Why ‘God will give you more than you can handle’ changed my life: And how it fixed Christmastime

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote God will give you more than you can handle.

A whole year.

I can hardly believe it. It still surfaces as one of my most-read blogs of all time and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s because out of everything we could ever go through as human beings, that is the one thing that connects us all. The struggle–and the triumph over it.

I read it again this morning, throwing myself back to the time when the Christmas lights were strung, the tree decorated, the little manger on the dresser paused in time with Mary’s eyes on the baby Savior’s face. Nothing had changed from just an hour before and I’m certain that even our cat was undisturbed from his sleep. Nothing had changed except our hearts. Because my dad, laying within the glow of Christmas lights, had breathed his last. This morning as I read it again it was so hard to wrap my mind around how time had continued to propel us forward, not even taking a moment to help us stand on our own. The night turned into day and the snow came and went and the needles on the tree began to dry and fall in a heap on the carpet. We were stuck in time, unable to breathe without pain, but time didn’t care.

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It brought me to here. Another Christmas. Another tree. And time to sit and reflect on that Christmas that changed everything.

I’ve been astonished–more so this year than any other year–how broken Christmas is for so many. And no, I’m not saying that because I lost my Dad at Christmastime.

This year more than ever I’ve noticed how superficial the holiday has become to so many. It’s the most stressful time of year for holiday shoppers who scurry around with holiday lists and rack up credit card debt. People compete to have the prettiest lights on the block and stores fight to have the best sales. The gifts, the traveling, the way we get so entangled in things.

And somehow we forget the things that were illuminated to me just one Christmas ago.

mary and jesus

The gift of breathing. The amazing, indescribable gift of having family by your side, even next to an empty tree. The wonderful warmth of hot chocolate and candles and twinkle lights as you simply share the company of a friend. The carols that remind us of the sleeping baby who came to save us all. The wonderment of a child waiting anxiously for Santa to come.

None of these experiences are things. And we know it. Deep inside, we all know it. But we forget over the years and become calloused to what is expected and to the status quo.

Time didn’t pause at the stable over 2,000 years ago. It kept going, and the child grew and he ministered and suffered and died and made his way in and out of our hearts through the years. We turned away from the cross and faced in all the other directions that promised fulfillment and peace and just left voids. And we continue to struggle to face the right way. Through the generations we’ve struggled to remember, we’ve struggled to fill the voids with material things and importance, and all along we’ve been breaking Christmas apart. We’ve been breaking our lives apart.

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I still believe that God will give you more than you can handle. This year–starting at last Christmas time–has been the hardest year of my life. Even now, as I write these words, I find tears streaming down my face. It’s not that it’s gotten easier, because it hasn’t. But I’ve learned something that takes me through.

God will empower you to fight the impossible.

God will send something to make you smile when all you want to do is melt into tears.

God will send friends–so many friends–who paint your life with sunshine and share the shadows.

God will remind you of the laughter and not just the pain within your memories.

God will fight for you to be okay and carry you when you’re weak.

God is for you.

This Christmas I choose to step away from the brokenness and the rubble of forgetfulness. I choose to remember the way my Dad’s face lit up when I hung the lights near his bed and the way he fought to stay with us. I choose to remember the way he didn’t grab for things when he got ready to step into Heaven–but he grabbed for our hands. Christmas is our reminder of the things that keep our feet on solid ground and the One who handles what we simply cannot. Christmas is our time to remember the way the Savior came to a broken world full of grief and pain and impossibility all in order to bring life, and relief and hope.

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Because of Him, you make it through the days you otherwise could not. And I believe more than ever, a year later, that we can’t handle everything–not a single day. But He can.

And that’s the reason to celebrate.

Not only Christmas–but every single breath.

Joseph Smith’s multiple wives: And why I don’t care at all

I wasn’t always Mormon.

Not even close. I was baptized about three different times in three different churches and I sang the songs out of almost every hymn book there is. I’ve worshiped at altars and I’ve rocked out to Christian rock (still do) and I’ve sang in gospel choirs. And along the way I took steps–vital steps–towards getting to where I am. And to where I’m going.

Each religion, each church, each sermon taught me a little more and steered me a little more and prompted all those important questions that beg to be answered. And slowly, little by little, I was converting to Christ.

And I still am, even now.

