Monday, August 8, 2016

It's not you, it's me

My husband was stationed at Ft Carson, Colorado when we met and got married. I left college life in Provo, Utah and entered the strange new world of “military spouse”.  I had no prior experience with the military and I didn’t know anyone (besides my husband) in Colorado. But I was optimistic and eager to begin this new chapter.

Soon after moving into our 800 sq ft townhouse I found out we were expecting our first child. A few weeks later I found out my husband would be leaving on his first deployment of our married life, 3 weeks after our baby was due.

Another shock was realizing that we could not actually live on his income alone. We could pay all of our bills, including tithing, but there would be nothing left for food or gas…or anything else we might need like a table or maternity clothes. (and when I say nothing I mean less than $1!) So I applied for a job and started working at one of the day care centers on post. It wasn’t a bad job, overall, but I had to be there at 5:45 every morning. We only had one car so I took the bus home in the afternoons.  We didn’t have a washer or dryer so we spent our Saturdays at the laundry mat.

I was exhausted in every way possible. My pregnancy hormones were going crazy, I was overwhelmed with all the sudden changes to my life and I was so far from the people who really loved and cared for me.

Our son was born almost 2 weeks early, giving us a total of 5 weeks before my husband left for 8 months in Bosnia. I quit my job (my husband had been promoted and we no longer needed a second income) and devoted myself to being a full-time mother.

I told my family not to worry about me. I had the church and the members would take care of me. And I really believed that. As long as I had a church family I would be okay.

But I wasn’t.

I was miserable.

I felt alone and invisible. For many years after, I saw our time in Colorado as a journey through my own personal hell. My memories were filled with isolation, just me and a tiny baby…and the daily TV line-up.  The idea of turning it off and sitting there in silence was, frankly, terrifying. I became so attached to my routine of talk shows and soap operas that I dreaded weekends and holidays. At least on Sunday I could go to church. 

I went to church dutifully every week. I sat in the chapel, alone in the back, attended Sunday School and Relief Society and every activity available to me.

But I was still miserable.

And I blamed "them".

“They” weren’t reaching out to me.

“They” weren’t including me.

“They” weren’t checking in on me.

“They” didn’t really care about me at all.

I felt that if the ward members had been doing their jobs I wouldn’t have felt so bad. I spent years blaming the horrible people of Colorado, cursing them and vowing to never return if my life depended on it.

Looking back now, I see things a little differently.

The Bishopric would speak to me and shake my hand in the hall. The Relief Society President would call me and ask how I was doing. My visiting teachers came, although sporadically, but were very helpful at times. Someone even brought me a little cake on my birthday.

I had 5 callings in the time we were there, each time working closely with at least one other person. I knew almost everyone by name and they knew me.  I worked with the Young Women and in Primary and even after being released I had kids and parents alike waving to me in the halls.

And I got invited to every home-based business party known to man. I always went and I always bought something, a token of thanks for getting me out of the house.

I had a neighbor a few doors down who was in our ward. She had a daughter a few months older than our son. She was very friendly and invited me to dinner when her MP husband was working a night shift.

I also got invited to some scrap-booking nights by a couple of sisters who were scrap-booking masters.

In all honesty, I was pretty busy. But I was still miserable.

Now that I know about anxiety and depression, I realize that much of what I experienced in Colorado was due to a mental health issue and not the “horrible people of Colorado”. Even now, even after accepting these issues as real and debilitating at times, I still feel a little frustration with my situation there. It wasn’t that no one cared about me or reached out to me, it’s that no one noticed what was really going on, not even me. I can’t help but wonder how much better life might have been had I been aware of my mental health status and sought help.

Colorado is the only place I ever lived that I didn’t stay in touch with someone. I can only remember one or two people by name and even then my recollection is hazy. It’s a shame, really. Many of the sisters were very kind and shared some experiences and lessons that still inspire me. But I was so eager to leave that place behind that I had no desire to maintain a single connection.

In the years since leaving Colorado I have lived in some great wards. At least I think they were great. Not perfect, by any means, but wards where I made lasting friendships and grew spiritually. Wards where I was eager to attend church because I knew I would walk away uplifted and feeling loved. But in each of these wards there was always someone who hated it. Someone (or several someones) who dreaded church, who never saw a friendly face or heard a kind word.

Each time this happened I would look around me and think “Really? This is a bad ward? An unfriendly ward? A ward with cliques? A ward with problems? Are you sure we’re talking about the same place?”  And if I took a few minutes to discuss this with the person (How exactly have you been slighted?) they couldn’t really give me an answer.  Their response would be very similar to my own feelings about Colorado. Oh, sure, sometimes there would be a very specific reason but it was usually isolated to one or two people, not an entire ward. More often than not, the real answer would be “I’m not happy and I need someone to blame.”

In a few cases, the reason they were unhappy was that they were not living the gospel and needed to repent.

Sometimes it was because they felt their life didn’t match up to what they thought of as the ideal Mormon life (not married, no kids, working mom, etc) and they felt out of place.

