Of Grapevines and Vineyards

Last year I wrote a post about my grape vine.  I was worried about pruning it back severely. The year before I hadn’t pruned it hardly at all.  We had lots of branches and leaves and no edible fruit. I wrote about mustering the courage to do something different and allow myself to fail and learn.  We ended up with a plentiful harvest of grapes last summer, but the fruit was small and not very sweet with big seeds in each grape. We ended up making the grapes into juice which with a little added sugar was delicious and I’m sure it was packed with nutrients as well.

This was one of the bunches of grapes we got from our vine this year.
That’s a lot of grapes!!
We made the grapes into grape juice concentrate which we froze in jelly jars.

This year I was late getting the grapevine pruned.  With the chaos of the coronavirus, my usual spring gardening routine has been upended.  Having an anxiety disorder when the world is in such chaos and turmoil is hard. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have OCD.  My hands have broken out in a rash from frequent hand washing. I’ve had to curtail my habit of constantly checking the news because the anxiety only becomes worse.  I can’t go to the grocery stores anymore because the sight of empty shelves sends me into panic mode.

Last night when Ben came home from work, I was barely functioning.  My hands and feet were white and cold from a Ranauds attack. Layne made dinner and Ben watched the kids while I took a bath.  As I sat in the warm water with only my thoughts for company, I felt so much darkness. I thought of how foolish we all are. We delude ourselves into feelings of safety.  We make plans and investments and conduct endless research. We think we are wise and independent. We think we don’t need God. All we need is the latest tech, no interest financing and zero down.  

Shame colored my cheeks as I thought miserably how often I have soothed myself into a false sense of security and trust in governments, corporations, 401ks, and my own preparations for family emergencies. Disaster was bound to come.  My efforts to stave off the feelings of despair seemed so pointless.

But the warm water, some medicine, and some needed support from Ben and a family friend helped me to scrape together enough hope to face another day.  We had a good morning with prayer, scriptures, breakfast together, and some outside chores. I was going to rake the leaves in the front yard. The live oak in the front loses its leaves in the spring just as the grass is coming to life after its winter sleep.  It’s urgent that we get the leaves off the grass, but I saw the grapevine leaf buds were beginning to swell. I put the boys to work raking the leaves while I tackled the grapevine.

As I cut into the grapevine, I felt a surge of confidence after last year’s success. I knew that the pruning was essential, that the harvest would depend on my work today.  Still, it was sad to cut off all the tender new leaves that were swelling in their nodes, and drops of water fell from each cut branch.  The plant seemed to me to be crying. “Why would you do this to me?” I hope it will be okay with such a late pruning. If not, my treatment may result in the death of the plant.  

Severe pruning in the early spring ensures a good harvest of grapes in the summer. We’ll see how mine does this year.
A late pruning left my grapevine dripping sadly from each pruned branch. I hope I was not too late.

My family has been reading the fifth chapter of Jacob in the Book of Mormon. It is a very long and complex allegory of a vineyard.  The Lord of the vineyard and his servants work constantly on the trees of the vineyard to produce good fruit to lay up for the season.  It is discouraging when at times they look out at the trees and see nothing but bad fruit. Then they go out and prune and dung the trees in hopes that they will be able to make a difference.  

Olive trees are very interesting. The fifth chapter of Jacob is an allegory comparing world spiritual history with an olive vineyard. Each time I read it I feel my mine opening to new parallels between gardening and people. Plants teach me about God.
Photo by Stacey Franco on Unsplash

There are so many layers to this metaphor.  I see it in my children, my ward, my nation, and the world.  Sometimes progress means cutting back. Sometimes the way forward isn’t a straight line.   Sometimes we have to hurt. Sometimes we have to cry. Most of all, we need to see our own foolishness.  Our own impotence. Our own dependence on God. There is no elite class wise and powerful enough to save us.  We are infantile in our understanding. We need the one who is Mighty to Save. We need Him in our hearts, our counsels, our homes, and our schools.  We need Him in our hospitals, our stores, and our governments. He is the only path to salvation.

I realize that this view is controversial.  I don’t wish to force the minds of anyone who doesn’t see the world as I do.  Still, I will not be silent when the need is so great and the cure and relief so certain.  It is only through the grace of the Son of God that the world will be saved. There is no other way. It is less a conversion to a certain religion and more an excavation process. We find the Son of God within ourselves. Each of us is divine. Each of us has the child or son of God within that must be nurtured and developed and revealed out of a calloused and hard shell of mortal decay.

It is comforting to seek solace in science, facts, and models created by the learned.  It is comforting to trust in history and tradition. These things are good and helpful, but they are not enough.  We need God. And not a God of a few select people who look or behave a certain way. We need a God who is wise enough and powerful enough to dissolve the divisions that cut us off from one another.  A God who can unite mankind into a powerful force for righteousness.  We need to be a better people than we are. We need to be more compassionate, more full of faith, and more determined to find the Savior within ourselves.

I hope and pray that we will repent before it’s too late to do so. With God there is nothing that can stop us. Without Him, we are doomed to fail whether to earthquakes, tempests, pestilences, or war amongst ourselves. Coronavirus is only one of the scourges of mortality and though this is bad, I suspect it will not be the end of the calamities we will face.

New Year Perfection

I grabbed the empty wrapper in frustration.  “Where did it go! It was just here!” Wesley’s bony form was hovered over the Arby’s sandwich.  After over a week of the flu, he had become even more thin and for a moment I was encouraged that he had finally taken the sandwich I had offered him repeatedly.  Then Layne and Wesley locked eyes. I groaned audibly. This was another one of their food fights.

