I’m on a Podcast

I’m popping on here to say that this post says nothing interesting about the coronavirus pandemic, nor social isolation, nor the weirdness of life right now. Feel free to go read literally any other source anywhere if you prefer! I know it’s happening to all of us and it’s big and pervasive and bizarre.

Anyway, I did a thing.

I listen to podcasts when I do my workout, drive, and fold laundry. At least that’s when I listened when life was normal. Now I listen all the time, anywhere, because life is strange right now. One of my favorite podcasts is Listen, Learn, & Love by Richard Ostler. He began the podcast after being a YSA bishop who felt called to better understand LGBTQ people in his ward and elsewhere. He interviews lots of LGBTQ guests in the service of seeking understanding and improving our ability to love and serve people whose life experiences may be markedly different than our own.

But he also addresses a number of other topics relating to better knowing people in their unique life situations, especially as these factors relate to being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The central goal of these interviews is to humanize people and amplify their voices so we can better know them and help them feel seen and loved.

Since last summer, every time I’ve listened to Richard and his guests, I’ve had this little voice telling me, “do it.” Like, to reach out and be on the podcast, which I consistently ignored, because people, I did not want to do it.

And then, I went through months of building anxiety (and some depression) relating to the parenting of a certain kid, during which time, I definitely wasn’t in the right head space to talk about anything with anyone. My last post outlined the process I undertook to heal, and you guys, it worked. When the pandemic hit, I literally was like, “Meh. It will be okay.” And not in a “I’m fine because I will be okay” kind of way. I know it may be really bad. Life may never really be the same again thanks to Covid-19, but I am consumed with peace. Anxiety = Gone. I am kind of floating along in the assurance that Jesus remains our Savior, and our Heavenly Parents have never left us. They won’t. It isn’t in their nature.

The final piece of my healing puzzle came in the form of an answer I got in the temple last month. I was pondering how I could move on from the anxiety and turmoil, when I clearly heard this: If you want to move forward, you must first act on what has already been given to you. And I knew we were both thinking about the same uncomfortable podcasty thing.

So I did the next right thing and messaged Richard Ostler on Twitter. He graciously invited me on the podcast, and we recorded it shortly thereafter.

As soon as I scheduled the interview with him, my anxiety about kids and life and spirituality left. I’d been in the healing process for months, with some improvement at times, but also with an inevitable return to that default anxiousness.

Well I am here to say that doing what the Spirit told me to do brought completeness to my healing.

Mind you, I still go to therapy, and anxiety meds are a ubiquitous part of life in my house. I am in no way saying that prayers and temple visits cure our emotional health. Best-practice emotional health treatments worked in tandem with my devotional/spiritual methods to ultimately form my solution.

It’s a long episode–a thorough discussion, and Richard is his typical amazingly generous and kind self. Feel free to take a gander.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-251-megan-goates-active-lds-married-mother/id1347971725?i=1000469196659

The Shadow of His Wings

It’s March now, and it snowed today. We are all home sick, with ear infections and colds. And what do you know, I’m sitting beside the fire and I’m writing something.

I’d rather not make too much of my writing hiatus. I’ll just give you a little background about what transpired during the winter months for me. The basics:

  1. I went back to therapy. This was to learn to separate my children’s emotions from my own emotions. Being an empath, man, it’s wild. More about this later.
  2. I went back to physical therapy to address the concrete column otherwise known as my neck. It helped.
  3. I went to massage therapy, to further attack the iron sinews of my neck and its accompanying stony knots from a multifaceted approach. This also helped.
  4. I resumed my weekly temple date with myself, which is quite restorative. It’s also part of what’s clearly my I’M IN THERAPY, YO–ALL THE KINDS BECAUSE I NEED IT AND IT’S WORKING year. Temple therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, massage therapy, physical therapy. All of it has helped and is helping. Therapy is cool and blessed by heaven.

So, I’ve learned a lot of things and had A NUMBER of really spiritually deep connective moments. I’ve also found that sometimes I need to write just for myself, without sharing every profound and precious experience, without feeling like I need to always be “inspirational” or testifying or even coherent. Sometimes I simply need to be.

Just be.

