The Joy of Thy Lord

As I’ve progressed in my faith journey/crisis, I’ve pondered on what values I want to pass onto my children.  Society is at a crisis point in values.  Is it virtuous to wear a mask, or stand for freedom and go without?  Is it virtuous to welcome refugees and desperate migrants into your nation, or to build walls to shut them out for the safety against those who would do us harm?  Conflicting messages, laws and policies are shouted from leaders.  “Defund the police!” “Build the Wall!” “Don’t tread on me!”  This is a confusing time to live as an adult, let alone as a child. I have my work cut out for me in raising my children with a coherent value system. 

As I’ve tried to orient myself and discover my core values, there are a few things I’ve learned.  First, the value of a joyful life.  I’ve lived poor and I’ve lived with money.  I’ve lived in bad weather, and in good weather.  I’ve lived in sickness and in health.  I haven’t lived in joy very often.

I remember in my childhood, my Grandma Henrie’s apartment complex had a swimming pool.  I looked forward to our visits to see her each year mostly because I got to go swimming.  I would cling to an inflatable tube and spin in circles for hours.  That exhilaration was something I looked forward to through all the months of snow and ice in Idaho.  Now as an adult, I have a community swimming pool nearly in my backyard.  It is so close, we can walk to it in less than five minutes.  Yet for the four years I have had access to it, I have hardly ever used it.  When I would take the kids swimming, I would usually stay in the shade on the side of the pool and watch them joyfully splash and play.  Maybe I thought joyful living was supposed to be for kids.

I got an Apple Watch for my birthday this year, and one of the features it has is the ability to track swimming for exercise.  This changed things for me.  By the middle of the summer, I was going to the pool with the kids every day.  I would swim laps while they played and I would get my exercise in.  It was a little boring after a while, but it was refreshing and it was good for the kids.  Austin would cling to my back as I plowed through the water.  I taught him the strokes I was doing and he picked them up.  It was beautiful to see him relax and learn to move in the water with confidence.  Later, I watched a synchronized swimming routine in the Tokyo olympics.  I read about artistic swimming.  I watched videos on how to do a few moves.  I ordered a swim cap and some nose plugs on Amazon.  

I went from swimming laps in the pool for exercise, to doing somersaults, handstands, and all kinds of acrobatics in the water.  It was fun!  I remembered what it felt like to be a child and rejoice in the ability to move joyfully.  I stretched and swam and spun in circles.  I felt alive in a way that I hadn’t felt for years.  I felt awake after years of sleepy depression.  It has been almost a month since I rediscovered the joy of swimming.  I’ve been doing it every day.  After my morning swim, I feel energized, and clear headed.  I feel a rush of ideas about other joyful things I could do to fill up my days.  Planting a new flower, making some delicious food, planning lunch with a friend, or doing some art; these ideas prance through my joyful mind and the anxieties of the pandemic and Afganistan crisis fade into the distance for a while.  No matter how stressful the circumstances of my life are, a few moments of joyful, purposeful living can make those burdens easier to bear.  

This is me after my joyful swim this morning.

The value of joyful living is one I want to pass to my children.  Rather than pack their schedules with classes, chores, and activities and then nag them all the time to practice and work harder, I want to instill in them the need for regular joyful living.  I want them to find the thing that makes them feel alive.  They don’t need to do it for a living or even become good at it.  It isn’t the task or activity itself that matters, it’s how you feel when you do it.  God said that men are that they might have joy.  When we live joyfully, we fulfill our highest purpose.  When we deny ourselves of joyful living, we deprive ourselves of a core need.  

Another value I want to pass on to my children is the value of kindness.  We live in a world full of people.  There are millions of us interacting with one another on the roads, in the stores, and online.  We are witnesses to thousands of deaths, births, sicknesses, failures and triumphs every day.  It is easy to begin to believe that people are not valuable and that our lives have little meaning.  Each act of kindness renews our faith that there is worth in the human soul.  When our act of kindness blesses another person, we make an impact on the world.  We matter.  Even if the person we are kind to is most insignificant and the kind act imperceptibly small, it makes the world better.  

The third value is introspection.  It is so easy to see sin and folly without.  It is much more difficult to see it within.  Introspection is the often uncomfortable scrutinizing of our own selves.  We get to see our flaws with razor precision when we introspect.  When we are familiar with our own soul, its strengths and flaws, its twists and turns, its folds and flaps, we are less vulnerable to flattery, less desperate for affirmation, and more realistic with our expectations.  This leads us to the final virtue.  Compassion.

