Honoring Adam and Discovering God through Self-Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame Dreams

“If people knew who I really was, they wouldn’t like me,” I remember telling my mom in high school. What I meant was that the only way I could be accepted was hiding behind choir dresses, drama masks, memorized lines, and stage makeup. The real naked me was flawed and broken and something to hide.  This is shame.

In the scriptures, Adam and Eve only understood shame after they ate the fruit and the first thing they did was make clothing to hide their nakedness.  Nakedness is a powerful symbol for shame; a concrete way my brain chose to show me last night that my battle with shame is far from over.

Nakedness. I had three naked dreams last night. I dreamed I was staying in an apartment in a sky rise. I was getting ready for bed and was totally naked before I realized that my blinds were open exposing me to the whole city. I walked to the large window to close the blinds and saw that a woman was laughing at me, pointing and taking pictures. Of course, I couldn’t get the blinds closed before she got a few shots of my humiliation.

The next dream I went to church and realized I had worn a see through dress. It was clearly inappropriate for church, but I insisted on staying at the meetings.  I needed to be there regardless of how uncomfortable I was or others were with what I had worn.

The third dream, I was riding a bike. I looked down and realized I was dressed in a babydoll lingerie outfit. The wind was exposing my bare legs that were covered in thick black hair.  I tried to pull the sheer fabric around my legs while balancing on the bike and I wove dangerously around the busy city road I was navigating.

Clothing hides our nakedness. It shields our vulnerability. We chose what we wear, we don’t choose how our naked body looks. We can appear to be thinner and more attractive depending on what we wear. In the scriptures the prideful wear clothing to show their wealth and put themselves above others.  Clothing is also a symbol of our fallen natures.  Adam and Eve didn’t wear clothes until they had transgressed.  Only then were they ashamed.  Only then did they need to hide.

Is nakedness a sin?  It can be a crime.  Indecent exposure is illegal in many places.  There is almost no social taboo quite as universal as nakedness.  But…..is it a sin?  I don’t think there is any scriptural evidence for it being a sin.  Nakedness in the scriptures is associated with poverty and profound grief.  There are commandments regarding sexual interactions, but usually our fears about nakedness and dreams about nakedness are not about sexual sin, they are about shame.  It isn’t doing wrong, it’s being wrong.  It isn’t disobeying God’s commandments, it is about disobeying social conventions and facing the disdain and judgement of others.

So what do my shame dreams mean?  I read this excellent article this morning that analyzes naked dreams with the Jungian method.  Jung happens to be one of my favorite people ever, so it had to be good!  You can read it here.  Basically, the naked or semi-naked me in my dreams is symbolic of the vulnerability I feel at showing my authentic self on this blog.  The real me.  No masks, degrees, costumes, or stage lighting.  No memorized lines, scripts, or coaches to correct me. 

For the people reading this, I don’t think you have any idea how difficult this is for me to do.  I am a fairly good writer, but what I have to say is so profoundly naked.  Each time I write I find that I care a little bit less about how people see me.  Each time I bring my messages back to the Savior I remember that only as I transform my fear into faith and fear only Him, I become free.  Free to be the woman he wants me to be and His true handmaid.

I wish I could tell my dream self to blow that woman a kiss out of my apartment window.  Let her post my unashamed face on her instagram if she wants!  Better than feeling humiliated for doing something stupid that everyone does sometimes.  I wish that I could tell my dream self to wear that transparent dress like a boss.  It is going to be the new fashion in Relief Society soon.  I wish I could tell my dream self to own those hairy legs.  Eve’s legs were most likely hairy and Adam didn’t care.  Neither did God.

In the end it isn’t going to matter whether or not I pleased other people.  It will matter whether or not I please my Master.  He once said in the scriptures, you can’t serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or hold to the one and despise the other.  You can’t serve God and mammon.  He’s saying, you can’t please both.  You can’t serve both.  In this life, you have to choose.  This is me choosing Him and writing my testimony another day, owning my nakedness and brokenness before God.