My baptism in the Mormon church didn’t stamp on my forehead a “Good to go” pass. To be honest, I knew very little except for the fact that I knew it was true, I felt the spirit like never before, and I was so IN LOVE with the light. But it was just the beginning–the very beginning trailhead–of a daily journey and a daily conversion.

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Because of that, you can imagine my confusion when I learned, around the fall of 2010, that Joseph Smith had multiple wives near the end of his life. You can imagine the way I shrunk in my seat during my Book of Mormon class and hurried back to my apartment with my hood shielding me from snowflakes and frozen tears.

I was angry.

They didn’t tell me about that! I said through clenched teeth. Sure, I knew polygamy was part of our church’s history, just as it’s part of Biblical history and even pagan history. But Joseph Smith? My newest hero?

It felt like he died all over again and turned into a monster at the same time. I crumbled. I wondered if I should go home. If I should even be a member anymore. I prayed a lot, wondering why something so big hadn’t been brought to the surface until now.

Because of those feelings I turned to a mentor who I had grown close to and trusted more than anyone else.

I cried to him about my predicament, expressing how betrayed I felt.

And he said just one thing: “Do you believe he’s a prophet?”

“Yes.” I answered it without thinking. Because–well, of course I did. I’ll never forget the chills that ran through me when I read Joseph’s testimony or heard for the first time of the story when he knelt to pray in a grove of sunlit trees. I’ll never forget the peace that rushed through me when I closed the Book of Mormon after reading the last page or the way those I’d lost along the way somehow seemed to encircle my bed and sing a chorus of joy. Of course he was a prophet. I had no doubt that he was chosen to restore all that had been lost and degenerated over the years.

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After I said yes my mentor nodded simply and tears filled his eyes. “Then that’s our answer.”

And with that, he encouraged me to go on a trip that was about to take place. A week long church history trip that would start in Illinois, a place where the early saints lived and worshiped and built a temple and then started a long and deadly journey to the west. Without thinking twice I went.

And it was there that I learned about it all–the good, the bad, the ugly–the reason he’d be known not only for his compassion and dedication and the way he’d play with the children and write love letters to his true love Emma, but for evil in a day and age where some deeds are misunderstood and mislabeled.

I sat here at the place where he fell to his death.

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I touched every statue that paid tribute to his sacrifice.

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I stood in reverence at the staircase where the herd of men stormed toward the room where Joseph hid with the others, guns in hand, ready to end it all.

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And I sat at his final resting place, listening to the wind and smelling wildflower that blossoms every year beside the stones.

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And I loved him more, even while knowing more.

Like Abraham, Jacob, Solomon, David–and who knows how many more–he sealed to multiple wives for reasons that seem unsettling to us today. Like prophets before, he did things that seem disturbing in modern day times all for the work of the Lord. Like prophets that came before him he put God first, even when his reputation threatened to decay and even when he’d be like a lamb to the slaughter. Like prophets before him, he spoke truth. He put God first. He had no other Savior except Christ Himself. And because of that, I sat at his tombstone over 150 years later with tears in my eyes, my heart knit to a gospel I might have never known without him.

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The Savior wasn’t popular…and He still isn’t. Moses could barely speak. Abinadi burned at the stake as he spoke of the coming Messiah. And people laughed and mocked Noah as he spoke of the flood and built an ark in the glow of a dry sun. But they were God’s servants.

And I love them for it.

There will always be a shadow if you look for it–some reason to doubt, or fear or wrinkle your nose at the thought. There will always be the one thing that Satan uses to convince you it’s all a lie. All an act.

But the spirit of truth tells us to remember. The love. The truth. The doctrine. The goosebumps during that part in the song that reminds us, “Millions shall know brother Joseph again”.

So I say praise to the man who communed with Jehovah.

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Praise and honor given to the man who reminded us of Christ and whose hands gently fit in all the missing puzzle pieces.

Praise to the man who taught of a loving Heavenly Father and taught of His ways, even when tar burnt his flesh the night before.

Reverence given to a mouthpiece who said first that families are forever, well past the grave. That my dad, my cousin, your mom, your brother, our friends before us–will all see God.

That’s all I need to know to love him.

Praise is given to that.

Why I chose to be a Latter-day Saint: And not a Mormon

I still remember the smell of the chapel as I sat down five years ago.