Anyone who has done much introspection knows that compassion is the only remedy to the pain of self knowledge.  To see yourself accurately, you have to reckon with the painful reality of your own sins and fallen nature.  If you have children, this pain is compounded with the knowledge that you have passed these things on to your posterity where they will likely repeat themselves in an eternal dance of despair through the following generations.  Compassion is the ability to love fallen things; to see beauty in broken.  Our children, our parents, our family, our friends; we are all broken and fallen things.  We cut one another with our broken parts.  We bleed because we are alive and we dare to love one another in spite of the risks.  Compassionate eyes can look at this messy scene and see the beauty in it.  We can love the participants without judgement and without shame; knowing that we are all in need of redemption.  Somehow, all these things will work together for the benefit of all of us.  

These four values are the core values I want to pass on to my children.  I hope that I can teach them through example the benefits of living this way.  I wrote a short parable I am planning to share with them tonight at dinner.  Hopefully this will help instill in them the values I want them to learn.  

The Joy of Thy Lord

“The baby is crying again!” he said with disgust.  “What’s wrong with it now?”

“He just wants a little snuggle,” his mother said softly as she picked up the squalling child.  “See, now he’s feeling better.”

Later, at play, “Mom, I stubbed my toe!” he screamed in pain.  

“Here, let me kiss it better.  Do you need some ice?” his mother replied.

“No, I’m a tough kid,” he said, rubbing the tears from his eyes.  Somehow the kiss always made it feel a little better.

Later at school the child saw a boy teased and rejected, chased away from the others.  “What’s wrong with him?” he thought.  He remembered his mother and thought, maybe he just needs some love.  And he invited him to play with him and his friends.  The playground was a kinder place.

Many years later the boy sat trying to do his schoolwork as his younger siblings played loudly behind him.  “Can’t you make them stop!” he roared to his mother.  

“No, I can’t, and if I could I wouldn’t.  It’s frustrating when you’re trying to concentrate, isn’t it?  Try to be patient.  They are young.  They will learn to be quiet just as you have learned.  Some things cannot be rushed,” she replied.

He went to a quiet place to finish his work.  He thought angrily of how easily the other students seemed to complete their assignments.  Why could he not learn this faster!  Then he remembered his mother and he thought, “Be patient with yourself.  You will learn it, just as they have learned it.  Some things can’t be rushed.”  He took a deep breath and started again.  The bedroom was a kinder place.

Years later the boy came home to visit from college.  He ate a full meal and packed up food for his small apartment pantry.  “Thanks Mom!  I’ve been SO hungry.  I wish I could cook as good as you can!” he thought of the macaroni and cheese he had been eating for a week.  

“It takes time to learn to provide for yourself.  You will learn.  There is always food waiting for you here until you do,” she said as she kissed him goodbye.  

On the way home he saw a weather beaten man with a cardboard sign that said, “Hungry.  Please help me.”  He thought of his mother and wondered why this old man hadn’t learned to provide for himself.  Sometimes these things can take time, he reasoned.  He took some bread he had taken from his mother’s kitchen and gave it to the man.  The neighborhood was a kinder place.

And so the boy became a man and he learned patience and love.  He gave to those in need and he waited patiently as the Lord worked his miracles in the life of each person.  And he knew God.  And the world was a kinder place when he left it.

“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.  Thou hast been faithful over a few things.  I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Matthew 25:21

What I Need

Parenting is a marathon.  It feels great while you’re doing it, it pushes you to the mental and physical brink, and there is a let down when you stop.  Of course, I’ve never run a marathon, but that’s what I imagine it’s like.  This morning I got ready to send my son to summer camp for a week.  As his car drove away, Pepper and I walked into an empty house.  The remains of last night’s chicken nuggets and butterfly shrimp littered the kitchen counter.  Baskets of laundry seemed to me to sit pondering in the silence; wondering where their owners had disappeared to.  

My mind has been ruminating endlessly the past few weeks.  Wesley is constantly on the computer playing Minecraft and the computer is my preferred writing place.  Rather than fighting him for the computer, I’ve taken the path of least resistance.  Instead of siphoning off my thoughts Dumbledore style, they are crammed in my head screaming for release.  Now he’s gone and I have a few hours to myself, I’ll see what comes out.