What a concept.

Thus, I haven’t written for an audience other than myself. But I’m here now, and I’m going to write a little. Just a snippet.

The child I wrote about in my January post is doing better, as well. He is also in therapy, and he and I are making small, subtle daily steps toward improvement. It frankly requires a lot of me. He needs a guide at every step to help him out of this strange place he’s inhabiting. But all of my therapy/healing is allowing me to be present and helpful to him, and it do it with love (which the Holy Spirit told me in the temple is what the priesthood of God is: Priesthood = Love. So that’s a whole lot of power right there, because the priesthood is God’s power on the earth. Anyway, WOW).

Love has replaced resentment and frustration for me, and it’s grand. That is the child update. All the other boys are doing great right now. Parenting is a game of Whack-a-Mole, remember, where they take turns–thankfully–needing extra help. I love them all, and am grateful they take turns being needy (says someone who also is in on the “needy” rotation).

My therapist asked me to envision a container where I can set aside overwhelming thoughts or emotions to revisit (or not) at a later time. It’s a safe place for them and for me. She asked me to close my eyes and tell her what I saw.

I saw Jesus.

This is not me being a goody two shoes.

He is what I saw. Specifically, like this:

He has a Minerva Teichert-esque watercolor painting look about him. He has orange, green, and blue “wings” made of fabric from his robes that are kind of billowing around and behind him. He is calm. His face is peaceful. There is warmth and texture in his clothing. He has his arms and hands open before him.

Over time, I’ve pictured myself taking the emotions and troubles that have been plaguing me, and placing them on a small altar that is by his feet. The altar has a velvet top richly upholstered in a deep marigold. The billowing fabric of his wings circles the altar and when I look again, the things I placed there are gone. Released. Neutralized.

In my journal, I’ve listed all the things in my life and heart that I’ve set on that altar. Here is an excerpt of what happened next:

“I can’t see them, because they’re hidden in the folds of his wings, the billowing blue, green, and orange silk robes. After I identified Jesus as my “container,” the tune of the hymn Jesus, Lover of My Soul” came to mind. I’m not really familiar with it and I didn’t know the lyrics, but I was humming the sweet, old-fashioned melody. I looked up the song and found it to be a second witness to my altar vision in numerous ways, but particularly in the last line:

Jesus, lover of my soul/ Let me to thy bosom fly,/ Where the nearer waters roll,/ While the tempest still is high.

Hide me, O my Savior, hide,/ Till the storm of life is past./ Safe into the haven guide;/ Oh, receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none;/ Hangs my helpless soul on thee./ Leave, oh leave me not alone;/ Still support and comfort me.

All my trust on thee is stayed;/ All my help from thee I bring./ Cover my defenseless head/ With the shadow of thy wing.

I keep coming back to my altar at Jesus’ feet. It is my peace, my refuge. It is my hope. It feels like the right answer. The gentle, effective solution.

I listened to a talk by Sharon Eubank which was yet an additional witness to everything with my altar and the hymn and the wings. Everything. In her talk, she referenced the show The Crown, and discussed an episode about a 1960’s tragedy in a small Welsh town where a disaster killed many of the town’s children. At the communal burial of more than 130 school-aged children, there was so much pain. There were no words that could help. And the town began to sing a hymn, Jesus, Lover of My Soul. I mean, whoa.” (Aside: there are two melody versions of this hymn. The lyrics are the same for both).

“She talked about our individual brokenness, and the healing which results from the golden touch of the Master. ‘Love God. Love each other,’ she said. ‘Our masterpiece is how we do this for the Lord.'”

In the process of feeling emotionally unmoored, I’ve felt unsettled but also free. I’m evaluating my core beliefs. It’s been an uncomfortable, yet instructive experience. Mother and Father in Heaven have been right there with me through it, and Jesus has saved and healed me again and again.

Again, from my journal:

“Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have the power to do these things.” Jacob 4:7

“For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Doctrine and Covenants 84:46

And so, with spring pending, I’m emerging from my hiding place beneath His wings. There is plenty of light, because he exudes it.

Light

Hi friends.

