The Pearl

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I write less and less about disabilities parenting, which is weird since I’m still doing it all the time. My weird parenting life doesn’t look like it did before, though, when Jack lived here and everything was essentially a perpetual hurricane.

To wit, I’ve decided to discuss a change that we are in the midst of making for one of our boys. It’s a big change, at least for me, and it is directly related to the kinds of issues which are not as deeply encompassing as Jack’s disabilities, but are nevertheless real.

So, drum roll……

I am pulling my youngest boy out of school and beginning an online homeschool program.

This is officially me doing something I said I would never do.

School with its incumbent noise, chaos, and plethora of children and activity just isn’t working out for Truman. He is super smart and tests above average, but gets in trouble multiple times every day for being off-task, distractable, and having an excess of energy which channels into being silly or not listening.

I had a dream a few weeks ago where I was sitting with my Primary class in singing time. There was a little boy who couldn’t sit still. He was still happy and listening and participating, even though he was wiggly and kind of loud. A man in the room kept angrily telling the boy how irritating he was, and how he needed to get it together and stop wrecking the experience for everyone else.

In my dream, I was outraged at this. I tucked the little boy into my side, wrapped my arm around him, and quietly said to him, “You are doing such a good job today of being in Primary. I am so proud of you. I love how hard you are trying and I am so glad you are here.”

That was the dream. And as the days passed, I realized it wasn’t about my Primary class at church, but about my own little boy who is sweet, smart, kind, and creative, and who struggled every single day at school to even process all the sensory input coming his way.

He told me a few days ago on what turned out to be his last day ever at our neighborhood school, “I said lots of prayers, Mom, but it didn’t work and I still got in trouble.” Every day in a big, busy class of lots of kids with one teacher who is really trying to keep it all together was a formula for disaster. For him. For other kids, it works perfectly fine. For Truman, it is essentially exposing him to the worst learning environment for his particular needs and issues.

Even still, I didn’t want to homeschool. I’ve never wanted this.

But in addition to the dream, I had a series of micro-inspirations which told me that teaching Truman at home would not be painful drudgery, but would actually be freeing and really pretty terrific. I think at an earlier point in my life, I wouldn’t have been able to hear or interpret these spiritual messages teaching me how to proceed. I would have been resistant and slow to get on board, or at least slow to listen. But in this post-Jack’s caregiver life, which is also my post-spiritual-journey-times-two life, those subtle promptings and ideas went straight to my core, and I immediately paid attention.

The good news is, people have created quality curricula and the school district employs teachers to oversee this kind of parent-led online education for someone like me, who isn’t crunchy or fundamentalist or even remotely inclined toward coming up with creative second grade math methods. And they offer some great class options, like coding. Our second grader is now enrolled in coding, which is basically his dream come true.

I went through quite a process of personal acquiescence coming to terms with these changes. Specifically, I had a few really sad days thinking about how we are different, how we will always be different, and how different often equates to being hard.

I drove past the elementary school one morning and watched all the moms walking their broods to school, babies strapped onto their chests, pushing their toddlers and preschoolers in double strollers, supervising their little kids on bikes, and I felt this profound sense of otherness and loss.

We do things the hard way, not the normal way.

This is what ran through my head for the better part of of a week.

I think everyone in the world has felt this way at some point: I’m not like everyone else.

I don’t know why it’s such a heartbreaking, universal concept, but it is. We all just want to feel like we matter, we fit, we are valued, we are loved.

Which leads me to another recent dream. In this dreamscape, I was in a house with my parents and sisters, and an artist was giving each of us a painting he had done of Jesus. Each painting was different. Mine was almost a completely white canvas with Jesus in the distance, a stylized figure in robes reaching out to touch someone kneeling near him. It was beautiful.

Then (still dreaming, remember) I saw that someone, thinking they were being helpful, had taken my painting and stretched the canvas around a block of wood, gluing it in place. They had also taken red paint and painted big, sweeping brush strokes all over the painting. It was hideous.

