Monthly Archives: August 2017

Nothing to See Here

You guys, I just don’t have anything to say.

I don’t know what to write about. I am pretty disconnected from Jack’s day to day life. There are other, comparatively minor autism-related issues with my other boys. But they feel SO VERY SMALL and, frankly, super easy compared to the challenges we faced caring for Jack.

There’s grief, which I’m tired of talking about.

I don’t want to list my every daily trouble.

I’m not the kind of writer/blogger who creates a beautiful lifestyle/persona/aura thing which people enjoy consuming because it’s so stylish and gorgeous.

I have a cold and I haven’t washed my hair in four days. I’m not sleeping well. The transition back to school has wearied me more than it should have, but whatever. It’s grief and I can’t hurry it along or ask it to leave.

It’s real and it just IS.

This was a basic sort of day, involving a morning nap because I felt awful, coaxing my kindergartener to eat lunch and go to his second day of school (“I think I’ll have a day off,” he announced mid-morning #eyeroll), driving to Costco because we were out of everything, and prepping my lessons for class tomorrow.

It was the sort of day where I could not even when my little boys started fighting. Laundry feels like way too much work. Reading the book I got at the library is the one thing that really sounds reasonable.

I did order and ship Jack a coat. And I handled miscellaneous other Jack-related correspondence.

I just don’t have anything inspirational to say. I don’t have the capacity to engage in social things. Yesterday I felt pretty good about Jack’s new life. Today, I know he’s in the right place, but I don’t like being so separate from him.

I feel like my mothering relating to Jack now is a sham.

 

I Grew New Skin

I’m sitting at a little white Ikea table in the corner of a climbing gym, watching Charlie take part in a climbing class for kids. It’s his first ever organized sport. Ever.

I watched him amble in the line of kids across the gym to a new climbing area with his signature mosey (arms slowly swinging, a literal spring in his step–okay not literal, because he doesn’t have actual springs in his shoes, he just walks like he does), and all I could think was “look how far we have come since Charlie was a feral five-year-old consumed by anxiety and impossible to wrangle.”

He can do things in a group! He can follow instructions! And he has always been unnaturally good at climbing, so he’s in his element!

Since Jack resettled, life at our end has changed incredibly quickly and thoroughly. I continue to be amazed by the motion of our lives.

Charlie is now mainstreamed at school, with resource help. He is excited about school because he gets to ride or scoot there and see his neighborhood friends. He feels independent. He is becoming more independent. This is good for both of us. One of my Charlie fears has been that he will never quite achieve self-sufficiency, but be stuck in limbo at home, or living apart with constant managing from Jeff and me, when he desires complete independence. Seeing Charlie succeed, and yearn for more success heartens me. He tries so hard, and it’s working. His eternal nature is, like Jack’s, sunny. And determined. Curious. Unflagging. Willing.

I’m sure I will experience withdrawal once my children don’t need me all the time. But at this moment, I need to believe that I won’t always be standing beneath them, figuratively holding a net on the chance that they fall.

My baby begins kindergarten next week—a milestone I never actually thought would arrive. The years after Truman’s birth, and before Jack’s placement this spring sandblasted me. Any part of me resembling the old Megan sloughed off. I grew new skin, but not before finding myself raw and weeping as disabilities parenting peeled me away in layers.

My friend Liz recently said to me that when raising children, “zero to five lasts forever,” which summed up parenting small people, at least for jaded people like me, with an economy of words.

We then agreed that the years twelve to eighteen go by in a blink.

I look at my university students and see them not so much as grown ups but as somebody’s recent teen. They are darling and I love them already.

Motherhood did this to me.

Foolishly Optimistic

I have been awake since 4 am, because it’s the first day of school: my own (returning as a university writing instructor) and two of my children’s (as students). This is how anxiety manifests in me—sleepless early mornings.

I’m sorry if you’re sorry to see summer end. But I’m personally okay with it because I love the fall and we (meaning, my family) all do better with routines. If you give our days structure, we flourish, me included.

For the first time ever, I am not putting Jack on the bus for his first day. He will begin 8th grade this week in a different town, in a different school district. I shipped him a new backpack, size 14 Birkenstocks (men’s, clodhoppers, whoa!), a few of his favorite stretchy shorts, and some Star Wars t-shirts. I am doing my part from a distance. I think I’ll text his caregivers and ask for a back-to-school pic.

