Monthly Archives: June 2018

Book Babe: I’m Baaa-aack

Listen, you guys. Here’s the thing.

Books are my sanity. They just are and ever will be.

I’ve realized (and embraced) this, particularly as I live in and consider our social media-saturated culture. When I am in the thick of a book, I am less restless, and more curious. I am actively participating in a story, rather than blandly consuming a random stream of posts. I’m simply happier when I’m reading and thinking and making connections, instead of passively scrolling. Which leads me to:

My Recent Reads: a list.

Yet Another World War II Story

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck.

Most of this book takes place after WWII, but it’s set basically at ground zero in rural Germany, so the war is both an ever-present character AND landscape. It follows three women, wives of Nazi resisters, who are left to pick up the pieces of their families lives once the war ends. I struggled with getting into this book for the first hundred pages, and considered not finishing it. After the hundred page mark, I was invested. I could see the weaving of the storylines creating patterns, as well as a compelling outcome. Like all war stories, it’s really sad. Marianne, Ania, and Benita are extremely flawed and realistic characters. Ultimately, I really enjoyed this read.


I’ll Tell You What by Ann Cannon

You all know I am powerless to resist memoir/personal essays/creative nonfiction, and you may know that Ann Cannon is my writing mentor and hero. I love her dearly. If you enjoy humor, relatability, honesty, and wisdom, you will relish Ann’s collected Trib columns about family, pets, change, parenting, losing a parent, and a host of other subjects. This book is delightful and makes me want to be a better person.

Model Mormon by Rosemary Card

I’ve followed Rosemary on social media for some time now, and have delighted in her refreshing, inspiring voice as a young Mormon woman. She writes about her unique childhood, which spanned New York City and Sandy, Utah. At age sixteen, a series of events prompted her to pursue a modeling career in NYC, so with her parents support, she signed with an agency and left home for the Big Apple, Milan, Singapore, Tokyo, and Thailand. She writes about maintaining her relationship with God during this time of independence, while also having to fight daily to maintain her standards. Rosie writes about her college years, her mission, and her job working in the Church broadcasting department, all of which led to her starting her own business–a temple dress company. I raced through this book. It was fascinating to little old Utah resident me. Also, her testimony inspires me and she’s an amazing person.

Literary Fiction

Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

Set in 1950’s colonial Kenya, this book tells the story of a girl named Rachel who returns to Africa after six years (following her mother’s death) at a boarding school in England. She’s eager to return to the idyllic farm life of her childhood, but finds that nothing is the same as it was before. Her father has an unabashed live-in mistress, who is at odds with Rachel. Most significantly, there is great unrest in Kenya as the Mau Mau rebels begin to rise up against white farmers and essentially the whole colonial system. There is a fair amount of violence in this engaging story, which is also really beautiful in places. It’s not unlike Africa itself, which is both unforgiving and harsh, yet also exquisitely beautiful. Rachel’s perspective of life in Kenya evolves from a binary sense of right and wrong to a more nuanced understanding of the complexities of the politics and culture in British colonized Africa. I thoroughly enjoyed this.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

*Frances MacDormand “Raising Arizona” voice* “I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUUUUUUCH!” I do. I absolutely love it. It’s reminiscent of A Man Called Ove, which everyone everywhere adores (as they should), meaning it is hilarious, poignant, human, and ALSO HILARIOUS. Eleanor is an unlikely protagonist, a grumpy thirty-year-old woman whose life is ruled by routine and predictability. I don’t want to give anything away in this perfectly wonderful story, so I’ll just say it’s set in Glasgow, Scotland, features a main female character with literal scars on her face and some serious opinions, and the personalities and relationships in this book will endear you to humanity. You will have hope in people and see them with love. At least I did, after racing through this story.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Ng (pronounced “ing”) crafts a compelling story about two families in the luxurious Shaker Heights neighborhood of suburban Cleveland. The Richardsons and Warrens are as completely different as two families can be, yet their teenage children develop a bond which connects the families. It also creates a schism when members of the two families take opposing sides on an unfolding legal custody drama involving a little Asian baby, her adoptive white parents (fellow Shaker Heights residents), and her single Chinese immigrant birth mother. I’m still in the middle of this book, so I can’t tell you how it resolves (not that I would do that to you anyway, sheesh!), but I’m intrigued and am eager to see how the threads of this story play out.

As always, send me your book picks. What are you reading?

