Monday, March 25, 2013

hearing His voice.

i used to think i was different, and not in a good way.

i would listen to them, standing at the pulpit, wiping their eyes and accidentally scraping their tissue across the microphone with a soft whiiiiiissshhh.  they would testify of the miracle that had occurred, the moment they heard God's voice telling them to get out of the fast lane now! while seconds later they sat safely a lane over in the freeway, horrified, as the semi truck that had previously driven behind them careened into the minivan that had previously been in front of them. i watched their faces crumple in gratitude as they announced to the congregation that their prayer was answered in exactly the way they needed, curing an illness they had been informed was incurable.  i listened to them weep over the day they used their last stamp and last check to send their tithing off in the mail, and how the next day some sort of money would be found so they had just the right amount to pay the overdue rent.

i'm not sure where i came up with the name, but i started calling these stories and testimonies "Angel Moroni Moments."  these examples were told to us sitting in the pews below, and i knew even as a young girl that they were told with the intent to promote and build my faith, while they testified of their own.

surprisingly, i realized some time later in life that they had the opposite effect on me.

the more i heard of these miraculous moments, the more inadequate i felt.  i must not be good enough yet, to hear Him warn me of upcoming danger, i would tell myself.  i must try harder.  if i try hard enough, and am better, and good enough, then he will speak to me/cure my disease/fill my bank account.  i just know it.  i'm not going to be perfect, they told me i never will, but

i
have
to
be
better.

growing up with this mentality can be dangerous for anyone, but especially for someone who was already predispositioned to feel not good enough.  i constantly doubted and questioned my abilities to even deserve God's presence with me as i fumbled my way through life, and for 18 years had no idea how to recognize Him, if He actually was there.  i read poems about footprints in the sand and being carried through trials, and they seemed nice enough, but i doubted their validity.  i wondered if people said these things to just make themselves feel better when they went through a rough patch in their lives, to give them something to hold onto and believe in.

i had read The Book of Mormon a couple of times beginning to end, taking Moroni's challenge each time i finished. i prayed and asked if it was true.  i would stand up after kneeling, and wait.

nothing??

i questioned the nothing, because maybe it was actually peace?  not nothing?  was this what peace was supposed to feel like?  there was no booming voice, or even quiet whisper, that i could hear or recognize.  and i had heard the stories, and realized deep down that i wanted what they had spoken of. i wanted to feel

something.

because either these people i had listened to all of these years were delusional, or they weren't.  it felt as simple as that.

so, i decided to take matters into my own hands.

i was spending my summer up in jackson hole, wyoming, a place that made me come alive from the inside out.  the majestic teton mountains spiking and peaking over a calm lake enveloped by hundreds of thick, green pine trees was where i found sanctuary.  this place spoke to my soul, and as i finished the last chapter of the Book of Mormon yet again, i knew that if i was going to hear God's voice speak to me, it would be when i was living surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape He had created.

it was after 2 o'clock in the morning when i finished reading the final "Amen." and closed the book.  the rest of the rental home was dark, and quiet.  i was laying on the couch, which was my make-shift bed for the summer, and i stretched and looked over the back of it, squinting to see the tiny fluorescent green numbers of the clock on the stove in the kitchen.

i sat there for a minute, thinking.  an idea came to me, so i reached over, turning off the small lamp on the side table, and rolled off of the couch and onto my knees.  i had heard of others praying to God like he was there, standing in the room, but i wasn't sure about this.  i had been trained to speak formally, using "thee's" and "thou's" as a token of respect.  i didn't want to be disrespectful, but i wanted it to feel real...maybe for the first time in my entire life.

i closed my eyes, and started to speak, beginning the same way i had began all of my prayers.  "dear Heavenly Father..."

and then, the words poured out of me.  frustration and questioning became the theme of the prayer, asking aloud why i wasn't good enough to feel it.  to know.  and to know in the way people so confidently said, "i know it's true."  did they really know?  and if so, how?  and how could i get there? as i worked out my thoughts, the frustration turned to a challenge.  not me challenging myself,

i was challenging Him.

i said that i had an idea of what He felt like when he spoke to me, but i wasn't sure.  i described the chills starting from my lower back, working their way up and over my shoulders, the goosebumps that would inevitably line my arms, the tears that would easily spring to my eyes.  but, i said, this could just be me.

maybe all of this time, it's just been me, not really You, i said.

so, i told Him that i wanted Him to leave me alone, for 5 minutes.  to not let me feel Him near me.  to quiet whatever voice that may have possibly been speaking to my spirit for years, and to let me do this on my own.  i wanted to see if i could mimic this same feeling.  truthfully?  i was fairly confident that i could.

okay?  deal?  i asked.

silence.

i peeked over the couch again to look at the clock once more.