I don’t feel sad about Jack starting school in his new town. I’m excited for the fresh start. This could be my own Pollyanna-ish love for new school years and new school clothes and the chance to start over again.

But even if I’m foolishly optimistic at the start of a new school year, the fact remains: stagnation is bad. I prefer progress and growth. I can see now that we had reached a point of stagnation in the last couple of years with Jack at home with us. He wasn’t progressing, despite all our efforts. He needed a new setting, new routines, new people, new environment. Now he has it, and he has made progress in his new town and new home. He is less violent, more verbal, wears underwear and socks (score!), and eats almost everything. The beige “carbivore” diet is gone.

His caregivers moved Jack and his housemate to a different house on the outskirts of town. It’s bigger, newer, and sits on a large lot with flowers, grass, and fruit trees. It’s a good place for being outside, which is Jack’s favorite thing. His new school is a short drive through town, and is the right setting for Jack’s learning needs.

Every one of my children is attending a new school this year, and I feel elated, if also terrified that they (with autism and anxiety) will be swallowed whole.

I’m also teaching a new curriculum this year at the University and feel the same sense of newness. I’m at the cusp of good things, too.

We are moving onward.

Summer of Change

I’ve had a trying week for various reasons. Long story short, just days before the first day of school, we had to move our 4th grader to a new school. It was unexpected, but necessary. It stressed the heck out of me, but it was the right move and I’m peaceful about it.

The last week of summer is the hardest for me, because I am getting my teaching materials ready and driving to the university for faculty meetings and such, but my kids are still home, and they still need all the same things they’ve needed all summer when I was able to be fully present.

Lots of people mourn the end of summer, but I love fall, and back-to-school is particularly delicious for school nerds like me. I’m happy for the change, but the transition is anxiety-producing for the people in my family.

This summer has been complex. We have been able to travel more than any other summer ever. We have begun to make slow and steady progress on repairing our beat-up house. We have had far more daily downtime and peacefulness.

We have also been mourning the loss of Jack as a member of our household. This has not been an easy thing. Grief has been my weary companion this summer. I’ve floated on a river of sadness, letting the change in our family wash over me and through me. I’ve let myself feel the trauma of not having my special-needs thirteen-year-old at home. I’ve opened myself to all the hurt and all the emotion.

So this summer has been extraordinary, but also incredibly hard.

Jack left our home for full-time care.

Home life stopped being a constant hurricane.

We took vacations.

I turned 40.

Henry started driving.

We missed Jack.

We felt empty sometimes.

We grieved.

Jeff and I celebrated 20 years of marriage.

All 4 of my kids are attending new schools this year.

We have experienced change and are bracing for more.

I went to the temple this afternoon in an effort to dial down my own anxiety. It worked. It worked so well that I came home and passed out on my bed for two hours.

The moral of this story is, I suppose, ask God for comfort when you need it, eat a chocolate shake (which I also did today), and take a nap for Pete’s sake.

Life will look better. It just will.

Being Human

As part of our Celebrate Twenty-Years of Marriage Getaway, I got a pedicure this afternoon. This is how it went down.

A. As the nail tech removed the old shellac from my toes to make way for the new, the two women sitting to my left, who were getting their own pedicures, had a conversation.

B. Tan Woman in Shorts asked Brunette Woman with Bangs if her classroom was ready for the beginning of the school year this coming week. Brunette Woman with Bangs explained that preparing for the school year has been busy because she is moving from teaching mild-moderate special ed to severe-with-behaviors.

C. Tan Woman in Shorts, also a teacher (1st grade, with a fair number of students with IEP’s; I know this because she told Brunette Woman with Bangs about it), upon hearing that the other woman was choosing to move to a class with extreme behaviors, said, “Oh wow! Why?”

D. I felt my body freeze into a human shaped column of tension. If these two women, roughly my same age and both working in the field of special education, started railing against badly-behaved students or “bad” parents who “teach” their disabled children to behave badly or the perils of teaching “the worst of the worst” as far as behaviors are concerned, I was going to harden into a lump of clay, and bake in the desert heat into an empty sandstone replica of a woman. “I will not be able to sit here and do this,” I thought. “If the judgment and the unknowing condemnation emerge, this pedicure, this afternoon, and possibly this vacation are going to turn into a cluster cuss of sadness.” Then I thought, “Okeydokey, apparently I am more fragile than I currently realize.”

