Imagine Seeing You Here

I’ve had two more dreams about my dad in recent weeks. Both times, he came to visit during a family dinner.

In the first dream, he was 70 years old and sitting at the center of a long table. Family members were spread out to his right and left, and the composition of the room and the group reminded me of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. (Dreams are weird. Also I’m obsessed with them.) We were filling my dad in on all the news of the family, but we realized as he talked to us that he already knew all of it. He was very aware of the things currently happening in our lives.

In the second dream, he was young and healthy, in his forties. He was sitting on a white couch from which he looked up, grinning at me. My jaw fell open and then I grinned back. I exclaimed, “I am so happy to see you!” Then I woke up.

Both dreams left me with a sort of glow. They were warm and lovely, though brief.

The second dream essentially washed away the gritty angst I’d been gnawing on for a few weeks prior. I’d felt so angry and blue and just blech about his loss. I just couldn’t shake the feeling. Until the dream. Then the awfulness evaporated.

Meanwhile, Truman is struggling not only with school but with eating anything besides dinosaur nuggets, with attending church, and with frequent meltdowns relating to hunger/anxiety/social situations. He’s also regressed with toilet training. He’s smart as a whip and super adorable. He has friends at school and at church. But autism and anxiety are rearing their rotten toothy heads and making things difficult in all areas of family life at the moment.

I’m going to write more about this, but first, an important vignette:

Last month, two of my sisters and their families backpacked and kayaked into a certain lake in the Grand Tetons. It was a favorite hiking and camping location of my dad’s, and if you’ve seen it, you’ll know why. It’s pristine and exquisitely beautiful.

On the last day of their trip, Sarah waved goodbye to Kate and Oliver as they paddled away. She stood on the shore of the lake and watched a golden eagle swooping down low. Just then, a canoe skimmed over the water to where she stood.

The person paddling the canoe was my dad’s dear friend and business partner, Dr. Keller.

In the middle of the wilderness. Randomly. At the same campsite and at the same moment.

“What are you doing here?!” Sarah exclaimed. Dr. Keller went to find his wife, Jean, who was walking in on the trail, taking her by the hand and telling her, “I’ve got a sweet surprise for you.”

There were hugs and smiles and photos, and Sarah said, “Imagine seeing you HERE, in this place.”

Jean responded, “It’s the exact right place.”

The Kellers had spent the day reminiscing about my dad as they begin their journey into the lake. While Sarah stood and talked with them, a yellow butterfly fluttered and landed between her and Dr. Keller. It stayed there the entire time they spoke. Sarah felt that the eagle and the butterfly were signals from our dad, telling her that he was there, in that beautiful place, with people that he loves.

Now remove your mind’s eye from the splendor of said lake and return to the present, specifically my car, as Truman wails and yells about not wanting to go to school. It was a Friday, after many days of dragging/fighting/cajoling the boy to first grade. We were all pretty exhausted. Jeff was along to help carry Truman. Almost-seven-year-olds who don’t want to walk into school weigh a lot, you know. Especially when they kick and hit.

I was driving. Jeff was saying the prayer. As I reversed from the driveway, a yellow butterfly flew by and stopped, hovering by the windshield, directly in my line of vision. It stayed there for the duration of the prayer. When we finished the prayer, it flew away.

As it fluttered off, I distinctly felt that my dad was showing me, in a way that made all sorts of sense to me, that he would be with Truman that day. I didn’t need to worry about Littlest Boy. Grandpa was going to help him at school.

All of these things have educated me in the beauty of family bonds, which last beyond death. They last. They’re real. They don’t end. People don’t end when their lives on earth do. They still exist and they still care. They know us and they are close to us.

This is pretty ding dong amazing stuff. I’m awed by it.

And feeling pretty loved, too.

40-year-old dad paddling us around in GTNP circa 1985.

Dad and Wes Keller. Ye Olde BFF’s.

Me and Dad. I think this is 1979.

This is Where We Talk about Hardship & Relisience

I’m beginning to realize the shape that this blog is taking, now that’s it’s no longer the Survival Journal of My Daily Life Raising Jack.

I can see, nearly a year and a half since Jack entered full-time care, that this is a forum for continuing the conversation about Being Human. This is where I can continue to talk, in no particular order other than the actual unfolding of my life, about hardship and resilience, vulnerability and recovery. And Jesus, duh.

