A friend asked me to speak today for (wait for it) TEN MINUTES of her Relief Society lesson. Because I love her a lot, I said okay. First, we watched the talk Campfire of Faith by Elder Gerrit W. Gong, and then I was instructed to respond to it with my personal spirit-led insights. It was an exercise in hearing what the spirit is telling us, beyond what is being said out loud. What follows are a few of my notes, but I actually didn’t say any of this during my remarks in the lesson haha. Whoops. This is some of the stuff I didn’t say, but which nevertheless is real. Anyhoo, happy Sunday.
Jack’s childhood was the most difficult time of my life. Period. It was simply so hard. In case you haven’t been reading this blog for a hundred years, I can update you on a couple of the highlights: basically we couldn’t take Jack places because he was overwhelmed and had difficult-to-control behaviors (this made us hermits, basically), and our lives were characterized by Jack’s toileting issues. Jack created hazmat situations on the daily, that we referred to as Code Browns. He was a regular Poo-casso in his bedroom, in the family car, in the hallway, in the living room, and (once) on the school playground, blech.
As he got bigger, the Code Browns got worse. We consulted every expert with no success. The psychiatrist, the behaviorist, the pediatrician, the gastroenterologist–they all wanted to help, but nothing worked. Ultimately, one doctor told us that our best bet would be to never ever ever ever leave Jack alone, because that is when he created his poop masterpieces. This specialist didn’t think this was great advice, but it was all she had to offer. But never leaving Jack unsupervised was impossible. We had what felt like a thousand children, all with difficult needs. We had to make dinner and clean it up, buy groceries, do laundry, earn a living, drive people places, and you know, sleep sometimes.
A few people have messaged me in recent months and asked how we turned these toileting behaviors around. They know someone going through a similar thing and want to offer helpful advice. My answer is disappointing, but honest: we never did turn those behaviors around.
Jack’s bowel movements and bathroom activities were the stanky center of my mental and physical energy for more than a dozen years. We did not have a single day when they did not control us. Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving Day, my birthday, his brother’s baptism day, the first day of school–all of these were just another day in the life of Jack’s Code Browns. There was no break.
Jack has lived in a group home for almost two years now. The last time we saw him, I asked his caregivers how the toileting was going. Specifically, I wanted to know if I could get Jack a rug for his bedroom floor, to make it more cozy. Or was I just asking for a destroyed rug? The staff responded that Jack has gone from having daily toileting disasters (like when he lived at home) to maybe having an issue twice a month. We all agreed this was completely terrific! A miraculous improvement!
Then I learned why things have changed in such a positive direction. The staff informed me that whoever is on the graveyard shift pulls up a chair by Jack’s bedroom door at 5:30 AM and listens for him to wake up. The second he stirs, the staff prompts Jack to the bathroom and thus avoids the disasters of yore.
This response floored me. It showed me that Jack’s mental delays and related toileting tendencies have in no way been suddenly cured. The tendency to do his business on the floor hasn’t ebbed. He’s the same sweet little Jacky who would happily create Code Browns whenever he got the chance.
What has changed is his living environment, which includes 24/7 one-on-one supervision by people whose full-time job is to keep Jacky happy, clean, and safe. It’s literally their job. They stay up all night to do it, then they get to leave and live the rest of their lives, with fresh staff coming in to take over.
There was no way to I could provide this for Jack. Even if I had no job, no other kids, and no household to run, I didn’t have a half dozen other versions of me ready to step in and take over while I slept, or used the bathroom myself, or did all the things required for living one’s life.
Jack is happy and healthy and peaceful in his perfect group home. This is our miracle. It’s providing for him exactly what he needs, and it takes a lot of people to make it possible.
After learning about the pee patrol part of the staff’s job, I had this crystalline moment of clarity. I saw that it didn’t matter how hard I tried to give Jack what he needed. I couldn’t give it to him. It wasn’t physically possible for me to do it. God knew this. More importantly, he helped me know it, so we could stop struggling in vain and get Jack the right sort of care.
A few days ago, I stood in the Celestial Room at the temple, where I had another epiphany. In that glorious, light-filled room, beneath a glorious chandelier, I saw the contrast of my life during the thirteen years of parenting Jack at home when poop ruled our lives, and I saw myself at this moment: standing in a clean white dress, with inner and outer quiet, helping people who had come to the temple to worship.
It was a shift from turmoil to peace, and the transformation again woke me to the hands of my Heavenly Parents in my life.
Ten years ago, five years ago, two years ago–I could not have envisioned the beautiful transformation my Heavenly Parents have wrought on my family. During those dark times, I huddled at my campfire of faith. I saw Jesus Christ as my salvation, and I clung to the hope of the gospel. It was turning to this light and warmth that sustained me during those difficult years.
Today I am still feeding my campfire of faith, but it’s no longer in front of me. It isn’t an outside entity with me at the periphery.
It is inside of me.
I’m not speaking in metaphors.
I feel it actually burning within myself, driving out darkness.
It’s fueled by my love of God and the strength of the Savior’s Atonement. The glowing hot embers of my campfire of faith burn off negative influences and dark thoughts. They light the way for me to see things with my spiritual eyes, and they let me live in warmth and peace, not fear.
Elder Gong said, “The light will come when we desire and seek it, when we are patient and obedient to God’s commandments, when we are open to God’s grace, healing, and covenants.”
The dawn did break for us.
I bought Jack a rug for his bedroom, and a vacuum so he can happily clean it over and over again.
And I still have my campfire.