I listened to a most excellent episode this morning of the Listen, Learn, and Love podcast that I always really enjoy, which featured Shelby Hintze talking with host Richard Ostler about being disabled, a woman, and a member of the LDS Church. You can hear it here.
Shelby touches on an issue which has been on my mind a great deal, which is the importance of listening to disabled people tell us what they want and need, rather than simply listening to their parents/caregivers/others. Even when disabled people are largely nonverbal, like Jack, they still are able to communicate in other ways, and it’s really our job to learn to help them do that.
In Jack’s case, his staff are working on some ASL signs with him, mostly related to food (his greatest pleasure!) and being outside (a close second). But Jack has always been adept at showing clueless old me what he needs. He does it through pointing, body language, showing us objects, and even using facial expressions that we’ve learned to interpret.
Shelby is absolutely right that it’s vital to listen to disabled people speak for themselves. To hear them. To be observant. To understand them. To let them tell us what they need. We all have the capacity to express ourselves in some way.
I’ve often wondered about this idea as I write about the story of our family. The fact is that I, as the writer of this blog, am the default central character of this story. I write about my children, which as they age gets way weirder and far trickier, and I discuss the foibles we face together thanks to mortality and disability.
But really this is all about me, because I tell it from my perspective. I’m mostly writing to explore my inner voice–my spirit, as it were.
And while I attempt to speak for Jack, it’s from an imperfect, incomplete vantage point in this mortal experience. I’m not an authority on Jack’s inner life. I don’t profess to know everything about his inward self.
I think this is entangled somewhere near the roots of my cognitive dissonance with writing of late. I am evolving as a mother and as a disabilities-adjacent person. The once-narrative of this blog was literally about our daily survival. Would we make it through another day???
Things are different now with Jack in residential care and my other boys receiving different types of (less intense) services to meet their unique needs. Much of my writing is just me waxing angsty about not being able to write, yay (actually that’s boring).
I used to spin every experience with child-raising into true-yet-stranger-than-fiction stories for the internet’s consumption. Since December of last year, my process has been different, and decidedly more introverted. I’ve been undergoing a spiritual education. A quiet, invisible spiritual outpouring, essentially.
And unlike the years of parenting trauma which became blog fodder, the things I’ve been learning on a spiritual level aren’t things I have felt I could talk about. Until now. When I feel compelled to simply put down a portion of what I’m learning.
Part of my growth has been learning to hone my receptivity to the spirit.
I already knew that “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost,” (2 Nephi 32: 2-3) but I’ve begun to see that each of us, whether we are still living on the earth or have passed beyond the veil, possess a spirit which deeply yearns for comfort, connection, and peace. We want to be accepted as we are, and be supported in our struggle to live and face challenges. And in these, our personal battles, our Heavenly Parents haven’t left us spiritually bereft.
Elder Gerrit W. Gong’s address “Our Campfire of Faith” opened my spiritual eyes to the reality of our capacity as spiritual beings to understand, connect with, and minister to each other “in new, higher, holier, Spirit-filled ways.”
“Such ministering,” according to Elder Gong, “Brings miracles and the blessings of covenant belonging—where we feel God’s love and seek to minister to others in that spirit.”
The Brethren aren’t saying what these new forms of higher, holier, Spirit-filled forms of ministering look like. But President Russell M. Nelson has counseled that those who cannot receive personal revelation will not survive spiritually in coming days.
In the same landmark address, President Nelson also said, “Imagine the miracle of it!…If we will truly receive the Holy Ghost and learn to discern and understand His promptings, we will be guided in matters large and small.” The common theme of this prophetic counsel has been that “We are to minister in a holier way…to prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”
With this instruction, I’ve analyzed my own ongoing revelatory dreams, as well as the insights I’m gleaning in meditation, temple service, prayer, and scripture study.
You guys, I don’t have a complete picture of everything I want to understand. There is so much more for me to learn–light for which I yearn to illuminate the more shadowy corners of gospel doctrine and practices. I don’t have all of it now.