All Christmas break they had been fighting over food.  Once Layne made waffles and refused to give any to Wesley.  Layne insisted there was not enough for Wesley to have one. Wesley insisted that he was starving to death and needed to have a big stack.  Meanwhile I was trying to get Layne to share while frantically mixing up and cooking more waffles. Ten minutes later, everyone was gone from the table as I ate my small waffle.  I had traded with Wesley who was indignant that he had gotten the smallest one. I had added a second waffle to his plate, hoping that he was as famished as he claimed to be. He wasn’t.  His two waffles sat abandoned on his plate. I think he ate one bite. The food wasn’t the point. It was the fight. It is always about the fight.

So Wesley had turned his nose up at the sandwich I had offered him, and I had offered it to Layne.  When Layne came down to get the sandwich, Wesley had taken it for himself. But was not eating it. He didn’t actually want the sandwich.  It was about the fight. So of course my offer to cut the sandwich in half was met with hysteria by both boys, each insisting that they had claim to the entire thing.  I was supposed to choose. There was supposed to be a winner and a loser. That was the point of the entire exercise.  

I had been fighting panic all day.  It was the dreaded companion I didn’t want but could not be rid of.  Ben had been helping me limp through the day, taking breaks, planning, and writing.  The food fight was the last straw. I felt the panic take over as I shouted at them. “I can’t make you get along!  I can’t make you be kind to one another! I can’t make you be happy! I can’t do it.”

That led to the major meltdown.  Finances were tight, the car needed repairs, the washer was on the blink.  We had just replaced the T.V. and the vacuum. They had both gone out unexpectedly.  I hadn’t made anything for dinner and Ben and I were late getting off on our date. If we didn’t leave soon, we would get back late, then I would get to bed late, and then we would be late to 9:00 AM church.

A new year comes with serious challenges for me mentally.  I fall back into old perfectionistic patterns. “This year,” I say intensely, “This year I will do it!  I will finally take my life back. I will get the trains running ontime. I will make everyone happy, keep everyone happily progressing along the straight and narrow path, be organized and disciplined, and get it right.”  Then the days of January pass one by one and I find that I am still the disorganized mess I have always been. The clutter of last year still remains in piles around the house. The energy drains from me as I realize that nothing has changed.  And it never will change; not the way I want it to.

Stuff will break, money will be tight, the boys will fight, and we will be late.  Panic will come and I will shout and cry and pull my hair. We will pull out of the driveway for church at 9:00 and slip into sacrament meeting after the sacrament.  We will try and fail and try again and nothing will be perfect- except when it is. And those moments will be brief and glorious.  

Today sacrament meeting was one of those glorious moments.  Every testimony seemed to speak to my soul. Each member who spoke seemed to share a piece of themselves with me and my loneliness lifted.  I felt a real spiritual connection with each person and with God. I talked to friends. I gave and received hugs. I met my new Primary class!  Each little face seemed to be a new adventure; a new soul to find and bring to the Savior.  

One little boy came into sacrament meeting with his Mom and three little siblings.  I didn’t recognize her. She was by herself and was even more late than we were. Her curly hair and dark skin reminded me of my Tedford children.  They weren’t at church this week and I was sad for that. Seeing this woman and her little ones gave me hope and joy. I was so happy when I found out that little boy is in my primary class!

And so I begin another year.  Another year of battling crippling anxiety and debilitating depression.  Another year of alarming headlines and unhinged tweets. Another year of political campaigns and disinformation campaigns.  Another year of wars and rumors of wars as we march into an uncertain and ominous future.

And yet as I write this today, this moment, I feel peace.  Satan is real. The pain is real. The diseases are real. The chaos and fear are real. But so is He.  And he is Mighty to Save! I am enough because of his grace. I can face this year and this decade, and whatever is left after that with hope and optimism only because I know He will be there to walk the road with me.

Rainbow Ponies, Sparkles, and Pink Crayons

Last night I was trying to make a gum paste cake topper for my four year old boy’s cake.  It had been a difficult day and the cake topper had been broken about ten different times.  Once, Austin ate one of its legs and a chunk out of its face. The resulting instability of figure caused additional damage.  My teenager tried to move it and that didn’t go well. Then he tried to fix it and that went even worse.

I HAD TO MAKE THIS CAKE TOPPER WORK!  Who makes a My Little Pony cake topper for her son’s birthday party?  To have it turn out lame was not an option.  Imperfect? Yes. Lame? No. All my older boys and Ben were like, “You are going to make him a girl cake???”  I was so MAD!! I am not making him a GIRL CAKE. I am making him a cake of a character he loves who happens to be female.  She is also fast and can fly and has a spunky personality and maybe he will marry someone like that someday. I LOVE the fact that he relates to female characters and admires them!  Someday I hope he can take that and build a relationship or relationships with his female coworkers and spouse that is devoid of the toxic sexism that saturates our society!! This was not about a cake.  It was a STATEMENT. And it was not working.

I would fix the wing and then the tail would fall off.  And then I would fix the tail, and the wing would fall off again along with part of the mane.  I screamed and cursed and cried and sat on the floor trying to resist the urge to pull out my hair.  Then I would look at Ben and get mad again because he had suggested days ago, in a loving and concerned way, “Are you sure you want to make this cake?  You don’t have to do this.” He knew I would be a mess! And I was mad at him for knowing that I would be a mess. He was right and that made me mad at him.  And mad at myself. And mad at the stupid sugar pony that would not come together.

“I’m here for you Bridgette.  Whatever you need,” Ben said in his calm and steady way.  That made me feel guilty. He even sat on the floor with me and put his arm around me.  How can he be so patient and loving to me when I’m so beastly? Wesley wanted to help me so bad.  He brought me a pillow from my bed. “Here Mom. You can punch it and it will make you feel better.  Or you can just lay on it…..” Everyone was walking around on eggshells trying to avoid triggering my rage.  I hate it when I make people feel like that. Then I hate myself and it makes it worse.

Austin ran around the house naked with his foam sword in his hand.  He had peed his pants for the second time and no one had bothered to dress him again.   Peroidically he would yell about, “stupid cake!!! Stupid, dumb cake!!” He slashed his sword dramatically as he stomped around with an angry expression, clearly imitating me.  He wasn’t distressed, just mirroring the frustration he could sense in me. I laughed in spite of myself. My other boys tried to get him to stop saying it and I said, “Don’t worry about it.  I’m not taking it personally.” I welcomed the comic relief!

