Living Your Truth

Living Your Truth

When I was 10 my parents moved us out of the city to a home where crickets chirped louder than your thoughts, and where I could see more stars on a clear summer night than I’d ever seen in my whole life COMBINED!!

I loved it.

Still do.

I’ve always been fascinated by stars. Especially when, on the aforesaid clear summer nights, they simply took my breath away. There was many a game of ‘jump the ball’ (our own can-less neighborhood version of ‘kick the can’) where I would just stop in my tracks and sit out round after round in favor of feeling the curve of our hill at my back and just looking, almost falling, into the majesty of the Southern sky. Sometimes I felt like this was a way of disconnecting from the hectic world (or, at the moment, a chaotic mess of kids running, screaming, laughing, etc.) and instead connecting with God. From seeing the beauty and majesty of the stars alone, I never had any doubt that He was there. It always brought me such peace, and made me feel at one with the earth. Sometimes I would even imagine I could see the curve of the atmosphere, like I was at the bottom of a tiny snow globe and the stars were the glitter falling slowly.

Yep. I was definitely a daydreamer.

It was such a joyful experience, though, to be a daydreamer in my youth. And not just while enjoying nature. I devoured literature, loved a good cry after a sad movie (WITH a happy ending, mind you!), and had my head up in the clouds more often than not.

I just loved thinking. And I just loved stories.

I think that’s a part of human nature – to love stories. Why else would we spend so much of our time watching, hearing, writing, reading, imagining stories and retelling them over and over again? Stories are wonderful. They can help us escape harsh realities, find peace in our own trials, appreciate our blessings, and create new solutions to old problems. Stories connect us to the essence of our humanity. They inspire us.

But they can harm us, too.

Because we relate so well to stories, we often sort our own lives into a story of our own. But are our stories really truth? And if we are living our stories, are we living truth?

I wasn’t. For a long time. And I can remember exactly the moment when it went wrong.

When was hospitalized in Las Vegas, my (AWESOME) companion and I were alone in the hospital for hours. And then days. But sometime while I was there, hooked up to IVs after weeks of not being able to eat, sleep, or even breathe without pain, I received a phone call that made my going home a reality. Up to this point, I had such faith and hope that I was called to be in Vegas, and that Heavenly Father needed me there, that I had never really even considered it to be a possibility that I would go home. But that phone call with my dad finally grounded me in reality.

At least, what I thought was reality.

Of course, the reality – and truth – was that I needed to go home. It was rather obvious that the doctor I had been seeing (and basically paying to write prescription after poisonous prescription without regard for allergic reaction or chemical composition – a grand total of 19 in the 3 months I had in Vegas!) had no clue how to actually help me, and that I needed medical attention urgently. Y’know. From a real doctor.

But from that moment of hanging up the phone with hopeful and tearful parents, I started to tell myself a story.

This story included me somehow not having enough faith. It included me not being able to do the work the Lord had for me, and my physical limitations somehow making me unworthy to be what I had wanted to be my whole life (though strangely, even to this point, it wasn’t the POTS).

This story also included how I would never be able to make my parents proud, how I had failed, how I would never succeed. It included the feeling that somehow I deserved pain, that I deserved to be sick. That I certainly didn’t deserve to be happy.

It was only fed by well-meaning encouragements to return to a mission that was certainly out of reach by this point. My Story began to take on a life of its own, as my soul marinated in my failings and imperfections.

The Story I was telling myself was that my flaws outweighed any good I could have ever done, in Vegas or otherwise.

The adversary was working full-time to make sure I believed that Story. It was truly a recipe for disaster, fed by my pain and inability to understand.

That Story turned into me believing that my parents, my family, didn’t love me.

That Story led me to a marriage temple without the support of my parents (who have lovingly and amazingly refrained from saying “I told you so”). It led me to a place where I tolerated an environment in which my true self, my integrity and virtue and hope, wasn’t welcome.

And then came Sadie.

I have not seen, nor will ever see until I lay eyes on my Redeemer and His Father, any being or soul so perfect. So absolutely pure.

Why would God bless me to even be in the same room as such a spirit, let alone allow me to be her mother, now and forever, if I was irredeemable?

He would not. 

Not for me, not for anyone. Because no one is irredeemable. No one upon this earth is beyond the reach of His love, unless they actively choose to be.

From those life-altering three days in the hospital onward, something changed. My Story slowly but surely un-wrote itself. It unraveled bit by bit until I finally struck the chord of truth. And I found it. The truth behind all of the Story. That sometimes, we can’t push steadfastly on through the brick wall God places before us, having ‘faith’ that if we just try hard enough, we’ll get what we want. Sometimes, we have to step back and prayerfully look for the door He has already opened before us, maybe somewhere unexpected, unglamorous.

Sometimes, we have to find our TRUTH, not our Story.

Looking back at my mission journals, I realize that I used to know my truth. It brought me peace, happiness, joy, and the ability to write every day in a ‘gratitude journal’ even if the ONLY things I could truly say I was grateful for were these:

I am alive.

I have a body.

How could I have forgotten my truth? The same way we all do, at different point in our lives. We get trampled by the temptation to be cool or fit in. We get overwhelmed with the desire to be seen as fun, smart, perfect.

We cannot be perfect. It is impossible. HOWEVER! We should not fear, because as long as we are trying, and coming closer and closer our Savior every single day? Our perfection process is happening in the HERE and NOW.

He has paid the price for our truth. Can we accept it? Can we accept ourselves?
To live honestly, to live our truth, we have to learn to accept our flaws as what makes us HUMAN, and realize that those things are what makes us susceptible to the power of the Atonement. How beautiful is that?

However, we also have to accept our beauty, our power, our strength.

He has truly blessed us with so much.

So.. my truth? I have been blessed beyond comprehension. I have a family who loves me wholeheartedly, craziness and all. I have a Father in Heaven who loves me more than I know. I have a Savior who has paid the price for me to have this opportunity to live, to make mistakes, to succeed, and to fail. I have eyes that see, ears that hear, and a darn cute nose. I love with my whole soul, and always see the good in others. I have a gift of positivity and an increased capacity to have charity and to feel joy. I stay up too late, I frequently sing off-key, and I fall to my knees in a heaping mess at the end of more days than not, but I always know in Whom I trust. Virtue and integrity is important to me, but above all things, I will always try to make a decision that will help another person feel loved, even if it means I run out of energy to do the things I had planned for myself.

