A Light in Darkness; MCO in NYC

There have been so many thoughts swirling around my brain for the last week I hardly know where to begin.  Yesterday, I flew back to Dallas after spending three days in New York City. I could write for pages and pages about these experiences, but I really don’t want to make it a travel log.  My Lord wants me to write about Carnegie Hall and my choir, the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras.

This is Brett Stewart conducting the choir and orchestra.

I have written about our director and co-founder, Brett Stewart and how last spring I wrote him a thank you letter.  Well, he was there at Carnegie Hall along with almost all of my friends from the Dallas choir. It was so fun to see them again, even for just a short time.  As we packed ourselves onstage like sardines, I thought of how incredible this organization is. Our Friday concert was almost entirely composed of musicians from Idaho and Texas who had traveled to New York, arranged transportation and housing, and taken time out of their busy summer schedule to be here……and there were almost a thousand of us.  That represents incredible sacrifice and dedication! Part of it was due to the once in a lifetime opportunity to sing in Carnegie Hall, but it was also due to the understanding that we have something in MCO that is worth putting onstage in Carnegie Hall, and that we all have to give of ourselves to make it happen.

This is the Alto 2 section. I’m on the second row, second from the right.

So we put up with the heat, the crowded hallways, the lack of water, the standing for hours, the strain of singing and playing at the level MCO demands of us, and we did it.  We performed to a full house in Carnegie Hall. It was the most polished, professional, inspiring concert I have ever sung in. The soloist, Erin Morley, was world class, the violinist, Jenny Oaks Baker, was on fire.  One of the incredible things I saw was in the violin section. There is a fabulous violinist that has been performing with Dallas for six years. She usually gets the solos and she leads the orchestra in tuning and stuff.  I’m not an instrumentalist so I don’t know what she her title is, but she is incredibly talented. I saw that she had moved her chair over to the right to make room for the woman who took her place in the combined orchestra.  If it bothered her to be demoted, it didn’t show. Then that woman, who I had not seen before, but I assume was even more accomplished than the first, watched Jenny Oaks Baker take the stage to perform the solo pieces. Likewise, the soprano soloists that had performed in our Dallas and Idaho concerts gave up their solos for Erin Morley.    

Music and art can reek of ego and stuffiness.  Even the venues we perform at can be so stiflingly rigid with tradition and dogma.  There are so many rules and so much pressure when we bring a thousand people into a place like that.  In addition, many of them are children. The logistics are incredibly complex! The need for people to set aside their own desire for fame and special privileges is absolute in such a setting.  As we were able to do that, we had an incredible performance…..together. Working together. Sacrificing together. Maybe singing in MCO is the closest I’ll ever get to being on a sports team. If MCO is a sports team, we took the championship Friday night!

This is the full grand chorus, orchestra, and young singers chorus on stage in Carnegie. The other children were in box seating in the balcony or standing in the aisles. Joni Jensen is conducting.

So Saturday came and I vaguely wanted to go to Arizona’s concert in the afternoon, or the California/Utah concert Saturday night, but that would involve a lot of work to secure a ticket, and I would be going by myself.  I finally decided I would rather just hang out with the Eldreges, who had taken me in as an extra family member while I was in New York. As the sun went behind the buildings, I felt pretty drowsy. We walked into the lobby of our hotel, the Wellington, and we heard a “Pop!”  The lights went out. We learned that the entire block had lost power. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. I figured the lights would come back on in an hour or so. We walked up the stairs to our room and I took a nap.

It wasn’t until later that I heard about the full importance of what happened that night.  First, it wasn’t just our city block that lost power. It was a major power outage that impacted all of Manhattan.  The subways were down, the street lights were out, half of Times Square was in darkness, Broadway shows were cancelled, people were shut out of their high rise apartments and hotels, and the streets were flooded with people.  Most significant to me, they had evacuated the California/Utah casts from Carnegie Hall and the choir had started singing in the street. I was told about the singing, but I was too drowsy to realize the significance of what was happening below me.  I could hear the beautiful sound of MCO singing from the street, but I fell back asleep.  

Over the last couple of days, the full significance of Saturday night has come to light.  Saturday night was the 42nd anniversary of the last major blackout in New York City. It was also, “Manhattanhenge” which meant that the sun would shine through the buildings, bathing the city in golden light.  This only happens four times a year. The impromptu street concert was performed at 8:30, just as the sun was setting, casting this golden glow onto the performers. People were streaming out of the dark subway tunnel and onto this scene. 

Keep in mind that these singers had traveled across the country at their family’s expense to sing in Carnegie Hall. They learned that their concert had been cancelled. Imagine their grief! Imagine their pain! And yet, they sang. And New York listened.  And then Twitter listened. And then Facebook listened. And YouTube. And before long, news programs were showing footage of the street concert. A video of the choir singing Mack Wilburg’s “I Believe in Christ” went viral accumulating millions of views.

