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” 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.