My Worm Bin

I have started noticing a new feeling sprouting up inside of me. It isn’t compelled by moral coaxing or willed into being, it has just appeared in my heart. I am quite happy to see it again. It has been a while.

Today I am forty-one years old. It was 107 years ago today that my Grandma Eva was born, so happy birthday to her and to me. I am grateful. I’m grateful to be her granddaughter, I’m grateful for my life, I’m grateful for my parents and the childhood I had. I’m grateful for my experiences, good and bad, and they way they have shaped my life. I feel gratitude.

I took this picture last night before my date with Ben.

Today I sat in my backyard hammock with my ten year old son and we watched the blue jays dance around in the Crepe Myrtle trees. He’s a beautiful boy and I am so blessed. Today he made a special effort to do many nice things for me for my birthday. He got a special cube of ice that he had frozen into a sphere. He put it in a cup with some water and gave it to me while I was in the garden working.

I decided today that instead of hoping that my boys would read my mind and do things for me, I told them several ways they could show me today that they love me. I still had to clean up messes and break up fights, but I noticed when my boys and Ben did things to please me and I nurtured those feelings of gratitude until I felt like a warm fire was glowing inside.

I have a good life. It isn’t the life that I wish I had. It is the life God chose for me because I needed to experience the things I did to shape me into who I am. Once I became conscious of how broken I am and how broken my family is, I became very discouraged. All the narcissistic ideas I had constructed about my own superiority and my family’s superiority were in shambles and I felt so exposed and horrid. That consciousness is what I’ve been defending myself against for so long. The reality of my own fallen state is so humiliating and embarrassing! But after a while I’ve gotten used to looking at myself in the mirror and seeing reality looking back at me. It isn’t so hard to do anymore.

This spring Ben and I started a worm farm. The worms are doing pretty well and we were able to make our first batch of compost tea this weekend. Compost is a great metaphor for recovery. You start out with a whole load of crap. It’s stinky garbage that you would normally throw out with the trash; carrot peelings, rotten fruit, cantaloupe seeds, moldy bread, leftover baked potato, rotting leaves, shredded paper. You add some bedding material, add some worms, and a few months later you have worm poop.

The inexperienced gardener may not appreciate worm poop, or castings as they call them. The other day I opened up my worm bin and I saw that the cantaloupe seeds I had added a couple of days before had sprouted in the castings. I put some worm castings in my garden not knowing that there were marigold seeds in the soil. A week later I had hundreds of seedlings. Worm castings are the magic sauce of gardening. You can use them in your garden strait, or you can soak a cup in a five gallon bucket of water and aerate for 24 hours. The liquid fertilizer that results will transform your soil with beneficial microbes and nutrients. Put it on your plants and watch the magic happen!

In recovery you take all the crappy feelings you have and everything bad that’s ever happened to you. You look at it, you cut it into little pieces, you process it, and then you put it in the worm bin. You understand that it’s yucky, it’s stinky, and most people would put it far away from them and try to forget about it. But after a while, all that awful stinky stuff is digested by the worms and broken down into earthy, beautiful castings that you can use to reach your goals.

When the seeds of hope and gratitude start sprouting in your castings, you know you’re on the right track. The stink of anger and resentment fade and are replaced with the fragrant smell of flowers and fresh fruit and vegetables as you begin to harvest the fruits of your emotional processing.

And some people will never understand it. They look at mental health and worm bins with the same ignorant suspicion. That’s okay. Their choice to stay stuck doesn’t have to be yours. And you can still love them and you can still live with gratitude knowing that the potential for growing all the good things of life is within you.

So, I’m still sick, and the kids are still home from school, and I’m still estranged from my parents, but I’m full of hope for a bright and happy future. It will be a future that I choose, guided by the spirit that lives and grows inside me, nurtured by the fruits of my emotional health. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Of Grapevines and Vineyards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democrat for a Day

Photo by Martin Castro on Unsplash

It was strange standing in line for the Democratic Primary.  I felt like a stranger looking into brown and black faces, trying to manage the paper ballot, and pretending I knew what I was doing, like I was not seeing the names on the ballot for the first time in my life.  I skipped most of the offices, wishing I was more prepared. Wishing I hadn’t spent so much time and effort following the one race I had the least impact in; the Presidential election.

