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!