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

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.

Grapevines and Family Trees

Three springs ago, I planted a grape vine. It was a dead looking stick that I hoped would someday grow into a vigorous vine that would produce delicious grapes and save our family money. That first summer I carefully tended to each delicate shoot. It made painfully slow progress and would droop pathetically when the Texas heat came. Eventually it gained strength in the roots and started putting out strong vines, but no fruit since it was the first year. We pruned it during the winter, but we didn’t prune it as much as was recommended. I knew that the fruit would be produced off the old wood, and I was eager to get as much fruit as possible.

The vine took off that spring and quickly had covered the trellis. Blossoms came, and then tiny grape clusters. Unfortunately, there were so many vines and leaves that the grapes were unable to mature as the plant was putting its energy into producing leaves and vines. The sunlight was also unable to get to the grapes, so they didn’t ripen. Although the vine produced probably fifteen grape clusters, we didn’t get a single edible grape. I was disappointed.

You can see the clusters of grapes hidden at the bottom of the vine. It produced a lot of fruit, but none of it was good.
Dad is helping me build a path. Thanks Dad! In the background you can see a massive vine. This was in May. It had grown over the entire trellis and the backside too.
These grapes ended up never maturing and stayed small, green, and sour.

I don’t like failure. I take it personally. I don’t like to think about my failures because it’s painful and I prefer to distract myself with other things that bring easier rewards. I busy myself with projects and once I face an obstacle, I start another project. The chaos that ensues tends to sap my energy and contributes to my depression. As I have become healthier, I have reflected on this part of my core personality and I am working to challenge some of my views about failure.

We learn more from our failures than we do our successes. One of the worst things to do with failure is ignore it or avoid it. Failure is a gift that can lead to success at hard things; and hard things often bring the greatest rewards. So I looked at that hairy mess of vines on my trellis the other day and I decided I would do some research and try again.

After watching a few hours of YouTube videos about grapes and pruning, I thought, “I can do this.” I went out with my pruners and a saw and I hacked into my grapevine with no mercy. Where I made my cuts, the vine bled clear liquid, but I knew that in order to get what I wanted, I needed to butcher my poor plant. I cut off about ninety percent of the plant and was left with barely anything. I am also going to prune around the grape clusters so they get plenty of sun. Most importantly, I am going to prepare for another year of failure, because chances are, I have more to learn. That’s okay.

This is the vine after the severe pruning I gave it a few days ago.
This is the pile of vines I cut off. This isn’t even all of it.

Because this isn’t about grapes. This is about me learning how to grow grapes. It isn’t the end result that matters. It is the process. It is the growth. It is about me, not about groceries, grapes, or food budgets. God teaches us through the soil and the plants and the animals. This world was created for us; so that we can fail and learn and fail and learn and in the end we find Him.

The grapevine keeps coming to my mind in my parenting. Parenting is hard. There is a lot of failure. Sometimes my kids look like vigorous vines growing and learning and running wild across the trellis of life. Then it seems that the fruit just isn’t turning out just right. I want to clarify. I don’t mean that they are bad kids or anything. I just mean that I sense that there is more potential in them than they are expressing. Just like the vine. The vine was good last summer. I did a lot of things right with that grapevine. It didn’t reach its potential because I was shy with the pruning. I made one mistake, and it effected what the vine was able to do.

Like the grapevine, I need to not be afraid of my failings as a parent. In fact, I need to look carefully at them. Success for my children depends on my willingness to face my failures and learn from them. Just like I did with the grapevine, I need to do my research. Last Sunday I was studying the church library on my phone and I came across this marvelous resource. It is a book published by the church in 2006. If every parent in the church would read and follow the principles outlined in this resource, we could change the world in a couple of generations. it is called Strengthening the Family, an Instructor’s Guide. I read the first session which is about parenting principles and practices. I’m thinking this book is for a stake parenting class or something? I’ve never heard of such a class, but I think it’s a great idea. Anyway, what I have read is excellent and gave me some good ideas for adjusting some of my parenting practices. Just like the YouTube videos and horticulture sites I learned from about the grapevine pruning, I can use the massive amounts of good information about children and their development to become a better parent and bring the potential out in my children.

