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.

Winged Messengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miracles

I’ve had a really hard time this week with worrying about what other people think of me. It’s hard when you live your whole life trying to please everyone, to make the kind of shift I am trying to make. There is only one person I have the power to control, and that is me. There is only one person whose opinion of me matters, and that is my Savior. I know that, but teaching my brain to think differently takes time.

Last night I had a session with my counselor. She is pretty amazing. She was very sympathetic and encouraging, which I always need. She had a lot of good questions for me about why the opinions of the Relief Society sisters in my ward are so important to me. My whole life I have allowed them to shape my behavior. I’ve felt driven to be the person they think I should be. She encouraged me to work on developing a support network outside of the Relief Society. She suggested a hobby or something. I need to be with people who can give me permission to be myself, color outside the lines, and be okay with messy.

The thought of reaching out to people outside my faith and trying to find acceptance and love is daunting to say the least. Still, sometimes the Lord’s path leads me out of my comfort zone. Maybe its time to venture a little and cast my net on the other side of the ship like Peter did.

I fell asleep early last night, but then awoke upset at about 3:30. I couldn’t go back to sleep and ended up waking Ben. He talked to me for a while, and gave me a blessing. In the blessing he encouraged me to seek for the Savior in the scriptures and to find his peace. I opened my phone to the Come Follow Me manual and I read the lesson.

Reading scriptures and conference talks can be tricky when I’m struggling with depressive symptoms. It’s like my brain is on high alert for any judgement from anyone. I even find it when it isn’t there. It’s kind of like after you watch a scary movie. Every shadow hides danger, every noise indicates a threat, every innocent looking person is a serial killer. It isn’t reality, but telling your brain that doesn’t change much.

Part of the reason I have a hard time when people tell me to read my scriptures when I’m depressed is that they don’t understand that sometimes the scriptures help, and sometimes they hurt. Same with going to church. The depressed mind takes well intentioned correction like a knife to the heart. Even the most gentle reproof can be excruciating when you feel you are at the emotional breaking point.

Anyway, I was anxious to read the lesson for fear it would send me over the edge, but on the contrary, it was just what I needed. It helped me to clear my mind and see the hand of the Lord in my suffering.

Here’s Pepper in the exam room. Love her to bits!

Saturday night Pepper came down with a bad case of diarrhea. Overnight she started vomiting as well. Her poop looked like piles of melted chocolate all over her pen mixed with what might have been vomit. It was awful. I was planning to go to church. Devin was giving a talk and I wanted to be there, but Pepper wasn’t getting any better. She was clearly miserable, so I took her to the Animal Emergency Room. I had a black dress on for church, and I put a paper towel on her bottom to try and keep the filth off of me. It didn’t help much.

After tests and X-rays, we still weren’t sure what the problem was. They prescribed her a bunch of medications and gave us some special food to give her. I brought her home with the understanding that I was risking her life. Taking the more economical and conservative treatment path might result in her death by bowel perforation. The more aggressive treatments and tests would cost up to $2,000. I took that decision onto myself and decided to bring her home.

As I sat with her on my lap, so weak and helpless, I thought of how badly I would feel if she did die. She reminds me of the sheep in “Mary had a Little Lamb.” She follows me around everywhere. She loves me so much. She has helped me learn what the Savior’s metaphors about shepherds and sheep mean. She hears my voice and she follows me. I love her as she is and she trusts me. Even when I have veterinarians poke and stick her, she still comes to me for comfort and love. Just like I trust the Savior, that whatever happens in this life, it is part of his plan for me, and that he will help me through it. Unlike my children, she will never grow up to be my equal. Our relationship will always be of master and pet. Because of that, I don’t completely understand why I love her so much. In the scriptures it says that the good shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep. He would, as a human, give his life for animals? Yes. Just as the Savior was God, he gave his life for us lowly humans. Such love for something less than has a sacred quality about it.

As I pondered on these things, I felt the love I had for Pepper swell inside me. I wished I had the Priesthood, so that I could lay my hands on her tiny head and bless her. I thought of the power of the Savior; that perhaps through my faith, I could bless her, not with a Priesthood blessing, but with my own faith and humble prayer.

I stretched out my hand and laid it between her big furry ears, and said a prayer. I prayed that God would have mercy on my little sheep. That she would recover. That she would be healthy again.

The kids and Ben came home from church and the chaos of Sunday afternoon swept all of us up in its wake. Pepper started eating and drinking and peeing. By bedtime, she was playing and running. It wasn’t until this morning as I pondered on Pepper’s rapid recovery that I realized that she had been healed. My prayer was answered!

I also noticed that Ben had woken up to help me. For anyone who knows how soundly that man can sleep, that is surely a miracle. Also, the words I read in my scriptures were exactly what I needed to read.

