things as they confront the larger systemic problems in their family.

Looking on from the outside, is recovery even worth it? Isn’t it better to follow the family narrative, make everyone happy, and live depressed? I’ve often wondered the same thing. Why confront the family illusions? Why rock the boat? The answer is in the faces of my children. They deserve better.

They deserve a mom that is not depressed. They deserve a family narrative that is honest and holds up to scrutiny. They deserve better and I am going to give it to them. I have a dream of a family unencumbered by the cancer of shame and the demons of depression; a large and prosperous posterity that can realize the potential that lies in each individual member. I pray to my Savior that I can have the courage and wisdom to depart from the sins and errors of the past and bring my family onto a better path, a more perfect way. My Savior is the Father of my destiny, the pilot of my tomorrow. He will guide me and my little ones to lie down in green pastures. I put my trust in him and no one else.

Missing Mothers; Broken Hearted Families

Dark clouds linger over my mind like the stormy Texas morning outside. My thoughts have tumbled thunderously through my brain like a wind shear rotating into a supercell thunderstorm.

The soldiers of Halla are preparing for battle, and their commander is pouring over the battle plans deciding the best course of action for them. I have written copiously, but nothing I can share on this blog. The feelings are too raw and personal, the messages written only for the eyes of the people they were written for. My family members have been the subject of my letters. Those sacred, and personal relationships packed with emotional dynamite that must be handled with care. It is like trying to do a tumbling routine on a balance beam suspended a hundred feet in the air.

Today I have written two letters to two mothers; my biological mother, and the mother of my husband. The love of a mother is uniquely beautiful. I’m not Catholic, but I have always adored the images of Catholicism of the Virgin with her child. No one appreciates and respects Mary and her sacred role quite like a Catholic, and I admire that. DSC_4445 She was a fallen mortal and I have no desire to convert to Catholicism. Why do those images of her in Cathedrals across the world stir something in me? It is, I think, because Mary symbolizes every mother who has ever held her baby, a child of God innocent and fresh from God’s embrace. There is no image more sacred to me. She was fallen, she was mortal, she probably made many of the same mistakes I made with my first baby, and yet she was just who Jesus Christ needed to nurture him. He became the Savior for all of us, and it couldn’t have happened without her. I don’t worship her, but I have appropriated her self appointed title, that of the handmaid of the Lord. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so there you go!

No one understands the value of a Mother’s love more than those whose mother is gone. A mother’s love is irreplaceable. When a mother is missing from the life of a child, that child suffers. I have seen it in my own children, when I shut myself away from them because of the pain of depression. It is chaotic, it is fearful, and there is no peace. I pray fiercely every day that my pain and my illness will somehow be turned to good in their lives. Statistical evidence is bleak. Children of depressed mothers are at a substantially higher risk of suicide, incarceration, substance abuse, and a host of mental disorders. I fight desperately to make sure that my children’s needs are met. No effort is spared to overcome this disease and make a good life for them. When suicidal ideation begins, it is thoughts of my children that are the best thing to pull me out. What would they do, and where would they be without me?

Yesterday I took Devin to the orthodontist. It has been four years since he ended treatment, but I take him every six months for preventative care. He opened his mouth and even the orthodontist was impressed with his perfect smile, not a single tooth out of place. His bite is perfect too. He smiled at me and said, “That’s what happens when you get early intervention!” I am healthy enough to give myself a pat on the back. I took Devin in when he was seven years old because he was developing a bite problem. An expander and head gear, only worn at night, along with a few thousand dollars corrected the problem and prevented a long and painful stint of braces. I made an appointment for Wesley to get his preventative care. Layne is also in treatment, and his teeth are looking good too.

Monday I took my Wesley to his last therapy session with his current counselor. His happy face and positive attitude are so different now than a year ago when he would punch himself and talk about how he hated himself. We are going to continue counseling with a new therapist because he is especially sensitive, and my depression is hardest on him. Monday, Layne was punished for disrespecting me. He was so angry that he threw one of his tantrums in the other room. He often has to take timeouts. He is blessed with dynamite emotions that he is learning to manage. After talking to his dad, he came to me and told me he was sorry. I threw my arms around him and we both cried. I told him, “I love you! You know I would give you the whole world if I could, right? There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. You are everything to me.”