Rocks Into Gold

Once a week this summer I get to hang out and play with my cousin’s three little kids. It’s super fun for my two younger boys, and for me. I have an excuse to do things like make chocolate chip cookies at 9:30 in the morning, watch The Muppets (is there a better musical number than Life’s a Happy Song?), and sit in the morning shade in my backyard watching little people bounce, climb, dig, and slide. We have a good time.

I find myself getting introspective watching the seven, five, and one-year-old play on the same playset where I pushed Jack eight million times on the tire swing and jumped with him daily on the trampoline, which actually looked like him sitting and allowing me to bounce him. He’s an unabashed slacker.

When we moved to this house, Henry was three and Jack was one. They were tiny and I was young and quite stupid, or at least naive and untested. I remember my constant anxiety, about all the projects I wanted to do on our house, about Jack’s development, about his public temper tantrums, about trying to project a sense of calm collected-ness, though inside I felt anything but calm.

Those days were challenging because we hadn’t figured out the extent of Jack’s disabilities and differences (or recognized and treated my own anxiety). I was still trying to maintain “regular family” expectations, with not great results. I had not yet learned that acceptance of all of it, even the dross, really is the quickest way to peace and progress.

I recognized two things today, while chilling in peaceful backyard with the kiddos:

  1. So much of my young parent angst resulted from fearing for Jack’s future, and my future.

As I watched my cousin’s little boy today, who also has a rare syndrome, climb and run around, I thought about how his path is special but not impossible. God has a plan for him, just like he always has for Jack, even when I couldn’t see it. It will be unique and different. Special, because he is. Which leads to the second realization…

2. My life changed when I figured out that God will always help us find a way.

I hadn’t really believed it prior to my non-ironic spiritual journey during the spring of 2016. But that journey turned out to be life-changing, particularly as it taught me that God isn’t watching me with disappointment, shaking his head and impatiently tapping his feet as he waits for me to figure out life. He is watching me with love, waiting for me to humble myself, believe, and ask for help, which he wants to give me. My life got really good once I learned this. I feel like the previous sentence should be written in blinking neon lights.  I put Jack and my despondency and our hopeless family dynamic on the altar and gave it all to Jesus. And he took it, and turned (as my bosom friend Marla says) “rocks into gold.” He made the boulders of my life’s hardships into pure gold. He did this for me, and it still blows me away.


What’s Happening With Jacky

Allow me to update you on Jack and his felony assault charges.

After meeting with the probation officer and communicating with the public defender, we provided both people with Jack’s treatment plan as outlined by his caregivers, with a psychological evaluation done by the state a few years ago, and with a letter from his psychiatrist. The probation officer and the attorney sent these documents, which thoroughly detail Jack’s cognitive state, to the prosecutor and the judge.

The prosecutor then filed a motion to dismiss the charges “in the interest of justice,” which the judge, thankfully, did. The four people who worked on Jack’s case demonstrated a reasonable and refreshing sense of common sense, and they worked together as a team to make this happen. So nobody has to go to court and, based on this experience, I have renewed faith in the judiciary.

We visited Jack earlier this week where we saw his new house (it’s actually brand new and so lovely), his beautiful backyard which abuts a golf course, and a couple of his caregivers. Jack was exceedingly glad to dig into the bag of treats and backyard toys we brought him. He did not want to pose for pictures (ugh, teens). We learned that Jack eats things like oranges as a snack these days (whoa, yay!) and enjoys cat-calling the golfers who tee off just over the low fence from his grassy perch. This image is my favorite.

Jeff and I once again felt a deep-seated feeling of peace and gratitude for the gifts that God has given Jack. He is in such a perfect place and is making steady progress. Since moving to the new house a month ago, his destructive acts and toileting problems have virtually gone away. This is big.

Jack clearly loves one caregiver, his house manager Josh, a great deal. Josh adores Jack and says he makes his job so much fun. According to Josh, the female staffers in the company like to stop by and talk about how stinking cute Jack is. He has a fan club. It is true, though, that Jack is adorable. One of his summer program directors from years past put it this way, “Jack is a model, and he knows it.”

It wasn’t hard to leave Jack this time. He was happy. He was calm. He is in good hands and fulfilling his life’s mission, and I am utterly grateful.

The Myth of Being in Control

Is it possible to truly be in control of one’s life?

This is the fundamental question asked by two books–memoirs–I’ve recently inhaled.

Of course, the short answer (according to me) is that it’s an illusion to think that life is controllable. But it is easy, when things are going swimmingly, to get caught up in the idea that we are responsible for our successes.

Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved details her diagnosis with Stage IV colon cancer at age 35, with a husband and a baby son. She’s an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School and has recently published her first book, a history of the concept of the prosperity gospel, or the notion that righteousness breeds wealth, health, and all manner of wordly protection from suffering.

It’s a concept she herself unwittingly subscribed to before becoming ill. She worked hard, made careful choices, and was achieving exactly what she wanted in life. As her health unravelled, she faced the reality that she was the same person, saying the same prayers, yet many began to view her as having brought the disease on herself. Or, at the very least, if she wasn’t being healed, then she had clearly failed at calling down God’s favor upon herself–a personification of faithlessness.

I read this book in a single day. I found Bowler’s writing style mesmerizing, and the trajectory of her life the actual polar opposite of failure. But I was most intrigued by this weird prosperity gospel idea that when we struggle in life, it is proof of God’s disdain for us, or his abandonment of us, all based on our inadequacy as persons of faith.

That was my life for many of Jack’s early years, guys. And Bowler wrote the literal book on it. There was a time when I thought God was utterly disappointed in me, and that’s why I was struggling through my parenting hardships without reprieve.

My own non-ironic spiritual journey richly revealed to me that struggling isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s simply a sign that we are alive in mortality. Not all hardships are brought on by poor choices or sin. Much of what we suffer through is a result of living in a fallen world. It’s just part of the deal. And we grow from it. If you believe Hebrews where it says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” then the prosperity gospel notion falls flat. Reading this book, I again felt validated as a woman whose life was bombed by raising a special needs child with the most severe behaviors. Challenges do not equal disappointing/faithless.

Kate Bowler is now living in that liminal state of having two months remaining of life, unless each periodic scan tells her otherwise. I wish her health and longevity and peace in the unknowing. Life is beautiful and hard and fragile. Who knows if everything happens for a reason? True faith doesn’t demand results from God, yet it believes unequivocally in the love of God. It accepts his will and seeks his help in learning from the sorrow and slogging through it.

This leads to the other mind-blowing memoir I’ve recently read: The Burning Point by Tracy McKay. The story begins when she is a thirty-something mother of three young children and her opioid addict husband has relapsed (again) and is passed out upstairs in their bedroom. The spirit tells Tracey, with an audible voice, that she can go now, meaning it’s time to leave the marriage and protect her children.

What follows is a detailed account of the next couple of years, wherein McKay is a single mother of a couple of typically developing children, as well as a son with autism; a nontraditional student returning to university; and the only functioning adult remaining in her nuclear family.

Several things stick out to me after reading and pondering this story:

  1. McKay loves her husband. She sees him as a person, even when his choices are destroying her life. She speaks of him generously. This is so very humanizing and beautiful.
  2. Her story features her brothers and sisters in the gospel coming to the rescue, over and over, and doing it willingly. I found it incredibly moving that McKay dedicated the book to the women of her two Relief Society congregations who saw her through her divorce and new fledgling life. There is so much beauty in charity. It echoes Jesus Christ and his regard for each of us.
  3. Women are amazingly resilient. The end.

I’m fascinated by all stories, everywhere, but especially of stories of people facing the worst types of heartache and hardship. Will they emerge victorious and unscathed? The prosperity gospel says they must, in order to be valued and idolized. But I don’t care about that.

None of us emerge unscathed from life, yet because of Jesus, all of us already are victorious.

Vast Purpose

This week, Jeff and I met with a probation officer in the county juvenile court system. This is in response to a court summons and a list of charges, including felony assault, brought against Jack by the special-needs school in the small town where he lived last year.

Why did a school whose purpose is to educate students with disabilities, like Jack, file such charges? It’s complicated, but there are a few reasons: a) staff were getting hurt on a daily basis at school from Jack’s aggression, b) it was scary, c) the school district told them to contact police and file these charges as a means of getting Jack removed from the school, and d) they believed these charges would force the state to place Jack at the state developmental center, a full-time care facility, where the school felt he needed to be. Their intentions weren’t insidious. But all of this is beside the point, now that we have moved Jack to a new town and a new (perfect!) placement with a different company, and the small fact that the state development center doesn’t take minors, and only considers clients who have demonstrably failed in virtually all other settings. So, the school thought they were finding the best solution. But, it turns out, God had a different path in mind for Jacky at this point in time.

