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.

Grapevines and Family Trees

Three springs ago, I planted a grape vine. It was a dead looking stick that I hoped would someday grow into a vigorous vine that would produce delicious grapes and save our family money. That first summer I carefully tended to each delicate shoot. It made painfully slow progress and would droop pathetically when the Texas heat came. Eventually it gained strength in the roots and started putting out strong vines, but no fruit since it was the first year. We pruned it during the winter, but we didn’t prune it as much as was recommended. I knew that the fruit would be produced off the old wood, and I was eager to get as much fruit as possible.

The vine took off that spring and quickly had covered the trellis. Blossoms came, and then tiny grape clusters. Unfortunately, there were so many vines and leaves that the grapes were unable to mature as the plant was putting its energy into producing leaves and vines. The sunlight was also unable to get to the grapes, so they didn’t ripen. Although the vine produced probably fifteen grape clusters, we didn’t get a single edible grape. I was disappointed.

You can see the clusters of grapes hidden at the bottom of the vine. It produced a lot of fruit, but none of it was good.
Dad is helping me build a path. Thanks Dad! In the background you can see a massive vine. This was in May. It had grown over the entire trellis and the backside too.
These grapes ended up never maturing and stayed small, green, and sour.

I don’t like failure. I take it personally. I don’t like to think about my failures because it’s painful and I prefer to distract myself with other things that bring easier rewards. I busy myself with projects and once I face an obstacle, I start another project. The chaos that ensues tends to sap my energy and contributes to my depression. As I have become healthier, I have reflected on this part of my core personality and I am working to challenge some of my views about failure.

We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. One of the worst things to do with failure is ignore it or avoid it. Failure is a gift that can lead to success at hard things; and hard things often bring the greatest rewards. So I looked at that hairy mess of vines on my trellis the other day and I decided I would do some research and try again.

After watching a few hours of YouTube videos about grapes and pruning, I thought, “I can do this.” I went out with my pruners and a saw and I hacked into my grapevine with no mercy. Where I made my cuts, the vine bled clear liquid, but I knew that in order to get what I wanted, I needed to butcher my poor plant. I cut off about ninety percent of the plant and was left with barely anything. I am also going to prune around the grape clusters so they get plenty of sun. Most importantly, I am going to prepare for another year of failure, because chances are, I have more to learn. That’s okay.

This is the vine after the severe pruning I gave it a few days ago.
This is the pile of vines I cut off. This isn’t even all of it.

Because this isn’t about grapes. This is about me learning how to grow grapes. It isn’t the end result that matters. It is the process. It is the growth. It is about me, not about groceries, grapes, or food budgets. God teaches us through the soil and the plants and the animals. This world was created for us; so that we can fail and learn and fail and learn and in the end we find Him.

The grapevine keeps coming to my mind in my parenting. Parenting is hard. There is a lot of failure. Sometimes my kids look like vigorous vines growing and learning and running wild across the trellis of life. Then it seems that the fruit just isn’t turning out just right. I want to clarify. I don’t mean that they are bad kids or anything. I just mean that I sense that there is more potential in them than they are expressing. Just like the vine. The vine was good last summer. I did a lot of things right with that grapevine. It didn’t reach its potential because I was shy with the pruning. I made one mistake, and it effected what the vine was able to do.

Like the grapevine, I need to not be afraid of my failings as a parent. In fact, I need to look carefully at them. Success for my children depends on my willingness to face my failures and learn from them. Just like I did with the grapevine, I need to do my research. Last Sunday I was studying the church library on my phone and I came across this marvelous resource. It is a book published by the church in 2006. If every parent in the church would read and follow the principles outlined in this resource, we could change the world in a couple of generations. it is called Strengthening the Family, an Instructor’s Guide. I read the first session which is about parenting principles and practices. I’m thinking this book is for a stake parenting class or something? I’ve never heard of such a class, but I think it’s a great idea. Anyway, what I have read is excellent and gave me some good ideas for adjusting some of my parenting practices. Just like the YouTube videos and horticulture sites I learned from about the grapevine pruning, I can use the massive amounts of good information about children and their development to become a better parent and bring the potential out in my children.

