Where is the Pavilion that Hides Thy Face?

I’m starting to think of this as the summer of flexible thinking. Also ten thousand books and lots of travel (yay, on all counts). But mostly, flexible thinking.

Here’s the backstory: a certain child has been learning in therapy how to break free of concrete, rigid thinking processes. He’s learning that his thoughts don’t have to remain stuck on whatever idea of “right” or “perfect” which is currently hampering his ability to move forward when real life doesn’t match his mental image of right or perfect.

It’s a skill, this flexible thinking, and it turns out that I’m learning quite a lot about it too as I discuss it with said child. This process has compelled me to turn the mirror on myself and see that I can benefit from greater mental plasticity because surprise! I also get hung up on how things “should” be.

So while this child and I frequently talk about shifting our thoughts away from the trauma of unmet expectations (in his case, messy rooms make him crazy and cause him to lash out at certain family members), we can see inflexible thinking as “My brother is a pig and I hate how he messes up the house,” and replace it with the measured, more accurate flexible line of thinking: “We always eventually get the house clean. It’s not my job to force my brother to clean up.”

I’m starting to see all sorts of applications of flexible thinking in my own worlds of parenting, teaching, and in challenging cultural norms about what *SHOULD* be happening in one’s life at any given time.

Frankly, I see many parallels between thinking flexibly and understanding spiritual truths, although ironically, it’s pretty easy in the Church to get into a lock-step rut of thinking with complete rigidity. Because something is a cultural tradition, it can be mistaken for gospel doctrine.

The last few months of my own deepening spirituality have shown me that unless we are willing to grapple with our doubts and our areas of limited understanding, we can’t grow in spiritual magnitude. Complacency isn’t a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, thinking “all is well in Zion” is a sure sign of prideful dismissal of seeking to understand God’s will and strive to bring it to pass.

I’ve had a lot of time standing in temple hallways of late while directing pedestrian traffic to stare at paintings of Jesus and his disciples. This has given me space to contemplate what it is he wants me to do with a) the personal insights I’ve received this year in my study of scripture and Church history, and b) my own revelatory dreams (remember this is how God generally speaks to me; don’t ask me why).

Practicing flexible thinking means accepting new truths, more truths, all truth, essentially. As Doctrine & Covenants 50 says, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

All truth is one brilliant eternal round, but in order for us to access more/greater understanding, we first have to be open to adding to the limited light we already grasp.

Recently Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “What is amazing to me is that we are still witnessing the Restoration of the Savior’s gospel and Church. The Restoration is still happening, and we are each a part of it.”

Jesus Christ’s gospel is unchanging and perfect, but our understanding of it continues to grow as he continues to reveal it in the unfurling process known as the Restoration. This is obviously happening on a Church-wide basis, with changes that reflect an ongoing restorative season.

But as every good General Conference-watching church member knows, President Nelson has said being personally attuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit is similarly vital. He boldly said, “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”

Taking a passive approach to faith apparently isn’t enough. Without individually grappling and wrestling with what we do believe and what we yearn to better understand, how can we expect the Holy Spirit to speak to us? “Ask and ye shall receive; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Not just to the prophet, or the bishop, or the Relief Society president. It will be opened to you.

Last winter I wanted to understand more. I had faith. I accepted the principles of the gospel, but I wanted to know more. I actually felt compelled to know more. So I prayed for my Heavenly Parents to help me develop my spiritual gifts.

This, it turns out, is like praying for greater patience or forgiveness, which usually means you get life opportunities to practice patience and develop forgiveness. Hoo boy.

My prayers to refine my spiritual gifts resulted in an overwhelming number of encounters with the Holy Spirit showing me in a tactile and sensory way more about the divine gifts endowed in me before I was born.

I wanted to sip from a chalice dipped in a well of understanding. Instead, I was gulping from a fire hose.

This included an outpouring of those big, vivid, detailed, remarkably clear dreams which weren’t my subconscious working through the minutiae of the day; rather, they were (and are) a conduit for understanding what my Heavenly Parents want me to learn so I can better serve them.

I’m going to share one of these dreams here. It’s not something I even want to share, but the promptings to write about it will not leave me alone.

This is from my dream journal:

I dreamed I had experienced a lot of undisclosed family-related turmoil and consequently was taken, as a gift, to a beautiful old university building that was clearly not on the earth. A couple of people who were acting as my guides me took me to a spacious upstairs corner room with large arched windows. They told me that because of the things I faced on earth, I was being allowed to see this.

We stood just inside the doorway. The room was filled with light. On a couple of low tables, I saw several tall glass rectangular boxes, which were a 3-D representation of all the theories on earth, specifically their relationship to each other–their size, parameters, and limitations.

The theories resembled grains of sand or spices (ocher and deep brown were the two colors I saw most clearly) layered in the enormous clear containers. I could see the strata of different colors and textures, which I understood represented how the various theories had changed and evolved through human history.