It was a scent l I hadn’t smelled before–a scent that I’ve since gotten used to. The walls were bare except for some paintings of Christ and people I didn’t recognize and I wondered briefly where the crosses were. I remember touching the broken spine of a hymnal and only recognizing one or two hymns inside.

It was different. Somewhat strange. It was my first time in an LDS chapel and I had just turned 19.

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But I like looking back at that day. It was that day–before I even read the Book of Mormon–that I chose to be a Latter-day Saint. Already coming from a Christian background, I had done my time and served my sentence of confusion and wondering where the pieces fit. It was that day that I had my first realization that the missionaries seem to glow…for lack of a better term. It was that day that I realized how exciting the stories are in the Book of Mormon. And better yet–how they speak truth. It was that day–in mid summer–that I heard the first hymns I’d ever hear and my eyes filled with tears at “Lord I would follow thee”.

And I often go back to that day to remind myself that THAT is who I chose to be. A Latter-day Saint.

Not a Mormon.

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I know the terms are interchangeable, and I often use the term Mormon, just like you probably do. There’s no harm in that and I’m not splitting hairs. But for the purpose of my story I would venture to say that those two terms mean totally separate things. From being in the church only 5 years, I already would bet my life on it.

It’s so easy to get caught up in being Mormon. Even for me. And that’s because we all start as Latter-day Saints and then get plunged into a culture that demands so much. Pinterest-inspired Relief Society invites, canning activities, the details behind missionary preparation *and God forbid, any hesitancy to go*, The Princess Bride, John Bytheway, short engagements, Stake dances, *and my personal favorite* “So when are you going to have a baby?” after a month of marriage.

I’m not saying all of the culture is bad, because it isn’t. But when you are more immersed in the culture than in the foundation of the church itself–the very reason I stepped into the baptismal font and cried at “Lord I would follow thee”–that’s when you become Mormons instead. That’s when you become a member of a club rather than a disciple of a master.

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And that bothers me.

It bothers me because I still retrace my steps five summers ago into the chapel for the first time and I still remember opening the Book of Mormon and seeing Alma at the top of the page for the first time. I still remember how it felt to learn about forever families— and to not just vainly repeat, “Families are forever” or nail a pretty sign that says the same thing above a door frame. I remember how it felt to really let the message sink in and to cry into my hands when I realized, without a doubt, I’d see my uncle again who died just a month before I learned about the church.

I remember how it felt to say for the first time, “This church is true” and to not be able to go on with what I had to say because it overwhelmed me how true the statement was–and how it changed my life. It wasn’t repetition. I didn’t say it to fill time or to keep up with the standard. My heart just knew it.

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It bothers me that so many of us have forgotten who we really are because we’ve exchanged it all for a lifestyle made out of old habits. There are those who stray from the culture–the women who work two jobs outside of the home and the single dad; the young man who decides to wait a couple years to serve a mission; the young woman who celebrates 30 years old without a ring on her finger; the couple who can’t have kids; the wonderful stay-at-home mom who is so over-exerted she sees a psychologist every week; the kid with autism who doesn’t fit in. There are thousands–maybe millions–of Latter-day Saints who are forced out of a gospel they fit into because a culture whispers to them that they do not.

And that has to stop. We need to regain footing of who we are and the beautiful gift we’ve been given.

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When I chose to be a Latter-day Saint I chose that “I would follow, thee”. I chose that I’d spend my whole life telling people about the book that changed my life in a week.  I decided that I’d dress modestly not because everyone is forced to out of tradition, but because I represent Him. Five years ago I learned that the prophets from long ago told the truth and their sacrifices made way for me to find out about the good news–and I can’t forget that. It was my decision to leave it all behind–old beliefs, friends who no longer wanted to associate with me, comfortable familiar church buildings, and songs I learned as a toddler–for an unfamiliar gospel that I somehow KNEW was true. And nothing convinced me of it other than Him. Not culture, not tradition, not anything else.

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Our culture has lots of good, don’t get me wrong. And if we remember why we do some of the things we do the spirit will come back to it. But don’t let it make you forget. Don’t let it deter a soul who has just heard “Lord I would follow thee” and doesn’t know yet that families are forever.

Choose to be a disciple. Choose to be a saint.

Everything else is meaningless.

It isn’t a sin to get mad at God

Here I sit in the early morning light and my whole house is still asleep except for me.

