Sunday, August 18, 2019

Being Clasped in the arms of Jesus; finding peace in Christ while battling depression and anxiety

“Hello, Sara, This is President Erickson calling, could you please call me back?” It was one of those messages you’re not sure if you want to respond to...why would President Erickson call me? A few minutes later I called President Erickson back as I drove to the temple. “Hi Sara, you’ve probably heard about the special stake conference we’re having here in a month”...my mind was racing, conference?  Special conference? “Well, we’d like to ask you to be a speaker at that conference.” 

“I’m willing for sure! I can’t say I’m happy to because that’s really scary but I’m willing! So what would you like me to speak about?” 

“Well, we don’t have a topic for you actually.” 

Oh, no topic, yeah ok. I mean I will pray about it and I’m sure I will figure it out...”

“Great, thanks so plan for about 10 minutes.”

As I continued on to the temple my mind continued to race....What can I possibly say?...Why did they choose me? At that time I was struggling with Depression and anxiety brought on by a long, dark Rexburg winter, stress from our new family business and many other factors. I didn’t exactly feel like I was in a good place for inspiring anyone at stake conference. 
As I entered the temple, my anxiety began to melt away and I felt peace. I still didn’t know why I should speak but I knew I would be given the strength to do it. As for a topic, there was no clear and official title that came to my mind, all I felt was that I needed to tell my story. The story of my journey of motherhood, the real story, not the version where everything is amazing all the time, but the real, raw, super exposing myself version. I had a month to do it but even if I had had a year it wouldn’t have been easy.
Right at that time I had been given the most amazing opportunity to travel to Italy, Paris and London on a very special trip to see our dear exchange student be married. All this was happening while I was supposed to be writing this talk. 
The trip was made possible by my amazing parents who (I believe) were divinely inspired to offer to watch our 8 children for 6 days....Talk about loving kindness!!! It couldn’t have come at a better time. 

I began to reflect on what I might share in my talk. In an earlier post I describe the certainty I felt that there was a sister to come to our family for Adelaide. And that when both twins were boys I tried again to bring this sister here only months after giving birth to the twins. I was able to conceive when the twins were only 8 months old, but just 7 weeks later I lost the baby. Feeling that I was maybe getting old to be having more kids I decided to give it just one more try. Miraculously I conceived again almost immediately making a total of 4 babies in my tummy in one calendar year (the twins were born in January, and the two babies were conceived later in the year)!!! When we learned that baby #8 was not a sister for Adelaide but a 7th brother, I wondered if the baby I had lost was the sister or not. I knew God loved me but I was confused by what I had thought was clear spiritual guidance. I had promised Derek that this would be our last baby and I was so happy to have a little brother coming but I had to seriously mourn the loss of never getting that little sister I had been sure was coming.
The birth of little Benjamin was a shining spot in all of our lives. A few short weeks after Benj was born we discovered a location that I thought would be perfect for our wedding venue we had dreamed of opening. Only the timing was incredibly bad. I was still recovering from childbirth and had no plans of jumping into a business start-up for a while. But the opportunity was there and we prayerfully took the opportunity hoping it would give our boys some valuable work experience.  Still in recovery mode, I worked alongside my boys with a newborn by my side for many weeks to get the venue ready to go.
When things didn’t go as smoothly with the business as I had dreamed they would I began to blame myself for any failure I felt, knowing that I was the one who had drug my family into this venture and I would be to blame if it failed. 
I started 2018 with one-year old twins, a newborn and a new business. A few weeks into 2018, Derek’s Dad passed away unexpectedly. Jack had been everything to us. He supported my kids in literally every activity they participated in. He never missed a special event. A councilor by trade he exuded a calming peace that we all desperately craved to be able to deal with his loss. 
Feeling helpless to relieve Derek’s pain while trying to process my own pain was so hard. If I had been stronger emotionally I may have had more to give Derek but I felt so vulnerable and weak myself. Then my closest friend told me they were planning to move. It seemed that all that was safe and familiar to me was crumbling away. 
Those winter days were long and difficult trying to love and keep up with little boys dumping, breaking and scattering things all over my house, and the older kids dealing with their personal struggles. I felt myself getting less and less able to cope with life’s daily challenges.
During that time I attended a fireside with my children on mental health issues. They began the fireside by singing the new theme-song written for the youth for last year called “Peace in Christ”.  As they sang the words, it’s message filled my heart:  
“when there’s no peace on earth, find peace in Christ” 
The fireside was beautiful. I came away knowing that 1.) I needed to go to that fireside to learn that I was I was not in a healthy place emotionally and 2.) I could find peace in Christ. 
That day God gave me an opportunity to find my pathway to peace in Christ. Through inspired council from church leaders at a ward conference, I made a game plan to strengthen myself and my family and find peace in Christ.
I kept feeling like I should share my personal journey to finding peace in Christ through all the crazy trials, the diapers and running a family business. I had so many thoughts and feelings swimming around in my head. 
One day on our trip as Derek went to the Paris Opera house, I stayed behind and wrote down all of my thoughts. I just wrote from my heart sharing my crazy life and how following council from church leaders had helped me to find peace and face the depression and anxiety I was experiencing.  So many times I questioned myself: was I sharing too much? Was there any value at all in what I was sharing? I knew if I thought too hard about it I wouldn’t be brave enough to give the talk at all. So I decided I wouldn’t change it. After we landed in the states I got another call from president Erickson, this time he was letting me know the lineup of speakers. It turned out that besides the mission president and members of the stake presidency, I was the representative “normal” person to speak. Oh yeah and there would be a visiting authority there as well. The Newly called (newly as in called 3 days prior) apostle  Elder Soares. Wait, what? I’m going to speak alongside an apostle? Me with my stories about all the babies and the diapers, the feeling overwhelmed and sad and anxious and searching for peace?  