The truth is that the Creator of our beautiful universe, our earth, our Sun, our moon and stars, believes that I am important. That I have a purpose in His intricate plan. That I am needed, and that you are too.

I am amazing. I am flawed. I am strong. I have great weakness. I care, trust, and probably eat too much, but I am free. Because I am living my truth.

Are you living yours?

“Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest”

“If We’re Honest” ~Francesca Battistelli

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When life gives you lemons… (Part 3)

When life gives you lemons… (Part 3)

When I lost my daughter, everything changed.

There were a lot of prayers that were felt, rather than said. There were a lot of hard days. There was a lot of loneliness on my part that our marriage wasn’t prepared to handle. Some days it didn’t feel real; others, horribly more so. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in so much spiritual pain in my whole life.

And yet, my whole perspective changed. I realized how important it was to live so that we can return to our Father in Heaven again. I realized how essential the Atonement and subsequent Resurrection of the Savior is to our eternal happiness. I realized just how true the gospel of Jesus Christ was, and how painfully empty life would be if I didn’t know of it. And I learned that life, with all of its pain and suffering, is simply…

Beautiful. Exquisite. Indescribable.

Worth it.

In the ensuing months I battled severe depression, in addition to all of the symptoms that come with POTS/dysautonomia and a recovery from major abdominal surgery.

I visited my parents – and a fabulous therapist-slash-life coach – and started making some needed changes in my life. My relationship with my family, my God, and myself improved immensely. Unfortunately, my relationship with my husband did not. In fact, it got really bad.

Despite my  every effort to be happy and enrich my marriage, despite begging to go through an addiction recovery program with my husband and even seeking ecclesiastical help, despite countless conversations about why I felt like we needed to go to marital therapy, and his denial in the phrase, “but that’s for people who are going to get a divorce,” I found myself in the middle of an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. One where even little thoughts and ideas of mine didn’t matter, didn’t count. One where even my daughter’s name became a weapon, meant to put me back in my place. One where my basic human needs were not met or prioritized. One where I was more likely to be cowering in a corner, in a closet, under a table than to feel loved or cherished by the person I essentially abandoned my family for just a year earlier. One where reason gave way to physical force.

One where I wilted, day after day, just hoping and trying and following every bit of marriage counsel I could to at least survive daily life. Until I had done everything I could.

Finally, I had the poignant realization that this wasn’t me. And I was NOT happy. Finally, after the worst months of my life – including the months right after my sweet daughter’s passing – I left. I didn’t intend to leave forever at first. I just thought I needed some space to clear my head. But the day soon after that I had to run into the women’s bathroom on campus because I felt threatened in the middle of a crowd by the person who had promised to love and protect me was the day I also ran to the women’s center in the Wilk asking for a safe place to be.

And that was the day that I realized just what kind of relationship I was in, and what direction this relationship was heading.

I went through the process to obtain a do-not-contact order from the BYU police, who advised me that what I really needed was a protective order from the Provo police department, and set up a meeting with a victim advocate. It was scary, and overwhelming, but as I finally had someone listen to every detail of my story, it was so incredibly freeing and validating. It was like someone was taking a blindfold off my eyes for the first time.

For the first time, I was genuinely grateful for Jimmy’s presence in Provo. He was such a source of comfort and safety, whether he realized it or not. Even with his own crazy life to deal with, he was there to talk with me, to actually hear me, and to distract me when I sorely needed it. His wife was AMAZING enough to go with me and an officer to get the rest of my things, and to be my emotional support when I talked with the victim advocate and when I brought my papers to court.

Let’s just say the courts quickly approved my request.

A few weeks later, after some of the calmest nights I had had in what seemed like a lifetime, my dad flew out to Utah. He was there at the protective order hearing, where we agreed to drop the charges in exchange for the signed and notarized divorce papers, and we left that day with all of my material possessions stuffed into a black Charger.

And I’ve been home with my parents ever since.

Weirdly, I have never felt more centered or at peace. I have never felt such an overall level of peace, even though honestly it did take a whole month to finally get to the point where I didn’t have nightmares.

I know that relative to other domestic violence survivors, I got out relatively unscathed. Now I’m just left with a lot of anguished memories, and every once in a while my left arm aches, reminding me of pain long past. I didn’t have any long-lasting physical wounds; for that I am grateful.

And yet, there have been people I once considered friends who go beyond wondering if there was anything to save my marriage. I have had ‘friends’ tell me my husband’s posts on Facebook were sweet, and that should ‘count for something’; telling me they had lost all respect for me. I’ve had ‘friends’ I known for almost my whole life who still blame my divorce on my parents, or on me being immature and indecisive. I’ve had to completely reorder my understanding of friendship and boundaries.

But you know what?

I am safe – safer than I have felt in quite a while. I am happy – happier than I have been in even longer. And come March 30th, I will have gone a record number of days – two full months – without depressive thoughts, or thoughts of self-harm. It’s been two and a half years since I’ve gone this long, and I am so grateful for my Savior, making a way for me to escape what I consider a living hell.

Most people imagine hell to be a place of fire and brimstone, devils and pitchforks. My hell? I’ve already been there. It was a place where I lost myself catering to the whims of others. A place where I couldn’t bring myself to sing, even on my own. A place where joy was quickly stolen by indifference, where love brought pain and anguish, a place where tears and hysteria were the norm, and happiness was all about image and pretense.

I have learned so much in my past experiences that regret would weaken their lessons, so I don’t regret my choices. They were all made with the hope that they were the right decisions to make, and have brought me an increased capacity to feel joy now.

And probably most importantly? I have discovered a precious truth, that I am important. My ideas, my thoughts, my desires are all important. My life and what I achieve through it matters. And I can make a difference, no matter how small, in the life of another person.

I am amazing.

I promise myself that I will never forget that.

 

When life gives you lemons… (Part 2)

When life gives you lemons… (Part 2)

Disclaimer: This is my real-life personal story. Read it if you will. Learn from it what you can. Read Part 1 if you really want it to make sense. But this is part of my own personal healing, and not about being perfect or having you read it. It’s about me telling my story to anyone who will listen with an open heart, and me solidifying the fact that my story, and my voice, is worth being heard/read. 