There is a decorative pumpkin already on the coffee table and a candle that smells like cinnamon. And every now and then a chill creeps in through the open window and reminds me that it’s that time of year again. Fall. And then winter. And the holidays.

And it makes it hard to write.

I love the holiday season–making ornaments in school out of macaroni and drinking cider at pumpkin patches and eating too much cranberry sauce and decorating the tree to Bing Crosby. But then last fall happened, and no matter what Dad had said, it still changed everything. This time last year Dad was coming home from the hospital. He decided to quit chemotherapy. He decided its ok to go home and die. And I decided that the changing leaves would never look the same.

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And it’s maddening.

So the other night I announced to my husband with teary eyes, “It’s been a year, Matt. And sometimes I am still just SO mad at God.”

It’s not that I have trouble believing in him. I’ve never really had that kind of trouble. And besides, how can you be mad at someone who isn’t there? No, the trouble I had with Him was figuring out why sometimes it feels like He turns his back. Like He’ll take away the best you have, He’ll let you scramble to make ends meet, He’ll watch as you pray for something that simply never comes. He’ll be silent when you demand answers. And like a child at her parent’s closed door, I weep. I stomp my foot. And then, “I hate you!” and storm off. 

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You might wince at reading that. And it’s ok. There are many people who believe you shouldn’t EVER be mad at God, let alone hate Him. And part of me envies those people. Part of me wonders if I’ll ever get to that point where trials don’t make me shake a fist at the sky. And part of me wants to tell those people it’s ok. It’s ok to get mad at God.

So since Fall is making its entrance I’ve been thinking a lot about all of that this week. And it wasn’t until someone asked me a simple question that I’ve come to grips with something. The other day someone at work randomly asked me, “Kayla, you being a literature person, what do you think is one of the greatest love stories ever written?”

So I pondered *because I’m a literature geek* and thought through the hundreds of romances I’ve read so far. I thought about the plot lines so many of them follow–There’s a protagonist and by some event that protagonist falls in love. But the person the protagonist falls for is challenging. Sometimes forbidden or unreachable or unaware. The obstacles arise, including fights or misunderstandings or hurt along the way. But then the end always comes and somehow love wins out. No matter how it wins, it seems to. And the thing that makes it romantic? The protagonist always believed it would.

And it hit me.

I know the greatest love story ever written.

It all began with a protagonist who created light out of darkness and who formed love with his very hands. That protagonist loved so deeply that he let his great loves leave his presence and wander–for years–far away. Some of them decided they didn’t love him anymore. Some hated him. Some simply forgot. And there were others. Others who loved him. Who believed they’d be back with him. Others who had so much faith until the winds picked up and they blamed him for knocking them down. But the protagonist loved. Always loved. He even watched his own son die a horrible death to save the wanderers from a horrible fate. He wept and tore the skies open when his great loves were the hands to kill. Years would go by and he’d watch his great loves make up stories and theologies as to who he was. He sometimes waited to be talked to for a very long time. But he always waited and he always loved. Because out of every love story, He is the protagonist that loved the most. He’s the one who knew the end of the story and understood when those he loved hated him and asked “Why me?” He cried with them and laughed with them and he sat behind a closed door, his hand gently pressed against it, as his own child screamed “I hate you!”, yelling much too loudly to hear anything he had to say.

But He always loved.

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My heart gave out a little when I thought this all over the other day, and I still think about it now as another chill sweeps into the living room and makes my sleeping bunnies rustle in their cages.

God is part of the greatest love story ever written–and so are we. He has a deep compassion for us that we so rarely have for Him. It’s amazing, really.

It’s going to be natural to be the characters that wander. It’s in our description. It’s in the plot.

He’s going to understand when we struggle–because that’s what this world offers–and He’s even going to get it when we blame that struggle on Him. But He loves us through it all and keeps giving us new moments, new days, new opportunities to come back to Him and to find joy.

He understands that when we’re angry at him, we’re caught up in moments where we forget how much He loves us. And how He’s on our team.

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Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Since the beginning of time, love has been the source of both the highest bliss and the heaviest burdens. At the heart of misery from the days of Adam until today, you will find the love of wrong things. And at the heart of joy, you will find the love of good things. And the greatest of all good things is God.”