I’ve spent all morning wondering what it would be like to vote as a Democrat.  I don’t belong. I know that. But I also know that most people probably feel like they don’t belong.  The Democratic Party is for those who don’t belong, isn’t it? It is the party of minorities. The party of second chances.  The party of those who feel left out. In that way, I guess I do belong, as much as anyone else does.

What would it be like to try to belong to the Democratic Party?  They are so diverse! How do they even have a party at all? One thought kept coming back to my mind. To belong to the Democratic Party, I would have to do a lot of listening.  On my blog, I do a lot of talking. Talking is good, especially when you’re in pain.  But I don’t think that talking is what our country really needs right now. We need really, really good listeners.

I hope I can do better to develop that neglected virtue of listening.  Empathizing, understanding, and withholding judgment are essential for creating unity.  Most people and most problems are a lot more complex than I want to think they are. Whether I am a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, isn’t as important as whether I have prepared myself for an election.  My heart vibrates with the truth of this statement: A nation is only as strong the hope that lives within the diverse factions in it; and the charity that is shown by each faction for the others. If the hope and charity are there, the engagement is there. An engaged society is a healthy society.

Hope is voting, speaking out, engaging in the process, and allowing others to do the same, even if it doesn’t sound good.  If someone is protesting, or posting, or voting, they haven’t completely lost hope. That’s good! I saw hope today in each person who was volunteering at the polls today.  Black and brown and white they believed that they were making a difference. They chose to be a part of the process.  

My goal between now and November is to be better prepared for the election.  My goal is to focus more on the local and state contests than I have on the national ones.  I want to contribute what I can to make my society better. All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.  To withdraw. To wait for the Savior to come and fix it. To isolate ourselves from uncomfortable realities about ourselves, our families, and our communities.

I’m not ready to join the Democratic Party today, but I hope my vote and my small effort mattered.  I hope that the party of minorities can take me in, if only for a day; to make a spot for a former Republican who was left behind.  I promise to listen better. I promise to withhold judgement and make room for understanding. I promise to take some steps to engage with the people around me to make this world a better place.

Pepper Queen of the Universe

“I look forward to his smile every day!” she said with her characteristic sparkle in her eyes as I dropped off Austin this morning.  “So do I,” I said subdued. And I remembered that I do look forward to his smile. Every day when I pick him up from preschool and recognition lights his eyes, when his brothers come home from school, when he sees that I made him a Nutella sandwich folded in half, when we get to his favorite page of the picture book.  His smile. His excitement. His boundless energy and imagination. In a depression fogged mind, those moments are like a drug. They get me through. “Look at them,” she said lovingly. I saw those little four year olds sitting at their desks in her classroom. They are so beautiful. Everything good in the world seemed crammed into that little preschool class this morning.  “This is the best job in the world,” she said. And she’s right. Caring for these little ones is the best job in the world. Austin is my sunshine and my joy. I walked out of the school with my heart a little lighter as I thought of my boy and my dog. Sweet Pepper would be waiting for me at home.

Yesterday, Pepper was sitting in my lap with her liquid eyes searching mine.  She seems at times to have the wisdom of the universe in the depths of those eyes and I wonder if I’ve had it all wrong.  If God isn’t above us but below us. Is God really in marble halls and stately throne rooms in the vast heavens? Or is he in the furry body of a rescue dog…….Perhaps both.  Austin and I were talking about Jesus last night before bed. Pepper was curled up beside him. We had just read Owl Moon, so he was uncharacteristically calm.  He said, “Did Jesus make us?” I said, “Yes.”  He said, “And Pepper made Jesus.” I think he meant Jesus made Pepper, but the thought of Pepper being the creator of the Savior was intriguing.  She looked at me again with those sagacious eyes and I could almost imagine her as queen of the universe.

