Making some bad art today, As seems to be my artist way, To see the ugly broken me And learn to love the flaws I see. There is no other way I guess, To silence the critic in my chest, To bring the broken to the page And release my inner sage I find the beauty in growing things In perfect hope that time will bring, The beauty that I hope to find Reminds me that I’m blind To beauty He wants me to see, The ugly and the broken me. And find my artist way, Making some bad art today
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.
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
Last night I couldn’t sleep and I started reading old blog posts. I realized that it has been a couple of months since I posted. I’ve written a lot in my journals, but haven’t felt able to post anything. Honestly, the faith crisis I’ve been going through over the last six months has been brutal on my self-esteem. I didn’t realize how much of my faith in myself came from my church membership. The card I was carrying in my wallet that told me I was a good member of my church meant more to me than I realized until that was gone. Now I have to stand before my Savior without any of that and somehow believe that he still loves me; that I still have work to do for him just not in the way I thought.
So I’ve been tepidly attending a protestant church of some kind called Lakeside Church of Christ. It’s the church that runs the preschool that my sons attended. One of the weeks I attended I looked around at the congregation. The gathered people looked so different from the ward I used to attend. They weren’t just unfamiliar, they were different. There is a look to Mormons. That look isn’t at Lakeside. I felt the spirit whisper to me, “They are my people too.” I knew that it was true. I haven’t wanted to look outside of my tribe to find his people. I was too busy serving my kids and my ward and looking within the church to take the time to see that there are his people everywhere. My neighbors. My son’s classmates. The server at the restaurant. They are looking for his love. They are known by him, but not by me. My eyes have been opened.
It isn’t that I want to start preaching the Book of Mormon to them. I have no desire to make anyone into a Mormon. I want to listen to their stories. I want to learn from them. I want to see them the way my Savior sees them. My Lord knows there is a time to listen and a time to talk; a time for questions and a time for answers. I feel so humbled. I came to Texas thinking I knew so much. Now I feel full of questions.
As for my blog, I’ve been afraid. I’m worried I’m going to say something that will hurt someone or influence someone to leave the church or to judge me for leaving. I’ve been distracted by the need to please everyone who reads my words. Me posting again is me accepting that you are responsible for what you do with my words. This is me remembering that God knows you. He will guide you on your path just as he is guiding me. This is me finding my faith again.
The growth I have experienced in the past six months has astounded me. The pain of loss has been torturous. It has been not just in my mind but in my body. In my neck and left shoulder; in my hips and legs, in my head most of all. The struggle to manage the responsibilities of my home and family while enduring constant pain has been intense. I had an injection in my neck, but it didn’t help. Thankfully, my orthopedic pain specialist prescribed me some medication that is helping me. I also started going to the gym again which has reduced my anxiety and helped my self esteem. Better times are ahead.
I started a new book called The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a pastor in the Lutheran church and an early vocal opponent of Adolf Hitler in Germany. He was arrested by the Gestapo and killed by order of Himmler only days before the concentration camp he was imprisoned in was freed. This book is part of his journey of discipleship in which he became conscious of his own heroic path to become a martyr for Christ; a testimony to what Christ would have done in Nazi Germany during the rise of Hitler. He was a brave and honorable German whose faith and sacrifice inspires me. During a dark time when Germany lost it’s soul to darkness, there were people like Bonhoeffer that stood firmly for humanity and truth. Germany and the German people are no longer in the grips of a madman thirsting for the blood of the Jewish people. They have taken their place in the world as an example of humanitarian aid during the refugee crisis. Somehow, I feel certain that were it not for those brave few who kept their integrity, Germany would not be the place it is today. I know the days ahead will be dark. As my nation becomes more radicalized and demagogues lie and inspire violence, who knows what the future will bring?
One thing that is certain to me, we are headed down a dark path and there doesn’t appear to be any course correction coming any time soon. Anyone who refuses to be drawn into a tribe right now is going to be left exposed to the persecution of those who belong. I am ready to take on that role. The testimony of my Savior, his courage, his teachings, his love will be my only creed. I will have faith that it will be enough. His tribe is the only tribe I want to belong to.
