When the “wings of eagles” aren’t yours: Dealing with mental and physical illness

I write this while flat on my back on the couch. The World Cup buzzes in the background and I catch myself just staring at it every now and then, almost too weak to type. I’ve been laid up in … Continue reading

Everything you’re not: And why it keeps getting in the way

I believe in the power of words. Very, very much so. All my life it’s been one of my strongest beliefs along with one of my greatest loves. Maybe it started back when I finished my first Steinbeck novel and … Continue reading

He is not here: A reminder during a rescue mission

I had the strangest dream last night.

Now, I have some pretty off the wall dreams at times so for me to say it was the strangest is kind of a big deal for me.

In my dream I joined the search of the hundreds of people right now trudging through debris and mud and toppled cars and fences in the Oso area here in Washington, lifting piles of unrecognizable filth to find the victims of the horrific mudslide. This area is close to where I grew up in Arlington, barely a fifteen minute drive, so I had spent time in this place. I had spent summers along these now flooded riversides and jogs against the backdrop of these now crumbled hills. In my dream I vividly saw the stillness of the pastures and the emptiness of the flattened landscape–a grave now to all of those who walked here or drove or worked nearby when the mountains gave way just nine days ago. Oddly enough, even though in reality it’s not this close, I saw my old backyard in my dream as well–flattened. Overturning branches and muck and fighting through tears, I frantically searched and searched. Then suddenly, I heard someone calmly say to me, “He is not here.”

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I woke up from the dream this morning knowing fully well why that voice in my dream had to tell me that. It was about my Dad. And that voice will soon be whispering it to the hearts of all of those still trudging through the remains of the landslide, clutching shoes and wallets and remnants of children and parents.

On the news last night a firefighter, with his hat drawn off his head and dirt surrounding his eyes, said mournfully, “We know this isn’t a rescue mission anymore–it’s a recovery mission. But in our hearts, for a long time, it’ll be a rescue mission.”

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Tears raced to my eyes when I heard the man say that–and the reality of what a rescue mission is followed me into last night’s dream. No matter who you’ve lost–or how you’ve lost them–your spirit goes through a period of time where you’re on a rescue mission. Not usually literally. You’re looking for ways to feel them or sense them close by to bring them into your “present”. You’re hunting through memories and retracing their face over and over as to not forget. You’re half-expecting them to come through the door again, only to be devastatingly disappointed when there are moments that you realize they won’t. Of course, they won’t, you’ll cry. And it’ll hurt all the same. You’ll also relive memories of the moment they died or the place they died or the last time you held their hand–and that moment seems to be where they forever lay.

But it’s not.

To minimize the devastating effects of the Oso and Arlington area landslide is not my intent. My heart breaks for the people who lived a stone’s throw away from me–people who lost children and parents and siblings and neighbors and pets. People who now sit and rest against what used to be a rooftop, looking out at a dismal landscape made up of mud and tears. The loss is indescribable.

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But at the same time I can draw a simple parallel to the words of that one firefighter. Maybe you can too. Maybe those words rang true for all of us who have gone through the sting of loss in one way or another.

The moment where you know for a fact your loved one is truly gone doesn’t always occur at the same time that your heart figures it out. And for a while it just remains a rescue mission. For a while you trudge through the debris of the unrecognizable world around you. For a while you’re looking for the dead in all the wrong places.

As for me, I know I have been. I’ve been angry at times for not feeling Dad as much as I’d like–and have been praying for him to be part of my life again in any way I can muster. I’ve been vividly remembering the day he left us, reliving the night painfully, stuck in that pocket of time as if Dad were stuck there too. But just as the angel told Mary as she leaned against a rolled-away stone and peered into any empty grave for the Savior, “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)

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I pray for peace for all of those who still search and wander the debris near my hometown. I pray that their rescue mission can come to an end and that they too will remember that their loved ones aren’t there–but in a place that has risen far above shallow graves. I pray for your own rescue mission to end too. I pray that the angels will find us all at empty tombs, reminding us gently of where we should look instead.