And so the boy and the dog get me up in the morning.  They give me a reason to get out of bed. My older sons have to fend for themselves.  My ten year old came into my room ten minutes after his tardy bell had rung. His face was unruffled.  “You’re late bud. Why aren’t you at school?” I asked. Realization dawned on his face and then it crumpled into despair.  He has been tardy so much this year. I have screamed at and pleaded and punished both myself and him to fix the problem. Today I just hugged him and said, “It’s okay.  Everyone is late sometimes. Just get to school. It will be okay.”

****Trigger warning; murder of children*****

Last night I couldn’t sleep.  I lay awake after reading a story about a Pennsylvania husband and father who came home from work on Valentine’s Day to find his wife and six year old son murdered in his home.  He was shot in the forehead, but not seriously injured. It wasn’t until later that he found out who had tried to kill him and who had destroyed his family. It was his one surviving teenage son who has now been charged.

This father had a good life.  He had a wife he loved. She was in the middle of making his favorite meal for dinner when she was killed.  He dropped the flowers he had bought for her on his way home when he was shot. The teenage son appeared to love his little brother dearly.  What happened? There have been theories. Apparently the parents were racially prejudiced. Some find comfort in the thought that somehow something these people did caused this tragedy to occur.  I find no such comfort because I know, as all of us do deep down, that tragedy can happen to any of us. The renowned doctor in China who tried to raise the warning about the coronavirus covid-19 died from it.  Hundreds of people are dying because they chose the wrong cruise ship, they live in the wrong city, they boarded the wrong plane. It is estimated that 2% of those who contract the virus die. As I considered the 75,000 people who have contracted it.  That is thousands of people. Thousands of families ripped apart and changed forever. Why? Because of the random cruelty of life.

At work Ben got a message from the IT department of American Airlines.  An employee of theirs collapsed at his desk job. He was rushed to the emergency room where he died.  His wife is due to give birth to their second child tomorrow. He has a three year old daughter. As I looked at the photo of their family, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  They were clearly Indian (from India). They looked to be in their twenties or early thirties; thin and fit with the wife very pregnant and a cute little girl with short dark hair.  I have no idea how he died or why. I don’t know if they have family support or if he had some kind of insurance. Fortunately the American Airlines family has raised a considerable amount of money for them.  Still, the story left me shocked and confused.  

So last night my mind ruminated to a dark place.  Exhausted and unable to rest, thoughts of despair overwhelmed me.  I tried to pray. I tried to connect with God. There was no relief.  There was no faith or hope. No future beyond the darkness surrounding me.  I finally fell asleep and woke up late and exhausted.

And now I come to the keyboard to write again.  To try to make sense of it all. I have a therapy appointment this afternoon, so hopefully Shama will be able to help me.  On the surface, I’m doing really well. I’ve been organizing and cleaning. My house looks better than it has in a very long time.  Old piles and projects that have been cluttering my ADHD life for literally years are now put away. New projects are arising with new positive energy.  Still, it feels like I’m playing the part of Atlas carrying the world on my shoulders. I’m running the car on fumes and when it stops I put in a half gallon of gas so that I can drive another mile.  I’m irritable and on edge. I’m one news story away from despair.

Breathe……and again……taking in the present moment.  Life is a crucible, but God is good. He gives us moments- brief but sufficient, to refocus and recharge.  All good things come from him. Nothing bad happens on this Earth but that he can turn it to good. Even when the Son of God was taken by men, humiliated, tortured, and murdered; God turned it to good.  God can take the political rancor and polarization, the rank injustice and cruelty, the chaos and destruction, and turn it to good. And he will. The Savior said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  I used to think that was a strange thing. Why would the sad be blessed? I was taught that happiness was a virtue and it seemed a contradiction. It doesn’t anymore. If you are already happy in this world, why would you look for a better world?  If you are happy on your own, why would you come to Christ for comfort? Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed be the name of my merciful comfort, even Jesus Christ, Him who ransoms me from the darkness of my night. I will place my trust in thee and cast my burdens at thy feet.  I will dare to hope another day.

Authenticity; Keeping it Real

Jackson VanDerwerken plays Nephi in the new Book of Mormon series. He was just 16 when they started shooting. He is currently serving a mission in Brazil.

