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!

Democrat for a Day

Photo by Martin Castro on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pepper Queen of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Year Perfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Ponies, Sparkles, and Pink Crayons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, THIS

Waiting

Today I helped a new sister clean her house before she moved in.  I usually never do stuff like this, but I decided to today for several reasons.  For one thing, this lady was assigned as one of my ministering sisters. Another thing, is I am trying to be supportive of the new Relief Society presidency.  Another thing is, it’s good for me to serve and socialize even though it isn’t my favorite thing to do.

When I arrived, I saw familiar faces from church standing in a circle and chatting.  I had just dropped off my baby with the sitter and was eager to get started, but I engaged a little in the small talk about the house.  I thought it interesting to see how each sister chose a different part of the house to clean. I chose the tile grout. Why?

I like getting deep into the dirty parts in the foundation.  A clean floor is a clean house to me. Other sisters wiped out cupboards or did other stuff.  I didn’t really pay attention to them. I just focused on my job. As I listened to the other sisters talk, I thought about all the reasons I don’t fit in.  I remember long ago my counselor talked to me about women and the way we compete with one another for status. Being thin, pretty, a good housekeeper, a devoted mother, having a wealthy husband, having a successful career…..these are all values that we compete in.  Inevitably, I find myself feeling inadequate as others jockey for position within the female social framework. Why? I am reasonably thin, well educated, and otherwise successful. What makes me ashamed? It is self-knowledge.

Self-esteem has always been a tricky thing for me.  You can’t esteem what you don’t understand and I don’t really know myself.  This depressive episode has charted more territory in my self-discovery than ever before, but I don’t always like what I find.  Self-discovery can be painful when I confront my own illusions, my motivations, my fears, and everything else that I prefer not to look at.  Also, as I discover more about myself, I realize that who I am is not under my control nearly as much as I wanted to think it was. I am a product of forces like my community, my family, my genetics, my habits.  These things are like concrete. At one time, they may have been flexible and moldable, but over the course of the forty years I have been alive, they have hardened into the shape of me. This shape I am still discovering, but one thing I am certain of:  no amount of working out at the gym, reading to enrich my mind, or self-improvement effort is going to make me over into the person who can, with authenticity, present myself to others as anything but a deeply flawed person. I am convinced that the only way I want to live is with authenticity, so I don’t have much to say in superficial conversations that seem to involve posturing.  

This is tricky territory I am wandering into.  I don’t want to imply that I am judging and condemning other women for their posturing.  I would just as soon condemn my dog for licking her bottom. It is what dogs do. As women, we posture and compete and jockey for position.  It’s what we do. I just don’t do it and I never really understood why before, but today I think I made some progress. Sometimes I thought something was wrong with me and that was why I seemed disinterested, discouraged, or even annoyed during these social interactions.  Now I see that what is right with me is what is wrong with me. My own self-knowledge of my flaws, coupled with my determination to live with authenticity, result in my overall disenchantment with superficial human interaction in general.

So what I thought in the past was social anxiety, seems to be to be something else.  It is a tendency toward self preservation; a need to live authentically and be accepted for who I truly am, not for a projection I’d like others to think I am.  So as I scrubbed the stains from the tile floor, I considered myself, in that space, being me, observing the other sisters around me, and seeing everything from this new perspective.

And then, I started thinking about the people who were not there–the previous owners of the home.  Of course, they had foreclosed the house and left it in a sorry state, so no one was very complimentary of them.  We were engaged in cleaning the grime of years that had accumulated in what had been their home. Then the thought occurred to me, that these faceless, nameless people had been in our ward.  They were not members of the church, but they had lived in my ward boundaries and as such, they were technically in my ward family. They had struggled and suffered and lived out their days in my neighborhood and only now did I spare a thought for them.  Why was I cleaning their house now, and not months or years before? Why was this family worthy of my help and the other wasn’t? Were they not just as loved by their Heavenly Father? At this moment, that family is probably moving into another home somewhere, but surely God is aware of them and loves them just as much as he loves me.  Seeing myself within this picture of other divine children both on the covenant path and off it, helps me to understand my own place in this world and what he would have me do. I’m not the woman I wish I were, but perhaps I am who he needs me to be.