There are people who read this who have some connection to disabilities, but I’m seeing that mostly people return to my weird stories because they also face really difficult things in their own lives.

Being challenged by life is the common denominator, it turns out. And I am here to talk about it.

Having said that, here are a few things that have happened in my life, of late.

  1. My youngest child has struggled and continues to struggle with transitioning to First Grade. Kindergarten was a breeze for him. First Grade is turning out to be the opposite of that. His daily struggle feels like my daily struggle. The feet-dragging, the noncompliance, the whining, the stubborn refusal to cooperate, the crying, the running away, the belligerence, the yelling, the proclamations that he hates me, and the clinginess–they are all manifestations of anxiety and, in some ways, of the rigidity of thinking inherent in autism. So I am learning a) empathy for my son and the way his brain views the world, particularly when the world seems really scary and big, and b) really creative ways for assuaging fears and physically moving a resistant kid into his classroom. This hasn’t ended in week three of school. It seems to be getting incrementally better, but the real improvement is that I’ve stopped looking at the possibility that this may continue all year long and into perpetuity. I’m being mindful, yo. I’m living one day at a time and teaching Truman to do the same thing. That’s my Littlest Boy Update.
  2. I’ve begun to see everything that happens this fall as One Year Since _______. Soon it will be one year since the last time I went to the cabin with my dad. Next month it will be one month since I got the text while teaching, from my sister, saying that my dad was going on Hospice. On Halloween, it will be one year since I sat by my parents as the Hospice workers entered their sunny living room and started palliative care services. And thus it will go until the night before Christmas Eve, which is when he died. Grief is like the ocean. It’s vast and it’s deep. Sometimes it shimmers way out in the distance, blinking in the sun. Sometimes it heaves and crashes and drags you under. I asked myself the other day as I scrolled through my Facebook photos, “When will seeing images of my dad not be painful?” I can’t answer that question.
  3. In other news, I’m amazed at my mom’s strength and perseverance in the face of this great trial. She is generous and giving. She is upbeat and curious, despite living with such an enormous loss. She is a stabilizing force for her entire family, and I’m glad she belongs to us.
  4. I’m realizing that with age, I am becoming a) more patient with people and their neuroses and idiosyncrasies while also becoming b) less patient with unnecessary work, programs, expectations, and cultural traditions/concepts. This means I see you as a person and I feel for you and want you to succeed. It also means I will give you a giant lecture on the counterproductive-ness of pointless things. What can I say? Some things are worth understanding and spending time with. Meaning, people. Other things aren’t worth our time as they distract us from the people who are worth it. I would like to simplify the whole world. That’s all.

What things are happening in your life, right now? What have you recently come to understand?

Not the Most Pleasant Post

I wrote an “inspirational” Instagram post yesterday after Truman had a day of roaring success at school, following 6 previous nightmare days wherein he struggled to acclimate to first grade. Yay us! Victory was ours. Faith overcomes all things.

And then today, Truman reverted back to panic mode over the prospect of returning to school. He feels it’s too long and there are too many factors out of his control, such as when he gets to have a snack. He fought me at every juncture this morning. I swallowed the bilious panic rising from my gut when I thought of engaging in this impossible, negative battle day after day, all year long.

I had to forcibly remove him from the car. We were late. He kept taking off his shoes to impede our progress. When he saw the other students already in the classroom, he melted down. At this point, the Assistant Principal sidled over and let me know there was going to be a lock down drill in a few minutes, and if I wanted to take T on a little drive and return after, he was down with that. Lock downs (even practice ones) are one of my son’s fears. Which I get.

So we left and got fries. We came back post-drill and had the same lovely fight scene featuring me dragging/cajoling/carrying Truman into school.

Not that anybody asked for a play by play of the fresh morning hell I’ve been encountering since school commenced. So why am I writing about it? I don’t know. Because it’s on my mind, I guess.

I drove to Costco after leaving him at school and had nothing good to say about anything. Just swears. That’s all my lips were capable of uttering for a good hour. I called Jeff and he and possibly a couple people on the bulk grain aisle got a bit of an earful.

Anxiety and autism? I am so over them. Special needs parenting? It seems like a cruel joke invented to make every single aspect of life so especially difficult. Having children? Sorry, folks of neurotypical offspring. I am utterly jaded. If anyone asked my opinion right now on whether they should have kids, I don’t know that I could honestly recommend it to them.