The church has put out a whole series of new movies about the Book of Mormon.  I don’t know what I expected; wooden acting, flat characters, scriptures being read in radio voice……the typical church videos.  Maybe that’s why it took me so long to start watching them. They are really good! I know when the movie is good when I read the book and the characters in my head look like the characters in the movie.  That only happens when the actor is able to capture the character. After thirty years of reading the Book of Mormon, when I think of Nephi now, I can see the actor in this series. That’s pretty impressive!  The acting, the script, the set, the filming is all first rate. If you want to know more about the Book of Mormon, but don’t feel like reading it, this would be a good place to start.

And not only am I a fan, my thirteen year old son snuck out of bed last night to watch the next episode.  Impressive. The fact that he spends hours each day watching low budget YouTube gamer videos might indicate that something as useful as scripture videos would be boring. On the contrary, I think these Book of Mormon videos have some serious appeal to teenagers. I’m no expert on teens, but one thing I have learned really fast; they can smell hypocrisy. They expect inauthentic behavior and they invent them in parents even if they aren’t there. They are creating their mask of perfection and they know you have yours. On the flip side, they seem to love authenticity. Ugly and honest reality resonates with them.

Nephi is his willing to tell the story of his family.  It isn’t the whole truth about it of course. It is his perspective and should be recognized for what it is and what it isn’t. Every family is defined differently by each member who has their own memories and perspective. We’ve all had those weird moments when a sibling recalls the details of a family vacation we can’t even remember taking. For some reason, that vacation was meaningful to that person and it was seared into their long-term memory. It wasn’t meaningful to you, so you forgot it. It isn’t that your memory or theirs is wrong. Together, your memories can create a more complete picture of the reality that is and was your family.

Family is so intimate. Our siblings and our parents shape us. Telling the ugly truths about them can feel very personal.  Life is messy. There is snot, slobber, and poop. There are addictions, mental and emotional disorders, chronic illness, allergies, muffin tops, cellulite, and a hundred other distasteful things that exist behind closed doors.  Nephi lays it all out as he tells his story. He doesn’t spare anyone, even himself and his own father and mother. When they doubt, murmur against God, and cause problems for themselves and their family, he writes it. Maybe no one really wants to have a family like Nephi’s.  We would all like to have things be a little more pretty and simple; suits and dresses sitting in a row on the bench at church. No problems here!

Nephi shares his and his family’s personal and physical struggles as they strive to obey God’s commands and make a new life for themselves in a new land.

The truth is, life is hard and messy when it comes to families and the scriptures don’t paint a rosy picture.  Jacob and Esau were in a constant state of sibling rivalry even in the womb. Joseph was beaten, imprisioned, and sold into slavery by his brothers.  In his misery, Job’s wife told him to “curse God and die.” These accounts aren’t flattering for these families. No one wants to be Job’s wife in this story. No one wants to be the brother who sells his sibling into slavery. Still, a mature reader can have immense empathy for a wife who has lost everything and feels despair or a brother consumed by hatred and jealousy for a favored sibling. The unflattering details in these accounts are important because we can learn from them. Life is hard and sin, death, and disease are real, yet not many people in the history of the world have been willing to talk about the ugly in their families.  Often no record at all is made of a person’s life and family. I have talked to people who plan to burn journals before their death; determined to keep their inner lives a secret. This seems such a waste to me. So much can be learned about oneself and the world when we look at life through the eyes of another person. Also, no sin or problem is so great that the Savior’s atonement cannot save. Where is our faith?

Nephi was one of those rare people who recorded his inner thoughts and feelings about his family and gave them to the world. Something about the story of Nephi, Sam, Laman, and Lemuel seems to reveal so much about family relationships to me as a mother of four sons. I’m glad that Nephi made the choice to share the truth about his family even if it wasn’t always pretty.  It makes him relatable. Honestly, I relate to Laman and Lemuel too. I relate to Sariah and Lehi. They are real people to me because their lives weren’t perfect. If Nephi had only written the flattering things, I think I would have seen through the deception. Brothers tying one another up and beating each other with sticks…..sounds like my world!

