The Testimony of Notre Dame

Watching Notre Dame burn yesterday, I felt as though something of myself was being consumed. One year ago to the day, my husband and I were walking through this majestic cathedral, drinking in this masterpeice of faith and devotion, home to thousands of lovingly created works of art; a testimony to the devotion of generations and centuries of people.  The destruction of so much beauty, history, and value brought me to tears.  After spending the day in morose reflection, I have again found my faith.  I see the images of smoke rising like incense as a prayer; a sacrifice, a reminder.  Everything on this earth is fragile. No matter how beautiful, no matter how much human blood, sweat, and tears have been invested, everything on this Earth was made to die.

I also watched this church video yesterday about a man who backed up his truck and accidentally killed his nine year old son. The senseless and terrible loss of this child seemed to mirror the loss of Notre Dame, with obvious differences, of course. Still, whether a cathedral, a child, or even civic virtues like civility and honest; all loss feels the same. The sense of incredulity, the desperate wish to make it different, to change what is, to repair and restore what once was.

But eventually we must accept the reality; nothing in this world will last. Every creation that exists is temporary and fallen.

This week is a celebration of our Savior’s death and resurrection.  We could not have the resurrection without the crucifixion.  The horror and evil of the one makes the other the more glorious and transcendent.  The longer I live, the more the resurrection means to me.  I testified to my boys about the resurrection on Sunday and they just looked at me like, “What’s the big deal?”  To me, it is everything.

The world considers anxiety and depression to be abnormalities; the result of a pathology.  I consider them to be the natural state of a rational mind that is conscious of the fallen state we are in.  Consider the sorrow!  I have a good life with much joy and happiness, but I have lost two friends to untimely death in the last few years.  I have a good friend who lost a sister to cancer a year ago.  This same friend has lost a couple of sister-in-laws to cancer.  All of these people were young mothers and fathers with families.  I have a friend from college whose twin sons died hours after birth.  My parents will likely pass away in the next fifteen years.  Ben’s dad died of cancer a couple of years ago.  Each time I read the news, see the images of suffering around the world, contemplate on the vast capacity of mankind to commit atrocity upon his fellow creatures; the despair within me grows.  Of course it does!  How could it not?

Perhaps that is why the song, “I am the Resurrection and the Life” in our MCO concert last weekend hit me with such force.  I had never heard the Rob Gardner arrangement before, but the words combined with the inspired music seemed to resonate within my heart strings like the bow on a violin.  


25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:

John 11:25

Each day that I live in this fallen world, I have to keep that hope before me. It is more than a good feeling; it keeps me alive. It is the only way I can bare the thought of living in this world another day. Satan did his worst to Jesus Christ. He combined all his cunning and all his evil; all his power and all his might. Like the fire that burned through the cathedral, there was nothing left when he was finished. There was the shell of a man that once gave life and light to everyone he made contact with. He was dead. Murdered. He was innocent and pure, and yet they killed him. They had won.

Then in three days, he rose again. He conquered death and sin! Not only that, he promised that all that believe on him will also live. Though Satan’s power rages against us. Though evil and darkness gathers like the cloud above Notre Dame. Though the fires of evil, lies, and contention rip through our national fabric destroying so much of value; yet He is Mighty to Save! He can restore! He can bring back what was lost. It is this faith that brings me out of the depths of despair.

For this nation, for this world, I hold the torch of faith and hope aloft. He is the way, the truth, and the life. All those who own him Lord and come unto Him will survive the evil day. There is no man, woman, or child who is shut out from his tender mercies. This is my faith. This is my testimony, born from the flames of Notre Dame.

Expressing Gratitude

This is a promotional card for our concert next month. If you have the chance to go, you should totally do it! You’ve never experienced anything like MCO.

I have been singing with the Dallas Millennial Choirs and Orchestras for several years now. Sometimes I forget how very fortunate I am to sing with this incredible organization. I’ve been thinking some time that I needed to write a letter of gratitude to my conductor and the choir’s founder, Brett Stewart.