My heart has broken for the cast members that had their Carnegie dream dashed, especially since I got mine on Friday night.  Some of them are still in shock and grieving that the trip they had been planning and looking forward to for a year was disrupted so badly.  Still, I see the hand of God in Saturday night. Their grief and their sacrifice was a part of the scene. It gave their music resonance and meaning.  Like the light that shown through the buildings, their music shown brighter through their grief; giving it a precious glow that would be absent otherwise.  There is no replacing the Carnegie singing experience. The involuntary sacrifice of the concert can and should be grieved. The street concert and the aftermath does not make up for the loss and those who are still sad should be allowed to feel their sadness as long as they need to.  Still, I marvel at the design of a wise and merciful God who takes the sadness, destruction, and disappointment in this world and turns it to good. He reaches out to his children wherever they are and touches them with beauty in unexpected places and ways. Like the sun during Manhattanhenge, it makes its way to them through the obstacles.

The light of our Savior, Jesus Christ, shines to a world in need.  None are outside of his love no matter their choices or life experiences.  He loves us! He reaches out to us in the darkness of our subway platforms when man’s genius fails and leaves us without a path.  He is there for us. He will find a way to bless us and bring his light to us when our lights are not enough.

God bless MCO and the singers from the California and Utah choirs for being his instrument in New York on Saturday!  I salute you and grieve with you. As the trials of life descend upon us individually and collectively, we can stand together, sing together, grieve together, and bring the whole world to the feet of Him who is Mighty to Save, even Jesus Christ.  Amen!!!

Our conductors were prompted to put this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint hymn, “I Believe in Christ” in our Carnegie Concert. Video of this song went viral.

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.

Embracing Uncertainty

These last few days have had their ups and downs. It’s hard to see the views on my blog go from almost 200 on Tuesday to 9 yesterday, but I know that it isn’t the quantity of viewers that matter. I don’t need hundreds of people to give me support, just a few good friends.

First, I want to share a few more details about Mother’s Day than I shared before. I was trying to protect the woman who hurt me by not using her title. She was and is my Relief Society President. This isn’t the first time she has hurt me. The fact that she is the Relief Society President makes the whole thing all the more difficult emotionally and spiritually. My counselor and I see a clear pattern of behavior from her that is not likely to stop if it is not confronted. She is well meaning, but extremely certain that she knows what is wrong with me and what I need. She is very suspicious and at times hostile to mental health and any concepts that sound mental health related. She is the only church leader I have ever had that told me not to contact my counselor after a depressive incident. Her ignorance, and her determination to preserve it, makes her particularly dangerous to me and my recovery.

Rather than admit her mistake on Mother’s Day and try to make things right with the Relief Society sisters and me, it looks to me like she has chosen to take the victim role. This complicates things. Sisters are taking sides and because she has a powerful position in the social structure, she has an advantage over me. At first I wanted to have a meeting with the Bishop and the Relief Society President, but after discussing it with the Bishop, it seems that he wants to try to reconcile rather than address what she did to me and why it was so hurtful. I don’t think it would be helpful to meet with her until she is willing to accept responsibility for what she did.

Yesterday I had a panic attack as I was considering the very real possibility that she would continue to target me and treat me this way. I considered petitioning the Stake President for a change of wards. This would disrupt our lives considerably, but it might be worth it. Perhaps in a new ward I could build a more solid social support structure with church leaders who respect and understand mental health a little better and are willing to confront the mental health stigma that is so strong in our church. But I would likely encounter similar problems in a different ward.

It is hard for me to keep forgiving my church leaders for their ignorance about mental health. They are not paid. Their work is completely volunteer. They receive no mental health training except for a few websites and pamphlets they are supposed to read. Sometimes I think they get burned out with all the drama they have to put up with with no compensation. Still, as the cycle continues and I have to try to teach each new Bishop and Relief Society President that is called, I can’t help but think that I have the more difficult job. I have no degree in mental health. I have no calling for this, no authority to speak to it, and often no respect for what I say regardless of how seemingly intuitive the concept. My only qualification is that I have a emotional disorder; which also serves to paradoxically discredit me.

My explanations are often met with questions I don’t know the answers to. “How much longer will you be in counselling? When will your recovery be over?” My personal favorite is, “Are you listening to your counselor? Are you telling them everything?” As though I am paying and spending an hour every week just to sabotage my own treatment! At best members and leaders are sympathetic but sometimes bungling. At worst they are hurtful. It is the equivalent of a diabetic person going to church and having someone steal her insulin and force feed her an entire plate of brownies. Studio C did a skit on this kind of situation. I relate with Matt!