That is where grace comes in.  I am not the woman I wish I were.  Still, the Savior died for me. He loves me that much, so I can give myself a little grace.  I can look into my dark places and give myself some forgiveness that I fall short. I can restrain the inner critic and unleash the inner nurturer and allow myself to be; to exist without judgement.  There is no greater gift one person can give another; suspended judgement.  

When something imperfect is allowed to exist, it reminds me of the plan of salvation and the wisdom of my God.  He created this world, an anomaly within the cosmos, a temporal vaccuume in the fabric of eternity, a place where justice and perfection are suspended and sin and death are allowed to exist.  This place, the training and testing place of the spirit sons and daughters of God, is a crucible of pain and growth. One of the hardest things to learn in life is to do as God has done. To suspend judgement.  To allow our fellow men to make their choices and love them regardless of what those choices are and how they affect us is to approach the throne of God himself. That is what he has done. He suspends his judgment until the end.  He has given us the hope of salvation through the sacrifice of his son. And he waits. He waits for us to find ourselves and one another in the mess that is this world. He waits for us to feel after him and remember ourselves; not the shallow images of our vain imaginations, but the God that lives within us.  He waits. He waits for me.

Taking a Break

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love Pepper and she loves me!

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

My roses started blooming!

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

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

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

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

Austin feeds Pepper his peeps.

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

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

Honoring Adam and Discovering God through Self-Knowledge

On Sunday there was a guy sitting in front of me that was obviously a visitor. I love seeing these people in our congregations because they add variety and interest to what is often the same stale mix. (No offense to my ward family.) He had a beard and a darker complexion. I thought he looked Middle Eastern. He had on some nice jeans and a casual shirt. He didn’t seem to have come with anyone.

During the opening song, I sang mostly soprano because a sister I love was sitting behind me singing alto beautifully and it was nice to harmonize. I put extra effort into phrasing and vowel pronunciation. I just started MCO practices again and so I had had a refresher on good singing and was putting it to use. After the hymn the bearded man turned around and said in a thickly accented voice, “My God bless and protect your singing voice!” I was surprised and flattered.

After the meeting I spoke to him and he said a curious thing. He said, “Remember, the first commandment of God is to honor Adam.” This was news to me. I had always thought that the first commandment of God was to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. Seeing my skeptical expression, he elaborated saying that it was not literal, that we were to honor the Adam in us.

I have been pondering that interaction for several days. Jung taught about a phenomenon called “synchronicity” which I haven’t studied much about yet. The basic (very basic) idea is that things happen for a reason and that when you are working hard to improve yourself and your life, help will come in unexpected ways. I think that this swarthy gentleman was supposed to say what he said, and that it was meant to emphasize the thread of understanding that I have been weaving about the self and God.

Jung understood the profound difficulty of studying the human psyche. It’s like trying to study a microscope while using the microscope to do the studying. We are fairly competent at studying lower order creatures on this Earth, but the study of ourselves, our morality, our motivations, our core needs and desires; we are still cavemen drawing stick figures in the dirt. Self knowledge begins by knowing that you know nothing.

Have you ever thought that you don’t really know what you look like? Even mirror images or selfies reverse the image. What we see is also usually a stagnant image that is often posed and inorganic. My husband and children probably know a lot more about what I look like than I do. That goes for the psyche as well. Often we don’t know nearly as much about ourselves as we think we do.

There have been numberless multitudes of human beings that have lived on this planet since Adam and Eve, and yet each of us repeats the same patterns of behavior; birth, development, often parenthood, and finally death. It’s like reinventing the wheel over and over for eternity. Often parents and grandparents are able to pass on useful traditions and helpful maxims and morals to their posterity; but there is so much more that we can do.

This iconic painting shows God’s connection to man who is created in his image.

Imagine for a moment what Adam must know. I believe that once we leave this world, we watch with our spiritual eyes as our descendants go through their mortal experience. Adam, having experienced mortality himself would have first hand experience, and then also the opportunity to witness his countless descendants experience mortality. Compare his knowledge about us and our current challenges contrasted pwith the pathetic lack of knowledge that we have about ourselves. We are not mortal beings, we are eternal beings. Do we honor the Adam that is in us? Do we seek to know ourselves as we are, and resist the urge to see ourselves as the flat two dimensional image on our cell phone screen?