Looking at this room, I had a better, fuller, richer picture of how things relate to each other. The theories were political, social, scientific, historical, literary, linguistic, psychological, economic–they ran the gamut. I didn’t understand HOW all these theories work, but I was able to see that comparatively, they were as small as grains of sand.

Every theory in the entire world through all recorded time fit easily in the bottom third of the huge glass boxes. The boxes themselves were dominated by the giant room. It was enlightening in that I felt like I instantly understood the theories’ relationships and limitations.

I woke up and felt like I’d learned more in those few moments of the dream than all of the studying I’ve ever done before in my life. It was a macroscopic view of humanity and its’ ills and ideas, and I saw that these things are swallowed up in the breadth of the infinite gospel. It was both humbling and peace-inducing.

Last week I saw a bunch of Shakespeare plays (an English nerd’s happy place). The version of Hamlet we saw was creepy and terrific, and reminded me of that iconic line where Hamlet says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

This is how my layered sand dream felt. God’s knowledge is vast.

There is just so much more to learn, and the way to learn it is under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday in the temple I stood for some time across from this Carl Bloch painting:

It depicts the story from John 5 when Jesus healed the sick at the pool of Bethesda. “A certain man … had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?”

I was struck by the way Jesus is being followed by a whole crowd of people jostling for his attention, but he has deliberately made his way to the man beneath the homespun tarp. In his simple gesture of pulling aside the fabric cover, Jesus bathes the man in light and hope, and then immediately heals him.

Staring at this painting, I asked myself, what covers my head? What blocks me from receiving more light? How can I achieve the sudden illumination of the disabled man? How can I pull aside that which is blocking me from being strengthened and healed by the Savior?

I don’t have all the answers, but I suspect that I get distracted by worldliness. I know that I am tripped up by pride and lack of faith. And sometimes I think I just forget to ask.

When I do ask, my Heavenly Parents give me much more than I expect or even that I feel I deserve. I sense that they yearn to share much more with all of us, if we can remove the covers from our spiritual eyes and ears.

Which brings me back to flexible thinking. Being stuck in one’s current level of understanding isn’t a permanent state, but it does hamper upward progress. Just like my son and I can learn to let go of the limiting and distracting “shoulds” of mortality, all children of Heavenly Parents have an innate capacity to know them, to love them, to return to them.

“Where is the pavilion that hides thy face?”

Perhaps it is a hands breadth above us, waiting to be lifted and cast aside.

The Spirit Self

I listened to a most excellent episode this morning of the Listen, Learn, and Love podcast that I always really enjoy, which featured Shelby Hintze talking with host Richard Ostler about being disabled, a woman, and a member of the LDS Church. You can hear it here.

Shelby touches on an issue which has been on my mind a great deal, which is the importance of listening to disabled people tell us what they want and need, rather than simply listening to their parents/caregivers/others. Even when disabled people are largely nonverbal, like Jack, they still are able to communicate in other ways, and it’s really our job to learn to help them do that.

In Jack’s case, his staff are working on some ASL signs with him, mostly related to food (his greatest pleasure!) and being outside (a close second). But Jack has always been adept at showing clueless old me what he needs. He does it through pointing, body language, showing us objects, and even using facial expressions that we’ve learned to interpret.

Shelby is absolutely right that it’s vital to listen to disabled people speak for themselves. To hear them. To be observant. To understand them. To let them tell us what they need. We all have the capacity to express ourselves in some way.

I’ve often wondered about this idea as I write about the story of our family. The fact is that I, as the writer of this blog, am the default central character of this story. I write about my children, which as they age gets way weirder and far trickier, and I discuss the foibles we face together thanks to mortality and disability.

But really this is all about me, because I tell it from my perspective. I’m mostly writing to explore my inner voice–my spirit, as it were.

And while I attempt to speak for Jack, it’s from an imperfect, incomplete vantage point in this mortal experience. I’m not an authority on Jack’s inner life. I don’t profess to know everything about his inward self.

I think this is entangled somewhere near the roots of my cognitive dissonance with writing of late. I am evolving as a mother and as a disabilities-adjacent person. The once-narrative of this blog was literally about our daily survival. Would we make it through another day???

Things are different now with Jack in residential care and my other boys receiving different types of (less intense) services to meet their unique needs. Much of my writing is just me waxing angsty about not being able to write, yay (actually that’s boring).

I used to spin every experience with child-raising into true-yet-stranger-than-fiction stories for the internet’s consumption. Since December of last year, my process has been different, and decidedly more introverted. I’ve been undergoing a spiritual education. A quiet, invisible spiritual outpouring, essentially.

And unlike the years of parenting trauma which became blog fodder, the things I’ve been learning on a spiritual level aren’t things I have felt I could talk about. Until now. When I feel compelled to simply put down a portion of what I’m learning.

Part of my growth has been learning to hone my receptivity to the spirit.