Failure as a parent is excruciatingly painful for me. This week I had several painful failures. Tuesday I brought Austin home from preschool and carefully snuggled him to sleep on the upstairs couch. I planned to shush Wesley as soon as he came home from school to ensure that Austin would get a good nap. Wesley exuberantly walked through the front door and flipped it closed with a smack. I heard wailing from upstairs. So much for that.

When Austin wakes up on the wrong side of the bed from a nap, it is torture for everyone. He screamed for an hour in spite of my many solicitous efforts to stem the tide of toddler fury. Then he went on a tornado rampage across the house, climbing to get cookies that I had told him he was not allowed to get, playing with things he was not allowed to play with, and making messes everywhere. I started getting overwhelmed and I went to my room to calm down. Of course, they eventually made their way to my bedroom. It’s like gravity. They find me.

So my irritation continued to mount and I started yelling at Austin to stop crying. I knew I was going to hurt him if I didn’t calm down, so I told him and Wesley that Mom needed to take a timeout. I herded them out the door and locked it. Austin was not okay with that. Of course. He screamed and screamed pounding at the door.

Anyway, it was a mess. I was supposed to be making dinner. I had counselling and a parent meeting for track and a STEM showcase. I prayed, I called Ben, I calmed myself down. I unlocked the door. Austin had wet his pants and as I took them off, he chided me. “Austin very angry! Austin so sad! I was crying.” I comforted him and praised him for naming his feelings. I was still crying at that point and he patted me on the shoulder. “It’s okay Mom,” he said in his parent voice. “You gonna be okay.” He grabbed a tissue and started wiping my tears. I had him give me kisses for my owies and I smiled for him to show him he had made me all better. He was delighted. Eventually, with the help of an angel friend and my husband, I was able to pick up my son late from track. I missed the parent meeting. I also missed my other son’s STEM showcase because it conflicted with my counselling appointment.

I tearfully apologized to Layne for missing his special day. He had the sweetest expression of compassion on his young face. “I understand Mom. It’s counselling, and you need it. It’s more important.” Of course, that made me cry even more as I told him how proud I am of his work at school and how much it means to me.

Devin had his first track meet yesterday. This was his first meet and he was actually pole vaulting. I didn’t realize it was a forty minute drive to Ft. Worth, so I was late. I thought for sure I had missed the whole thing. Parent fail. When I got there, I ran around in the cold searching faces, trying to find Devin. There were hundreds of kids and at least four schools. If I had gone to the parent meeting the day before I would maybe have a clue, but I didn’t, and now I was paying the price. I hadn’t put on any makeup, and I felt like a total looser. Besides that, there were so many African Americans. Even after living in Texas for nearly two decades, I am still irrationally afraid of them. Other people blithely say, “I have lots of friends that are black.” I only know a few black people, and I feel awkward and wrong footed around them most of the time. On top of my normal level of social anxiety, I felt on the verge of panic in this environment. I tried timidly asking a few people for help finding Devin, but no one knew. I went back to the car to warm up, thinking of the hurt expression on my son’s cold face when I finally found him. I was devastated.

I eventually dried my eyes, screwed up my courage, and went out into the cold again, determined to face my fears and find the coach. The sun had gone down at this point, and the wind was cutting through my sweatshirt. I wished I had worn a coat! I fearlessly asked the strangers with Wester sweatshirts. “I need to talk to the coach.” I was directed to a large black man with massive shoulders and a confident stride. I paced for a few minutes, then pushed down my terror.

“Hi, I’m Bridgette Burbank,” I said firmly, “I’m looking for my son and I can’t find him.” My voice didn’t even shake. He flashed a bright smile that contrasted with his ebony complexion. “Yes, Devin Burbank and pole vaulting. He would be over there,” he pointed out the pole vaulting event, hidden behind a set of bleachers. As I walked to the event, I got a tender mercy from the Lord. I saw Devin’s lean lithe form run down the track and gracefully vault right over the bar. It was beautiful! That was my son, and I got to see him vault at his first track meet! I didn’t miss it after all. I watched him vault again a few more times, but he was unable to clear the bar as he did that first time. We ran to the van and warmed up. Then we got some Arby’s and drove home. He wasn’t angry at me at all, and we had some good quality time together. Most of all, I think he saw that his mom drove across the metroplex and froze her face off to come support him in something that was important to him. That made all the failure worth it for both of us. And when I got home, Ben had put the kids down for bed, and some angels had come helped me clean my house. Thank you YW!!

