Beauty in Broken Places

I watched Kamila Varieva skate last night.  There is something different about her.  The announcers see it and struggle to describe it.  It isn’t that she’s an excellent athlete, artist, and performer.  It is all those things, but there is a secret ingredient that is impossible to define.  I have watched hundreds of skaters perform, but Varieva is different.  I’ve turned it over and over in my mind.  Why?

Kamila Varieva performs her short program in which she broke the record with her score. She is currently competing in the 2022 olympic winter games.

I can only think she has tapped into something inside herself; a divine spark or a secret knowledge about who she is and what her purpose is.  She is able to express on the ice something that every person on the planet longs for whether they know it or not.  She is her authentic self. Without excuse, without deception, without holding anything back; she bares her soul for the world to see.  

Everyone knows she has dedicated her life to skating.  She lives and breathes it.  It is almost as though she is some kind of ice creature who was born with skates on her feet and sleeps on a bed of snow. She reveals herself without shame to be judged.  She is the product of Russian discipline, intellect, and skill.  I try to imagine what her life as been.  

I had a childhood friend who was a German exchange student.  She was a beautiful dancer with long blonde hair.  Once we talked about ballet.  She told me her grandmother was a professional ballerina in Hitler’s Germany and she even danced for Hitler once.  She explained how difficult the life of a dancer is in Germany because of the pressure.  She said her grandmother’s feet were badly deformed and she had a lot of problems with them as she aged.  My friend had no desire to become a professional dancer.  She told me stories about Russian dancers.  I remember her look of fear as her gentle accented voice said, “Very few dancers can survive in a Russian school.”  

I assume Kamila Varieva is not a ballet dancer, but she dances like one.  What has she survived in her young life?  Is she like the widows in the Marvel Universe; a slave to forces beyond her control?  Life is complicated and I can only imagine what her life has been and what it will be ten or twenty years from now.  I do know that her skating has inspired me.  I know that somehow, she has taken the life she was given and made something incredibly beautiful that communicates with me across the miles and miles between us; across language and national barriers; beyond culture or race.  She showed me what is possible when you dare to find yourself.  She has done this because of, or perhaps in spite of, the life she was given and the choices she has made.

Sometimes my life feels meaningless.  Living in the city has a soul sucking effect on me.  I am just another person in the line, another face in the crowd, another car on the endless conveyor belt of the metroplex machine.  And yet, I exist.  In this broken world, I can gather up the pieces of my broken self and make something beautiful, something inspiring, something authentic and vulnerable and original.  I can follow the example of that Russian child of fifteen and dare to express the hope that beauty and love and joy are possible.  

In the past two years of this endless pandemic, we have all suffered mentally.  I have been so fortunate to have a counselor to talk to every week even though I can’t see her in person.  In the past six years she has been more than a counselor, she has been a friend.  In spite of the incredible difficulties I have faced, I have thrived.  I feel strong as I find solutions to problems and build a better life for myself.  

I got a set of mandala stencils that I’ve been playing with. I did this in Prisma colored pencils.

Last week I was hit by various triggers.  Like Jack-in-the-Box toys, they all seemed to pop the weasel at the same time.  I did my art.  I allowed myself to feel those feelings I had tucked away because I wasn’t able to process them at the time.  I felt the sadness, the fear, and the anger, and then I spilled them onto the pages of my journal.  Funny thing about Jack-in-the-Box, he can only be triggered if you shut him in the box.  If you open the lid, and let him out on your terms, he loses his power.  It takes so much courage to face your triggers.  It’s worth it.  The feelings aren’t as scary as you think they are.  Just like Jack.    

This mandala is also from a stencil. I am coloring it with Prisma colored pencils, gel pens, and Tombow brush markers.

Today as I did my SuperNatural Oculus Quest workout, sweat was pouring down my face and into my mouth.  I could feel aching muscles as I hit each target.  I remembered Varieva’s grace under enormous pressure, I remembered her falling on the ice after an impossible quad.  She pushed herself past the limit of any woman ever to skate in the olympics.  And she fell.  She got back up and finished her performance.  She wasn’t perfect.  She was still world class; she broke the world record; she was inspiring.  I hope she knows somehow that her fall doesn’t define her.  I hope she will learn the lesson it has taken me a lifetime to learn; that perfection is an illusion.  It limits you.  No one and nothing in the world is perfect.  We can only dare to dance beneath the bar of perfection, and maybe touch it.  Briefly.  Perfection isn’t the goal.  It isn’t the destination.  It can be part of the journey, but God requires us to dance by faith; the faith that grace and beauty can live in broken places and in broken people.