I felt so annoyed that someone had taken something so lovely that was given just to me and altered it into this kindergarten craft project.

Jeff’s interpretation of this was that the paintings are spiritual gifts, given in individualized iterations to each of us. How we use them is something we rely on our Heavenly Parents to instruct us in. His take was that my own inward sense of how I should wield my spiritual gifts is different than how outside perspectives might see them.

One of my dear friends and spiritual mentors listened to me telling my dream and felt the paintings represent the personalized way Jesus reaches out and sustains each of us. We all need him in different ways and for vastly different reasons. But we all need him. His gospel’s economy, remarkably, is such that he KNOWS all of us and how to meet us in our pain and our inadequacy.

I don’t know the full meaning of the block of wood and the messy red brush strokes. I think they might be a reference to me thinking my gifts, my perspective, my life’s work might be contorted by a sense of pressure from outside sources.

What I want to remember, though, is the gift of the painting–its clarity and purity. It was such a simple and beautiful painting.

That’s the gift. That’s the pearl.

It’s Jesus, our Savior.

I don’t need to bend it or mold it into something else. I don’t need to cover it up with globs of paint.

I just need to see how Jesus holds me up and helps me move forward. My job is to appreciate it and to keep looking to him and at him, because he is my answer.

This Post is a Life Update

In the process of turning this blog from exclusively-about-special-needs-parenting to essentially all-Jesus-all-the-time, I realized I’ve been a tad stymied by the bigness of this evolving purpose.

One of the side effects of this bigness, as it were, is that I don’t want to write as much because it’s exponentially harder to write about the Savior of the world than it is to write about how many vacuums went over the backyard fence that day.

It’s just different. Weightier. So I do it less.

But yesterday in the temple I felt like I should just woman-up and talk about what’s happening in my current inner life. So here is a life update, by me and about me.

First, I have pulled back from some writing commitments in order to manage my family better. I’m writing less already, and the pressure to produce writing for outside sources has completely zapped my creative well. So I’ve taken a step back, and ironically, without the pressure, I’m finding writing is easier. Listen guys, if you love something, you gotta set it free.

Second, I’m stepping back from Wednesdays at the temple. I’ll still be an ordinance worker, but it won’t be every Wednesday morning. I’ll be on a new flexible shift, which allows me to serve various days throughout the month which jive with whatever is happening with my family at that moment. I feel an incredible burden lifted with this adjustment. I thrive on the power and the spiritual openness I feel when administering temple ordinances, and I want that to continue in my life. But now I can do it with some flexibility in the timing.

I have been fairly overwhelmed of late by all the responsibilities in my current life, which has led to this introspective/proactive place where I am identifying what needs to change and then doing that thing.

I’m teaching more classes this semester, while also creating a completely new set of lesson plans for the class’s new curriculum. All of this would be fine, and is fine, except I still have two kiddos at home with quite a few special needs. I am seeing the areas where they need more support than I am currently available to give.

So, third, I’m going to be teaching just one class next semester. God told me to teach college writing. And work in the temple. And have children. And write.

God also told me, via my patriarchal blessing, to carefully guard my physical strength because my spirit demands energy and vitality. I used to think this meant I needed to avoid risky situations and stay safe. I still think that’s true, but my interpretation of this admonition has grown in scope and inclusivity. I now see it as a guide for protecting my energy. I’ve learned that when I’m physically tired, I can’t tackle spiritually, mentally, and creatively taxing pursuits.

That personalized caution from my PB has become more and more meaningful over the course of my life, and I’m taking it seriously. I’ve got things to do, and I need to save my energy for doing those things.

The last big change is still nascent at this point. I haven’t fully figured it out, but I’m working on it. While it isn’t entirely pinned down yet, this other thing is also about redirecting energy and efforts into better channels.

Change is good. Also terrifying. But good, and I’m listening to what my Heavenly Parents are telling me, because they are telling me things.