I tell myself it isn’t their fault. They don’t have the experience or the training to understand what I am experiencing. If I were in their place and hadn’t experienced what I have experienced, I would probably see it the same way they do. I would probably think, “Why is she so sensitive? Why is she still in therapy? Why can’t she just move on from stuff? What a bunch of crackpot non-sense words are ‘recovery’ ‘healing path’ ‘my truth’ and ‘inner child’?” I get that people don’t get it. I get that most people probably don’t possess true mental wellness and never will. I get it, but that doesn’t stop them from hurting me.

God has given me a very powerful vision of a future where people like me can have understanding and compassion, love and acceptance, and most of all respect for the incredibly strong survivors that we are. My pain has given me empathy, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the gold in the world. It doesn’t matter that others often don’t suffer from the same problems or have the same scars; all pain is remarkably the same. It always benefits from compassion. Even when you can’t fix it, you can feel it and give love.

Love is like ice on a burn. It doesn’t make the problem go away, it just helps it not sting so much. Love is a positive and productive force that leads to healing. Shame is the opposite. It can produce short term results that look like healing, but it makes the sting worse and delays real healing. Too often at church I have felt shame instead of love. The depression makes it worse for me, but shaming messages aren’t good for anyone. Transitioning from a shame culture to a love culture takes knowledge, modeling, and instruction of members.

I say that like I know how to do it. I don’t. I still use shaming messages with my boys far too often. “Why aren’t you working on your chores? You’re supposed to be sweeping the floor! Why is there a candy wrapper in the living room? AGHHH! You guys are such slobs! Why can’t you clean up after yourselves!?!” They internalize those shaming messages. Thankfully, a good chore chart and some consistent device management is making our house run a little more smoothly. I feel less frustrated and they are getting more high fives and fewer scoldings from me.

My counselor talked to me about reframing my problems with the Relief Society President to gradually decrease their importance in my life. She isn’t in my inner circle. It doesn’t matter what she and her friends think of me. I can be okay and live a happy life without her love and approval. I don’t have to change her or the ward or anyone.

Most of all I can have faith in my Savior and myself. He didn’t give me these trials without giving me what I need to overcome them. He has a path forward from this place even if I don’t see it right now. My anxiety leads to me to catastrophize the situation, but I need to remember the Lord can soften hearts. He can change people if they let him. Whatever happens will be according to his will, and I can live with that.

Eminem and Addicts

I read an article about Eminem online. I never liked him before today. I guess I judged him because of his foul language and some of the stuff in the headlines about him many years ago. Like so many things about my past self, I am starting to question my old judgement, look closer at others that I have dismissed in the past.

I will never be a regular listener of Eminem’s music. That’s okay. But I can see him, and I can see those who find solace and support in his words. He released an album called “Recovery” after battling with a severe addiction to various pills. I listened to the song, “Not Afraid.” I made a conscious effort to ignore the profanity (warning, it’s explicit) and focus instead on the message of the song. By the end, I was able to see a man, very rough around the edges, determined to improve his life for this children; to become his best self.

I can understand why, for many people, this song would feed their spirit and give them courage to fight their own addictions. It is inspiring to me. Ideally, the addict would be able to come to church and get that support from people they know and love who could lead them to the Savior and their healing path. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, they don’t feel comfortable coming. Look at Eminem in this video. Imagine him walking in and sitting on your row in sacrament meeting. Imagine him getting up in fast and testimony meeting and saying the things he says in this video. And yet, for an addict, Eminem’s rough message of hope and redemption and support is just what many of our members who struggle with these issues need to hear and don’t hear at church. “I’ll walk this path with you, come take my hand, you’re not alone,” he says. The foul language and angry tone are messy and ugly, but so is addiction and the damage it causes to individuals and families. His expression of that ugly through foul language is cathartic for him and for others who struggle including me. It is paradoxical. Through expressing the ugly, we release it and it ceases to control us.

When I was admitted to the Sundance Mental Inpatient facility six years ago, I had an experience with a young man. He was barely twenty or so. I was in my mid thirties. We were in group therapy and he shared his story. He had been addicted to various drugs since he was in gradeschool. He went to the doctor because he was having some health problems. He was told that if he didn’t make drastic changes to his lifestyle that he would die. His liver, heart, and kidneys were in terrible shape. He was just a kid, but his organs were like an old man. He cried as he revealed the desperation he felt. He wanted to live. He said his recovery wasn’t even a choice because if he didn’t overcome his addiction he would die. My heart went out to this boy.

I wanted to connect with him and some of the other group members who had shown some vulnerability. I told about my story of my perfectionism and how my best efforts were never enough even though I got good grades and graduated from college. I was trying to communicate that in my own way, I was as desperate as this young man to escape the demons that brought me to that hospital. Unfortunately, he judged me.