So that’s my stormy frame of mind.

I came home, unloaded the Costco groceries, ate the Costa Vida salad I treated myself to since the day was a clustercuss, and spent an hour cleaning the neglected and uber dirty kitchen. While I cleaned, I listened to the next General Conference talk in my queue, which was “He That Shall Endure to the End, the Same Shall Be Saved” by Claudio D. Zivic. Do you ever find that the thing that you happen to stumble on naturally on an ugly day is the exact right thing? And the exact right thing at the exact right time? Because that’s what happened here.

This talk, while mainly directed at people who are at odds with the Church and evaluating whether or not to continue in the Gospel, was kind of a conduit of reassurance and hope that I was grasping for.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this talk, and I basically let the tears and the stress flow from me as I listened. I’m feeling rather inadequate once again on the parenting front. I’m feeling my weakness and my desperation for change. The words, “The Lord will make ‘weak things become strong'” gave me a hand to grasp and pull myself from my pit of misery.

Zivik also said this: “Life is difficult for each of us. We all have a time of trials, a time of happiness, a time for making decisions, a time for overcoming obstacles, and a time for taking advantage of opportunities.”

I needed to hear that life isn’t a perpetual misery cycle, though it sometimes feels that way. It’s punctuated by periods of great difficulty and moderate difficulty, but also has stretches of relative peace. There will always be variation, which is good, because it gives me hope when I am in the trough of a wild sea.

I hung some toddler pictures of Jack and happy hunting pictures of my dad on the bulletin board as the talk ended and I felt that my Heavenly Parents were calming me with a promise that the awful days and the extended periods of awful days a) serve a purpose in changing me into a better person and b) won’t last. There will be respite.

Then I drank a Diet Coke and graded student essays. And the bitterness ran out of me.

Today’s not so bad, I’ve determined. It’s looking up.

Let’s Talk About Anxiety and Autism

Dear Reader,

Allow me to share with you a couple of recent experiences relating to the identical twins of Autism and Anxiety.

First, a few weeks ago, I took my two younger boys, along with a couple of young cousins, to a new park by our house. It’s an enormous and exciting place, with massive climbing structures and a giant splashpad section devoted to water play.

The morning we were there was pretty hot. My littlest boy hadn’t eaten a whole lot for breakfast (Hi, sensory food aversions, thanks for being a thing), and he was hot and grumpy. All of this added to his feeling of being overwhelmed. It was too much. Too much sun, too much noise, too many people. He started wailing. I mean, really screaming and moaning and sobbing. I had other kids spread throughout the park and didn’t want to pack them up after just arriving, so I texted Jeff, who was working from home and who could come pick him up and take Littlest home.

It took Jeff 25 minutes to get there once he extricated himself from a conference call. In that 25 minutes, my littlest boy never stopped wailing. In fact, he got louder. And wailier. I spoke calmly to him and reassured him Dad was on his way, but he was beyond reason at that point. He was inconsolable. We got a few looks, like “Why is that big tall kid freaking out and sobbing?” or perhaps “What’s with that mom? Why doesn’t she take that kid away and leave us in peace?”

This experience back in my early mothering days would have scorched the self-confidence right out of me. It would have done me in for the whole day. But now, post-Jack, I felt okay. I almost felt like saying to the other moms around me, “You guys, this is NOTHING. He’s not even attacking or hurting anyone. Really, this is straight up no big deal.”

That probably would’ve made things even weirder though.

Anyway, Jeff arrived and took the screamer away. The day continued. The park returned to regular kid bedlam.

The second story happened yesterday, on the first day of school. My littlest boy went to first grade and got confused about where he was meant to line up after recess. The chalk marker that had indicated his teacher’s name at the school open house was gone. At this point, anxiety and the rigid thinking of autism immobilized him. He curled up in a ball and refused to go into class, even when the Assistant Principal helped him know where his classroom was.

Jeff and I went to the school, where Littlest was digging in his heels and refusing to do first grade. We were ultimately saved by lunch. I stayed and helped the boy know where to go in the lunch room. I helped him find his lunchbox in the bin with his teacher’s name on it. I helped him find the table with his teacher’s name on it. I sat by him while he ate his peanut butter sandwich. And I helped him clean up and file back to class after his teacher.