The good news about parenting and grape vines, is that you get lots of chances to fail and learn and try again. Apparently, it’s really hard to kill a grapevine, so chances are good that I will have many more years to try and fail at growing this one. It is also really hard to kill your relationship with your kids. Kids love their parents. They want us to succeed, and even though we make a lot of mistakes, and maybe some that are pretty bad, we can always try again. No matter how old we are, or they are. If I can face my failures as a parent, you can too. Honestly, you’re probably doing better than I am.

Even though it is has been a rough couple of days for me, I haven’t had any suicidal ideation. That’s some real progress. My counselor was very pleased and encouraging about the way I am dealing with my challenges. I get in that negative mindset where I can’t see anything I’m doing right, but the truth is, I am making progress in real ways doing very hard things. Celebrating those successes and learning from my failures is key to getting through this depressive episode.

Often this is how my path feels. Thankfully, I have the Savior to guide my steps.

It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Jesus Christ loves me. I feel like such a mess! It seems like everyone else has stuff figured out and I am just flying by the seat of my pants screwing up everything. The fact is, he created me in all my scatterbrained, ADHD, passionate, over-analyzing, oversharing glory. For some reason, he loves me. Maybe I give him some comic relief as I live my crazy life! I definitely add some variety to the world. Most of all, I hope I am becoming the woman and the parent God wants me to be, whether or not I ever run a well managed home and schedule.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Unicorn Witness; of Rainbows and Rubies

Unicorn

I was enraged today in sacrament meeting.  I was proud of myself for identifying the feeling.  It started as a sick depressed sensation.  I get that feeling often when I am angry because I turn the anger in on myself automatically.   Recognizing anger has been difficult for me to learn to do.  Correction, recognizing the feeling before it engulfs me in a world class melt-down has been hard to do.  After I identified the feeling,  I realized that I was really, really ticked off.  There are reasons to be angry, and I was angry for a good reason.

Today in church I was actually able to listen to most of the talks.  With a three year old, that doesn’t always happen.  The guy that spoke is a pillar in the church.  He has a big calling and is very important and was saying some stuff that he obviously believed was true and that we all needed to know.  Too bad it was completely false and harmful to people like me.  I turned to Ben and said, “I am really really mad.”  He gave me a quizzical look.  I said, “Listen to this guy!  I can’t believe he’s saying this stuff.”  The message didn’t enrage Ben at all.  We talked about it for some time this evening trying to parse out what exactly was said and what his intended message was.  I’m not passing judgement on the guy who spoke today in sacrament meeting, but I am not going to let myself get depressed over it.  I heard the message I heard and it triggered an avalanche of pain rooted in years of experiences related to this issue.  I’ve heard and believed it in the past and it kept me from getting the help I needed.

His talk was on temple worship, which is fine.  In making his point about the importance of temple worship in gaining knowledge he started going off on worldly knowledge.  He went so far as to say that all knowledge and philosophies of the world are at best tainted and at worst evil.  He made the case that everything that we need to know can be learned from God in the temple or from the church.

This fearful view of “outsiders” is in vogue politically now with the rise of Donald Trump, but has always held a seductive appeal.  “Only trust the people who are like you.  Don’t branch out and learn something new from one of God’s children who doesn’t look like you.  God only exists in this space. Everything  you need to know is right here.  If we don’t understand it, we can demonize it and pretend the problems don’t exist.”

The thing is, there are problems in the church membership, and they aren’t going away.  Look at me.  I was pretty much a model LDS girl growing up.  I went to church every week, my family read scriptures and had family home evenings.  I didn’t have sex until I was married in the temple to my returned missionary husband.  I never drank or smoked or even associated with anyone who did those things.  I went to college in Elementary Education like a good LDS woman.  Every principle I was ever taught by my church leaders or my parents, I lived to the best of my ability.  When I transgressed the law, I repented.  Why then did I, at the age of 22, find myself weeping on the phone with my mom, secreted in the institute building of Utah State University?  Why was I frightened?  Why did I want to kill myself?  “This shouldn’t be happening.  I’m a good girl who makes good choices.  I was supposed to be happy.  That was how it was supposed to work,” I thought.  That was what I was taught.  That was kind of my “rock bottom” and after that, I started earnestly trying to treat my depression.