Ben found a recipe online for edible glue.  He got the ingredients and mixed them up for me.  It worked like a charm. I set the troublesome topper on the cake and then piped a border around the bottom.  Wesley and I worked together to make rainbows and clouds to go around it. It was beautiful! It wasn’t a “girl cake” but it did have a female pony who has earned the love and respect of my tiny warrior.

This cake was a labor of love. I am so glad it is finished!

And he did get a complete set of My Little Pony figurines for his birthday. He knows all of them by name.  He sleeps with them next to his bed. He did get a glorious Twilight Sparkle Pony complete with glittery wings and tiara, much to the chagrin of his dad.  I think Wesley kind of likes it though. I even saw Layne messing with her wings. It stands out as the first and only “girl toy” we have had in our house, so it is something of a novelty. He also got eight foam swords, two shields, and a set of bow and arrows.

Austin loved the cake.  He and Wesley kept spinning it around on my cake turner to see it from every angle.  Even I was happy with it and even though I see all of its flaws, I can appreciate it for what it is; a symbol of love and devotion of a mother to her little boy.  A mother who respects her son’s individuality even if it goes against some of the social norms we have built around what it is to be a boy.

Wesley helped make the rainbow and clouds for the cake. It was uncomfortable to let him help because I get so perfectionistic, but I’m glad I did.

Austin is probably my most masculine child.  He seemed to have been born with weapon of some kind in his hand.  He is naturally strong and sturdy and ready to do battle with anyone and everyone.  And yet, he is drawn to strong female characters like Owlette and Rainbow Dash. I don’t understand why, but I love that about him.  It’s part of what makes him interesting and different. It also makes me feel fiercely protective of him. I want him to be able to think and feel the way he wants to.  I don’t want to send him to school and have conformity beaten into him.

Austin loved his cake. It was worth all the headache to see his eyes light up and hear his beautiful laugh.

I remember one day Wesley came home from Kindergarten crying.  I asked him what was wrong and he said he was coloring a picture with a pink crayon and was told by the other kids that he couldn’t use a pink crayon because it was a “girl color.”  The momma bear anger flared in me. I hugged my boy and dried his tears and explained to him that there are no girl or boy colors, that every color is important and that no one is ever allowed to keep him from using a color.  We teach those kinds of toxic concepts to our children and then they force them upon one another. When will we learn?

But this post isn’t supposed to be a lecture.  I’m not trying to set myself up as the perfect parent who is going to judge everyone who doesn’t do as I do.  Lord knows I’m not a perfect parent. I do wish that we had a society where it was more okay to be different. There are important laws and standards that must be upheld, but there are many ways we can relax and allow boys to color outside the lines with pink crayons and sparkles.  There is so much beautiful variety to the people of this world! Can we let that be okay? Maybe not in school, maybe not in church, but as long as I’m the mom, we can do it at home.

Austin got a bow and arrow for his birthday. Dad taught him how to shoot it. He’s getting better, but not as good as Mom yet. 😉 He also got a collection of eight foam swords. There have been many epic duels to the death with these new weapons.
Austin knows all of the little ponies and their “cutie marks” so I had to make sure and make Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark. It was so much harder than it looks…..
It doesn’t always look this tidy, but this is his bed. It kind of captures the essence of who he is. I’m eternally grateful that God let me have this special child for a while……
He has so many interests and I get to help him explore all of them! Pink, blue, and all the colors in between.

****I found out today that there is a movement of men and boys who resonate with My Little Pony. The newest remake of this popular series is much less oriented to little girls. It has a wide appeal to many different people. Men and boys who have felt a strong affinity for the series call themselves “Bronies” and meet up online and at conventions. There is are a couple of documentaries about the phenomenon. For more information, check out

And I was able to watch a really good one here for free

Also, THIS

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.

Winged Messengers

I found several black swallowtail caterpillars in my garden a few weeks ago. I raised them on rue until they were big and fat, then they made their chrysalises. The last three days they have been emerging. We had one on Sunday, one yesterday, and two today. We are waiting on one little chrysalis which will probably not last more than another day.

We released this sweet girl yesterday.
Wesley, my butterfly wisperer, got to hold her on his hand for a minute.
Pepper has been really good with the caterpillars and the butterflies. She doesn’t know what all the excitement is about, but she is always good for a celebration and a Popsicle.
Two black swallowtails, ready to fly away.

As I was getting my three year old ready to go to YMCA camp, I was rushing around the backyard when I saw a giant swallowtail. The black swallowtails are gorgeous and almost as big as your hand. The giant swallowtail makes them look small. They are as big as a bird. I drove to the YMCA musing on the significance of two black swallowtail butterflies AND the giant swallowtail. Could it be that God is/was sending me a message?

I was fortunate enough to get my phone out and take a few pictures before this gorgeous butterfly took off.
This butterfly’s wings don’t look as impressive in the picture. This one had a wingspan of about five inches.

As though insect messengers were not enough, I turned onto my street on my way home, and there was a striking red Cardinal under my rose bush! I parked my car and went to investigate. The bird flew away, but I thought I saw another bird. Curious, I walked around the corner of my house and there were TWO Cardinals! A male and a female. In total, I had three cardinals visit my garden at the same time. I don’t even have any bird feeders to attract them!

The male and female sat side by side on my fence. It was a powerful sight!

This experience today reminded me of my first counselling session after I left the Sundance mental hospital. It was October 2012. I was reeling from the trauma I had experienced there, but also treasuring the sacred and beautiful bonds I had made with the other patients. It had taken all the courage I possessed to trust another counselor with my story. As I sat there trying to explain the unique twists and turns of my depression journey, she kept looking out the window behind me. She said, “There is a dove that has just landed on the fence outside. Doves are a symbol of hope and divine intervention.” That she would notice such a coincidence was not surprising to me. Her entire aura and her home where we were meeting spoke of a hippy, new-age, eclectic, artistic personality. I did find it unusual that she kept commenting on the birds.