The Come Follow Me lesson for this week is all about hypocrisy, Pharisaical worship patterns, and the ability of the Savior to see the hearts of men and judge righteous judgement. Whether the widow who cast in her mite, or Zaccheus the righteous chief publican, the Savior was able to see his sheep. They also know him.

https://www.lds.org/study/manual/come-follow-me-for-individuals-and-families-new-testament-2019/20?lang=eng

In Matthew 23, the Savior has some serious shade to throw at the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. I imagine it was shocking for the people to hear their leaders criticized so sharply by the Master. This man who was so gentle and forgiving to the harlots, sinners, and publicans, was filled with rage at the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership. They appeared so righteous on the outside! I don’t think we have any idea how much respect they commanded from the people, and yet the Savior was not impressed. The lesson warns us about focusing on the outward appearance in our religious practice. We each have the capacity to become Pharisees.

It occurred to me how much I have changed in the past year. I can’t say that I am completely stripped of pride, envy, and vanity; but I feel like I am more honest about myself. This talk, On Being Genuine, by Elder Uctdorf was linked to the lesson. I felt like it was especially powerful. He said:

We come to church not to hide our problems but to heal them.

Elder Uchtdorf

In the past, I have done everything possible to hide my mental health problems from my ward. I have put up my Potemkin village, hoping I would not be found out. No more. In being open and honest about my struggles, I can more authentically testify of my love for my Savior. I don’t need to hide.

With patience and persistence, even the smallest act of discipleship or the tiniest ember of belief can become a blazing bonfire of a consecrated life. In fact, that’s how most bonfires begin—as a simple spark…… And if we continue to embrace and live true principles in our personal circumstances and in our families, we will ultimately arrive at a point where we “hunger no more, neither thirst any more. … For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed [us], and shall lead [us] unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes.”

Elder Uchtdorf

The whole talk is really good. It was exactly what I needed to hear to give me the courage to continue on a path of authenticity. Miracles have come into my life as I have earnestly sought after my Savior. As I learn to be kinder to myself, surround myself with supportive friends, and continue on my path to recovery, I hope that I can see those miracles and remember that my Savior doesn’t judge my outward actions. He sees my heart. And it is His.

The Sun Rises in the Morning

Laying in bed at 12:30 AM last night. Can’t sleep. Mind turning over all the perceived judgments of the universe staring me down in my bed. It’s like I’m a warrior, and I’ve been beating back the demons all day. I’m battered and bruised and tired and then, on my bedroom ceiling, is the worst of them all. The darkness, the silence, the empty space looming above me. I just can’t fight anymore.

“You could take a plastic bag, put it over your head, put a belt around your neck. Then by morning, its all over,” my exhausted brain reasons.

“That is a stupid idea,” my more rational brain retorts. “That would not work. You would end up a vegetable and how would that help anything. If you’re going to kill yourself it will be the last thing you do, at least do it right. A better idea would just be to go to sleep. Your brain will process this and you’ll wake up feeling better.”

“Maybe I should search Google for insomnia and suicide. I bet suicides are way more common at night,” I think to myself.

“That’s a stupid plan. You need to go to sleep.”

Silence. Darkness.

“Ben!” I call weakly. “Ben, I’m in trouble and I need you.” His snoring stops for a few minutes and then resumes softly.

Prayer. Silence. Darkness.

“I just want to die! I just want to die! Let this be over!” by brain is shouting at me now, pounding out any rational thought.

More prayers. More darkness. More judgement. More shame. Then God sent me an angel in my weakness. Of course he did. She was my mom. It isn’t the first time the Lord has sent her to me at just the right time when I needed a hand. She doesn’t get the depression, but last night, she said just the right things to calm my mind and help me. How did that happen? I don’t know. It just did.

And this morning I got to feel Austin climb into my bed and snuggle into my arms. I got to feel Pepper’s puppy tongue lick my face in an enthusiastic morning greeting. (I swear, God created dogs to let us know what unconditional love looks like. She runs to me every day like she hasn’t seen me in years and I’m the only thing she has ever wanted in her life.) I got to talk to my husband about the reality that I am a good person, that my doubts and my fears are normal, that my efforts help him to be better.

Then I got to walk in the misty rain to see my flowers. The hydrangea blossoms are just starting to turn pink. The coleus is the brightest yellow I’ve ever seen. They give the sun competition. I got to listen to my boys fight because Layne had thrown a dog toy and it fell into Wesley’s cereal bowl. I got to teach them about earning trust.

Hydrangea has bloomed late this year. It is worth waiting for.

I’m so grateful for another day! I’m so grateful for a God who knows where my limits are and won’t let me be tempted more than my power to resist. Depression isn’t going to kill me because I’m stronger than it is. I can do this and I won’t give up.

