Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

One of the biggest reasons I started blogging was because I wanted to learn to accept my mental health condition. I had been hiding it for so long behind a mask of normalcy that I had split myself into two people. One version of myself did her best to seem normal, embraced the values of perfection I had been conditioned to persevere toward, and tried not to get in the way of others around me. The other version of myself understood that the world around me and the value system I had been conditioned to accept was fundamentally flawed; that life was messy and hard and full of complex realities. This second version of myself kept wanting to assert herself and push the other, more compliant version, aside. These two sides of me seemed to always be in conflict. On the outside, I was a good Mormon mom who cared for her children, went to church every week, didn’t cause problems, and did what she had been taught. On the inside, I was full of doubts, fears, and building resentment.

This blog was a way for me to give voice to my hidden version of myself; the self that is broken and needs the Savior. The blog became a place I could be proud of my suffering and rejoice in the ways it leads me back to Him who is Mighty to Save. Why then have I struggled these past months to post?

My mental health recovery path has been full of difficulties, but the greatest one has been acceptance. Each time I take my medication, each time I can’t get out of bed, each time I finish another counseling session, each time I fall short, I remember my broken. It is so hard to see the beauty in it! I wish I could be whole and healthy and normal. I wish I wasn’t faced with the reality of my broken mind every day, but that is the life I’ve been given.

There is also so much beauty. I went to the STEM Academy meet the designer night last night. My second son started high school this year. He proudly led us to his various classes and introduced us to his teachers. He’s an excellent student with exceptional teachers who will help him achieve his potential. He’s taking his first AP class, so he will already start earning college credits. His older brother is in the top band as a Junior and is also college bound. My third son is thriving in his STEM Academy. My youngest loves kindergarten. In spite of my failings and flaws, my boys are growing and learning and off to a good start in life.

My second son with his chemistry teacher.

No one has a perfect life. We all struggle mentally and emotionally. Death, disappointment, illness, and accident visit everyone. It’s messy and hard and unfair and complicated; but every life is known to God. He suspends his judgment until the end of our lives. In the meantime, he asks only one thing of us; that we be honest with ourselves and others; that we confess and forsake our sins and follow the Savior. Why is that so hard for me?

Why am I so tempted to live a lie? Why am I so determined to put on a mask of conformity to please other people instead of an authentic image that pleases God? Why am I afraid to post on my blog? Why am I afraid of the judgement of those who don’t yet understand? We are broken! Not just me. We are all broken. That makes us all equals. I need not cower in shame.

Yet shame is what I feel and I can’t make the shame go away. And so I wander. I’ve left churches and temples made with hands and return to Eden; to the garden. I feel a pull to plants, animals, water, and soil right now.  The last two months have been intense.  Lots of joy, lots of sadness, lots of change.  Bombs, pandemic, deaths, injustice, man’s inhumanity to man……it takes its toll.  Every day I’m reminded that this world isn’t safe.  The world is not a safe place.

We have a butterfly garden we started four years ago.  The first year, we couldn’t keep enough milkweed in the garden!  The monarchs laid so many eggs, I could hardly keep up.  We released something like 32 monarchs that summer.  Every day we would release the butterflies to fly away to Mexico for the winter.  It was so amazing.  For the past three years, we have grown milkweed and it has had nothing but aphids.  This summer as the months passed, I thought that this year again, the monarchs would miss us.  I was wrong.

We started getting eggs the second week of August.  Lots of them.  We also found little caterpillars everywhere.  We scooped them up and put them in our crates and enclosures.  We didn’t have enough.  We bought more crates.  There were more caterpillars.  We gave some to friends.  We drove along the freeway to find milkweed growing in the wild because we were running low in the garden.  Twice a day we would clean out the cages and check on our babies.  We had over fifty!

The Monarch caterpillar lives encased in a chrysalis for fourteen days before emerging as an adult butterfly. They are motionless and still as though dead, but they are very much alive and busy reforming themselves in preparation for life as a new creature.

Once we brought in a leaf that had predatory eggs on it that we didn’t see.  A caterpillar ate the eggs and got sick.  It split open to reveal the larvae that had killed it.  Even with all our precautions, our caterpillars were not safe.  We started washing every leaf before putting it in a crate.  We felt relief every time a caterpillar would make its silk button and “J hang” because that meant one less caterpillar would be eating and pooping.  The chrysalids began piling up.  

Occasionally we would lose a caterpillar to “the black death” which is assumed to be some kind of bacterial infection.  We would remind ourselves that of all the monarch eggs that are laid each year only about five percent survive to adulthood.  Our efforts were dramatically improving the odds of success for our little friends.