I’m back from hiatus–one which I didn’t announce or comment on or even anticipate. It’s been three months of Not Writing, While Still Trying. I don’t want to talk about my painful writing life. Instead of beating myself up about this fallow blog, I have tried to just sink into the stillness and ponder/reflect/learn from my life in the process.

The update is this: I am the first line of defense for one of my children, who is not doing great. Things are going poorly in many different ways for this child, and I am right in the thick of it with him.

All of this is fine. It’s just life. I have been experiencing some PTSD relating to crisis periods with Jack. I also feel a little like I’m back in the early Jack years with the trying/failing/thinking creatively/suffering cycle. Anyway, things have been ratcheting up in intensity and difficulty, but this isn’t a woeful post.

I’m here to tell you about three dreams I’ve had while going through this hard time, because as readers of this blog know, God mainly speaks to me through dreams. I don’t know why this is, but I’m not here to argue with God. You may take whatever you wish from these dreams, if you choose to read them. They have been powerful enough to push me out of sorrow and back to my laptop, so they have clearly spoken to me.

First Dream: This one happened two nights before every single thing with my son came to a head and I finally recognized that this wasn’t going to fix itself, nor was I big enough or smart enough to find my way through it alone. Keep in mind, I had this dream before everything fell dramatically apart. A few identifying features have been redacted for privacy.

I dreamed I was driving *child* to my mom’s house at night. This is something that has been happening regularly, so it’s a familiar scenario. I’d just turned left from *new road* to *major thoroughfare* when everything became very dark. I had no more headlights, I couldn’t see anyone else’s headlights, and there was no light from buildings or streetlights. I couldn’t even see anything inside the car. It was terrifying–just utter darkness everywhere.

I went to pull over so we wouldn’t hit anyone, but I couldn’t even see the shoulder of the road. Consumed with panic, I worried I was going to crash into someone or something at any moment. As the dream ended, I noticed there was a small, dim light on behind me inside the middle of the car. I wondered if it would be enough light to help me figure out how to fix the situation or find a way to restore the lights.

Back in real time, the Very Bad Day happened, and I was desperately looking for professional help for *child* from all the sources while also trying to accept that this was Not Good and also Way Beyond Me. When the dust began to settle, *child* said he wanted to go to Grandma’s house, which I felt was a good idea, since we each needed some space from each other, and I needed to figure out how to proceed.

Jeff got home from work. We all climbed in the car, and the psychiatrist called my cell phone. She and I had a strange conversation, since I was speaking in code as *child* was in the backseat playing ipad but potentially listening. She was very concerned and instantly took action. I thanked her and hung up the phone, and then proceeded to turn left from *new road* onto *major thoroughfare* in the dark, with *child* in the backseat, just as in my dream. The dream was playing out in real life.

I suddenly remembered the devastating blackness that surrounded us in the dream. But this time, there WAS light–from the headlights and dashboard and the things around us. It wasn’t a lot of light, but it was enough.

I felt seen.

I knew that my Heavenly Parents KNEW. They knew, even before I knew, and sent the dream before the Awful Day when we were all at our lowest, so that I would remember it as I was actually living it. They knew our psychiatrist would call me and help make a plan and that I would end that call just as I made that same turn as in my dream.

Driving in the dark, with pricks of light all around us, I thought about Jesus. He’s our Savior, mine and *child’s.* I am drawing strength from his light, even when I can only grasp at it weakly, like the woman with the issue of blood who reached out to touch his robe.

That dream helped me move forward, and do it with a sense that things would be okay. Probably not instantaneously, but we had enough light and help to proceed to the next right thing (see: Frozen 2).

I did the next right thing, and then the next right thing after that. I’m taking on each issue as it arises, and I’ve been trying not to worry too much about the future. Mindfulness, baby. It’s about right now.

Then a few nights ago, I had one of the most peaceful dreams I’ve ever experienced.

I dreamed *child* was in Hawaii with my mom. I arrived there after them and when I got to the beach house, he was excited to show me something. We went outside and I saw that the beach house was right next to the water, with a calm turquoise inlet and small sandy beach right beside the cottage. There was a hammock set up in the sand, and the water was clear, warm, and shallow.

