Godly Sorrow

Not many people would understand why I felt guilty about failing to finish graduate school when I had spent the time with my sick mother, but to me, this was a spiritual failure. I knew what the Lord had asked me to do—He made it clear as day. I knew that He would’ve helped me because He had done it before. Yet, I failed to remember, and I didn’t trust Him.

About eleven years before Michigan, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during my sophomore year of college. By my senior year, she had outlived her original prognosis and prayed to see me graduate.

I needed to decide between going to graduate school and going on a mission. I prepared both papers at the same time, unsure of which path to take, and watched my mother’s health. When I prayed, graduate school never felt “wrong” per se, but a mission felt lighter. Once, an impression that my ancestors in the spirit world wanted me to go on a mission came to me. It felt like we were a team. No clear or powerful words, just a feeling, but enough to get me excited and I chose a mission.

My mother didn’t discourage me from a mission, but she did tell me her concerns. Her chemotherapy treatments were not working at the time of my college graduation and she felt she was running out of time. When my missionary assignment came, I wondered if this was really what the Lord wanted me to do or if I had gotten it all wrong. Meanwhile, my mother said a silent prayer asking Heavenly Father if He really needed me right then or if she could keep me for just a little longer. I looked up and saw her jumping for joy. This woman with cancer in her bones and treatments that liquified the marrow vibrated with excitement. The answer to her prayer was immediate and she knew that it was my mission and the Lord needed me.

My Stake President set me apart as a missionary and blessed me that as I served, my mother would be protected. I felt an assurance that she would not die while I was gone. 

In the Missionary Training Center, I received a letter telling me her chemotherapy treatments were working and her cancer was receding. Three weeks later, the first letter I got in Tennessee said that her cancer counts were low enough she could take a break from chemotherapy. 

The Lord keeps His promises. He honors our sacrifices until they’re not even sacrifices anymore. I know it.

Where was that faith when the Lord called me to go to graduate school?

I doubted the Lord’s call to go to graduate school, but the spiritual experience telling me to get a Ph.D. was far more powerful than any I received calling me on a mission. As I described in the post “Problem 1: I am Mad at Myself,” I quit my graduate program because my fear of losing my mother and not having her with me when I had my own children was too great. I gave in to fear.

In Michigan, remembering my mission felt great, relearning how to stand strong in the face of fear was empowering, but I still beat myself up over the fact that I had forgotten those lessons at a crucial time. What was the difference between the first call and the second?

I still don’t understand why I forgot to rely more on the Lord, but I can say that I became so narrow-mindedly focused on what I wanted I didn’t listen to anyone else and did not acknowledge any other options. I started to cut myself off and the cost came years later when I was torn apart by grief and anger.

I used to think I finally went back to God and asked for help because I simply hit the bottom, but now I think that He reached out first, bringing me memories that strengthened me to the point that I could reach out.

 Recognizing my depression and working to remove my avoidance tactics, carve out erroneous assumptions of my value, and chip away at my fear, prepared me to build unity. Unity with God and with others is essential to complete unity within ourselves. They are intertwined in that the Spirit testifies of our incredible value, gives us perspective, and courage. The people around us can help us find this too. When we share, ask, and listen, we see things afresh. A new angle will reveal truth we didn’t see before. One doesn’t replace the other, rather they are additive. At the same time, unity within ourselves is needed before we are open to seeking unity with others. We need confidence to reach out, assurance that we are valuable enough for someone to reach back, knowledge that we do have the strength to keep going.

There is sorrow that is destructive because we try to hide it, and thereby, we cut ourselves off. Then, there is sorrow that brings us together. When you’ve accepted the sorrow yourself, instead of avoiding it, recognized your value is intact, completely independent from your mistakes, you have the courage to ask for help. This is Godly Sorrow, this is Humility.

Sorrow that cuts us off is prideful independence ruled by fear. Godly sorrow is one that is shared, and it is powerful humility lead by courage.

Be Bold and Show Up

I am, by nature, a rather passive person. When depressed, my tendency towards passivity is incredibly damaging. 

I felt stuck. I couldn’t stop the thoughts that I was incapable because I didn’t do anything. I wanted my actions to be centered on love and connection but was worried my efforts wouldn’t be correct or welcomed.