I already knew that “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost,” (2 Nephi 32: 2-3) but I’ve begun to see that each of us, whether we are still living on the earth or have passed beyond the veil, possess a spirit which deeply yearns for comfort, connection, and peace. We want to be accepted as we are, and be supported in our struggle to live and face challenges. And in these, our personal battles, our Heavenly Parents haven’t left us spiritually bereft.

Elder Gerrit W. Gong’s address “Our Campfire of Faith” opened my spiritual eyes to the reality of our capacity as spiritual beings to understand, connect with, and minister to each other “in new, higher, holier, Spirit-filled ways.”

“Such ministering,” according to Elder Gong, “Brings miracles and the blessings of covenant belonging—where we feel God’s love and seek to minister to others in that spirit.”

The Brethren aren’t saying what these new forms of higher, holier, Spirit-filled forms of ministering look like. But President Russell M. Nelson has counseled that those who cannot receive personal revelation will not survive spiritually in coming days.

In the same landmark address, President Nelson also said, “Imagine the miracle of it!…If we will truly receive the Holy Ghost and learn to discern and understand His promptings, we will be guided in matters large and small.” The common theme of this prophetic counsel has been that “We are to minister in a holier way…to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”

With this instruction, I’ve analyzed my own ongoing revelatory dreams, as well as the insights I’m gleaning in meditation, temple service, prayer, and scripture study.

You guys, I don’t have a complete picture of everything I want to understand. There is so much more for me to learn–light for which I yearn to illuminate the more shadowy corners of gospel doctrine and practices. I don’t have all of it now.

But I have been given a great gift of learning for myself more of what new, higher, holier, Spirit-filled ministering looks like.

The first lesson for me happened awhile back when over the course of a couple of weeks, I just kept thinking of a person in my neighborhood who was really going through it. I kept thinking I should take her something, do something, say something. The thing is, I also got the vibe that this person didn’t really like me much. So I kept ignoring these promptings. Oy vey.

But the feeling that I needed to reach out compelled me to swallow my pride, which compelled me to buy a rotisserie chicken, some croissants, and a salad, and proceed to text this woman.

Do you know how awkward it is to say to someone you don’t really know, “I bought you a chicken?” Just use your imagination. Anyway, she texted me back and said, no she didn’t have anything ready for dinner and yes, I could stop by.

Here’s the instructive part, for me anyway. We stood on her porch. I handed her the bag containing dinner loving prepared by Costco. We talked about the thing she was going through. It was similar to something I had once gone through. We cried together. We looked in each other’s teary eyes, and I felt all the weird social dynamics fall away. I felt my spirit communing with her spirit. We connected at a spiritual level.

Reader, it nourished us both.

That was my first glimpse at ministering to a person’s spirit.

Then my dad started teaching me. Big time. See: this post.

The subsequent lessons have related to Jack.

I feel closer to Jack now than I ever did when we lived in the same house.

These experiences have happened mostly when I am taking the sacrament or sitting in the temple. Basically, when I’m praying and pondering. There have been many, and I don’t feel equipped to discuss all of them (but check out those insta links, yo! I already wrote it once, at least in part.)

And then this happened last Sunday:

Henry was blessing the sacrament water. I was listening to the prayer. And in the silence which followed, I thought about Jack. I considered his limited earthly life and his vast, eternal spirit which is valiant and brave. I thought about how proud I am for the way he humbly, willingly lives the life his Heavenly Father and Mother have given him.

Immediately after this thought, my entire consciousness was consumed with the sense of Jack being with me, sitting with me, speaking to me without words, telling me, “I am proud of YOU. I am proud of all of you.”

As I’ve said before, I don’t presume to know Jack’s inner life. I can’t know it. In my meditation, I was not seeking for Jack’s spirit to commune with mine. But that is what happened.

These moments during the ordinance of the sacrament have become the most enriching part of my week. In the holiest and most sacred act that I regularly engage in, I am connected with my intellectually disabled son not by physical proximity or touch or even words.

Our spirits are connected.

I know this because the Holy Spirit has allowed me to understand and perceive Jack’s spirit reaching out to mine.

Last October, President Nelson spoke to the women of the Church, saying, “My dear sisters, you have special spiritual gifts and propensities. Tonight I urge you, with all the hope of my heart, to pray to understand your spiritual gifts–to cultivate, use, and expand them, even more than you ever have. You will change the world as you do so. As women, you inspire others and set a standard worthy of emulation. The supreme standard for ministering is that of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Generally, women are, and always have been, closer to that standard than men. When you are truly ministering, you follow your feelings to help someone else experience more of the Savior’s love.”

Ether chapter 4 in the Book of Mormon has been particularly prescient for me during this growing process of praying to understand and develop my spiritual gifts. “[She] that believeth these things which I have spoken, [her] will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and [she] shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit [she] shall know that these things are true, for it persuadeth [women] to do good. And whatsoever thing persuadeth [women] to do good is of me, for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth [women] to all good; [she] that will not believe my words will not believe me–that I am; and [she] that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me.”