After a few minutes, she said, “There’s another dove! It’s landed next to the first.” In total, I think there were four doves that came to her backyard that day during that first session. It never happened again that I know of. If it did, she didn’t mention it and I think she would have.

These are mourning doves. I’m not sure what kind of doves my counselor saw that day.

I have seen God’s hand working in my recovery. Small, quiet, little things that would be easily missed if I weren’t deliberately taking the time to see them and express gratitude. He is mindful of me and my pain. He understands it when no one else does. Every day I face the challenges, beat back the depression, and press forward.

I am growing. There is no stopping it now. It is as though I am a mighty oak sprouting from a sidewalk crack. The cement cannot encase me any longer. It is strong and exerts tremendous pressure, but I am getting stronger than the pressure. I can be patient. It is inevitable. The concrete will break. It must retreat because I must grow.

I won’t mourn the sidewalk. It isn’t bad, it’s just in the wrong place. For so long I’ve thought that it was I that was in the wrong place. Now I see that it was for his purposes that I sprouted where I did and faced the opposition I have faced.

What I have learned most this week on a deeper level than ever before, is that religious dogmatism and spirituality exist in opposition. Dogma is the human mind’s way of coping with God without spirituality. It is the lazy path. Dogma says, “I don’t have to know God personally, I can just listen to what someone else says about him, do what they say, and then I’ll be saved.” When you push dogma aside and approach the throne of God yourself, what will happen? Nothing? That would be devastating, but it gets worse. What if he did tell you something? What if he told you to leave your parents and your home, journey off into the wilderness, and spend a nomadic life searching for him? He said that to Abraham. What if he told you that everything you’d been taught was wrong? What if he told you to sell everything you have and follow Him? At different times in the scriptures God has said those very things to various people. Some obeyed like Peter and Paul. Some rebelled like Jonah and then repented afterward. Some walked away sorrowing, like the rich young man. There have been so many people who have lived on the Earth that have never asked God; never sought that intimate connection with him. No wonder! The dogmatic way is easier. So predictable. So tame and popular with everyone. You can even make money at it!

I have decided to take a different path. I want to know God myself. I want my questions answered, not just by a conference talk or even an ancient record of scripture. I want direct knowledge and understanding. I want spiritual gifts. I want things of value that the world doesn’t see and can’t understand, and won’t value. I don’t want position or honors of men or money, I want to please my God. In doing this, I will naturally have conflict with those who walk a more dogmatic path. That’s okay. I’m coming to expect that opposition and understand it better.

Along with resistance, I am also finding support. Support can come from unexpected places like the cardinals and the butterflies. I’ve found myself overwhelmed by gratitude when I get human angels who send me a card, give me a hug, or shoot me a message. The depression is still hard, and I still have burdens I carry, but I’m getting so much stronger.

I’m filled with gratitude today for the help my Savior has sent me from heavenly messages spoken and unspoken, winged and without wings. He lives! He loves us! He has not left us to live in this fallen world alone and without comfort. May His blessings and peace find you as well.

Learning Not to Say “I’m Sorry”

“I’m so sorry!!” I looked at the clock behind the receptionist. Late again. How many times today had I had to apologize for being late? Car seat in tow along with another child running around somewhere, I looked back on the day thinking of how I could have possibly done things differently.  I had made Herculean efforts just to show up!  Yet still, I felt the need to apologize because I had made one mistake, misplaced one thing, had a diaper change come up that I hadn’t planned for, or whatever.  My inner critic would insist, “You can’t keep being late for everything!!  It’s so rude.”  Cold wash of shame.

I’ve started challenging the shaming messages that come with having ADHD.  Shame can become a habit, and mine is pretty ingrained.  Maybe that’s why I wasn’t totally comfortable with this video from Jessica McCabe.  I had never considered how apologizing for my inability to be neurotypical impacts my feelings about myself.  “I’m sorry,” implies that I’ve done something wrong.  I didn’t care enough.  I didn’t try hard enough.  Truth is, I try so hard.  It isn’t enough, but that doesn’t mean that I’m to blame.  I deserve credit for my efforts just like everyone else.  Just because I start the game with two strikes against me doesn’t mean I’m not worth having on the team.

With ADHD, and a mother of children with ADHD, I’m not going to manage my symptoms and my children’s symptoms perfectly.  Even neurotypical moms of young kids have trouble keeping a schedule.  Shame is not a healthy way to manage symptoms.  At the same time I know how much my ADHD impacts the people I love and the relationships I care about.  In fact, my inabilility to manage my ADHD perfectly causes me to socially isolate myself to avoid damaging those relationships.

“Oh, there’s a babyshower next week,” or “My son has a birthday party tomorrow,” or “maybe I should set up some playdates,” or “I should sign up to bring cupcakes to the ward party next week.” Those all turn into another list of things for me to fail at; presents I forgot to buy or wrap, another appointment to put on the calendar that I will probably show up late for, another group of people to apologize to.  I’ve thought about quitting the choir I love because I’m worried about being late.  I don’t want to take risks because I know I’m most likely going to fail.  Those failures don’t just impact me.  They impact everyone who is depending on me.  That makes me feel awful!

As I’ve thought more about the ways that the shame around my ADHD has drained my life of the joy and happiness, the more I think Jessica McCabe is right.  I need to stop apologizing for being ADHD.  Instead, I’m going to start thanking my friends and family for their patience and love in spite of my disability.  To all those who have seen the value in me in spite of my ADHD, I say, thank you!  Thank you for seeing me for who I am and loving me anyway.  