The day we had our first butterfly eclose, or emerge, from chrysalis was magical.  It is a miraculous thing to behold.  The chrysalis begins to darken.  There are no signs of life, and black is usually synonymous with death.  If you look carefully, you can see the muted orange of the wings concealed behind the membrane, but even knowing this is normal, it looks eerie.  Then the chrysalis splits and the animal within unfolds.  At first it looks misshapen and wrinkled, but within ten minutes, the enormous wings flatten out and the transformation is complete.

The second day of school after dropping Austin off for Kindergarten, I took pictures and videos of these animals as they made this miraculous transformation.  I don’t believe that this experience has happened by accident.  I know that God sent the butterflies.  I know that he knew that I needed them.  He knew.  He cared.  He sent his winged messengers.  The world isn’t safe!  The caterpillars know that.  The butterflies know that.  The Afganis know that.  The marines who died in the bombing knew that.  Their families know that.  There is a 100% chance that each one of us will die.  Eventually this world will take our remains back into itself and we will decay and crumble into nothing.  That is our fate.  And yet, today we live.  Today He loves us.  Today He sent His butterflies to me.  He also sent me a dream.

I dreamed I was witnessing a wartorn group of refugees leaving their homes and traveling together in families.  But instead of people, they were monarch caterpillars.  There were large ones, presumably parents, and there were small ones that clung to the backs of the larger ones.  What did this dream mean?  I feel that the caterpillars were Afgan refugees.  The dream made them into caterpillars because to me, the monarch caterpillar is full of beauty and potential.  God sees the refugees as full of beauty and potential too.  The world won’t understand.  They will see the mess and the work of caring for them; the protection they will need and the space they will require.  God sees those things, but also the beauty that comes when his miracle transforms them.  

God works his will in large and small ways.  He sees the refugee and he knows the beggar in his need.  He never will forget his people and his hand will never be stayed.  His majesty will transform the Earth and the inhabitants will rejoice.  I will live each day and pray that I can be the person he wants me to be.  I will serve where he calls me to serve.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

I am broken and blessed. I can live authentically and honestly, embracing the redeemed person I am, unfettered by the sins of the past. I am broken, just as those who came before we were broken, but the present brings opportunities for renewal and rebirth. Our God is a God of transformations and redemptions, so I rejoice in my broken and I rejoice that my sins have brought me to Christ who heals me; not in the way I want to be healed, but in his wisdom he leaves the scars. I rejoice in my scars and refuse to hide them. They make me His and I rejoice that I am His. Fearfully and wonderfully made.

The Joy of Thy Lord

As I’ve progressed in my faith journey/crisis, I’ve pondered on what values I want to pass onto my children.  Society is at a crisis point in values.  Is it virtuous to wear a mask, or stand for freedom and go without?  Is it virtuous to welcome refugees and desperate migrants into your nation, or to build walls to shut them out for the safety against those who would do us harm?  Conflicting messages, laws and policies are shouted from leaders.  “Defund the police!” “Build the Wall!” “Don’t tread on me!”  This is a confusing time to live as an adult, let alone as a child. I have my work cut out for me in raising my children with a coherent value system. 

As I’ve tried to orient myself and discover my core values, there are a few things I’ve learned.  First, the value of a joyful life.  I’ve lived poor and I’ve lived with money.  I’ve lived in bad weather, and in good weather.  I’ve lived in sickness and in health.  I haven’t lived in joy very often.

I remember in my childhood, my Grandma Henrie’s apartment complex had a swimming pool.  I looked forward to our visits to see her each year mostly because I got to go swimming.  I would cling to an inflatable tube and spin in circles for hours.  That exhilaration was something I looked forward to through all the months of snow and ice in Idaho.  Now as an adult, I have a community swimming pool nearly in my backyard.  It is so close, we can walk to it in less than five minutes.  Yet for the four years I have had access to it, I have hardly ever used it.  When I would take the kids swimming, I would usually stay in the shade on the side of the pool and watch them joyfully splash and play.  Maybe I thought joyful living was supposed to be for kids.

I got an Apple Watch for my birthday this year, and one of the features it has is the ability to track swimming for exercise.  This changed things for me.  By the middle of the summer, I was going to the pool with the kids every day.  I would swim laps while they played and I would get my exercise in.  It was a little boring after a while, but it was refreshing and it was good for the kids.  Austin would cling to my back as I plowed through the water.  I taught him the strokes I was doing and he picked them up.  It was beautiful to see him relax and learn to move in the water with confidence.  Later, I watched a synchronized swimming routine in the Tokyo olympics.  I read about artistic swimming.  I watched videos on how to do a few moves.  I ordered a swim cap and some nose plugs on Amazon.  