This morning Austin and I had our “snuggle time.” Ben gets the big boys up for school, and Austin comes down and climbs in my bed. We lay together, I tuck his cold little feet into my warm legs, and he digs his little nose into my neck, and we savor this sacred time. I remember having insomnia as a child. I was always cold and the snakes and monsters were always under the bed and in the closet. Some nights when it was so bad, I would go upstairs to my mom’s room and she would let me lay beside her. It was so warm and safe. After a few minutes, I would save up a little of that warmth, hurry down to my bed and snuggle into the covers before it was gone. Better than Ambien! I don’t share these stories to brag, or incite comparison or guilt in other moms, but to show that even a broken mom with depression can love her kids. I could list out all the mistakes I have made as a mom, but I’m trying to silence my inner critic and be kind to myself, so I’ll just say, I’m a broken mom. Still, no one can love quite like a mom can love, even imperfect, broken moms.

Nothing can hurt a mom quite as badly as the criticism, from within or without that we have failed at motherhood. A big part of my recovery journey has been to embrace my imperfection and my children’s imperfection. The house is messy, the laundry is never done, the homework often late or incomplete, the constant bickering and bantering of brothers is always in the air, and often I can be found in my room, writing or drawing to survive until Ben gets home. It is messy and it is ugly, it is beautiful and it is real. It is perfectly imperfect.

I was born on my Dad’s mother’s birthday. Her name was Eva Cutler and when she was about my age, she lay in the hospital, knowing she was slowing dying. She had an appendicitis attack and living in a rural area, preoccupied with caring for her seven children, she did not get treatment in time. The appendix ruptured and there was peritonitis and then sepsis. She would never recover. She had seven children from a young adult son to a new baby daughter. Before she died, she said, “I am most worried about Jimmy. He is so sensitive.” eva briggs Jimmy, I know him as Dad, was only six years old. He remembers being told his mother was dead and “welcome to the real world.” He huddled in a closet and cried in the lonely darkness. He cherished every moment he had with his mother and committed it to memory. He says he can even remember his mother from infancy.

His father did his best to care for seven children. His oldest sister was sixteen and she tried her best to be a surrogate mother. Baby Ruth, the youngest child was given to an Aunt and Uncle to care for. They survived, but life was never the same as it was. One of the saddest things my dad told me about was memories of his front porch. At one time, he said, it must have been beautiful. Someone had loved it and planted beautiful flowers and climbing vines. Without Eva to tend to it, it fell into disrepair. I imagine the vine overgrown and disheveled, neglected and bereft like the motherless children inside. The delicious meals that Eva used to make were gone, and a young sixteen year old girl learning to cook just couldn’t compete. A proud father, determined not to become the ward project, turned away any help from his neighbors. Eva’s old friends, desperate to help alleviate the suffering of the children, were kept away.

As the years passed, his father remarried. His new wife, Beth, removed all the photographs of Eva from the home. She brought her own children to add to Rex’s seven children and it was a tiny house. I’m sure she was often overwhelmed, and motherhood is difficult even when the children are your own. Beth had overwhelming obstacles to overcome in order to be the nurturer both families needed. She had little love or patience for little Jimmy. This sensitive boy suffered terribly because of his mother’s passing, just as his mother knew he would. Emily Judd Henrie and Francis Henrie My mother’s father’s name was Eldon Dee Henrie. He was born to a wonderful mother named Emily, Emmer for short. By all accounts Emily was a delightful woman who brought sunshine everywhere she went. Her marriage to his father Francis was good, and they had eight children aged 18 to 1. She suffered a stroke while bathing her three little boys in a big tub. My grandpa, who was two, was sleeping in her arms at the time, having been washed and dried. He and his mother fell into the tub. His older brothers, Aure nine years old, and Thomas four, managed to pull him out of the water and likely saved his life. They couldn’t pull their mother out of the tub. When they got help, she was revived, but paralyzed on one side. She passed away a few years later after treatments were unsuccessful. That left my grandpa, her youngest son, at only four years old with no mother.

After a few years, his father remarried, but Victoria was physically abusive to both her biological children from a previous marriage, and Francis’s children. Veryl, Emily’s first child and oldest son, found her beating Elden Dee Henrie his baby sister Violet and became very upset. He had promised his dying mother that he would ensure that his siblings were cared for. Eventually the children were given to relatives and Francis and Victoria moved away. I assume the home became so toxic that Francis thought it was his best option.

Eldon Dee at ten years old had lost both his parents and lived with his oldest brother, helping out on the Ranch. The brothers became very close and worked at the Ranch together for many years. Eldon Dee survived. I’m not sure how. He became a loving father to my mother, but his wife Martha, my mother’s mother, was more like a visiting Aunt to her family. She would work all week in the city, and then return to the family home only on weekends. I watched my mother try my whole life to develop a meaningful relationship with her mother.