Failure as a parent is excruciatingly painful for me. This week I had several painful failures. Tuesday I brought Austin home from preschool and carefully snuggled him to sleep on the upstairs couch. I planned to shush Wesley as soon as he came home from school to ensure that Austin would get a good nap. Wesley exuberantly walked through the front door and flipped it closed with a smack. I heard wailing from upstairs. So much for that.

When Austin wakes up on the wrong side of the bed from a nap, it is torture for everyone. He screamed for an hour in spite of my many solicitous efforts to stem the tide of toddler fury. Then he went on a tornado rampage across the house, climbing to get cookies that I had told him he was not allowed to get, playing with things he was not allowed to play with, and making messes everywhere. I started getting overwhelmed and I went to my room to calm down. Of course, they eventually made their way to my bedroom. It’s like gravity. They find me.

So my irritation continued to mount and I started yelling at Austin to stop crying. I knew I was going to hurt him if I didn’t calm down, so I told him and Wesley that Mom needed to take a timeout. I herded them out the door and locked it. Austin was not okay with that. Of course. He screamed and screamed pounding at the door.

Anyway, it was a mess. I was supposed to be making dinner. I had counselling and a parent meeting for track and a STEM showcase. I prayed, I called Ben, I calmed myself down. I unlocked the door. Austin had wet his pants and as I took them off, he chided me. “Austin very angry! Austin so sad! I was crying.” I comforted him and praised him for naming his feelings. I was still crying at that point and he patted me on the shoulder. “It’s okay Mom,” he said in his parent voice. “You gonna be okay.” He grabbed a tissue and started wiping my tears. I had him give me kisses for my owies and I smiled for him to show him he had made me all better. He was delighted. Eventually, with the help of an angel friend and my husband, I was able to pick up my son late from track. I missed the parent meeting. I also missed my other son’s STEM showcase because it conflicted with my counselling appointment.

I tearfully apologized to Layne for missing his special day. He had the sweetest expression of compassion on his young face. “I understand Mom. It’s counselling, and you need it. It’s more important.” Of course, that made me cry even more as I told him how proud I am of his work at school and how much it means to me.

Devin had his first track meet yesterday. This was his first meet and he was actually pole vaulting. I didn’t realize it was a forty minute drive to Ft. Worth, so I was late. I thought for sure I had missed the whole thing. Parent fail. When I got there, I ran around in the cold searching faces, trying to find Devin. There were hundreds of kids and at least four schools. If I had gone to the parent meeting the day before I would maybe have a clue, but I didn’t, and now I was paying the price. I hadn’t put on any makeup, and I felt like a total looser. Besides that, there were so many African Americans. Even after living in Texas for nearly two decades, I am still irrationally afraid of them. Other people blithely say, “I have lots of friends that are black.” I only know a few black people, and I feel awkward and wrong footed around them most of the time. On top of my normal level of social anxiety, I felt on the verge of panic in this environment. I tried timidly asking a few people for help finding Devin, but no one knew. I went back to the car to warm up, thinking of the hurt expression on my son’s cold face when I finally found him. I was devastated.

I eventually dried my eyes, screwed up my courage, and went out into the cold again, determined to face my fears and find the coach. The sun had gone down at this point, and the wind was cutting through my sweatshirt. I wished I had worn a coat! I fearlessly asked the strangers with Wester sweatshirts. “I need to talk to the coach.” I was directed to a large black man with massive shoulders and a confident stride. I paced for a few minutes, then pushed down my terror.

“Hi, I’m Bridgette Burbank,” I said firmly, “I’m looking for my son and I can’t find him.” My voice didn’t even shake. He flashed a bright smile that contrasted with his ebony complexion. “Yes, Devin Burbank and pole vaulting. He would be over there,” he pointed out the pole vaulting event, hidden behind a set of bleachers. As I walked to the event, I got a tender mercy from the Lord. I saw Devin’s lean lithe form run down the track and gracefully vault right over the bar. It was beautiful! That was my son, and I got to see him vault at his first track meet! I didn’t miss it after all. I watched him vault again a few more times, but he was unable to clear the bar as he did that first time. We ran to the van and warmed up. Then we got some Arby’s and drove home. He wasn’t angry at me at all, and we had some good quality time together. Most of all, I think he saw that his mom drove across the metroplex and froze her face off to come support him in something that was important to him. That made all the failure worth it for both of us. And when I got home, Ben had put the kids down for bed, and some angels had come helped me clean my house. Thank you YW!!