Often it was that they were dealing with some heavy burdens and they were just generally unhappy.
In every case, the reason they were miserable was, ultimately, them. Something in their life was …off. And until they fixed it, no amount of church or blame or anything else was going to make a difference.

In my case, having my husband home went a long way to improving my feelings about Colorado. Our last few months there were not so bad.  And even though my journey through life has had many potholes, I have never again shifted the blame to an entire ward.

To anyone feeling that they are in a “bad ward”, take a step back and give your ward a good, hard look. Are you sure it’s “them”? All of “them”?  Or is it you? Be honest with yourself. Ask your Heavenly Father for guidance. And if you realize that you need to fix something in yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t suffer unnecessarily. Things will get better.  

And if it is “them”?  Reach out with love. Be patient. They are probably struggling with something… and they may not even know.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lessons From Family History

For the past year or so I have been spending a lot of time on family history. And I mean a LOT! Have you ever read those "Family History Moments" in the Church News? You know, the ones where someone has been searching for years with no luck and suddenly they meet a random stranger who happens to have thousands of names ready for the temple or something equally miraculous? That has been my year.

Well, sort of.

I have, in fact, been overwhelmed with information about families that seemed to have appeared one day with no past history. I have met distant relatives who had a wealth of information for me. I have seen photographs of people who lived and died long before I was ever born. It has been humbling and deeply gratifying.

But many unexpected blessings have come about because of this. I used to think I understood the Spirit of Elijah. I now know that I was clueless.

I have learned about my ancestors lives. I have looked at more than names and dates and places. I have been able to see the bigger picture. I can imagine what they felt when they immigrated to America. I can better understand the efforts they made to survive in the rural frontiers. I can better understand the heartache of loss when their children died from war and disease. I can marvel at their longevity in a time when the average life expectancy was quite short. I have laughed at the strange names they gave their children. I have raised an eyebrow at their scandals. No matter what I learn I feel deeper love and respect. I also feel hope.

There have been many challenges in our family in recent years. When you are in the middle of those problems, whether they come one after another or all at once or are on-going, they can seem overwhelming. I sometimes feel frustrated that life is not easier, that the perfect life I imagine is just a mirage. At times I have been deeply discouraged. Learning about my ancestors has given me better perspective.

I realize that they, too, had dreams and fears, trials and triumphs. I find myself feeling very blessed to have so many luxuries. I am ashamed of my slothfulness when I see what they were able to accomplish. I see the ripple of their choices, both good and bad, through their children and grandchildren.

Most of all, I want to be worthy to stand with them someday. I want to add to the legacy they have left behind in a way that would make them proud. I want to be a person who will one day engender such feelings in future generations.

I never knew such blessings were possible.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Life Is A Battlefield

Life is a battlefield. (Doesn't that sound like a Pat Benatar song?) Seriously, though, I sometimes feel like I have spent my day fighting an unseen enemy, dropping into bed exhausted, only to wake up and do it all over again the next morning. Too dramatic? I think not.

During my first year of early-morning seminary, we studied the Book of Mormon. Our teacher got really excited about the so-called war chapters. He kept telling us that we were preparing for our own battles. He even went so far as to print T-shirts that said "Statesville Pre-Battle School" for us to wear as a seminary class. It felt a little much at the time but not exactly wrong either.

More than 20 years later, I see it. I see the war between good and evil raging around me. We have been warned for centuries that this day would come. Were we prepared?

It seems that some of these evils are so subtle, so unassuming, that they sneak up on us. We turn around and there they are, ready to strike.

I was feeling burdened by these thoughts last fall. I was feeling anxious about sending my children out into that battlefield. I wanted to keep them home, safe and hidden from the horrors of "war". Yet I struggled. How could they be a force for good if they were locked away in our fortress? How could we possibly defeat the enemy if we didn't go out to meet it?

This is where my mind was during Stake Conference in September 2013. The closing speaker was President Micheal Hamilton. He started talking about the rescue at Dunkirk. Suddenly, my mind was not on his talk but my own concerns for my children. My thoughts were filled with images and ideas as though they were being poured into me. Here is what I wrote in my notes:

We get injured and dirty in the fight against evil but we are on the winning side. We will heal, we will be clean again but we must fight. We can't hide in our pristine caves in the hopes of remaining unharmed and undamaged.

I kept remembering the Stripling Warriors. They were young men who chose to help defend their homes and freedoms. After one difficult battle, we learn

...there were two hundred, out of my two thousand and sixty, who had fainted because of the loss of blood; nevertheless, according to the goodness of God, and to our great astonishment, and also the joy of our whole army, there was not one soul of them who did perish; yea, and neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds. Alma 57:25 (emphasis added)

All were wounded but none were lost. I felt some-what reassured but I was still struggling with my fears and shortcomings. How could I ensure that my children would be able to survive this war? Another scripture came to mind.

