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.

Embracing Uncertainty

These last few days have had their ups and downs. It’s hard to see the views on my blog go from almost 200 on Tuesday to 9 yesterday, but I know that it isn’t the quantity of viewers that matter. I don’t need hundreds of people to give me support, just a few good friends.

First, I want to share a few more details about Mother’s Day than I shared before. I was trying to protect the woman who hurt me by not using her title. She was and is my Relief Society President. This isn’t the first time she has hurt me. The fact that she is the Relief Society President makes the whole thing all the more difficult emotionally and spiritually. My counselor and I see a clear pattern of behavior from her that is not likely to stop if it is not confronted. She is well meaning, but extremely certain that she knows what is wrong with me and what I need. She is very suspicious and at times hostile to mental health and any concepts that sound mental health related. She is the only church leader I have ever had that told me not to contact my counselor after a depressive incident. Her ignorance, and her determination to preserve it, makes her particularly dangerous to me and my recovery.

Rather than admit her mistake on Mother’s Day and try to make things right with the Relief Society sisters and me, it looks to me like she has chosen to take the victim role. This complicates things. Sisters are taking sides and because she has a powerful position in the social structure, she has an advantage over me. At first I wanted to have a meeting with the Bishop and the Relief Society President, but after discussing it with the Bishop, it seems that he wants to try to reconcile rather than address what she did to me and why it was so hurtful. I don’t think it would be helpful to meet with her until she is willing to accept responsibility for what she did.

Yesterday I had a panic attack as I was considering the very real possibility that she would continue to target me and treat me this way. I considered petitioning the Stake President for a change of wards. This would disrupt our lives considerably, but it might be worth it. Perhaps in a new ward I could build a more solid social support structure with church leaders who respect and understand mental health a little better and are willing to confront the mental health stigma that is so strong in our church. But I would likely encounter similar problems in a different ward.

It is hard for me to keep forgiving my church leaders for their ignorance about mental health. They are not paid. Their work is completely volunteer. They receive no mental health training except for a few websites and pamphlets they are supposed to read. Sometimes I think they get burned out with all the drama they have to put up with with no compensation. Still, as the cycle continues and I have to try to teach each new Bishop and Relief Society President that is called, I can’t help but think that I have the more difficult job. I have no degree in mental health. I have no calling for this, no authority to speak to it, and often no respect for what I say regardless of how seemingly intuitive the concept. My only qualification is that I have a emotional disorder; which also serves to paradoxically discredit me.

My explanations are often met with questions I don’t know the answers to. “How much longer will you be in counselling? When will your recovery be over?” My personal favorite is, “Are you listening to your counselor? Are you telling them everything?” As though I am paying and spending an hour every week just to sabotage my own treatment! At best members and leaders are sympathetic but sometimes bungling. At worst they are hurtful. It is the equivalent of a diabetic person going to church and having someone steal her insulin and force feed her an entire plate of brownies. Studio C did a skit on this kind of situation. I relate with Matt!

I tell myself it isn’t their fault. They don’t have the experience or the training to understand what I am experiencing. If I were in their place and hadn’t experienced what I have experienced, I would probably see it the same way they do. I would probably think, “Why is she so sensitive? Why is she still in therapy? Why can’t she just move on from stuff? What a bunch of crackpot non-sense words are ‘recovery’ ‘healing path’ ‘my truth’ and ‘inner child’?” I get that people don’t get it. I get that most people probably don’t possess true mental wellness and never will. I get it, but that doesn’t stop them from hurting me.

God has given me a very powerful vision of a future where people like me can have understanding and compassion, love and acceptance, and most of all respect for the incredibly strong survivors that we are. My pain has given me empathy, and I wouldn’t trade that for all the gold in the world. It doesn’t matter that others often don’t suffer from the same problems or have the same scars; all pain is remarkably the same. It always benefits from compassion. Even when you can’t fix it, you can feel it and give love.

Love is like ice on a burn. It doesn’t make the problem go away, it just helps it not sting so much. Love is a positive and productive force that leads to healing. Shame is the opposite. It can produce short term results that look like healing, but it makes the sting worse and delays real healing. Too often at church I have felt shame instead of love. The depression makes it worse for me, but shaming messages aren’t good for anyone. Transitioning from a shame culture to a love culture takes knowledge, modeling, and instruction of members.