So millions of people have read and will read the Book of Mormon.  Now they have made a decent video series that will be watched by many people.  Judgements will be made about Lehi and Sariah, their parenting, their children and their posterity.  Laman and Lemuel surely would have felt that Nephi’s account was not fair to them. Of course, they were free to make their own scratchings on metal plates if they wanted their story told.  Something tells me they never bothered to do that. Will their anger against Nephi be fueled unnecessarily by this willingness to make an account with so much detail and honesty? Does their resentment still smolter against their brother in the afterlife as millions read his story and their unflattering portrayal? Was it okay that Nephi wrote about his family? What about you and I? Should we write the truth about our families from our perspective? If so, when and how should it be shared? These questions are not simple or easy to answer.

I’ve been doing some digital portrait art.  It’s so hard to artistically represent a person!  One portrait I looked at for hours. Something was not quite right.  I had to erase much of the face and redo it because the jaw line was wrong, the ear was not quite long enough, and the eyebrow was too far from the eyelid line.  I was trying to be accurate and fair with my first rendering, but it still wasn’t right. Writing about people can be just as difficult as drawing them. How can you reproduce a person accurately and fairly without caricature?  How can you convey the essence of a person whether in print or in art? When you are finished, there is no guarantee that the person will like it or want it to be shared. What then? You drew the bags under their eyes, or the lines on their forehead.  You drew what was there and if you took those things out, it wouldn’t be them, but they don’t like it. They want a more flattering image, but what if that image comes at the cost of authenticity?

Authenticity makes things meaningful and we humans are very good at being able to tell whether something is authentic or not.  Check out this video of a robot pretending to be a person. Some very smart people have spent a lot of time and effort to make an authentic human being, but even a very young child would be able to tell that something isn’t quite right with Sophia.  Pick up a stack of Christmas family letters and read them out. Do you get a sense of who these people are? Are the authentic contours of their lives clearly seen? Probably not. The people described are probably more like stick figures than real people.

To clarify, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the way we write Christmas cards or make robots.  I’m just trying to point out that authenticity is not something we do very often outside of art. Artistic expression is limited to very few people. There are advantages to this.  The drama of authenticity can be exhausting. Sometimes we don’t really want to know about Grandpa’s indigestion or Aunt Francis’s depression much less their deep dark secrets and sins.  There are also disadvantages to hiding our authentic selves. When the grandkids read the Harry Potter series and cry for days over the death of Dumbledore, but then don’t seem to care much at all when Grandpa dies, don’t be surprised.  Grandpa may not have seemed much like a real person to them compared to Dumbledore. We make emotional attachments to authentic human beings we can relate to. J.K. Rowling managed to make characters that connected on a deep level with many different people.  She did it by making them authentic. If we fail to share our authentic selves with those we love, we may find ourselves alone and disconnected.

I’m finding in my own life that authenticity is extremely important.  Meaningful connections keep depression and anxiety at bay not just for me, but for everyone.  No person can thrive in isolation. Yet today we live in a world in which individuals are increasingly isolated.  Transactional relationships are everywhere in our highly specialized and civilized world. We can pay people to cook for us, clean for us, take care of our children for us, and even help us process emotional trauma.  Behind those transactions, can we see the humanity? Can we make authentic connections? We can, but it can be difficult. For me it has taken some vulnerability. I have taken off some masks that I got comfortable wearing.  My blog has been a big part of making the journey toward authenticity. 

As my parents and I go through the family counselling experience, the blog has become the elephant in the room that is at last being addressed.  There are benefits to family counselling, but it is hard. I’ve had a resurgence of depressive symptoms as I have attended these sessions. I’m also reconsidering the purpose and content of my blog in light of my parents’ feelings. I’m trying to answer these tough questions.