This morning in my quiet room with only sweet Pepper there to receive my love and nurturing, I sat on my bed and looked at her gorgeous soft, shiny coat.  It’s black, but I’ve learned from drawing it that there are places that are white and light grey.  That’s what makes it look shiny.  Things are always more complicated than they seem.  The human brain, always aching for simplicity, wants to see Pepper’s fur as a single color.  It is black.  It isn’t midnight, moon grey, scintillating silver, or morning fog.  That’s too complicated.  Black and tan.  She’s a chihuahua mix.  But she isn’t.  She’s a mutt with bloodlines that are uniquely hers; an angel crafted through time and given by God to me to comfort me in my blackest midnight. But it isn’t just black.  Life is like that.  It isn’t black and white.

So many colors in her fur! So many more than just black and tan. Still, it’s simpler to say she is just that.

But I understand that if I had lived a different life, I wouldn’t see the complexity either.  And I would relish the simplicity.  Nature is always yearning for simplicity, stasis, harmony, balance.  Rivers take the smoothest and easiest path.  The brain craves rest.  Thinking takes energy.  Seeing is work.  And yet I think.  And yet, I see.

And for that I will never rest.  I will run the marathon.  So today I paused in my frenzy of thought and prayed.  It has been a long time.  Sometimes it’s easier to feel the guilt and push it away than actually do the thing that will put the guilt to rest for good.  Praying felt good.  God reminded me that I’m not such a bad person as my brain likes to tell me I am.  

My brain likes to insist that my good intentions pave my road to hell.  Every glass of milk I give my child is half empty, not half full.  My efforts are never enough.  It is like the God in my head is a version of my teenaged son with a gift for ferreting out my every flaw and hypocritical act. The real God sees me different.  And in that quiet moment, I remember that He isn’t the demanding perfectionist my brain likes to think He is.  My heart poured out to Him all my shortcomings and failings and He calmed that storm with a simple thought.  “Do you think I need your efforts, my child?  Don’t you remember that I am the one with the loaves and the fishes?  I am everything you need.”  

But I need a functional government and a church community.  I need assurances that my children are going to grow up to be competent adults.  I need money in my bank account and friends to affirm me.  I need.  I need.  I need. I need to understand it all right now!!

But I don’t need.  I don’t need anything but Him.  He leads my soul to the still water.  He soothes the wounds the world has given me; the wounds I give myself.  And He heals me.  And I remember what I forgot.  He is everything I need.

And yet we understand Him so imperfectly.  We imagine Him to be a simplistic version of our own creation.  We remake his image like a child with a crude crayon on brown recycled paper.  We hold it up as the true God of Israel and then the sheep stray.  We forget that He is not our toy soldier. He is not our mascot to be remade at our convenience.  The human mind could study Him for a lifetime and never unlock His secrets. He is not of this world and no human mind can comprehend Him.  

How Great is Our God?  How Great is Our God?  How Great, How Great is Our God?!?  Tongue cannot tell, nor heart can frame.  Yet we rise from the dust of our creation.  We reach for Him and He reaches down to us.  For a moment, He opens my eyes to see; I am more than this world.  I was born for a better world.  My heart is comforted in my uncomfortable; I will never fit here because I belong with Him.  He and I know that and it is enough.

Photo by Calvin Craig on Unsplash

Pepper Queen of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triggers of Awful

Sometimes the pain is so deep it takes the breath from my body.  It seems that whatever small event has happened has set off a chain reaction inside me, like the small squeeze of a hand, a single finger moving less than an inch, the small piece of metal on a gun giving way.  And then my whole world changes. Everything that was light is darkness. Everything that was happy is misery. I assume this is what they mean when they say a person has been “triggered.” 

I lay in bed this morning sincerely panicked.  My three year old said, “Momma, you get me some breakfast.”  How could I manage to get him cereal? I couldn’t even pull back the blankets on my bed!  Worse, I didn’t know what to do to make myself feel better. Then the feelings of shame and despair compounded my problem sinking me ever deeper into my mattress.  

I was able to convince myself to come and write.  That gave me the glimmer of hope I needed to fuel my marathon journey out of the bed, to the kitchen to take my medicine, and then up the stairs.  My thirteen year old was on his phone. When he saw me he expected a lecture, but he knew right away that I was not in a state to be that kind of parent.  With a pleading in my voice I asked him to get some cereal for his baby brother. To my pleasant surprise, he jumped out of his chair and went downstairs immediately.  God’s tender mercies!  