I say that like I know how to do it. I don’t. I still use shaming messages with my boys far too often. “Why aren’t you working on your chores? You’re supposed to be sweeping the floor! Why is there a candy wrapper in the living room? AGHHH! You guys are such slobs! Why can’t you clean up after yourselves!?!” They internalize those shaming messages. Thankfully, a good chore chart and some consistent device management is making our house run a little more smoothly. I feel less frustrated and they are getting more high fives and fewer scoldings from me.

My counselor talked to me about reframing my problems with the Relief Society President to gradually decrease their importance in my life. She isn’t in my inner circle. It doesn’t matter what she and her friends think of me. I can be okay and live a happy life without her love and approval. I don’t have to change her or the ward or anyone.

Most of all I can have faith in my Savior and myself. He didn’t give me these trials without giving me what I need to overcome them. He has a path forward from this place even if I don’t see it right now. My anxiety leads to me to catastrophize the situation, but I need to remember the Lord can soften hearts. He can change people if they let him. Whatever happens will be according to his will, and I can live with that.

Eminem and Addicts

I read an article about Eminem online. I never liked him before today. I guess I judged him because of his foul language and some of the stuff in the headlines about him many years ago. Like so many things about my past self, I am starting to question my old judgement, look closer at others that I have dismissed in the past.

I will never be a regular listener of Eminem’s music. That’s okay. But I can see him, and I can see those who find solace and support in his words. He released an album called “Recovery” after battling with a severe addiction to various pills. I listened to the song, “Not Afraid.” I made a conscious effort to ignore the profanity (warning, it’s explicit) and focus instead on the message of the song. By the end, I was able to see a man, very rough around the edges, determined to improve his life for this children; to become his best self.

I can understand why, for many people, this song would feed their spirit and give them courage to fight their own addictions. It is inspiring to me. Ideally, the addict would be able to come to church and get that support from people they know and love who could lead them to the Savior and their healing path. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, they don’t feel comfortable coming. Look at Eminem in this video. Imagine him walking in and sitting on your row in sacrament meeting. Imagine him getting up in fast and testimony meeting and saying the things he says in this video. And yet, for an addict, Eminem’s rough message of hope and redemption and support is just what many of our members who struggle with these issues need to hear and don’t hear at church. “I’ll walk this path with you, come take my hand, you’re not alone,” he says. The foul language and angry tone are messy and ugly, but so is addiction and the damage it causes to individuals and families. His expression of that ugly through foul language is cathartic for him and for others who struggle including me. It is paradoxical. Through expressing the ugly, we release it and it ceases to control us.

When I was admitted to the Sundance Mental Inpatient facility six years ago, I had an experience with a young man. He was barely twenty or so. I was in my mid thirties. We were in group therapy and he shared his story. He had been addicted to various drugs since he was in gradeschool. He went to the doctor because he was having some health problems. He was told that if he didn’t make drastic changes to his lifestyle that he would die. His liver, heart, and kidneys were in terrible shape. He was just a kid, but his organs were like an old man. He cried as he revealed the desperation he felt. He wanted to live. He said his recovery wasn’t even a choice because if he didn’t overcome his addiction he would die. My heart went out to this boy.

I wanted to connect with him and some of the other group members who had shown some vulnerability. I told about my story of my perfectionism and how my best efforts were never enough even though I got good grades and graduated from college. I was trying to communicate that in my own way, I was as desperate as this young man to escape the demons that brought me to that hospital. Unfortunately, he judged me.

With hatred in his eyes he said, “I don’t know why we have to have these classes with the “depression people.” I still don’t know exactly how he saw me or why exactly he was so hostile, but I was confused and desperate to clarify myself. I apologized for talking about my good grades. I said, I don’t think I’m any better than anyone in this room. I have my demons and you have yours. The therapist tried to salvage the situation. She explained that the underlying reasons people become addicted and stay addicted to substances is because they are often trying to cope with emotional problems. That the “addiction people,” and the “depression people,” are really the same. I tried to talk to this boy at different times, but he actively avoided me. At times I saw him talking to another “addiction person” and glaring at me menacingly. Everyone else at the center loved me. I loved them right back. I listened to their stories and I told them about the Savior and his healing power. I found myself wishing that church felt more like that hospital. It was truly a healing place.

