Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Pre-existing Covenants

          Have a seat, this will be a long one, but I hope it's worth the read :-).  This story starts out in Maryland at my first job, when I was 15.  My parents decided I would be a lifeguard, I went through the training, and there I was on the first day with the Assistant Manager, Katrina. Our first assignment was to clean the pool, deck, and bath house before opening day. She removed a lid from a trashcan and a swarm of bees flew out, and "F#$%" flew out of her mouth. I listened to her for the next several hours tell me how she was now a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and she was "going to hell for cursing." She had made a covenant to stop. Seriously, THIS GIRL WAS CRAZY! 
          Picture this, a grungy 15 year old who spent every waking moment trying to find, bribing people for, and consuming beer, pot, and cigarettes having to spend 40+ hours a week with a Mormon! AHH! I was grumpy about this to say the least. I left that day dreading the next few months. As it came, my fears were justified.  Our personalities clashed big time.  She preached, and I smoked in her face. At some point I think we agree'd to disagree.  The summer finally came to an end.  We parted ways on the last day and I thought that was that.  
          In October she called me. "Let's go see a movie", she said.  To this day neither of us has any idea what we were thinking, but we went. We decided that day to work together again the next summer.  I know, it boggles my mind too.  Truth is, behind it all, deep down, we had a weird connection.  A comfort level I really can't explain.  I realized I could be myself in front of her, when I couldn't anywhere else. 
          Skip ahead to next summer. We worked together 10 hours a day 5-6 days a week.  We laughed. A LOT! We started to finish each others sentences. Often we didn't even have to say our thoughts out loud, we knew what we were thinking. We spent most of our time together despite our differences.  She started tricking me into dinners with the missionaries, and even called me at night to read me the Book of Mormon over the phone.  I still thought she was crazy, and continued my teenage shenanigans.  She convinced me to take discussions (at least I think so, it's possible she had the missionaries slide them into regular conversation). They'd ask me to "pray about it." Geez, Katrina had been asking me to do that since last summer! I guess I should mention, prayer and religion were not a part of my home life. At all. It was as foreign as a different language would be.  I refused. Mostly because I wasn't sure how. I was certain He wouldn't listen to this messed up teen.  
          Again, the summer came to an end. Katrina and I remained good friends. We talked frequently. A couple months later, she convinced me to pray about it. Well, we know what happens next. In October of my senior year in High School, I was baptized.  Between my mom turning my alarm off for seminary, sneaking coffee into my hot chocolate mug, and pot head friends, my activity didn't last long.  I graduated, and life separated my great friend and I. My parents moved me to Florida, and she was going to go on a mission.  I missed her, but I knew we'd always remain intact.  
          Well, she was called to the Key West, Florida Mission. Yep, I was in her mission boundaries!! My activity was still so-so, but I was able to receive my Patriarchal Blessing, and she was actually able to attend!! The Patriarch said "You have met a dear friend here on Earth. You covenanted with each other in the pre-existance to find each other and bring one another to the gospel." WOW! No wonder we have such a connection! 
          As time went on, our lives drew us geographically apart.  I moved back to Maryland to live with a member family. It was much easier to be fully active then! She moved to Utah to teach at the MTC, then Nevada. We'd go several months without speaking at times, but always picked right up where we left off.  Katrina and I had similar up-bringings, not the most supportive.  She became frustrated and discouraged and eventually left the church.  Several years went by. She found a man that loves her, and she was finally happy. Except she knew she wasn't following the Lord's plan.  I knew she still had a testimony, and I knew it was killing her that she was breaking her temple covenants.  She was finally married, and I was so happy she found a companion.  We had many conversations over the years about how neither of us were sealed to anyone in the Temple, and how that was the goal. She was married, I was married, but all the pieces of the puzzle weren't quite there. I had a Temple marriage, she didn't. 
          I thought quite a bit about how she gave me this great gift. She gave me the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  She changed the course of my life. She introduced me to the member family I lived with that saved me from so many things and helped me grow in the church.  I called her one day and read the testimony she wrote in my scriptures.  She just wasn't ready. She was scared to talk to her bishop, and scared to tell her husband about this part of her life because he would then know the rules she broke.  She was scared he would lose respect.  
          I was sitting in Relief Society one Sunday and the lesson was on missionary work.  I knew I had to do something more for Katrina. I called her shortly after and told her how I was feeling. She happened to be driving by a chapel. We had a good chat, although it was a chat we had had many times before so I wasn't convinced anything would be different this time.  She called me a few days later and told me when she came home that day, her husband was watching a church movie on BYU TV.  It enabled her to talk to him about it. He was receptive, and she was going to talk to her bishop.  Again, I wasn't super convinced. She had made and broken appointments with her bishop before. I called her frequently until the day of her appointment.   She went! Her mind was eased, and he gave her a blessing.  She taught her husband, and brought him to church. Well, we know what happens next, he was baptized! He re-proposed to her to marry him for time and all eternity in the Temple.  A year later (19 years after this story started), and a couple weeks after baptizing his mother, they were sealed. 
          The sealing was this past weekend. What an AMAZING day! Not only because it made an amazing end to this story, but because I was able to attend and FEEL the gravity of what was happening. I felt how happy He was that we did what we came here to do.  We found each other, and brought each other to Him. In the Temple, she kept saying "What if you hadn't made that phone call? We wouldn't be here today." All I could respond with was "You started it! All those years ago!" 