The voice reminds me of it when I look for my Dad in painful memories of his last day in hospice. He is not buried or stuck in folds of memory or fenced into the past. He is not laying idle on a hospital bed. He is not sick. That echoed voice of an angel from the scriptures gently reminds me to leave the debris and remember the promise of eternal life.

That gentle voice reminds me to look up.

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The personal search for happiness: And why there’s no such thing

I’ve learned a lot about myself this past week. A whole lot.

And today, on this sunday morning where my house is still asleep and restless thoughts dance through my mind, I decided to rise early before church and get to writing this.

First off, I learned I don’t do traffic well *Anxiety central*. Secondly, I learned that coconut milk isn’t as good as it sounds *Tried it. Hated it*. Most importantly–there’s no such thing as my personal search for happiness. Let me explain.

This last Tuesday was my first day of training for my new job. And if you’ve been following my blog, you know without a doubt that I was nervous just short of the point of breaking out in hives. But on the long way there *hence my strong dislike of traffic* I prayed and I decided I’d do my best and do everything in my power to do well. I decided that I was going to go above and beyond and prove that I know what I’m doing. This training was about improving and creating ME. Help me to do well, I found myself praying, and grant me happiness with that confidence.

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I arrived early at the training center and found a room filled with desks that made a half-circle. I found my name, cracked open the manual underneath it, and watched as one by one, a stream of new hires made their way in, each face reflecting my own nerves. Finally there was around twenty of us– new ties, ironed skirts, sweaty hands and all. And all I could remember at the back of my mind is during my interview when the manager told me that not everyone in the training group will make it. There are exams, assignments, verbal tests, and on-the-floor demonstrations that have to be mastered to a tee. It won’t be me who fails, I thought. It has to be one of them.

But then training took an odd turn. Instead of diving into the material, talking about the responsibilities, or taking us to individual work areas, the trainers divvied us up into groups and for the first handful of days we were taken back to elementary school in a sense. We had to come up with a team poster and cheer, we competed against other teams for poker chips that’d add up to a prize at the end of training, we went out to lunch and chatted about our lives and we played Catchphrase and team-building exercises that had us laughing so hard that each of us could swear by the end of it we’d found our best friends.

training group poster

Without even being asked we started to form a study group to help those in our group who were having a tough time with the material, and we all started to find more joy watching our teammates earn those poker chips than when our own selves did. By the end of the week during an on-the-floor test I wasn’t even nervous for my time up to bat. I was more nervous for one of my teammates who was struggling with a portion of it.

training group

And it happened without me even realizing it, I think. My original attitude of, “I’ve got this. I’m not going to be the one who fails” quickly turned into, “I want these people to succeed. I care about them.”

And I wasn’t alone. Our CEO must have known what this kind of training meant.

“The trick to being successful,” he told us, “is to surround yourself with good people, treat them well, and help them all to succeed. That’s the trick.”

My training grounds weren’t peculiar.

In a way that crowded room now filled with team posters, remnants of laughter, and fallen poker chips hidden under chairs was exactly what all of our lives are on a daily basis anyway. In life we can easily find where we’re supposed to sit or be, dive into what we need to know, ignore those beside us, and focus on getting it all right so we can succeed. But then there’s the other way. That’s the way that leads to friendship. That’s the way that leads to the focus on things outside of your personal bubble. That’s the way that leads to happiness.

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It’s not a revolutionary idea or breaking news to share *there’s my newsy side coming through* but it’s something we often forget I think. It’s something I forget every now and then since rising above and over-achieving has always been at the forefront of my mind.

The idea stems back to when Christ sat with a loaf of bread and a few fish amongst throngs of people. He was hungry–so he could have eaten. But he didn’t. In John 6 he demonstrates to us the power of thinking outside of ourselves when he multiplies the food and therefore gets even more satisfaction when everyone is well fed.

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We need to multiply our loaves of bread more.

We go through life thinking our troubles are so great that we only have enough time for those problems, and no one else’s . We go through life thinking our financial burdens are so heavy that no way would we have time to alleviate someone else’s. We go through life thinking that the search for happiness is a personal one and helping others is just a bonus. In reality they go hand in hand and finding happiness has always been a group activity.

