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
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
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
She could use it more than me.
She loves it.
She has left her home with nothing in order to save her
I can wear one of my other coats.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 beingwith me, sittingwith 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.