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Howler Monkeys

          "I believe it's important to learn to endure life's challenges with a certain amount of grace and aplomb, but as a person who has pretty much gone through life enduring life's challenges like a howler monkey, I confess to struggling with the ideal." I love that quote.  Whoever wrote it is human, like everyone else. We all have challenges, and we have good days and bad days in how we deal with them.  The "ideal" is a notion of perfection we have in our head of what we think we should be.  Everyone has a different "ideal", put there by our environment.  My "ideal" is probably something I will never be, as it's someone that gets dressed to perfection every day, never yells at her children, is always kind and never bitter, reads scriptures and prays every day, ect.  It's what we are taught we need to strive to be.  Thinking about that bigger picture stresses me out. It's easy to give up with the task of perfection day in and day out.  
         So I decided I would have an "ideal for the day".  When I wake up, sometimes getting out of bed and doing just what needs to be done to survive is the ideal.  Sometimes it's a little more. Sometimes it's an act of service, or a little more effort in dinner made for my family.  Every day is different, so the ideal for each day should be different, with the same common goal, of course.  Little goals every day that add up to one bigger goal.  And if I don't reach the little goals? I can be a howler monkey for a day. They are probably all around me and I don't even know it, because everyone struggles sometimes.  They are our neighbors, and our colleagues, and our family members.  When we see them, they radiate grace and aplomb, but when they go home, they too, feel like howler monkeys.  So even if someone appears to meet the "ideal", give them a hug, offer kind words, ask if they're ok.  You never know if there's a monkey howling inside of them just waiting for someone to be a kind friend.     

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Science or Him?

     "Take everything you think you know about religion and throw it out of the window. This is a science class, and everything here has a scientific explanation.", said my first professor in college.  It was anatomy and physiology.  I had only been baptized a year before. I let the thought enter my head that maybe I had let myself believe in something because I wanted it to be true, not because it was.  However, every day of that class I sat through, my testimony grew. The human body has so many parts working and growing at all times.  If one element is missing, everything stops.  I kept thinking how we are all made with the same parts, like a car, but we have such different and unique personalities.  There's only one logical explanation to this, we have individually made spirits.  
     My daughter taught a family home evening lesson on nature this week.  She spoke about the water cycle, and about trees growing to excrete what we need to breath and vice versa. She said, "Heavenly father made a world that works perfectly, so we can live perfectly."  He made foods of all colors of the rainbow, and plenty of it.  He's given us a habitat beautiful to look at. We can marvel at waterfalls, fall leaves, snow capped mountains, species of all kinds.  That professor would come to class right off the beach.  He had half the puzzle.  He loved the beach. He appreciated being able to go.  He was missing out on his relationship with the creator of all of it, and of him.  I think of him often, and how I missed my chance to introduce him to the creator of science.  
     This world is perfectly created.  We are perfectly created.  Our hearts pump unoxygenated blood through our lungs to oxygenate it before it gets to our brain.  Our kidneys keep what we need and excrete what we don't.  Water is recycled so our food can grow from the ground, and lakes and rivers can be full.  These are just a few of the things we can "see" working for us wherever we turn.  All you have to do is look out the window, or just think about how you are reading this. You can read, you can think, you can interpret...but not like anyone else, because He made you just to be you.  If we didn't have individual spirits, we'd all work like robots. Made of the same parts, but no spirit.  