I count myself fortunate that I haven’t become ensnared with substance addiction. I have my coping strategies that are unhealthy and harmful, but none that have destroyed my mind or body for which I am grateful. The Word of Wisdom, which is a chapter in our book of scripture that was written by the Prophet Joseph Smith, teaches about harmful addictive substances and some basic principles for healthy living. Because of this chapter in the Doctrine and Covenants and our willingness to live it, me, my parents, my siblings, and my grandparents have all avoided addictions to drugs and alcohol in spite of serious emotional trauma in their lives that easily could have led to it.

For those who have not been so fortunate, I reach out to you. We are not so different. I don’t completely understand the challenges you face. I won’t assume that I know what you are going through, or dish out a whole bunch of advice. I just want you to know that not everyone like me is judging you. You aren’t alone in your struggles. I’ve had a couple of friends who have gone through rehab and 12 step programs. I celebrate with them in their successes. I want them to know that even if they don’t trust me to confide in me when they relapse, that I am there for them at those times too.

I’ve been studying Carl Jung for a while. He was actually instrumental in founding Alcoholics Anonymous. He worked with many addicts, but found that there was little he could do for them. He met with a man named William Wilson about his severe alcohol addiction. He basically told him that his ailment was spiritual and that the only healing path for him was going to take the shape of a religious conversion. He and his drinking buddy who was in the process of undergoing such a religious conversion to treat his own alcoholism, founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Their twelve step program is designed to guide alcoholics on a spiritual recovery journey. They credit the insights of Carl Jung as a major influence on their program. It is difficult to fathom the good that AA has done for millions of addicts and their families around the world.

“His craving for alcohol was the equivalent of … the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed … as the union with God……….the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted by a real religious insight (involving a personal and meaningful relationship with God)……
Alcohol in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” (Fight spirit with spirit)

Carl Jung

I have a dream of a day when people can speak openly in church about their struggles with addiction or the addictions of a loved one; that as Christians, we can suspend judgement, mourn with those that mourn, and help addicts and their families bare these crushing burdens. Families are warped and disfigured by addictions that are hidden. When addictions are seen and appropriate support given, healing is inevitable. When addictions are hidden and support withheld, the addiction cycle will continue to poison families for generations. I sense, as Jung did, that some of our most spiritually gifted people are chained by addictions; that if they were set free, we would see His power greatly magnified in them.

I send a prayer up for my young friend at Sundance. His hatred and hostility were born of his pain. I hope his rehab was successful. I hope that whatever his healing path looks like, that it leads to the Savior. I know that the Savior understands as I never will, the suffering that he has experienced in his life. I know that the Savior knows how to help him to find peace and happiness and a life he can be proud of. Blessed be the name of Him who is Mighty to Save!!

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.

Dear Heather, I hope you read this…

After my last post, a woman named Heather posted a comment on my post “Giving Grace; Have a Tutu.” She said this:


You chose the wrong place to spout your “beliefs” you should talk to your Bishop. Poorly done.

Heather

This woman’s comment is classic Mormon woman aggression. Mormon women can and do shut each other down, shame each other, and make life hell for people like me who struggle with mental health issues. Heather is unusual because she is so direct. Usually we are much more subtle in our aggressions, usually couching them in many “concerns” and assurances of our “love.” Heather was able to capture in a mere two sentences, the essence of Mormon woman aggression and the problems it poses. At first I dismissed her comment as a troll remark, but now I see it as a gift. I’ve sent this post to her email in hopes that she will read it and perhaps she can learn from her post as well.

I’m going to start by looking at the first thing she takes issue with, my temerity to actually put my thoughts and feelings on a blog. According to Heather, that is my first mistake. I’ve heard this sentiment from others. They are basically uncomfortable with feelings being shown at all. In their minds, if feelings are to be shared, it should be with a trusted friend or group of friends, not the whole world on a public blog. It isn’t something they would feel comfortable doing, and they aren’t comfortable with me doing it either. The big question is……why?

We all have thoughts. We all have feelings? Did God make us to experience life in a personal vacuum, grappling with issues alone and without the tools to solve them? I don’t think so. You are free to disagree of course, but why are you so upset that I choose to post? It is me that is taking the risk, not you. You are free to ignore my posts and go play Candy Crush. Why does my choice to speak bother you? Maybe its because you are afraid of the truths I might reveal to you that might challenge some of your own beliefs? But if your faith is so strong, why is it so threatened?