With hatred in his eyes he said, “I don’t know why we have to have these classes with the “depression people.” I still don’t know exactly how he saw me or why exactly he was so hostile, but I was confused and desperate to clarify myself. I apologized for talking about my good grades. I said, I don’t think I’m any better than anyone in this room. I have my demons and you have yours. The therapist tried to salvage the situation. She explained that the underlying reasons people become addicted and stay addicted to substances is because they are often trying to cope with emotional problems. That the “addiction people,” and the “depression people,” are really the same. I tried to talk to this boy at different times, but he actively avoided me. At times I saw him talking to another “addiction person” and glaring at me menacingly. Everyone else at the center loved me. I loved them right back. I listened to their stories and I told them about the Savior and his healing power. I found myself wishing that church felt more like that hospital. It was truly a healing place.

I count myself fortunate that I haven’t become ensnared with substance addiction. I have my coping strategies that are unhealthy and harmful, but none that have destroyed my mind or body for which I am grateful. The Word of Wisdom, which is a chapter in our book of scripture that was written by the Prophet Joseph Smith, teaches about harmful addictive substances and some basic principles for healthy living. Because of this chapter in the Doctrine and Covenants and our willingness to live it, me, my parents, my siblings, and my grandparents have all avoided addictions to drugs and alcohol in spite of serious emotional trauma in their lives that easily could have led to it.

For those who have not been so fortunate, I reach out to you. We are not so different. I don’t completely understand the challenges you face. I won’t assume that I know what you are going through, or dish out a whole bunch of advice. I just want you to know that not everyone like me is judging you. You aren’t alone in your struggles. I’ve had a couple of friends who have gone through rehab and 12 step programs. I celebrate with them in their successes. I want them to know that even if they don’t trust me to confide in me when they relapse, that I am there for them at those times too.

I’ve been studying Carl Jung for a while. He was actually instrumental in founding Alcoholics Anonymous. He worked with many addicts, but found that there was little he could do for them. He met with a man named William Wilson about his severe alcohol addiction. He basically told him that his ailment was spiritual and that the only healing path for him was going to take the shape of a religious conversion. He and his drinking buddy who was in the process of undergoing such a religious conversion to treat his own alcoholism, founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Their twelve step program is designed to guide alcoholics on a spiritual recovery journey. They credit the insights of Carl Jung as a major influence on their program. It is difficult to fathom the good that AA has done for millions of addicts and their families around the world.

“His craving for alcohol was the equivalent of … the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed … as the union with God……….the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted by a real religious insight (involving a personal and meaningful relationship with God)……
Alcohol in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” (Fight spirit with spirit)

Carl Jung

I have a dream of a day when people can speak openly in church about their struggles with addiction or the addictions of a loved one; that as Christians, we can suspend judgement, mourn with those that mourn, and help addicts and their families bare these crushing burdens. Families are warped and disfigured by addictions that are hidden. When addictions are seen and appropriate support given, healing is inevitable. When addictions are hidden and support withheld, the addiction cycle will continue to poison families for generations. I sense, as Jung did, that some of our most spiritually gifted people are chained by addictions; that if they were set free, we would see His power greatly magnified in them.

I send a prayer up for my young friend at Sundance. His hatred and hostility were born of his pain. I hope his rehab was successful. I hope that whatever his healing path looks like, that it leads to the Savior. I know that the Savior understands as I never will, the suffering that he has experienced in his life. I know that the Savior knows how to help him to find peace and happiness and a life he can be proud of. Blessed be the name of Him who is Mighty to Save!!

Miracles

I’ve had a really hard time this week with worrying about what other people think of me. It’s hard when you live your whole life trying to please everyone, to make the kind of shift I am trying to make. There is only one person I have the power to control, and that is me. There is only one person whose opinion of me matters, and that is my Savior. I know that, but teaching my brain to think differently takes time.

Last night I had a session with my counselor. She is pretty amazing. She was very sympathetic and encouraging, which I always need. She had a lot of good questions for me about why the opinions of the Relief Society sisters in my ward are so important to me. My whole life I have allowed them to shape my behavior. I’ve felt driven to be the person they think I should be. She encouraged me to work on developing a support network outside of the Relief Society. She suggested a hobby or something. I need to be with people who can give me permission to be myself, color outside the lines, and be okay with messy.

The thought of reaching out to people outside my faith and trying to find acceptance and love is daunting to say the least. Still, sometimes the Lord’s path leads me out of my comfort zone. Maybe its time to venture a little and cast my net on the other side of the ship like Peter did.

I fell asleep early last night, but then awoke upset at about 3:30. I couldn’t go back to sleep and ended up waking Ben. He talked to me for a while, and gave me a blessing. In the blessing he encouraged me to seek for the Savior in the scriptures and to find his peace. I opened my phone to the Come Follow Me manual and I read the lesson.