Careers can teach so many things. Luckily for me, my job started with a game of Catchphrase, fifty-five poker chips, and a lunch talking to someone who lost her dad the day after I lost mine.

Luckily for me, I didn’t find happiness here alone.

And I choose to keep it that way.

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The trouble with waiting on God

So—I’m kind of nervous. OK, more like really nervous. 

Today is the day before I start a brand new position in a brand new place and my stomach is doing the barrel roll because change is one of the most terrifying things that happens in my world. I go through it enough, you’d think I’d get used to it. But I don’t. And today, as I enjoy a day off before the crazy schedule kicks in again, I’ve become reflective. 

I’ve needed this change for a while now. I wasn’t going to where I needed to go–goals weren’t being met and I wasn’t growing the way I should have been where I was. I miserably trudged through work days, all the while knowing I should make a change, but I simply didn’t. “I’m waiting on God,” I would often say. “He must want me here.”

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And today, looking back, I realize the ridiculousness of that saying. Waiting on God. Waiting on him for what? To send a lighting bolt across the sky, the tail of it scrawling a message that tells me what I should do? Waiting on a grand vision? 

Let me tell you, it’s a phrase I hear a lot–always by people who want to make the best decisions and align their lives with Christ–but a phrase that shouldn’t be said half as much as it is. I’m waiting on God for my big break. I’m waiting on God for a husband. I’m waiting on God to start getting along with my estranged child again. I’m waiting on God to tell me if I should start up that business. 

Always waiting.

And that phrase quietly excuses us from creating the life that He actually has planned. 

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The truth of it is, I shouldn’t always be waiting on God. He’s simply waiting on me.

It’s a lesson that’s been hard to swallow because I have the tendency to absolutely love step-by-step directions from the Almighty. Where do you want me to go, Lord? Show me! I sometimes catch myself thinking. Because if he shows me, I’ll most certainly go there. I wouldn’t even hesitate. If I got a sign or some kind of dream or…well, you get the gist of it. I’m that kind of person.

But I have the power to choose for myself. And so do you. The Lord never gave us agency only to tell us later on that we can’t use it or that we have to wait for his cue. The Lord never says in the scriptures to wait for a sign before making a decision to change a miserable situation, to forgive that son, or to put a down-payment on a house for your family. Instead the scriptures say in Proverbs 16:9, “A man deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.” 

In D&C 58:27 the Lord also discourages us from hesitancy and idleness but instead says, “do many good things of your own free will.” 

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Blasphemy, you might be thinking. How can Kayla say that I’m supposed to choose a direction and just start walking? I have to get the green light from God!

And I don’t blame you for thinking that. All my life I was Queen of seeking revelation. And sometimes I got just that. Sometimes I felt strongly to do something or felt guided by the spirit to take a certain path. But other times Heavenly Father falls silent–an unresponsive ear pressed against the windows of Heaven, and I would sometimes sit on my knees, wondering why something so important would go unanswered. I think that with many of us the silence of God is  the time when our faith trembles and our doubt seeps through the cracks, whispering lies to our hearts. That’s when we abruptly stand up from prayer, clench our teeth and decide he turned away from us. Or it could be the time when we decide that silence is merely our answer to just wait. Wait on God through misery, long days, depression, brick walls that stop us in our tracks from ever achieving anything we’ve ever planned.

So much of our life is spent waiting.

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I fell into that category. It wasn’t that I was lazy. No, I actually can be ambitious to a fault. I can be hard on myself at times or push myself the extra mile when I can easily be satisfied with where I’m at. But I still fell into the category of expecting God to hand over a blueprint and check off suitable directions. It was too terrifying to do it on my own. What if I made the wrong choice?

In the midst of my decision to leave something I had become comfortable with, a job that was good but not the best for where I was headed, I had to become comfortable with slipping into the driver’s seat and using the free will He gave me for such a time as this.

As I once heard in a sermon given by evangelist pastor T.D. Jakes, Heavenly Father never gave the world a chair. He gave the world a tree and we used our talents and our need for somewhere to sit in order to create a chair. He offers raw talents, raw emotions, raw circumstances and materials–and he lets you create your beautiful life.