All good things come from Jesus Christ. He is the source of all goodness.

When I look toward Him, I know more of Jack’s true, eternal self.

I know more of how we are connected to each other’s spirits.

I am fed, embraced, and taught by the Savior’s method of ministering to our real, eternal, spirit selves, which He is teaching us to likewise do for each other.

I understand more of what our Heavenly Parents divine heritage allows us to do. And I’m seeing that it truly is newer, higher, holier, and Spirit-saturated.

Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. We can too.

Just Peachy

Yesterday I had the kind of day with my children which swung like a pendulum from a) me feeling like I can knock down anything autism or sensory processing disorder happens to throw my way to b) me actually saying to Jeff, “I am completely effing up parenting. I don’t know how to raise these kids. The end.”

I don’t actually feel like reliving it, but the short version is this:

In the morning, Truman and I went to occupational therapy, where we saw my cousin Laurel and her little boy Shane, because apparently all the cool kids go to OT with Brynnen. There, we went over exactly why I am convinced that returning to school is going to throw Truman into both panic and despair, and neither of us is prepared for a repeat of first grade, with the daily sob-fests. Nope.

Normally, OT stresses me out. The homework is basically MY homework. Gather supplies. Create charts. Craft kits and graphs and visual organizers. BE extremely organized at all times! In fact, be clever and cute and fun about all the things that already exhaust you, hooray!

This time, most of the prep work for Operation Second Grade Go! still falls to me, but for some crazy reason, I’m not stressed. I’m mostly glad to have an actual game plan to avoid the weepy, clingy, emotionally soul-sucking mornings.

We left and I called the elementary school for a 504, got on Amazon and bought everything Truman needs for his portable classroom sensory integration “Break Bucket,” and announced to Jeff that through a combination of planning, preparation, and refusal to be sucked into a fear vortex, this back-to-school will be better. Dangit.

That was the Rocky/stairs/punch/victory/thing moment.

Come evening, however, a certain other child turned into a real life psycho over our family’s no-sleepover policy. The vibe of the household was basically YIKES. Nothing I said to this child stuck for him.

He eventually did let me give him a hug and then Jeff asked him if he wanted to paint our bathroom for a little bit. We (meaning Jeff) are painting over the (hideous) purple walls which have graced our master bathroom lo these 14 years. We (meaning both Jeff and me) hate it, yet we haven’t changed it until now, hahahahaha. Guys, this is the actual truth about what special-needs parenting does to you.

Brief aside: we’ve had the purple walls the whole time we’ve lived here, which is so long that now I literally don’t even see the purple. It’s not even there for me. It has disappeared, fading into the background because I apparently refuse to acknowledge it. I guess??? Someone explain this phenomenon to me please.

Jeff is the superior parent in knowing what this certain child needs. Or maybe it’s just that he stays much calmer than me in the face of meltdowns. Anyway, painting the bathroom was just the ticket for deescalating said child. After working for awhile, the kid cleaned out the paintbrush and said, solemnly, to me, “I think I forgot to eat dinner.”

This explained the entire disaster evening.

It also reminded me that autism plus summer breaks minus the rigor of an elite prep boarding school which we don’t have here at Chez Goates equals everybody is falling apart once we hit late July.

We have been too free-form, and it’s time to reimpose a more rigorous routine.

In other news, today was better. I ate two really beautiful peaches. I worked out, which always makes me grumpy while side planking at the beginning but also makes me euphoric while stretching at the end. I’m taking back our routine from the ennui of summer.

Please tell me about your summer day? I hope it includes good parts amid the bad parts. And peaches.

Fruition

I pruned and weeded the front-yard landscaping today. Let’s pretend I’m British for a sec, and call it a garden. So much nicer. Today I pruned and weeded the garden. That’s better, innit?

It was a mammoth task since I’ve been traipsing about all summer NOT pruning or weeding.

Gardening is not my forte. My dad excelled at making anything grow. He knew the street (?) names and the Latin names of most plants we encountered, wild or domestic. He pushed us into family gardening projects during my childhood and teen years, and yet still, it just didn’t take for me.

It’s too hot and dirty, sticky and prickly for my liking. I’m a gardening avoider. I like being clean and cool, preferably while reading a book.

But, I want my front yard (garden!) to look acceptable, and I had been sadly remiss this summer. Even worse, when we were gone on a family vacation for ELEVEN WHOLE DAYS, our sprinkler system somehow remained off (we aren’t casting blame, but it may have involved a mistake on the part of a certain kid, or a certain parent, or a combination of the two). This was in July, when Utah is “hotter’n blazes” as my dad used to gleefully say.

The landscaping took a beating.

So as I was out there this afternoon, in the overcast heat with thunder rolling in the distance, sweaty and hacking off branches and dead heads, I started thinking allegorically, as one does, about gardens and dead things and life.