The next thing to analyse is the word belief, which she puts in quotations. The assumption is that my thoughts are unworthy of the word beliefs, which would indicate something good and wholesome. My thoughts are nothing of that sort to Heather, so she chose to put the word in quotations.

She admonishes me to talk to my bishop, which title she capitalizes. This shows that she values church authority, is clearly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, probably card carrying. She neglects to mention what sin I should confess, assuming that I must already know. My words are the devil’s spawn. She has no empathy or compassion for me or my bisexual friend. She knows little to nothing about me, and yet feels totally comfortable discounting my views and shaming me.

Lastly, she posts two words, “Poorly done.” This is interesting. It is like Heather has decided to be a fifth grade writing teacher judging my writing to be sub-par. It isn’t just my ideas, but the presentation of them that offends her. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but even a fifth grade writing teacher would surely have something more constructive to say. Heather can’t be troubled with constructive criticism.

All of my views came from Facebook referrals, so I have to assume that Heather is either a Facebook contact or the contact of the two friends who shared my post. Regardless, it isn’t Heather’s feelings that I take issue with. It is her failure to own her feelings.

In my blog post, I engaged with vulnerability. I shared personal information about myself and my experience in Relief Society, with my bisexual friend, with my own changing views of gender and sexuality in light of the experiences I’ve had. Heather is uncomfortable with my experiences. Guess what? I am too! This hasn’t been a fun easy path for me. I wish I had all the answers! I wish simple and easy solutions worked. This life is messy and complicated and confusing. Can we be real about that? Because for every five or so members of our church sitting in a Sunday School class with a Family Proclamation handout in their lap, there is one thinking, “My son told me he is gay. He will never be accepted by these people. No one can ever know.” Or maybe its, “My sister told me she wants to get a sex change. She wants me to think of her as my brother now. I wish I could tell my ward family and have them understand how hard this is. Instead I’ll just nod along and pretend this isn’t hard for me.” Can we listen to what they have to say? Can we resist the urge to judge? Can we choose to show love first? Some can’t do that. In fact, they are so afraid and so insecure in their faith, that they feel compelled to lash out. They pour acid into the wound. This makes church an excruciating experience for those who most need to feel the love of the Savior.

The truth is, Heather’s comment has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her. She feels uncomfortable, and she wants to blame someone. Its me. I must be evil. I must be apostate. I need to repent. I need to learn to write better. She read my post and now she feels bad inside. It must be my fault.

The only thing is, I didn’t do anything wrong. I even prayed and begged the Lord, “Show me my sin.” And He said, “You said what I wanted you to say. Be at peace.” Even after his assurances, and the assurances of friends, I still felt tortured with grief last night. Ripple effects from what happened Sunday have continued to cause conflict in the ward. I laid awake sobbing, struggling with suicidal thoughts after a day of being nearly incapacitated with depressive symptoms. This morning I’m angry. This is not my fault! I didn’t create this mess. Someone crapped in the Relief Society room. I didn’t do it and I’m not going to sit there and pretend it doesn’t stink. I’m going to express my feelings. I’m going to be real about my experiences. That’s what HE wants me to do.

So if I’m saying what he wants me to say, why do card carrying members of our church, like Heather, have such a visceral negative reaction to it? Because the truth is real and its uncomfortable, and sometimes it reveals things that are hard to deal with. But that is reality. Members of the church need to grapple with that reality and their feelings, not blame the messenger.

So my message to Heather, or any others who find themselves feeling like her, I encourage you to engage with your feelings. Explore them. Why is this so uncomfortable for you? I’m going to make a few assumptions. There is a lot of confusion, a lot of Satan’s lies, a lot of anger, a lot of societal upheaval around sexual issues. You feel that the Family Proclamation is an anchor in the storm. You take comfort in the unchanging principles that the prophets have revealed in a world of changing social moors. You feel that there is safety in following the prophet and that if people are righteous, they will be able to live as straight, happy, married people. That makes sense. If people can’t do that, they are the ones living in sin. They are to blame and deserve to be shunned and excluded.

So if that is the whole truth, why do my words cut you? You hear my sincerity. You know in your heart that shunning and excluding someone because of inner struggles with gender and sexual attraction is wrong. You know that the Savior you claim to worship would show empathy and love. You know it, but that makes it hard doesn’t it? How do you love and associate with someone when you disagree with their choices? How do you help a depressed sister when you can’t fix it? It’s hard. It’s okay to admit it. Own your feelings. Own your doubts. Don’t blame me because I showed you that life is complicated and hard.