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I wonder now how many times I passed up an opportunity to create something within my life simply because God was silent and I took that as a no or as a “just wait”. I wonder how many times in my life Heavenly Father simply folded his arms and waited for me to just work up courage enough to pick the path and then ask for help along the way.

Martin Luther King Jr. once eloquently said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” For too long I wanted to see the staircase. Too many times I simply want an answer on if I’m even ON the right staircase.

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But faith doesn’t work that way. Faith is using free will instead of waiting to be told. Faith is coming to God with a decision, and trusting that he’ll provide along the way. Faith is penning the business plan and investing the money even when the only kind of answer you have in your heart is desire. Faith is moving your feet.

Sometimes there will be days where you have to wait. Sometimes that’s the answer you get. Sometimes the Lord’s timing isn’t quite your timing and he’ll tell you so. But more often than not we’ll come to realize that we have a Father in Heaven who is just waiting for us to MOVE.

Now here I find myself, looking forward to a whole new journey ahead of me, and it’s natural to be afraid. I can’t help but feel fear that takes the form of the big knot in my gut and my pacing back and forth as I try to decide what to wear tomorrow for my first day.

But I also can’t help but feel that for one of the first times in my life I came across a tree in the path. And I decided–finally–to just get to work and make that chair. 

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Believe it or not, Valentine’s Day is for you too.

Today is the day my mom has been dreading for two months to be exact.

She never hated it before–but she decided she hated it this year. She decided that as soon as Dad took his last breath.

And I never thought about it before, not like I did until this year, how Valentine’s Day is for people like my mom. And maybe for people like you, if you’re out there somewhere reading this and simply feeling lonely. I think sometimes we forget that.

We get caught up in the flowers, the chocolates, the romantic dinners by candlelight and the love songs that plague the radio stations on this special day. We tend to put a label on Valentine’s Day as the day for lovers. And it certainly is for that, too. I love romance *and highly recommend it* for all you lovebirds out there. But I also want to reach out to the lonely tonight. You know who you are. You’re the divorced mother who’s sitting alone on a couch tonight as her babies are asleep upstairs, eating chocolates from a box you bought for yourself. You’re the older gentleman who just lost his wife to old age–and now a picture on the mantle keeps you company. You’re the teenager who just got her heart broken for the first time and the world is a little bit grayer today. YOU are the one who Valentine’s Day is meant for too.

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Today, before I went to work, I decided to visit my mom. To bring her flowers just like my Dad would have. My sister had the same idea–and I was proud of her for recognizing the true spirit of Valentine’s Day. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn. Not at all, actually. The only reason I’m writing this tonight is because I know there are people out there who feel like this isn’t their day. They could sleep through it and probably feel better than they do right now. But it isn’t true, so don’t let the Hallmark cards tell you something else.

mom with flowers

I know that there are multiple histories and backgrounds and definitions revolving around this candy-heart holiday. But I think the one that stuck out the most to me is the word Valentine, which means (for one definition) “a token or gift given to a loved one, often given anonymously”. You have so much love to give. No matter what your position and no matter who has walked in or out of your life, you always have love. Sound cheesy? Well it kind of is. And sometimes cheesy things are true. And you also always have someone who loves YOU. You might not have a spouse or a significant other tonight. But you may have babies, children, friends, a next door neighbor. If you don’t have that, you have the Savior. Always the Savior.

You are loved and important and cared about and you ARE a part of a day reserved for love simply because the Savior–who gave the ultimate “token of love” to ALL his loved ones–sent the greatest Valentine when he decided to give his life in order to remind us of our worth and the eternal love he showed for us while on his knees in the garden and hanging on a ragged cross. THAT’s the Valentine you received today–and every day for that matter. Because it honestly holds more worth than the “Be Mine” boxed chocolate at WalMart.

Your valentine for today? John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son (*for you*), that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (words “for you” added)

card from sis

 

(card my sister gave to my Mom today)

Valentine’s Day–Love in general– IS for the lonely. The recently-rejected. The grieving. The bitter. The one stuck at the office. The couple married for 56 years. You.

It’s for you simply because Christ decided you were the “valentine”.

“I left Christianity because of the people”

“I left Christianity because of the people.”

