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.

Finding Purpose in Michigan

Sometimes I feel bad for Michigan. I am really not fair to that state. I have lived in ten states through out my life and I have loved all of them, except Michigan. I believe that everyone should travel and live in different places to see and learn things from new perspectives. There is beauty everywhere. Except in Michigan. 

And yet, I keep finding myself back in Michigan, so to speak, reliving it over again. Whenever I feel the same sense of unease, depression, overwhelming fatigue, I think “Oh no, this is just like Michigan.” My time there was a time of trial, fraught with anguish, but Michigan was also a time of remembrances and as such cannot be forgotten. It was in Michigan that I woke up and took fresh stock of myself when I thought I had ruined everything. I remembered my mother and grieved for her, and I remembered why I loved my husband in a time when it was difficult to do so.

All the bad parts of Michigan no longer stand alone. They are paired with the profound experiences, good friends, and inner strength that I found there as well. I have not yet developed a great love for difficulty—much like how trials make you stronger, but you don’t go asking for them. Or how the refiner’s fire yields pure beauty, but it still burns. The problems I faced in Michigan were transformative and I hated them. But, I do love who I have become.  Trials can make you stronger; it’s learning from them that’s the real trick. 

I know that I’m biased, my objective brain knows that Michigan really is a great state, but I cannot erase my experiences. Our experiences shape us and the way we see the world. Not everyone hates Michigan. I met many there that love it because it is their home, their life, their family. It is my experience in that state that has changed how I see it to the point that my Michigan is very different from the Michigan experienced by so many others. It doesn’t make mine any less true. Rather, it means I accept the challenge to hold my view and recognize another’s as equally valid and true even though it is different. And just because I see something a certain way, it is not the only way, and I can learn to see it in a new light.

  Similarly, I have a particular way I view my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some love it, others hate it. It depends on how you have experienced it. 

There is no easy way to tell you why I view things the way that I do. My husband will tell you that I’m not as Mormon as I think I am to which I reply that I am Mormon and it’s all those other Mormons that are confused. I have learned the gospel through study, but mostly through my experiences. Truth can be studied and learned in a variety of ways but it is not until you have lived it, that it will have meaning and become a part of you. Intellectually, the scriptures and doctrines of the Church can be interpreted many ways. I like my interpretation because it is what I have learned through my life, it is what I live. A scripture will have a particular meaning because it was not learned in a vacuum. It was taught to me at a certain time, by a special person, with a healthy dose of the Spirit, and then used by me in a chosen way. My view of the Church is linked to my life, just as it is for everyone. 

Thus, I could start in the beginning of my life but I have chosen to start in Michigan. Before Michigan, I learned many things. In Michigan, I applied them and learned them again from a new angle. The problems were not particularly new, rather they came together to form a Triumvirate of Trouble that took every lesson I’d learned and all the strength I’d gained before to overthrow. Because of Michigan, my past did not stay in the past. It gained meaning. I gained a purpose that had been lost and needed to be brought back home. I learned to overcome my trials by seeking unity and am stronger for it. Now, I’m grateful for Michigan.