Drawn from stencil with gel pens and brush markers.

When I took off the headset at the end of my workout, I had to blink.  It wasn’t real.  It felt so real!  I thought of the miracle of VR.  I hit targets in China, Scotland, and a dozen other places I didn’t recognize.  Some I couldn’t even pronounce, but I felt like I was there.  I interacted with a coach I’ve never met.   I thought of the science and technology that made such an experience possible.  People can do such incredible things!  God has made us a little below the angels.  He waits for us to find ourselves.  We are the greatest gift he has given us and if we unlock the potential within, we will amaze ourselves with the majesty of his creation.  

Because there are so many people on this planet, it is easy to forget the worth of a soul.  Infinite.  The value of infinite things is a constant.  It doesn’t matter if there are billions of people on this planet, each person is still of infinite value.  Each person, no matter their circumstances or their choices, is touched by the finger of God.  If we want to know God, we can find him by understanding his creation.  The self.  

Thanks for taking this journey with me as I find myself.  Let us join our faith together, take on discouragement and fear, lift ourselves up to dance on this mortal stage, and if we fail, we can pick ourselves up and try again.  The rewards are worth the effort.  

Chasing Rainbows and Fleeing Shadows

Photo by Anton Murygin on Unsplash

Sport’s Illustrated did a story on Shawn Bradley this month.  Shawn Bradley was a larger than life figure for me growing up.  I remember a New Era article showing him with his girlfriend who had to stand on a chair to dance with him.  Basketball was a big deal to me and the small town I grew up in.  Shawn Bradley seemed to have it all.  He was likable, tall, athletic, good looking, and Mormon.  He was everything I wanted in a husband and I happened to marry a man who has all of those same qualities.  I heard vague stories in the background of my life about Shawn Bradley playing professional basketball, but when this Sport’s Illustrated feature came up on my Twitter feed, I was curious.  Surely he was retired by now and coaching or working part-time with speaking engagements or maybe owning car dealerships.  Why would Sport’s Illustrated be interested in that?

Imagine my shock when I read the article describing his life now.  He and his wife of 25 years divorced. The article said that he is estranged from the six children from his first marriage.  Wow.  He remarried and rebuilt a life for himself including the hobby of bicycling.  Unfortunately, he had a tragic biking accident a year ago that left him paralyzed.  Now he is faced with rebuilding his life again as a paraplegic.  My mind keeps returning to Shawn Bradley and the shocking turns his life has taken.

It has been a year since I left the church.  My life is so different today than it was just a year ago.  As I read the article about Shawn Bradley and the state he is in now I see stark parallels between us.  When that New Era article came out, we were different people.  Who could have looked down the long lens of time and seen who we would become?  Who could have anticipated the strange and winding path that would lead us to where we are today in January of 2022?

This January has been different in so many ways.  This month I have been thinking about the concept of self-improvement.  Usually I am busy drafting New Year’s resolutions, but I have been conflicted this year.  My husband is a teacher in the Elder’s Quorum now and he taught a lesson last week based on a talk by Elder Dunn called “One Percent Better.”  I haven’t read or listened to the talk, but the title spurred a lot of thoughts about the concept of self-improvement and the moral imperative to improve the self that I have internalized over my lifetime.  The church is hardly the only source of pressure to improve the self and be constantly striving toward self-improvement.  Schools and workplaces demand it.  Corporations market millions of products promised to improve the self.  Beauty and hygiene commercials stoke fears and anxieties in their audience which they then promise to alleviate. Self-help books persuade us that the drab life we have can be transformed with a few easy steps.  How could I help but internalize the message that the self must be constantly challenged to achievement? The problem with that is that self improvement isn’t always easy or even possible.