The pages turn and I enter in to a new Fall. Some enter in to new lives after a big move or new, overwhelming schedules after a baby. Some are waking up to a new day without limbs or a new week without a job. One by one the pages turn and if we let it, we forget who’s turning the pages. We get angry at who does. And we forget that:

“God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God! For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.”

It isn’t a sin to get mad at God. It isn’t evil to stumble and wonder why. Look at Job. And Jonah. And Jesus himself, who thought for a brief moment that God had turned His back. But we must rise from it. We have to remember.

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It takes faith to remember that as we scream and cry at the closed door there is a Father on the other side, forehead pressed against the door, eyes wet.

And He just waits.

Because only we can open it again.

 

 

The worth of an addict

“Just don’t show my face”.

He said it almost immediately, before I even knew this would be much of a story. But it’s a story that needed to be told, with or without his picture.

I’m an addict.

This is Jay’s story.

The addiction started when he was just fifteen. And so did the dreams.

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Dreams that hit him hard in the middle of the night–even when he was completely drunk out of his mind or still sniffing the last of the powder on the rim of his nostrils. Even when he passed out, needle marks in his arms, the dreams hit. And it’d wake him up and remind him that on his 18th birthday he was going to die.

He didn’t take the dreams seriously, really, although in the back of his mind he always wondered why he kept having that same dream. A foggy staircase, yelling coming from behind him–and that fatal shot to the head.

But then his 18th birthday came and he couldn’t shake the dread.

“I didn’t know what it meant,” Jay said. “All along God was trying to tell me something and I just kept pushing it away. And so my 18th birthday came, and I decided to get high with friends.”

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Sneaking out after dark, Jay snorted, drank, laughed, and smoked his way until dawn, filling his body with so much substance that, “I don’t even know how I lived through that” he says now.

Marijuana, cocaine, heroine, opium–Jay kept going long after his friends were passed out. By morning he was ready to go home and not wake up for another year.

“But that’s when another friend called,” Jay said. By this point in the story his eyes are lost, just a little bit past my shoulder. “That day my whole life changed.”

A friend convinced him to go with him and a group of guys to get some drugs for a good price. Jay didn’t want to go of course–he could hardly see straight. But he did.

“I don’t remember much,” Jay said. “But I do remember snippets, like from a movie. I remember holding a guy by his neck and yelling at his face. I remember three loud pops and a pain in my head like a rock hitting me from a slingshot. I remember looking up at a blurry staircase and seeing someone yelling in Spanish, pointing a gun down at me. But that’s when it goes black.”

Jay woke up in a hospital handcuffed to the bed.

The sentence was 7 and a half years for 1st Degree Robbery with Gun Enhancement.

“On top of that, I had been shot three times,” Jay said. “I died for two minutes. But they brought me back.”

And the story should have ended there. But it didn’t.

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Jay didn’t stay true to the rules that most prisoners go by. He didn’t follow a certain pack. He’d play pinnacle with the Russians and then get his hair braided by the blacks. He’d speak Spanish to the Latino group and strike up conversation with the Italians. The guards didn’t like it so Jay spent more time than usual in solitary confinement.

“You asked where I found God,” Jay says to me now. “That’s where.”

With nothing but time, Jay turned to books. “I read and studied about every religion you can think of,” he said. “But all I kept coming back to is there’s a God. And he hears me. He loves me. He forgives.”

Jay prayed–talking to God as if He sat in the corner with his ankles crossed, nodding along to Jay’s stories and offering a hand on his shoulder when the tears would come. The concrete walls weren’t enough to keep the words locked inside. God was right there in the room.

“I decided then and there that I’d never take drugs again. It’d be a hard road, but I couldn’t go back. I made a promise to God.”

And it wasn’t easy.

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After serving his sentence, old friends were quick to invite him to parties again. Dealers he knew from the past had special deals on the baggies of white stuff they carried in their bulging pockets. The past–with its dark, luring fingers–begged him to come back.

He had to walk away from old friends–people he even cared about–and for years and years he had to move jobs every few months when background checks failed and employers shooed him out. Jay had to leave his old town and meet new people and spend Friday nights convincing himself that it’s better to sit alone then to sit with wrong company.

Even now–years later–after meeting his wife and having three children and finding more joy in teddy bear tea parties then in beer pong–it follows him. And that’s because it’s the path he once chose.

“I’m an addict,” Jay said. “I always will be. But that’s not all I am. That’s another man inside me that fights to come out every day. But he doesn’t win.”