Martha was particularly taken with me as a baby, so my mom tried to cultivate that bond. Grandpa passed away when I was small and Grandma Martha lived alone in a small apartment. Mom bought me a red toy suitcase that said, “I’m Going to Grandma’s House.” I loved to go swim at Grandma’s apartment swimming pool and at first everything seemed good. I always looked forward to our visits. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA When I was about nine years old, I stayed at Grandma’s house for a week without my family. After a few days of being constantly scolded, criticized, and ignored by turns, I realized Grandma’s house was overrated. I remember looking in a mirror at the house and wondering why my Grandma couldn’t see anything good about me. I didn’t think I was such a bad girl. The harder I tried to please her, the more her fault finding hurt me. I learned over the years that it wasn’t me that was the problem. Martha could see little good in anyone. My Mom was undeterred by my distinct change of attitude toward Grandma’s house. We still visited her regularly. I tried to be polite.

Mom called Martha every week and listened to her prattle on and on about her daytime television shows, her friend Delma, and her trips to Hawaii. She would send me gifts on my birthday, but never anything I liked. My sister moved to Utah after college and she made a valiant effort to show Martha love visiting her every week. Tiffany said that all she would do was complain including about the frequency of her visits insisting that, “You never come see me.” Later, when she became unable to live on her own, she moved into my parent’s house. I was off at college, but when I came home to visit, I was amazed at how well my mom cared for her. As a career nurse, she was in her element.

Martha was always complaining about Idaho and how cold it was and how dull it was. Mom just listened and tried to make her feel better. My sweet mother was treated like a servant. I resented Martha all the more because of how ungrateful she was to my mom. We all did. Dad couldn’t stand her. It wasn’t until she started spreading horrible sexual lies about our family to my aunt that Dad insisted that she leave. I remember my mom hurting so badly. Not only had her mother spread horrible lies about her family, she had also rejected her efforts to build a meaningful relationship. She was forced to accept that a loving, warm, rewarding relationship would never be realized with Martha in this life. My mother’s mother was missing.

My father didn’t have a mother, but at least he could imagine her spirit smiling down lovingly upon him, the hope of a warm reunion someday. My poor mom had to live a life alongside a mother that was not capable of nurturing her. She was physically present, but emotionally missing. If I had a choice, I think I would rather have been my dad. It is impossible to know what forces created Martha. Why was she so difficult to please? Why did she lie about my family, and by extension, her family? Why was the motherly instinct to love and nurture so blighted in this woman?

A few years before she died she told us that her father, a respected captain of the Salt Lake Police, had sexually abused her. She said that she had kept quiet all these years because she wanted to protect him, but decided in the end she didn’t owe him that anymore. Whether this was just another one of her lies, or the explanation for her inability to love and receive love, I don’t know. Either alternative is bad. Sexual abuse is a horrible stain on a family. False accusations of it are hardly any better. One way or the other, that line of my family has serious problems. I’ll post more about this later.

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Myrtle E. Thorne Cutler Back to missing mothers. There are more. My dad’s father Rex’s mother Myrtle died of breast cancer when he was fifteen. My dad’s mother Eva’s mother Eva died when she was just twenty-three. Of my six grandmothers and great grandmothers, four of them died untimely deaths. Two of them left children less than six years old. What kind of damage is done to a family that experiences that kind of loss! The pain seems to reverberate through the generations, as if it cannot be contained by time and space. The suffering ripples in waves through the lives of my cousins. On Eldon Dee and Martha’s line, there are problems with substance abuse and spousal abuse. My sister married a severely abusive husband who almost killed her. One cousin was married to a man who cheated on her. One cousin, a male, was married to an abusive woman. Another cousin was badly physically abused by her husband before her divorce. My Aunt married an abusive husband. So much pain. My overall impression of my Henrie relatives is that they are very kind and generous people who tend to marry abusive people. Our challenge is to love, protect, and value ourselves. My Cutler relatives have the dynamite emotions. We struggle with pride and personality disorders. We tend think we are right and we want to excel. We can be cliquish and overprotective of ourselves. Our challenge is to enjoy the journey, value the contributions of others, and have the courage to be vulnerable.

This post has taken several days to write and took considerably more research than my other posts. I have gathered my information from Family Search records and tried to make it as accurate as possible. Please comment or message me if you have concerns about the accuracy of anything I have written. Researching my ancestors and seeing the trends and events that have shaped my family and my life has been very enlightening. I highly recommend the exercise even if you are uncomfortable sharing the information publicly. I considered for some time if I should include some things like Martha’s allegations against her father. It is extremely sensitive information, but I heard it from her own mouth. The fact is, she said it to me and it is now a part of my story. She is no longer here, so I can’t ask her permission to repeat it publicly. Her father is not alive either and it would be impossible to investigate the allegation against him.