What about Shawn Bradley?  Is he a better athlete today than he was a year ago?  Did he fail to improve because he didn’t read the right self-help book?  Did he fail to draft the right New Year’s resolutions?  No.  He fell victim to a condition that all of us will fall to sooner or later.  He fell to mortality.  To live in mortality is to be at constant risk of accident, illness, or death.  To live in mortality is to walk the slow march to the grave.  Rather than a program in self-improvement, mortality is the opposite.  It is a story of decay.  We don’t improve as we age.  Our brains and bodies become less capable as time passes.  We can work to delay this, but we can’t stop it.  

Rather than become despondent in the face of this grim reality, I choose to meditate on it.  What is God trying to teach me?  Obviously, he doesn’t care nearly as much about self improvement as I do.  If he did, he would have designed a mortal experience in which I could incrementally improve over time.  Like a video game, each level I pass I would gain greater skills and freedoms.  At ninety, I would be able to fly, have lightning fast reflexes, a flawless complexion, and the ability to do calculus in my head.  If self improvement, at least as I have internalized the concept, were His goal, He would have designed this world differently.  

Perhaps, I reasoned, the goal is to fight mortality.  I will be 43 this year, but what if I could look and feel like I was 30?  What if I dedicate my life to this end?  I could use plastic surgery, creams, sudoku puzzles, hair dye, and exercise programs in order to cheat mortality and delay the inevitable?  But, what is the purpose in fighting an enemy you will never be able to beat?  And if I did, I would feel like a rabbit trying to outwit a prowling fox; constantly living in fear.  Is that the life God wants for me?  

I don’t have any answers right now and I find I’m okay with that.  A good question takes time to answer and this one won’t likely be answered any time soon.  There is one thing I do know.  The way I have internalized moral self-improvement is toxic.  It has stolen so much joy from my life.  Christ paid the price for me.  I don’t have to earn entrance into His kingdom.  It is a gift.  I wish I could have learned that decades ago.  I have lost teeth to anxiety grinding.  I have trouble with chronic inflammation and joint pain.  My face is etched in worry lines.  Why?  Because I believed for so long that I had to earn God’s love by being more than who I was and always achieving more.  I fear I have set my children’s feet on the same destructive path.  

I had a conversation with my teenager as he was planning his school schedule last year.  He loaded up on AP and pre-AP classes and I wondered why.  Why is he so driven?  Why does he surround himself with friends who are smarter and more talented than he is?  Why does he push himself so hard?  Will he find himself burned out and plagued with numerous health problems in twenty years?  I just told him that I would love him no matter what classes he takes and I warned him that driving himself and pushing himself can have health consequences.  I don’t think my words carried too much weight since he is a teenager and thinks he is invincible.  I am in no rush to convince him otherwise.  He has a whole lifetime to learn the sad truth.  Maybe someday my words will come back to him and help him learn to love himself better.  

Self improvement isn’t always a bad thing, when you know what you’re doing.  My exercise program is in full swing.  It helps me manage my anxiety and sleep better.  It reduces my arthritis and inflammation symptoms.  It especially helps my mood.  When you don’t know what you’re doing, self improvement quests are a different story.  When Ben and I were first married, we lived in a basement apartment underneath a couple from India who were in graduate school.  The man’s name was Ravi and he owned a nice looking red Jeep Cherokee.  Unfortunately, he kept making “improvements” to it.  First, he attached tinted window film that was badly bubbled.  Then, he taped up the car and spray painted it with aerosol cans.  Each month Ben and I would cringe as our neighbor made new changes to his vehicle.  The paint job was especially egregious with patchy coverage and long lines of streaky drips.  I think at some point he jacked up the tires. Ravi had started out with a decent car and ended up with an eyesore.  Sometimes I think my own projects of self improvement have been as amateurish and ill advised as Ravi’s.  Overconfident, I was sure I knew how to improve on God’s creation.  Time and experience have proved I would have been better off just letting myself become who God designed me to be.  He is my creator and I need to learn first about what exactly he has created before I start trying to make changes.  

I pray for Shawn Bradley, his broken family and his broken body.  I pray that as we both face the challenges of mortality, that God will take us by the hand and help us rebuild.  There is a plan and a purpose to our suffering and we are never alone even though it feels like it.  One thing I know, there can be joy during hard times just as there are oases in the desert. Talent and skill don’t produce happiness. Self-improvement is a seductive illusion; the idea that we can craft our own destiny by sheer will is a lie that sells a lot of products but leaves us chasing rainbows and fleeing shadows.  This year I want to focus on understanding myself better.  Maybe then I can cast the beam out of my eye and see myself clearly before attempting my self improvements.  