There isn’t only darkness. There is also an increasing awareness of human suffering. The subject of mental health is on the cover of magazines as I stand in the checkout at the grocery store, it is the topic of discussions at church, it is on everyone’s mind in a way I have never seen before. I feel like standing up and saying, “I was talking about mental health BEFORE it was cool!!” I spent a few hours watching the documentary The Me You Can’t See that was put together by Harry the Duke of Sussex and Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime TV. It was excellent. I wish so many people didn’t have to suffer and die before we got to this place, but I’m glad we are here. If the pandemic leads us to better understand our own minds and what we need to be happy, that can only lead to a more mentally healthy society.
I hope all of you are surviving the end of the pandemic. I hope and pray that outbreaks around the world will begin to fade and that everyone who needs treatment, both mental and physical, can get it soon. The suffering of so many for so long is hard to comprehend. I’m sure that more people are hurting than even what we know, and what we know is overwhelming.
It is hard to get a sense of where we are post pandemic, but I have a feeling that the secularization of our society is only going to accelerate. As mental health takes the stage of our consciousness, we will likely see the influence of social science swell. This trend was already happening, but will likely accelerate. This secularization will accelerate the diminishing influence of the church as new social norms are established around social science. There will be a focus on childhood trauma and perhaps an even more intense pressure on parents to be perfect. This will result in lower birth rates as people avoid parenthood and the increase in social judgement. More young people will choose not to have children. Social services to children will take priority, largely in the federal government as the Democratic Party holds increasing power in the federal government.
Radicalization of the Christian church in response to their increasingly diminishing influence will continue as we have seen with the rise of Donald Trump and other populist leaders. This radicalization and preoccupation with political influence will accelerate the loss of credibility with the rising generation who will see frantic and fearful defenders of the church with increasing disgust.
The questions we must ask ourselves are: what are the consequences of the centralization of political power into a single political party in the United States? The government is the most likely vehicle by which social justice priorities will find expression. How will society change when government becomes the primary source of moral and spiritual guidance? What form will religious worship take now that it is no longer a conscious practice? Because religion has evolved with mankind for thousands of years, is it possible for us to supplant it with modern studies, statistics, and scientific analysis that spans only a century? If religion is to remain an influence in society, what ways does it need to change? How can it prove its worth to a generation of young people who find it antiquated and irrelevant?
These are not easy questions to answer. I wish I were more certain about the future or more able to influence it. I feel like a cork floating down a stream. I hear the coming waterfall, but I’m powerless to fight the current. Trust in the Savior and faith that he hasn’t abandoned humanity is my only hope.
During a faith crisis, it’s hard to know what I even believe anymore. Sometimes I feel pretty cynical. Most of the time I understand that everything that is happening has a plan and a purpose even if I don’t see what it is right now.
“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.
The day after school started, I was sitting on the couch watching T.V. My mind was going over and over all the things I should have been doing, but I felt unable to stand. Austin was down for a nap and Pepper was sleeping in my lap, but this was more than just an afternoon mood slump. I felt overwhelmed, anxious, and paralyzed.
The first day of school is something I look forward to and dread at the same time. The major shift in routine and schedule is hard for me, and then I worry about my boys. Are they safe? Are they with their friends? Is their teacher(s) going to provide them what they need? There are a million reasons to feel anxious on the first day of school.
In the midst of this mental turmoil, I gave myself some compassion and encouragement. Then, I engaged in some much needed self care. I took a bath and washed my hair. The triple digit heat the last few days had left me feeling sticky and gross. Then Ben and I made a plan for how to help me get through the next two weeks until preschool starts for Austin. Ben made dinner and I signed papers and gathered school supplies for Devin. We went to bed early.