Expressing gratitude does wonders for my mental wellness. I don’t do it enough, and today I’m committing to be better. An attitude of gratitude can change my day today. I choose gratitude. I choose to lift someone else who has blessed my life. He doesn’t know me, but he has blessed my life, and it’s time to say thank you. I plan to give this letter to him after rehearsal tomorrow:

Dear Brett Stewart,

You probably don’t know me by name, but most likely you would recognize my face.  I’m an alto 2, and I’ve stood front and center, right in front of you since the first day of DMCO practice.  I’m nobody important, just one of the many alto voices and I kind of like it that way.  I don’t complain or kick up a fuss.  I blend well.  I just come and rehearse and perform every semester.  Last week you mentioned that you get emails from people complaining about stuff pretty regularly, and I thought, that isn’t right.  It’s not right I have been coming and benefiting from this program in such profound ways, and through my silence, I allow cynical complainers to speak for me.  No more.

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years.  When I became a Mom to my son, who is now a fourteen year old, I thought I would be happy, but I found that I lost myself in motherhood.  The more children I had, the worse it seemed to get.  At one point I became suicidal and was admitted to the hospital.  Part of my treatment plan was to rediscover myself and cultivate my interests.  I started looking for a choir.  I had prided myself on my singing voice, and had even sung in an audition choir in junior college, but like so much about myself, my singing had been neglected.  It is one of God’s tender mercies that I found out that MCO was coming to Dallas.  My friend who had been supporting me through it all, took me to the audition.  It has been a near perfect fit for me, even though I have to travel an hour to get to rehearsals. 

Each rehearsal, each semester, each performance I think, “I can’t do this!  It’s too much work,” but my husband pushes me out the door and once I reach the hall and I see you, it all changes.  You have a rare gift to bring the best out in me musically.  Sometimes I feel like that old church video and that I am that old dusty violin.  You found me, dusted me off, took the time to tune and train me, and now I can sing the way God intended for me to sing. 

It’s a small thing to the world, what you do.  You gather a rabble of amateur church choir singers, complete with a horde of rowdy children, and you teach us to sing beautifully.  In spite of your skill and training, Meyerson Concert Hall has closed its doors to you.  We both know why.  The world doesn’t value me, and those like me.  They like to define talent narrowly and invest only in a small fraction of the world that they deem worthy of their time and training.  That’s the world’s way.  It isn’t the Stewart way.  You give freely to everyone.  You take the time for everyone, or nearly everyone, that’s willing to try.  Like the sower, you sow musical knowledge to all of us, and we take it like the soil and multiply it.  It’s beautiful!

This letter is already getting long winded, so I won’t go into great detail about the way DMCO has changed my life.  It is a vital part of my mental wellness.  My voice was always nice to listen to, but after years of MCO training I sound polished and professional.  I read music much better, I control my vibrato, and sing with phrasing, dynamics, and diction.  I always try to sing as though you or one of the other conductors were there in front of me reminding me to put “ih” in my Ai’s, lips around my vowels, and marshmallows in the back of my throat.  I can imagine your angry eyes glaring at me under your eyebrows, hand stretched out, daring me to breathe in the wrong place.  There are times in sacrament meeting when someone sitting in front of me will turn around to comment on my voice.  Sometimes they are quite moved.  To the world, a beautifully trained alto voice singing praises to God in a small chapel is nothing noteworthy; but I know that God hears me.  I matter to him and what you do has more impact than you or I can possibly understand.  I know that every week you give me what I don’t deserve and haven’t paid for; a treasure of musical knowledge and training.  I am humbled and grateful for the incredible opportunity to sing in this choir.