*Child* said, “You know how you like it when the water stays shallow for a long way out into the ocean? Well that’s how this beach is.” This is something I’ve never verbalized, but which is true of me. He and I played in the water. He was so calm and peaceful and happy. He was self-aware and curious and unafraid. I awoke astonished at both his demeanor and the jewel of a beach that was ours to enjoy.

It was the kind of dream that leaves you physically and emotionally clinging to the feeling of the dream. Reader, I was floating in peace.

This dream delivered hope, and it did it with richness and vivacity. I saw this one as essentially just a gift–something to help me see *child’s* true spirit, without the behavioral troubles clouding my view.

Finally, just this morning before I woke, I dreamed this:

My mom and I and the boys were riding a shuttle bus and moving/hauling lots of *child’s* stuff with us. When the bus stopped and we all got off, I noticed a middle-aged woman who I recognized as Grandma Goates, though she was younger than when I knew her in life, like probably in her fifties.

She walked over to *child* and exclaimed that this was her little great-grandson. She had her hands on the sides of his face and head, and was gazing lovingly at him. I realized that I had been so burdened with moving two enormous person-sized lamps (why tho???) of *child’s* that I hadn’t approached her first. Instead, she saw us, and reached out with great tenderness and love. It felt like she was ministering to our spirits.

When I moved the giant lamps aside, I looked back at her and saw that now she was talking to an eight-year-old girl from the 1980’s with short permed hair, lavender pants, and a purple and white sweatshirt. I am pretty sure she was talking to a young version of me.

You’re welcome to scoff at what I’m going to say next. Skeptics can’t alter what the Spirit has truthfully told me. This last one wasn’t a dream. It was a visitation. The scriptures record that “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost,” and I knew that Grandma Goates is in reality ministering to me and *child* because the “dream” allowed me to see it.

I don’t even have the words to really weave these dream/gifts into a cohesive essay. Words are hard at the moment. They evade me.

The point is, each of these dreams delivered what I needed, when I most needed it. They were spiritual and beautiful and are buoying me up through all of this.

Stormy Season

I’ve recently figured out something about myself, which is this: I am really good at getting complacent about things. All things, everything–at least when life is going well.

I learned this in a big way the other day when I was PMS-ing hard core (yay for old reliable) and we saw some setbacks with Jack due to changes in his care. Things had been going so well that I blithely assumed they would continue going swimmingly into perpetuity. Slow claps for clueless me.

Things are great, thus they will never change, huzzah!

Why am I like this?

I feel I am exactly like the ancient people in the Book of Mormon who were 100% this way. Life is good, the blessings are flowing, and we (meaning me) are lulled into a zen state. Suspended in ease. Expecting it to continue. Perhaps failing to yearn, work, or plead the way we do when we’re flailing and overwhelmed.

And you guys, I have been OVERWHELMED these last few months. Not to complain, but this is what’s happening: I’m too busy. I have so many places to be and not enough time to get everything done. I’m emotionally weary from being spread so thin across so many avenues of responsibility. I’m also kind of just tired of the need to troubleshoot every aspect of raising my unique kids.

In this state of overwhelm, I’ve found myself being equal parts so busy that I struggle to meditate and be quiet in order to hear answers, and simultaneously reaching for direction with the desperation that only accompanies souls in our times of deep stress.

A couple of things happened.

First, I got some answers relating to Jack and his care. They came pretty instantaneously and clearly. So we followed those promptings and proceeded with his house change.

But the change wasn’t great. It was rocky. It still isn’t ideal. When we visited him recently, I drove away really upset at how the peace I felt when praying about his change in care didn’t match the chaos I saw at the moment. Why the peaceful prompting if it’s kind of a mess now? Did I mess up Jack’s pretty great life? Am I no longer able to reliably receive personal revelation?

As we drove, Jeff said, “You probably felt peace because it IS going to be okay.” God bless Jeff, seriously.

The second thing that happened was this insight: when I quieted my mind, the spirit showed me that while I was not okay, Jack WAS. He is. He’s okay. His life was pretty chaotic when we were there, but miraculously, Jack was peaceful. He was calm and happy in the midst of the mess.