Anyway, back to the meeting with the probation officer. He went through the charges, one by one, and read the victim impact statements, which detailed what we already knew on a general level: Jack was violent at school and constantly hurt his teachers and aides. I know what it feels like to be beaten up by Jack, but it was an even more painful experience to hear those who taught and cared about Jack talking about their injuries. The old feelings of helplessness and failure crept in. This was my son who hurt people, and I couldn’t control him.

Behold, my family: we are, once again, the outliers. Jack was in the most specialized school available, with a dedicated team of professionals working to help him learn, and it wasn’t working.

Jeff and I left the courthouse, where the birds were chirping, the morning sun was shining, and my heart was a  fist of despair.

As we drove to get breakfast (followed by a mint brownie at 10 am, yes I did that), Jeff said something that stopped my grief-cycle thoughts and made me consider things from another perspective.

“In no way do I mean to minimize what the Savior did,” he said. “But in some ways, I feel Jack is emulating the Savior’s path, and we as his parents have to struggle to watch and accept it.”

One might say that this comparison is flawed, because Jesus wasn’t hitting and biting people. But Jeff wasn’t saying that Jack is the same as Jesus–just that he has a specific life mission and it’s difficult and out of our hands.

“Jesus left at a young age, his parents couldn’t find him, and it emerged that he was teaching the religious leaders of the time. He was about his father’s business. He was fulfilling his purpose.”

He continued, “Jack left us at a young age, yet is unaccountable for his actions, which basically means that everything he does has been predetermined. He is simply fulfilling his purpose, perhaps by teaching the people who know him something that God wants them to learn.”

As he spoke, a calm descended on me. My wizened heart unclenched, and I breathed more deeply.

Jeff said, “I think we may have just a small inkling of understanding about what Mary and Joseph felt as Jesus’s parents. Jack is a person, and not the Savior, but he does have a big, unusual mission, and we can only view it from a distance.”

I felt a pure thread of truth in this reasoning, helping me plait the threads of the unknowable with my current, evolving understanding of Jack’s eternal nature.

Which leads me to three tiny stories:

First, my sister, Lisa, had a dream a few weeks ago about Jack. We were all at the cabin, organizing and preparing to go somewhere. Lisa said Jack was helping. He was organizing and preparing, too.

Second, last night I dreamed that I was at an office in Jack’s town, and several of his team members walked in for a meeting. Jack was with them and was carrying an eight or nine month old baby, the child of one of his caregivers, apparently, in a car seat hooked over his elbow. My heart skipped a beat as I plotted how to safely get the baby in her bucket away from Jack before he dropped her on the tile floor. But his caregivers trusted Jack and were fine with him holding the baby seat. They weren’t worried. As the dream concluded, Jack kept the car seat handle firmly in the crook of his arm. He was calm and self-possessed. He was gentle.

Third, this final vignette is something I can only allude to at this moment in time. Those who read about my life know that I write about just about anything, not because I’m vain, but because I literally can’t rest or sleep, many times, until I share it. I 100% assure you that NOT posting everything about my life on the internet sounds preferable to putting it all out there and opening myself up to judgment in any form. But I write what God tells me to write. The end.

My friend Allysha described an analogy she heard once, and it resonated: There are certain people we allow to come to gate of our emotional house, so to speak. We meet them there, and we leave them there. There are others we will visit at the door, but then we close the door and draw the boundary. Some people we invite into the entry of our home, and that’s as far as it goes. Still others, are welcome in the kitchen, where they may pull up a chair and stay awhile. Even fewer are the people we would allow into our figurative bedroom. Readers of this blog may feel that I’ve invited everyone into the inner sanctum of my home and my life. To a degree, this may be true. But even though it may seem that I reveal everything there is to know about me, I honestly do not share all of it.

While I am super open and Brene Brown should definitely send me an award for vulnerability, there are nevertheless things that remain in the hidden parts of my emotional house. This last story is one of those things. I’m not going to describe it, other than to say I had a profound spiritual experience in recent days which taught me, in a concrete way, that Jack’s spirit is vast and wise.

Vast, you guys.

I’ve always known he is valiant. Now I know that he is light years ahead of me, in spiritual growth. He is not suffering, but has fully accepted his life and his purpose.

These are revelations I do not take lightly.

But they also put things like court summons and felony assault charges into perspective. These things are bumps. But they are immaterial.

What’s important is that Jack is okay. He’s more than okay. He is way beyond me.

I just need to be smart enough to learn what he is here to teach me.