I choose to speak the truth about my family as I see it. My view of history is that we cannot fairly judge those who came before us. They lived in their time and with their crosses to bare. It is for me to learn from their lives and experiences. It is difficult to think that the handsome policeman in his uniform, wearing his prestigious badge could have done such a heinous thing, but it does happen. We live in a fallen world and sometimes people are not what they seem. When they are our flesh and blood, denial is a potent and addictive drug. It would be too easy to blame Martha and keep Walter on his lofty pedestal. There are not many people who achieved high position in my family. I don’t want to believe him guilty. Better to blame the woman that disappointed and hurt me and my family. I can’t.

Martha’s allegations fit too well with what I know of trauma to dismiss it out of hand. Her lies about sexual abuse in my family were likely a projection of her own sexual abuse experiences. Rather than discredit her allegations against Walter, they validate them. Perhaps in watching her morning talk shows she watched one about sexual abuse and heard that talking about it is a good idea. Perhaps in finding her voice at the end, her act of courage and honesty will help others heal. There are no perfect victims and no perpetrators so high in societal esteem to be incapable of this wickedness.

Who was Martha? My mom says that she had a charming side to her that was funny and came out from time to time. I never saw it, but trust that if my mom saw it, it was there. She was pretty as a girl and probably had a better nature when she was young and healthy. Perhaps I would have liked her better if I had known her then. She seemed to have an okay relationship with her husband Eldon Dee. Perhaps if I had known them together she would have seemed warmer in the sunshine of Eldon Dee’s bright light. Her emotional relationships with her children appeared sterile and superficial to me, but perhaps there was more there than I saw. Perhaps she was able to bond with other grandchildren. I adore old people, and she was my only living grandparent I remember, but I could not connect with her. There is a sad emptiness when I think of a relationship that should have been, but wasn’t.

Being open and honest about our families deep dark secrets can have many benefits. If Walter victimized his daughter, it is possible there are other victims. By coming forward with her story, Martha could be empowering other of Walter’s victims and their families to understand and heal from their trauma. That healing could benefit Walter and Martha as they come to terms with their relationship. I think Martha would want this told so that we can learn from her life and the person she was; a beautiful, lovable, broken daughter of God. Not so different from me, really. Can the Savior heal Martha? Of course he can! It may be, in his divine design, that I will meet a healed and whole woman someday who can return the love I have for her. It waits for that day. My sister. My future friend.

As for Walter, I have looked for stories about him and found none so far. I read his diary that gives an account of his hunting and fishing. His career was exemplary, of course. He served in the National Guard in Connecticut and moved to Utah when he was twenty. He was a prison guard and retired a captain in the Salt Lake Police. He had three wives, consecutively, not simultaneously. His first wife died from a seizure. He married again, but divorced eight years later. He was baptized a member of the church at forty-four, and married Martha’s mother, Zelnora just over a year later. They married when Walter was forty-five and Zelnora was twenty-nine. Their sealing in the Salt Lake temple took place a little over three years later.

Zelnora was actively involved in the church and seems to have been a good mother to the five children she had with Walter. Walter had nine biological children, three step-children, and one adopted child. Two children died in infancy. Martha was his youngest daughter. Walter had two other daughters, Isabell who was thirty-three when Martha was born, and Marion who was twenty seven. Martha was born when Walter was fifty-five years old. Her mother was thirty-nine. He died when Martha was only seventeen. That is all I know of Walter and his story. I can’t find any records that give me any indication of the kind of father or step-father he was.

When we allow that each and every person has their story, and that judgement is the Lord’s, we can let go of the secrets, illusions, and false narratives in our families. We can be real about who we are and who our family members are. They are God’s gift to us. We do not own them. We don’t get to define them or distort them to suit our vanity. They simply exist, and we can be honest with ourselves and others about who they are, or lie to ourselves. Let us keep Jehovah’s edict and resist the urge to bare false witness. No lies are more seductive than the ones we tell ourselves. Let us be grateful for the family God has given us; real and broken and perfectly imperfect, rather than covet the one we imagine we have. Living honestly has rich rewards.

I add a few words to my original post. I know that the Lord lives. He is Mighty to Save, the living and the dead. His power is over all the Earth and miracles come when we exercise faith over fear. I imagine in my mind that my willingness to post these things openly will relieve Walter of some of his suffering, that the healing grace of the Master might find him in the hell his sins have trapped him in these many years. I pray that Martha, his daughter might also fully heal from the effects of his sins through the sacrifice of the Son. I pray that all my Henrie and Jukes relatives within the sound of my voice might know that He is mindful of us. He loves us and would that the stain of the past might follow us no longer. Blessed be the name of the Lord!