Reading scriptures and conference talks can be tricky when I’m struggling with depressive symptoms. It’s like my brain is on high alert for any judgement from anyone. I even find it when it isn’t there. It’s kind of like after you watch a scary movie. Every shadow hides danger, every noise indicates a threat, every innocent looking person is a serial killer. It isn’t reality, but telling your brain that doesn’t change much.

Part of the reason I have a hard time when people tell me to read my scriptures when I’m depressed is that they don’t understand that sometimes the scriptures help, and sometimes they hurt. Same with going to church. The depressed mind takes well intentioned correction like a knife to the heart. Even the most gentle reproof can be excruciating when you feel you are at the emotional breaking point.

Anyway, I was anxious to read the lesson for fear it would send me over the edge, but on the contrary, it was just what I needed. It helped me to clear my mind and see the hand of the Lord in my suffering.

Here’s Pepper in the exam room. Love her to bits!

Saturday night Pepper came down with a bad case of diarrhea. Overnight she started vomiting as well. Her poop looked like piles of melted chocolate all over her pen mixed with what might have been vomit. It was awful. I was planning to go to church. Devin was giving a talk and I wanted to be there, but Pepper wasn’t getting any better. She was clearly miserable, so I took her to the Animal Emergency Room. I had a black dress on for church, and I put a paper towel on her bottom to try and keep the filth off of me. It didn’t help much.

After tests and X-rays, we still weren’t sure what the problem was. They prescribed her a bunch of medications and gave us some special food to give her. I brought her home with the understanding that I was risking her life. Taking the more economical and conservative treatment path might result in her death by bowel perforation. The more aggressive treatments and tests would cost up to $2,000. I took that decision onto myself and decided to bring her home.

As I sat with her on my lap, so weak and helpless, I thought of how badly I would feel if she did die. She reminds me of the sheep in “Mary had a Little Lamb.” She follows me around everywhere. She loves me so much. She has helped me learn what the Savior’s metaphors about shepherds and sheep mean. She hears my voice and she follows me. I love her as she is and she trusts me. Even when I have veterinarians poke and stick her, she still comes to me for comfort and love. Just like I trust the Savior, that whatever happens in this life, it is part of his plan for me, and that he will help me through it. Unlike my children, she will never grow up to be my equal. Our relationship will always be of master and pet. Because of that, I don’t completely understand why I love her so much. In the scriptures it says that the good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep. He would, as a human, give his life for animals? Yes. Just as the Savior was God, he gave his life for us lowly humans. Such love for something less than has a sacred quality about it.

As I pondered on these things, I felt the love I had for Pepper swell inside me. I wished I had the Priesthood, so that I could lay my hands on her tiny head and bless her. I thought of the power of the Savior; that perhaps through my faith, I could bless her, not with a Priesthood blessing, but with my own faith and humble prayer.

I stretched out my hand and laid it between her big furry ears, and said a prayer. I prayed that God would have mercy on my little sheep. That she would recover. That she would be healthy again.

The kids and Ben came home from church and the chaos of Sunday afternoon swept all of us up in its wake. Pepper started eating and drinking and peeing. By bedtime, she was playing and running. It wasn’t until this morning as I pondered on Pepper’s rapid recovery that I realized that she had been healed. My prayer was answered!

I also noticed that Ben had woken up to help me. For anyone who knows how soundly that man can sleep, that is surely a miracle. Also, the words I read in my scriptures were exactly what I needed to read.

The Come Follow Me lesson for this week is all about hypocrisy, Pharisaical worship patterns, and the ability of the Savior to see the hearts of men and judge righteous judgement. Whether the widow who cast in her mite, or Zaccheus the righteous chief publican, the Savior was able to see his sheep. They also know him.

https://www.lds.org/study/manual/come-follow-me-for-individuals-and-families-new-testament-2019/20?lang=eng

In Matthew 23, the Savior has some serious shade to throw at the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. I imagine it was shocking for the people to hear their leaders criticized so sharply by the Master. This man who was so gentle and forgiving to the harlots, sinners, and publicans, was filled with rage at the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership. They appeared so righteous on the outside! I don’t think we have any idea how much respect they commanded from the people, and yet the Savior was not impressed. The lesson warns us about focusing on the outward appearance in our religious practice. We each have the capacity to become Pharisees.

It occurred to me how much I have changed in the past year. I can’t say that I am completely stripped of pride, envy, and vanity; but I feel like I am more honest about myself. This talk, On Being Genuine, by Elder Uctdorf was linked to the lesson. I felt like it was especially powerful. He said:

We come to church not to hide our problems but to heal them.

Elder Uchtdorf

In the past, I have done everything possible to hide my mental health problems from my ward. I have put up my Potemkin village, hoping I would not be found out. No more. In being open and honest about my struggles, I can more authentically testify of my love for my Savior. I don’t need to hide.