Leaning in to the Blast

I’m going to tell you the story of my life, in a spiritual sense. It’s memoir, not “autobiography,” so I’m picking and choosing what I will include, depending on spiritual relevance. Much of what I am going to write, I have already written before. But it was a long time ago, and not previously cast in a spiritual mold. So maybe it will feel new to you.

I don’t know who reads this blog anymore anyway, especially since it lies fallow more than ever before. I still tell people (including myself, ha) that this is a blog about special-needs parenting, when in reality that is what this blog used to be.

Now it’s a record of the spiritual path on which my particular life, including parenting my particular children, has taken me.

The truth is, this is actually a blog about Jesus and accessing our spiritual gifts to know Him and be supported by Him. The end.

And so, I will begin this tale like so many tales begin…

Once upon a time I was a twenty-something woman with two ginger-haired little boys. I had aspired to motherhood for a long time, and staying home to raise my sons consumed my time, stamina, and mental energy. Motherhood was vastly more taxing than I had anticipated, and while I tried really hard to make a picture-perfect life as a can-do stay at home mom, in reality I was wallowing in a bog of sleep deprivation and repetitive days featuring ear infections and diaper blowouts.

I found myself buying into the false concept that my life as a mom defined me. It was my sole identity, and as such, all my value or success resulted from doing it “correctly.”

Now that I’m an old person, with the wisdom of hindsight, I see the obvious fallacy in this. But honestly it’s not a trap I alone have succumbed to. Some people define themselves by their job, their university degrees, their income, their clothing, their style, their social media brand, their hobbies, or their travel. It’s a bunch of different names which all represent falling into the same pit, which is this: the utterly incomplete tragedy of seeing ourselves solely based on the outward trappings of our lives.

And I really, really, really bought into this bizarre/dumb idea.

“My job is being a mom, and I need to do it perfectly, excellently, amazingly. If I don’t, who even am I?” This is the mini-soliloquy I could have chanted, Hamlet-like, those many years ago IF I have been so self-introspective and wise (I was neither of these things).

Because my parenting life did not unfold in a typical fashion (read: autism entered the picture, ultimately times three), I lost confidence in myself as a “good” mom, a woman, and ultimately a person. I couldn’t seem to figure out raising a couple of little boys without daily screamfests, public meltdowns, Code Brown hazmat scenarios, and the need to rely on too many doctors, specialists, and therapists to even survive the days of our not-normal family life.

I wasn’t a “successful” mom, according to my own standards. I was floundering, yet simultaneously berating myself for not being smarter than literally every expert in the medical, behavioral, and educational fields. I wandered every day at the bottom of a figurative crevasse, trying to find my way back to the fertile plains of parenting where other families seemed to peacefully live.

Who was I? I didn’t know. I was a failing woman, a mother who really couldn’t successfully mom.

I had breakfast with my fellow special-needs mom friend Sarah this week and she asked me about how I clawed my way out of that cold, slimy, Cave of Disabilities Parenting Depression and Darkness. She didn’t want platitudes, she said. She needed specifics. She waited, her French toast-laden fork poised in the air.

I told her that everything changed for me when I stopped seeing myself as Bad Mom and started seeing myself as a daughter and heir of a Heavenly Mother and Father. I saw myself as someone they cherished. They adored me and wanted to bless me. In fact, through dreams and moments of meditation, I recognized that they HAD been blessing me. They were providing all the things I needed in order to live and parent my not typical kiddos for one more day.

This perspective was a sea-change for me. Every single day was still brutally hard. But I knew that I was the recipient of divine help, tender mercies, and gifts that sustained us just long enough until the next gift manifested in our lives.

When I started seeing all the ways my Heavenly Parents were already, always helping us, I felt far more trust and less fear than before. I just knew that everything would ultimately be okay, even if it completely blew up and looked like a disaster in the meantime. This resulted in me feeling less panic and more peace at the difficult things unfolding in my life. I knew at a deep level that our Heavenly Parents loved us, so I didn’t believe–I KNEW–it would all work out.