2:13.

here we go, i said to myself.  and knelt down again.  for those five minutes, i did everything i could think of.  i conjured up my most spiritual memories, and the feelings i had when i was in church, or on the temple grounds.  i thought of testimonies of those who were closest to me.  i thought of religious movies i had watched, and replayed scenes from their most inspiring moments.  i tried to cry, and even resorted to opening up the book of mormon to read 3 Nephi, which has always been my favorite part of The Book of Mormon. after all of this, i looked up at the clock.

2:19.

i was one minute past my time limit. and i had come up with nothing.  i knelt down again.

"well, i'm back,"  i announced to the darkness.  "and i couldn't do it.  but...can you?"  i challenged again.  i told Him that it was His turn.  but along with my challenge came a promise.  "if i can feel You, even if it's just this once for the rest of my life, i promise to never ever doubt this feeling.  i will never question whether it was really You, and not me.  i will never minimize it to myself or others.  and if i can continue to feel this feeling throughout my life, i promise to never doubt that You are here with me, and that this may not be how you speak to everyone, but this is the way You speak to me."

"okay," i whispered nervously.  suddenly i realized that if i didn't feel anything, what would i do after that? i hadn't thought through this spur of the moment challenge.  i resolved to deal with that when/if it happened.

"um, it's Your turn now."

and as i ended that sentence, immediately the chills started in my lower back, so strongly that i almost gasped.  the goosebumps covered not only my arms but my legs, and the tears began pouring down my face.  i knelt there, and just let myself feel Him cover me from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet.  after a few minutes, i spoke aloud again, and my prayer turned from a challenge to gratitude.

"so this is You.  it's so nice to know, thank you.  now, since i know now this is You, i have some questions for you."

my answers came again, in the same form.

ever since that night of challenging God, this is how i've been communicating with Him.  it wasn't an "Angel Moroni Moment," so to speak, and i've never shared the experience over a pulpit.  there was no life-saving miracle, but it was what i needed to stop wondering what He sounded like for me.

even though it took me years to be able to see His presence in my life, in His many different forms, it was the beginning of my recognition of Him.  and that night, it was what i needed to hear the voice that had been there all along.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

knit together.



when i was young, i used to spend my nights afraid.  my vivid imagination could easily produce frightening images that i couldn't push out of the way without a distraction.  my sister and i shared a room for many years, and even though most of the time i craved my own space, at night i found comfort in her being there, hearing her even breathing across the room while she slept.

when she moved down to her own room in the basement, i had no one to bring me out of my dark thoughts of evil clowns under my bed or possessed dolls hiding in my closet.  to keep my mind occupied, i used to sing to myself.  some nights it would only take a song or two before i was calm enough to find sleep--other nights i had to go through my entire repertoire of music.  in daylight i would shrink under the mere thought of singing in front of someone, but in the darkness i would sing boldly, unaware that anyone could hear my voice.

one particularly hard night, i found the words of one song comforting, so i sang it over and over again.  finally i stopped, and the air was quiet.

suddenly, i heard a gentle knocking.  i sat up, but stayed still, wondering if i had imagined it.  then, it happened again.  it was coming from my wall, the one my bed was shoved up against.  the wall that my room shared with my little brother's room.

"yeah?"  i asked loudly.

"um," tyler's voice softly said through the wall.  "will you sing that one again?  please?"

realizing he could hear me, i immediately felt embarrassed.  i wanted to hide under my blanket and never return.  but i stopped myself, because it was him.  tyler, with his floppy blonde hair and quick smile.  he was born with a gentle soul, trusting too easily others who could, and often did, hurt him.  our personalities were very similar, and i recognized the need to keep him safe from the cruelty i had faced.  subconsciously i appointed myself as his protector, allowing him to sleep on the floor of my room on nights when his dark thoughts got the best of him.  i had always felt a connection to him--an understanding that was never openly communicated, but felt between the two of us.

so, i began to sing.  my voice was shaky at first, self-conscious in the knowledge that someone was listening. but quickly my embarrassment faded and i found myself singing as boldly as before.  when the song was over, i heard his small voice squeak through the wall again,