As a new missionary, I was also timid and afraid. I devoted a lot of study time to the topic of boldness but, unfortunately, didn’t find much that was particularly helpful. The prophets were so sure of themselves, their spiritual promptings so distinct. I knew the Spirit only as a general feeling—I didn’t understand what it meant to receive directions so clearly. Some examples from other missionaries didn’t strike me as bold as much as downright mean. I knew the truth could be hard to hear, but does it then necessarily follow that we must be hard when we deliver it? I wanted to be brave, but I didn’t want to be unkind.

A couple of months into my mission, my trainer and I were affected by an emergency transfer. Our Zone Leader, knowing that this was a tense situation for us, came to give us Priesthood Blessings that morning. In mine, I was told that there were people waiting for me to teach them the gospel and that I would find them and have a successful mission if I could be bold. I appreciated the encouragement of the Spirit, but also thought, I know, I’ve been trying, but how am I supposed to do it?

Later, that same day, a sister from the ward called to say she couldn’t go with us as scheduled to a lesson because she was feeling unwell. I told her that was fine, and I hoped she got better. I thought we’d go by ourselves, but my trainer told me to find someone else. I prayed to know who to call and felt that I should call back the original sister. That seemed rude to me. She’d just told me she was sick. I thought it was just wishful thinking on my part, a desire to avoid any more phone calls, and tried someone else instead. That failed. I felt again that I should call back the original sister.

I thought about the Priesthood Blessing and my direction to be bold. I was afraid the sister would be mad at me for bugging her when she’d already told us she couldn’t. I decided to call her but not push her. I said, “I’m sorry you’re sick, is there something we can bring to you when we go out to our appointment?” So bold. She replied that she had just been talking with her daughter and realized they weren’t sick, they were just feeling low and what better way to get out of the dumps than to go out with the sister missionaries. She asked if we still wanted her to go with us to our appointment. I was amazed! I had done something bold!

When my trainer and I arrived at the sister’s house, she asked if we could take some flowers to her mother’s grave on the way. What happened in the graveyard was far more than I expected and taught me what it was to be bold in a way I hadn’t thought of before. The full story can be read in the post “A Light in the Darkness.” I would like to add that while I wish it was some grand inspiration that made me move and help the injured man in the cemetery, it was not. I was frozen and I didn’t answer my companion’s call to come and help, at least not right away, because I was too afraid. A dog came out of the woods and I went to the dog. I love dogs and they don’t scare me. I pet his head and shooed him away. Then, I went to help.

I have learned that boldness is to act in spite of fear. It is to move when you think you can’t, even if the move is small. One action will bring more. Confidence grows as we simply try. Sometimes, “all we can do” is show up and then the grace of God will meet us where we are (2 Ne 25:23). The reality of our fear isn’t as big as we imagine and the realization of our hopes is always grander than we dreamed. 

Act with Purpose

As an overwhelmed working mother, I thought only of my to-do list, and how I fulfilled my duties determined my self worth. If I didn’t do the laundry, I was a bad mother. If I didn’t get results from the experiment, I was a useless scientist. If I gained weight, I was a horrible woman.

We live in a world that assigns value to things on a constant basis. We even assign values to people. And for some reason, we often accept another’s evaluation over our own.

Perhaps someone has hurt us and we start to think that we deserved that ill-treatment. Or another has something we want but can’t have and we think that is a reflection of our own worth as well. We become so entrenched in our societies’ economical systems that it can be difficult to step aside and learn a new way to see value. 

In Michigan, I taught a youth Sunday school class for 12 to 13 year olds. We read the first verse in 1 Nephi that reads:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parent, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I can’t remember my original purpose in reading that scripture, I only remember that as we read it, the Spirit told me I was highly favored. And I didn’t fully believe it. I honestly asked those young teenagers, “How do you know if you’re highly favored of the Lord?”

They started complimenting each other’s hair. Then mentioned their families. Then said they were grateful for the gospel. 

I’m sure that beautiful 13 year old girl with long blonde hair did feel blessed because of it. She complimented everybody’s hair regardless of color or style. But what about bald people? Or people that hate their hair? Are they still loved?