E. Tan Woman in Shorts repeated that the Brunette Woman with Bangs’s workload would surely increase (although Brunette Woman pointed out that she has 8 paras—para-educators, or teacher’s aides for special needs classrooms—to help with the various needs of the “behavior” students). Tan Woman used the word “crazy” several times when suggesting that Brunette Woman’s teaching prep and classroom management would be quite different this year.

F. And then. This. Brunette Woman said she chose this teaching load because she needed a change. She sounded hopeful. Positive. Capable.

G. Both women began discussing their own children, and the balancing act of being teachers for other people’s children, while managing their own kids’ needs.

H. Meanwhile, the nail techs and Tan Woman in Shorts began to discuss acceptance of teens and tweens who aren’t religious in this mostly religious community.

I. Nail Tech with Vibrant Red Topknot described moving to this area in middle school and finding a lack of acceptance. Tan Woman said her sons sometimes struggle to fit in as outsiders in this area’s social culture. Petite Middle-Aged Nail Tech explained that her experience has been different. Her two teen daughters, Asian, not Mormon, and with a single mother, have been embraced and accepted by their peers. Petite Nail Tech said they have great friends and participate in sports and cheer in their high school.

J. Between reading snatches of my book (The Thing About Jellyfish, a lovely and heartbreaking YA novel by Ali Benjamin, which features a protagonist who doesn’t fit in, who sees the world differently, who can’t be cool or popular because she is quite unique and a lot like my third son in many ways), I watched the nail salon tableau play out around me.

K. Brunette Woman’s pedicure was finished at this point, so she moved across the room for a manicure. She told the nail tech that this was her birthday treat to herself, and that she felt incredibly relaxed.

L. I exhaled and dropped my inward defenses. Brunette Woman chooses to work with the difficult kids. She has a large family through a yours-mine-ours blended situation since she remarried, following the death of her husband, a few years ago (you learn lots about people at the nail salon, see).

M. I went from being a live wire of grief and defensiveness to being a woman who saw another woman for who she is: a complex, real person with sadness and challenges and gifts and abilities. I saw her as a competent, calm, and rather amazing person.

N. I felt great gratitude to this stranger for not saying unintentionally mean things about special-needs kids who behave badly because it’s a function of their disability. I was grateful to her for choosing to work in the field, and for not shying away from the hard ones.

O. I felt compassion for a woman who has experienced great loss herself, though in a different way than me. I felt admiration for her ability to move forward and do so much, while staying positive.

P. This is what ran through my mind: “We all struggle. We all have that which makes us feel other. We all are sometimes lonely and misunderstood. We all are sometimes overwhelmed.”

Q. Then, I thought this: “We aren’t so different. We just feel that we are. The trappings of our lives make us seem different. Inside, we’re just humans. All of us. We have more in common than a surface-y look might reveal.”

R. I could’ve joined in the discussion with the women around me. I could have told them about Jack and Charlie and Truman. I could have led the conversation with my tale of navigating the IEP from the other end of the conference table, and floored them with horror stories of parenting that lies on the fringe because it’s wildly not typical. 

S. But I didn’t want to speak. I am emotional about lots of topics these days (clearly), and it’s occasionally refreshing to fly under the radar, among people who don’t know that I’ve spent many a public outing and school behavior intervention meeting being the lightning rod for my children’s problems in positively interfacing with the world.

T. So I didn’t speak. Except to tell the nail tech that the water temperature was fine. And to say thank you when she finished.

U. I left with a sense of my eyes having been opened—to other people and their personal tales of woe. None of the women in that salon came in there looking like sad pandas. But I saw that they carry hidden grief with them. That we all do.

V. I felt that God showed all of this to me to help me hold on to the soul-deepening compassion my boys have brought into my life.

W. I felt humbled.

X. Being quiet can teach one a good deal.

Y. Being thankful empties fear from one’s life.

Z. Being human gives us a vast common ground from which to begin.

 

Plays! Plays! Plays!

In celebration of being married FOR TWENTY YEARS, PEOPLE, Jeff and I are on a getaway in our favorite desert oasis, with the express purpose of seeing plays. I am not speaking hyperbole when I say I have yearned for years to go see some Shakespeare and some musical theater, which since we became special-needs parents, has been one of many a pipe dream. Going to shows was for people with normal lives. By definition, that didn’t include us.