More than anything, I am grateful for the energy you bring to choir each week.  You must tire of repeating the same instructions over and over.  It must be frustrating to have to whip us to MCO standard when we predictably fall short.  Still, you seem to always come with a spring in your step, ready to sweat a bucket as your pour your heart into your work.  I don’t know where you get your faith and tenacity, but thank you.  A million times, thank you.  Thank you for having the courage to start this organization.  Thank you for believing in me and thousands like me.  At first, I was quite cynical about the idea that we were going to be the choir that sings for the second coming of the Lord.  Then I started doubting my cynicism.  Now I don’t doubt anymore.  We will sing for Him.  We are preparing our voices for that great and dreadful day; the ultimate concert of praise and welcome for our God and Savior! 

With Gratitude,

Bridgette Burbank

Puppies and Panic

This is Nicole Pepper. She will be officially our puppy on Monday!

I am totally in love. She is a six week old chiweenie mix, and she is my baby. We were never going to get a dog. They are messy, and a lot of work, and I don’t need more chores. Still, there has always been this nagging feeling that we need to have a pet. Every family has one! Still, we could never agree on what kind or how to get the money together for the initial investment. I knew that eventually we were probably going to get a dog.

When my friend from church ended up with a litter of puppies that needed homes, I was just going to go snuggle them. The more times I went over for puppy snuggles, the more the idea of taking one home appealed to me. Then I brought the kids. Ben was the hard sell. He didn’t want a dog. It would cramp our ability to take off on a plane whenever we wanted to.

Even his heart seemed to melt when he saw the puppies. We picked a little black puppy with tan eye brows, tummy and socks. We named her Pepper. Since we picked her out, we have had little play dates with Pepper. They started out as just a couple of hours at our house. Now they last several. She even was able to stay for Devin’s birthday party last night.

That brings me back to my whack-a-mole post. So I was racing home to finish Devin’s birthday party preparations, keep my boys from killing one another over a video game, and of course, snuggle my puppy. I walked in the door, and tried to comfort a distraught Layne.

Layne is twelve. He is a genius at math and science, an avid reader, a good student and a wonderful son, but he has not been easy to raise. Let me tell ya! Mentally, he is rigid, black and white, and very high strung. He struggles with anxiety and when he gets ramped up, I am about the only person that can help him down. This time, I didn’t have good news for him.

He had used his time limit for the Wii U and it was Devin’s turn. It was his birthday, and for that day only, he had unlimited time to play. He didn’t take it well. He shouted at me and then ran into my bedroom, presumably to calm himself down or prevent himself from acting aggressively and getting into trouble.

I went and got Pepper. I could feel the tension start to drip away. She licked my face and hands and snuggled into my lap. I grabbed some pizza and ate it ravenously. The anxiety masks my appetite so I didn’t realize how famished I was. Layne was crying and occasionally screaming from the other room.

We have had him in therapy for a couple of years, but we still struggle with temper tantrums. Electronics are especially problematic. They ramp up his anxiety and if he is on them for too long, he can’t handle his emotions. But, when you take them away, it is so devastating that he can’t deal with his disappointment, so he has a melt down. Timeouts sometimes work, but sometimes being by himself with nothing to do means that he ruminates on his feelings and they escalate. We no longer force him into timeout. He puts himself in timeout as a coping strategy. During Spring Break he has made ample use of timeouts to help him deal with being with his three brothers all day every day.

He has about four mental health diagnoses that we are working with. Layne is a unique combination of characteristics that makes treating him extremely complicated and difficult. He can be manipulative, but most of the time his distress is truly genuine. This time the timeout was not working. His volume was increasing. It seemed to come from everywhere as it echoed through the living room. Then there was a loud “thump.” He had escalated to throwing things. It was time to intervene.

When I approach Layne in his melt-downs, I have to tread carefully. I show no emotion. If I get angry and start scolding, he will escalate. I understand his state of mind, because I have been there so many times myself. The brain is bathed in cortisol and adrenaline. There is no rational higher level thoughts going on. He is defensive and ready to lash out, like a wounded animal. There is no instruction, no behavior modification at times like these. There is one goal. Calm him down. Then you can talk. Then you can reason. Then you can give consequences. But calming him down is the first priority. That takes precedence over everything else.