Perhaps you could say that I didn’t read my scriptures enough.  I wasn’t saying enough prayers, or perhaps they weren’t heart-felt enough.  Perhaps my weekly trips to the temple were insufficient.  I should have been engaging in acts of service.  That was what I had done wrong to deserve to feel the way I did.  You can tell yourself that, but the truth is, I didn’t do anything wrong.  I did everything my leaders told me to do, and I still became depressed.  That was because the knowledge and treatment I needed wouldn’t be found within the church.  The church, as in the members, were actually part of my problem.  They didn’t know what I needed and often gave me the opposite.  It was outside the church in those places I had been taught to fear and distrust, outside of the expected realm of tidy answers and easy solutions, that I would find the treatment I needed to recover from my depression.  It was there that God led me, first to my bishop, then to LDS social services, and eventually to where I am today, under the care of a psychiatrist and therapist.  I still have depressive episodes, like I am recovering from now, but overall my depression is under control.

Imagine this stupid scenario with me please.  A woman limps into the temple with a broken leg.  She prays to God that he will take the pain away and heal her leg.  Next to the temple there is a hospital filled with competent medical professionals who have the knowledge and skills to help her solve her problem.  Don’t you think God would gently tell that sister, “You need to go next door.  They have what you need.”  Even if the doctor doesn’t have a temple recommend, even if he is a horrible person that is bound for hell, he probably still knows what to do to help set and heal a broken leg better than anyone in the temple.  Why come to God when he has already given his healing knowledge to the whole world and you choose to remain clueless because you are afraid?

This stupid scenario is actually a pretty good replication of what we do with mental health.  Want to know the best way to discipline your kids?  Why don’t you do it the same way you were raised by your parents?  You know they didn’t do a very good job.  You grew up resentful of their regular beatings, but you can just tweak it a little.  Never mind that millions of dollars have been invested into research on the subject, and probably thousands of scholarly articles have been published on the subject.  Don’t pollute your mind with the philosophies of men!  Instead, proceed in your ignorance.  Die of thirst while swimming in clean water.   That’s what God wants.

Having problems in your marriage?  Don’t go to marriage counseling.  Never mind that scientists actually study this stuff and your marriage is not the first marriage to have problems in the history of the world.  Don’t bother to benefit from the knowledge that has been accumulated by people a lot smarter than you are.  By all means, keep plodding on the way you are.  God wants us to suffer rather than open our eyes and see the truth staring at us in the face.

Having symptoms of panic, anxiety, or depression?  Have suicidal thoughts?  That means that you really are the pathetic human being Satan is saying that you are.  You need to repent!  That’s the ticket.  Never mind what you are repenting for.  Your feelings are evidence of your sin.  Don’t go get help from the people who are actually trained to treat this stuff.  Go to the temple.  Read your scriptures.  Keep doing the church thing and tell yourself its working.  Until it isn’t, and you are dead.

Think I’m exaggerating?  You can die of a lot of stupid things that are completely treatable and preventable.  If you decide your strep throat doesn’t need antibiotics, things can go badly pretty quickly.  If you have a biological condition like diabetes, or severe food allergies, if you don’t treat your condition, you could easily die.  I’m not being hyperbolic here.  Untreated mental health maladies can be fatal.  In fact, Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.  In fact, in children aged 10-17, it is the leading cause of death.  I’m not saying that the church is to blame for children killing themselves, but couldn’t we be doing more as members to identify and help these people?  Making church echo chambers that keep repeating harmful messages like the one I heard today isn’t helping the situation.

I read this article from the Salt Lake Tribune that interviews a suicide researcher in Utah.  The saddest thing I read is that the statistics show that many of the children who kill themselves were getting treatment but then felt embarrassed and stopped.  Those kids didn’t have to die.  They could have been treated, but they didn’t want the stigma.  Why do we still have stigma against mental health?  Why can’t people get help for valid emotional and mental wellness problems without being ashamed of it?  We need to stop this crap right now.