I’m an English teacher, a former English major/graduate student, a bibliophile, a Shakespeare junkie, and also a big nerd when it comes to LOVING musicals. So when I said to Jeff earlier in the summer, “For our 20th anniversary, I just want to go to the Shakespearean Festival. That’s it. It’s all I want,” and he responded, “Sounds good to me,” I knew that he was (and is) my perfect match. Not because he loves books, Shakespeare, or musicals like I do, mind you, but because he loves me, and because he is flexible. And now we can do this sort of thing because Jack has full-time care.

Thus far, we’ve seen Newsies, Guys & Dolls, and (because we had extra time today) Dunkirk (not Shakespeare or a musical, obviously). Tonight we see As You Like It, and tomorrow, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I have finished reading two books on this trip, too. I feel quite accomplished. I think we may try to squeeze in another movie before we go home, because this diet of live theater + print/film media consumption is totally my jam.

I love stories. I just LOVE them.

Newsies took me back to high school, when Christian Bale was the hot thing singing about seizing the day and Santa Fe. We saw it beneath the stars and I wanted to do a song and dance number about the fact that I was at a live musical and no kids of mine were there to wreck it, huzzah!

Guys & Dolls was some kind of time capsule for an era when men wore fedoras and women were referred to as dolls, etc. We saw a Thursday matinee, which meant it was me, Jeff, and a theater otherwise comprised of retirees. The line of walkers and other assistive mobility devices outside the door to the orchestra section looked like the rows of strollers outside the rides at Disneyland.

Watching Dunkirk this afternoon was, for real, a spiritual experience for me. I was awash with emotion which culminated in this thought thread: Life calls us to do big, scary, deadly things. Our job is to do them. Whatever the outcome. We are here to do what life calls us to do. We may only be small humans with limited abilities and influence, but that doesn’t matter. God knows what we can do, and we can prove our bravery to him. Also, wow, the heroism and humanity and sacrifice amid war. And I inevitably envisioned my teen son being caught up in such fraught scenarios. Those soldiers were kids, and they saw and experienced horrifying things. Again, because we saw a Friday matinee, it was us and the retired folk. They were a respectful crowd. I was a weepy young(ish) thing.

Tonight, it’s Shakespeare, and I’m jazzed. The Bard’s plays are a) pure genius, and b) a workout for my brain, and a feast for my language-loving self.

A few more thoughts on having been married twenty years:

  1. Life actually does move pretty fast. Even when it’s like slogging through molasses or trudging through a snowy/prickly ice field, the overall passage of time is far faster than one might expect.
  2. I’m glad I’m not twenty anymore. My back hurts more now, and my metabolism isn’t what it once was, but I know a lot more now than I did then. In no way would I want to go back. Twenty years later is much, much better. Forty is vastly preferable to twenty.
  3. It’s a gift to be with someone through so much hardship. Jeff and I grew together. We have worked together. We raised Jack together for thirteen years—an incredible feat. I think God gave us each other before he gave us Jack, because he knew we would need this partnership to carry our family through the whirlwind of disabilities parenting.

A Really Long Speech I Gave on Jesus to a Bunch of Teens

Let’s play a game of Would You Rather. I honestly don’t know if this is an actual legit game, or it my family just invented it sometime during my childhood. Anyway, the basic idea is to present someone with two possibilities and ask, “would you rather (insert option A) or (insert option B)?”

A few examples that I remember my younger sister asking me:

“Would you rather be a lamp or a rug?”

“Would you rather have a sore throat or the stomach flu?”

“Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?”

“Would you rather live in the mountains or by the beach?”

“Would you rather eat pizza or tacos?”

Okay, we’re not done yet.

Now we’re going to take a poll. The purpose is to get a picture of who you are:

Raise your hand if you are the type of person who, when you leave town, packs everything you own, including maybe 12 pairs of shoes.

Or, raise you hand if you tend to pack light. Just a change of undies and your toothbruth.

Or maybe you pack, “just right,” meaning you take exactly what you need, although anyone in either previous camp could argue that they have packed the “just right” amount.

When you have a task to do, do you wait until the last possible second to do it? Or do you begin early and know it out well before the deadline?

Which phrase best describes you: keep it simple, or do it right?

Would you rather be told exactly how to do something, or do you prefer to jump in and figure out a task for yourself as you go?

The good news is that there is no wrong answer to these questions, just like there is no wrong way to be a human. We all have different interests, talents, quirk, hang-ups, strengths, and struggles.

Our Heavenly Father knows this about us because he made us this way. He knows every weird and amazing thing about you. He has known you for a long time—longer than you can remember.