I know that He lives.  I know that His power is real.  There is nothing that is impossible to Him and I will praise his name all the days of my life.  I fear not what man can do, for in Him is my trust.  He is my rock and my salvation and through Him I will be saved.  Though I be naked, yet He has put a royal robe around my shoulders and in Him I am not ashamed.

This is called "The Shame Tree."  It was drawn on my trip to New York last month.
This is called, “The Shame Tree.”  I drew it last month on a trip to New York City.  

Job as a Type of the Master

Job suffered. I imagined his solemn spirit standing beside me last night in my suffering. His spirit must find those who suffer to give them comfort. That is why he suffered. His suffering approached closer to the suffering of the Master than anyone I have read about. In chapter 2, we read about what happened after he lost his family, his wealth, and his health.

11 ¶ Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.

12 And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.

13 So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.

These friends were not fair weather friends. They tore their clothes, put ashes on their heads, and sat and fasted with him for an entire week without saying a word. I’ve never been that good a friend. Eventually they tried to help him with their own formidable understanding of God and his justice and wisdom. They tried their best to wrap their minds around the circumstances that may have lead to his cursing. In doing so, they erred and they further wounded their friend.

I felt Job’s fierce anger and his testimony in Job 27 as he refuted the lies of Satan, repeated by his friends, tempting him into the dark despair. “You have sinned. You deserve your pain. You need to repent,” they said. Job refused the temptation to blame himself.

5 God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.

6 My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.

God does not punish people with depression just as he didn’t punish Job with his trials for his sins. God punishes us for our sins, but only at the judgement day. There are many people who live successfully in sin. Job talks about this. This life is a time for us to judge ourselves and to use righteous judgement as Job did. Job knew God. He didn’t understand why he was going through his pain, but he refused to blame God or himself. He was a charitable man who, even in his wealth, suffered with those who were less fortunate.

25 Did not I weep for him that was in trouble? was not my soul grieved for the poor?

26 When I looked for good, then evil came unto me: and when I waited for light, there came darkness.

It is easy to misunderstand Job’s friends unless you do a careful reading of Job. His friends were wise men who knew God. They wanted to help Job. There are entire chapters with their words which ring with the notes of truth. They had good intentions and they did their best to help Job. They were suffering too and struggling to understand something very difficult. Even so, their words were poison to him. They go back and forth for many chapters discussing God’s justice and goodness, his mercy and his mighty wrath. In the end, they are angry and frustrated and their criticisms become more pointed. Then God speaks to Job.

I imagine that it was a kind of vision. At first God asks Job questions about himself and the extent of his understanding about his own relationship to God. Then, he reveals his own vast power and majesty as only can be comprehended spiritually unless a mortal be consumed by his fire. I imagine Job’s eyes being opened spiritually to behold the majesty and greatness of God! He sees that in his poverty and want he is no different than when he was great in the eyes of the world. To God, he is the same. Only men think other men are great. Compared to God, we are nothing. We are all alike unto him, the rich and poor, bond and free, male and female. God is no respecter of persons. In his suffering, Job found God. Only then did he repent. Only then did he see his own nothingness before God. Not in the mistaken advice of his friends, but in the realization of God’s own majesty. His repentance had nothing to do with sin, but because he was fallen and realized it at last. Even he, a great, wise, and good man was broken and needed a Savior.

Then God spoke to Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends that we can assume was most in tune with the spirit. He told him that his wrath was kindled against him and his two friends because they had judged Job unrighteously. They were wrong, and God revealed their error to them. He told Eliphaz to ask Job to pray for them while they offered sacrifices in the spirit of repentance.

Imagine it! This leprous man that everyone turned away from in horror was praying for these three men who had been trying to help him and yet had hurt him. He was their intercessory with God. What better type of the Savior is there? I imagine the three friends as they made their sacrifices, coming to a more perfect understanding of the Master, the sinless one, our advocate with the Father, him who is Mighty to Save; The lamb of God, the eternal sacrifice of the Father who would suffer all things just as Job had suffered. Job, playing the role of the Savior, bearing the suffering of their sins, praying for them; those who had hurt him. Because those four men listened to God, miracles happened. Hearts were changed, hurt was replaced with joy, healing replaced deep wounds. In Job 42,

10 And the Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.

11 Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.