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We live in a world where addiction is taboo. Especially within the church. We smother talk about pornography and we wrinkle our noses in disgust at cigarette smoke following a man into the chapel. We often categorize alcoholics, even subconsciously, as people who have no self-control and we label food-addicts as fat, lazy, or disgusting.

We tend to judge addicts more harshly simply because we’re taught to label addicts as sinners worth shunning rather than prisoners worth saving.

We often forget that the Savior himself sits in solitary confinement, listening to a prisoner, and forgiving him despite it all.

But Jay hasn’t forgotten it. Not for a second.

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“It’s been years now, but it’ll always follow me,” Jay said. “When I get stopped for a simple traffic ticket now, the cops will always call for back up when they see my record. And I don’t get mad. I understand it. It can be hard to live in a world where your mistakes follow you, but I know that doesn’t define me.”

How do you do it? I ask. How do you live that way?

“We all have that ‘other’ person inside of us,” he responded. “We either choose to acknowledge it and overcome, choose to give into that person, or choose to ignore it completely. I’ve decided to acknowledge that addict.”

Jay is hoping to instill the same message into his three little ones now. His daughter has nightmares sometimes and wakes in the night crying and fearful. He said he’ll take her and walk around the house, praying and waving a smudge stick the family has as a physical symbol of God cleaning the house and keeping them all safe.

“It’s exactly what I did in my cell, in a sense,” Jay said. “I tell my daughters–‘Now we can use different things to make us feel a little better, like this stick. But first we must pray. We must always pray.”

To the mom who ‘has it harder’ than me: I’d like you to think again

To the mom who has it “harder than me”,

I have a confession.

As a blogger, I hate open letters.

I try to steer clear. But here I am writing one. I just can’t help it.

I feel that writing this to you is mainly for me anyway. Or for anyone who may—down the road—decide that what you taught me today is something valuable for them as well. It’s worth being talked about, don’t you think?

I met you last night, as I was ready to head home for the day. You and your husband weren’t too much older than I am and I was willing to stay an extra hour or so and help you out with what you needed.

During that extra hour we talked about the chubby-cheeked kids on your cell phone screen and we chatted about your husband’s job, which takes him away a lot. I listened to you tell me how you juggle it all and I complimented you for your strength.

You asked me if I had children and then—“well, are you going to?”

I hesitated sharing, but I told you no, and it might be a while before I do.

You didn’t pry.

I appreciated that.

We could easily be friends if I was on the other side of the counter.

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But then today happened. You called me, pretty upset, because of a mistake that happened that I had no control over. I tried to resolve it and even felt bad that you had to drive a half hour to the nearest location to get things in order. Really I felt bad. And you had a reason to be frustrated. But that’s not why I’m writing this letter because we’re all warranted to get frustrated from time to time. It’s what you said after all of that.

“I know you don’t have kids, but not all of us get the easy life,” you said into the phone. “You wouldn’t understand how it is to be a busy mother. You wouldn’t get it, would you?”

When you first said that I think I said something about my manager taking care of it later. I think I hung up. I think I choked a little as I remained professional all the way to the bathroom. And that’s when I cried into the bathroom sink.

Why, you might ask?

Because you’re right.

I DON’T know what it’s like to juggle two kids. I don’t know what it’s like to be torn every which way by little hands and sticky faces. I don’t know what it’s like to have everything you have.

But I wish I did.

What you don’t know about me is my struggle with infertility.

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What you don’t know about me is the fact that last night when you showed me that picture of your children a pain struck my heart and I absolutely loved hearing your stories about how you can’t get them to sleep in their own beds.

What you don’t know is there are battles unseen that I combat every day that you have been freely given.

What you don’t know, my friend, is that you happened to choose the very battle I wrestle with and tried to use it for …what? A discount? Justice? Some kind of “I’m right and you’re wrong” speech?

What you don’t know is that you taught me a lesson.

I went from crying in a bathroom sink to sitting down and examining the way I speak to people. I’ve been writing a list of all the things I’m blessed with that some might lack and all the things I might say that are insensitive to that fact. You made me think about me.

One of my favorite quotes is from Plato. Even thousands of years ago he seemed to just get it. “Be kind,” he said. “For everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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I’m deciding to be thankful for you today.