So, I did get help. Help from my wonderful stake president, who truly became a friend and confidant. Help from a lovely therapist, who helped me realize that the shame I felt from coming home early and not being able to just push through everything was NOT the feeling that Heavenly Father would want me to have.

And slowly but surely, I began to climb the mountain.

I started throwing myself back into the rhythm of serving, learning, reading, and hoping in the gospel. It didn’t take away the pain, or the confusion and hurt I was left with, but it sure helped a lot. I spent a lot of time with the missionaries, with my grandparents, with my scriptures and conference talks, with everything possible that would at least momentarily get me out of the rut I was in. After about a month of this, I realized my prayers had changed. Instead of pleading for Heavenly Father to make me well again so I could go back to Vegas and finish my mission, I asked Him to help me make decisions according to His will. And I started to feel a little more… centered.

Simultaneously, I realized that a door was closed. Though not everyone close to me agrees with that, I knew by the end of February that I wasn’t going back to Las Vegas. I guess I never really came to terms with that, but I am certain now that Heavenly Father had other plans for me, and that there were things I needed to learn that couldn’t be learned in a ‘normal’ missionary environment.

And so I returned to school that summer, unfortunately on less-than-perfect terms with my family, who shared my pain in a major disappointment. Looking back, I realize now that they were trying to love me, but in the moment? I was positively sure that there was nothing I could do to live up to their expectations, so I gave up trying. At least, I thought I did. What I didn’t realize, though, was how much I was pulling away from my family, simply because I was terrified that I wouldn’t ever be ‘enough’ for them, because I certainly felt like I wouldn’t ever be ‘enough’ for myself.

All things considered, the next year and a half went by rather quickly, even rushed. I met and started dating another BYU student that promised to love me despite my brokenness, but who in all actuality took advantage of my weak mind. I was still trying to cling to that image of who I had wanted to be, although this really made me just a shell of myself, trying to keep my pieces together despite the fact that this meant I was also still holding onto the shame that the adversary wanted me to feel. I pulled away from my friends, and certainly distanced myself even further from my family, who were seeing all sorts of red flags that I wasn’t ready to see. There was a lot of loneliness in this time, so it made it easier to have someone that I believed would love and protect me, even if the ‘love’ he showed made me feel uncomfortable and worse, almost unclean. I guess I just kept telling myself it was normal, and it was a lot easier to just insist that my parents were wrong, that my parents were the problem.

Obviously, I had a lot of growing up to do.

During this time there were good moments, too. Like how the VERY FIRST SUNDAY I was in my new ward in Provo, the bishopric member who interviewed me turned out to be a doctor familiar with POTS and its causes and effects on the body. Though every other specialist took 3-4 months to even get an appointment with, he got me in within 2 weeks, had me tested for a G.I. condition, had OFF THE CHARTS positive results, and got me started on a treatment and special diet, all within the span of 2 months. My own personal miracle! I will always be grateful for him.

And the ward I was in! Oh man, I loved that YSA ward to pieces. I was rooming with a former freshman roommate who I ADORED, and got to participate as a teacher, and then a counselor in our Relief Society. It was amazing, and certainly a much needed respite from the rest of the drama in my life.

The story I kept telling myself was still rather shaky, though. The guy I was dating started talking about marriage the week we even started dating, and as a ‘good Mormon girl’, I hadn’t really done a lot of exclusive dating before anyways, so I didn’t really know how a relationship was supposed to work. I didn’t realize that I had the right to set boundaries that meant something, and that my companion had an equal responsibility to make sure those boundaries were kept, whatever they were concerning.

This is the moment where I step aside for awhile, onto my personal and VERY IMPORTANT soapbox!

SISTERS!!!! And young ladies all around the world. YOU have the right AND the responsibility to your future family, and more importantly to yourself and your own well-being to SET BOUNDARIES THAT ARE NOT CROSSED! Forgiveness and charity and love need to come second to securing your own physical, emotional, and spiritual safety. It is not your responsibility to give a young man the right to do what he wants with your body or your spirit! And ANY BOY (because real men will not do this) who doesn’t listen to the word ‘no’ in whatever capacity, or who really DOESN’T CARE about how uncomfortable something makes you feel, cannot love you. You know this. Your heart knows this. That’s why you feel dazed and confused, and ashamed. That is why you pull away from your family, your friends, and don’t know what to say when they ask you about your relationships.

In case you didn’t realize? This is a bad sign.

If he doesn’t respect your boundaries, he doesn’t – and will not – respect you. This lays the perfect groundwork for abuse, misery, depression, and ultimate pain. Don’t allow yourself to be put in a situation where your opinion, or desires, or needs don’t matter.

Ok done.

Well, long story short? I learned much, much later that when you pray about a decision? You should not pray along the lines of, “I guess I’m choosing this, it seems like a good thing to do, so please stop me if it’s not right.” Because by that point? You’ve already chosen, and Heavenly Father will not infringe on your right to choose.

So, convinced my family would never love me because I never ‘finished’ my mission, and convinced that no one would want to marry a chronically sick person, but that maybe I had just lucked out on someone who didn’t mind, and convinced (by a certain someone) that if we waited even a few more months, we’d “mess up”, and convinced that any two people who were committed to making a marriage work would be able to make it work, especially if covenants were made in the temple, I got married.

I really did think it was the right thing to do, and even now I don’t think I would have gone back to change my decision, but like basically ALL things that happen in my life, this didn’t go according to plan either. I did get an answer from Heavenly Father that by taking this course, everything would work out alright, but only now do I realize that He is not restricted by our time or our plans, and you know what? It is alright now.

Anyways, I basically eloped to the D.C. temple. My heart broke again to have my parents refuse to come and support me. I loved, and still love, everyone who made my choice possible and important to them. Needless to say, though, this really wasn’t the wedding of my dreams. Which doesn’t matter too much, because let’s be real here – the wedding is not what makes the marriage. But unfortunately mine was a type and a shadow of what my marriage would be like.

I never actually made the role of “most important person” in my husband’s life. My life was lonely, and stressful, and for the first few months I could ignore it. I claimed to be happy, and tried to be. I put every effort into my marriage, and keeping up the pretense. But it was too hard to keep it up with those who had been closest and most important to me from before. There were so many dear friends I longed to write, to talk to, to congratulate for finishing their own missions, or marrying their own eternal companions. But somehow, my inner voice had been silenced. I guess by this point I had betrayed my every dream, my every goal and righteous desire in life outside of being the best dang wife and mother I possibly could be. So I tried to focus on that.