When I read these words, the spirit tells me that the example of Job’s three friends in esteeming Job as they did, helped all the people who knew them. Because they repented and gave respect and honor to Job, the rest of the community rallied around Job. They mourned with him and they did the ancient method of a Go Fund Me. They helped him get on his feet again. Relationships were saved and suffering ended. God blessed Job and everyone was blessed when they helped Job. Satan’s trap to destroy a good man, ended up making four good men better, and with them, a whole community was blessed. Such miracles are possible when we do as they did and turn our hearts toward the suffering among us. When we withhold judgement and exercise charity, we are blessed. When we judge the suffering and harden our hearts, God’s wrath is kindled against us. That judgement will come upon us.

How can this apply in our families? In our wards? In our communities? In our nations? I’m not saying we need to have the government throw more money or programs at the social problems in our society, but neither should we close our eyes to them. Are their Jobs among us that are judged and misunderstood through little or no fault of their own? What miracles are possible in our lives, our families, and our world if we could nurture that charity which never faileth? What judgements await us when we harden our hearts and turn away from the suffering?

The first is last and the last is first. Job was the first, then he was the last, then he was the first. Jesus Christ was the firstborn of the Father, and yet he was last. He descended below all things and suffered more than anyone had ever suffered. Then at last, he is first again, leading the Saints of God to their final triumph at the last day. Are we first today? Are we ready to be last?

I testify of Jesus Christ. He lives! He loves us! He sends trials to his children as he did to Job because he seeks to bless us. He refines the pure in heart, he comforts the broken hearted, he binds the wounds of the broken. We are broken! Rejoice in it! This life and it’s wicked ways is not where we are designed to be. His grace is sufficient for us and he waits for us to find rest in him.

Do not judge unrighteous judgement by assuming that those who suffer deserve their suffering. Comfort those who stand in need of comfort, advocate for the widows and the fatherless, give aid and comfort to the poor, and peace to the refugee. Welcome the unwelcome. Embrace the friendless. Stand up for the falsely accused. If we say, “That suffering person deserves what has happened to him,” that judgement will come upon us in the days of our tribulation. When the beggar comes to the Southern border, don’t turn him away and judge him as a thing of naught. Don’t make the children to cry for their mothers and turn your hearts to stone. This is less about politics and national sovereignty and more about the hearts of his people. We are all beggars before God and people, even the elect, are forgetting that. Like Eliphaz, we can turn from our sin, plead for forgiveness, and the wrath of the Lord can be turned away. It is not too late. Let us show ourselves to be true followers of Him who is Mighty to Save!!

There is enough and to spare! His nation, even the United States of America, has the power to save, to bless the world, to show to all people that there is a God in Israel and he does not turn aside from the children of men who seek his asylum. Have faith! Do not despair! He multiplied the loaves and the fishes, the winds and the waves obeyed him, and the blind received their sight. Is it so strange to think that a great nation with hearts full of charity might stem the tide of suffering in the world? It is our faithless hearts that stay his hand. We can do better! Let us start today.

Forging an Instrument

I got a text today that someone needed me.  It feels so good to be needed!  When you are in the middle of a depressive episode and feel like you are no better than a lump of poo, it feels good to know that someone else can benefit from your existence on the planet.  Even a lump of poo has lots of good to give when you put it in the soil it increases aeration and nitrogen levels….the gardener in me is coming out.   Seriously though, even when you feel like crap, you can still be of value when you go where you need to be and that is what I was able to do today.p

Anyway, I got to help someone who was feeling down.  She needed me, but I needed her too.  She knew that I would get it because I’ve been there and she knows that.  Tears don’t scare me. Hugs aren’t awkward.  I didn’t have any solutions to her problems, but I sat in it with her and I hope I helped a little.