I started a bullet journal last week.  Jessica McCabe has a whole ton of Youtube tutorial videos on why this style of planner is great for ADHD.  You can access them here.  It has really helped me so far.  I can’t believe how much I have been able to get done!  I’ve started thinking, “Wow!  I could start looking like that Mom (fill-in-the-blank) that has it all together!”  Then I have to remind myself that I’m me, and that’s the best.  I don’t have to be together and organized to have value.  If this planner helps me to be more productive, that’s awesome, but it doesn’t define me.  

I find myself grappling with the structure of the planner.  My perfectionism starts rearing up.  In fact, my daily schedule today doesn’t include my blog post I’m writing right now.  I’m cheating on my schedule!  I have to give myself permission to color outside the lines because that’s what I do.  That’s who I am, and I’m giving myself permission to be who I am, just maybe with a couple of extra tools to help out.

Jessica McCabe’s videos have done so much to help me and my kids.  I suspect Devin thinks she’s hot.  He seems especially keen to watch her videos.  All three boys resonate with what she has to say.  We watched this video on Sunday.  It’s about using a glitter bottle to calm the brain down during an ADHD meltdown.  They all want one now.  

So if you hear fewer apologizes and more thank yous from me, know that its intentional.  I’m choosing to have more compassion for myself and choose self-love and gratitude instead of shame!  Hopefully I can pass on this habit of positive self-image to my boys.  I’m way too hard on them most of the time.  They struggle with the same stuff I do, but the habit of self-flagellation is the only strategy that I’ve consistently used to manage my symptoms.  When I think about it, its not that surprising that they have self-esteem problems.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Fortunately, its never to late to start being a good example to them!  I’m so grateful for my Savior who is guiding my recovery.  I know that together, we are unstoppable.  Salvation is real.  Hope is not in vain.  

 

This is the calendar page for this month. It is soon to be filled with all the end of school activities!!
I’m redoing my chore chart, and this is going to be the tool that’s going to make sure that I get everything on it! Am I going to have a clean house??? Anything is possible!
All ADHDers know that keeping track of the many projects we start can get overwhelming….This section is going to help me get them all done!
Daily planning can get a little too structured for me. Still, I’m caught up on my laundry in the first time in forever. I’ll take it.
This is the page I did yesterday for one of my boys with ADHD. I plan to do one for all my boys.
This section is where I write about what has worked and what hasn’t.

Go in Peace; Confessions of a Mom with ADHD

I found a new series of videos on ADHD.  A woman named Jessica McCabe made them after struggling to reach her potential for many years.  She gave a TED talk where she explains her journey.  It sounds so much like mine!  You start out so hopeful and full of promise, and then ADHD just gets in the way and you end up lonely, ashamed, and frustrated.  The biggest thing that Jessica figured out was that speaking out was the key to overcoming shame and loneliness. 

I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, after my second child was found to have a severe case of it. Having ADHD is challenging, but then you are also likely to have children who also have it. Parenting ADHD children as an ADHD parent is extra challenging.

King Tantalus was punished by being eternally tormented with hunger and thirst while surrounded by food and water.

Being atypical is always hard.  Ask any left handed person.  Being neutrally atypical is maddening.  I’m always comparing my own perceptions with everyone else as a frame of reference.  As a result, I am getting conflicting and confusing messages about who I am and how I’m supposed to behave.  Jessica says it is like being both the smartest person and the dumbest person in the room; and being the most motivated and most lazy person in the room.  That really sums up how I feel about myself and my kids.  There is so much potential there; we are so close to success we can almost taste it.  But like King Tantalus, it is constantly and maddenly out of reach.

It’s brutal on my self esteem to feel like no matter how hard I try to be on-time, stay on-task, manage a schedule, or even pay attention to my husband when he wants to talk to me, I just can’t do it.  ADHD impacts every aspect of my life in ways that even I don’t totally understand.  I function fairly well when it really matters, but what a lot of people on the outside don’t see is the coping strategies I use to make it all work.  I’ll use one example.

When I was a new mom, I went to a store with my newborn in a carseat.  I got distracted with the shopping and forgot my baby sitting on the floor sleeping peacefully.  I left him as I completed my shopping, went through the checkout, and left the store.  At some point before I drove off, I was overcome with panic remembering that I was a mom and I didn’t have my baby.  I will never forget that wash of shame, the panicked dash back into the store, and the mumbled excuse I gave to the cashier without meeting her gaze.  Some people might just see this as the typical behavior of a sleep deprived new mother.  I knew it was more than that.  It was the beginning of eighteen long years of responsibility for another person that would acquire attention and focus that I knew I was incapable of.  I knew that this was only the first of what would be countless episodes of danger that my child would experience because of my brain problems.  How could I make myself pay attention?  How could I ensure that I would be a good mom and keep my baby safe? 

Me holding my newborn baby. Nothing is more important to me than my four boys, but I know that with ADHD I face unique challenges as a mother.

I would regularly subject myself to shaming sessions where I would rehearse the fear, panic, and devastating grief that would happen if I didn’t focus my attention with my child and something horrible happened.  I knew that forgetting my child that day at the store was not that big of a deal.  He was sleeping, and I remembered him within a few moments.  What if I forgot him in the car in the heat of a Texas summer day?  I would vividly imagine my baby screaming in pain as he slowly died of heat because I forgot about him.  That was the way I motivated myself.  It has worked.  I have a very ingrained process of opening the back door when I stop the car, even when my kids aren’t in the car.  I have coped, but at what cost to myself?  And whenever I slip up, I’m reminded of the truth; I will never be a good mom.  My children will never be safe with me taking care of them.

It’s no wonder that I’ve avoided social interactions as a mom.  I’m convinced there is no more judgmental and critical group of people in the universe than mothers of young children.  Except for maybe their grandmothers.  Being with a group of young moms at a playgroup is torture for me.  I’m sure that they will see the truth, that I am a mess and their children are not safe with me no matter how good of an image I try to project.