Abuse is real.  Mental illness is real.  This stuff is awful and it’s in the church.  As conditions get worse in the world, things are going to get worse.  Untreated mental and emotional problems are not going to solve themselves.  We need to do more than just treat mental illness, we need to create an environment of mental wellness.  We need our churches to be bully free zones where judgement and cruelty are addressed and dealt with.  We need to teach and model loving and inclusive behavior toward those who are different from ourselves.  We need to study the social sciences and integrate the truths that are there to make us more resilient to the messages of Satan.  Mentally healthy environments don’t just happen, they are nurtured and designed with diligent care.  Like a garden they must be frequently weeded and fertilized for mental wellness to thrive.  There are too many cliques and too much posturing among our members.  That is the kind of environment Satan loves.  It breeds mental illness like a petri dish.  Big sigh!  My anger has been exhausted.

Last night I had a dream that I was with my parents and some other people.  Suddenly, a unicorn came streaking across the sky.  In all it’s white, glittery, magical glory it flew straight toward the sheer wall of a nearby mountain.  It blasted into a fiery explosion, spewing wreckage all around and leaving several beams of red light burned into the side of the mountain.  I turned in shock and horror to my parents.  They hadn’t seen the unicorn at all.  I explained what I had seen and they dismissed it as nothing.  I pointed to the fiery pillars on the mountain, but they were unconvinced.  I ventured out into the brush looking for evidence to support my claims.  Eventually, I came across a rainbow.  I brought it back to show them, but it was nothing but a marshmallow rainbow, like a giant Lucky Charm.  It even had a few bites taken out of it, so it didn’t seem very credible.  I looked closer at the beams of red light and noticed that within each fiery column, there was a red ruby.  I would go and find the rubies and bring them back to show my parents.

Our Sunday School lesson today was on Daniel.  He was a legendary dream interpreter, of course, and I couldn’t help but wonder what interpretation he would give me for my dream.  I am not so gifted as he was, but lucky for me, I have Google.  Here is what I came up with.

The unicorn is a symbol of hope, insight, and high ideals; of gentleness, power, and purity.  I was the only person present who witnessed the death of this beautiful beast.  It was not so much sad, but shocking and disturbing.  I found a rainbow and brought it back as evidence of what had happened.  Rainbows symbolize a bridge to the divine.  Unfortunately, my dream self devalued the rainbow as did those I showed it to.  Still, I knew what I had seen and I felt compelled to witness to it, even if it meant climbing a steep mountainside and braving the fiery unknown in search of rubies.  Rubies are symbols of spiritual knowledge, so perhaps my quest to prove the witness of the unicorn will result in me finding spiritual knowledge.  Above all, what I had seen seemed vitally important and I needed to tell people about it.  Maybe that’s what I’m doing.  I’m shouting from my blog that I see hope, insight, and high ideals crashing in an inferno of ignorance.  I see gentleness, power, and purity failing to bring peace to a world in pain.  Yet in that desolation there are gems to be found for those who brave the mountain to find them.  Let’s go mountain climbing!

 

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!

The Broken Haidmaid

As a teenager, I had a seminary teacher named Brother Ramirez.  He taught my Book of Mormon class and it was in that class that I developed a deep and abiding love and testimony of the Savior.  I had a full length mirror in my room and I put a card at the top that said, “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord.”  Like Mary, I wanted more than anything to be the woman he wanted me to be and to live my life in his service and whenever I looked in the mirror, I wanted to see that.

cropped-img_20181021_223419Although my life has turned out much different than I expected in those days, I have had many opportunities to serve him and testify of his healing grace and loving mercy.  All he wants from me is my broken heart, and he has it.  I am his broken-hearted handmaid.

All he wants from me is my broken heart, and he has it.

In this blog I hope, more than anything to raise awareness of the suffering that hide among us, unseen and unloved.  Many of us who suffer from debilitating mental illnesses have a carefully crafted facade behind which we hide to avoid judgement and stigma.  In choosing to speak about my illness and my experiences, I hope to inspire others to find their voice, share their pain, and come to the Savior to be healed.  I also seek to inform my friends of the things they can do to help those with mental illnesses.  There are medications, therapy, and spiritual resources that have helped me and others find relief from the racing thoughts, suicidal ideation, self harm, and abusive relationships which tend to plague our lives.  There are also many things people do and say that might seem helpful, which are really harmful and painful.  Reading my blog can help you know what is really helpful for people who struggle with these issues.