I’m going to tell you the story of my life, in a spiritual sense. It’s memoir, not “autobiography,” so I’m picking and choosing what I will include, depending on spiritual relevance. Much of what I am going to write, I have already written before. But it was a long time ago, and not previously cast in a spiritual mold. So maybe it will feel new to you.
I don’t know who reads this blog anymore anyway, especially since it lies fallow more than ever before. I still tell people (including myself, ha) that this is a blog about special-needs parenting, when in reality that is what this blog used to be.
Now it’s a record of the spiritual path on which my particular life, including parenting my particular children, has taken me.
The truth is, this is actually a blog about Jesus and accessing our spiritual gifts to know Him and be supported by Him. The end.
And so, I will begin this tale like so many tales begin…
Once upon a time I was a twenty-something woman with two ginger-haired little boys. I had aspired to motherhood for a long time, and staying home to raise my sons consumed my time, stamina, and mental energy. Motherhood was vastly more taxing than I had anticipated, and while I tried really hard to make a picture-perfect life as a can-do stay at home mom, in reality I was wallowing in a bog of sleep deprivation and repetitive days featuring ear infections and diaper blowouts.
I found myself buying into the false concept that my life as a mom defined me. It was my sole identity, and as such, all my value or success resulted from doing it “correctly.”
Now that I’m an old person, with the wisdom of hindsight, I see the obvious fallacy in this. But honestly it’s not a trap I alone have succumbed to. Some people define themselves by their job, their university degrees, their income, their clothing, their style, their social media brand, their hobbies, or their travel. It’s a bunch of different names which all represent falling into the same pit, which is this: the utterly incomplete tragedy of seeing ourselves solely based on the outward trappings of our lives.
And I really, really, really bought into this bizarre/dumb idea.
“My job is being a mom, and I need to do it perfectly, excellently, amazingly. If I don’t, who even am I?” This is the mini-soliloquy I could have chanted, Hamlet-like, those many years ago IF I have been so self-introspective and wise (I was neither of these things).
Because my parenting life did not unfold in a typical fashion (read: autism entered the picture, ultimately times three), I lost confidence in myself as a “good” mom, a woman, and ultimately a person. I couldn’t seem to figure out raising a couple of little boys without daily screamfests, public meltdowns, Code Brown hazmat scenarios, and the need to rely on too many doctors, specialists, and therapists to even survive the days of our not-normal family life.
I wasn’t a “successful” mom, according to my own standards. I was floundering, yet simultaneously berating myself for not being smarter than literally every expert in the medical, behavioral, and educational fields. I wandered every day at the bottom of a figurative crevasse, trying to find my way back to the fertile plains of parenting where other families seemed to peacefully live.
Who was I? I didn’t know. I was a failing woman, a mother who really couldn’t successfully mom.
I had breakfast with my fellow special-needs mom friend Sarah this week and she asked me about how I clawed my way out of that cold, slimy, Cave of Disabilities Parenting Depression and Darkness. She didn’t want platitudes, she said. She needed specifics. She waited, her French toast-laden fork poised in the air.
I told her that everything changed for me when I stopped seeing myself as Bad Mom and started seeing myself as a daughter and heir of a Heavenly Mother and Father. I saw myself as someone they cherished. They adored me and wanted to bless me. In fact, through dreams and moments of meditation, I recognized that they HAD been blessing me. They were providing all the things I needed in order to live and parent my not typical kiddos for one more day.
This perspective was a sea-change for me. Every single day was still brutally hard. But I knew that I was the recipient of divine help, tender mercies, and gifts that sustained us just long enough until the next gift manifested in our lives.
When I started seeing all the ways my Heavenly Parents were already, always helping us, I felt far more trust and less fear than before. I just knew that everything would ultimately be okay, even if it completely blew up and looked like a disaster in the meantime. This resulted in me feeling less panic and more peace at the difficult things unfolding in my life. I knew at a deep level that our Heavenly Parents loved us, so I didn’t believe–I KNEW–it would all work out.
Over time, I understood that Jesus Christ was the means of achieving this sense of confidence that things would work out. He is the lynchpin of the Plan of Salvation of the human family. His purpose is in perfect tandem with God’s purpose. They are unified in working toward our salvation. And all of it depends on having a savior, the Savior, to redeem us and qualify us for the glory necessary to return to that Celestial plane where our Heavenly Parents dwell.
My trauma at raising a nonverbal, aggressive, developmentally disabled son was my master class at seeing the Savior as my answer, as our answer.