Emotional and psychological torment along with social isolation, are two coping strategies that have traded ADHD problems for problems with anxiety and depression.  I’m so afraid that I will leave my child in a hot car, I don’t want to go anywhere during the summers.  I’m so afraid of being judged by other moms, I avoid playgroups and close relationships with other moms.  I’m lonely and ashamed of myself.  My kids, who are also ADHD, learn from me that the way to handle their problems is avoidance and shame.

I still don’t have all the answers for how to deal with these issues.  All I know is that I can’t bare them alone anymore.  It makes the people around me feel better to think that I’m a great mom who has it all together, but the truth is, that’s just a projection.  The real me knows that I’m not the mom my boys deserve.  My medication helps in the morning, but by mid afternoon, it starts to wear off.  I have a mid afternoon slump just as my kids come home from school, which makes it difficult to keep track of everyone and keep everybody safe and on task.

Last week I was in one of my crashes.  I was in my room watching crime shows on Amazon Prime.  Wesley and his friend were at the school playground that is just down the street.  Austin was upstairs with Layne.  Until he wasn’t.  He walked out the front door in nothing but a pair of shorts and walked over to the school playground to play.  It isn’t the first time he’s done this.  I knew it was only a matter of time before someone called the police.  Wesley came to get me to tell me that Austin was at the school playground and that the afterschool care lady wouldn’t let him leave without a parent.  The officer was there to meet me.

I don’t need any pity.  I know I screwed up.  Yes, I’m grateful he’s okay and I understand why people are concerned.  It still hurts like hell because there are no easy answers.  And that’s what I felt as I considered all the ways I was incurably flawed and how I would never be able to be the mom my children need me to be.  Shame.  Burning hot and painful as hell.  Hell that never ends.

Except that I have a Redeemer.  He knows my heart.  He knows the effort I put in that no one sees.  He knows that even though I am flawed, that He is enough!  And He loves me; and my boys.  He has paid the price.  The police officers, the judges, and the critical mothers of this world fade in importance, their power dimming as I ponder on this truth.  He is all that matters.  I am not enough.  I was never expected to be.  That’s why I need Him.  That’s why I love Him.

I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine,
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour,
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power,
When Thou art nigh.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour,
In joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

The Master taught the Pharisee that the person who is forgiven a few pennies worth of debt isn’t as grateful as the one forgiven a fortune.  I need Him.  Not a few pennies worth of Him, but a fortune.  I need Him like I need the air to breathe.  And so I love Him.  I come to him as she did, with oil in my hands and tears to wash his feet.  I beg for his mercy and plead for his forgiveness.  He says, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, because she loved much……Thy faith hath saved thee.  Go in peace.”

Taking a Break

It was a four Zanax night last night. Granted, they were a ridiculously low dosage pill, but still. I haven’t had to take that many in a very long time.

It has been a pretty good week overall. We got a lot of yard chores done over the weekend. Ben and I have had some very productive fights, that became sharing sessions, that led to us understanding one another on a deeper level. So what happened last night?

I think everybody has their limit. In raising four ADHD boys, I have a pretty high tolerance level for noise, chaos, and mess, but even that deep well gets exhausted sometimes. Easter candy, plastic eggs, candy wrappers, and baskets everywhere; fights over whose candy is whose and making sure the dog doesn’t get into the chocolate; and of course, the sugar high that everyone is on, followed inevitably by the crash and crankiness. Today all the Easter stuff is going into storage or into the trash! I’m done.

Austin, my three year old, didn’t take a nap yesterday afternoon. Instead, he decided to jump on and chase the puppy. The puppy would run in between my legs for protection and then Austin and I would engage in a game of keep away where I tied fruitlessly to calm both animals down, keep them apart, and coach them on civilized behavior.

Austin massacred his chocolate bunny. The residue is still all over my room three days later.

Pepper has begun to really be afraid of Austin. Today he was chasing her and she planted her little paws on the carpet and barked at him repeatedly, hoping desperately that her little puppy warnings would deter my toddler tornado. She bit him yesterday in the car. It happened to be while I was driving, in traffic, in the rain, and the windshield wiper had just come off. That was stressful. She didn’t hurt him, but she had just had enough. I get it.

I love Pepper and she loves me!

Austin punches and kicks and yells at her despite my firm instructions and timeouts. Now that Pepper is finding her power, I have to make some changes to make sure everyone is safe. I’ve been overthinking the situation, as I always do; unable to make a decision about what the best course of action is. Trusting my own instincts to protect the ones I love and allow myself to make mistakes is hard for me to do. It’s also hard for me to see the good I do.

My roses started blooming!

I spent much of the day yesterday on Twitter. I follow several people who are similar to me in their takes on the political scene. It feels good to know that there are others who are trying to build bridges between the parties, encourage dialogue about difficult things, and speak out about the dangerous trends we are seeing. Still, the little voice of discouragement gets me down sometimes. Sometimes I like a post that is a little snarky, or has too many swear words. Sometimes I post something that is a lot meaner than I would say in real life. Honestly, the person I am on Twitter is not my favorite version of myself. Sometimes I check my activity feed, just to make sure that I’m self aware enough to know if I am being a part of the solution or a part of the problem. It’s so easy to become what you are fighting against.

So today, no Twitter. There are two parts of me that war within me, kind of like the shoulder angel and shoulder devil in the cartoons. One side of me thinks that I have to be connected 24/7 to my Twitter feed to respond to every idiotic post and be informed about every trend. The other side of me thinks the whole thing is a big waste of time and energy. The truth is, both are wrong.

I think my Twitter activity has made that online space a better place. Do I screw up? Yes. Do I add some valuable insight? Yes. I’ve learned so much from Twitter! There are some really smart people on there with some really good ideas. Twitter is America and the West unfiltered. It’s ugly, it’s raw, it’s real, it’s honest, it’s painful, and it’s beautiful in it’s own weird way. Kind of like motherhood. Still, breaks are good. From both.