So here I am at the computer desk, hoping to sort through why I have been triggered.  Whenever this happens, my initial reaction is to denigrate myself and invalidate my feelings.  My inner critic says, “This is no big deal. Stop being so sensitive! Stuff like this happens all the time.  Let it roll off.” Behind these words is the primal fear of the loss of control that comes with the depth of emotion I am being subjected to.  That terrified, bossy, controlling voice in my head cannot bare the fact that at my core, I am not in control of these emotions. They simply exist and I can no more control them than I can the weather or the shape of my nose.

So this is me giving a speech to my inner critic:

“Leave her alone.  Let her feel her feelings.  You have no right to decide whether she has a right to feel them.  Calm your fear. The feelings will pass, as they always do. Surrender your need to control what doesn’t belong to you; the instrument that God has given you, the divine ability to feel emotion.  This instrument does not belong to this world and cannot be suppressed by mortal will. Your fear clouds your understanding. She is in travail and will soon give birth to new insights and ideas. The process cannot be rushed or arrested.”

My trigger for today’s feelings of despair is betrayal.  Betrayal triggers a complex set of memories that I have walled off from my consciousness.  If my brain circuitry approaches those memories, it recoils in horror and veers away like a frightened animal.  It is what might be called a “complex”; the memories and experiences I am unable to process because they are too painful.  To cope, I avoid and deny their existence. Unfortunately, these memories are part of me and because they fester like a buried sliver causing pain and inflammation, they impact my emotional health even if I don’t know they are there.

I wish I knew how to heal myself– A pill, a bottle of oil, an internet article about the phases of the moon, or a hundred other coping strategies that seem to help others.  The first step is understanding and I think that will be enough today. I have been triggered. Betrayal. That is enough. I have calmed my fearful inner critic and now I have freed enough emotional energy to get out of what I like to call “the vortex.”  The vortex is the feedback loop that my brain gets caught in. Fear, shame, desperation, and paralysis swirl like water down a drain of misery.  

So now I will ask for help, give myself compassion, eat, and continue to claw my way out of the pit.  For those of you who read these words and see yourself in them, bless you! Keep fighting. You aren’t alone in struggling through the labyrinth of your mind and heart.  Take my torch and use it to refresh yours. Together we can find our way through the darkness. Eventually, when I get out of crisis mode, I will work on processing the painful memories of betrayal that I stumbled upon this morning.  Not now. The dog is scratching at the door. My boys need their mom. There are flowers in the garden, boo-boos to kiss, books to read, and life to be lived. There is joy as well as pain and I can and will go out and find it.

A Light in Darkness; MCO in NYC

There have been so many thoughts swirling around my brain for the last week I hardly know where to begin.  Yesterday, I flew back to Dallas after spending three days in New York City. I could write for pages and pages about these experiences, but I really don’t want to make it a travel log.  My Lord wants me to write about Carnegie Hall and my choir, the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras.

This is Brett Stewart conducting the choir and orchestra.

I have written about our director and co-founder, Brett Stewart and how last spring I wrote him a thank you letter.  Well, he was there at Carnegie Hall along with almost all of my friends from the Dallas choir. It was so fun to see them again, even for just a short time.  As we packed ourselves onstage like sardines, I thought of how incredible this organization is. Our Friday concert was almost entirely composed of musicians from Idaho and Texas who had traveled to New York, arranged transportation and housing, and taken time out of their busy summer schedule to be here……and there were almost a thousand of us.  That represents incredible sacrifice and dedication! Part of it was due to the once in a lifetime opportunity to sing in Carnegie Hall, but it was also due to the understanding that we have something in MCO that is worth putting onstage in Carnegie Hall, and that we all have to give of ourselves to make it happen.

This is the Alto 2 section. I’m on the second row, second from the right.

So we put up with the heat, the crowded hallways, the lack of water, the standing for hours, the strain of singing and playing at the level MCO demands of us, and we did it.  We performed to a full house in Carnegie Hall. It was the most polished, professional, inspiring concert I have ever sung in. The soloist, Erin Morley, was world class, the violinist, Jenny Oaks Baker, was on fire.  One of the incredible things I saw was in the violin section. There is a fabulous violinist that has been performing with Dallas for six years. She usually gets the solos and she leads the orchestra in tuning and stuff.  I’m not an instrumentalist so I don’t know what she her title is, but she is incredibly talented. I saw that she had moved her chair over to the right to make room for the woman who took her place in the combined orchestra.  If it bothered her to be demoted, it didn’t show. Then that woman, who I had not seen before, but I assume was even more accomplished than the first, watched Jenny Oaks Baker take the stage to perform the solo pieces. Likewise, the soprano soloists that had performed in our Dallas and Idaho concerts gave up their solos for Erin Morley.    