He loves the procrastinators, the over-packers, the independent spirits, and the people who always look for the shortcut. He loves all of us. He loves you, just as you are.

He also know what you are capable of, which is why we are here, meaning on planet earth, in mortality, with a physical body. He already knew we were good, but that we wanted to be better. And so, with the help of our Savior, he created the earth for us, a place where we could live as autonomous beings, where we could struggle and work and learn things we otherwise couldn’t learn as spirits.

Because he knew that mortality would be straight-up difficult, confusing, and sometimes painful, he gave us a path, a roadmap back to him, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

He didn’t place us here to fail. He put us here to grow, and he gave us the Savior, to help us return to wholeness with our Heavenly Parents.

But you guys know all of this already.

Sometimes, though, there is a difference between KNOWING that something is true, and really INTERNALIZING it.

So I’m here to tell you a story of how I came to know the Savior, and to understand that Heavenly Father is involved in the details of my life. My goal is that this story will help you see that your Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ are intimately involved in the unfolding of your life, too.

I have four sons, ages 15, 13, 9, and 5. Three of my boys have autism. My second son, Jack, is the most profoundly affected. He is nonverbal. He also has a rare syndrome that affects his cognitive abilities, meaning he is mentally disabled. Physically, he is a big, healthy boy with red hair and ginger skin, meaning alabaster or pasty white, depending on how you like to describe it. He has freckles and green eyes. He’s super cute.

Because of the nature of Jack’s disabilities, we are no longer able to continue caring for him at home, and two and a half months ago, we placed him in a group home, permanently. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, and you guys, I have done some hard things over the years as Jack’s mom. He lives a couple of hours away from us, and he has full-time staff devoted to his care. It’s been a tough transition for us as well as him, but we are all adjusting and making a lot of progress with accepting this new life.

Because he can’t speak, it’s tough for Jack to communicate his wants and needs. He understands much of what he hears, but he can’t verbalize his own thoughts. We’ve only had limited success with sign language and picture communication systems.

Imagine your life if you could not tell people what you needed, what you wanted, how you were feeling. It would be a hard life, and that is what my Jack lives with every day, always. He gets frustrated, understandably, and because he has the cognitive abilities of toddler in many ways, he reacts the way a toddler might to disappointments. He hits, head-buts, throws things, breaks things. And he’s a big, strong teen.

The aggressive and destructive behaviors don’t define who Jack is as a valiant, eternal being. Instead, they are a function of his disabilities and his limitations.

But man, they can make for some difficult situations. A few years ago, Jack started getting unpredictable and sometimes violent when we were driving places. As a younger kid, he would always seems to find a way out of his seatbelt and dance around the car, usually on the freeway, sometimes while taking his clothes off.

Three years ago, right before Christmas, we were in a drive-through waiting for his fries. They were taking forever with our order and Jack began to attack me. There’s no other word for it. He was punching, biting, clawing me. He began to climb into the backseat and attack his younger brothers, so I held onto his waist and dragged him back into the front seat. He tried to unlock the door and run away. As people drove around us and stared, I was alternately trying to keep Jack inside the car and away from his brothers, and also protect myself.

At one point, my third son screamed, “Call the police!” I totally would have done it, but I was defending my face from kicks and hits and literally could not pick up my phone.

In a panic, I thought we had to get home. There was nothing I could do in the car to keep us safe. So we got our fries, which he threw across the car, and drove away. As we approached the biggest, busiest intersection in our area, Jack again started to attack me. He leaned back and kicked the gearshift into reverse as we entered the intersection. The car stalled. I screamed. Miraculously, no cars hit us. At that moment, I shouted this prayer, “God, help me!”

Immediately, Jack stopped hitting and kicking, and instead started to cry. I put the car in drive, and drove to a nearby parking lot where I called my husband to come help us. I was shaking, Jack was happily chirping at this point. I thought, “What is next for us? How am I supposed to be parent this child?” The Spirit spoke these words to my mind: “Look into group homes for Jack.”

Wait, what? A group home means I am an inadequate mother who can’t take care of her own kid.

Do you ever argue with the spirit? Because I was. This was the response I got, “It isn’t going to get easier with Jack. This is part of his life trajectory and it will be alright.” I was then flooded with peace. And frankly, I appreciated the honesty of knowing what was really going to come. It was an effective reality check.