But I have been given a great gift of learning for myself more of what new, higher, holier, Spirit-filled ministering looks like.
The first lesson for me happened awhile back when over the course of a couple of weeks, I just kept thinking of a person in my neighborhood who was really going through it. I kept thinking I should take her something, do something, say something. The thing is, I also got the vibe that this person didn’t really like me much. So I kept ignoring these promptings. Oy vey.
But the feeling that I needed to reach out compelled me to swallow my pride, which compelled me to buy a rotisserie chicken, some croissants, and a salad, and proceed to text this woman.
Do you know how awkward it is to say to someone you don’t really know, “I bought you a chicken?” Just use your imagination. Anyway, she texted me back and said, no she didn’t have anything ready for dinner and yes, I could stop by.
Here’s the instructive part, for me anyway. We stood on her porch. I handed her the bag containing dinner loving prepared by Costco. We talked about the thing she was going through. It was similar to something I had once gone through. We cried together. We looked in each other’s teary eyes, and I felt all the weird social dynamics fall away. I felt my spirit communing with her spirit. We connected at a spiritual level.
Reader, it nourished us both.
That was my first glimpse at ministering to a person’s spirit.
Then my dad started teaching me. Big time. See: this post.
The subsequent lessons have related to Jack.
I feel closer to Jack now than I ever did when we lived in the same house.
These experiences have happened mostly when I am taking the sacrament or sitting in the temple. Basically, when I’m praying and pondering. There have been many, and I don’t feel equipped to discuss all of them (but check out those insta links, yo! I already wrote it once, at least in part.)
And then this happened last Sunday:
Henry was blessing the sacrament water. I was listening to the prayer. And in the silence which followed, I thought about Jack. I considered his limited earthly life and his vast, eternal spirit which is valiant and brave. I thought about how proud I am for the way he humbly, willingly lives the life his Heavenly Father and Mother have given him.
Immediately after this thought, my entire consciousness was consumed with the sense of Jack being with me, sitting with me, speaking to me without words, telling me, “I am proud of YOU. I am proud of all of you.”
As I’ve said before, I don’t presume to know Jack’s inner life. I can’t know it. In my meditation, I was not seeking for Jack’s spirit to commune with mine. But that is what happened.
These moments during the ordinance of the sacrament have become the most enriching part of my week. In the holiest and most sacred act that I regularly engage in, I am connected with my intellectually disabled son not by physical proximity or touch or even words.
Our spirits are connected.
I know this because the Holy Spirit has allowed me to understand and perceive Jack’s spirit reaching out to mine.
Last October, President Nelson spoke to the women of the Church, saying, “My dear sisters, you have special spiritual gifts and propensities. Tonight I urge you, with all the hope of my heart, to pray to understand your spiritual gifts–to cultivate, use, and expand them, even more than you ever have. You will change the world as you do so. As women, you inspire others and set a standard worthy of emulation. The supreme standard for ministering is that of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Generally, women are, and always have been, closer to that standard than men. When you are truly ministering, you follow your feelings to help someone else experience more of the Savior’s love.”
Ether chapter 4 in the Book of Mormon has been particularly prescient for me during this growing process of praying to understand and develop my spiritual gifts. “[She] that believeth these things which I have spoken, [her] will I visit with the manifestations of my Spirit, and [she] shall know and bear record. For because of my Spirit [she] shall know that these things are true, for it persuadeth [women] to do good. And whatsoever thing persuadeth [women] to do good is of me, for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth [women] to all good; [she] that will not believe my words will not believe me–that I am; and [she] that will not believe me will not believe the Father who sent me.”
All good things come from Jesus Christ. He is the source of all goodness.
When I look toward Him, I know more of Jack’s true, eternal self.
I know more of how we are connected to each other’s spirits.
I am fed, embraced, and taught by the Savior’s method of ministering to our real, eternal, spirit selves, which He is teaching us to likewise do for each other.
I understand more of what our Heavenly Parents divine heritage allows us to do. And I’m seeing that it truly is newer, higher, holier, and Spirit-saturated.
Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. We can too.