Walking Through Water

This is a great read if you are wondering if you have depression, or if you want to know how someone feels that does.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wrapped in a Ribbon of Hope

         I'm lying in bed, feeling...well, lousy. I have no reason to. I have everything I could need or want. I've had so many days of feeling guilty for being ungrateful. I must be if I'm so sad when I have so much, right?  2 nephi 2:25 states "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy." Am I doing it wrong? I've heard so many times, "You can choose to be happy."  I agree I can choose how I react to situations. I can choose to try to find the silver lining in whatever situation I'm in. But what happens when my brain chooses one thing, and my heart can't catch up? When my heart feels dead, and my brain says "but look, there's pretty flowers!" If there's an answer to this one, I haven't found it yet. I wish my brain had a bigger pull over my heart, but for me it just doesn't work that way. 
          So now there's a few things to do. Wait. Patience. Patience with myself. Patience with Him. It seems a pretty important quality and lesson. It must be, He gives us many lessons on patience. Sometimes that and prayer are the only things we can do. I can keep asking. And, as I wrote about in the last post, try not to have unrealistic levels of hope in that prayer. If tomorrow is any better, I can let that be an answer to my prayer. I won't be "fixed". This won't miraculously go away, He won't do that. But maybe He can help ease the pain. I can look, and try to "see" Him. Looking around me, and seeing His hand reaching out to those around me, helps me know that if I can't believe if for myself at this moment, He is there. He gave me that knowledge. My brain knows. When He "fixes" us all in the end, then maybe my heart will catch up. As a blind person's eyes will finally see, and a deaf person's ears will finally hear, my heart will feel whole. I guess all of this is wrapped up in a nice little ribbon of hope. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hope and Prayers

I mentioned that sometimes I spit out words that I know people want/need to hear without feeling them.  One of my biggest fears is that my children will feel my lack of feeling.  I tell them I love them daily, and that I'm proud of them.  Of course, I want nothing more for them to feel loved and that their accomplishments aren't going unnoticed.  I guess that's where hope comes in.  We're told He makes up the difference.  I end each day with a prayer that He will let them feel what I don't. That He'll make up that difference.  
       On to that "hope" me it's a scary thing.  I don't like getting my hopes up, more often than not they are crushed.  I have recently realized that my "black and white" thinking probably creates unrealistic levels of hope.  "Black and white" = "All or nothing", right?  If I have a high hope, and maybe whatever I'm hoping for on some level comes to pass, then I guess I should be grateful.  I want to feel an overwhelming love for my kids..."all".  But sometimes I can't..."nothing".  If I have a day that I feel just a little bit of something good towards them, then that has to be ok.  It's not failure.  Maybe "hope" can't be what I want, or what my brain needs, but I guess it has to exist so I can hope that prayer at the end of the day on some level will fix anything I've broken in my kids that day.  I have to hope they'll forgive me for my short comings because they believe in His grace as well.  I have to hope that hope doesn't have to be "all or nothing".  Even a little change is hope coming to pass. I have to let it exist in gray areas, or else it's too easy to believe it doesn't exist at all.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Food For Thought

Most people are good nature'd. They want to help others in need. They see an ill friend and want to bring a meal, or send a note, ect...Although I think there's a fear behind helping the mentally ill as opposed to the physically ill. Is it fear? Or something else? I used to see friends flock to others that are physically ill and thought, "It seems you have to be dying on the outside for loving hands to extend. What if you're dying on the inside?"  I'm sure I'm guilty of this myself. Maybe it's just easier to see physical illness. Or it's easier to know what to do. I'm not sure the answer, but I do know there is so much more good that can be done in the world if that separation was taken away. This is a great article...

Definitely food for thought.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

          I went to the Temple today. As with many things, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Temple. I'll admit, there is something different about it. Something good. So many times I have been there and not felt any different than when outside of the walls. Last night was the first time I had been there in many months. As I sat there, I reflected on the last time I was there. I had a very clear picture in my head of something I needed to do. I won't go into detail, as it's a private matter, but I could see two different outcomes. One if I did this thing, and the other if I didn't. It was a hard thing. One of the hardest I've ever had to do. As I said, it's been several months since then, and this time as I sat there, I saw a clear picture of where I'm headed now. There was no fork in the road this time. I saw it. 