I had Pepper in my arms when I entered the room. I slowly approached Layne who was glaring at me angrily. To him, I was the one who was responsible for the injustices of the universe. I stroked his neck and told him I was sorry that he was having a hard time. I asked him what I could do to help him calm down. He erupted into a fountain of grievances. Pepper whined softly. I asked him if he noticed how his shouting was upsetting the dog. He quieted a little, but continued his monologue of victimhood. The puppy continued to whine. I listened and commented and clarified dispassionately. Gradually, his anger seemed to ebb and the puppy stopped whining. I sat down beside Layne. I held Pepper up to his face, reading him and the dog carefully. The dog licked him affectionately. I set her in his lap. She didn’t resist, but curled up contentedly.

His angry mask dropped and tears filled his eyes. The dog seemed to give him permission to feel his pain and release it. Within two minutes, Layne’s affect was completely different. He was no longer ruminating on his disappointment and how unfair things felt. His face was serene. It was like magic!

I’ve got a bag of tricks I’ve used in the past. Once I started reading a book to him and after a couple of minutes, he was a different child. Distraction can do wonders. Still, the change from anger to the release of sadness and tears, that was a first. It seemed to me that the dog was uniquely suited to bring that out in Layne. Her willingness to lick him even though he had scared her before was so significant. Her acceptance and love was validating to him, and I think she was just what he needed in that moment.

We were able to salvage the evening. Devin continued playing the Wii U, only taking a break to eat cake and open presents. Layne participated with the family. I think Pepper helped make the evening a big success.

Devin with his cake. Layne and Devin sat next to each other peacefully!

Sometimes the Lord works in unexpected ways. I always thought about getting an emotional support animal; a fully trained dog that would help Layne manage his emotions that would likely cost a lot of money. I had no idea how much a little mutt, a rescue with no training and nearly free, could benefit my family. She has just the right temperament for my wild anxious boys. I can’t help but feel that this is one of God’s tender mercies. Little Pepper was supposed to come to our home. She is uniquely suited to bless our family.

That doesn’t mean that she isn’t going to be a lot of work. I just sense that this dog has the raw material to be a powerful tool for helping Layne, me, and all of us deal with our stressful lives. I’m going to train her to be an emotional support dog.

I’ve done my share of eye rolling with the whole “emotional support animal” trend, but the fact is, there is a reason for it. We humans have created a concrete world for ourselves. Animals and plants are usually stuffed or made of silk. We’ve lost our connection with nature and we pay for it. If an animal in our home is what it takes to remind us that we are part of a larger world full of creatures great and small, then I accept it. If it brings us back into balance, it will be well worth the work.

The scriptures say that by small and simple things, the Lord brings to pass that which is great. I stew and study about my problems. I consult the best minds and study the profound theories of mental health until my brain hurts. Then the Lord brings me a dog and I remember that he knows what I need. He knows what my boys need. And he will supply my needs.


 My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His Name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy's sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death,
Thy presence is my stay;
A word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise!
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.

Connections and Cardinals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born to Fail at Motherhood

Tears were welling up in tender eyes and I looked up from my phone surprised as he said, “Mom when you’re on your phone, it feels like you don’t care about me.” His words seemed to hit me like a hammer. I wanted to justify myself. I had only been on my phone for a few minutes. I was going to check grades, but took a little detour to social media……I’m not a bad mom! But here was my son and his feelings were real and they were the rational result of his experience. Mom screwed up and hurt her little boy. It isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.

I turned my phone off. I pulled that big child into my lap and told him I was sorry he felt I didn’t care about him.  I reassured him that I loved him very much even if my choices sometimes make him think I don’t. “What can I do to show you I love you right now?”