I envisioned my garden every year previous to this one. Despite my laissez-faire approach to growing things, this is how it generally goes:

  1. We plant some flowers and things after Mother’s Day.
  2. We water said things pretty regularly.
  3. I sort of ignore all things yard related; the boys keep the lawn mowed.
  4. Mid summer, I attack the weeds and admire the growth of the shrubs and plants.
  5. By early fall, the front yard flourishes in a glorious final curtain call before the first freeze, at which point I prune it all back in preparation for winter.

It was predictable, my garden. I may have been a mostly absentee gardener, but despite this, the zinnias bloomed richly and the dogwoods gregariously tried to take over everything (my dad said that dogwoods are always trying to take over the world, which is true).

I saw the garden as something which took some work and some water. With these gifts, it unfolded in a predictive path to full, leafy fruition.

Reader, this year I messed it all up.

The absenteeism and the lack of water and the neglect interrupted the natural order of my simple, yet pretty little garden. It looked bad. Parts were dying, parts were out of control.

With sadness, I could see that my yard wasn’t going to be the same this year. I did damage control. I pruned and pulled and chopped and tossed until my arms were shaking.

Why am I so bad at this,” I chastised myself.

And all I could think about was how this was very much like my life. Cue the analogy.

I grew up and had a family with the expectation that it would grow and look like everyone else’s. And then my life became a PSA for autism awareness. And nonverbal kiddos, intellectual disabilities, residential care, special-needs parenting, and Jesus. My family grew all right, but in unexpected ways.

My life did the same thing that my garden did this summer, meaning it didn’t go according to plan. Contingencies happened. Things were and are usually a pretty big mess.

As I was mulling over all of this, Charlie came outside and asked me if I could use some help. He’s an observant and a joyful helper, that one. We proceeded to prune and gather up the weeds and the clippings, at which point Truman joined us and offered to sweep off the porch and the walk.

With my two little boys working beside me, my load was lighter. I pushed my damp bangs off my face and surveyed the yard. It didn’t look great, but it looked better.

I’m realizing that I don’t know how to complete this allegory. “Life is garden requiring care and love and nourishment blah blah blah, and sometimes things happen to interrupt the garden’s original landscape design yada yada yada…”

I don’t know where to draw the moral from the experience, other than to say, I don’t know how my garden will look, come fall.

Families and front yards aren’t predictive text. And predictive text only gets so much right, anyhow. It frankly can’t be relied upon.

If there is a lesson in the drastic swath I cut today, it’s that life will intervene and reorganize the trajectory of our efforts.

With my gloves, my pruners, my arms, and my sons, I engaged in the garden disaster, and it improved.

Fruition doesn’t happen in a single season.

And green things continue to unfurl.

I’m Ready to Talk

Hi all. I have emerged from my silent hermitage.

I have been doing a fair bit of mulling these last weeks. I’ve been in a listening place–a place where even when I wanted to write, I couldn’t do it. My attempts were fruitless. Perhaps this is because I needed to be quiet and hear what I needed to hear.

I’ve been learning.

This post is my attempt at recording some of what I have learned.

I can’t share all of it. It’s just really intensely personal, and some of it is really sacred. Which makes for a prickly process, since my writing is basically this electronic version of me yelling all my innermost thoughts and my most difficult experiences over a figurative PA system that basically everyone I know (and some people I don’t know) can hear. Oy vey.

All of this is to say, I have been at odds with social media. I’m no longer addicted to it. Now I just don’t care about it. It doesn’t interest me much. I admit that I am drawn to hilarious tweets, but in order to find them, I have to sift through so much blather and Twitter toxicity.

So why is this problematic? I don’t know that it actually is, but here is what I have been grappling with: I’m not prepared to entirely forego social media because a) how the heck else am I supposed to share all the writing I am theoretically producing? and b) I guess I just don’t want a complete cultural disconnect.

At the heart of my angst has been the still-in-place understanding I have that God very clearly told me to write about the stuff in my life and this expectation has not been lifted from me, despite my pushing against it with every bit of my rebellious heart.

In sum, I want to scream into the void, do a Celtic battle dance, and then delete my Facebook and Instagram accounts. . .

. . . And drastically cull my Twitter feed, but I am holding on (under duress) because I am compelled (not by my own desires) to write about all my most painful and personal things and share said things with people.

Yay.

Also, why am I like this?

To better illustrate this point, I’m going to share something that happened to me of late. It also happens that the reason I am even able to hack out this post is because of this very experience.

I had been in an unsettled state while preparing for a long family vacation with all the transitional anxiety that besets me at times like this.

I felt guilt at the fact that we were going to a subtropical paradise just for funzies, while there are literally 70 million refugees currently displaced throughout the world.

I felt taut and upset following a difficult interpersonal interaction I’d had before we left. I’m being intentionally vague, yep. Just know that it sucked and that’s all I can say about it.