If I had felt self conscious before, this news took things to a whole new level. If I started over I could rewrite the kind of talk everyone would expect to hear at stake conference, but how could I come up with a new topic and a whole new talk with so little time left? I knew I had to give the original talk. Surely if I had been given the strength to process all these crazy emotions I could be given the strength to share them with a few thousand people right? 
The day of my talk arrived. Much of the conference had to do with new procedures pertaining to the adjustments our wonderful prophet had made concerning the new ministering program. Then there was a testimony from the Mission president and it was my turn. I stood up. I couldn’t really see out to all the people. I usually don’t struggle so much while speaking in public but the circumstances made all my emotions heightened.  

I shared it all. I cried, but only a little and then it was over. I sat down feeling exposed but relieved. 
Elder Soares gave a beautiful, humble talk. What an amazing man. When it was over we all stood to allow elder Soares to exit the building ahead of us, he wouldn’t be able to stay to greet people. As he passed the leaders on the stand he shook each of their hands. When Elder Soares approached me the warmth of his smile gave me the assurance that I had craved that I was enough, that what I had shared was in fact what the Lord had wanted me to share. With all my weakness and my faults and my anxiety, I did have a story to share however unorthodox.

As I anticipated a firm handshake from this giant of a leader he did something that I will never forget. He opened up his arms and gave me a warm Brazilian hug. This tender servant of God, a very ambassador of Christ had taken a moment in his rush to get on the road to remind a small unimportant person that what she does every day matters to God. That raising the babies, the littles, the middles and the teens although unglamorous in the eyes of the world was exactly what God wanted me to be doing. He didn’t say any words to me but I felt all those things in his simple embrace. Why Elder Soares took a moment to give me that hug in the midst of all the handshaking that came before and after will never be fully known to me but I felt that day  (as Mormon describes) that I was “clasped in the arms of Jesus”. (See Mormon 5:11)

In that time of darkness I felt peace in Christ through one of his anointed servants. There have been many hard days since that day. I have tried many things to improve my mental health, some have worked better than others. I know that no matter how hard life gets there is always peace that can be found through following God’s chosen leaders. It doesn’t take away depression or anxiety, it doesn’t make our hard times go away, but I’d does give us a sure path to hope and peace. Peace in Christ Is definitely a journey not a destination. It’s a road we travel every day. It’s impossible to say we have “arrived” on our journey toward peace in Christ because just when we get comfortable with the way things are God gives us another opportunity to grow and come even closer to Him if we allow ourselves to.                                                                       



















Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Live like you were dying; a tribute to my Dads


Sometimes it takes an extraordinary experience to recognize the magic in the ordinary. Sometimes its losing someone you love so dearly that makes you realize the gift it is to have each day with the people you take for granted. 
Today my Dad turns 81 years old!  One year ago on this day I was in New Zealand with my parents and siblings for the trip of a life time. My amazing Father served a mission 60 years ago in New Zealand. I grew up hearing his missions stories of this amazing place and attending mission reunions where we would hear more stories and get a small taste of this beautiful culture. I longed to visit there one day and my Dad promised that one day we would go. Growing up the very middle child of 10 children we never had an abundance of money, just an abundance of love. I never imagined how this dream of seeing New Zealand would ever come about.  25 years later, my Dad was turning 80 and my brothers decided this was the year for our family to finally visit New Zealand together.


