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.

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.

Winged Messengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking a Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love Pepper and she loves me!

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

My roses started blooming!

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

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

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

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

Austin feeds Pepper his peeps.

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

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

Grapevines and Family Trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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