I realized in a tangible way at that moment that Jesus knows what Jack needs and he’s always there with him. He’s always providing it for him, even when I’m not there and I don’t know what to do and when so many things are out of my control. Jack’s okay. He’s never alone.

I had to turn my son over to strangers full-time when he was just thirteen years old. It remains the most bizarre, unsettling, and difficult thing of my life, and you guys, I’m no novice when it comes to facing weird/extreme hardship. This isn’t some kind of humble brag. It’s just the true nature of my actual life.

I had to place Jack on the altar, figuratively, and plead for our Heavenly Parents to intervene. And they did. They have provided the right evolving care for him in a way that we can’t.

All of this has been amazing and faith-affirming and beautiful, but it is also still not intuitive for me. I don’t know that it will never NOT be weird having my nonverbal super special son living far away and in other people’s care.

What I’m getting at is that the strenuousness of the last few months on many fronts, has rattled me out of any state of complacency I unwittingly dwelt in these two and a half years since he entered care.

I had taken on too many things: three classes at school and an entirely new curriculum plus working at the temple. One son now needed to be home-schooled. My Jacky likewise needed me to advocate for improvements in his care. I have been swimming against a stiff current, and not keeping up.

All of this reminded me that life isn’t a smooth, gentle, upward and forward-facing trajectory. It’s more of a wacky, endless corn maze, planned by a sick sadist and employing mud pits, actual rabid bats, and a looming hailstorm overhead.

I had a dream last Easter that I was standing and looking over a steep, narrow canyon. I may have already written about this one, I forget. Forgive me if this is a repeat. There was a dirt path cut into switchbacks leading from the bottom of the canyon to where I stood at the top. Everything looked completely brown and void of any vegetation, until I looked closer. Then I saw that along the edge of the switchbacks, there was a border of bright, colorful tulips lining the dirty path. It struck me that someone had gone to great trouble to plant bulbs to beautify an otherwise brown, steep, grueling landscape.

At church on that morning during the sacrament, I had an impression that the canyon/tulip dream was a representation of Jack’s testimony. I understood in a moment of flashing insight which wasn’t my own, that mortality is the hike to the top of the canyon walls, and that Jesus Christ has both prepared the path home for us, and made it possible for us to experience great beauty and happiness even while we are laboring to just keep going.

I knew right then that Jack knows his Savior. He knows him intimately because Jesus his brother has never left him alone or bereft.

This instruction for my comfort and benefit remains one of the most beautiful and deeply comforting gifts I’ve been given as Jack’s mother.

I suppose my complacency this fall served in a purpose. It shook me awake and woke my dormant pleadings for power, wisdom, and understanding.

Jack’s spirit is close to mine. It’s hard for me to articulate this is a way that makes sense, but it’s true. I am closer to him when I sit and partake of the sacramental bread and water while thinking about Jesus, than I am when I am standing next to Jack in his house. He can’t speak to me in a meaningful way, but his spirit has clearly articulated profound truths to me.

I listened to a podcast during that recent visit to Jack’s house wherein the person being interviewed referenced a blog post they had read which quoted C.S. Lewis. Isn’t the internet a lovely thing?

Anyhoo, the podcast person described the bloggers interpretation of the C.S. Lewis quote, which was from The Chronicles of Narnia. It was when the little girl (Susan? Lucy? help!) talks to Aslan, the lion and the Christ figure of the story. She tells him he is much bigger than when she last saw him. He responds and says that he is bigger because she is bigger.

According to the blogger in this circuitous story, Aslan was always much bigger than the little girl and her troubles. He related to her exactly where she was at every season of her life, but his ability to absorb and neutralize and solve her problems was always infinite.

This was a huge, beautiful insight for me. My Heavenly Parents are vast and infinite. They sent Jesus, who is big enough to manage all the sorrow and suffering in the whole world. Nothing is too big or awful for them to handle.

Jack’s gentle, peaceful spirit isn’t far from mine. Jesus remains with us both. We are each treading on that dirt trail back to Heavenly Mother and Father to be made whole.

My personally stormy autumn allowed me to learn this.

God bless October and fall leaves and brisk winds that blow us back on track.

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.