Incidentally, I also helped half the class open their chocolate milk cartons and tie their shoes. First graders basically need a personal assistant. Any old grown up will do.

I looked around at the 10 million elementary school kids around us who WEREN’T struggling, and I felt that creeping, icky feeling of being an outlier. “We are so freaking not the same as other families,” I thought.

Reader, it didn’t do me in, but it was a bit of a face slap.

“Wake up and stop thinking you can do things like everyone else!” It screamed at me.

Once we returned to his classroom, Littlest sat at his desk and was calm. He agreed to stay through the rest of the day without me.

This morning, I am at my first day back at class too, teaching university writing. So Jeff took Littlest to school and helped him get situated. Apparently, it was a little bit of a teary goodbye, but not too bad. I’m super proud of my first grader. He is struggling to cope with not only the rigors of a full school day as a first grader, but also the anxiety and literal/rigid thinking of autism which makes new, loud, chaotic, big things super scary.

When these types of things happen, dear Reader, I note that MY stress response also spikes. I may not lose the ability to interface with the world for the rest of the day as in years past, but I find myself incredibly anxious. It’s anxiety by association. And parentage. Which is okay, and possibly more than okay in that it allows me to see a glimpse of what it’s like for my boys.

Empathy leads to understanding. Compassion fosters love.

Here’s to a decent second day of school.

Cheers,

Megan

 

 

 

The Word “Miracle” is Cliched but Indicative of My Life

This week, I cleaned out Jack’s old room, which is now a storage room. The good news is, the camping gear, Halloween costumes, snow pants and boots, my dad’s old golf clubs, and my wedding dress are now organized and easily accessible (side note: I do not need easy access to my wedding dress). The part that took me by surprise was the wave of emotion I experienced in going through remnants of Jack’s early childhood. Baby blankets, photographs, his PECS binder, ABA therapy file folders–there was just so much that brought the most difficult years of my life back, and it was amplified by my separation from Jack in space and time.

Who weeps when cleaning out an explosively disorganized room? Me, apparently.

Jeff and I went to Costco later that day and I told him on the way home how profoundly affected I felt going through items reminiscent of Jack’s toddler and elementary school years. “I didn’t miss Jack at that moment,” I told him. “I am confident and happy in where Jack is right now. I’m not sad as much as I am traumatized remembering how brutally hard those years were.”

And then Jeff said exactly the right thing, which was this: “You did that. You went through it.”

Validation. It’s pretty powerful.

Those days were brutal, and are, fortunately, in the past.

I also drove to southern Utah this week and spent much of the drive contemplating Jack. He lives far away. We don’t get to see him much. When we do see him, he can’t talk to me. The good parts are that Jack’s needs are being met by excellent caregivers who love him. The hard parts are that we miss out on the moments of sweetness that come from being with Jack all the time.

Its a weird trade off and I don’t know that it will ever feel normal to me.

Because of this separation, I have acutely felt the need to have a family photo in Jack’s town so he can be there. I need to have an updated image of all of us together, not from bygone days when Jack lived at home, but current and reflective of our present life as a family. So that’s happening this trip, too. Someone asked me if Jack will cooperate with the photo shoot, and I told them that all he has to do is exist in our general vicinity and it will work out great. No posing or smiling at the camera necessary, just lots of candid togetherness.

Even though I’m waxing a bit glum (or at least conflicted) about The Way Things Are For Us, the reality is that Jack’s life is a miracle.

Our ability to function as a family has been restored, which is a miracle.

Jack’s perfect placement and lovely home and amazing caregivers are a miracle.

The fact that our lives changed so dramatically and so quickly and so positively are miracles.

My life felt like wall-to-wall failure Before, and Now it is straight up a testament to God’s ability to intervene and change the worst circumstances to something remarkable and beautiful.

And feeling comfort in knowing Jack’s life is charmed and blessed? Miraculous.

A Garden of Tiny Book Reviews

I have been reading a metric ton this summer–fiction plus memoir, my two favorite genres, in hardbacks and paperbacks exclusively. I haven’t liked looking at screens to read, of late. Not that anybody asked, but I clearly like to overshare when it comes to my reading habits.