Why did I react the way I did? Why didn’t I explain to Wesley why he shouldn’t feel that way because Mom is busy and sometimes I have to do stuff on my phone. Because I know I was born to fail at motherhood, and I’ve gotten used to saying I’m sorry, dusting myself off, and trying again. I know when my kids give me a feeling statement, they’ve done some work and I need to respect that.

There is an awesome saying that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. There is another great saying that we need to fail early and fail often. There is another great saying that the first child is like the first pancake. And some of us are just bad at making pancakes in which case, the whole stack might look a little rough. These are all great sayings because they remind me that what I’m doing as a mom is HARD! I’m gonna make mistakes. Lots of them. It’s okay to make mistakes because mistakes help me to learn.

If I justify my mistakes and pretend I’m never wrong, that means my kids think THEY are always wrong. They are wrong sometimes and they need instruction and consequences and all that, but they need to know that mistakes are a part of life and that’s why we need the Savior. Even Mom. Especially Mom.

One of the things I learned in training to be a teacher was the concept of invented spelling. I was skeptical. Why would you teach kids to spell words however they want to? What kind of nonsense was that! Then I saw a master teacher teach a class of first graders in a writer’s workshop. When I was a kid, we did endless pages of handwriting practice where we copied three and four letter words on specially lined paper. Sometimes they were creative and engaging sentences like, “Pat sat on a mat.” I hated first grade….

In the writers workshop there were stacks of paper different paper, some with lines, some without, crayons, pencils, etc. Sometimes a child would only write a few letters. That was okay. They could draw pictures. The teacher and I would circulate the room and ask the children to tell us about their “writing.” The energy and creativity was palpable as excited little voices described Disneyland, trips to the zoo, angry drawings of cleaning up messes and doing chores, sad drawings of missing a friend who moved away. These little ones weren’t working three and four letter word, they were getting to spell words like “caterpillar” and “water slide” they were sounding them out and spelling the best they could. We would clap and cheer for their efforts and sometimes write the translation above their “invented spellings.”  It didn’t take long for me to become a believer in writer’s workshop and the new way to teach kids to write by allowing them to try hard things and fail and have it be okay.  Eventually their spellings improved along with their vocabulary and most importantly, their ability to connect their experiences with written language.  If we would have had them do handwriting practice with perfectly spelled words in perfect penmanship, they probably would have been successful.  Successful at doing something easy and useless.  Instead they failed every day at doing something hard and valuable, and they were better off because of it.  Failing is underrated.  Own the failure!  

Motherhood is hard like writer’s workshop.  It’s hard and you’re going to mess up.  Your heart walks around outside of your body in a dangerous world!  You don’t have control, you can’t protect, you learn to love even when loving hurts.  You learn what it feels to be God when you know the answers, but your child insists on learning the hard way instead of listening to you and taking a safe path.  You have to learn to stand back and let your child make their mistakes and find their own way, because they will.  Sooner or later,  they will become themselves and 999 times out of a thousand, they won’t become who you wanted them to be.  Then you learn that the person you wanted them to be was a vain ambition, and that the beautiful broken person that is real is much better than what you imagined.

And then there is being the adult child of a parent you love.  A parent that screwed up and hurt you.  There is tremendous empathy.  I’m that parent too!  I screw up.  I hurt my kids.  It’s hard, it’s real, and it’s messy and ugly and incredibly painful.  I can’t minimize it.  I can’t lie to  myself about it.  It is what it is and like Wesley, I cry out with tears in my eyes and say, “When you did this, it hurt me!”  All I want them to do is just say, “I’m sorry.  What can I do today to show you that I love you?”  And yet that is so hard to do.  And I know it.  It’s never too late for you to be that kind of parent that says, “I’m so sorry.  What can I do today to show you that I love you?”  It can heal.  It can mend the broken hearts.  Hopefully when my adult children tell me the hard things, I’m not rusty at using those two magic words.  “I’m sorry.”  I’m sure I’ll need them then, just like I do today.