The words hurt my heart yesterday as I chatted with a good friend of mine. We were discussing religion. God. People. Mainstream Christianity. Topics that went hand in hand with some e-mails I sifted through while I sat on my break. One email in particular stuck out to me and I shared it with him.

I won’t quote it word for word or tell you who wrote this email (Totally not my style). And I hate giving attention to negativity–but this one, in turn, made me seek for the positive. *That’s “worth-sharing” material in my book*

The long winded email elaborately stated that I’m not a Christian because I don’t read the Bible. He told me Mormons go to Hell. It stated that I’m confused and hurting over the loss of a parent because I’m not a Christian and God isn’t on my side. BUT, *they kindly interjected* if I confess my sins and look for a different church, THEN I’ll be saved.

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When I read this yesterday, I couldn’t help but share some of it with my friend. And that’s when he told me, straight out, “I left Christianity because of the people.”

Now, bear in mind, my friend *We’ll call him Dan* is probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s hilarious. He talks about his wife as if she’s made of gold. He works hard every single day. And without saying it, he certainly shows that he believes that kindness matters. So this was a side of Dan I hadn’t seen before as we discussed religion. I never knew that he used to be an active church member, in love with the word of God and over-scheduled with church events. I never knew that people–like the one who sent me that email–taught him a whole different lesson about Christianity.

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So–how could I NOT write about it??

Sitting there with Dan and hearing his story, I rewinded five years back to before I joined the LDS church.

I was what you would call a church floater for a time, bouncing around from one non-denominational church to another, joining different congregations and getting baptized into several different fonts. I floated–never really finding answers to all of my questions–yet settling down in a Pentecostal church until I was 18 and *had* to leave. I just couldn’t stay anymore. It wasn’t anything personal–it was just I really needed to find truth and answers to my nagging questions. Needless to say, through a friend, two missionaries, and 7 sleepless nights reading an old copy of The Book of Mormon, I found the light I’d been craving all along.

Now, five years later, one BYU-Idaho education later, a hundred missionary opportunities later, a dozen temple trips later–I don’t hesitate to still call myself a Christian. Oh–and I sure don’t let dust collect on my Bible either.

I am a Mormon and I am Christian. 

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I strive to be the kind of Christian that people like Dan feel comfortable talking to. The kind of Christian who doesn’t cut into this story and tell him to get his hiney back to church or he’ll face hellfire. The kind of Christian who has about five gay friends who *know* I’m Mormon and actually love it. The kind of Christian who goes to church because it’s a hospital for the sick, not a temple of the proud. The kind of Christian who shares a testimony of Christ simply because I *love* people–not because I love how much I know.

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I strive to be the kind of Christian who continues to adore people of varying faiths and different cultures–enjoying the unique perspectives and different acts of love and worship. I strive to be the kind of Christian who puts kindness before “being right” and love before condemnation. I strive to be the kind of Christian who doesn’t throw scripture in someone’s face, yelling out random verses to prove I’m a “scriptorian”, but to embrace scripture and try to live it to the best of my ability. I strive to be like so many of you reading this now–of all different faiths and backgrounds–who simply have it nailed on the head on how to love, how to serve, and how to emulate the Savior’s example.

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Yes, you choose to be offended. You can read a talk about that right here.

BUT you can also choose to be offensive. To be brash. To be hurtful. To use your status as a Christian to raise yourself up above everyone else and look down with haughty eyes. You can choose. (There’s a talk about that too! Right here)

Don’t be the reason someone leaves Christianity. Don’t be the reason someone feels like the outcast in your world.

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Instead, choose to be more like Him every day.

I found that when I choose that, I can honestly set aside pride and the need to be “right” or “heard”, and in turn–more people will listen to what I believe and even if they don’t believe the same thing–well, at least they feel God’s love in the process.

Because LOVE is what being a Christian is all about.

THAT, you might say, is my religion.

God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it.

There’s a certain phrase I’ve come to really dislike.

All my life, I’ve heard this phrase whenever I go through a rough patch. *And by rough patch, I mean a prickly, gnarly patch that leaves me bleeding to near death*. You’re probably familiar with those kinds of “patches”.