To all my readers, may you have a blessed new year.  May you recover from your illnesses, may friends be near you to bind up your hurts, may blessings rain down on you from unexpected places.  Thank you again for walking this path with me.  

Codependency Virtue/Vices

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Today I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving and gratitude and creating the life I want to live. This month has been hard. My Kindergartener got sick and was home from school almost a whole week. Then I crashed on my bike and sustained some injuries. Then I got sick and was in bed for several days with fever, chills, a wicked sore throat, and the usual yuck of fall illnesses. Finally, I strained my ankle at the trampoline park. With all of this I have had a resurgence of depression symptoms including some pretty intense episodes of suicidal ideation. My counselor contracted pneumonia and has not been available. Naturally I was very unhappy when family-of-origin drama began.

At the beginning of this year I did a cut off with my parents. I have avoided writing on my blog about this for a couple of reasons. First, it is extremely painful and for those who have experienced it, you understand just how painful and why I wouldn’t want to post about it. Another reason is that I’ve been afraid of the backlash I might get from well meaning family members with little to no mental health experience. I thought that perhaps if I veiled some of my expressions in poetry that I might avoid some of the latter. Unfortunately, I have still managed to garner the backlash I tried to prevent.

As I have reflected on my blog’s purpose, I realize that I have been holding back useful information from my intended readers. My intended readers are those who have some experience with mental health or at least some desire to learn more, help loved ones, and build a more nurturing environment for our minds. My intended readers are familiar with phrases like “family of origin,” “childhood trauma,” “suicidal ideation,” and “recovery journey.” My intended readers understand that the world of mental health is complicated and that it is best to withhold judgement of those who suffer and their loved ones who suffer with them. My intended readers deserve more vulnerable and direct communications than my poetry posts this year.

This is not the first cutoff I have done with my parents, but this is the longest one. I tried to resume some limited contact with my mom around mother’s day, but we are back to no contact until after the holidays. Family of origin drama is just too much for me right now. I have to be there for my children for the next six weeks.

It’s hard to cope with the reality that you experienced serious trauma as a child. It is almost unbearable when those you love who hurt you so badly deny and minimize your experience, make excuses for themselves, and then shame you for the pain. I have been accused of being ungrateful, unforgiving, and cruel. Those minimizations and accusations hurt more than the original offense. I am comforted to think that the Savior knows the pain I feel. Perhaps he alone will ever truly understand. He whose piercing gaze fell upon the leper and resisted looking away will not fail to see me in my broken state. Like them, I cry out to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

This post is for those who, like me, who find that in their recovery journey, that they must limit contact with people they love. Love is not a purchased commodity. Those we love have not earned our love. In order for love to be real it must be freely given with no expectation of reciprocation. Sometimes we have built empathetic connections of love with people who continually hurt us and keep us from building a healthy and happy life. They sabotage our efforts, contradict our therapists, and pressure us to continue harmful behaviors. These relationships are unlikely to change unless the empathetic connection changes. Sometimes the relationship can’t continue without great harm to recovery.

Cut offs are so hard. We love the person. We want them to understand. We want them to see that they are hurting us and for it to matter to them. We want the unconditional love from them that we have been giving. Some people are just unable to give that kind of love. It’s okay to let go. Sometimes it’s important to let go. This is hard for people raised in codependency.

My family of origin has a lot of problems with codependency. I was raised to believe that I needed to be unselfish to be good. That belief system has driven me repeatedly into burnout. I am finally making some progress in rooting out those codependent virtue/vices and replacing them with healthier values.

Virtue/Vice One: I need to put others first. Selfish women don’t deserve love. I was taught that women feel fulfilled in the home taking care of their family. I was taught that good wives and mothers put their husband and children’s needs first, often go without and make sacrifices for their family. I thought that when I skipped meals, showers, personal growth opportunities, and social activities that I was being a good person. Over time, resent built up and motivation evaporated. I thought that my sacrifices would make me feel fulfilled and that my efforts would be reciprocated and rewarded. Instead it seemed that everyone became accustomed to my behavior and even felt entitled to it. The love I craved felt insufficient and it was. I wasn’t behaving virtuously, I was being codependent. I was expecting my husband and children’s love to sustain me and make up for my neglect of myself. It left everyone frustrated and resentful.