With patience and persistence, even the smallest act of discipleship or the tiniest ember of belief can become a blazing bonfire of a consecrated life. In fact, that’s how most bonfires begin—as a simple spark…… And if we continue to embrace and live true principles in our personal circumstances and in our families, we will ultimately arrive at a point where we “hunger no more, neither thirst any more. … For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed [us], and shall lead [us] unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes.”

Elder Uchtdorf

The whole talk is really good. It was exactly what I needed to hear to give me the courage to continue on a path of authenticity. Miracles have come into my life as I have earnestly sought after my Savior. As I learn to be kinder to myself, surround myself with supportive friends, and continue on my path to recovery, I hope that I can see those miracles and remember that my Savior doesn’t judge my outward actions. He sees my heart. And it is His.

The Sun Rises in the Morning

Laying in bed at 12:30 AM last night. Can’t sleep. Mind turning over all the perceived judgments of the universe staring me down in my bed. It’s like I’m a warrior, and I’ve been beating back the demons all day. I’m battered and bruised and tired and then, on my bedroom ceiling, is the worst of them all. The darkness, the silence, the empty space looming above me. I just can’t fight anymore.

“You could take a plastic bag, put it over your head, put a belt around your neck. Then by morning, its all over,” my exhausted brain reasons.

“That is a stupid idea,” my more rational brain retorts. “That would not work. You would end up a vegetable and how would that help anything. If you’re going to kill yourself it will be the last thing you do, at least do it right. A better idea would just be to go to sleep. Your brain will process this and you’ll wake up feeling better.”

“Maybe I should search Google for insomnia and suicide. I bet suicides are way more common at night,” I think to myself.

“That’s a stupid plan. You need to go to sleep.”

Silence. Darkness.

“Ben!” I call weakly. “Ben, I’m in trouble and I need you.” His snoring stops for a few minutes and then resumes softly.

Prayer. Silence. Darkness.

“I just want to die! I just want to die! Let this be over!” by brain is shouting at me now, pounding out any rational thought.

More prayers. More darkness. More judgement. More shame. Then God sent me an angel in my weakness. Of course he did. She was my mom. It isn’t the first time the Lord has sent her to me at just the right time when I needed a hand. She doesn’t get the depression, but last night, she said just the right things to calm my mind and help me. How did that happen? I don’t know. It just did.

And this morning I got to feel Austin climb into my bed and snuggle into my arms. I got to feel Pepper’s puppy tongue lick my face in an enthusiastic morning greeting. (I swear, God created dogs to let us know what unconditional love looks like. She runs to me every day like she hasn’t seen me in years and I’m the only thing she has ever wanted in her life.) I got to talk to my husband about the reality that I am a good person, that my doubts and my fears are normal, that my efforts help him to be better.

Then I got to walk in the misty rain to see my flowers. The hydrangea blossoms are just starting to turn pink. The coleus is the brightest yellow I’ve ever seen. They give the sun competition. I got to listen to my boys fight because Layne had thrown a dog toy and it fell into Wesley’s cereal bowl. I got to teach them about earning trust.

Hydrangea has bloomed late this year. It is worth waiting for.

I’m so grateful for another day! I’m so grateful for a God who knows where my limits are and won’t let me be tempted more than my power to resist. Depression isn’t going to kill me because I’m stronger than it is. I can do this and I won’t give up.

No one’s opinion of me is worth my life. No one’s. Jesus is my judge. No one gets to take His place. He knows my heart and he knows that this world is a better place because I’m here today. Even with all the uncomfortable things I have to say, the world is better because I am here to say them. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Coleus and blanket flowers in my butterfly garden.
Pepper explores the flowers.

Dear Heather, I hope you read this…

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


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

Heather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Grace- Have a Tutu!

Grace is not a word we use often in my church. I can’t think of a single hymn in our hymnbook or children’s songbook that has it as a prominent theme. Even the famous Amazing Grace is missing from our hymnbook. My religion tends toward more of a works based religion. Our symbol is the beehive, and we revere the pioneers who were trail blazers, survivors, and hard workers. We associate grace with the protestant churches who have paid ministry. Our church only exists because of volunteers who are willing to roll up their sleeves. Of course, in doctrine, we believe in grace. When we read the scripture “By grace we are saved,” but then we tend to emphasize the second part, “After all we can do.” There are various metaphors for faith and works that have been taught to me over the years and they have worked for me for most of my life. Not anymore.

Something about this depressive episode has caused me to gravitate to the word grace. It is beauty, it is strength, it is poise. It is a ballerina on the stage. That dancer didn’t achieve grace through running or weight lifting. She didn’t hone her skills on the football field through taking tough hits. And yet in many ways, her training is just as brutal and taxing. It is balance, concentration, focus, and artistic expression.