In the morning I had some dreams, which I recorded. I dreamed I went on a bike ride in Sugar City, Idaho, where I grew up. I was with my kids. I stopped to pet a couple of dogs that didn’t have teeth. They belonged to a Mormon family with lots of kids who were all piled on a single bicycle. They looked happy and seeing them made me happy too. Then I went to Walmart where my kids ran off. I felt overwhelmed and used positive self-talk to motivate myself to complete the shopping, gather my children, and ride my bike home again.
According to Google research, bike riding symbolizes being an active participant in life and taking steps to reach your goals. Dog teeth symbolize power and virility. They fact that they belonged to a Mormon family might mean something about the way I see the people of my faith. Perhaps I see them as defenseless against danger. Perhaps the image of them piled on the bicycle is indicative of my idealized version of a Mormon family, everyone happy and balanced. The Walmart trip and the feelings I had there mirrored my depressed and overwhelmed feelings the day before. The positive self-talk was helpful to me in my dream as it had been in my waking life.
The next day, I knocked some things off my procrastination list, made some contacts for babysitting, and watched a movie a friend loaned me about watercolor painting. I made it through a tough patch, and I am still functioning and I credit that to my self affirmations and self care.
We talk a lot in my church about financial self reliance. That is important. Lately there has been a twist on the concept to include spiritual self-reliance. I think there is something to be said about emotional self-reliance. Learning how to give yourself love and encouragement gives you the strength to push self-doubt and self-defeating behavior aside. It’s easy to consider self-affirmations as encouraging self absorption and narcissism. For me, it has the opposite effect. It helps me to stop worrying about myself and frees my resources up to actually get stuff done. Self-care, as my therapist is always reminding me, is essential for my well being. As a full time care giver, it isn’t optional. When I’ve cared for myself, I am better able to care for my family.
After my last post, a woman named Heather posted a comment on my post “Giving Grace; Have a Tutu.” She said this:
You chose the wrong place to spout your “beliefs” you should talk to your Bishop. Poorly done.
This woman’s comment is classic Mormon woman aggression. Mormon women can and do shut each other down, shame each other, and make life hell for people like me who struggle with mental health issues. Heather is unusual because she is so direct. Usually we are much more subtle in our aggressions, usually couching them in many “concerns” and assurances of our “love.” Heather was able to capture in a mere two sentences, the essence of Mormon woman aggression and the problems it poses. At first I dismissed her comment as a troll remark, but now I see it as a gift. I’ve sent this post to her email in hopes that she will read it and perhaps she can learn from her post as well.
I’m going to start by looking at the first thing she takes issue with, my temerity to actually put my thoughts and feelings on a blog. According to Heather, that is my first mistake. I’ve heard this sentiment from others. They are basically uncomfortable with feelings being shown at all. In their minds, if feelings are to be shared, it should be with a trusted friend or group of friends, not the whole world on a public blog. It isn’t something they would feel comfortable doing, and they aren’t comfortable with me doing it either. The big question is……why?
We all have thoughts. We all have feelings? Did God make us to experience life in a personal vacuum, grappling with issues alone and without the tools to solve them? I don’t think so. You are free to disagree of course, but why are you so upset that I choose to post? It is me that is taking the risk, not you. You are free to ignore my posts and go play Candy Crush. Why does my choice to speak bother you? Maybe its because you are afraid of the truths I might reveal to you that might challenge some of your own beliefs? But if your faith is so strong, why is it so threatened?
The next thing to analyse is the word belief, which she puts in quotations. The assumption is that my thoughts are unworthy of the word beliefs, which would indicate something good and wholesome. My thoughts are nothing of that sort to Heather, so she chose to put the word in quotations.
She admonishes me to talk to my bishop, which title she capitalizes. This shows that she values church authority, is clearly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, probably card carrying. She neglects to mention what sin I should confess, assuming that I must already know. My words are the devil’s spawn. She has no empathy or compassion for me or my bisexual friend. She knows little to nothing about me, and yet feels totally comfortable discounting my views and shaming me.