Now I understand that putting others first doesn’t make me a good person, it makes me a resentful person. I understand that I don’t have to earn love. My husband and children love me because they are empathetic and loving people. I love them because I am an empathetic and loving person. I don’t earn their love with my unselfish behavior. I model healthy self care for them and teach them to do the same. They aren’t responsible for my happiness and I am not responsible for theirs.

Codependency keeps us in unhealthy relationships for too long. It is a habit of thinking that shifts responsibility. “I am responsible for everything,” says one codependent person. “You are responsible for everything,” says the other. Because neither of those statements is true, no progress is made. Codependency is like a tug of war, two people waste time and energy pulling against one another and getting nowhere. It isn’t going to be enough to stop pulling. Its okay to put the rope down and walk away.

Virtue/Vice Two: It is unkind to distance myself from people who hurt me. Christ commanded me to love everyone which means I need to put my mental health at risk rather than set healthy boundaries. This is a classic codependent virtue/vice. Keeping toxic relationships and people in your life is not healthy. Proper self care requires you to keep yourself safe from harm. Sacrificing your safety to enable someone’s toxic behavior is not a virtue, its a codependent vice.

Virtue/Vice Three: Doing family cut-offs is cruel. Family relationships need to be preserved no matter how detrimental they are to your mental health. For many years I have kept family relationships in my life that have hurt my recovery. Some family members have repeatedly reinforced toxic narratives, minimized abusive behavior, and blamed victims. Because I believed in the sanctity of eternal families, I kept trying to change toxic family members.

The truth is, eternal families are healthy families. Each individual is accountable for their own behavior within the family system. Not every individual has equal power within the family system. The parents have the bulk of the power and the responsibility for the overall health of the system. Children within the system, even adult children, have little power to change the system. Eventually healthy adult children will outgrow an unhealthy family system. That’s not cruelty, that’s life. If you want an eternal family, you need a healthy family. If your family isn’t healthy, it won’t last anyway.

Habits of codependence are reinforced with practice. It takes two to tango in the dance of codependence and the steps are unconscious. I’ve had to surround myself with people who have healthy boundaries in order to begin to see my own codependent habits.

Unfortunately, that has restricted my circle of friends to a very small group. Churches sometimes teach codependence as a virtue. Women at church are especially proud of their codependence. It is the whited sepulchre of mental health sins. On the outside they are virtuous servants of mankind while inwardly they are seething with the sickly rot of resentment. From such stay far away!

When it comes to relationships, I’ve prioritized quality over quantity. I have also prioritized relationships I feel I have some power to influence. I’m not investing in relationships with people who are rigid, defensive, and self-righteous. The truth is, there are not a lot of mentally healthy people in this world. There are enough mentally healthy people, but you have to look for them. You might find them in unexpected places.

The holidays are a strange mix of emotions for me. Being in recovery isn’t easy, but I have enough faith to believe it will be worth it. My best to all of you who find yourselves in a complicated place this season. You aren’t alone. As I celebrate the birth of the Savior, my model of mental health and altruistic virtue, this month, I hope I can better emulate Him. I hope my words bring you light and hope and not despair.

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.

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

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.

Giving Grace- Have a Tutu!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning Not to Say “I’m Sorry”

“I’m so sorry!!” I looked at the clock behind the receptionist. Late again. How many times today had I had to apologize for being late? Car seat in tow along with another child running around somewhere, I looked back on the day thinking of how I could have possibly done things differently.  I had made Herculean efforts just to show up!  Yet still, I felt the need to apologize because I had made one mistake, misplaced one thing, had a diaper change come up that I hadn’t planned for, or whatever.  My inner critic would insist, “You can’t keep being late for everything!!  It’s so rude.”  Cold wash of shame.