Anyway, fast forward to last week when I had another one of my incredibly vivid dreams. It was super long and detailed, but I will simply tell you one snippet. In the dream, I had been asked to give the keynote address at a conference for parents of kids with special needs. This is frankly pretty hilarious, considering that no one is asking me to do anything ever because I’m in this dormant phase of writing/creating/being visible. Call me if you want book reviews or my take on various Netflix series, yo, because most of my writing attempts are currently met with an actual stupor of thought!
But whatever. I said I would do it, and I went into the conference not having prepared a written speech, but with a sense of peace and confidence that I was going to speak from my heart. I stood at the podium, I leaned forward, and I told the group that I felt their struggle. I knew some small, incomplete part of their pain, and I loved them and empathized with their hardship. As I was saying this, my mind was jumping to what I would lead up to, which was my offering of a solution to their sorrow and difficulty.
My love for Jesus Christ was bubbling up inside me, ready to spill out. It actually felt like an internal sparkling water/fizzing sensation. I was going to open my mouth as I faced those bright stage lights, and my knowledge of Jesus Christ as the means to ending our personal suffering was going to pop and burst effervescently from me. That was the dream and it was crystal clear in intensity.
The following Wednesday on my temple shift, I sat in the celestial room during a twenty-minute break and out of nowhere received step-by-step, detailed instruction which was essentially a deeply specific deconstruction of each portion of the dream. The spirit taught me things I hadn’t remotely recognized in my own interpretation.
Some of it is really personal and not for general consumption (at least not yet), but God told me that my task is to speak about my experience as an equal of my fellow sisters and brothers who like me face big, hard things. I learned that I should speak with vulnerability, conviction, and directness about HOW I survived, which is in a word, Jesus. I should just say it, head on.
That’s it. That’s the tweet.
Then this morning I woke up to the 18th anniversary of 9/11 and felt all the incumbent sadness this day conjures for me on behalf of my fellow humans. I read this article which details how people got stuck in too-narrow, too-few stairwells as they tried to escape the twin towers.
This is the paragraph that sunk its claws in me with it’s devastating imagery. I felt the blast of the collapsing tower when I read this:
We started feeling this suction that blows open the fire doors of the stairwell… It filled the space with debris and noise and just chaos. And these heavy fire doors are flapping like they’re made of paper. —John Cerqueira, then-employee of Network Plus, who was carrying the wheelchair-bound woman together with Mike Benfante, describing the scene inside the north tower stairwell just as the south tower was collapsing.
The sadness and heaviness of September 11th for me narrowed to a single, laser-focused impression as I sat in the temple meditating this morning. I saw my life with my kids and their specialized, demanding needs as an echo of that life-altering, devastating, and surreal building collapse.
I saw myself through the years.
I saw a resemblance in my parenting world, in a sense, to those people in those smoky concrete stairwells, dripping with jet fuel. Those men carrying the woman in the wheelchair made it out of the building, despite the blast of the tower collapsing right beside them. They leaned in through the chaos, bolstered by the reinforced concrete channel, and kept going.
This is what my life has been for much of the last fifteen years.
It has been dark, smoky, chaotic, and uncertain.
And I’ve leaned in to the darkness, gripping my children and my stewardship as I held on and kept going.
I didn’t want to, but I leaned into the blast.
I got up and I pushed against it, and the only way I could manage it was with the Savior holding me up and infusing me with power that goes beyond my abilities.
So back to my breakfast with my friend, the amazing warrior-mom Sarah. We discussed the intensity of raising our children. “I don’t know how to help you and your daughter,” I said to her, my heart pummeled with compassion. “But Jesus does, and your Heavenly Parents are with you, providing for you, strengthening you.”
My life’s experience has shown me that we aren’t our defeats. My mothering distress doesn’t define me, nor will it last indefinitely.
Raising my children has brought me to Jesus’s feet. I’m online enough to know that claiming spirituality and specifically Jesus Christ as the answer to one’s unsolvable problems is not socially savvy.
But thanks to my remarkable son Jack, I’ve been an outlier for some time, and I’m able to say, “Eff that. Jesus IS the answer.”
I’ve survived the blast. I survived it because He held me up and continued holding me up as I pressed forward. I survived because my Father and Mother in Heaven never left me. They sent me people and supports and helpers and power to keep going.
I leaned in, Jesus as my rearward, my Heavenly Parents at my sides, my children in my arms. And we descended that hellish stairwell. We made it out, and it’s not because of me.
It’s because of them.