In spite of my discomfort and my parent’s discomfort, I feel compelled to share my story with authenticity. It may seem that my efforts at expression are more trouble than they are worth to me and the people I care most about. Maybe they are. Maybe I’m wrong to share. Maybe there are things that are better left unsaid, as I’ve been told. Or maybe Nephi was right. Maybe if we share the ugly truths about our families we can put things in perspective. Our family’s ugly might not be so bad when compared with others! Also, we can learn from each other’s experiences to be better parents to the next generation. I am working on my privacy settings to try to create a blog that works for me and my family. I appreciate your patience as I go through posts and try to decide what audience I want to share with.

I pray that as I go through this process that I will be guided by Him who is Mighty to Save.  I know that as dark and difficult as this journey feels right now that it will have a happy ending.  There is hope and peace and blessings at the end of this road and maybe even along the way. Thank you for walking this path with me!

New Year Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Ponies, Sparkles, and Pink Crayons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, THIS

Part One; I Meet a Conman

The small television loomed large in the small family room in rural Idaho.  “He’s so hot,” Tiffany said with a dreamy expression. I looked at the screen with Pierce Brosnan’s face gazing lazily at me.  “I like Magnum PI,” I retorted. I had a crush on the mustached crime fighter for years. Some of my earliest memories center around feeling weak in the chest as I watched Tom Sellek play Thomas Magnum, a tough guy private investigator who looked rough and rugged.  In contrast, Peirce Brosnan seemed like a fake to me. He was! Remington Steele was a fake, a con man, a liar. I think that bothered me even then, before I could really understand what the differences were between the two men.  

“He has a mustache!” Tiffany replied with a scandalized tone.  “How would you even kiss him.” If felt a flutter as I thought of Tom Sellek’s mustached face kissing me.  “It wouldn’t be that bad,” I defended. She rolled her eyes condescendingly. “Remington Steele is way better! He’s so suave and his suit is nice and he just looks at you and you melt.  And, he’s kind of a bad guy. That makes him cool.” I didn’t understand that.  

I was a straight arrow.  Even as a little girl, I saw the world in black and white and Remington Steele was gray.  I liked to watch the show, but I didn’t trust Remington Steele. Tiffany liked to get away with stuff.  Even small cons on my parents seemed not to bother her in the slightest. If you could get away with it, there was no problem.  I couldn’t live that way.  

Years later I watched her graduate from high school, so anxious to get on with her life and leave her childhood behind, I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of loss.  She was leaving me behind as well. I didn’t have a great relationship with her, but I thought things were getting better. She was no longer the bully that she was when we were little.  She was always left in charge as the oldest back then, and Tiffany loved to tattle and blame me and criticise me endlessly. I hated her and the feeling was probably mutual. As she became a busy high school student and I started looking up to her a little, things got better.  We shared shoes and some clothes, and sometimes talked about boys or school. She would give me advice. Constantly. Sometimes it was helpful, but I didn’t like how she always seemed to want to know everything. I was smart too. Now she was leaving and I was heart broken. She didn’t seem to care at all.

We still saw a lot of Tiffany as she attended the local college.  She dated a lot of different boys, but nothing seemed to ever work out.  She graduated from the nursing program and moved to the big city to make her mark.  She was living in Salt Lake City and working as a nurse when she met David. He was a cell phone salesman with a palm pilot in his pocket.  His smooth charm and sad story won Tiffany over and before anyone knew what was happening, they were getting married.

“He’s been married before?” I asked.

“Yes.  Don’t be so judgey Bridge!” she retorted.

I was self aware enough to realize that I was judgemental.  I had boycotted the senior prom my junior year because they had decided to have prom at Retrix, the only dance club in town.  I thought Retrix was the most unholy place in Rexburg and I couldn’t believe that the school was forcing us to support that kind of place.  Nothing came of my solitary protest and the next year prom was again at Retrix. I toned down my outrage and I ended up going to it. I was a little disgusted with the way the couples were dancing, but I had enough social awareness by then to keep it to myself.  I was learning that the world was bigger than Rexburg and my Mormon upbringing. Tiffany was in the big city now, and she might know a few things I didn’t about the world outside. Even so, I didn’t like how fast everything was going. We hadn’t even met David and now he was going to join our family.    