Lastly, she posts two words, “Poorly done.” This is interesting. It is like Heather has decided to be a fifth grade writing teacher judging my writing to be sub-par. It isn’t just my ideas, but the presentation of them that offends her. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but even a fifth grade writing teacher would surely have something more constructive to say. Heather can’t be troubled with constructive criticism.
All of my views came from Facebook referrals, so I have to assume that Heather is either a Facebook contact or the contact of the two friends who shared my post. Regardless, it isn’t Heather’s feelings that I take issue with. It is her failure to own her feelings.
In my blog post, I engaged with vulnerability. I shared personal information about myself and my experience in Relief Society, with my bisexual friend, with my own changing views of gender and sexuality in light of the experiences I’ve had. Heather is uncomfortable with my experiences. Guess what? I am too! This hasn’t been a fun easy path for me. I wish I had all the answers! I wish simple and easy solutions worked. This life is messy and complicated and confusing. Can we be real about that? Because for every five or so members of our church sitting in a Sunday School class with a Family Proclamation handout in their lap, there is one thinking, “My son told me he is gay. He will never be accepted by these people. No one can ever know.” Or maybe its, “My sister told me she wants to get a sex change. She wants me to think of her as my brother now. I wish I could tell my ward family and have them understand how hard this is. Instead I’ll just nod along and pretend this isn’t hard for me.” Can we listen to what they have to say? Can we resist the urge to judge? Can we choose to show love first? Some can’t do that. In fact, they are so afraid and so insecure in their faith, that they feel compelled to lash out. They pour acid into the wound. This makes church an excruciating experience for those who most need to feel the love of the Savior.
The truth is, Heather’s comment has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her. She feels uncomfortable, and she wants to blame someone. Its me. I must be evil. I must be apostate. I need to repent. I need to learn to write better. She read my post and now she feels bad inside. It must be my fault.
The only thing is, I didn’t do anything wrong. I even prayed and begged the Lord, “Show me my sin.” And He said, “You said what I wanted you to say. Be at peace.” Even after his assurances, and the assurances of friends, I still felt tortured with grief last night. Ripple effects from what happened Sunday have continued to cause conflict in the ward. I laid awake sobbing, struggling with suicidal thoughts after a day of being nearly incapacitated with depressive symptoms. This morning I’m angry. This is not my fault! I didn’t create this mess. Someone crapped in the Relief Society room. I didn’t do it and I’m not going to sit there and pretend it doesn’t stink. I’m going to express my feelings. I’m going to be real about my experiences. That’s what HE wants me to do.
So if I’m saying what he wants me to say, why do card carrying members of our church, like Heather, have such a visceral negative reaction to it? Because the truth is real and its uncomfortable, and sometimes it reveals things that are hard to deal with. But that is reality. Members of the church need to grapple with that reality and their feelings, not blame the messenger.
So my message to Heather, or any others who find themselves feeling like her, I encourage you to engage with your feelings. Explore them. Why is this so uncomfortable for you? I’m going to make a few assumptions. There is a lot of confusion, a lot of Satan’s lies, a lot of anger, a lot of societal upheaval around sexual issues. You feel that the Family Proclamation is an anchor in the storm. You take comfort in the unchanging principles that the prophets have revealed in a world of changing social moors. You feel that there is safety in following the prophet and that if people are righteous, they will be able to live as straight, happy, married people. That makes sense. If people can’t do that, they are the ones living in sin. They are to blame and deserve to be shunned and excluded.
So if that is the whole truth, why do my words cut you? You hear my sincerity. You know in your heart that shunning and excluding someone because of inner struggles with gender and sexual attraction is wrong. You know that the Savior you claim to worship would show empathy and love. You know it, but that makes it hard doesn’t it? How do you love and associate with someone when you disagree with their choices? How do you help a depressed sister when you can’t fix it? It’s hard. It’s okay to admit it. Own your feelings. Own your doubts. Don’t blame me because I showed you that life is complicated and hard.