I don’t have the mental bandwidth what with the all-kids-all-the-time tableau at my house this summer, so these really are going to be little/possibly not very thorough reviews of:

Books I Have Enjoyed to Varying Degrees. Beginning with…

Classics

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I no longer have to hide my face in shame over not having read The Great American Read or whatever. I read it. I found it pretty avant garde for the time in which it was written. I do not feel about it the way much of the world seems to feel, which is that it is the one book that most deeply touched them. Holden Caulfield as a character has a big, memorable voice. His narration is the best part of this funny, yet essentially sad story. I value this book and what it has to offer. It is an important book. But I’m not in love with it. There. I said it.

Historical Fiction

The Summer Before War by Helen Simonsen

I found this book delightful. It felt like Downton Abbey set in Sussex solely before and during The Great War. Beatrice and Hugh as central characters are lovely and real and just what I always want in a good book, which are people I can really SEE and believe in. There is a lot of humor in this story of a small English town and its quirky residents as they come up against the brutality of a war. Because it’s also a war story, it’s not all garden parties and happy endings. I loved it.

Magical Realism

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Hoffman is a prolific (seriously so prolific) and excellent writer who favors magic, witchery, and dark themes in her stories about people who have a different set of gifts, yet who still must cope with the vicissitudes of life. This book follows the three teenage Owens siblings in New York City, who have been forbidden by their mother from dabbling in anything relating to magic, yet who seemingly can’t keep the development of their proclivity for these powers away. They are schooled in becoming who they are by their aunt Isabelle, who lives in the family’s ancestral home in Massachusetts, of Salem Witch Trials fame. I did not expect this book to follow the sibs through their entire lives, but it does and I found that it was more than a fantasy with lush imagery. It was a solidly written, tender story of a family, which does tend toward dark outcomes.

Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

This book reminded me a bit of Station Eleven, which scared me to death, yet which I enjoyed nonetheless. But The Dog Stars was much better imho. So much better. The narrator, Hig, is one of few people left after a flu decimates the world’s population. He is a gentle soul, yet somehow manages to survive in the brutal aftermath, where people will kill each other to take each others’ supplies, even if it’s just a bunch of cans of soda. There is also so much beauty–so much awareness for what life is and what makes it worthwhile. I don’t even know how to summarize this story in order to do it justice. It is sad, hopeful, inventive, human, and beautiful. I loved this book and felt that it changed me.

Women’s Fiction

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

I have liked everything I’ve read by Moriarty, whose stories are set in Australia. This is one of her earlier books and it felt a little less polished to me than What Alice Forgot and The Hypnotist’s Love Story. I still enjoyed it, but felt that the story had some pretty implausibly big gaps. It’s about a mystery surrounding a family living on Scribbly Gum island near Sydney, involving a baby, a possible double murder, and multiple story lines which eventually do find resolution. It’s light-hearted chick lit. A beach read, basically.

Young Adult Lit

Thief of Happy Endings by Kristen Chandler

Chandler is a Utah writer (yay locals!) whose story follows a teen girl whose parents are divorcing. Cassidy spends the summer away from her family on a troubled youth horse ranch in Wyoming, where she struggles not only with getting on a horse and being constantly dirty, but with understanding who she is. This book could have felt really predictable, but it wasn’t. There’s a bit of romance and a hefty dose of coming to terms with difficult family situations in this introspective coming-of-age tale.

The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson

Pearson’s three books in this fantasy series have really sappy titles (The Kiss of Deception, The Heart of Betrayal, and The Beauty of Darkness), but that didn’t stop me from diving in and immersing myself happily in the story of a runaway princess avoiding an arranged marriage. Lia, the protagonist, has a firecracker personality and spends the trilogy realizing she is destined to save a country far to the east, but historically connected with her own land. Because this is kind of epic, world-building stuff, there is A LOT that happens. So much. I can’t do it justice here. I read all three books in a matter of days. They were a delightful escape, as books in summer should be.

I Am Still Alive by Kate Alice Marshall

The blurb on the cover of this book describes it as “Hatchet meet The Revenant” with a big dose of fierce female resilience, which is pretty spot on. It’s the story of a young woman who ends up stranded, injured, and alone in the remote Canadian wilderness for six months. She writes the book in the first person, in a journal form, which skips between her life before and the stark reality of survival which comes after the events which placed her in this situation. It is scary, raw, and exciting, but would benefit from more exploration of Jess’s emotional journey.