No one’s opinion of me is worth my life. No one’s. Jesus is my judge. No one gets to take His place. He knows my heart and he knows that this world is a better place because I’m here today. Even with all the uncomfortable things I have to say, the world is better because I am here to say them. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Coleus and blanket flowers in my butterfly garden.
Pepper explores the flowers.

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.

Emergency Pizza Night

Children (8-12)

Last night was an emergency pizza night. I haven’t had one of those in a while; when I can’t function even enough to get some frozen food in the oven at 425 degrees. The day started out really well. I got up early, everybody including the dog out the door, dropped the kids off at school, and took Austin and Pepper to the park. We walked two km, and I worked on training Pepper to heel. Austin played on the playground. It was great! I expected to have a wonderful productive day. It would have continued on that positive trajectory if I hadn’t checked the headlines.

Watching William Barr tell congress he had no plans to give them the unredacted Mueller report and that he suspects that the FBI engaged in “spying on the Trump campaign,” I was profoundly disturbed. I had supported Barr’s appointment, with reservations, of course. I assumed that his reputation and dedication to justice would ensure that he would not be swayed by Trump’s demands. It would seem that my hopes were misguided. This has been a big blow for me. The thought that the Attorney General is involved in the obstruction of the Mueller report is unthinkable, and yet, looking back at the way Senator Sessions was removed, I feel foolish for hoping it was not what it appeared to be.

So, in order to make myself feel better, I settled down to watch some shows with Pepper during Austin’s nap. Unfortunately, Austin did not nap, he destroyed his room instead. Pepper slept, but the shows I chose to watch were disturbing to me. Crime shows can be wonderful inspiring tales of justice and dedicated law enforcement professionals, or they can be depressing tales of depravity. Usually they are a little of both. Sometimes it’s hard to find crime shows that have a good balance. I found a series called “Dark Minds” that I thought would delve into the psychology of violent criminality, which I find incredibly interesting. That was what I watched yesterday. It was disappointing. They do interview an FBI profiler who is fairly good, but other than that, the series just seems to revel in darkness. I felt like I needed to take a shower after watching a couple of episodes.

I spent a few few hours trying to manage Austin’s constant harassment of the dog while studying my music before I started finding my well of patience had run dry. I called Ben and he talked me through a strategy to get the dog in her pen and the boys upstairs playing video games to give me a break. When he came home from work, he helped me get the groceries and pick up the pizza. We fed the boys and got them off to scouts late, but at least they made it. Ben took Austin, and I read in my new art book and played with Pepper until he got home.

Sometimes I think that recovery means that I no longer have emergency pizza nights. The reality is, those nights will always be there. Recovery means that I have the strategies to deal with them and come through on the other side intact. I learned some things too. I’ve learned to stay away from “Dark Minds” and find another show. Better yet, ditch the T.V. and paint something. Another thing I learned is that exercise, while wonderful for mental health, can be exhausting. Just because I get my workout in first thing in the morning, doesn’t guarantee a day of productivity. Sometimes that happens, but not always.

As far as the news and the Mueller report, I need to take a page from Mueller himself. Sometimes he makes me crazy because he is so unruffled. He never says ANYTHING! He’s like the sphinx. Maybe he is as worried and upset as I am, but something tells me he isn’t. He likely has a quality that I wish I had, but don’t yet possess; patience. The man is patient. He knows that his work will eventually come out. The truth, whatever it contains, will come before the American people, and we will decide whether the behavior revealed is considered acceptable in our leaders. The corruption will percolate, the news cycles will rage, the pundits will pontificate, but in the end, in the long arch of our nation’s history, patient and restrained yet persistent dedication to truth and justice will prevail. I don’t need to jump into the washing machine to get the laundry done. I can let the mechanization of justice do its thing and patiently wait for the result. Easier said than done.

If I mess up and find myself in a dark place, thank goodness there is Ben, Pizza Hut, and Jesus Christ. There is another day to learn something new, and try again; a new canvass to fill with a new opportunity to succeed. There is so much more right with me than there is wrong with me! My Savior knows that, and as I prepare myself to sing his praises and testify to the reality of His divine salvation this weekend, my heart begins to soar.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God,
A sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor's rod,
And wins salvation glorious!

The old Satanic foe,
Has sworn to work us woe!
With craft and dreadful might,
He arms himself to fight.
On Earth he has no equal.

Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threatening to destroy us,
We tremble not, united we stand;
They cannot overpower us.

Let this world's tyrant rage;
In battle we will engage!
His might is doomed to fail;
God's judgement must prevail!
One little word shall conquer him.

God's word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes who fear it;
For God himself fights by our side
With weapons of the spirit.

Though goods and kindred may go,
All taken by our foes,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
His kingdom is forever!


Martin Luther

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.