Sometimes I think my worship has been more like football and less like ballet. Perhaps my embrace of grace is symbolic of the changes I am making religiously. I am taking off the football pads and putting on my tutu. I am tapping into my spiritual artist, centering and balancing my priorities, and focusing and concentrating on the things that matter most.

Crow pose. Its hard to do, and some days I just don’t have the grace to do it. Like forgiveness.

Grace is forgiveness. It isn’t the forced forgiveness that is born of fear that there will remain in me the “greater sin” if I don’t feel warm and fuzzy toward someone. It is forgiveness that springs naturally when you see every person as a creation of God who has beauty and good in them; that although they fall short and that their choices effect me, that I can see God’s design in it. It’s complicated. Its like holding the crow pose in yoga. Sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can look at the people around me and give everyone grace, and sometimes I just have to run out of the room. Today I could give grace.

So I started a fight in Relief Society. Yes. It was kind of intentional. I knew what I had to say would throw a grenade into the lesson two minutes before the lesson was supposed to end. Still, I am the queen of uncomfortable, so I did it. My Lord said speak, so I spoke. After a few sentences she was cutting me off, but I kept speaking. I knew I needed to speak this message, and it didn’t matter that the primary kids were leaving and it didn’t matter that I was nobody and she was the one in charge. It didn’t matter because my Lord wanted me to speak.

The lesson was on truth. The Family Proclamation was on the chalkboard. I thought about how I used to display it prominently in my home. That was before I knew the truth I know now. Would I want to hang it on my wall now? I still believe it is true. But I also know that other things are also true.

This Proclamation wasn’t very controversial when it was first given in 1995. It lays out the views of the church on the doctrine of gender and marriage. It is criticized by many as anti-LGBT. Click on the image to get a closer look.

Its true that gender is so much more complicated than I thought it was. That mental and emotional health is such a fragile thing, and that simplistic views spoken at the wrong time to the wrong person can drive people away from the Savior. That people can and do have same gender attraction and that it isn’t their fault. That some people are born female, and feel they are male and vice versa. That these people are valuable. Yes, the Proclamation on the Family is true, but they have truth too. We need to listen to them. We need to help them make the church work in their lives. That takes the grace and balance and skill of a dancer.

In the past, we could get by with a simplistic football style gospel. It got the job done. Today, we need to dig a little deeper to find the grace that the Savior has. We need the humility to understand that we know nothing of God and his design. We are as babes on his lap when it comes to his wisdom. Can we listen to his children? Can we hear their pain? Can we make his church a place they feel accepted and welcomed no matter what their sins are? Can we gracefully tip-toe through the minefield of their emotions to give them the love and the acceptance that Christ has?

I don’t have the answers. I know people who hang the family proclamation in their homes in a prominent place. I also know people who can no longer go to church because they feel too much emotional and mental anguish because people don’t take the time and effort to understand their unique challenges and meet them where they are. I know that we can do better as members of Christ’s church to see others as he does; not focusing on their outward appearance, but upon their hearts; to love first, and judge later, if at all. To stand for the truth, when its hard and uncomfortable; to speak for those who have no voice.

We need grace! We need HIS grace. He didn’t turn away from the beggar in his misery. He didn’t ignore the outcast. He welcomed all to come unto him. He showed us grace. It came from him like light emanating from the sun! If he were here, he would not turn away from the LGBT people. He would embrace them. He would accept them. He would tell them they have value and worth. He would explain to them why they were created in God’s image and the purpose and meaning of their unique experiences. He would lead them gently on their path without force or compulsion; with encouragement and praise. He would give them knowledge about mysteries that I don’t understand and perhaps never will in this life. He would give them grace.

This picture is one of my favorites. The Savior refuses to allow this man to suffer in the shadows of his filthy space. He lifts up the tattered blanket, and has compassion on the man. He doesn’t smell the stench, or recoil from the deformity. He sees the valuable life within and the joyful future of a healed life. This is grace!

It isn’t that the Proclamation to the Family isn’t true. It absolutely is. But there are a lot of things that are true and good and righteous that I fall short in. There are challenges that I face that others don’t understand. I am learning to give myself grace; to allow myself to be the person He wants me to be instead of the person others want me to be. As I have allowed myself to receive his grace, I want to give it to others.

I have three dear friends I know who identify as LGBT. I have one cousin by marriage who does. They are each different and have chosen their paths. I don’t see evil in them. I do see evil in those who shut them out. None of them goes to church anymore. My closest friend that I have had many tear jerking conversations with told me that she tried for many months to work with her leaders and make the church a place she could be comfortable. For her mental health, she had to stop going. She told me she still takes bread and water at home in a lonely sacrament. With lessons like the one we had today, I understand why she was uncomfortable. It saddens me to think that we are missing out on the truths that they might share with us if we had the humility to listen to them.