It was hard to not communicate with my parents. It was hard to look forward to a future of bending over backwards to please my husband and his family and know that my parents didn’t want any part of it.

And it was hard to feel like I had to compete with pornography.

I had known about his addiction while we were dating. Well, not really. I literally knew nothing about pornography except it involved bad pictures and was something we’ve been warned against, and his disclosure was more of an “I’ve had this problem in the past that you should know about, but it’s not a problem anymore and it will certainly not be a problem when we’re married and can have sex” kind of thing. You know, the Big Fat Lie kind of thing.

P.S. I am really proud of myself for coming out and sharing my feelings about a ‘delicate’ topic that really needs to be brought to light. So gasp if you want to, but I have every right to FEEL and EXPRESS, the same as everyone else.

I tried for a long time to pretend like I didn’t notice. I blamed myself for failing as a wife, and tried to do what I could as a newlywed to make my husband actually notice me. It was really hard. And really soul-crushing. Especially when I saw that he hardly touched me or talked to me or even sat near me when we were with his family. I was so confused. Where was that guy who told me he loved me so much he couldn’t keep his hands off? I had never felt so rejected, ugly, unwanted in my life. Then, a month after we got married I had an ovarian cyst rupture. A month later, (again, because of bad medical advice with birth control) I was pregnant. And things changed a little.

I always felt so bad for him. He had a broken wife who couldn’t even go to the doctor without him, and I really struggled to handle my full courseload and two part-time jobs as I got sicker and sicker. It must be so hard to be saddled with someone like me. So I tried to make it as easy on him as I could. Maybe I didn’t do a good enough job of not caring about things, but you could hardly blame me. I wanted to be loved, and I had been promised a loving, righteous marriage.

And oh, how he loved me when I was pregnant. He was sweeter, more attentive, willing to get up at midnight and make me quesadillas because I was so hungry, and so sick I couldn’t move or eat basically anything else without having it come right back up. Willing to spend time with me he hadn’t spent before. And he was so gentle.

As a pregnant woman, I realized how important my family was to me, and finally got in contact with them again. We rebuilt some broken bridges, and were willing to move forward. What a blessing! What a miracle!

Finally, I got so sick I couldn’t move because of pain. Four days of intense pain, no sleep, nausea, dr’s visits, and various tests resulted in a male OB prescribing me antibiotics and telling me that if I just finished the bottle I should be fine, that I’d probably just have to deal with the pain until it subsided.

I finished the bottle.

Three days later, I called my mom. I was bleeding, and scared, and still sick. I laid down and took a nap, feeling guilty for following her orders to stay horizontal when I had told my husband I would bring him lunch.

(CAUTION: This may be too much info… but I have NEVER had ‘light’ period cramps. They’ve always been pretty terrible, often debilitating.)

I woke up with the worst cramps I’d ever had.

The rest of the day was like a dream.

4:30. I called the OB clinic. Left a message.

5 o’clock. They called back. Told me to go to Labor and Delivery. “Ok, where is that?” “In the hospital. The Labor and Delivery of the hospital.” “Oh.” My heart simultaneously sank and started racing.

We somehow got to the hospital, with my CNM on call, at the hospital with the best NICU around. Seriously. Blessings.

6 o’clock. I put on a hospital gown, expecting to be there for only a few hours. The nurse tells me it’ll be at least a few days. My husband starts making calls, he thinks he might be late to work the next day.

6:30. I go to pee in a cup. My cervix is dilated, and Baby Girl is pushing down on her waterbag. I freak out. Ohmygosh I do NOT want to have a baby in a toilet! Somehow in the next hour, I am flipped nearly upside down on the hospital bed, hooked to an IV, given a shot of something to help Baby’s lungs, given something to stop the contractions. He his calling his family.

7 o’clock. Doctors file into my room. I don’t understand why everyone looks so sad and keeps apologizing. An ultrasound registers the dilation and we find out that the water bag and umbilical cord are not in the right place. We also find out that 22-week old Baby Girl is still really small. A doctor gives me bad news that I don’t understand.

7:30. We finally get ahold of my parents. My mom is unsure if she can come the next morning. She tells me it will be okay, hangs up to buy her ticket. I think it’s because my parents still don’t forgive me. Despair is really hard to fight. By this point, we know Baby’s coming in the next few days. He calls work, home teachers, all of his family members. All I want is someone to hold my hand, but I have to stay calm and be the one to keep pulling him off his phone to answer questions asked by the nurses. They’re getting annoyed. I’m getting anxious. I keep apologizing, like I’m a robot with a broken record as a speaker. I still don’t understand the sad faces and “I’m so sorry’s”. I’m so used to saying It’s Okay, It’s Fine, that I can’t help it, though I realize the words are horribly, despairingly empty.

8 o’clock. Doctors and nurses rush in when I freak out again – that was a big contraction. Someone’s already explained that I can’t have her naturally. She’s breach, she’s tiny, and the umbilical cord is in the wrong place. It’s emergency C-section or super-possibly-fatal-to-both-of-us emergency C-section. We can’t wait any longer. I still just want someone to hold my hand.

8:30. They start the process. I’m so terrified, my whole body is shaking, even after I can’t feel it move. I hope and pray desperately that I will pass out until it’s over. I don’t.

9 o’clock. I’m trying to pretend this isn’t happening. I beg him to just hold my hand – which he does during the whole operation – and to just center me with his eyes, the color of the scrubs he has to wear, matching all of the doctors and nurses. I don’t realize I can’t actually talk.

9:30. I have a baby. And morphine. Lots of morphine. He agrees to my name for her, a name he hated until this experience, a name I received in a dream when I still thought she might be a boy. They whisk her away to machines that can help her, while I lay there like a human quilt, to be stitched up and pulled back together. I focus on her. I have to.

12:30. After hours of watching him sleep across the room and trying to move my legs, the nurse on duty keeps her promise and cleans me up enough to wheel me to the NICU. She goes 100 miles an hour through the hospital hallways. I’m still on morphine. The walls look funny. The NICU seems to be on the other side of Orem, let alone the hospital.