I went from swimming laps in the pool for exercise, to doing somersaults, handstands, and all kinds of acrobatics in the water.  It was fun!  I remembered what it felt like to be a child and rejoice in the ability to move joyfully.  I stretched and swam and spun in circles.  I felt alive in a way that I hadn’t felt for years.  I felt awake after years of sleepy depression.  It has been almost a month since I rediscovered the joy of swimming.  I’ve been doing it every day.  After my morning swim, I feel energized, and clear headed.  I feel a rush of ideas about other joyful things I could do to fill up my days.  Planting a new flower, making some delicious food, planning lunch with a friend, or doing some art; these ideas prance through my joyful mind and the anxieties of the pandemic and Afganistan crisis fade into the distance for a while.  No matter how stressful the circumstances of my life are, a few moments of joyful, purposeful living can make those burdens easier to bear.  

This is me after my joyful swim this morning.

The value of joyful living is one I want to pass to my children.  Rather than pack their schedules with classes, chores, and activities and then nag them all the time to practice and work harder, I want to instill in them the need for regular joyful living.  I want them to find the thing that makes them feel alive.  They don’t need to do it for a living or even become good at it.  It isn’t the task or activity itself that matters, it’s how you feel when you do it.  God said that men are that they might have joy.  When we live joyfully, we fulfill our highest purpose.  When we deny ourselves of joyful living, we deprive ourselves of a core need.  

Another value I want to pass on to my children is the value of kindness.  We live in a world full of people.  There are millions of us interacting with one another on the roads, in the stores, and online.  We are witnesses to thousands of deaths, births, sicknesses, failures and triumphs every day.  It is easy to begin to believe that people are not valuable and that our lives have little meaning.  Each act of kindness renews our faith that there is worth in the human soul.  When our act of kindness blesses another person, we make an impact on the world.  We matter.  Even if the person we are kind to is most insignificant and the kind act imperceptibly small, it makes the world better.  

The third value is introspection.  It is so easy to see sin and folly without.  It is much more difficult to see it within.  Introspection is the often uncomfortable scrutinizing of our own selves.  We get to see our flaws with razor precision when we introspect.  When we are familiar with our own soul, its strengths and flaws, its twists and turns, its folds and flaps, we are less vulnerable to flattery, less desperate for affirmation, and more realistic with our expectations.  This leads us to the final virtue.  Compassion.

Anyone who has done much introspection knows that compassion is the only remedy to the pain of self knowledge.  To see yourself accurately, you have to reckon with the painful reality of your own sins and fallen nature.  If you have children, this pain is compounded with the knowledge that you have passed these things on to your posterity where they will likely repeat themselves in an eternal dance of despair through the following generations.  Compassion is the ability to love fallen things; to see beauty in broken.  Our children, our parents, our family, our friends; we are all broken and fallen things.  We cut one another with our broken parts.  We bleed because we are alive and we dare to love one another in spite of the risks.  Compassionate eyes can look at this messy scene and see the beauty in it.  We can love the participants without judgement and without shame; knowing that we are all in need of redemption.  Somehow, all these things will work together for the benefit of all of us.  

These four values are the core values I want to pass on to my children.  I hope that I can teach them through example the benefits of living this way.  I wrote a short parable I am planning to share with them tonight at dinner.  Hopefully this will help instill in them the values I want them to learn.  

The Joy of Thy Lord

“The baby is crying again!” he said with disgust.  “What’s wrong with it now?”

“He just wants a little snuggle,” his mother said softly as she picked up the squalling child.  “See, now he’s feeling better.”

Later, at play, “Mom, I stubbed my toe!” he screamed in pain.  

“Here, let me kiss it better.  Do you need some ice?” his mother replied.

“No, I’m a tough kid,” he said, rubbing the tears from his eyes.  Somehow the kiss always made it feel a little better.

Later at school the child saw a boy teased and rejected, chased away from the others.  “What’s wrong with him?” he thought.  He remembered his mother and thought, maybe he just needs some love.  And he invited him to play with him and his friends.  The playground was a kinder place.

Many years later the boy sat trying to do his schoolwork as his younger siblings played loudly behind him.  “Can’t you make them stop!” he roared to his mother.  

“No, I can’t, and if I could I wouldn’t.  It’s frustrating when you’re trying to concentrate, isn’t it?  Try to be patient.  They are young.  They will learn to be quiet just as you have learned.  Some things cannot be rushed,” she replied.

He went to a quiet place to finish his work.  He thought angrily of how easily the other students seemed to complete their assignments.  Why could he not learn this faster!  Then he remembered his mother and he thought, “Be patient with yourself.  You will learn it, just as they have learned it.  Some things can’t be rushed.”  He took a deep breath and started again.  The bedroom was a kinder place.

Years later the boy came home to visit from college.  He ate a full meal and packed up food for his small apartment pantry.  “Thanks Mom!  I’ve been SO hungry.  I wish I could cook as good as you can!” he thought of the macaroni and cheese he had been eating for a week.  