“He’s awesome.  You are going to love him.  He’s so spiritual and nice and handsome…..” her words and her tone sounded familiar.  It was like Pierce Brosnan. He was too good to be true. He was rich and a body builder and he had this sob story about his past that cast him as a pitiful victim of bad circumstances.  His parents had divorced right as he was getting ready to go on his mission. He had to stay home to help his family work through the traumatic experience. Then he married a woman who ended up going crazy and stabbing him in the back with a knife from their kitchen.  He moved out and got a restraining order against her and filed for divorce. Now he was getting his life back together. He was going to be rich. He was going to be powerful. He was full of drive and determination, and seemed to have just a little bit of a Machiavellian streak; just enough to make him willing to do whatever it took to be successful and that’s what Tiffany wanted most.  So what if his past wasn’t ideal? It was his future that mattered, and he was going to be successful.  

I never questioned his story.  I never speculated that David’s ex-wife might not be the woman that David and his family painted her to be.  I never considered that his man might be a con artist; that like Remington Steele, the person he was pretending to be was very different than the man he actually was.  I was hopeful that he was a diamond in the rough, a bad boy ready to be a good husband and father as I watched David and Tiffany walk out of the Salt Lake Temple as man and wife.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Points and Lines; Seeing People Through God’s Eyes

I went to linger longer today.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, linger longer is a ward activity that involves staying after church for a potluck meal.  Potluck meals are a pain when you have young children. You have to make sure they get something healthy to eat, that they are playing nicely, and that they don’t decide to go eat off other people’s plates…..or tip over the buffet table.  As you socialize with people, you have to have part of your brain always monitoring your kiddos. Is that kid screaming mine? Or did he cause some other kid to scream? Is that my kid with the mountain of dessert on his plate? Then I’m always worried I’m going to zone out in the middle of a conversation and embarrass myself.  With a big family, there is the problem of where to sit. We have large round tables that seat about ten people. With a family of six, we usually share a table with another family, but it can be tricky to make sure you don’t take too many seats or wind up with a couple of kids with no where to sit. That’s just awkward!  

Anyway, when my depression/anxiety got bad a year ago, I told Ben absolutely not.  Even when my sons would beg and cry, I said no way. Then when things deteriorated with the Relief Society, I didn’t know if I would ever go to a linger longer again.  The smell of the food in the church house would make me feel ill. The fact that we actually made food and stayed the whole time and I didn’t panic and run to a classroom to breathe into a paper sack, is remarkable.  I actually had a good time. I introduced myself to a family that moved in recently. I mingled. It was good! There was anxiety. I didn’t eat much. There were moments of awkward wandering, but it was overall a pleasant social gathering.  

So I’ve done some hard things lately.  I’ve started the school year. I’ve been tackling my procrastination list.  I’ve been socializing more. I went to a pool party, helped clean a sister’s house twice, and went to a friend’s birthday lunch.  Being more present with my ward family and more socially conscious has been a growing experience that has moments of discomfort, but overall it has been good.

I was thinking today about my last post about sisters posturing.  Honestly, I’m not sure I didn’t participate in the posturing. As the sacrament was going around, I did some serious introspection.  My mind was exploring the idea of female posturing and whether or not if I had participated in it. If I had, was it a sin. I decided that I didn’t think it was.  Then I had a thought come into my mind that I think was inspiration. I’m going to try to explain it using a math metaphor.  

So I was concerned about the possibility that I had engaged in the posturing I had observed at the cleaning activity.  Then, if I had ignored my own participation in it and yet written about others engaging in it, that would have been quite rude and dishonest.  But upon introspection, I couldn’t remember for sure whether I had or not. I know I didn’t engage with the sisters with authenticity. Instead, I kind of detached and tried to focus on the tile grout.  The epiphany came when I realized that it didn’t matter whether I had postured or not. The fact that I was moving toward authenticity was what God cared about. This idea of movement or trajectory is what caught my mind and then I began to put the pieces together.