A few minutes later, I’m sitting next to a box with an inhabitant I can’t see, but can feel. I know she’s there. I know she’s mine. I know she’s perfect. I have to see. My nurse helps me stand, if only for a few moments. She takes my breath away. She’s perfect! I know she’s tiny, and underdeveloped, and so very, very sick, but she’s still perfect and wonderful and beautiful and she MOVES!

I reach my hand into the box and hold her tiny hand, her tiny feet, so afraid I’m going to break her. She’s covered in medical things but I don’t care. Ever so gently I squeeze her perfectly miniature hands, and she squeezes back, ever so faintly. I feel as if I’m going to die of happiness. She moves! I revel in every movement, every reflex. I marvel in her perfection. She brings me so much peace. Or maybe that’s the morphine.

I can’t stand any longer. I squeeze again, just slightly between my index finger and thumb, and she squeezes and won’t let go. I know I’m going to pass out, but I don’t care. She needs me. I stand for a minute longer, and my legs begin to shake. I finally bring myself to leave, but only after the nurse promises I can come back whenever I want, and reminds me that I need to rest so I can be with her. I sit back in my chair and immediately apologize; I didn’t realize I was dripping blood on the floor.

I am taken to a different room. I don’t remember falling asleep, but somehow I was awake the next morning.

I was a mom.

And there was nothing broken and everything beautiful in that.

 

 

When life gives you lemons…(Part 1)

When life gives you lemons…(Part 1)

I am a firm believer in optimism. I have my moments of complaint, mostly centered around hot days where the mosquitos just won’t get the hint, or around the random and completely pointless pain and dizziness that comes with being a POTSy (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome – look it up!), BUT for the most part, I believe in making the best out of whatever circumstances surround us. And I stand by that! It will be a rare and horrible day when you see me out in public without a smile, however real or fake it might actually be.

However. I am also physiologically prone to the flip side of that coin. Prone to days, weeks, even months of knock-me-down depression. Not the kind where you’re bummed about missing out on a birthday party because you had the flu. No, I mean the kind where you kind of feel like a zombie because your utter lack of joy. Like, way to the left of Blahsville, way down past Sadstown, and right smack in the middle of Why-Am-I-Here and I’m-Not-Worth-Being-Happy. Seriously not a fun place to be.

Or a safe place to be.

I’ve struggled with this my whole remembered life. It’s like when life throws itself at me, I just FEEL so much that my whole body and soul are exhausted by the effort, and I crash. Deep. When I was younger, I would crash because of conflict with my parents or brothers, or loneliness, or anything that made me FEEL so much it hurt. And yet nothing hurt worse than FEELING and being told that my feeling wasn’t real, or was an ‘overreaction’, or that I was being overdramatic.

Okay, sometimes I really was being overdramatic. Simply one of my fortes, I guess.

But there were times when the FEELING wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop, and I found myself doing everything I could to make it stop. My parents didn’t find out until I was an older teen that I – their happy, bubbly, cheerful, loving, obedient, overdramatic teenager – would hide in a closet and hurt myself if the FEELING got too much. It was a fact of life, of survival for me.

Obviously I wasn’t good enough for the world, and so my rationalization was that somehow, I didn’t deserve to be happy and pain-free, so if I was hurting too much on the inside, somehow my outside had to match.

P.S. I was SUPER WRONG!!! And ANYONE that feels that way? Really needs to research and seek out Heavenly Father’s love for them. He made you to FEEL so that you may understand what joy really is! And oh boy, is it beautiful. And exactly what you deserve!

Anyways, this problem started going away as my health deteriorated. I guess in a funny twist of fate, my health challenges provided me with enough physical pain that I didn’t want or ‘need’ anymore. I’m grateful for that, because I know with others it may go farther than it did with me.

At least, until my mission.

If you know ANYTHING about me, you will know that I always wanted to go on a mission. And I was such a good missionary! I had the desire, had been raised by two wonderful and devoted returned missionaries, had the vision of what I wanted to achieve, and was all set and ready to go! Even being chronically ill couldn’t stop me…

Except it did.

After a whirlwind experience of approximately 3 1/2 months, I was put on an airplane back home with a handful of memories and experiences, and a heavy load of remembrances – of not being listened to at doctors’ offices, of finishing a steroid pack for my inability to breathe that “couldn’t be asthma” and the next day heading to the ER in a wheelchair because my asthma attack was so bad I wasn’t able to move, of my mission’s medical advisor pushing a bottle of anxiety pills over to me and trying to get me to take them regardless of my protests that they had caused a severe neuro-physiological reaction that was altogether trippy, painful, and NOT OKAY, and of that horrible, horrible phone call where my dad had to deliver the news that I was being sent home for ‘noncompliance’ with ‘medical advice’…

Yikes. Yeah, those memories are definitely still painful.

Somehow, in all of the commotion and chaos, my heart broke. And with it, some of my fervor for life.

I had literally done all I could do, and it wasn’t enough.

Those were some dark times.

Yet it wasn’t until months later, when my mom and I went to Charlotte to see a specialist who diagnosed me with POTS, chronic fatigue syndrome, and clinical fibromyalgia that I felt like my life was truly over.

So… what happens when you tell any 19 year old girl with big dreams and overwhelming expectations for herself that she will be sick and abnormal for the rest of her life?

Sadness.

Pain.

More sadness.

Depression.

Probably more pain.

It was awful. Truly, truly awful.

And that is when I realized, I really needed help.

Finding Faith

Finding Faith

A wise man once said:

Adversity Quote

Reading through the past couple years of my life, and reflecting on what I have personally encountered in this crazy life, I am both overwhelmed and humbled at the thought of my own life’s story. Any emotional growth that may have occurred in the short time directly preceding, during, and following my mission is completely dwarfed by the direction Heavenly Father has taken my life. While I’m still confused at a lot of the mixed blessings and experiences I have had in merely two years, I do know that I have not traveled this path alone, which is utterly amazing to me.

Not only have I had the Lord basically carrying me through the past few years, I have had so many ‘angels round about me’ to bear me up in my own personal, seemingly never-ending Gethsemane. I just want to say to those very angelic friends and relatives and not-quite-strangers: Thank you. You have no idea how much I needed your help, your guidance, your presence.