          I thought back at all the times I'd been there. All the times I was so frustrated thinking I didn't matter. Feeling hated. Wondering why I couldn't feel what others testified to feeling. I'm not sure I'll ever know the answer to that, but as I said before, I am trying to learn the language He uses to speak to me. I started to remember other times that I saw these little fleeting pictures that would guide me.  There have been many.  I took them for granted as I sat bitterly wondering why I didn't feel any different.  Seems so simple now. Pictures, duh! 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Back and White

           In my first post, I wrote about MDD. I'd like to take a moment for BPD. It throws a little different twist into the mix. I want to be clear, I can only speak for myself, but in this post I'll say "us/we" instead of "me/I" because, well, it just makes it a little better if I'm not alone in this. At least right now, in a few hours maybe "alone" will be not only be ok, but welcomed. Not for the reason you like to be alone, but because no one on our side means it's easier to self destruct. We think very black and white. It's hard to see a gray area. We think people either love us or hate us. If they're talking to us at the moment, they love us. They leave the room and our minds go all over the place thinking they are thinking the worst of us, then they hate us. In those times of utter angst we'll push people away, "if you hate me, you won't care it I..." or "If no one will care or notice, I can..." Then we get through it and need your love, but feel so guilty and awful for pushing you away. We don't hate you. But for a moment, we wanted you to hate us. For me, I know what I'm doing, I see it. I know it's "wrong". It's a huge "back and forth" inner conflict that never stops. If I've learned anything, it's that controlling this is next to impossible. I'm grateful at this point I can recognize it for what it is. It doesn't always make it easier, but knowing "why" is half the battle. Hopefully if you have a sibling, friend, parent, or even yourself with this diagnosis, you will "see" them a little differently. A little better knowing it really isn't you they are hating at the moment, but themselves. Remember, people who are the hardest to love are the ones that need it the most.

          That all being said, I have a hard time seeing my relationship with my Heavenly Father differently than my earthly relationships. I know at times, as much as I want to feel His love, I've pushed it away. Or maybe it was easier to block it myself than have the possibility of it not being there. I don't have an answer on how to fix that one, as I'm still working on it. I will say, when I do His will, I have a better day. I'll admit sometimes I don't want to have a better day. Then I feel like He doesn't want to help me because I wouldn't help Him. I was told the other day that I "don't have to earn my way into His heart." Wow. That's a load off! I want to think that kind of love exists. I guess we'll all find out in the end. For now, I'll keep taking one day at a time. I'll keep trying to "see" Him, and help Him how I can.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stopping Traffic From Above

As I said in my first post, I rely heavily on the experiences of others.  This is an experience a friend of mine had recently that I want to share:  

"So grateful for the Still Small Voice that said, 'Slow down a little, a child may run into the street.'  Just before a child ran into the road right in front of my car.  I was able to stop within an inch of him.  I'm so thankful that God is always watching out for us.  That He know when we're about to run out in the road and even when He can't stop us He still tries to stop traffic.  Pondering on this, I had been wishing I could go back and tell that young man how much God loves him but I realized something.  Something that I realized yesterday but it made a connection today.  The moment my car finally came to a stop and I could see the HUGE eyes on the little face in front of me I heard the most amazing words: I'm sorry Ma'am! - He apologized to me.  He then ran to the far side of the road and after seeing me still sitting there called out another sincere apology.  This young man already knew how much God loves him.  If not in his mind, then at least in his heart and especially at that very second; and in that moment he felt badly for scaring ME.  Can you imagine the world we live in if everyone not only KNEW how much God loves them but recognized it with their souls and always had their spiritual ears open to the promptings of the holy spirit??! That's what God wants for His children. So thankful for the moments (even the scary ones) when God takes my testimony (that I thought was already huge) and builds it to new heights."

                                                                                                      - Christy S.


A Race to the Finish

Running has been a good outlet for me. During a 5K, I paced with a lady from about the 1.5 to the 2.5 mile mark and then pulled ahead of her a bit.  Towards the end of the race, there was quite a big hill.  I really hate hills!  I noticed an older gentleman running the other way. He had a number bib so I asked, "Do we have to come back, or are you lost?" He said, "No, I'm coming back for my daughter."  It was the lady I was pacing with so she was just a little bit behind me.  I heard him get to her and say "You're almost done. There's a hill but once you get to the top, you'll be so close you can see it."  They got right up next to me about the time the hill became steeper.  The steepness slowed me down quite a bit.  I think she was slowing as well, but her dad kept coaching her breathing and pace. He was telling her how well she was doing.  As they got further to the top I reflected on that whole situation.  Her dad came back for her, which gave her the extra strength she needed.  He gave her a "heads up" on what was coming and how to conquer it.  I didn't have either and it was easier to slow down. It was easy to stop running all together.  I thought about this a lot during the days following the race.  I really tried to "see" Him doing that for me.  At the time I was walking up the hill, feeling sorry for myself as I normally do when I see an awesome dad do something loving for his daughter, I tried to think "my earthly father is no where near this struggle, or any other 'hills' but maybe my Heavenly Father is."