If you see yourself in my pain, I hope you know that there is a Savior who loves you.  He knows your pain.  He knows the broken hurts.  It hurts and there is no easy fix.  There is no path forward that doesn’t involve hard things.  He suffered more than anyone that ever lived on the Earth, even eternal suffering!  He beckons to you and me. 

  • “Come  unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I shall give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.  For I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

His burden is light!  The world is full of impossible requirements for mothers.  He only requires a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  He only asks that we learn of Him and take his yoke.  From a weary Mom who has taken his yoke, let me tell you, it is a relief!  He is Mighty to Save!  My children are in his loving hands, and he will make me enough for them.  I was born to fail at this, and He knew it.  That is why he came and gave himself a ransom for me and I will love him forever.

Gratitude is Everything

If politics were better, if church members were better, if my house was clean, if my children were obedient, if my concert were over, if my laundry was caught up, if Ben weren’t out of town, if Austin were potty trained, if I didn’t have depression,  if I had a “neurotypical brain,” if…..if……then, I would be happy.  Then the fear would go away.  Then the fear and shame dreams would go away.  Then the spirit of contention would leave my home.  Living in the future keeps happiness and peace always a footstep away.  Like the stupid donkey who follows the carrot that is constantly held a few feet in front of him, success and accomplishment are forever out of reach.  When will he learn wisdom?  Joy is had in the present, not the future!  The future is where stress and fear live.  The present is where beauty is.  The present is where the Savior is.

The scriptures say that to God past, present and future are always before him.  To me, that means that he has no stress or fear from the future, and no regret from the past.  He lives in the NOW.  He sees all three, but he doesn’t live in all three.  The present is the only moment that matters.

My front yard garden.  The grass was always full of weeds, but there were always flowers too.  Gratitude is when you can see the flowers and not just the weeds.

Before I went to Sundance Psychiatric hospital six years ago, I packed my bag and prepared to leave my house–My house with the filthy carpet, toys all over, and dishes in the sink.  I had been filled with rage for so long because of the endless chores and frustration of keeping the house.  When I prepared to leave, not knowing when I would be back, tears filled my eyes.  I didn’t see a house full of chores, I saw my home.  Everything was suddenly so beautiful!  My children, the toys, even the ratty carpet seemed to have a strange nostalgic beauty.  I distinctly remember walking out my front door and seeing my hanging basket full of Vinca flowers and feeling the sunlight warm on my face.  Perhaps I glanced for a moment at the fall weeds that flourished in the lawn, but the shame was strangely gone.  I saw the flowers, not the weeds.  When the future was so uncertain as to be impossible to live in, I spent a few peaceful moments in the present, being grateful for my life.

There’s a million things that I can find wrong with this picture.  There is Devin’s orange sweatshirt, some toys, a misplaced hat, and I’ve been meaning to make more bows for the tree.  The cushions are not arranged right on the couches, and the wires are showing beside the hearth.  The grateful mind sees the beauty in spite of the mess.  

My house is warm, my pantry is full, my children are healthy.  I have clothing, hats, mittens, and a gas fireplace, and I have a day of peace and quiet while Austin is cared for at preschool, I have a gorgeous Christmas tree, I have a hot shower, I have friends that love and value me.  I have one more day to breathe the chilly December air, testify of my Lord and Savior, and strive again to be his handmaid.  Blessed be the name of Him who is Mighty to Save!

As I have dealt with depression over the years, I have a complicated relationship with the word gratitude.  It is the depression bandaid passed out by so many well meaning who lack true understanding of the burdens I carry.  It can cut like a knife when heard through the filter of depression.  Depression magnifies negative shaming messages like a megaphone in your ear.  You don’t see the love and concern and desire to help when your friend says, “You have such a great life!  Look at all the people who would love to be you and have the things you have.  You should be grateful.”  The only thing the depression ears here is “YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL!  YOU PATHETIC HUMAN BEING!”  Being the friend of a depressed person is not easy.  They will find the cudgel in the most well meaning messages!