Nephi also felt blessed because of his parents, but Laman and Lemuel had the same parents and did not feel favored of the Lord because of it. Too many of us have bad parents that make critical mistakes, aren’t we loved? 

The gospel is important. However, we must be careful not to think we are better for being in one religion over another.

There is nothing wrong in being grateful for what you have, but when we think of these as measures of love, we might run into some trouble. Nephi says that he had afflictions but “knowledge of the goodness…of God” is what he focused on. This is available to everyone. I realized I was loved—I was just looking at the wrong measure of it.

Once, when I was a teenager, I felt miserable but also thought that the Lord wouldn’t help me because I wasn’t going to church. I was desperate to feel the Spirit and my sorrowful mind believed that I was too bad to talk to God. He wouldn’t listen to someone like me. 

I figured that if I could start doing better and show Him that I could be better, then maybe He would hear my prayer. My depression logic came up with one week of nightly scripture study for one heard prayer. As I read, the number of nights I needed to earn a heard prayer started to come down. Surely, five nights will be enough, a few verses later, maybe after three nights. By the end of my reading, I realized I was allowed to pray and the Lord would hear it. I felt the Spirit and I felt loved.

Commandments are not chores we do to earn nickels and dimes we can spend at God’s General Store of Blessings. Because society can only see the outside, it is society’s value system that determines love by what we do, how others treat us, and what we have.

The Lord sees our hearts. Commandments are God’s invitations to come and be with Him. Our obedience is our way of inviting Him to come be with us. We are loved regardless of what we do. The invitation stands even if we don’t accept it. If we do invite God to be with us, we will know how much we are loved.

What we do is important. We are always making choices even when we are passively trying to avoid making choices. The purpose behind those choices matter. We don’t need to earn love as much as we need to act to show love and accept it. When the purpose is true, our actions have power, even if they’re not perfect.

The Soul: Body and Spirit United

Depression is, at its core, a condition of separation. Its cure is connection. A depressed person is at war with herself and thus retreats from everyone else. 

This is a part of the physical nature of the disease. A depressed brain has become incapable of sending proper signals often due to biological or environmental stressors. Perhaps caused by a chemical imbalance or even a change in hormones, depression can happen to someone with a seemingly idyllic life. Or, if someone’s life has been extremely stressful, the brain can deplete the reserves of transmitters necessary for dealing with stress. Either way, a depressed person is only processing a portion of what is truly before them.

When you make a mistake there is no encouraging signal to allow you to process what you did right or even what you could do better next time. You get stuck, so fixated on a minor failure that it becomes a catastrophic collapse. An unkind voice becomes the only one you hear. No other voice or thought is able to get through.

This can be hard for a depressed person to understand or accept because our brains, our thoughts, are so intricately linked with our perceptions of ourselves. We think we are in control. If there is a failure, it’s my fault. If I can’t fix it, it’s my fault. I’m weak. I’m broken.

When my therapist began to prescribe a medication, I did not want to take it. I thought that if I, Christen, was not strong enough to be happy, and I needed to be Drugged-Christen to be happy, then the drug just confirmed that I was defective. He described some of the signaling of the brain, specifically dopamine and serotonin, and said that in my case my brain was using these signals faster than it could make them because of my current circumstances. The medication would support my brain in making these necessary transmitters.

He also pointed out that my body was working hard to support me through some intensely difficult things. My body was strong, pushing through and doing everything I asked of it. It was time for me to support my body.

When depressed, we develop habits, physical and spiritual, that numb the pain. Unfortunately, numbing is not the same as restoring and these habits often leave us worse off than we were before. Separating ourselves from what we’re feeling and thinking also leads to separation from others and the depression deepens.

As a teenager, I obsessively watched classic movies and did puzzles, solitary activities I always did alone. In Michigan, I obsessively read cheap kindle books. I joked that I was a book-aholic, until my daughter wanted to play with me, and when I put her off she quietly answered, “I don’t like book-aholics.” That’s when I realized avoiding my problems was making them worse.

I wasn’t listening to my body when it said I was tired and needed sleep, because I was too busy trying to numb my spirit and stop the negative thoughts. I was too exhausted to think and thus also unable to hear my spirit ask for those things that would bring true relief.