The Savior said that he was the physician, and that the sick are the ones that need him. If the Savior is the physician, then that makes the church a kind of hospital. If the hospital is full of healthy people, that makes things really easy, right? No late nights, no stinky bandages, no gaping wounds, no testing to do, no vague symptoms to diagnose. The shifts are short with lots of time to chat and sit around.

Are our church congregations safe for the injured? Do they get the help and support they need? Are we like our Master, the great physician? How can we do better?

Except under those nursing scrubs there are festering injuries, debilitating diseases, torturous rashes-all of them treatable, if only people could just have the courage to tell someone they are there. If someone does have the tremendous courage to take off part of a bandage, what will the reaction be? Will the staff jump up to assist with competent treatments at hand? If not, you can guarantee there will be no more healing in that hospital. Not only can the staff not get healthy themselves, how are they going to help any patients who come through the door?

And yet that’s what I see too often in my fellow sisters. Under our well set hair, carefully planned lessons, and clean dresses, we have wounds. We have doubts. We have fears. We have struggles. We hide them and expect others to do the same. I’ve seen very positive trends lately of sisters in my ward who have had the courage to talk honestly about their personal struggles particularly with mental wellness. Unfortunately, I have seen a corresponding backlash against mental health treatments, sometimes even from the leaders. This backlash is against mainstream mental health treatments; not fringe scam treatments, but medically approved, insurance paid treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these treatments are even at LDS Services! Really?

I try to be patient. I try to explain and resist being easily offended. I try to take it in the teeth when my hard earned knowledge is scoffed at, cut off, and dismissed as “the evil philosophies of men.” I’ve done it for twenty years. No more. Mormon women, stop the hate. Stop it. I have mental health problems. No you don’t understand them. That’s okay, but just STOP the stigmatizing!! Each time you do it, you make it harder for someone else to get the treatment they need. If you are in church leadership, take the time to listen. Don’t think you know more than the therapist that is treating your friend. You don’t. Listen. Learn. Take the time to really tap into what the LORD is telling you about what this person needs. Have the humility to know that you weren’t called because you know what people need. It is because HE does and he trusts you enough to do what HE wants.

I have had too many church leaders tell me things that totally contradict my therapy plan. Not just a little bit. Totally contradicting. As in, my therapist tells me to explore my relationship with my parents. My leaders tell me to be grateful and forget negative past experiences. My therapist tells me to stand up for myself and confront an abuser. My church leaders tell me to forgive and forget. I am having a mental health crisis and my Relief Society President criticizes how I handled the situation. Rather than take steps to solve the systemic problems with mental health stigma among the sisters, she tells me not to talk to my counselor. In each of these situations, my leaders did not take the time to hear everything. They assumed. They minimized. They said to put the bandages back on. I looked just fine to them.

Heather, if you are still reading, I know you and those like you will be saying, “Now she’s criticizing her leaders! This is apostasy!” No it isn’t, because these leaders are me and you. We are the body of Christ. If one hand reaches out to help the other, that isn’t apostasy. That’s healthy behavior. Your words hurt me. But I forgive you! I forgive every church leader who has sabotaged my recovery. But can we talk about what I’m forgiving? Can we figure out how to stop hurting people like me who are trying hard to stay alive, stay functioning, and be there for our kids? If that’s apostasy, please excommunicate me. I’ll go gladly. I think we can get through this.

I have faith in YOU Heather. That’s why I’m taking the time to write this. I wasn’t so different from you twenty years ago. I can see myself writing something like what you wrote on a blog like mine. I hope you don’t have to suffer for twenty years before you come to see that what you did was wrong. I have faith that we are better than this. I have faith that we CAN and we WILL meet the challenges we face in our congregations. So I will continue to write, continue to speak, continue to shine a light on these problems. I will not put the bandages back on. This is not okay.

I’m grateful for the voice I have. God gave me this voice. Its a gift and a privilege to be able to write something that people actually take the time to read. I pray that I will be able to use this voice responsibly. I’m angry and hurt, but I feel calm right now. Anger and pain can be powerful to motivate. They drive me to my keyboard. I pray that my words will help and heal and not wound.

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.

The Testimony of Notre Dame

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

John 11:25

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

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

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

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

Expressing Gratitude

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

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

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

Dear Brett Stewart,

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Gratitude,

Bridgette Burbank