The good news about parenting and grape vines, is that you get lots of chances to fail and learn and try again. Apparently, it’s really hard to kill a grapevine, so chances are good that I will have many more years to try and fail at growing this one. It is also really hard to kill your relationship with your kids. Kids love their parents. They want us to succeed, and even though we make a lot of mistakes, and maybe some that are pretty bad, we can always try again. No matter how old we are, or they are. If I can face my failures as a parent, you can too. Honestly, you’re probably doing better than I am.

Even though it is has been a rough couple of days for me, I haven’t had any suicidal ideation. That’s some real progress. My counselor was very pleased and encouraging about the way I am dealing with my challenges. I get in that negative mindset where I can’t see anything I’m doing right, but the truth is, I am making progress in real ways doing very hard things. Celebrating those successes and learning from my failures is key to getting through this depressive episode.

Often this is how my path feels. Thankfully, I have the Savior to guide my steps.

It’s really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Jesus Christ loves me. I feel like such a mess! It seems like everyone else has stuff figured out and I am just flying by the seat of my pants screwing up everything. The fact is, he created me in all my scatterbrained, ADHD, passionate, over-analyzing, oversharing glory. For some reason, he loves me. Maybe I give him some comic relief as I live my crazy life! I definitely add some variety to the world. Most of all, I hope I am becoming the woman and the parent God wants me to be, whether or not I ever run a well managed home and schedule.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Trapped in Darkness

“Momma! Momma!” He grabs my face and tries to get me to come back from the darkness. “See this,” he holds out two pencils, one in each hand, “they Austin’s wings! You make me fly.”

“I can’t honey. Momma is not feeling good.”

Then he gets angry at me. He hits me with the pencils, trying to break into the world I am trapped in. It’s not fair to him that I am here, but I’m not here. He deserves better than a depressed mom, but I’m all he has and we will make it through somehow. I put on a cartoon and sit down to write, hoping it will make the pain bearable somehow.

It’s not all darkness. We painted together for a couple of hours. He loves the black paint. He holds the brush on the very end and makes sweeping lines of pigment across the page. He’s so beautiful when he is creating! If I hadn’t started watching the Cohen hearings I wouldn’t be such a mess.

When Cohen turned state’s witness against Trump, I had to hope that his remorse was genuine; that someone who was under Trump’s spell could be redeemed. There is enough of a cynic in me to note the significance of the fact that he was under a lot of pressure from federal law enforcement before he decided to tell the truth, but I have enough of the optimist to believe that there is hope for his soul. The Savior is enough for him and if he chooses to live a changed life, he could be a force for good in this world.

I vividly remember my dream when I was seduced by Trump on the yacht. He was important and rich and powerful, and he thought I was special and smart and worthy of his attention. That was intoxicating to me and I was under his spell. Seeing Cohen testify today as a broken man stirred powerful feelings of empathy and compassion. Was this broken man so different than I would be had my dream been real? He was trying to undo some of the terrible damage he did when he worked for Donald Trump by testifying for the House of Representatives. The way the House GOP representatives treated him was deplorable.

Have we sunk so low in our national politics that we allow people to treat others the way they treated Cohen? Are we so heartless that we need to rub someone’s face into the consequences of their choices? These men are our representatives and they speak for us. Instead of doing their constitutional duty and investigate possible crimes by a sitting President, they chose to demonize his accuser and ignore the gift of his warnings. Why? Because they are still under the seductive spell of Donald Trump. They are drunk with power, the power that he offers them in exchange for their loyalty. Donald Trump, through his trickery and flattery has amassed great power which he offers to them in exchange for their integrity, as he does to all who take his devil’s bargain.

It is cold comfort to me that the Democrats are performing their duty to check the President and try to hold him accountable. I don’t trust them because if the tables were turned, I have reason to think they would behave just as badly. It makes the world seem like a cold and heartless place. Is there no compassion? Is there no empathy? I fear greatly for my country, and more, for my children.