Picture of me taken yesterday with my cell phone when I got home from choir.

I have heard the argument that there is no point to this quest for self-knowledge. It won’t put bread on your table, get your chores done, or fill your 401K. Why do it? It’s hard work! The response I have to that is that it is the only way to keep the first great commandment of God.

My thickly accented friend at church said that the first commandment was to honor Adam, or the Adam within us. The Savior said the first commandment is to love God. They are the same thing. Think about it. How do we love God? We’ve never seen him, we don’t understand him, and he is pretty much unknowable. Kind of like the Self. In fact, we are told in scripture that we are created in the image of God. (A lightbulb should be popping up over your head about now.) We can only love God if we know him. We can only know him if we study the one who was created in his image. That would be you. The Self.

One way that I have found nuggets of self-knowledge is by keeping a dream journal. In our dreams we are uninhibited by the social constraints that force us to mask our true selves. We are free to engage in all kinds of crazy behavior. My dream self has jumped off of buildings, murdered people, possessed a pet lion and a pet tiger, worked in a prison, worked as a secret agent, married many different men, had sex with many different men, given birth to babies I’ve never seen in real life. Each one of these dreams tells me a little about myself and who I am underneath the layers of other’s expectations and my own masks of self-protection.

Several of my mandalas that I made during my last depressive episode six years ago.

Drawing mandalas is another path to self-knowledge. A couple of days ago I was drawing a mandala and taking videos periodically to document my process. I plan to do a post on here with the videos and pictures since several of my friends on Facebook expressed interest in making them. During this process I saw something unexpected. I saw a repeating pattern of birds in my mandala. Then I saw sunrises, trees, mountains and wind. Gradually the mandala took shape in my mind. It is going to be something of an image of direction, new beginnings, facing challenges, and fostering hope in eternity. As I drew, I found that what I thought were birds were actually butterflies. I have also had two dreams of butterflies in the past month, so that is a powerful symbol of metamorphosis that is consistently coming to my conscious mind.

This mandala has taught me a lot about myself and how I see the world. Nature is very important to me and being in the city all the time is hard for me. Trees, butterflies, flowers, and mountains fill me with joy and soothe my anxiety. I need connection with nature, which makes winter harder for me emotionally than other times of the year. I must prioritize some time each day to get out of the house and away from the city, even if it is only at the park or something. I need to make time to go out in the garden and get my hands deep in the soil and in contact with living things. During my meditation, it would be useful for me to visualize mountains. Little things like that will help my mental health just as well or better than taking another pill. I will post a picture of my mandala when it is finished as well as the video of my process.

Another thing that has helped me develop self-knowledge is to revisit my childhood. Children don’t wear masks. Children are their true selves and that is one of the things I love about them. They have not yet learned to be polite, project a false image, and conform to the expectations of society. Because of this, your childhood can tell you a lot about yourself.

As I child I lived in the country. I loved to play in the water, ride my bike, explore new places, and have adventures. I liked to spend a lot of my time alone or with only one or two friends. I spent a lot of time reading, dreaming, and imagining adventures. This tells me that I have an active imagination, an introverted type of psyche, and a thirst for novelty. I engage in risky behavior at times. It also tells me, again, that I have a need for nature. I have a curious disposition and a ready intellect, but I am unmotivated by social pressure and competition. If something is difficult or boring, I will avoid it which can limit me in my achievements. I crave novelty which makes habitual behaviors distasteful.

With this self-knowledge I can anticipate what career options would work best for me, where I am likely to feel bored and under-stimulated verses where I would thrive. I would probably enjoy working in a nursery and teaching gardening classes. I might like being a children’s swim instructor. I might enjoy a career as a flight attendant because of the novelty of new people and places. It helps me to have a close friend and mentor to help encourage me to do hard things and push through boring tasks to accomplish more than I would do on my own.

Anyway, to the man who sat in front of me in sacrament meeting, thank you for your insight. I hope that I can always keep God’s first commandment to love the Self by honoring Adam and discovering God. I hope that as I share my journey with you that you might find self-knowledge that can enrich your life. God bless!

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.

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!