There is a unique doctrine in the restored gospel that the soul is the body and spirit of man (D&C 88:15) and the two inseparably connected bring a fulness of joy (D&C93:33). I find a lot of power in this unity.

The body is not evil and weak—a thing to control or suffer through until your final freedom. Your body is a part of your eternal identity. The experiences it brings you will teach you things that are impossible to learn in any other way. To care for and listen to your body will strengthen your spirit and increase your capacity for joy.

On the other hand, your body is not the only determining factor of your identity. Your biology does not dictate your life. When left to itself, the body has no view beyond the present. It easily falls to appetites that cannot be satiated and the resulting constant pursuit leads to destruction.

Together, spirit and body united, you can find joy and truth. Either one in dominance at the expense of the other is living only half a life. Both bring awareness and connection to the world around you. 

I tried to stop reading so much and realized I first needed to reconnect with myself—to listen again to what I was feeling. When was I tired? What made me feel rested? When was I hungry? What made me happy?

One thing I love about my daughter was that she never said she wanted a cleaner room, or better food, or a prettier mom. She just said she wanted me. When I stopped avoiding the thoughts running through my mind and instead focused on actually being with my daughter, I was better able to tell fact from fiction.

Slowing down to fully feel and connect physically and spiritually was the first form of unity that helped me wake up and truly see myself.

A Promise of Light

This post is a part of “my story” which begins with “Finding Purpose”

When I say that I was frozen with fear in that small graveyard (full story in “A Light in Darkness”), it’s not inaccurate, but it’s not a full description either. It was fear, but not of anything physical. It was shock, but not from seeing blood. It was the fear of picturing myself in his position. It was the shock of a formerly depressed and suicidal person seeing an actual suicide. 

I was not detailed in my suicidal fantasies when I was a teenager. I remember feeling completely powerless. Frustrated that no one would listen to me, I wanted a powerful display that they couldn’t ignore anymore. But, I also realized that if people thought everything was my fault in life, they would do the same in death. I wanted to make people listen. I wanted to be understood so that I could understand.

I can now definitively say that suicide is not an eloquent expression of feelings. It’s messy, stinky, and awful. Death doesn’t enhance your voice, it silences it. 

When I was depressed, I lived and breathed because of Alma the Younger. He was my favorite prophet because he knew what darkness was. Although Alma the Younger was raised by a righteous and powerful prophet, Alma the Elder, he pulled people away from the church. An angel appeared to him and Alma fell into a coma-like state for a few days. In chapter 36 of his book in the Book of Mormon, Alma tells his son that he “was racked…with the pains of a damned soul” until he remembered his father preaching of Christ. When he remembered this, he cried to Christ for mercy and was filled with joy. He says:

And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.

I knew that this was my promise. One day, I would receive light as intense as was my darkness. 

Alma went on to have more joy through his missionary work. I also discovered my full light and an immeasurable joy in being a missionary, lifting and serving others. I found my voice in helping other people through the darkness. God kept his promise.  

Words cannot express how I have wished that we could have found that man earlier. He fought with intense darkness but, in the end, was not claimed by it. I find hope in this—there truly is no darkness so thick that Christ cannot banish it with light. But, I also feel deep sorrow. I can only conclude that his darkness was such that he isolated himself from those that would help him until God sent two sister missionaries that could connect with him while he was too weak to push them away. 

There are still too many that die alone. Too many that believe the lies of depression that they have no power, no one will listen, no one cares. The truth is that you have incredible power. The truth is that you are the only one who can tell your story, and there are people waiting to hear you. 

We all pass through sorrow in our own way. We all discover our light. I think those of us that have survived darkness, perhaps especially suicidal thoughts and depression, have a duty to say there is light and joy. The night does end. The light is equal to your darkness. So, if you’re feeling especially dark, your light will be that much more amazing. Just hold on.

A Light in Darkness

Trials, hardships, sadness, fear, things that makes us feel hopeless, are all symbolized by darkness. Light is a symbol for hope. That power that pushes back darkness and helps us keep going. Hope is not the same as wishful thinking. Hope comes with knowledge, confidence, and love.