I’m a nurturer. Whether plants, or kids, or puppies, or countries, that’s what I do best. Sometimes I forget that what I do matters. The forces of God’s creative power reside in my hands. These little people in my home are forgetful, hyper, competitive, and selfish; but they are also curious, loving, hard working, and growing up to be amazing men. Every meal I make, every mess I clean up, every owie I kiss, every heartfelt prayer I offer, every parenting article I read, every strategy I try, every bedtime story I read, every pat on the back I give, MATTERS. It matters to him.

Austin feeds Pepper his peeps.

The scriptures counsel us to not be weary in well doing. I think it means, don’t listen to that voice in my head that tells me that I’m not worth anything unless I earn a paycheck, that my efforts don’t matter to anyone, that I’m no one and nothing. I matter. I matter to Him. I don’t think it means that I can’t ever take some time away and nurture myself for a while.

Today I’m going to read some scriptures, meditate, and connect with my Savior. I’m going to spend some time in the sunshine planting flowers, not because I have to, but because I want to. Its going to be a day to recharge and refresh. The country and Twitter will survive a few days without me.

Emergency Pizza Night

Children (8-12)

Last night was an emergency pizza night. I haven’t had one of those in a while; when I can’t function even enough to get some frozen food in the oven at 425 degrees. The day started out really well. I got up early, everybody including the dog out the door, dropped the kids off at school, and took Austin and Pepper to the park. We walked two km, and I worked on training Pepper to heel. Austin played on the playground. It was great! I expected to have a wonderful productive day. It would have continued on that positive trajectory if I hadn’t checked the headlines.

Watching William Barr tell congress he had no plans to give them the unredacted Mueller report and that he suspects that the FBI engaged in “spying on the Trump campaign,” I was profoundly disturbed. I had supported Barr’s appointment, with reservations, of course. I assumed that his reputation and dedication to justice would ensure that he would not be swayed by Trump’s demands. It would seem that my hopes were misguided. This has been a big blow for me. The thought that the Attorney General is involved in the obstruction of the Mueller report is unthinkable, and yet, looking back at the way Senator Sessions was removed, I feel foolish for hoping it was not what it appeared to be.

So, in order to make myself feel better, I settled down to watch some shows with Pepper during Austin’s nap. Unfortunately, Austin did not nap, he destroyed his room instead. Pepper slept, but the shows I chose to watch were disturbing to me. Crime shows can be wonderful inspiring tales of justice and dedicated law enforcement professionals, or they can be depressing tales of depravity. Usually they are a little of both. Sometimes it’s hard to find crime shows that have a good balance. I found a series called “Dark Minds” that I thought would delve into the psychology of violent criminality, which I find incredibly interesting. That was what I watched yesterday. It was disappointing. They do interview an FBI profiler who is fairly good, but other than that, the series just seems to revel in darkness. I felt like I needed to take a shower after watching a couple of episodes.

I spent a few few hours trying to manage Austin’s constant harassment of the dog while studying my music before I started finding my well of patience had run dry. I called Ben and he talked me through a strategy to get the dog in her pen and the boys upstairs playing video games to give me a break. When he came home from work, he helped me get the groceries and pick up the pizza. We fed the boys and got them off to scouts late, but at least they made it. Ben took Austin, and I read in my new art book and played with Pepper until he got home.

Sometimes I think that recovery means that I no longer have emergency pizza nights. The reality is, those nights will always be there. Recovery means that I have the strategies to deal with them and come through on the other side intact. I learned some things too. I’ve learned to stay away from “Dark Minds” and find another show. Better yet, ditch the T.V. and paint something. Another thing I learned is that exercise, while wonderful for mental health, can be exhausting. Just because I get my workout in first thing in the morning, doesn’t guarantee a day of productivity. Sometimes that happens, but not always.

As far as the news and the Mueller report, I need to take a page from Mueller himself. Sometimes he makes me crazy because he is so unruffled. He never says ANYTHING! He’s like the sphinx. Maybe he is as worried and upset as I am, but something tells me he isn’t. He likely has a quality that I wish I had, but don’t yet possess; patience. The man is patient. He knows that his work will eventually come out. The truth, whatever it contains, will come before the American people, and we will decide whether the behavior revealed is considered acceptable in our leaders. The corruption will percolate, the news cycles will rage, the pundits will pontificate, but in the end, in the long arch of our nation’s history, patient and restrained yet persistent dedication to truth and justice will prevail. I don’t need to jump into the washing machine to get the laundry done. I can let the mechanization of justice do its thing and patiently wait for the result. Easier said than done.

If I mess up and find myself in a dark place, thank goodness there is Ben, Pizza Hut, and Jesus Christ. There is another day to learn something new, and try again; a new canvass to fill with a new opportunity to succeed. There is so much more right with me than there is wrong with me! My Savior knows that, and as I prepare myself to sing his praises and testify to the reality of His divine salvation this weekend, my heart begins to soar.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God,
A sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor's rod,
And wins salvation glorious!

The old Satanic foe,
Has sworn to work us woe!
With craft and dreadful might,
He arms himself to fight.
On Earth he has no equal.

Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threatening to destroy us,
We tremble not, united we stand;
They cannot overpower us.

Let this world's tyrant rage;
In battle we will engage!
His might is doomed to fail;
God's judgement must prevail!
One little word shall conquer him.

God's word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes who fear it;
For God himself fights by our side
With weapons of the spirit.

Though goods and kindred may go,
All taken by our foes,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
His kingdom is forever!


Martin Luther

Puppies and Panic

This is Nicole Pepper. She will be officially our puppy on Monday!

I am totally in love. She is a six week old chiweenie mix, and she is my baby. We were never going to get a dog. They are messy, and a lot of work, and I don’t need more chores. Still, there has always been this nagging feeling that we need to have a pet. Every family has one! Still, we could never agree on what kind or how to get the money together for the initial investment. I knew that eventually we were probably going to get a dog.