Reader, what are you reading? Or better yet, what are the three best books you’ve read in the past year? Comment and give me and each other some good recommendations xoxo.

Infinite Personhood

I am going to write about two separate epiphanies I’ve had in the last week, but first let me tell you that I am sitting on a quiet spot in Deer Valley, Utah looking at the aspen- and pine-covered mountains around me. I’m embellishing your mental picture, readers. You’re welcome. Please note that the sky is clear and blue, with dollops of clouds lazing by the skyline. It’s a pleasant 70-ish degrees outside, and Dvorak’s New World Symphony is piping beauty directly into my brain.

I’m here with mom and my four sisters having a girls’ trip, which was our Mother’s Day gift to Shirley. The last time we did this was seven years ago, when Sarah had her firstborn newborn along for the ride and I was recovering from pneumonia while in my first trimester with Truman. Basically, we needed a re-do. This is the trip that last time wasn’t. Also, seven years is too long to go between this sort of bonding/restorative trip.

So while we have been here living our best lives, I’ve been thinking about Hagar, from the Book of Genesis, and (oddly) the characters of Les Miserables.

I’ve been rereading the story of Abraham and Sarah, who are clearly the stars of this Old Testament show because they produce Isaac and are the lynchpins in the Abrahamic Covenant. On this reading, though, Sarah’s handmaid stands out to me instead.

Hagar, the unfortunately named Egyptian handmaid, is compelled by her mistress to lie with Abraham and have a child, Ishmael. Then when Sarah has her own child, she fears for Isaac’s inheritance and wishes Hagar and Ishmael to be banished. Abraham unhappily complies with Sarah’s request, and sends the bondwoman and her son into the wilderness to fend for themselves.

“And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.

And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.

And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.

Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.

And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.

And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.”

Before, this story seemed ancillary to the trajectory of the main players. Now, I am moved by Hagar’s distress and God’s response to it. She didn’t ask to be drawn into this family drama. It was Sarah who wanted Hagar to have a child for Abraham. Until she didn’t. Hagar was kind of a pawn, used by Sarah for her purposes, then cast off when Sarah saw her and her son as a threat.

But to God, Hagar wasn’t a pawn. She was a person. He saw her anguish. He heard her cries, comforted her, and directed her to water for the son who, God promised, would found a nation.

This vignette shows me that there are no minor characters in mortality. God is aware of each regular, unsung person, and has a plan and a purpose for all of us. I’m touched by the indiscriminate love our Heavenly Parents have for each person, no matter our status or lifestyle or background. They know us. They care about the things we care about.

The second story that pierced me of late is Les Miserable. I’ve been listening to it (again) because I’m suuuuper Mormon-y I guess, and I find both the music and the story brimming with truth and hope. My favorite characters are Fantine, Eponine, and Jean Val Jean (duh) because they project a kind of self-reflection in suffering that speaks to me. Who hasn’t at some point felt like the unloved Eponine? Who hasn’t identified with Fantine, whose life plays out tragically and in opposition to her youthful hopes? And Val Jean, for Pete’s sake, straight up personifies the type of highly moral person I respect and long to be.

The finale of Les Miz does me in every time. When Fantine’s spirit comes to accompany Val Jean’s spirit to heaven, and they are all whole and well with Eponine, then the three of them sing, “To love another person is to see the face of God,” I am overflowing with emotion. Fantine, driven to prostitution by horrible circumstances; Eponine, deprived of tenderness and love; and Val Jean, who reforms his life into one defined by charity and forgiveness are all projections of resounding, exquisite humanity–what we all inevitably experience and what we yearn for.

Seeing these three enter into their heavenly reward strikes a chord in me that vibrates with gratitude for the chance we all have to reform, improve, and continue living within the embrace of our Heavenly Parents’ mercy and love.

Is there anything more beautiful than this?

 

Go to the Source

 

I took the 16 Personalities test last week at my hair appointment because my hair stylist, Mallory, told me to. We were talking about these kinds of things and she said, “Go online and take it right now, so I can see what you are.” So I did. Turns out she and I are both “Protagonists,” which is crazy, since according to this test, less than 2% of the world’s population fall into this category.