Soon thereafter, I began looking into residential care for Jack and found that it was almost impossible to get in our state for someone under the age of 18. Why would I get such a direct prompting and then be met with brick walls and dead ends? I nevertheless felt that Heavenly Father was preparing me for something in our future.

Then four months later, we had another near-death experience in the car. This time we were driving in rush-hour traffic and it was SLOW. Jack was losing it. When he began choking his brother, I pulled over and turned on my flashers. Jack climbed in the front seat and started beating me up. I called my husband and Jack knocked the phone out of my hands. He pulled my hair. He tried to run from the car and into traffic. I pulled him back into the car where he continued to punch and kick me. For the second time in my life, I screamed a prayer, “God, Help me!”

Perhaps 30 seconds later, I saw flashing lights behind me. I have never been so relieved to see a cop pull up behind me as I was at that moment. He was a detective, in plain clothes and an unmarked car. He walked toward us on the passenger side and saw Jack thrashing me. I still remember the look on his face as he came to the driver’s door and held out his hands as though to help, but he wasn’t sure how.

I told him that Jack was my son, was mentally disabled, and was hurting me. He asked what he could do to help. I told him if he could stay with us for the twenty minutes it would take my husband to drive to where we were, then we would be okay. So he stayed. Jack climbed in the back of the van and I went with him, to protect Charlie.

The detective, who (I am not kidding) looked like Thor but with short hair, sat backward in the driver’s seat, facing us. Jack continued to hit me off and on for that twenty minutes that went on for what felt like nine hours. He asked us questions and spoke kindly to Charlie. He said that as a detective he doesn’t make traffic stops or really even assist with traffic emergencies. But he did stop that day, and I know it was in response to my prayer.

Life with Jack did, in fact, not get easier. It was just consistently, incredibly hard. People would often send me this scripture in Mosiah 24, because I guess if you look up Mosiah 24: 14, there is a picture of a Jack and me.

“And I will ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”

We were in survival mode. It was NOT easy, but we did feel that God was helping us carry our burden.

I knew Heavenly Father knew my challenges, and I knew that when I was completely desperate, he responded instantly. But life was still basically impossible.

What about those times in your life when you are praying and trying, and THINGS AREN’T CHANGING? What then? Does that mean God isn’t listening at that moment? That he doesn’t care?

No. My experience has shown me that he is listening and he does care. But if he instantly fixed every hard/painful situation, when would we have the opportunity to exercise faith?

We know that we came to earth to grow, to become more than we were. We have to be challenged so we can be humbled, which readies us to turn to our Heavenly Father and our Savior.

Let’s talk for a minute about miracles. The answers to my scream-prayers in the car were one form of a miracle.

But what else constitutes a miracle? Is it when you pay tithing with the last of your money and then a check arrives in the mail for the exact same amount? Is it when someone gets a terrible diagnosis, but then goes in for surgery and the doctors find nothing wrong, everything is healed?

A miracle, in my view, is anytime we have divine help that allows us to keep going—take a nap, ugly cry, eat some sugar, pray, talk to Dectective Thor—and then move forward.

I don’t believe miracles have ceased, compared to those described in the scriptures. They happen all the time, in all our lives. They happen any time your Savior’s atonement gives you power—the strength to carry on despite all the odds stacked against you.

A miracle is the chance to heal from hardship and try again. A miracle is finding peace, even when life doesn’t go according to plan (which, if it hasn’t yet, it will. At some point). These things are possible because of the miracle of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

I remember sitting in a Relief Society lesson a couple years ago when my friend Shirley was giving the lesson on the Savior. She had brought this picture of two horses pulling a wagon. The photo was taken from the perspective of the person driving the wagon, so we were looking over the ears of these two horses with their heads down, leaning into the load as they pulled it together.

I stared at that image throughout the lesson, and in my mind I heard the words of Jesus from the book of Matthew in the New Testament, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Before that moment, I DID NOT understand that the Savior’s atonement wasn’t just an abstraction, but a real force. I don’t know how it works—easing all our burdens, cleansing all our sins, comforting all our heartache—but it does.

I saw that image of the horses working together, yoked together and pulling in tandem and the Spirit said to me, “Jesus Christ is beside you, helping you.” And I knew that he was! I knew that he hadn’t abandoned me or expected me to figure things out on my own. He, in reality, was pulling the lion’s share of the load. He had been helping me, even when I couldn’t see it.