“It takes time to learn to provide for yourself.  You will learn.  There is always food waiting for you here until you do,” she said as she kissed him goodbye.  

On the way home he saw a weather beaten man with a cardboard sign that said, “Hungry.  Please help me.”  He thought of his mother and wondered why this old man hadn’t learned to provide for himself.  Sometimes these things can take time, he reasoned.  He took some bread he had taken from his mother’s kitchen and gave it to the man.  The neighborhood was a kinder place.

And so the boy became a man and he learned patience and love.  He gave to those in need and he waited patiently as the Lord worked his miracles in the life of each person.  And he knew God.  And the world was a kinder place when he left it.

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.  Thou hast been faithful over a few things.  I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matthew 25:21

What I Need

Parenting is a marathon.  It feels great while you’re doing it, it pushes you to the mental and physical brink, and there is a let down when you stop.  Of course, I’ve never run a marathon, but that’s what I imagine it’s like.  This morning I got ready to send my son to summer camp for a week.  As his car drove away, Pepper and I walked into an empty house.  The remains of last night’s chicken nuggets and butterfly shrimp littered the kitchen counter.  Baskets of laundry seemed to me to sit pondering in the silence; wondering where their owners had disappeared to.  

My mind has been ruminating endlessly the past few weeks.  Wesley is constantly on the computer playing Minecraft and the computer is my preferred writing place.  Rather than fighting him for the computer, I’ve taken the path of least resistance.  Instead of siphoning off my thoughts Dumbledore style, they are crammed in my head screaming for release.  Now he’s gone and I have a few hours to myself, I’ll see what comes out.

This morning in my quiet room with only sweet Pepper there to receive my love and nurturing, I sat on my bed and looked at her gorgeous soft, shiny coat.  It’s black, but I’ve learned from drawing it that there are places that are white and light grey.  That’s what makes it look shiny.  Things are always more complicated than they seem.  The human brain, always aching for simplicity, wants to see Pepper’s fur as a single color.  It is black.  It isn’t midnight, moon grey, scintillating silver, or morning fog.  That’s too complicated.  Black and tan.  She’s a chihuahua mix.  But she isn’t.  She’s a mutt with bloodlines that are uniquely hers; an angel crafted through time and given by God to me to comfort me in my blackest midnight. But it isn’t just black.  Life is like that.  It isn’t black and white.

So many colors in her fur! So many more than just black and tan. Still, it’s simpler to say she is just that.

But I understand that if I had lived a different life, I wouldn’t see the complexity either.  And I would relish the simplicity.  Nature is always yearning for simplicity, stasis, harmony, balance.  Rivers take the smoothest and easiest path.  The brain craves rest.  Thinking takes energy.  Seeing is work.  And yet I think.  And yet, I see.

And for that I will never rest.  I will run the marathon.  So today I paused in my frenzy of thought and prayed.  It has been a long time.  Sometimes it’s easier to feel the guilt and push it away than actually do the thing that will put the guilt to rest for good.  Praying felt good.  God reminded me that I’m not such a bad person as my brain likes to tell me I am.  

My brain likes to insist that my good intentions pave my road to hell.  Every glass of milk I give my child is half empty, not half full.  My efforts are never enough.  It is like the God in my head is a version of my teenaged son with a gift for ferreting out my every flaw and hypocritical act. The real God sees me different.  And in that quiet moment, I remember that He isn’t the demanding perfectionist my brain likes to think He is.  My heart poured out to Him all my shortcomings and failings and He calmed that storm with a simple thought.  “Do you think I need your efforts, my child?  Don’t you remember that I am the one with the loaves and the fishes?  I am everything you need.”  

But I need a functional government and a church community.  I need assurances that my children are going to grow up to be competent adults.  I need money in my bank account and friends to affirm me.  I need.  I need.  I need. I need to understand it all right now!!

But I don’t need.  I don’t need anything but Him.  He leads my soul to the still water.  He soothes the wounds the world has given me; the wounds I give myself.  And He heals me.  And I remember what I forgot.  He is everything I need.

And yet we understand Him so imperfectly.  We imagine Him to be a simplistic version of our own creation.  We remake his image like a child with a crude crayon on brown recycled paper.  We hold it up as the true God of Israel and then the sheep stray.  We forget that He is not our toy soldier. He is not our mascot to be remade at our convenience.  The human mind could study Him for a lifetime and never unlock His secrets. He is not of this world and no human mind can comprehend Him.  

How Great is Our God?  How Great is Our God?  How Great, How Great is Our God?!?  Tongue cannot tell, nor heart can frame.  Yet we rise from the dust of our creation.  We reach for Him and He reaches down to us.  For a moment, He opens my eyes to see; I am more than this world.  I was born for a better world.  My heart is comforted in my uncomfortable; I will never fit here because I belong with Him.  He and I know that and it is enough.

Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash

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