...wtalk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. 2 Nephi 25:26 (emphasis added)

That was it. The solution to my problem was already in place. I felt peace. Still a little afraid but no longer overwhelmed.

I have thought of this experience often in the past year. This month, the Ensign included an article about protecting our children against pornography. The first few paragraphs were so close to my experience that I had chills!

This past weekend we had Stake Conference again. In his closing remarks, President Hamilton said "Filth splashes on all of us. He doesn't care how pretty it is as long as we get back to him."

I used to think that if we were keeping the commandments, trying our best to do what is right, we would be safe from the spiritual dangers of this world. Now I know better. There may have been a time when it was easier to avoid the splash of filth. Not now, not today as we are preparing for the second coming of Christ. 

But that is no reason to loose hope. Our Heavenly Father knew these days would come. He knew what trials we would face. He prepared a way for us to overcome them. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can all be cleaned and cured from every injury. Because of Him, there is no need to fear.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Flood The Earth Challenge: Like, Share, Comment

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, recently spoke at Brigham Young University about the power of social media. ( It is a REALLY awesome talk! You should listen to the whole thing to get the full impact of his words!) He encouraged all of us to use social media to share gospel truths.

What has been accomplished thus far in this dispensation communicating gospel messages through social media channels is a good beginning, but only a small trickle. I now extend to you the invitation to help transform the trickle into a flood. Beginning at this place on this day, I exhort you to sweep the earth with messages filled with righteousness and truth -- messages that are authentic, edifying and praiseworthy -- and literally to sweep the earth as with a flood.
           Let that sink in for a minute. We have been sharing trickles of truth with the world. Now we need to              flood it.  But how?

I have simple, personal goal. My goal is to post one uplifting, gospel related message on social media every day. I encourage you to do the same.  But I know that is not enough. I realize that a message needs to be "popular" to remain at the top of a news feed and reach more people. How can I make my uplifting posts visible?

When I share something funny I get over 50 "likes" and about half a dozen comments. Without fail. That one status post will remain at the top of the feed for days. Why?

Because everyone who sees it "likes" it!

That is where all of you come in. My "Flood the Earth " Challenge is simple. Every time you see an uplifting, gospel related post, whether it is a video, photo, article, or quote do one or all of the following: "like" it, "share" it, comment on it. That's it! If we support one another's efforts to spread positive messages we will truly be able to flood the earth with the gospel!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why I Can't Do It

I have a problem.
This problem is very hard to deal with at times.
It is difficult for others to understand.
I do not have this problem because of something I did wrong.
This problem keeps me from enjoying all the blessings God has promised.
I don't want to have this problem.
I struggle daily.
Sometimes I question why God would allow this to happen.
Why doesn't he remove this burden from my life?
Why me? Why do I have to suffer with this issue while others do not?
Haven't I been faithful?
Haven't I been obedient?
It isn't fair that I should have this problem.
I don't deserve this.
I didn't choose this.
I want it fixed. I want it gone.
God hasn't removed this problem so why should I obey him? Why should I trust him?
I want it to be okay that I have this problem.
I want others to make exceptions for me.
The rules shouldn't apply to me because I have a problem.
It would be different if I was like everyone else but I'm not.
I am different.
My problems are different.
I need different answers.

What is my problem?
Substance abuse
Old age
Poor health
Same-gender attraction
Advanced Education
Birth Defect
Mental disorder

Which one did you choose? Which one fits the description best?

Couldn't those feelings apply to any of these struggles? I have heard them all and many more. They are excuses. "I can't obey because______________"

Life is hard. It is SUPPOSED to be hard! In the church and even in the world we hear statements that contradict this truth. Something like "Obedience brings happiness" can be misleading. We get this idea that if we are obedient we will have everything we want. We will be healthy and wealthy and happy all the time. Life should be a romp through a field of daisies, right?

Obedience brings protection from much of life's suffering. However we are not here to rest. This life is not meant to be heaven. It is not meant to be easy. This is the battlefield and we are behind enemy lines.

Mortality is the crucible that refines us for eternity. (See 1 Ne 20:10) That refining is not pleasant but the results will be dazzling.

Think of any figure in the scriptures. Nephi, Samuel, Elijah, Esther, Alma, Paul, Jesus Christ. Did any of them have an easy life? Did any of these righteous people get special privileges? Did they follow an easier road than the rest of us?

No. If anything we have it easier. No one has tied me up and threatened to kill me.

The solution is simple, really. It is the atonement. The Savior sacrifice covers all our pains, all our suffering, all our sorrow. We simply need to look to him.

1 Ne 17:41 And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.

The world offers many solutions to life's trials. Some are successful, some are not. Some support the truths of the gospel while others are in opposition. But everything available in mortality falls short of the atonement.

"There is only one way to happiness and fulfillment. He is the Way. Every other way, any other way, whatever other way, is foolishness." Elder Lawrence E. Colbridge. "The Way" October 2008

I know that Heavenly Father loves his children. All of them. He awaits our return from the ravages of this world with countless blessings. Let us do all we can to receive them.