“God will never give you more than you can handle” is the phrase I’m referring to.

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And it’s a sweet sentiment, really. The people who say it are speaking from caring and concerned hearts.

BUT–it isn’t true.

I know that sounds harsh, but I promise I haven’t suddenly lost my mind or have become an angry-with-God bitter woman who hates the world. Actually, when I realized the simple fact that God can–and will–give us more than we can possibly bear, it got easier.

And it all started to make more sense.

I’ve often trudged through trials that overwhelm me. Ever since my childhood there have been trials that have made me “grow up” pretty fast. But granted, I know for a fact you’ve had your own fair share too, because that’s the reality of life. But this last trial is the one that shook me to my core and had me searching like a mad woman for answers as to why it was happening–and how I could possibly even survive it.

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I lost my Dad to cancer last month–if you’re a follower of mine, this is old news. But–it was absolutely horrific.

Every day leading up to his death was like walking through every level of hell–slowly– for lack of a better term. There’s no other way to describe it. The images…the sounds…the sleepless nights…the cries for God while we look on, helpless…the torment of rubbing morphine in his cheeks, praying it’ll absorb–but to no avail. The horrible, wrenching pain that came with lifting him up, laying him back down, lifting him up, laying him back down…because he became so restless and cried out for “home” every few minutes. And all along, in the back of my mind, I reminded myself that millions of people go through this, and have already gone through this, very thing. And it is simply unbearable. If you disagree–it’s because you haven’t been there.

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This trial was so consuming that I hate to even put it in the past tense–sometimes it still consumes me. Yesterday, at my Dad’s memorial service, it consumed me all over again.

I’ve suffered from nightmares where I relived the memory over and over mercilessly–I sometimes see his face on strangers that pass and worry that I’m going crazy. I cry over sad songs in the car and torture myself with stacks of pictures and yellowed photo albums. It’s beyond just missing him. And even with a firm testimony of the gospel and with peace that he is exactly where the Lord prepared him for, it is still too much for me to handle at times. It steals my breath–and it can steal my joy.

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So, the other day, I turned to the scriptures. I needed help.

I wanted to know where that phrase was that people kept repeating to me in church and at work and over the phone. Why did the Lord “trust me so much”?! Why did He think I could handle these kinds of trials?

And then I realized: I couldn’t find that quote because it isn’t there.

It never mentions anywhere in the scriptures that the Lord won’t give you more than you can handle. Yes, in 1 Corinthians 10:13 it speaks of Him giving us an escape from temptations so that it’s not too much to bear. But when it comes to pain, trials, heartache, and burdens– not once does it say it won’t be more than we can bear. Instead, it beautifully says this instead:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 28-30)

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The words struck my heart, as you can imagine. Christ is speaking to those of us who are carrying burdens much too heavy for our own shoulders. And in that one verse he simply states the reason why we are given more than we can handle: It’s so we can come to him. It’s so we can trust him enough to hand over our heavy, crippling burdens and let him carry the load.

You might be heavy laden right now like I was before reading and re-reading and re-reading once again this scripture that has never stuck out to me as much as it has lately.

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You might be shrunken with sadness or drowning in debt. You might be overwhelmingly angry at someone at church or aching under the pressures of raising children or maybe the inability to have them. You might be dealing with a terminal disease and you still have young children. And chances are–you might need your Redeemer to find you on the path and take up that heavy cross you’re dragging. Besides, even he tells us that he’s more equipped to carry it, so why not hand it over?

I’ve come to learn–slowly but surely–why I need Him.

I suppose it’s because of pride that I always thought I could just do things on my own. I’m strong, I’d say. I’m a tough cookie. I can help others through their tribulations while carrying mine all by myself. Well…wasn’t I wrong.

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I didn’t really know what needing him meant until I had no other choice. I didn’t know what it meant until I wrapped my arms around my middle so I wouldn’t fall apart–or the time I choked on tears and yelled toward Heaven. Or the times when I was utterly alone, and the silence was too much to bear. Those are the times that taught me he’s not just a want or a convenient symbol of love or a reason to do good deeds.

No, he’s the very air we breathe.

And he’s the only one who can make it bearable when life is simply anything but.