Me and Mallory: two weirdo peas in a pod. By the way, for the sake of your mental picture, Mallory has luscious fuschia mermaid hair, is hilarious, and is one of my favorite people.

Anyway, the protagonist. I read things about myself that I don’t talk about with anyone, and it was all spot on. So fascinating. It described the inner me with bizarre accuracy. Whether or not you subscribe to such personality theories, this one was quite revealing. In particular, I learned that I struggle to separate my own emotions from other people’s. This is great when you are trying to be empathetic and compassionate. It’s less great when you can’t shut off a deluge of somebody else’s grief, depression, or toxicity.

This concept has played out in a very real way for me. My desire to help people, particularly when I feel that I understand a portion of their emotional pain, frequently lands me in a state of prolonged sadness at a) their sadness, and b) my inability to rescue them from said sadness.

So for some time, I’ve been carrying around this considerable weight of not being able to fix hard things in people’s lives while also feeling all of the negativity or pain or whatever that’s happening to them. Yay, for being intuitive. Buckets of fun.

I asked myself, how does one construct a barrier wall of sorts while still listening to, helping, and loving people who are slogging through (and putting out) lots of crazy stuff? And how does this all jive with Jesus’ admonition to give both your coat AND your cloak to someone who asks for it, and to go not just one mile but TWAIN with someone who needs a friend? Where do you draw the line? How can an (apparently) hypersensitive empath like myself be both giving yet also protective of my own mental and emotional health? What would Jesus do? But seriously, WWJD???

Jeff and I spent my birthday lunch discussing this concept at length. He is both compassionate, yet able to be reserved. He is analytical where I am vastly more emotional. If he had any insights, I REALLY wanted to hear them.

Guys, he totes had insights, the most profound of which was this: if I want to know what God wants me to do, I just need to put myself in a position to hear the Holy Spirit, who WILL tell me what I specifically need to know.

Of course this is correct. I know it is. This isn’t something new. I’ve experienced it many times, the notion that God doesn’t use cookie cutters to create people or offer them solutions.

When Truman was a baby, Jack was a hyperactive poo machine, and Charlie was feral and recently diagnosed, I was in an emotional chasm. There was no specific answer to my esoteric problems in the scriptures or in the lessons and sermons I heard at church. There was no one I knew who was suffering in the same way that I was. No experts (and we consulted so many) could fix our troubles. There were no easy or quick solutions that would change my family’s impossible dynamic.

But that’s when I had the dream. It was one of my vivid, heart-pounding dreams that are some kind of direct line from the Holy Ghost to my brain. I’ve written about this one before, but I’ll describe it again.

In the dream, I was sitting at a music performance. One of my neighbors, someone who is wise and insightful, sat beside me. As the performance played out, she leaned in close, put her hand on my knee, and said low in my ear, “You don’t need to worry about the challenges you have raising your children. You’re doing a good job.”

I woke up engulfed in peace. So much peace. I hadn’t felt this kind of peace in ages. My heart swelled with happiness (such a cliched description, but it is accurate!) I knew that it wasn’t my neighbor speaking to me in the dream. It was my Heavenly Parents. They used my neighbor to convey the message because I love and trust her. They knew I would listen to what she said.

More importantly, they knew how I felt. They KNEW. They knew how awful those summer days were with a baby, Jack literally smearing poop all over my life, and crazed, irrational preschooler Charlie running away and hopping six-foot fences through the neighborhood.

They knew and they understood. They wanted me to know they approved of my efforts, which is really all I desired to hear. I felt like I was failing by every metric, and their validation swept that away and gave me peace.

I considered that experience going to the source.

I needed to go to the source. The source of true peace and real answers. My answer was to go to the true source of those things.

So in the last week I’ve been doing what I do, which is listening to scripture, studying inspired talks, and praying for wisdom. But now I’ve been doing it with a bit more focus.

Tell me how to be compassionate without everyone’s emotions and problems killing me. 

My answers didn’t come this time in a dream. They came in the scriptures and the talks and a Relief Society discussion plus a Sunday School class. I went to the source, meaning my Heavenly Parents, and they obliged. They sent the Holy Spirit who distinctly told me this:

You can’t rescue everyone. Or anyone, even. Only Jesus can do that. You can’t fix people’s lives.

And then this:

You can only love them. It’s enough to lift where you can. 

The peace is back. I got my answer.

The End.