Character matters. It matters in you and me and those who speak for us. The Lord has said in his scriptures that by small and simple things He brings to pass that which is great. It is also by small and simple things that nations and people are destroyed. When we refuse to hold ourselves and our leaders to a moral standard that is applied equally to all, we fracture the moral fabric of our country. When we allow people to commit crimes and get away with them because of their money; when we give them our loyalty and our votes; when we trust in their leadership and honor them with our lips; we are sowing the seeds of our destruction.

But I am in no fit place to judge the world. I am nothing and no one; a meaningless life; a face in a crowd. There is no reason to think that I have an impact on anyone or that my pain has any deeper purpose. Still, my words ascend to my Father in Heaven and his beloved son. They have created me for some purpose and as long as I live on this Earth I will do my best to fulfill it.

Lord, help me to bare my cross! Have mercy on me, and grant me a portion of thy peace. Give me strength to be a mother to my little ones.

Transgenerational Trauma; Examining Psychological Roots

Dropping off Austin at preschool today felt so amazing. There is nothing better than to walk with your head up, not having to wrestle with a little ball of energy that tries to dart into the path of every passing car. With my brain free to focus for a few hours on whatever I choose, I decided to write for a while.

I’ve been doing a lot of pondering on transgenerational trauma, which is a growing area of scientific research. Check out an excellent article from Psychology Today called “How Trauma is Carried Across Generations.” One of the groups of people most often cited in studies of transgenerational trauma is children of holocaust survivors. The idea is, that the holocaust was so horrific and the trauma so great that one generation could not absorb it all. Holocaust survivors had to pass their trauma on to their children and grandchildren. Some studies even indicate that our genetic makeup can change in response to trauma. This article explores some of those ideas.

I wrote a blog post some time ago about my parents’ families and the trauma that has been suffered and the ways I have seen that trauma effect me, my siblings, and my cousins. In my scripture study, my internet research, and pondering on the experiences of my own life, I am coming to a greater understanding of the crucial role that family, and particularly our ancestors, play in our lives.

Like the roots of a tree are unseen, so the roots of our psychological makeup are unseen; given to us by generations long past.

Parenting is so hard. This weekend was particularly crazy. Breaking up fights, taking sharp objects from the three year old, helping a child work through a melt down……all of those things are commonplace in our home. I have depression, we pretty much all have ADHD, and we have a toddler, which is like having a blender with no lid spewing chaos in his wake. We threw Austin’s shredded pacifier in the trash two weeks ago. He is still not sleeping well. I have resorted to driving him around in the van so he will take a short nap. If he doesn’t nap, he will scream constantly. A couple of days ago he was screaming at me, for twenty minutes non-stop. You try to tune it out, but it wears on your nerves. Eventually, I tried offering him some hot chocolate. He likes to eat the whipping cream that I put on the top. I tried giving him a spoonful of the white fluffy goodness half melted in chocolate. He turned his face away. I ate it myself and he was clearly offended and screamed even louder. I got him another spoonful. He was starting to get red in the face. Finally, after a loud game of toddler charades, I figured out that he wanted to spray the cream into the cup himself. I let him do it once and he was happy. Of course, he was furious again when I wouldn’t let him endlessly spray cream into the cup. So he was back to screaming.

If he is not screaming at me, he is finding scissors, knifes, paint, or breakable things. Sunday I thought it would be fun to have him play with some playdough on the kitchen table. A few minutes after starting the activity, there were playdough toys scattered in a twenty-foot radius. Pieces of playdough littered the floor in a ten foot radius. In the middle of this cyclone of stickiness, there was Austin, his church clothes embedded with orange and green splotches, standing on the table. With an expression of maniacal glee, he stomped and threw stuff.

“No, no,” Momma patiently insists. I take him off the table. “You sit in your chair.” I start sweeping playdough and picking up toys. Austin sits for less than a minute before trying to climb back on top of the table. “Austin, you need to sit and think about it?” He seems to ignore me, but my voice triggers a response in him. It seems as though the threat of consequences switches the chaos into high gear. With a swift gesture, he sweeps all the remaining playdough supplies onto the floor; a dramatic climax to an ill fated adventure. No more playdough.