If there is one thing that I’ve learned, it is that I really had NO idea what having faith meant. I have always tried to live my life with faith, which I took to mean as being willing to ‘share my light’ with others, and knowing in my heart that as long as I followed what Heavenly Father had planned for me (Including being close enough to Him to have an inkling of what that means) that everything would work out. I honestly believed that going ‘forward with faith’ meant basically moving forward, oblivious to pain. Okay, so maybe not quite, though I would say a lot of how I viewed faith may have gotten mixed up with the Nike slogan: “Just do it.” I had convinced myself that faith was a shield against adversity, rather than a path through it, and I… was wrong. There is so much more to faith.

So while I get back into the habit of writing, that’s what I’ll be writing about here. My path to faith, my journey to find joy. I hope something in my story helps someone, but I really hope that in my story, you will find encouragement and strength rather than comparison and doubt.

Let me leave you with one last thought:

Adversity Quote - Thomas S Monson

Mothers and Daughters

Mothers and Daughters

After a beautifully long day of reflection spent far from my home in North Carolina, I just wanted to share a few words about mothers and daughters.
One of the most vivid memories I have of my childhood is pulling my mother by the hand into my little bedroom in Boise, Idaho with what I assume to be a Dr. Seuss book. I was so excited to have an audience as I plopped on the bed to read to her. It was such a precious moment for me, I think, because I was so safe and secure in the knowledge that out of her busy day, my mom chose to spend that little, precious time with ME! I was always tickled to death when things like this would occur – a day out at the park, my mom coming on field trips with my elementary school class, spending endless hours in the kitchen with my little Easy Bake Oven while she made real food beside me. Or even when she was a substitute Spanish teacher in another school district, and she’d let me come to class with her to help her teach on days I didn’t have or want to go to school. These are the moments that I think of when I think of my mother. 
What comes to mind more recently, however, are the long days spent in waiting rooms at doctors offices, or her coming into my room at night to calm me down after a painful day. The times when I can’t even understand how she got any work done, because she let me intern at the Eye Bank, where one or the other of us were in each other’s office spaces at least once an hour. Or the times after I came home sick off my mission, and she would tiptoe upstairs in the mornings before she went to work, just so she could talk to me face to face and make sure I was still breathing. Even though I’m sure my ultra-drowsy self couldn’t comprehend much of what she was saying, I still felt the impenetrable love behind actions that I was sure I would only do for those I loved most. 
I love this gospel. I love this life! I am so grateful for the time and the blessings I have, and I know that many of the blessings I receive are because of the faithfulness of my sweet mother. My greatest teacher, mentor, example, and friend. My endlessly compassionate and selfless mother. 
Is it any wonder that Heavenly Father would have us live in families, we who He has commanded to love Him and to love others as the greatest two all-encompassing commandments? Is it any wonder that He would have us to treasure motherhood, to hold womanhood and virtue most dear? Is it any wonder that we celebrate the mothers, grandmothers, and future mothers in our lives on a Sabbath day, in arguably one of the most hope-filled and beautiful times of the year? 

So Mama, I just want you to know that you have made a profound influence upon me, upon my brothers and sweet sister, upon my father, and upon the little slice of the world that you have touched? Everything about you gives me a reason to become better, to seek after greater knowledge and virtue, to have a greater hope for the future. 
I remember being about eight years old and REALLY starting to look up to my parents. Once when we were eating spaghetti for dinner, I looked up at my mom, with tomato sauce all over my face, I’m sure! I just remember thinking how much of a ‘lady’ you were, Mom, for not even having to use a napkin. That small moment really turned my life around. I did everything I could to emulate the greatest and most refined Lady I knew, from wanting to wear your clothes (despite how big they were on me!) to talking the way that you talked, to wanting to do everything with you! I just want you to know, that has never changed. Every challenge, every adversity I am faced with, I always return to the same thing: What would my mom do in my place? 
Let me tell you, it has made eating better SOOO much easier! Haha. 
I have the greatest mom in the whole world. I would never be anywhere near the person I am today under someone else’s guidance. She is perfect for me, and her guidance and light will continue to help me wherever I go, because I know where she’s been, and I know what I need to do in order to follow in her footsteps of faith. Of course, my life is going to be different. That’s just a fact. But I know that her sweet, compassionate efforts in helping me understand who I am as a daughter of God are not in the least bit in vain. Her strength has made me stronger. Her wisdom has made me wiser. 
Nowadays it’s a little harder to show appreciation to my sweet mom. We’re 2062 miles away, and it’s a little harder to keep in contact through the dreaded time difference. But the love is still there. The hope of becoming like Mom still remains. I think of her many times over the course of a day, even if I seem to be jumping from one activity to the next. I still watch movies or shows or YouTube videos and think to myself, Mom would love that! 
Motherhood is not just the existence of a child. Motherhood is the nurturing, the growing alongside, the sitting by and suffering when your own child suffers, and rejoicing when your child is joyful. Motherhood is the act of giving your whole self to others who test your patience and endurance over and over and over again before the day’s even through. Motherhood is the truest reflection of God’s love for us upon this earth. 
There is a story/saying that has stuck with me since an early age about mothers and their special role in our lives:

The child asked God, “They tell me you are sending me to Earth tomorrow, but how am I going to live there being so small and helpless?”
“Your angel will be waiting for you and take care of you.”
The child further inquired, “But tell me, here in heaven I don’t have to do anything but smile and sing to be happy.”
God said, “Your angel will sing for your and also will smile for you. And you will feel your angel’s love and be very happy.”
Again the child asked, “And how am I going to be able to understand when people talk to me if I don’t know the language?”
God said, “Your angel will tell you the most beautiful and sweet words you will ever hear, and with much patience and care your angel will teach you how to speak.”
“And what am I going to do when I want to talk to you?”
“Your angel will place your hands together and teach you how to pray.”
“Who will protect me?”
“Your angel will defend you even if it means risking it’s life.”
“But I will always be sad because I will not see you anymore.”
God said, “Your angel will always talk to you about me and will teach you the way to come back to me, even though I will always be next to you.”
At that moment there was much peace in heaven, but voices from Earth could be heard and the child hurriedly asked, “God, if I am to leave now, please tell me my angel’s name.”
“You will simply call her “Mom.”
Author Unknown

 

I am so grateful for my wonderful mother, and all she has given me, and taught me. I am also grateful for the patience and loving kindness of my grandmothers, both of whom are some of my greatest friends and role models. I am overjoyed at the truths of this gospel that will allow me to live with these virtuous and lovely women forever, and at the prospect of becoming a mother myself in the future. I am so grateful to know that these three women are among the many people I know love me unconditionally, and I am also so very grateful for the ‘future mothers’ whose examples and friendships have changed my heart forever. I love it! And I am so grateful to Heavenly Father for the opportunity that I will have to follow their examples in this divine work of motherhood.