 They offered to pay for the trip as an incentive for people to feel like they could make it work. It would be a dream come true but Benj was still so little and the thought of leaving him was excruciating. One night I prayed a very specific prayer explaining to God How much I wanted to go on this trip and fulfill my childhood dream but that in order to feel like I could go I would need to have another mother somehow be willing to take Benj while I was away. As I prayed I felt like the person who would be the best match for my wish was my dear friend Teresa.  How on earth do you ask a person to take your baby so you can go across the world for several days? I knew I couldn’t consider asking her! As it turned out I didn’t have to ask, the very next day I saw Teresa and she said: what if I took Benj so that you won’t have to worry about him while you’re gone. It was as if the very longoing of my heart had been whispered to hers! 

What pure miracle to have such a heartfelt prayer be answered so quickly and perfectly! The timing for this miracle couldnt have been better.  With 1-year old twins, a newborn and 5 older children my days were filled with diapers, dishes and disciplining and my nights were spent loving my baby (which didn't leave me much sleeping time). To add to that we had just opened our wedding venue and the stress of how to manage and run a small business was weighing heavily on my mama heart. This escape from reality is just what I was craving.
The day before I departed I had the thought to live my last day at home for my family as if it were my last day with them so that they would have no doubt that their Mama loved them. When my daughter asked me to play a game with her I took the time to sit and play it. I went to my son’s basketball game even though there were plenty of other things I could have justified doing instead. I loved my babies more and just enjoyed the ordinary sweetness of being the Mom to my family. It was a perfect day. It was a perfectly ordinary perfect day. I remember wishing I had the strength to live every day like that day. 
The trip to New Zealand was beyond magical. My brothers went to great lengths to make it in every way the most amazing time of all our lives. From meeting precious Maori people to hearing of stories of my Dad designing the landscaping for the famed hill of the Hamilton NZ, Temple. 

From singing Christmas songs to residents of the local rest-home(just like we had done all growing up) to going to Hobitton (the set of the famed Movie Lord of the Rings), the glow worm caves and even Bungee jumping with my Dad for his 80th birthday (My Mom went too!!!). 
  

Can I just pause this story to say, I couldn’t possibly love my Dad any more. I can barley write this without crying. He has lived his whole life as a sacrifice for those he loves. When I was struggling to know how to best share some research I had done in grad-school he spent hours asking me questions about it so that he could understand it well enough to advise me on how best to present it to others. Just a few weeks ago he came for a very short visit to Rexburg to attend a Veterans Day program. As a retired military veteran, he attended my daughter's program, then with the remaining hours he had left in the day he worked tirelessly to help me finish a making some tables for our venue that I had been longing to finish. We worked into the night. Finally after 1:30 AM we completed the job. I had so much weighing on my heart that day and I wanted to ask him to give me a Father's blessing.  I felt so much guilt to ask him for anything since he had just sacrificed so much time to bless me already. I reluctantly asked him for a father’s blessing.  In the darkness of the night he counceled with me and laid his hands on my head to bless me through the power of the priesthood with words of wisdom and comfort. The next morning there was a funeral they had wanted to attend so without hesitating, or even stopping to rest he packed up his clothes and left. I got into my warm bed as he drove straight home through the night in order to attend the funeral the next morning. My 80-year old father had pulled an all-nighter to serve me and my family. Although these examples are of extreme circumstances I could tell hundreds more stories of perfectly ordinary perfect moments with my Dad. He is brilliant, full of integrity, hard working and fun. I have never managed to beat him in tennis but he always applauds my efforts in trying. He serves his community in countless ways. He is currently serving his 3rd full time mission for the church with my angel mother.

How special it was to be in such a place to honor my Dad for his birthday. While we were there, one lovely Maori woman told our family that for the Maoris the most important thing in the world is: People, people people. 

The trip was so unreal that even as I write this I almost can’t believe it ever happened. Perhaps the most lovely part of it all was experiencing the miracle of having my baby taken care of and the miracle that happened inside of me as I realized how much I loved my own family I had left behind. Having that perfectly ordinary day before I left made it such a pleasure to come home to my perfectly ordinary life after such an unreal adventure away from it. I felt such a sweetness about being home and such a love for those I had left behind. I thought so often of the Maori woman's words: "What matters most is: people, people, people."