A few weeks ago, my husband Jeff left really early in the morning for work, much earlier than usual. He came back a couple of hours later where I was being lazy and just barely waking up. Lazy! He told me, “I did a good deed.” He’s an engineer who works with MRI machines in hospitals—installing, maintaining, and fixing them. He told me that he had gotten a text early that morning from the children’s hospital’s imaging department. Their MRI wasn’t functioning and they had a little 3-year-old girl already sedated, waiting for her scheduled MRI. Kids have to be sedated for MRIs because they can’t hold still very long and you have to hold very still during an MRI scan.

The imaging department asked if Jeff could come in, right then. He didn’t have to. He wasn’t on call and it was way before his scheduled time to be there. But he got out of bed super early and went anyway, because Jack has taught us to notice and care when people are stressed, struggling, or need help. Jeff got the MRI up and running, the radiology staff gave the little girl a bump in her meds to help her stay asleep just a bit longer, and the MRI went on as planned.

After this experience, I said to Jeff, “That little girl’s parents don’t even know what transpired to make their daughter’s MRI possible today.” And right then the Spirit said to me, “You don’t know how many miracles have transpired for you.”

I was rendered speechless. And I knew it must be true. I don’t even know all the ways that Heavenly Father is making the blessings of my life possible.

Is your Heavenly Father aware of your personal challenges and hardships? Is the Savior helping you? How do you know? He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, so maybe the better question is, how do you feel the Spirit?

In my life, I’ve seen that when I have a pattern of praying and reading the Book of Mormon, the Spirit communicates with me. The end. He just does. Maybe it’s that when I’m doing these devotional things every day, I am different. I’m better able to listen. I’m receptive.

Remember we are talking about surviving the messes of our lives by praying and reading the Book of Mormon. This is what Alma 37 says, in verses 6 and 7, “Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes.”

Does God think that prayer and studying the Book of Mormon are sort of okay, but not all that great? NO! It’s how he communicates with us and works miracles in our lives!

It continues, in verses 16-17, “But if ye keep the commandments of God, and do with these things which are sacred according to that which the Lord doth command you, (for you must appeal unto the Lord for all things whatsoever ye must do with them) behold, no power of earth or hell can take them from you, for God is powerful to the fulfilling of all his words. For he will fulfill all his promises which he shall make unto you.”

I read this and knew that the covenants that I have made with God aren’t just promises on my side. He is bound to help me. He wants to help me. He is helping me.

And then finally, these words in verses 35-37, “O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God. Yea and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.”

Cry unto the Lord in the middle of a busy intersection when your disabled son is attacking you and kicks the gear shift into park.

Cry unto the Lord on the side of the road during rush hour traffic when that same kid is trying to kill you.

Counsel with the Lord when someone asks you to do something good really early in the morning and you’re like, really?

Counsel with the Lord when your day goes badly, or when you day goes great.

Counsel with the Lord and ask him what he wants you to do so you can feel his love and be happy.

The concept of these versus in Alma 37 is two-fold in my view. First, the Lord is asking us to turn to him in prayer. Second, he’s asking us to be humble enough to be obedient to his gospel and really listen to him.

When we do these things, he is bound to bless us. He can’t NOT bless us. He will help us.

He has given us his perfect first-born son as a sacrifice on our behalf.

Our Savior is beside each of us. He knows you. He is your loving older brother. He is helping you pull your heavy load, even when you don’t realize he is helping you.

Jeff and I went and saw Jack yesterday. It was the best visit we have had. He was happy. He was excited. He is healthy. He is making lots of progress. And he wasn’t sorry to see us go. He feels contented in his new home where he needs are being met in a way that couldn’t happen anymore in our home.

My life has shown me that God loves my son Jack. He loves me enough to tell me in my hour of need exactly what lay ahead in Jack’s future. He loves us so much that he, no kidding, gave me a step-by-step tutorial, spiritually-speaking, and showed me what to do to secure Jack’s group-home placement.

God loves my son, who can’t speak, who hits people and breaks things, who can’t pray and ask for help. Jack could be described, in terms of abilities, as what the scriptures refer to as “the least” among us. And yet, the Savior and our Father in Heaven help him and direct his care.

Being Jack’s mom has shown me that God knows us and loves us, every one. To God, there is no “least among us.” He knows what we need to live our lives and return to wholeness with him. He knows how to help us.

A Master Class in Grief & Growth

I had a conversation with my children’s psychiatrist yesterday where I expressed that I want my boys to learn resilience and flexibility.