When I was a new missionary, I felt overwhelmed and scared. God gave me hope. Whenever I most need it, when darkness once again surrounds me, God reminds me of this lesson and gives me light.  

For an unrelated reason, our Zone Leader came to give my trainer and I priesthood blessings. In mine, I was counseled to be bold. I had already been studying boldness in the scriptures but was not really getting anywhere. I was getting frustrated and discouraged.

Later that day, my missionary trainer and I were scheduled to teach a lesson with the help of a sister in the ward. I called her to confirm, but she said she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be able to go with us. My trainer told me to call someone else, but the Spirit told me to call back the original sister. I thought that sounded pretty rude considering she just told me she wasn’t feeling well. Then i thought of that priesthood blessing from earlier. Ok, I thought, I guess I’ll be bold.

I called her back and asked her if we could bring her some soup. Apparently I wasn’t ready yet to be fully bold. Luckily for me, when I called sh said that she realized she wasn’t sick but down in the dumps and decided that going with the missionaries was the best way to pick herself up. I thought that was a miracle on its own! The Spirit gave me a prompting but also took care of it so that I would be successful even with minimal effort on my part. Hallelujah!

When we met up with this sister, she asked if we could quickly put some flowers on her mother’s grave on our way. There are many small cemeteries scattered around the country areas of Georgia and Tennessee. This should not have added any time to our trip.

However, when we first pulled into the graveyard, there was a van parked in front of the grave and a man was collapsed next to it. Due to poor cell reception, the sister driving us needed to leave to call for an ambulance. I got out of the car with the full intention of helping, trying to remember first aid, and then froze.

My mind went completely blank, paralyzed by a sudden and intense fear. Not the fear of physical violence, that had already been done, but fear of palpable darkness. As I stood there, it seemed as though someone was laughing at me. I was ashamed that I could not move, embarrassed at my own weakness, and someone thought that was hilarious. Unseen fingers slick with a heavy oil sought to cover my skin and seep into my pores. My companion kept calling for me to come over to her until I finally moved. More to run away from the darkness than anything else.

The man, now lying on his back, was fatally injured. We wrapped the wound as best we could, but there wasn’t much to be done. We prayed, spoke with him for as long as he was able, sang hymns, and then kept silent. While we sat with him, we were surrounded by a light that shielded us from the darkness. The fear was gone, I felt completely calm. My lungs expanded without constriction, my mind took in not only our conversation and his condition but also the light filtering through the trees and the beauty of the place. The beauty of the whole world astounded me. I felt blessed beyond measure with the love of Heavenly Father.

We remained with the injured man in this state for about half an hour until he passed away. With that final breath, the light began to recede. A couple of minutes later when the emergency vehicle arrived and the EMT began her work, I became aware again of the darkness. This time, however, the presence was farther from me. Those fingers that before were taunting and pushing were now clenched in rage, but they could not touch me.

Even so, the feeling of that much rage directed at me brought back doubt of my own strength. I cried to God asking why I was sent there when I was unable to do anything of any use. The man had died. I had not helped him. I thought a Priesthood holder would have been more effective: the Zone Leader, the District Leader, a man from the ward that lived in the area, so many choices other than me. I felt useless and powerless.

In answer there came to my mind a picture of myself wearing the mantle of a missionary and emanating light. There also came the knowledge that I had fulfilled that which was asked of me. I pushed back the darkness. That was my purpose as a missionary. Where ever I stood, darkness could not. 

The light that shone from around me was brilliant and powerful. I understood at that moment that I had made covenants to my Heavenly Father and with those covenants came the ability to call upon the accompanying blessings at any time and the assurance that my call would be answered. I would be able to fulfill all that God asked me to do because He would enable me to do it with all the light and power of heaven. 

In the middle of my intense trials and darkness years later, this is what I wanted to be again. Full of light. A light for my family. Sure of my own power to conquer the darkness. When this memory returned to me, I felt the same hope. I wasn’t there yet, but I knew that I could get there because the light of heaven is still promised to me, and heaven always answers.

Remember, remember…doctrines over habits

This post is part of “My Story” which begins with “Finding Purpose”

We are never grateful for our trials until we start to learn from them—until we start using them to build strength in spite of fear and pain. The memories of previous trials and triumphs give us the courage to face current ones. When we learn from our experiences, even the failures, the truth we’ve gained gives us power throughout the rest of our lives, come what may. 