I stayed up late reading the scriptures.  I can’t remember which chapter it was but it was Paul writing about the adoption of the Gentiles and how the Jews were the covenant people and that they were blessed and favored of the Lord, but then they lost that position and it was given to the gentiles.  Paul’s style is very complex and analytical, but the spirit was with me and the meaning that the spirit was revealing to me was very clear. God doesn’t care where you are. He cares about your trajectory. Because he sees us not as a point in space, to use my mathematical metaphor, but from an eternal perspective, it is more like a line.  Our past is one point on the line. Our present is another point. Our future, is the third point. God cares about what our trajectory is. Are we on a negative slope? If so, the Lord is not pleased. We need to repent. If our trajectory is positive, the Lord is pleased. Of course, we want to try to make the slope as steep as we can, but the crucial thing is, as God, he sees the slope; while as mortals we only see the present.  We see the dot on grid. He sees the line.

Lines can communicate a lot more than points. If we see where a person is coming from and where they’re going, we can understand and love them more.

When I look at the scriptural history through this metaphor, that chapter I read is very clear.  Consider the Jews at the time of the Savior. They occupied a privileged place. They obeyed the law of Moses as they interpreted it.  They looked forward to a Savior to deliver them from Rome and other political oppressors. They were imperfect, but compared to the gentiles, they were high on the graph.  Then the Savior came to give them a higher law, to show them a better way, to invite them to change the trajectory of their spiritual growth. Instead of accepting this invitation, they rejected him and then killed him.  This put their trajectory severely negative. The Savior put them beneath even Sodom and Gomorrah because although the Jews were superficially righteous, they were unwilling to change their trajectory. They insisted on rejecting the opportunity to repent and usher in new truth into their system.  It is recorded in several places where the Savior marvels at the faith and obedience of certain gentiles he comes into contact with. Although he never taught in gentile cities or ministered outside of Judea, he understood that the time would come after he was rejected and murdered, that his gospel would be given to the gentiles where it would spread and grow, changing the spiritual landscape of the world.  

As a personal application, I see myself having my emotional and spiritual ups and downs.  I know where my dot is on the graph, but I also see my trajectory. I’m on a solidly positive slope.  Did I posture in my interactions with the other women? Perhaps. Was I dishonest with myself and with them, hiding behind a mask of deception?  Perhaps. It doesn’t really matter as long as my dot is moving toward authenticity. If it is, that is all that matters. I’m not going to attain perfection in a day.  I’m going to fall short of the ideal that I am working toward, but I need not become discouraged or ashamed.  

This is a big breakthrough for me in having compassion toward myself and others.  It also helps me to understand the Savior’s interactions on this Earth. He didn’t see the harlot, the publican, the fisherman, the leper, the pharisee, etc; he saw their past, present, and future.  The harlot’s dot was low on the graph and that was all the pharisee could see.  The Savior saw her humility, her willingness to repent, her desire to improve her spiritual and emotional condition.  He was impressed not by her position on the graph, but on the trajectory of her line. In contrast, the pharisee’s dot was high on the graph, but his pride and his treatment of the Savior put his trajectory in the negative, prompting the Savior to correct him.  

I’ll use another example that has some political overtones, just to keep things interesting.  Let’s consider those who come to our Southern border seeking asylum. They are low on the graph.  Most of them have little to nothing in the way of personal possessions. As our President has so cruelly observed, they come from “sh*thole countries.”  Still, the wise investor doesn’t look at companies that look sucessfulsuccessful in the present.  The wise investors look to the future to see what the company’s potential is given a place in   sufficient support and investment.  When America is at her finest, she welcomes the refugee and the immigrant knowing that those who have the fortitude and determination to come to this land usually have the potential needed to be successful here. Their success has made America the greatest country in the world.  By closing our doors to them, we deprive ourselves of their potential while also earning ourselves a rebuke from the Savior.

When the Savior teaches that the last shall be first and the first shall be last it always makes me think.  He is perfectly fair and just. He is no respecter of persons. He sees me as a line, not a point. I hope that I can learn to see others that way as well.  I hope that as I live my life that I can be the person who is a friend when the chips are down, a confidant when the truth is hard to share, a comfort to the one who is sitting in a dark place.  If I can do those things, perhaps my Master will be pleased with me.