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Father's Love

"You are a beloved daughter of God. He loves you."  I've heard it a thousand times.  I've never believed it. Why? I don't feel it. I've always turned my cheek when hearing that statement.  I figure if it were true He'd tell it to my heart. That's not to say I don't believe it for you. I do. Quite a bit, actually. I know He loves you. Why would it be different for me? I don't know. I'm sure I've led myself to believe otherwise. I don't feel it, He must not, right? I heard it said again this past weekend and something hit me.  Perhaps I don't feel it because I don't know what it is.  My earthly father was physically in my home, but only talked to me when he could fathom a reason to yell at me for something I normally wasn't even home or in the room to do. If you have never felt what "rough" feels like, me telling you "sandpaper is rough" wouldn't mean much to you. So maybe hearing "He's your father, He loves you" has no feeling because it's a bit foreign.  
          I have always had this notion in the back of my head.  I also always quickly pushed it back there because I thought I was making excuses for myself.  I'm not sure what happened this weekend to bring it to the forefront of my brain, other than maybe He was confirming what I already knew. Maybe He was telling me I can know that.  And now that I do, it makes it easier to hear. I can hear it now and know why I don't feel any different when I hear it.  Maybe it's not Him leaving me invisible. It's an earthly weakness, and maybe if/when I meet Him someday, it'll just be that much better. 

Why I have to see to believe...

            I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a young adult.  Shortly after,  I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, followed by Borderline Personality Disorder a few years later. I don’t think it matters the title or the events leading up to it. What matters is what I've learned. How I've learned to “see” things I can’t feel. 
             For the first 2 years after diagnosis, I took meds that changed my life. I didn't feel empty.  For the first time I didn't feel constant angst. It was a total wake up call. I didn't realize how different I really thought and felt than the “norm” until then. More importantly, I could feel the spirit.  It was easy and natural. My Heavenly Father was my friend. But, of course, after those couple of years “I was fine”.  I stopped taking my meds. I will probably regret that decision for the rest of my life, because then one day I wasn't “fine”. So went back to meds, which then caused awful side effects that I couldn't live with. Over the course of the next 18 months or so, I tried them all. All gave the same side effects. So here I am, living with it. Trying to deal, day to day, hanging on to the memory of when I could feel anything other than sorrow and emptiness. Trying not to be angry at Him for taking away my life line, and along with it the ability to feel His spirit. Trying not to think He left me.  It’s been over a decade, and I know I have a million more things to learn, but through it I have learned a thing or two on how to recognize Him.  I’d like to share them, because if it can help even just one person, then maybe I can put a reason to all those days that I just couldn’t understand where He was, and why He’d leave me. 
             First, I had to accept what I had to work with. Accept that though I know He can take this away, He won’t. Why? Honestly thinking about that still makes me a bit angry. As I said, I still have a ways to go. But, alas, I am here. And begging Him to take this weakness away hasn’t worked, so all I can do is work with what I have. I have the ability to think, and process information, and learn.  I have the ability to change a prayer to “If I can’t feel you, than let me see you.” I have the ability to change perspective. Secondly, I needed to integrate what I have to work with and a growing testimony.  I have to trust my eyes and ears. Trust others when they say “I feel the spirit so strong after that lesson.” It’s hard to hear that and not think I’m invisible to Him.  Just like deaf people use sign language, and blind use brail, I have to learn the language He uses to speak to me.  I’ve learned that the thoughts that enter my head over and over are Him telling me to do something. I’ve learned He’ll give me the desire and energy I need to do what He needs me to do, usually on days that start with no energy or desire to do anything but sit on the couch.  Often I have no idea why I just “have to call that person” (whom I haven’t thought of or heard from in years) but I can’t let it go.  Sometimes I do things without much thought, like a marionette.  For a while that would make me bitter. “I don’t even know why I’m doing this for that person, why do they get a visit when all those days I needed one no one was there?”  I don’t think I recognized His need for it. We are all here to help one another, and be instruments in His hands.  Our day, our turn, will come.  Humans are imperfect. Therefore our ability to “go and do” isn’t always perfect. Just because we didn’t get a call, or a visit, or whatever we are desiring at the time, doesn’t mean He didn’t try. 

                Sometimes I have a hard time believing.  Sometimes I spit out words that I know people want/need to hear but I don’t feel them.  Sometimes I believe He cares about others more.  This blog is about honestly telling experiences I have the show me He's there.  It may not always be pretty, but it will be real.  I had a hard time writing those last few lines in the last paragraph, because I have a hard time believing He tries for me personally.  But, I hadn’t planned on writing it before I started, He had a hand in those words. So whether I want to believe the actual words or not, I can start by believing He is at least there.  I see the words He put in my head, and after all, seeing is believing, right?