On the other hand, the habit of gratitude is the best long-term depression solution IMHO.  Nothing can calm the fears, motivate the mind, and heal the heart like gratitude!  One therapist had me write three things I was grateful for every night before I went to bed.  It was easier to go to sleep, I slept better, and I woke with a more positive outlook on my life.  Gratitude allows you to see God and his hand in your life.  He loves you!  He wants to bless you.  He doesn’t want you to live in fear and shame.  He sees your sins and weaknesses and loves you anyway.  He is grateful for YOU.   Imagine that?  He sees what you are, not what you aren’t.  Could you do that?  Could you see yourself as he does?  He sees pure truth and the truth he sees is, you are his child, full of divine potential.

Children live in the present.  It can be extraordinarily frustrating for adults because they have no sense of time, of schedules, of efficient transitions.  The family is rushing around trying to get to soccer practice, church, a school activity, or whatever, and Austin saw a butterfly in the garden.  The whole world has stopped for him as he delights in that moment.  He drinks it in.  He ignores the shouting and the stress, and he wanders into the garden to get a better look.  There is a squirrel in the tree, a spider on the sidewalk, an ant mound in the grass.  There is a pretty leaf on the driveway, a rock in the flowerbed, a bird has just sung her song.  He delights in every sight and sound.  “Momma!  Momma!  Wook!”  I scoop him up as he points and cries and tries to show me the beautiful things God gave him to see.  “We’re late, Austin.  Let’s get in the van and go bye-bye,” I insist with worry lines etched in my forehead, and my breath coming in shallow bursts.  Austin tries to get me to live in the present and see God in my life, but I don’t have time.  I am chasing the carrot of the future.

Therapy helps me to live in the present.  Yoga helps me to live in the present.  Breathing is a gift.  In the Christmas Devotional broadcast we watched on Sunday, one of the speakers mentioned the gift of breath.  Yoga teaches you to focus your mind on something boring.  Breathing.  That is extraordinarily difficult for an ADHD mind to do!  If you can value your ability to breathe, and find gratitude in that gift from God, you will be well on your way to developing the habit of gratitude.

On the way to church, Austin noticed every yellow and red tree.  When we arrived, he delighted in the fallen leaves in the parking lot.  God wants us to delight in his creations, like his little ones do.  Against none is his wrath kindled save those who confess not his hand in all things.  Even the little things.

Another thing I do that has helped me live in the present is to make a conscious effort be a child again.  It isn’t always possible, but whenever I can, I walk with Austin in the garden.  I let him take the lead.  He shows me the treasures of the present: a pile of acorns, a muddy toy he found, a flower that survived the frost the night before, a big black beetle.  I watch his YouTube shows with him and immerse myself in the world of make believe where “bad men” and “heroes” engage in timeless conflict for eternity.  I let go of stress and shame and let him lead me into his world, of play and magic.  The present moment with all its delights is best seen through the eyes of my little Austin. 

When Wesley was his age, I used to let him lead me out of his preschool class.  He had the same routine every day.  He would sit on every bench on his way out the door.  I think there were three or four.  I would sit next to him until he signaled to me that it was time to move to the next bench.  After a while, the school principal noticed our strange habit.  Ms. Danielle is a master teacher, and her heart was touched by our little ritual.  “Someday he won’t want to sit on the benches anymore,” she said wisely.  Eventually Wesley was no longer interested in those benches.  Now Austin goes to the same school, and we sit on the benches again.  Until he grows out of that stage, which will be too soon.

Oh that I were an angel and could have the wish of my heart!  I would speak of these things to all mankind.  The God of our fathers is Mighty to Save!  He has given all his children gifts great and small.  There is no nation that lives void of the sunlight of his mercy!  His tender mercies are upon all those who humble themselves as a little child and confess his hand in all things!  Let us find our Savior who lives in the present moment of our lives.  He will not drive us into the future, nor will he shame us for the past.  He will lead us to green pastures where we shall want for nothing even in our days of tribulation!  Blessed be his name!