Over time, I understood that Jesus Christ was the means of achieving this sense of confidence that things would work out. He is the lynchpin of the Plan of Salvation of the human family. His purpose is in perfect tandem with God’s purpose. They are unified in working toward our salvation. And all of it depends on having a savior, the Savior, to redeem us and qualify us for the glory necessary to return to that Celestial plane where our Heavenly Parents dwell.

My trauma at raising a nonverbal, aggressive, developmentally disabled son was my master class at seeing the Savior as my answer, as our answer.

Anyway, fast forward to last week when I had another one of my incredibly vivid dreams. It was super long and detailed, but I will simply tell you one snippet. In the dream, I had been asked to give the keynote address at a conference for parents of kids with special needs. This is frankly pretty hilarious, considering that no one is asking me to do anything ever because I’m in this dormant phase of writing/creating/being visible. Call me if you want book reviews or my take on various Netflix series, yo, because most of my writing attempts are currently met with an actual stupor of thought!

But whatever. I said I would do it, and I went into the conference not having prepared a written speech, but with a sense of peace and confidence that I was going to speak from my heart. I stood at the podium, I leaned forward, and I told the group that I felt their struggle. I knew some small, incomplete part of their pain, and I loved them and empathized with their hardship. As I was saying this, my mind was jumping to what I would lead up to, which was my offering of a solution to their sorrow and difficulty.

My love for Jesus Christ was bubbling up inside me, ready to spill out. It actually felt like an internal sparkling water/fizzing sensation. I was going to open my mouth as I faced those bright stage lights, and my knowledge of Jesus Christ as the means to ending our personal suffering was going to pop and burst effervescently from me. That was the dream and it was crystal clear in intensity.

The following Wednesday on my temple shift, I sat in the celestial room during a twenty-minute break and out of nowhere received step-by-step, detailed instruction which was essentially a deeply specific deconstruction of each portion of the dream. The spirit taught me things I hadn’t remotely recognized in my own interpretation.

Some of it is really personal and not for general consumption (at least not yet), but God told me that my task is to speak about my experience as an equal of my fellow sisters and brothers who like me face big, hard things. I learned that I should speak with vulnerability, conviction, and directness about HOW I survived, which is in a word, Jesus. I should just say it, head on.

That’s it. That’s the tweet.

Then this morning I woke up to the 18th anniversary of 9/11 and felt all the incumbent sadness this day conjures for me on behalf of my fellow humans. I read this article which details how people got stuck in too-narrow, too-few stairwells as they tried to escape the twin towers.

This is the paragraph that sunk its claws in me with it’s devastating imagery. I felt the blast of the collapsing tower when I read this:

We started feeling this suction that blows open the fire doors of the stairwell… It filled the space with debris and noise and just chaos. And these heavy fire doors are flapping like they’re made of paper. —John Cerqueira, then-employee of Network Plus, who was carrying the wheelchair-bound woman together with Mike Benfante, describing the scene inside the north tower stairwell just as the south tower was collapsing.

The sadness and heaviness of September 11th for me narrowed to a single, laser-focused impression as I sat in the temple meditating this morning. I saw my life with my kids and their specialized, demanding needs as an echo of that life-altering, devastating, and surreal building collapse.

I saw myself through the years.

I saw a resemblance in my parenting world, in a sense, to those people in those smoky concrete stairwells, dripping with jet fuel. Those men carrying the woman in the wheelchair made it out of the building, despite the blast of the tower collapsing right beside them. They leaned in through the chaos, bolstered by the reinforced concrete channel, and kept going.

This is what my life has been for much of the last fifteen years.

It has been dark, smoky, chaotic, and uncertain.

And I’ve leaned in to the darkness, gripping my children and my stewardship as I held on and kept going.

I didn’t want to, but I leaned into the blast.

I got up and I pushed against it, and the only way I could manage it was with the Savior holding me up and infusing me with power that goes beyond my abilities.