A few weeks after our trip to New Zealand my dear father-in-law passed away unexpectedly. The sting of having him leave us so abruptly left me crying my eyes out for weeks at every thought of him.  As I reflected on the life he had lived and the many accomplishments he had made, what stood out to me the most was all of the ordinary things he did. Not the awards or special honors he had received from his 40+ years as a faculty of UVU, head of the wellness center and trusted counselor to hundred of grateful students. No, what made my father in law great was how much he loved people. Just like the Maoris, he loved people.  He loved my husband. He was his best friend, he loved my kids and he loved me. He showed his love by being present at all of our important life events. He was there for every baby blessing, ordination, and even special sporting events. He traveled hours and hours to watch a game that was minutes long. He wasn’t a man of many words but he didn’t have to say much to make you feel like a million bucks.  I’m not a great connoisseur of country music but I love the song by Tim McGraw called: Live like you were dying. Truly, my father in law lived like he was dying. 

 Of course, you don’t have to go across the world to discover how perfectly wonderful it is to live your ordinary life. We don’t have to feel the risk of losing those we love to realize how precious they are to us. We don’t have to be given a few months to live in order to see life as the precious gift that it is. In order to live like we were dying, we just have to choose to live that way. To choose to make the people that are the most important part of your ordinary life feel like they are the most important thing in your world because in the end, that’s all that matters, people. People are what matter. Your people are what matter. God's whole work and Glory is people. shouldn't our glory be the same?  people, people, people.   
Moses 1:39











Friday, December 22, 2017

“Faith in God includes faith in His timing”- Neal A. Maxwell


Have you ever made a perfect plan for how you knew your life should go? What happened? How often in our lives do things go as planned?  
Planning is an essential part of living. I once heard that dreaming is a form of planning. We need to dream. We need to plan. We also need to understand that there are times when God respectfully takes our plans and alters them. This can be painful and confusing. What we don’t always understand is that God’s version of the plan is perfect, and leads us down the exact path we were meant to be on. 

Our job is to recognize His hand in all things so we can have confidence in the way things are going. As I write this I realize that I’ve still got a long way to go in my own personal journey of recognizing and embracing God’s version of what my path should be, but I sure am grateful to know that the grand navigator has a perfect knowledge of my preferred destination.
l
Planning is an essential part of living. I once heard that dreaming is a form of planning. We need to dream. We need to plan. We also need to understand that there are times when God respectfully takes our plans and alters them. This can be painful and confusing. What we don’t always understand is that God’s version of the plan is perfect, and leads us down the exact path we were meant to be on.  Our job is to recognize His hand in all things so we can have confidence in the way things are going. As I write this I realize that I’ve still got a long way to go in my own personal journey of recognizing and embracing God’s version of what my path should be, but I sure am grateful to know that the grand navigator has a perfect knowledge of my preferred destination.

For many years I’ve been decorating weddings at various venues. I love taking an ordinary space and making it into something extraordinary. A couple of years ago Derek suggested that our family should open up our own wedding venue to use my love of decorating and also to give our many children an opportunity to work. While driving home from Canada we talked about our dream and how we would pull it off. After the trip was over Derek likely forgot about our conversation but I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. 
The next year and a half was was much occupied with bearing and nurturing the twins. After they turned a year old I revisited our dream of opening a wedding venue. I was expecting Benjamin but decided to search for a possible location until he was born at which time I would be able to focus on him.
After months of researching real estate trends and prices per square foot both for renting and buying local properties I felt confidence in making an offer on a lovely little building. My offer was denied because the land was tied into a larger piece of very valuable real estate that they didn’t want to separate. I went on in my search and had many more failed attempts at securing a building.  
Just before I was to have Benjamin there was a beautiful lot I was trying to buy to build our venue on. The property wasn’t zoned as commercial and the process to switch it over was quite involved and costly and wasn’t a sure bet. 
After praying about it I felt like I just needed to focus on having the baby. Then when Benjamin was only 3 weeks old my sister Becky came in town and while she was in town we saw a property that I immediately knew I would want for our wedding venue. 
The fact that I would finally find the right venue when I had a 3-week old baby made no sense to me. In order to secure the property we had to commit to it or lose it. It broke my heart to take on the pressure of starting a new business when all I wanted to do was to focus on and love my last baby. Also, how in the world would I find the time or energy to do all I needed to do while being up at night with a newborn? Each time I faced doubt about these issues I reminded myself of the hundreds of prayers we had offered asking for guidance for our family business dreams. 
If we had faith enough to ask for heavens help in getting a place, we needed to have faith that God’s timing for the project was also par of His plan. I received a blessing that promised I would have the stamina to do what was required of me for my family and for the business and miraculously I did! In extreme cases we worked past midnight and came home to a baby that needed to be fed for his late-night feeding. 
Working alongside my boys was pure magic to me. At home there is so much noise and so many big and small needs that need to be met that I feel like I just go into survival mode and try to feed the mouths and put out all the fires. But when I would take one or two boys over with me to work then instantly all that noise was gone and it was just us working together for something good. 
 