Music and art can reek of ego and stuffiness.  Even the venues we perform at can be so stiflingly rigid with tradition and dogma.  There are so many rules and so much pressure when we bring a thousand people into a place like that.  In addition, many of them are children. The logistics are incredibly complex! The need for people to set aside their own desire for fame and special privileges is absolute in such a setting.  As we were able to do that, we had an incredible performance…..together. Working together. Sacrificing together. Maybe singing in MCO is the closest I’ll ever get to being on a sports team. If MCO is a sports team, we took the championship Friday night!

This is the full grand chorus, orchestra, and young singers chorus on stage in Carnegie. The other children were in box seating in the balcony or standing in the aisles. Joni Jensen is conducting.

So Saturday came and I vaguely wanted to go to Arizona’s concert in the afternoon, or the California/Utah concert Saturday night, but that would involve a lot of work to secure a ticket, and I would be going by myself.  I finally decided I would rather just hang out with the Eldreges, who had taken me in as an extra family member while I was in New York. As the sun went behind the buildings, I felt pretty drowsy. We walked into the lobby of our hotel, the Wellington, and we heard a “Pop!”  The lights went out. We learned that the entire block had lost power. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. I figured the lights would come back on in an hour or so. We walked up the stairs to our room and I took a nap.

It wasn’t until later that I heard about the full importance of what happened that night.  First, it wasn’t just our city block that lost power. It was a major power outage that impacted all of Manhattan.  The subways were down, the street lights were out, half of Times Square was in darkness, Broadway shows were cancelled, people were shut out of their high rise apartments and hotels, and the streets were flooded with people.  Most significant to me, they had evacuated the California/Utah casts from Carnegie Hall and the choir had started singing in the street. I was told about the singing, but I was too drowsy to realize the significance of what was happening below me.  I could hear the beautiful sound of MCO singing from the street, but I fell back asleep.  

Over the last couple of days, the full significance of Saturday night has come to light.  Saturday night was the 42nd anniversary of the last major blackout in New York City. It was also, “Manhattanhenge” which meant that the sun would shine through the buildings, bathing the city in golden light.  This only happens four times a year. The impromptu street concert was performed at 8:30, just as the sun was setting, casting this golden glow onto the performers. People were streaming out of the dark subway tunnel and onto this scene. 

Keep in mind that these singers had traveled across the country at their family’s expense to sing in Carnegie Hall. They learned that their concert had been cancelled. Imagine their grief! Imagine their pain! And yet, they sang. And New York listened.  And then Twitter listened. And then Facebook listened. And YouTube. And before long, news programs were showing footage of the street concert. A video of the choir singing Mack Wilburg’s “I Believe in Christ” went viral accumulating millions of views.

My heart has broken for the cast members that had their Carnegie dream dashed, especially since I got mine on Friday night.  Some of them are still in shock and grieving that the trip they had been planning and looking forward to for a year was disrupted so badly.  Still, I see the hand of God in Saturday night. Their grief and their sacrifice was a part of the scene. It gave their music resonance and meaning.  Like the light that shown through the buildings, their music shown brighter through their grief; giving it a precious glow that would be absent otherwise.  There is no replacing the Carnegie singing experience. The involuntary sacrifice of the concert can and should be grieved. The street concert and the aftermath does not make up for the loss and those who are still sad should be allowed to feel their sadness as long as they need to.  Still, I marvel at the design of a wise and merciful God who takes the sadness, destruction, and disappointment in this world and turns it to good. He reaches out to his children wherever they are and touches them with beauty in unexpected places and ways. Like the sun during Manhattanhenge, it makes its way to them through the obstacles.

The light of our Savior, Jesus Christ, shines to a world in need.  None are outside of his love no matter their choices or life experiences.  He loves us! He reaches out to us in the darkness of our subway platforms when man’s genius fails and leaves us without a path.  He is there for us. He will find a way to bless us and bring his light to us when our lights are not enough.

God bless MCO and the singers from the California and Utah choirs for being his instrument in New York on Saturday!  I salute you and grieve with you. As the trials of life descend upon us individually and collectively, we can stand together, sing together, grieve together, and bring the whole world to the feet of Him who is Mighty to Save, even Jesus Christ.  Amen!!!

Our conductors were prompted to put this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint hymn, “I Believe in Christ” in our Carnegie Concert. Video of this song went viral.

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.