I have never met anyone that doesn’t have a friend or the friend of a friend who is LGBT. If not LGBT, then they are drinking coffee, or having sex outside of marriage, or not living the law in some other way. I don’t know if I would feel comfortable inviting these friends to come to church. What would they hear? Would they feel accepted? Is our ward a place where we can be honest and real about our journey and our experiences? If not, can we really call ourselves the Lord’s church? If we are so eager to show everyone what we know that we fail to listen and nurture his sheep that have strayed, do we resemble the Savior or the ones who killed him?

So I shared the story of my friend who came out as bisexual after being raised in the church. I told those sisters that we don’t have all the answers, as much as we like to think we do. I told them that God loves my friend. He has a path for her. It was awkward, and part of me thought, “Mother’s Day sucks so hard. Why didn’t they just let me teach in Primary?” Part of me was glad I said the uncomfortable thing even though it was kind of a hand grenade in that room of well dressed women and pinterest perfect muffins and cookies. Sometimes life isn’t Pinterest perfect.p

It isn’t that I want to take out a whip and beat my fellow members of the church. I love you. You are smart and dedicated and faithful. I’m just handing you a tutu. We are at a crossroads right now in the church. We as members can choose to follow the Savior (do ballet), or to follow dogma and tradition (play football). The prophet and our leaders are showing us that love, compassion, and grace are the way. I don’t have the answers yet. I just know that I love my LGBT friends. I want them to feel loved and welcomed at church along with all those, like me, who see themselves as sinners. It is possible to hold up a standard to the world, and yet fully love and embrace everyone who falls under it. The Savior showed the way. Put on your tutu, and let’s dance!

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

Connections and Cardinals

I stood up in front of the church again this week, like I do about every fast and testimony meeting, and I looked into the sea of familiar and some unfamiliar faces. I wished I could have told them all that I was cured and that Jesus Christ had taken my sadness away and that everything was great again, but it would have been a lie. Instead, I gave them an update; sometimes I think I’m getting better, then I have a week like last week, and I fall back into it.

One of the things I keep having to re-learn in my recovery process has been that I don’t know what healthy me looks like. When you get bronchitis, you get better and then you go back to what you were before. With depression, it’s more like a metamorphosis. I don’t know what I am going to become any more than a caterpillar knows he will have wings at the end of his life. The only thing I do know for sure, is that I won’t be “normal.” My version of normal is someone I either can’t be or don’t really want to be. Hence the root of my depression is in trying to make myself “normal,” which in reality, I either can’t or don’t want to be.

I just have to go from one stage of development to another and hope that in the end, the divine design of God will make sense and I’ll be something worthwhile and valuable to the world. If not to the world, at least to Him, and hopefully to myself.

I’ve had so many people reach out to me saying that they are praying for me or that they have put my name in the temple. I can see the love and concern in their faces. I have been the recipient of so many acts of kindness, and I feel so unworthy and awkward. Because I don’t know when I’m going to “get better.” Because my sickness is so personal and difficult to understand. Because I feel like good people aren’t supposed to need so much help. But when I push my pride aside, I see that they need me too. Everyone needs to feel a connection to someone else; that they have something meaningful to give. They get blessings, and so do I.

Today I talked to a sweet sister of mine in my ward and she confided some of her story about her mom, her sister, and her grandma. She had a complicated relationship with her mother, as many of us can relate to. Even so, she feels a bond with her since she passed many years ago. She says that in times of trial, she often sees Cardinals that remind her of her mom. The idea that our loved ones send winged creatures to us as a sign of their love and care is very comforting to me.

She and I talked about how growing up, she was expected to be the strong one. She was not allowed to have troubles. It’s funny how families can push us into roles that don’t make any sense. I see myself unconsciously doing it to my own children. This child forgets his things. That child can’t control his emotions. This child talks back to me. That child always gets good grades. Then everything gets kicked out of whack when someone steps out of their role. If the child I expected to behave a certain way changes then everything is different. After my conversation with her, I was reminded of the importance of letting my boys become instead of trying to make them fit into the world that works for me. Her willingness to open up about her experiences helped me to know how to be a better mother.

The overwhelming reality that I am trying to grasp right now is the incredible value of human life. Living in modern times in DFW people are as plentiful as ice in the Arctic. Sometimes it can get feeling like people are just obstacles; the car that drives up in the lane you need to be in, the customer ahead of you in the checkout line, the press and the noise of a school auditorium after the recital. It can be overwhelming to think that each person has a family, a character, a circle of friends, and a life that matters. Each person is known intimately by his or her creator and possesses divine potential. And it is humbling to think that I live my life making shallow judgments and assumptions about each one and how much time or effort I am going to bother to give to them. It makes me want to be better; more kind, more loving, more open, more present to each interaction I have with another person.