They learned how to use a chopsaw, a gigsaw, and a nail gun as we put up shiplap and a pallet wall. Together we measure, painted, nailed and unpacked furniture. It was sweet to see how we transformed that space into something beautiful but the sweetest transformation that took place was not seen with the eye. It happened inside us as we could feel less contention and more love working toward a common goal. 


Benjamin was such a sweetheart to come along and rest in his car seat while we worked. David made a website from scratch using html which he learned in school, Keller invented a more efficient way of installing shiplap using 2 ladders instead of one, Adelaide helped me to prepare the letters to hang outside and unpacked dozens of chiavari wedding chairs. Wes stayed up until 2:30 the week of the grand opening to assist me in final touches and Adam became a master of power tools at the age of 9. 

Now that our place is open I don’t know what will lie ahead in our journey. 
           

During this season as we celebrate the miracle of the birth of our Savior, I am reminded of a talk I heard about God planning millions of years ahead of time for a single star to shine down on the stable at Bethlehem on the very night of Christ's birth and that if God can orchestrate this detail so many years in advance then certainly the details of our lives are also very much a part of His grand plan.


Martin Luther said: "I know not the way God leads me, but well do I know my Guide." May we ever know Him and ever trust in His supreme guidance.l

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Darkness to light: feeling God's nearness

As I prepare to give birth to our sweet baby boy I have been trying find a way to say goodbye to the twins as the babies of our family. It has always been hard for me to make these transitions, but with two of them I find it to be even more emotional.  These little boys have had such a profound effect on our lives and although they will be ours forever they will very soon be sharing their place in the family with a new precious one.

 Life's transitions often bring pain but generally also provide overwhelming opportunities for growth. I think of the very important transition of helping a little one sleep through the night without assistance (nursing, comforting etc). Every parent faces this challenge with their baby at some point but with our twins we felt compelled to sleep train earlier than we had with our other babies out of sheer exhaustion and the need to care for 5 other children including older kids who kept us awake at night for other reasons.


  As parents we know that sleeping alone is going to be a skill that will bless the child (and the rest of the family!) with needed sleep, and subsequent growth that can only occur during intervals of quality sleep. We also know that in order to gain this new skill, the child must experience the feeling of total abandonment in order to recognize that he can truly make it on his own.                                        
What the child doesn't know is that during those moments when he feels the most abandoned and confused that the parent is really very near. Many nights I have waited outside my child's door just feet away as they cry in confussion, I lay there listening praying, sometimes weeping, pleading with the Lord to help my child to make it through the night without me.

As adults we continue to make painful but needed transitions. We finish school and move away from home, we get married and follow our spouse across the country to a new and unfamiliar place, we lose someone who is very dear to us, we feel inspired to do something that doesn't turn out as we envisioned.  These times can make us feel such loss and abandonment. Why is it that at these times we look for God and sometimes wonder where He is?
As the parent of all mankind, it is during our painful transitions when God is outside our doorway listening, waiting and asking the Lord to comfort us as we push through our own painful transistion in order that we might gain the new skill of greater  spiritual strength and maturity.
Since discovering that this baby would be a brother and not the sister that I was sure would come to us I have tried so hard to understand God's plan for me. I find myself asking Him: was the sister the baby I lost last Fall? Am I supposed to have another baby to actually get her here? Am I just spiritually off and not able to actually discern what Thy will is for me?
I have realized that perhaps I don't need to know the answer to these questions now. Perhaps I will not know them in this lifetime.  I do know that although I have felt intense pain over this lack of understanding that God has not at all abandoned me. I believe He is closer than ever waiting, listening and pleading with the Lord to give me strength as I grow the new skill to trust and follow and believe in His power to guide, lift and nurture our family to new heights.
In less than 24 hours our little town will witness total darkness during midday during a total eclipse of the sun. This miracle of total darkness to full light is not unlike the miracle we all experience when God through His great power can take us from full darkness to endless day as He heals our broken hearts and makes us even stronger than we ever knew we could be.