For me, the turning point in Michigan came late one night when I couldn’t go to sleep even though I so desperately needed to. Filled with various levels of rage, frustration, self-loathing, and weariness, the most shocking thing was how familiar it felt. Lying in bed with my thoughts swirling around, I remembered that I had felt this way before. 

It had happened in the Missionary Training Center, in an auditorium full of missionaries. I just panicked. I felt like a fraud. What have I done? I asked myself. I’m not strong enough to serve a mission. This is the stupidest mistake of my life.

Then I looked down and read from the Joseph Smith History, open on my lap.

For I had seen a vision, I knew it and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God 

As I read these words, memories returned of the things that I knew from personal revelation, those things that God had taught me Himself through His Spirit such that I knew it, and God knew that I knew. My mission was an expression of gratitude to Him for all that had come before. Knowing that He wanted me to do this for Him, it seemed ungrateful to quit.

I was still terrified, but I served. I served with love, and I grew, and I found joy. Not only had I survived my mission, I had thrived as a missionary. 

Lying in my bed, seven years later, I remembered being that missionary. Once again, I was scared, but I remembered the promises and the blessings. Did they still apply?

Before leaving my mission, I spoke with the Branch President in my last area. Sensing my sadness about going home, he told me not to worry. “Your title and job description change, but you are always serving,” he said. “In all important matters, nothing really changes. You just move from one calling to another.”

I tried at first to think of the missionary schedule—the measurable goals, the reporting methods. These didn’t work in my new life, no matter how hard I tried. I no longer had two full hours in which to study, or a 24-hour companion, or the luxury of focusing completely on the work of God. My responsibilities had expanded and become so varied, I felt pulled in too many directions.

But that Branch President was right. My covenants didn’t change. My study time may have decreased, but the scriptures are still a source of inspiration. I still serve many people in many ways. As a missionary, I learned how to serve. Those lessons were just as powerful as ever. I loved my mission because I had become a missionary. 

In Preach My Gospel there is a quote from President Boyd K. Packer that I used constantly when planning lessons for others: 

True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than the study of behavior will improve behavior. 

If someone was having a hard time with a particular commandment or aspect of the gospel, I would try to find the underlying doctrine that would help. I was there to help people build testimonies, not boss them around. I now needed to do the same thing for myself. 

Just as memories had strengthened me in the MTC, memories of previous victories over depression and pain strengthened me again in Michigan. The circumstances were different, but the feelings were the same. I combed through my memories, reliving the experiences and paying particular attention to the lessons. I thought about the significance of those lessons and how they applied to me in my new roles. I discovered that eternal truths apply regardless of position or circumstance. And truth really does set you free.

Problem 3: I am mad at others

This post is a part of “my story” which begins with “Finding Purpose”

The worst part of Michigan was the loneliness. We were too far away from family for frequent visits. My depression and anger caused me to retreat into myself, and my husband’s faith crisis kept me from talking to him about any of it.

Before Michigan, when my husband first told me about his doubts about the church, I was completely blindsided. It didn’t make any sense. He has always been a very righteous man doing everything he ought to do. I kept thinking there was just some misunderstanding, but questioning and probing him was frustrating for both of us. He became depressed and anxious and started going to counseling while still coming to church. Afraid to tell family and friends, he struggled to maintain a Mormon cultural identity.

In Michigan, his anger and bitterness towards the church became more pronounced. We fought more, about church things, and also about other stuff. Ironically, on Sundays he would usually get mad at me for dragging my feet because I wasn’t in the mood to go most of the time. I was not forcing him to go. One day he told me that he realized he fought with me more as Sunday grew closer because he didn’t want to go to church and I thought, hallelujah, then just stop going to church!  

But getting rid of church didn’t help us connect more, it just became a taboo subject. His anger meant that when I tried to discuss my feelings of guilt or my bitterness towards God, he blamed it on the Church and its leaders. I felt my personal feelings were completely dismissed. In my opinion, my feelings, my faith have very little to do with the leadership of the Church. They’re wonderful men, and their lessons are helpful. But my faith is my own. My husband was not understanding me, and I could not understand him.