I was worried about traveling with a seven-year-old who has sensory processing disorder and who eats three foods, total.

I stress-cleaned my entire house before we left, because of the slim possibility our flight could crash and my entire family (sans Jack) could die, and then someone would have to come clean out our house and dispose of our belongings and oversee Jack’s care (everyone thinks this, right? No? Just me?)

I wasn’t in a calm place, you guys.

Jeff and I had a conversation on the patio of our vacation condo where I told him I didn’t want to write anymore. I wanted to retreat introvertedly to the woods hereafter, living an ascetic life (except with cold Diet Cokes and a nice soft bed).

And then I told him about a dream I’d had some months before.

In the dream, I was with a group of women who were collectively trying to solve a problem which involved lots of hands-on field work. I kept leaving the group and going ahead of them to gather information from various distant locations. I was doing research and reconnaissance, basically.

I had a tablet with me on which I recorded everything I discovered. The things I wrote on the tablet automatically uploaded to the cloud, and the rest of the group was reading it and following along, even though we were in separate places.

At the end of the dream, one of the women, who I know IRL and who I find challenging to interact with due to her untreated emotional issues, walked up to me and said with sincerity, “Thank you for doing this. You are a rictus and it means so much to me.”

I woke up and immediately wrote this down, mostly because I didn’t know the meaning of the word rictus. I knew this didn’t come from my subconscious.

Then I promptly looked up rictus in ye olde Merriam-Webster dictionary app, where I learned that it means an open mouth. An alternate definition is a wide grimace. Ha.

This felt pretty symbolically obvious to me in lots of ways. You are free to make what you will of it, but as I recounted this dream to Jeff, it’s meaning was once again clear to me.

“I don’t want to keep opening my mouth,” I said to him. “But the fact that the person in the dream thanking me for opening my mouth was a person who bristles and visibly dislikes me, sorta tells me that the point isn’t me being happily shut up in a silent cabin in the woods. It’s not about me, and it’s not about being comfortably quiet.”

Then I said, “I don’t know how to do this,” to which Jeff replied, “You will figure it out.”

FYI, this is the sort of answer I hate.

The next morning as I brushed my teeth, I listened to the 8th chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon, which is about Alma preaching in Ammonihah to an unsympathetic audience who straight up didn’t want to hear the gospel precepts he taught, and who essentially kicked him out of the city. This summary is euphemistic.

While he is walking away “being weighed down with sorrow, wading through much tribulation and anguish of soul because of the wickedness of the people,” an angel appears to Alma and essentially is like, “you are so good and so faithful, so props to you, but by the way, you need to stop crying ‘cuz you gotta go back and do it again. To the same people who rode you out of town on a rail. Sorry. Off you go.” This paraphrase is my dramatic interpretation and is not euphemistic.

The angel also gives him a few insightful tips and then, bless Alma’s courageous heart, he goes back in (surreptitiously) to Ammonihah. This is when he meets Amulek, a man who’d had a vision telling him he would receive a prophet into his house, and feed him and be blessed by this association.

They go to Amulek’s house, Alma eats and is sustained, and blesses the entire household, giving thanks to God.

This is the point at which God spoke very clearly to me on an island in the Pacific about something that had been weighing on me for many weeks.

I listened as verse 27 of Alma 8 said, “And Alma tarried many days with Amulek before he began to preach unto the people.”

I’ve read this chapter like 87 times before and I never picked up on the fact that Alma didn’t instantly run back into the fray.

He did return to Ammonihah when the angel told him to. He did find the gift of sustenance that God gave him in the form of Amulek and his goodness. But HE TOOK SOME TIME, yo–to rest, to heal, to prepare, to think.

In 2019 we call this self-care. Joke’s on us though, guys. This is a not a woke modern concept. Turns out self-care was around anciently, and Alma the prophet practiced it.

Incidentally, Jesus also practiced it. (See: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).

He tarried many days.

You guys, I am no Alma. But.

I read this and I felt a divine awareness of my predicament, my anxiety, my unsettledness, my worry.

I felt the spirit telling me that it’s okay to let the blog lie fallow for a season.

That it’s okay to be grateful and enjoy the blessing of a special vacation with family.

It’s okay to sit still and be quiet.

It’s okay to recuperate.

It’s okay to not always be productive.

That it’s really seriously fine to hate doing something and then work at finding the will and the desire to keep doing it because it’s God’s idea.

I felt relief.

Was it the dream? Was it Alma 8? Was it the nice long vacation in paradise? Was it having space to sort through my concerns and think through my purpose? Was it the gift of clarity following a storm of turbidity?

It was all of this.