The Savior said that he was the physician, and that the sick are the ones that need him. If the Savior is the physician, then that makes the church a kind of hospital. If the hospital is full of healthy people, that makes things really easy, right? No late nights, no stinky bandages, no gaping wounds, no testing to do, no vague symptoms to diagnose. The shifts are short with lots of time to chat and sit around.
Except under those nursing scrubs there are festering injuries, debilitating diseases, torturous rashes-all of them treatable, if only people could just have the courage to tell someone they are there. If someone does have the tremendous courage to take off part of a bandage, what will the reaction be? Will the staff jump up to assist with competent treatments at hand? If not, you can guarantee there will be no more healing in that hospital. Not only can the staff not get healthy themselves, how are they going to help any patients who come through the door?
And yet that’s what I see too often in my fellow sisters. Under our well set hair, carefully planned lessons, and clean dresses, we have wounds. We have doubts. We have fears. We have struggles. We hide them and expect others to do the same. I’ve seen very positive trends lately of sisters in my ward who have had the courage to talk honestly about their personal struggles particularly with mental wellness. Unfortunately, I have seen a corresponding backlash against mental health treatments, sometimes even from the leaders. This backlash is against mainstream mental health treatments; not fringe scam treatments, but medically approved, insurance paid treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these treatments are even at LDS Services! Really?
I try to be patient. I try to explain and resist being easily offended. I try to take it in the teeth when my hard earned knowledge is scoffed at, cut off, and dismissed as “the evil philosophies of men.” I’ve done it for twenty years. No more. Mormon women, stop the hate. Stop it. I have mental health problems. No you don’t understand them. That’s okay, but just STOP the stigmatizing!! Each time you do it, you make it harder for someone else to get the treatment they need. If you are in church leadership, take the time to listen. Don’t think you know more than the therapist that is treating your friend. You don’t. Listen. Learn. Take the time to really tap into what the LORD is telling you about what this person needs. Have the humility to know that you weren’t called because you know what people need. It is because HE does and he trusts you enough to do what HE wants.
I have had too many church leaders tell me things that totally contradict my therapy plan. Not just a little bit. Totally contradicting. As in, my therapist tells me to explore my relationship with my parents. My leaders tell me to be grateful and forget negative past experiences. My therapist tells me to stand up for myself and confront an abuser. My church leaders tell me to forgive and forget. I am having a mental health crisis and my Relief Society President criticizes how I handled the situation. Rather than take steps to solve the systemic problems with mental health stigma among the sisters, she tells me not to talk to my counselor. In each of these situations, my leaders did not take the time to hear everything. They assumed. They minimized. They said to put the bandages back on. I looked just fine to them.
Heather, if you are still reading, I know you and those like you will be saying, “Now she’s criticizing her leaders! This is apostasy!” No it isn’t, because these leaders are me and you. We are the body of Christ. If one hand reaches out to help the other, that isn’t apostasy. That’s healthy behavior. Your words hurt me. But I forgive you! I forgive every church leader who has sabotaged my recovery. But can we talk about what I’m forgiving? Can we figure out how to stop hurting people like me who are trying hard to stay alive, stay functioning, and be there for our kids? If that’s apostasy, please excommunicate me. I’ll go gladly. I think we can get through this.
I have faith in YOU Heather. That’s why I’m taking the time to write this. I wasn’t so different from you twenty years ago. I can see myself writing something like what you wrote on a blog like mine. I hope you don’t have to suffer for twenty years before you come to see that what you did was wrong. I have faith that we are better than this. I have faith that we CAN and we WILL meet the challenges we face in our congregations. So I will continue to write, continue to speak, continue to shine a light on these problems. I will not put the bandages back on. This is not okay.
I’m grateful for the voice I have. God gave me this voice. Its a gift and a privilege to be able to write something that people actually take the time to read. I pray that I will be able to use this voice responsibly. I’m angry and hurt, but I feel calm right now. Anger and pain can be powerful to motivate. They drive me to my keyboard. I pray that my words will help and heal and not wound.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!