With great love, 

Kayla Ann

“Does the Journey Seem Long?”

“Does the Journey Seem Long?”

Hello, my friends! It has been quite a long time since I last had anything to say. My sincerest apologies. It has been a crazy few months! (Geez, like FIVE since I last posted! Gracious.) Anyways, I have finally reached a point where I absolutely love life again. There was a scary time in there where that was a hard thing to do. A really hard thing. But you know what? That’s the beauty of the Atonement. Because our Savior took upon Himself such a hard task, He is able to lift our burdens, to make us able to bear them. I love that. Because of Him, we can do hard things.

So I made it back to BYU. I’m taking spring and summer classes, then full-on taking the proverbial bull by the horns as I continue my education. I’m changing my major – don’t ask me what I’m doing yet, I haven’t quite figured it out! – and I’m planning on learning Mandarin Chinese in the Fall. Yay!

It has been a hard, long journey to get to where I am now. Relatively healthy, and greatly improved in happiness. The happiness I feel now doesn’t stem from just being in another place, or in forgetting anything that has happened in the past six months. It comes from the peace of knowing that I am where my Father in Heaven would have me to be right now, and having no doubts in that regard.

Joseph Smith once said in his Lectures on Faith:

” It is apparent that there is a direct relationship between the strength of one’s faith and the effectiveness of his prayer. There is, however, a principle associated with this matter of faith that we should all understand. I used to feel that if I could develop enough faith, I could receive in every instance exactly what I prayed for. This belief was based upon such scriptures as Matthew 17:20, in which Jesus said to his disciples, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” But at that time I had not learned that this promise was made upon the implied condition that one’s request be made in harmony with the will of God.

We learned this principle in our home through a rather trying experience. During the early years of our married Life, my wife and I intensely desired a particular blessing that we thought would be a great blessing, and we set about to obtain it by faith. We asked, we believed, we thought we had faith, but though we fasted often and prayed fervently, the years rolled by without bringing us the object of our prayers.

Finally we concluded that there must be something that we had not fully understood. Further research and prayerful study of the scriptures revealed the fact that we were not giving proper consideration to the will of the Lord, that we were concentrating our faith and prayers solely upon receiving the particular thing which by predetermination we had set our hearts upon. We had to reconsider the conditions of the promise. We found that Jesus had stated them in full in several places. For example, to the Nephites be said, “…whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is Right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given you.” {3 Nephi 18:20. Italics added.) In the light of this and other scriptures, we came to realize that pending the time we could know what is right and what is expedient, we had to learn to be as earnest in praying “if it be thy will” as we were in presenting our request.”

I feel like my life in the past year or so has been a conglomerate of trials intended for me to learn this very same principle – that the Lord has a plan for us, and that His ways truly are higher than our ways. We have this contagious misconception of how things should be, how people should change, and what they need to learn. What we don’t always realize is that the path we are each on right now is the one that will bless us with the most growth. We are here on this earth not just to receive a physical body, or to find success in the world around us (however we measure that success). We are here to learn the difficult, challenging, even IMPOSSIBLE lessons that we need to learn in order to become like Heavenly Father. We are His children, with a divine nature and an inheritance of divine traits that we have the potential of possessing. This life is where we prove to Him that we can handle, well, everything that life throws at us. It’s not meant to be easy, it’s meant to be worthwhile.

And oh, how sweet it is to be loved by Him. I know that who we become in this life is a reflection of who we will be in the eternities. We have a choice. Are we going to be supportive and loving and understanding of others, seeking after all things ‘virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy’? Or will we be distracted by the plan we have created for ourselves? This life is a very tricky path, with many upside-downs and sideways! We just have to keep moving forward, because that’s the only direction that will bring us true happiness. I think we know this in our hearts, but we’re truly fearful of the infinite potential we have as a son or daughter of God. We just have to learn to trust Him, and to understand that it is the pursuit of joy and knowledge which merits our receiving them, at the hand of He who has endured it all.

Isn’t that the greatest?

Called to Virtue,
Called to Serve.

Love,
Kayla Ann

“Lead, Kindly Light”

“Lead, Kindly Light”

One of the greatest lessons we can learn in this life is to trust in the Lord’s timing. We get so wrapped up into what we want, what we interpret as being the Plan for our own lives. If something goes wrong, we have the tendency to blame others, ourselves, and even God. We seek for any way to get back on course, to return to the path we charted for ourselves. As we all know, however, this doesn’t always work out. I’d even say that over 75% of the time, our lives don’t follow the elaborate plans we make in eighth grade.

This can often turn life into an endless roller coaster. We sometimes think we can only find happiness if we get everything we planned on, which means that the majority of the time we are lost in anxiety and frustration with the unknown! We easily forget that our Father in Heaven has a plan greater than our own, which will bring us more peace and joy and lasting happiness than we can even understand.

I am so grateful to have a loving Heavenly Father who knows what’s best for me, and can bless me beyond my own imagination. Though it is definitely hard, I know that there’s something here that He wants me to learn, and that He will indeed bless me and my family for being faithful.

We are always told that the greatest blessings can be ours “if we can but endure.” I’ve been struggling to understand what that means for me, and I read something by Elder Richard J Maynes from this past October General Conference that really struck me. He said, “Our ability to endure to the end in righteousness will be in direct proportion to the strength of our testimony and the depth of our conversion. ” If THAT is what enduring really means, then there really isn’t anything more important than growing in our testimony and understanding of our relationship with our Father in Heaven.

For those of you who don’t know (or those of you who do), about two and a half weeks ago, I was sent home from my mission. I had been facing many physical difficulties stemming from what we believe to be POTS, a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. I’ve been struggling with this for several years, and believed it to be under control with proper diet, sleep, and exercise. But my breathing problems – which we now can see may have been worse because of the way my body works – never quite got figured out, and due to well-meaning but misguided medical advice and treatment on my mission, I was never quite able to recover.