When my friend from church ended up with a litter of puppies that needed homes, I was just going to go snuggle them. The more times I went over for puppy snuggles, the more the idea of taking one home appealed to me. Then I brought the kids. Ben was the hard sell. He didn’t want a dog. It would cramp our ability to take off on a plane whenever we wanted to.

Even his heart seemed to melt when he saw the puppies. We picked a little black puppy with tan eye brows, tummy and socks. We named her Pepper. Since we picked her out, we have had little play dates with Pepper. They started out as just a couple of hours at our house. Now they last several. She even was able to stay for Devin’s birthday party last night.

That brings me back to my whack-a-mole post. So I was racing home to finish Devin’s birthday party preparations, keep my boys from killing one another over a video game, and of course, snuggle my puppy. I walked in the door, and tried to comfort a distraught Layne.

Layne is twelve. He is a genius at math and science, an avid reader, a good student and a wonderful son, but he has not been easy to raise. Let me tell ya! Mentally, he is rigid, black and white, and very high strung. He struggles with anxiety and when he gets ramped up, I am about the only person that can help him down. This time, I didn’t have good news for him.

He had used his time limit for the Wii U and it was Devin’s turn. It was his birthday, and for that day only, he had unlimited time to play. He didn’t take it well. He shouted at me and then ran into my bedroom, presumably to calm himself down or prevent himself from acting aggressively and getting into trouble.

I went and got Pepper. I could feel the tension start to drip away. She licked my face and hands and snuggled into my lap. I grabbed some pizza and ate it ravenously. The anxiety masks my appetite so I didn’t realize how famished I was. Layne was crying and occasionally screaming from the other room.

We have had him in therapy for a couple of years, but we still struggle with temper tantrums. Electronics are especially problematic. They ramp up his anxiety and if he is on them for too long, he can’t handle his emotions. But, when you take them away, it is so devastating that he can’t deal with his disappointment, so he has a melt down. Timeouts sometimes work, but sometimes being by himself with nothing to do means that he ruminates on his feelings and they escalate. We no longer force him into timeout. He puts himself in timeout as a coping strategy. During Spring Break he has made ample use of timeouts to help him deal with being with his three brothers all day every day.

He has about four mental health diagnoses that we are working with. Layne is a unique combination of characteristics that makes treating him extremely complicated and difficult. He can be manipulative, but most of the time his distress is truly genuine. This time the timeout was not working. His volume was increasing. It seemed to come from everywhere as it echoed through the living room. Then there was a loud “thump.” He had escalated to throwing things. It was time to intervene.

When I approach Layne in his melt-downs, I have to tread carefully. I show no emotion. If I get angry and start scolding, he will escalate. I understand his state of mind, because I have been there so many times myself. The brain is bathed in cortisol and adrenaline. There is no rational higher level thoughts going on. He is defensive and ready to lash out, like a wounded animal. There is no instruction, no behavior modification at times like these. There is one goal. Calm him down. Then you can talk. Then you can reason. Then you can give consequences. But calming him down is the first priority. That takes precedence over everything else.

I had Pepper in my arms when I entered the room. I slowly approached Layne who was glaring at me angrily. To him, I was the one who was responsible for the injustices of the universe. I stroked his neck and told him I was sorry that he was having a hard time. I asked him what I could do to help him calm down. He erupted into a fountain of grievances. Pepper whined softly. I asked him if he noticed how his shouting was upsetting the dog. He quieted a little, but continued his monologue of victimhood. The puppy continued to whine. I listened and commented and clarified dispassionately. Gradually, his anger seemed to ebb and the puppy stopped whining. I sat down beside Layne. I held Pepper up to his face, reading him and the dog carefully. The dog licked him affectionately. I set her in his lap. She didn’t resist, but curled up contentedly.

His angry mask dropped and tears filled his eyes. The dog seemed to give him permission to feel his pain and release it. Within two minutes, Layne’s affect was completely different. He was no longer ruminating on his disappointment and how unfair things felt. His face was serene. It was like magic!

I’ve got a bag of tricks I’ve used in the past. Once I started reading a book to him and after a couple of minutes, he was a different child. Distraction can do wonders. Still, the change from anger to the release of sadness and tears, that was a first. It seemed to me that the dog was uniquely suited to bring that out in Layne. Her willingness to lick him even though he had scared her before was so significant. Her acceptance and love was validating to him, and I think she was just what he needed in that moment.

We were able to salvage the evening. Devin continued playing the Wii U, only taking a break to eat cake and open presents. Layne participated with the family. I think Pepper helped make the evening a big success.

Devin with his cake. Layne and Devin sat next to each other peacefully!

Sometimes the Lord works in unexpected ways. I always thought about getting an emotional support animal; a fully trained dog that would help Layne manage his emotions that would likely cost a lot of money. I had no idea how much a little mutt, a rescue with no training and nearly free, could benefit my family. She has just the right temperament for my wild anxious boys. I can’t help but feel that this is one of God’s tender mercies. Little Pepper was supposed to come to our home. She is uniquely suited to bless our family.

That doesn’t mean that she isn’t going to be a lot of work. I just sense that this dog has the raw material to be a powerful tool for helping Layne, me, and all of us deal with our stressful lives. I’m going to train her to be an emotional support dog.

I’ve done my share of eye rolling with the whole “emotional support animal” trend, but the fact is, there is a reason for it. We humans have created a concrete world for ourselves. Animals and plants are usually stuffed or made of silk. We’ve lost our connection with nature and we pay for it. If an animal in our home is what it takes to remind us that we are part of a larger world full of creatures great and small, then I accept it. If it brings us back into balance, it will be well worth the work.

The scriptures say that by small and simple things, the Lord brings to pass that which is great. I stew and study about my problems. I consult the best minds and study the profound theories of mental health until my brain hurts. Then the Lord brings me a dog and I remember that he knows what I need. He knows what my boys need. And he will supply my needs.


 My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His Name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy's sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death,
Thy presence is my stay;
A word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.