So back to my breakfast with my friend, the amazing warrior-mom Sarah. We discussed the intensity of raising our children. “I don’t know how to help you and your daughter,” I said to her, my heart pummeled with compassion. “But Jesus does, and your Heavenly Parents are with you, providing for you, strengthening you.”

My life’s experience has shown me that we aren’t our defeats. My mothering distress doesn’t define me, nor will it last indefinitely.

Raising my children has brought me to Jesus’s feet. I’m online enough to know that claiming spirituality and specifically Jesus Christ as the answer to one’s unsolvable problems is not socially savvy.

But thanks to my remarkable son Jack, I’ve been an outlier for some time, and I’m able to say, “Eff that. Jesus IS the answer.”

I’ve survived the blast. I survived it because He held me up and continued holding me up as I pressed forward. I survived because my Father and Mother in Heaven never left me. They sent me people and supports and helpers and power to keep going.

I leaned in, Jesus as my rearward, my Heavenly Parents at my sides, my children in my arms. And we descended that hellish stairwell. We made it out, and it’s not because of me.

It’s because of them.

Green Coat

My sophomore year of high school I helped my high school senate raise funds for a battered women’s shelter. This was our winter service activity, and we worked on it for six or seven weeks.

It was the first time in my life I’d ever heard the phrase “battered women.”

When the fundraiser was complete, I offered to go to the shelter as a representative of the school. I naively, obliviously put on my preppy new forest green wool coat, the one with a giant shawl collar and big brass rivets for buttons. If there was ever a coat that screamed “Boujee early ‘90’s Laura Ashley-Ralph Lauren hybrid fashion!!!” this was it. I’d wanted it for a long time, and my mom had recently relented and bought it.  

A small group of us drove to the shelter in the waning light of the winter afternoon to deliver gifts and a check, while our supervising teacher pointed out to us that there was no sign on the small brick bungalow tucked into an older neighborhood not far from downtown. The shelter didn’t have a sign, he said, because the women and children staying there were at risk for retribution from their husbands or partners. It was a small, inviting, safe place, which protected its inhabitants through anonymity.

Women escaping abuse. Having to run from and hide away to protect oneself from a significant other. All of this was so foreign to me.

Inside, we met the director, and she introduced us to a couple of women who were currently living in the home. One of them was smiling. One held a baby and looked sad. A little boy stood nearby in the small living room.

I didn’t know what to say.

The director and the smiling woman profusely thanked us. After a few minutes of conversation, as we turned to leave, the smiling woman leaned over and said to me, “I have to tell you, that is such a beautiful coat. You look like a movie star!”

For a just a second, an idea sparked. I should give her the coat.

She could use it more than me.

She loves it.

She has left her home with nothing in order to save her life.

I can wear one of my other coats.

And then;

My mom might be mad at me if I give it away.

I’m fifteen and this is a grown woman.

I don’t have the words to know how to do it.

I might get in trouble.

Reader, I suppressed the spark.

I didn’t give her the coat.

We left, and drove back to our high-rent east-side enclave. I felt hot with shame in my green wool coat.

Twenty years later, I attended a writing workshop in a quiet canyon where the presenter asked us to respond to this question: What do you regret?

I sat in silence, with only the scratching of pencils around me as we all thought and wrote.

I regretted ever feeling anger at people who didn’t understand my family’s struggle with disabilities.

I regretted the mean thing I said to a boy in the middle school library as an 8th grader.

I regretted all the kind things I didn’t say, that I could have, should have said over the course of my life.

I regretted yelling at my little boys in frustration and fear that I didn’t know how to raise them.

I kept writing.

Beneath my ribs and in my temples, I felt a sharp, acute pain.

I envisioned the unmarked shelter.

In my mind, I pictured that smiling, displaced, and traumatized woman.

My head and my heart were literally hurting.

I pictured the preppy green coat.

And in my mind, in the place where regret lives, I took it off and put it on her.

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.