His faith crisis was also the end of a dream for me. Having grown up without easy access to Priesthood blessings, it was my greatest wish to have a husband that could give me a Priesthood blessing whenever I wanted one. I wanted my children to understand Priesthood by seeing it in their own home. I wanted a husband who would help me have family scripture study, prayer, and Family Home Evening. I wanted to have the kind of family others seemed to have in the Church but that I never did. 

Similar to my failure to get a Ph.D., and my mother’s healing going to my step-father, I felt like everything I wanted was lost. My desires didn’t matter. No one was looking out for me. I was completely alone. I started to envision leaving everything behind. It seemed that since all of my former dreams were dead, and I had to start over, that I might as well start over completely, by myself. 

Would anyone actually even care if I left? Perhaps because my biological father had left me, I knew the answer was “yes.” My kids would always need to know that I loved them. My husband also needed to know that I loved him—a faith crisis didn’t make him a bad person.

We often assume that differences hinder unity, but in fact, unity requires differences. A common goal and respect for the contributions of others are all that is really necessary. From there we can continue to carve away at the things that come between us. It may require difficult conversations to find that common goal, but we need one another to feel heard and understood. We need to understand. 

 These divisions—within ourselves, between us and god, and with each other—represent all the ways we struggle to find unity. Part of why I can never leave Michigan behind is that I still get mad at myself, I’m still infuriated by unfairness in the world, and I get frustrated when other people don’t see things my way. I’ve since noticed that lots of problems and trials, regardless of the circumstances, can be boiled down to a sense of division in at least one of these areas. That also means that seeking unity in these areas will bring healing and the power to solve problems and overcome challenges.

Problem 2: I am mad at God

This post is part of “my story” which starts with the post “Finding Purpose”

Not long after we arrived in Michigan I got a call from my step-father. He had cancer advanced enough that the doctors feared he would not survive to the end of that summer. Two years after my mother’s death from cancer, my step-father’s diagnosis was eerily similar and even more severe. 

My mother was amazing. She was vibrant. She loved life, and nature, and people with a joy that few can match. She was healthy, and, were it not for cancer, she would have lived a long life. She was my life. As her only child, we were together all the time, just the two of us, until she was remarried when I was 13. After that, there were still many times she was my only supporter and defender. 

I had done a lot of praying and crying when my mother was diagnosed, and I thought my step-father’s death would be easier because I was already comfortable with the answers I’d received before. It did not occur to me that those answers would change.

My step-father told me of the doctor’s prognosis and their plan to be aggressive in treating his cancer. I thought, this will be alright. I got through this before, I can do it again. I love my step-father dearly but I did rather automatically assume that he was about to die and I accepted that.

Then he said, “Honey, I think I’m going to make it. I’m going to go through hell, but I’m going to live.”

I felt the Spirit confirm those words. My step-father would be cured of his cancer. 

I love my step-father, but it hurt to see the miracle I wanted most for my mother given to someone else. No one deserved to be healed of cancer more than my mother.

During that summer, I prayed and cried all over again. I didn’t want to be jealous. I wanted to be happy for a wonderful man. My mother was already gone, so why did it feel like she was dying once more? And this time, I was dying right along with her. At the end of the summer, when my step-father’s cancer was gone, my confusion and grief turned to bitter rage.

My thoughts ran around in circles that spiraled deeper and deeper. I was selfish for wanting no one to be healed if my mother couldn’t be. I was evil for wanting the deaths of others. But I knew I didn’t actually want others to die, I wanted my mother to live. I was asking for fairness, consideration, and love. The One that was supposed to be giving me those things, He was the one causing deaths and sewing pain. 

My God, one of my best friends, who held me and comforted me when I was at my lowest, just stabbed me in the back. If He really loved me as much as He said He did, why didn’t He just cure her? He obviously could have done so at any time. It no longer felt like He had passively allowed her death because it needed to happen for some undisclosed reason. No, God had killed my mother. He didn’t love me. He was manipulative and just looking for ways to dig the knife in deeper so He could twist it later. I was so mad, I hated Him. 