I’ve started challenging the shaming messages that come with having ADHD.  Shame can become a habit, and mine is pretty ingrained.  Maybe that’s why I wasn’t totally comfortable with this video from Jessica McCabe.  I had never considered how apologizing for my inability to be neurotypical impacts my feelings about myself.  “I’m sorry,” implies that I’ve done something wrong.  I didn’t care enough.  I didn’t try hard enough.  Truth is, I try so hard.  It isn’t enough, but that doesn’t mean that I’m to blame.  I deserve credit for my efforts just like everyone else.  Just because I start the game with two strikes against me doesn’t mean I’m not worth having on the team.

With ADHD, and a mother of children with ADHD, I’m not going to manage my symptoms and my children’s symptoms perfectly.  Even neurotypical moms of young kids have trouble keeping a schedule.  Shame is not a healthy way to manage symptoms.  At the same time I know how much my ADHD impacts the people I love and the relationships I care about.  In fact, my inabilility to manage my ADHD perfectly causes me to socially isolate myself to avoid damaging those relationships.

“Oh, there’s a babyshower next week,” or “My son has a birthday party tomorrow,” or “maybe I should set up some playdates,” or “I should sign up to bring cupcakes to the ward party next week.” Those all turn into another list of things for me to fail at; presents I forgot to buy or wrap, another appointment to put on the calendar that I will probably show up late for, another group of people to apologize to.  I’ve thought about quitting the choir I love because I’m worried about being late.  I don’t want to take risks because I know I’m most likely going to fail.  Those failures don’t just impact me.  They impact everyone who is depending on me.  That makes me feel awful!

As I’ve thought more about the ways that the shame around my ADHD has drained my life of the joy and happiness, the more I think Jessica McCabe is right.  I need to stop apologizing for being ADHD.  Instead, I’m going to start thanking my friends and family for their patience and love in spite of my disability.  To all those who have seen the value in me in spite of my ADHD, I say, thank you!  Thank you for seeing me for who I am and loving me anyway.  

I started a bullet journal last week.  Jessica McCabe has a whole ton of Youtube tutorial videos on why this style of planner is great for ADHD.  You can access them here.  It has really helped me so far.  I can’t believe how much I have been able to get done!  I’ve started thinking, “Wow!  I could start looking like that Mom (fill-in-the-blank) that has it all together!”  Then I have to remind myself that I’m me, and that’s the best.  I don’t have to be together and organized to have value.  If this planner helps me to be more productive, that’s awesome, but it doesn’t define me.  

I find myself grappling with the structure of the planner.  My perfectionism starts rearing up.  In fact, my daily schedule today doesn’t include my blog post I’m writing right now.  I’m cheating on my schedule!  I have to give myself permission to color outside the lines because that’s what I do.  That’s who I am, and I’m giving myself permission to be who I am, just maybe with a couple of extra tools to help out.

Jessica McCabe’s videos have done so much to help me and my kids.  I suspect Devin thinks she’s hot.  He seems especially keen to watch her videos.  All three boys resonate with what she has to say.  We watched this video on Sunday.  It’s about using a glitter bottle to calm the brain down during an ADHD meltdown.  They all want one now.  

So if you hear fewer apologizes and more thank yous from me, know that its intentional.  I’m choosing to have more compassion for myself and choose self-love and gratitude instead of shame!  Hopefully I can pass on this habit of positive self-image to my boys.  I’m way too hard on them most of the time.  They struggle with the same stuff I do, but the habit of self-flagellation is the only strategy that I’ve consistently used to manage my symptoms.  When I think about it, its not that surprising that they have self-esteem problems.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Fortunately, its never to late to start being a good example to them!  I’m so grateful for my Savior who is guiding my recovery.  I know that together, we are unstoppable.  Salvation is real.  Hope is not in vain.  

 

This is the calendar page for this month. It is soon to be filled with all the end of school activities!!
I’m redoing my chore chart, and this is going to be the tool that’s going to make sure that I get everything on it! Am I going to have a clean house??? Anything is possible!
All ADHDers know that keeping track of the many projects we start can get overwhelming….This section is going to help me get them all done!
Daily planning can get a little too structured for me. Still, I’m caught up on my laundry in the first time in forever. I’ll take it.
This is the page I did yesterday for one of my boys with ADHD. I plan to do one for all my boys.
This section is where I write about what has worked and what hasn’t.