Today’s lesson was on Job.  I’ve been thinking about him all week.  He’s the guy that you can always say, “At least it isn’t that bad.”  Reading his story again I was struck by several things.  First and foremost I was reminded that bad things happen to good people.  Really good people sometimes.  We want the world to make sense and be tidy.  We want easy answers and simple solutions.  Sometimes life is a crap pile and nothing makes sense.  Nobody understands that like Job did, sitting on the floor, covered in boils, his skin falling off in leprous chunks, mourning the deaths of his ten children and all his livelihood.  He didn’t know when or if things were going to get any better.  Still, he kept his faith.  His understanding of God was incorruptible.  Satan threw everything he had at Job and ironically he only made Job stronger.  When Job rose from the ashes of his broken world, Satan just threw up his hands.  What more could he have done to break that man?  He used all his ammunition on that one guy and he got knocked on his butt! I love that image.  

Let me tell you friend, Satan beats on me.  Sometimes I feel like he is walking right beside me whispering his lies into my ear every minute he gets a chance.  I want to just say, “Aren’t there other people on this planet that you want to talk to?  I’m nobody!  Go torment someone else.”  Every day I tell him to go back to hell, and everyday I get better at seeing him and saying it.  The Savior is stronger than he is and Job knew it.  I know it too, and he isn’t going to beat me. I imagine the Savior looking at Satan and just saying, “Keep working on her!  I know how strong she is.  You’re just tempering the steel of her blade and one of these days she’s going to stab you through the heart with it.”  I am his instrument being fired with Satan’s fire.  He’s not going to win because my story was written long ago and I’ve already won.  Just like Job won.  Just like the Savior won.  I am HIS handmaid and I was born to win this fight. 

It’s a broken world, but we are not without hope. We have the Master on our side and he is Mighty to Save!  We are enough.  We are strong.  Satan will not take us.  I have a vision of a body of broken saints rising to meet the tide of wickedness, challenging the evil around us, and knocking Satan on his butt.  Let’s do this.

Broken like Nike

Nike of Samothrace

“There are three elements to remember in teaching reading,” my elementary education professor explained. “There is the author, the text, and the reader. The author puts their ideas into the text. The reader reads the text, applies their own background experiences and perspective, and creates their own interpretation of the text. The interpretation will depend as much on the reader as it does on the author.”

To expound on this idea, he had us respond to certain symbols, texts and even numbers. He wrote the numbers 9-11-2001 on the board and asked students to name ideas connected to those numbers. We made a class mind map of ideas that included words like terrorism, airliners, trade center, New York City, pentagon. This was in 2002. He asked us what those numbers would have meant to us two years prior.   Those numbers would have been a meaningless date.  It was a powerful lesson.  What we bring to a message is what we will take away from it.

What does the word broken mean? The Savior prizes broken. The Savior requires a broken heart from everyone as a prerequisite to salvation. Broken can mean different things to different people. To my dad broken means a old beater car that can’t be fixed and has to be taken to the dump. Some days I feel like that kind of broken. Most days I have the faith to see myself like the Nike statue. It’s broken and it’s lovely and valuable. It is one of the most celebrated statues in the whole world and it’s broken!  Imagine that.  I’m broken, but not without hope. I write because of the hope that is in me. The depression is hard, the anxiety is torturous, but the faith and hope are there too. I am beautiful, I have wings, I have value, but I am broken; and that’s okay.  I’m broken like the Goddess of Victory!  Things could be much worse.

I want to tell each of you readers that I love you. Some of you come to my blog because you are worried sick about me. Some of you come because you want to know what the crazy lady is writing today. Some of you see my openness about my pain and the hope within me as courage. You love it and it gives you energy to fight your own battles with a fallen world. In John 6:26 the Savior perceives that some people are only coming to hear him for the food! I didn’t bring a casserole to this potluck, so I know you aren’t here for the food.  What you interpret from what I write is your business. Why you read what I have to say is about you. I’m too concerned with my own faults to judge you, but I would like to hear from you.

 If you can gather the courage, I would like to hear why you come to my blog. It can be an uncomfortable place. Why do you want to be here? I would love to know. Post in the comments or on Facebook.