I’m not even going to go into Devin and the adventures of teenager angst. The glazed expression of annoyance, the condescending tone, the irritation that we don’t understand his terms or care sufficiently about how cool or uncool we are. Sigh.

Parenting is so hard. We tried to gather the kids together on Sunday for our weekly gospel study. Austin sits for no one. The other kids are wandering around looking for scriptures and journals. Then they get distracted and need redirection. By the time everyone is sitting and ready to start, the tension is already high, and inevitably one of them needs to go use the bathroom. Mom and Dad start firing questions to get brains engaged. “Who remembers who John the Baptist was?” Stunned silence and vacant expressions. “Wesley, who was John the Baptist?” After a pause, “He was a baptist??” And so we work like house elves to draw their thinking out and get them to put something in their study journals. Yesterday at family dinner we talked about the importance of personal scripture study and prayer in developing strong testimonies. I asked them how they felt like they were doing in developing their testimony. Crickets.

Every day the impossible expectations of parenting weigh me down. The patient attentiveness, the alert awareness, the interactive presentness of good parenting is so hard to maintain for any significant length of time. With four children, the individual attention and love each child requires to function optimally seems eternally out of reach. If only I could clone myself!

I share these things with you, not just for you to laugh at, but also to consider the magnitude of the task each parent faces. We as parents stand in the place of God himself to our children. We are the all powerful creators of their reality. I feel much more like the Wizard of Oz with plenty of smoke and mirrors as I threaten my children with “serious consequences” for their disobedience, than I do a wise and judicious God who is in control of all things.

When my children become parents, perhaps they will understand me better. Perhaps they will find some empathy for what I was doing and have mercy on me for the multitude of ways I have fallen short in my parenting. One thing I will never do is hold myself up as the one who had it all figured out, with a set of rigid expectations for how they need to parent their own children. I plan to explore this issue in future posts, but I’m going to go in a different direction today.

Our parents shape us. There is no question about that. I have observed that the default human tendency is to exalt our parents. If we have superior parents, that follows that we are superior. That can feel pretty good. It’s also easy because we can parent just like our parent’s did, and all will be well. When we find fault with our parents and the way they did things, we are by extension, finding fault with ourselves. In addition, if our parents messed up, that means we have to work hard to do something different. This is so much more than just blaming parents, it is setting aside the illusions reinforced in the family narrative that is driving dysfunctional thinking and depressive symptoms.

Therapy is, at its core, intense and rigorous introspection. Like a cancer screening, you must enter each psychic cellular crack and crevice to find the places where unhealthy thoughts and behaviors take root. Sometimes those poisonous plants have seeds sown in previous generations. More problematic still, the prior generations are not likely to take kindly to suggestions that their methods were hurtful and wrong.

Ideally, we can split off from our parents, make our own paths, take the good that they gave us and go a different direction. Unfortunately, in dysfunctional families, that is almost impossible to do. Like crabs in a bucket, a dysfunctional family will pull one another back into the bucket each time one the members tries to escape. Scapegoating, gaslighting, and projecting are all too common in these families. The therapy patient can be overwhelmed with the reality of the awful state of things as they confront the larger systemic problems in their family.

Looking on from the outside, is recovery even worth it? Isn’t it better to follow the family narrative, make everyone happy, and live depressed? I’ve often wondered the same thing. Why confront the family illusions? Why rock the boat? The answer is in the faces of my children. They deserve better.

They deserve a mom that is not depressed. They deserve a family narrative that is honest and holds up to scrutiny. They deserve better and I am going to give it to them. I have a dream of a family unencumbered by the cancer of shame and the demons of depression; a large and prosperous posterity that can realize the potential that lies in each individual member. I pray to my Savior that I can have the courage and wisdom to depart from the sins and errors of the past and bring my family onto a better path, a more perfect way. My Savior is the Father of my destiny, the pilot of my tomorrow. He will guide me and my little ones to lie down in green pastures. I put my trust in him and no one else.

Honoring Adam and Discovering God through Self-Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connections and Cardinals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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