Life with Jack has already taught all of us a great deal about compassion, faith, and hope. We are slower to judge. We are better equipped to see the good in people, despite the cumbersome trappings of bad behavior. We are kinder. More patient. Softer. Humbler. Less worldly.

All of these traits are tremendous gifts.

Now that Jack’s care is delegated and he isn’t in our home, I have the time and the energy to see what my other children really need right now, at this moment, currently. It turns out that they need exactly what I myself need at this point in time: the ability to be flexible, to rise from the ashes and keep moving, to reinvent their lives when things haven’t gone according to plan.

Because, hahaha, they haven’t.

I’m focusing on having a growth mindset—on being open to learning new and possibly uncomfortable things, because I’m not naturally good at them.

Allow me to list the Things I Am Currently Learning:

  • To live in the moment. I haven’t been dwelling on past events, nor (strangely) on what’s to come. I am sort of suspended in the right now and it’s a pretty great way to live. Except that I need to write a syllabus soon and finish the back-to-school shopping so…..yeah.
  • To accept God’s will for Jack and for me. I never envisioned my life playing out this way. I have not yet totally come to terms with Jack being so disabled that I literally could no longer care for him at home. It feels very wrong to me to have my thirteen-year-old living in a group home far away, even though I know it’s right. God showed me it was right in a step-by-step tutorial of sorts, so there’s that. I know that someday everything will be right and I’ll understand why, but now I’ve got the mists of darkness thing happening around me. It’s one of those times when I see the options as a) faith or b) confusion/bitterness/being lost. I choose faith, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy path.
  • To face my grief. It hurts, but it’s supposed to. Avoidance doesn’t work. The healing path is right through all of the pain and the coming to terms with reality.
  • That all things are spiritual. This is such a deeply unpopular idea in our culture that to even raise it is like asking to be firebombed on the interwebs. *Note to people on the interwebs: Please don’t firebomb me for my laser focus on spirituality. Thank you.* But truly, I’m finding that despite our social climate which subconsciously (also overtly) says with vigor, “spirituality is ridiculous and can only maybe be considered cool/okay when it’s tied to the health food industry and non-Christian beliefs with a healthy dose of yoga thrown in,” I am here to stand on a wall and announce to everyone, everywhere that ALL THINGS ARE, INDEED SPIRITUAL. Human eyes just can’t truly see the depth of perspective affording every single aspect of the mortal world the shadows and light and contours which reveal so much more than non-spiritual views of life can reveal. We honestly can’t see our potential unless we consider our lives through a spiritual (i.e. truthful) lens. Life without spirituality is a little doodle in the margins of a grocery shopping list, where life with God and divine connection is a massive, polished sculpture. This is what life with Jack, and then life without Jack, has taught me. Closing ourselves off from spirituality, and specifically Jesus Christ, essentially places us in a box with no windows, light, fresh air, or even internet. It’s isolation from understanding, from Godly connection, and from the miraculous ability to rise above the hail storm of human life on earth. I know what this feels like because, for many years when Jack was small, I didn’t see the spiritual connection in every aspect of my family’s life. I closed myself off from Jesus because I thought he wanted me to do it all myself—that it wasn’t his job to bail out inadequacy and stupidity. In the intervening years when I learned that Jesus already IS helping me, and that he’s waiting to shower me with greater power and peace when I turn to him, my life stopped feeling like a prison and began to evolve into a place of real freedom, with a stunning view of things to come. (Also, clarification: I really like yoga and I have no ill will toward healthy eaters or people who eschew Christianity, so stand down. Bless you and carry on).
  • To be gentle with myself, and to self-advocate. I am, by nature, a rescuer and a people-pleaser. It’s not always the best way to live your life. Experiencing this loss of Jack from our home and our care has shown me that I can’t always be everything to everyone. When you are drowning, you have to focus inwardly before you can reach out to help anyone else. This has been a moment of maturity and a decent wake-up call for me. And it doesn’t mean I’m now really into being selfish. It means I am learning to take better care of myself so that I am equipped to help other people. It’s the essence of provident living, guys. I’m glad this lesson has materialized in my life.

Now that I’m looking back on this list, I can only say, “Wow, that escalated quickly.” This is what happens when you give yourself a writing prompt with no hidden agenda of what you secretly want to say, and then sit down and just WRITE.

Thank you, writing teachers, who taught me this.

And thank you for reading.