I have regrettably spent the past 2 1/2 weeks trying to figure out why this happened. It’s really weird to be home, and it’s really hard to be taken out of the role I’ve been preparing my whole life to fill, especially when I felt like I wasn’t given a choice, or time to get used to the idea of coming home before they shipped me back. Though it’s untrue, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was unwanted, or defective in some way. I’ve always wanted to serve Heavenly Father the best way I could, and I honestly thought going on a mission was the right thing ( because it was!). I felt like I had failed somehow, that I wasn’t good enough.

But after much prayer and reflection, (not to mention detox from unnecessary overmedication) I have come to the realization that Heavenly Father knew that this would happen, and He is proud of me for working as hard as I could and genuinely LOVING being a missionary. He knows how much I love Him, and that I am valuable and important. Even though my plan included being set apart from the world for a much longer time, I can see now that there are ways to serve Him according to His plan. He knows me, and He knows how badly I’ve wanted to handle things in a way that is pleasing to Him. I can honestly say now, that I know there is a greater plan in store for me, one that I can’t quite see yet. But I know it’s there, and I have faith that the Master sees me as how I can be, and my desire to serve, rather than my physical limitations. I also know there’s something He needs me to do now that is different than any of my previously concocted plans.

Anyone that knows me knows that I am DEFINITELY a planner! I love to know what’s going on, and mentally trace the path I feel like my life is going to go. Of course this causes stress, especially when Heavenly Father’s plan is so different than I originally thought. But I know that whatever I do now, as long as I seek to do His will, it’s going to work out.

So for the many of you lovely people who want to ask the question, “So what’s next?” all I have to say is…

I have no idea.

But I DO know, that even though I’m not ‘on a mission’ in Las Vegas now, that I am still always called to serve my Heavenly Father, wherever I am. And I am more than okay with that. ❤

Called to Virtue,
Called to Serve.

Much love,

Kayla Ann

“Count Your Many Blessings”

“Count Your Many Blessings”

This past week was transfers – sorry, I didn’t have time to post! Sister Kekauoha was transferred to another area to be a Sister Training Leader, and I was blessed to have Sister Cox join me in our two areas here. She’s an upstate New Yorker (East Coast represents well here in Vegas!) and she’s been out about 14 months or so. This will probably be her last area, since she goes home in March. It’s been really interesting to get to know her – she is SO much like me! I’m very excited for this transfer.

Regardless of how excited I am about the work here, this week has been pretty rough. It’s definitely given me the opportunity to see just how positive Heavenly Father has helped me to be in the past 3 months – much more positive than I ever was before my mission! It is wonderful to see how I have been able to change, and how I’ve been able to be a blessing to the lives of others.

Something that Sister Cox told me the other day really resonated with me. I don’t have to worry about being the salvation of other people – that’s not my role in Heavenly Father’s work, and I would never be able to do it anyways. All I am asked to do is to invite others to come unto Jesus Christ, who is the true Salvation of the children of Heavenly Father. As I remember this, and as I remember why I really came here on a mission to serve Him, I feel so much peace and comfort, knowing this is exactly where He wants me to be, and exactly where I want to be, as well. I love this work so much! Because I truly love these people that I have been blessed to serve.

It’s interesting to see how in the past two weeks, we’ve had so much happen. We have four people (two of them young boys) reading the Book of Mormon and praying to know if it’s true, and if baptism is the right step for them. We also have about the same number of families trying to do the same things, but to come back to church after being less active. I can’t imagine how hard that must be, but I know that Jesus Christ is ready to receive them back into His fold if they will just allow Him to do so. I just know that as they are diligent and seek after the truth, then they can know for themselves just as I know for myself, that this is truly the Lord’s church restored upon the earth, and that this is His true gospel, the ONLY way we can really return to live with Heavenly Father again, as He is. Perfect.

I know with every fiber of my being that the work I’m doing here is of eternal importance. I’m not just here to become a better person, or to ‘serve my time’. This is real. More real than real. This is the work and glory of God.

And He’s allowing me to be a part of it. 🙂

I love you all! Thanks so much for the prayers and well wishes. I appreciate them greatly.
Called to Virtue, Called to Serve
Love,
Sister Kayla A McDonald

P.S. Of all people, guess who’s now in my district? Elder Kennedy. SMALL WORLD!

“Did You Think to Pray?”

“Did You Think to Pray?”

Transfers come up super soon. I can’t believe it’s been three months already! Time goes by so quickly on a mission! I could honestly be here forever, though, as long as I knew it was what Heavenly Father wanted me to do.

This week we’ve been trying to find people to teach, and visiting less-active members. It’s really amazing to see what a change our visits can bring over people. We met one lady and her granddaughters who’ve been under the radar for years, I guess. Her granddaughters each have a Book of Mormon, but weren’t raised as members. We aren’t really sure the story there, but we had a great visit with them, with the promise of returning. What really struck me most about that visit is how much she reminded me of my grandmothers, but how different it was, because they have sought to follow the Spirit in everything they do, and can easily talk about Heavenly Father, and pray for others. I think the saddest thing on a mission is when people won’t pray. My heart just overflows with compassion with those who feel so separated from their Father in Heaven that they feel like they can’t speak to Him.

Today I want you to know that Heavenly Father DOES want to hear from you. Don’t fall into that trap of waiting until He tells us first! He already has made it perfectly clear – it is a commandment to pray to Him. That’s not because He wants to make us do something we don’t want to, but it’s literally like a phone call. I’ll tell you what, (and I cannot say it enough!) that if I could talk to my Mama or Daddy by bowing my head and just speaking? We would NEVER stop talking. And that’s how it should be with our Father in Heaven. That’s the only way we can truly have His influence in our lives. And that’s the only way we can truly recognize truth.

I love this gospel, so much. I love my Heavenly Father more than anything, anyone. I know He has performed mighty miracles in my life to allow me to be here, right now. And I am so grateful for it. I can only hope to repay Him every day by working my hardest, and truly rejoicing in His gospel. I love His children! One of the other sisters said to me the other day that sometimes it just stinks that as a missionary, you meet people and just automatically love them. It just happens. But you know what? I love it! What a wonderful way to live, loving all those you meet like your own brothers and sisters?

Called to Virtue, Called to Serve
Much Love!
Sister Kayla A McDonald