I’m thankful that I was able to sit back and examine the unkind thoughts I had toward you when you said those things—that I was able to realize you might be fighting a battle too.

Maybe you woke up in pain. Maybe a loved one is fighting cancer. Maybe you were up at two in the morning with a sick baby. Either way, there’s a battle I don’t know about. Just like my battle.

I’m thankful that the words that hurt me are now words that encourage me to look at my blessings—my great job, my writing, my fantastic family, my entourage of friends and mentors who teach me how to simply be better—and to remember that those things aren’t promised to everyone. The battlefield has all kinds of weapons…all kinds of dips and valleys and shadows that spatter over our lives and strengthen us in some capacity to fight in the war.

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For you, it’s the sleepless nights and the messy minivan. For me, it’s the quiet nights and the spotless car that wouldn’t mind some Cheetos on the floor if it meant an extra set of little hands.

I needed to write this more than you needed to read it, really. So thank you.

Good luck in your battles, friend.

Because we’re actually in it together.

 

 

I can do without: Lessons from a one-legged crow

Mother nature can be a funny thing.

I don’t think it means to be smart or inspiring, even though it often is.

I mean, think about it.

The sun doesn’t set out each day to look absolutely breathtaking and I don’t think the mountains realize they’re being painted and hung in living rooms. Rivers don’t mean to be calming and the clouds don’t mean to form shapes. They simply obey the commands of time and of motion and of the hand of God, not pausing for a second or considering what it means.

And it’s inspiring somehow.

Today it wasn’t anything very beautiful that got me thinking–actually, it could be considered anything but. It was a one-legged crow.

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I was sitting at a traffic light on my way to work this morning with my window rolled down, thankful that the mornings are beginning to grow warmer. My thoughts were wandering when I spotted a crow, smaller than the rest of the pack on the other side of the street, who hopped across two lanes of traffic toward where my car sat. From a distance I noticed he was slower, and one of his wings worked unusually hard to somehow give him the balance he needed to make the short little jaunt. It wasn’t until he was an arm’s length away from my arm that was draped out my window that I realized he only had one leg.

So, something to know about me: I’m an animal lover. Sometimes to a fault. I make my husband brake for packs of pigeons that are a little slow to fly out of the way and if I had the space to house them all, I’d probably become a puppy hoarder or keep adorable rodents in my cupboards, each with personalized little beds. But alas, I am realistic–even when it comes to simply watching a one-legged crow struggle to eat his half-eaten carton of fries in the median and restraining myself from scooping him up and making him a crutch. I watched him, saddened a little, until I saw another crow *with both legs, might I add* swoop down beside him to share the treat. But the one-legged crow wouldn’t have it. He snatched up the box and hobbled away, finally breaking into flight after a few failed and clumsy attempts.

I can do without, I almost heard him whisper to me.

Touche, little crow, I almost said back.

We can all do without.

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How many times do we sit back and feel sorry for ourselves when our car breaks down and public transit is the only option for a few weeks? How many times do we complain when our friends always seem to have the bigger house, the better job, the more picture-perfect life? How often do we struggle with being the “less-attractive” one, the one with the speech impediment, the one without the college education, the one without the leg? And to each of us, there’s a whispered lesson from the spirit simply saying: You can do without.

I’m often inspired by stories of triumph by those who have lost a limb in a war and then go on to compete in the Olympics or by those who are entirely burned and stripped of their physical beauty, only to find love again and go on to be a motivational speaker and inspiration. But then, when it comes to the little, unfair disadvantages we sometimes freeze in place.

You have a learning disability. You’re diabetic. You grew up with just one parent. You’re twice divorced. You’re living paycheck to paycheck. There’s that one something that threatens to make you hobble and complain and slow down.

We’re all a one-legged crow.

Moses–one of the greatest prophets of all time–complained to God about a speech problem he had.

“O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” Moses said in Exodus 4:10. But Heavenly Father assured Moses, and he’s assuring us every day, that despite a speech problem–despite any problem or hindrance or setback– “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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I’m grateful for little reminders in nature and in life that testify to God’s law. I’m grateful for one-legged crows whose wings grow stronger and whose one remaining leg takes compensates for the lack of the other, lifting off in flight, proving that it simply takes determination.

And it only takes His strength.

I’m grateful that his grace is sufficient–and because of that, I can do without a lot.