This is a Book Post

I’ve read exclusively non-fiction for the last few months. This is a departure for me (I likey the fiction), but alas, books about real things are what my spirit craves this year, apparently. The books in this post are heavy on faith, spirituality, women’s voices, and Latter-day Saint history, because my spirit self also wants all the churchy stuff, mkay? Here are some tiny book reviews. Cheers xo

Temple and Cosmos

This book is hefty and written in the rambly professorial verbage of Hugh Nibley, who wrote and taught at BYU for decades on ancient scripture. My interest in the temple–its origins and meaning–has ratched up exponentially this year, which is why I delved into this behemoth. I learned a lot about the ancientness of temple ceremonies, and about the pervasiveness of their symbols throughout history. The last few chapters aren’t really about temples, but are various papers tacked onto the book. These didn’t interest me, but the rest of this tome was pretty fascinating. Nibley’s daughter Martha, said he abused her during her childhood. This is distressing information, which gave me some cognitive dissonance because while he wrote astutely about the deepest mysteries of my faith, he may have also been a monstrous pedophile. My son and I argue over Michael Jackson for this very reason. He says MJ’s music is amazing. I say I don’t want to listen to the art of a child predator. Only you can decide how to proceed regarding this landmark book and it’s questionable author.

Saints, vol. 1

This is the first in a series of four volumes recounting the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church is making an effort at greater transparency in relating some of its more distasteful historical events, and this book reflects that stance. It doesn’t dismiss or justify uncomfortable facts, but it does present them in context. A group of writers worked with Church historians on the book, and while I wouldn’t say it’s a gripping page-turner, I enjoyed reading the sequential unfolding of the fledgling Church. I learned a lot. Some of it made me feel icky. Much of it was faith-promoting. For me, Joseph and Emma Smith became real people, and this humanizing discussion gave me empathy for them. I will def be reading the next volume, which comes out in February 2020, and which will obvs be about the trek West, at least in part.

Doctrine and Covenants Encyclopedia

This is a really thick reference book by Hoyt Brewster which cites scripture and prophets as it expounds on people and terms found in the Doctrine and Covenants. I intended to read just a few sections on specific words of interest to me, but ended up reading the entire encyclopedia like a novel because I’m weird and it contained a bunch of hidden gems.

A House Full of Females

Harvard history professor and Pulitzer Prize-winner Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote this really quite readable book about the practice of plural marriage in the early Church. When this book was released in February 2018, I decided I wasn’t in a place to read it without filling with rage. Somehow, I was in a better place this spring and found this book immensely informative and thought-provoking. Again, I learned so much from this discussion on a practice which, while believed to be eternal, exalting, and divinely-mandated, also at times resulted in incredibly messy lives and situations when practiced by regular humans. And here we reprise our high-maintenance pal, cognitive dissonance.

Not Yet

I heard about this book on the Mormonland podcast and couldn’t order it fast enough. It’s written by Jeff O’Driscoll, a veteran emergency room doctor, who has vast experience with both death and near-death experiences. He has a spiritual gift where he physically sees people who have died, as clearly as he sees the living people in the room. He doesn’t attempt to persuade skeptics, he simply tells his experiences, which span decades in the ER. I devoured this book. I am obsessed with NDE accounts because I believe every last one of them is true and as a body, they inform us regarding our own mortality and our eternal spirits.

At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women

Edited by Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook, this is a collection of women’s discourses throughout Church history. It is a testament to the strength of women as preachers, leaders, and disciples since the Church’s restoration. Perhaps as interesting as the discourses themselves are the biographies of the women preceding each chapter, and the copious and rich textual notes at the end of the book. I read every single word and learned so effing much. I finished this work and FELT the power of women who serve and study and learn and teach. The more recent talks appealed most to me, probably because their current topics and language spoke to me exactly where I am. If you read it (it’s free online on the Gospel Library app under “Church History”), these are my favorite chapters: “The Prayer of Faith” by Drusilla D. Hendricks, “A Latter-day Saint Theology of Suffering” by Francine R. Bennion (this one is a REVELATION), “The Unknown Treasure” by Jutta B. Busche, “Decisions and Miracles: And Now I See” by Irina Kratzer, “Knowing Who You Are–and Who You Have Always Been” by Sheri L. Dew, and “Our Father in Heaven Has a Mission for Us” by Judy Brummer (I personally found this one super inspiring).

The Witness of Women

This collection of firsthand accounts of women involved in the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is edited by Janiece Johnson and Jennifer Reeder. I’ve had a harder time slogging through this one, probably because so much of it is written in the embellished and wordy syntax of the nineteenth century. I also find myself hungry to move beyond the nascent Nauvoo Relief Society and well-known female pillars of the early church like Eliza R. Snow to the many many many multitudes of contemporary women who also possess great faith, fascinating life stories, and the ability to inspire and lead.

Crossings: A Bald Asian-American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures Through Life, Death, Cancer, and Motherhood (Not Necessarily in That Order)

This is a memoir by Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye who has lived a fascinating global life with her husband and four children. She is incredibly accomplished and yet writes relatably about living in Taiwan as a missionary, Hong Kong as a young mother, and now Auckland, New Zealand as a university professor. I’m only part-way through, but I already love her and am immersed in her voice and her story. I also heard about this book in an interview with Inouye on the Trib’s podcast Mormonland, which is now driving many of my book purchases.