Nothing seemed to help. Everyone that tried just put more blame on my own shoulders. It was easier to hate God than to hate myself any more than I already did. 

For some, when they become mad at God, it simply serves as proof that there is no God. This was not the case for me. I know there is a God. God is love. Until I thought he was a liar. Then everything turned to ash. 

Regardless of how you envision God, fully formed personage or completely non-existent, it can be a struggle to find love and light in a world that is an unfair chaotic mix of hatred and darkness. We must all find some way to make peace with the world, some hope that our time here is not pointless. For me, the answer came in knowing God more personally and finding that to know God is the greatest miracle of all.

Problem 1: I am mad at myself

This post is a part of “my story” which begins with the post “Finding Purpose” 

Division can take on many forms when we feel stressed and under pressure. When things start to get hard, we all point a finger of blame and many times we point that finger at ourselves. Blaming yourself for your problems is natural, but it only makes things worse. 

At first, Michigan was exciting, full of potential and possibilities. My husband was to attend law school, a career change with great promise, and I was starting a new job as a research assistant. This was a return to my college dream, and what I thought the Lord wanted me to do.

I wanted a Ph.D. when I was an undergraduate but I put off graduate programs three times before my mother’s death. Once to serve a mission and again to get married. By the time my husband and I began a Ph.D. program together, my mother was becoming increasingly ill from cancer. I was so torn about what to do. Should I put off graduate school to have children, or put off children for graduate school? If I waited too long to have children, would my mother see them? Would I have to enter motherhood without my own mom?

While in the temple praying for guidance, I desperately wanted the answer to be my family. However, during the ceremony I felt an undeniable impression with the words, if you want to fully consecrate your time and talents to the Lord, you need to get a Ph.D. It felt amazing. I was honored, I was special, I was the best.

After I left the temple, as soon as I entered the parking lot, I thought of the children I couldn’t have. The astounding mission the Lord had given me now seemed to have come with too high a price. 

I started my Ph.D. program and most of the people were smarter than me. My contributions were not special. I am nowhere near the best. I fought with the Lord and became pregnant. I still felt the Spirit prompting me to continue my program, but I quit and stayed home with my baby and spent time with my mom.

When we arrived in Michigan, I did not regret the two years I had with my mom and my daughter, or the next two years I stayed at home with my daughter and had my son. I thought I could get back on track with a slight and understandable detour. However, nothing was like I expected.

I think I was good at my job. I liked my co-workers and my boss was brilliant though difficult. I know she liked the progress I made on my projects and the amount of data I  produced. But she hated the number of sick days I took and wanted me to hire someone else to stay home with my baby boy when he was ill, which I was not comfortable doing.

I missed the time I used to spend with my kids. My son was still learning to walk and talk and I was always worried that I wasn’t doing enough for him. We would find through the course of time his allergies and asthma which led to many doctors visits and sometimes to the ER. My daughter was doing well at pre-school but in my exhaustion, I would lose patience with her and I felt the loss of quality time. The mommy guilt was intense.

Now I know that I wasn’t different from any other working mom, but I complicated things by berating myself. I compounded this guilt with a bunch of “what ifs.” If I had stayed in my Ph.D. program, could I have a better job with more flexible hours? My daughter was always more independent and outgoing than her brother. What if she had been the one to be in daycare while I did my Ph.D., then could I be better at giving my son more of the time and help that he needs now? If I had obeyed the Lord, what blessings would he have given me that could have averted this situation? 

Ultimately, every problem I had felt like my fault because I had lost faith. In the temple, when I had the Spirit, confidence was mine. When doubt assailed me, I crumbled. I was not strong enough.

There were no promptings from the Spirit or answers to any prayers. I thought this too was my fault. The Lord had called and I had answered, “not right now, this is more important.” 

I was frustrated and angry at a lot of things and a lot of people in Michigan. None more so than myself. 

You might think that unity with your own self would be easy, after all, you’re only one person. But, we beat ourselves up all the time. Loving yourself, your whole self is easier said than done. It doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t matter to you. It doesn’t mean that you ignore your faults. It doesn’t mean arrogance and a refusal to grow. It means you’re in love with the process of growing. You give yourself the space you need to grow completely.