A Post, Wherein I Write About Not Writing

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this blog over the last few weeks of NOT writing in it. My thoughts have included:

  • I am grumpy about this blog.
  • Said grumpiness stems from feeling a sense of duty to write here, when I don’t want to be vulnerable and post things about myself and my family all the time.
  • Also, I am le grump because God told me to have this blog (oh hi, pressure) and it has become a burden to me.
  • Grumpiness aside, I was telling someone I had just met that I write things on my blog. They asked me what I write about, and without missing a beat, I said “special-needs parenting,” which I realized isn’t the complete truth.
  • The special-needs story is part of who I am and what I talk about, but it’s ancillary to the big headline, which is that…
  • My faith has saved me. Also…
  • Jesus saves me daily. And…
  • Jack, Jeff, and my other boys are my cohort of spiritual companions while we sojourn in a mortal realm. So basically…
  • I write about How to Survive Your Life in the sense that you have to find truth and seize hold of it and pursue it through all challenges. In sum…
  • For me and my people, this is the truth: Jesus is the means to spiritual survival, to healing and progress, and to hope which ultimately looks like peace.

After having this realization, I felt two conflicting emotions: 1) relief at overtly acknowledging this, and 2) weighed down by the idea of being that person who always writes about sacred things and spiritual journeys.

So.

That’s where I am, reader. I don’t need reassurance, and I don’t blame you if my tormented introspection is getting you down and if you want to go somewhere else to read really anything else. I get it.

I’ve stepped away from writing, my mind and laptop lying fallow for a time.

And I’m still in this dormant phase, apparently, because this post does not contain a brilliant story or insight for your reading pleasure.

It’s just me checking in and being real, even that means I’m real boring.

Me, Identifying with Sariah When She Complains

I’ve crawled out of my sick-cave to write down a couple of points which have stuck with me since I re-started reading the Book of Mormon again this month.

Before I begin, allow me to pay homage to the divine gift which are antibiotics. Better living through chemistry, friends. I’ll drink a Diet Coke to that, and I’ll pour one out for my dad, who is nodding his silent agreement right now, I’m pretty sure.

While I’ve been sick, I’ve spent a great deal of time reading about the restoration of the Gospel and the early days of the church, which is A TRIP, people. And, because I finished reading the Book of Mormon recently, I also undertook that familiar Latter-day Saint U-turn move of immediately beginning to re-read that book of scripture which is the keystone of my religion. It was during my reading of the familiar stories of Nephi’s family that something new stood out to me.

In 1 Nephi, when Nephi and his brothers are gone, attempting to recover the ancient records they are commanded to retrieve, Sariah, their mother, snaps. Do we blame her for losing her mind? I personally don’t, but let’s let Nephi explain, “For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.”

At this point, I thought to myself, “I too would feel some righteous indignation. She has followed him into the desert for year after interminable year, and now her four sons are possibly dead. But, I forget what happens here. Is Sariah chastened for not blithely following or trusting her husband, the prophet? Because ugh. If that’s what happens next, I’m going to lose my mind a little bit and possibly throw something.”

Amazingly, that’s not what happens next.

This is what happens: Lehi speaks to Sariah about the undeniable visions from God which compelled him to lead his family into the wilderness and into the dangerous undertaking of recovering the records and sailing to the New World. “And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us, while we journeyed in the wilderness up to the land of Jerusalem to obtain the record of the Jews. And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full, and my mother was comforted.”

This was the first time ever in my recollection that the middle-aged woman of the story, and her emotional state out there in the wilderness, stand out as a key part of this retelling. The point of these verses is Sariah’s comfort.

God could have struck her down with boils or lightning or serpents for complaining and doubting. Instead, God compelled her husband, the prophet, to empathize with her in her trauma and sorrow. He gave Lehi the words to comfort Sariah, and then he returned her four sons safely to her.

The only woman in this household of males needed comfort, and God provided it.

This little vignette, which really is ancillary to the story of her sons escaping death at the hands of Laban et al, spoke to me because it proves that our Heavenly Parents know the hearts of women. They understand women and they care about how they feel.

Here she is, the wife of a prophet and mother of another prophet, feeling bereft and helpless. And yet, Sariah’s emotional state could’ve been written off as not the point of the story, or beneath our notice because she’s a woman.

But it was important enough to make it into the modern translation of an ancient book of scripture. To me, this says, that even when cultures or traditions do not afford equality to women, our divine parentage does.

The world is rife with abuse and sexism, but those things won’t exist when Jesus reigns.

The Gospel in its purest, truest form isn’t sexist, lads. I needed to know this for myself, and I left those verses of 1 Nephi feeling God’s love for everyone who has ever felt marooned in the wilderness, sidelined by the complexity of life, and defeated by circumstance.