"thank you." 

after that night, whenever i sang, i pictured myself singing to comfort him. that thought made me feel stronger, bringing me out of my own darkness.

as the years passed, the connection remained.  we each got lost for a while along the way, alternating spaces of time where the distance between us grew while we made our way along our individual paths.

the night before my wedding, he asked if i would come with him.  we drove and drove, listening to our favorite counting crows song, talking about the happiness and sadness of our past and the changes that lie ahead.

the next time i was with him, i wore my wedding dress as we danced.  i hadn't cried all day until that moment, but my emotions spilled over and tears fell freely down my cheeks as we slowly made our way around the room.  i knew he was lost, and i was abandoning him in the name of love and a new life for myself.  i was afraid he wouldn't forgive me for this, that our relationship would never be the same. my heart ached with the thought that i was leaving him alone in the darkness.

"it's okay," he said.  "i'll be okay."

my voice was caught in my throat, no words could come out, so i just nodded my head as someone brought me a tissue and the photographer snapped pictures of the two of us.

four years ago, as we were riding together from utah to arizona, he spoke the words aloud i had always felt about myself but had kept hidden, never sharing with anyone.

"i think i'm broken," he said.  "like, really broken.  that there's something wrong with me, deep down in my core, in the way that i can't fix it and i'm scared i'll never know how."

"me too,"  i half-whispered, afraid that if i said it out loud it would make it more real. our honesty began a conversation of raw vulnerability, of pain, of understanding.  we admitted things we couldn't yet speak to others, emerging out of the darkness yet again as we loved each other through it.

two years ago, we faced a new fear--the possibility of losing our beautiful older sister.  up until this time i had looked at tyler as an eternal little brother, only being able to see him as the boy i must protect no matter how old he was.  but during this time, i was a witness to his change.  maybe he had changed years before and i just couldn't see it.



he gathered the three of us together, siblings bound by blood but connected with our souls through love.  i watched his tears as we sat in chairs facing each other, and heard his voice crack as he said he would do whatever it took to not lose one of us.  he told us we were all we had who understood on a level no one else could.  he vowed to fight to save us from our own broken-ness.  my sister and i vowed to do the same, promising to not give up and to always be there for each other.

i saw him in a different light, and as much as i thought he had changed--i changed even more.  this boy who had been given the gift of a soft heart had shown me how to push past the darkness to reach out for another.  that night, i saw his strength.

last week, ty was hurt in a dirt biking accident.  his femur was shattered in nine places, and his hip broken in two places.  the 70-yr old surgeon announced it was the worst femur break he had seen in his career.  that fact that he was alive was nothing short of a miracle, because the slightest alteration of his accident could have been paralyzing or fatal.



i was walking into costco with my 3 kids when i received his wife kirsten's text of what had happened, that they were in an ambulance and she would keep us posted.  i received updates for the next few hours from her, my sister and my dad.  one surgery down, another to go.  i paced the floors, filling my time with meaningless things to occupy my mind as i waited to hear more.

my sister called on her way up to see him in the hospital at almost midnight that night.  hearing her voice, i broke, crying that i couldn't be there.  i knew i couldn't do anything to better the situation with just my presence, but it was for me that i wanted to go, to see that he was okay.  i cried as she assured me she would call and give a detailed report on their way home.  they texted pictures, and provided details for me after they returned home.

she knew why it was so hard for me to be away, explaining to our father, "we are knit together, the three of us.  when one of us is hurt, the other two feel it."

the next day i spoke to her again and she relayed her visit with him.  she said it took 40 minutes for the ambulance to reach him, and he was conscious the entire time. i was told the pain was so unbearable that he bit his fingers and arms in between his screaming.  in my head i could hear his screams and felt sick to my stomach.  his first surgery was successful and he was awake when she saw him.  she said his beautiful face was still in tact and he looked and sounded amazing with what he had endured.

she told me he was going to be okay.

i cried after we hung up the phone, tears of reassurance.

later that night, leah came out of her room upset, saying she had a nightmare.  she asked if i would lay down next to her and sing her a song.


There is a castle on a cloud,

I like to go there in my sleep,
Aren't any floors for me to sweep,
Not in my castle on a cloud.

..........

I know a place where no one's lost,

I know a place where no one cries,
Crying at all is not allowed,
Not in my castle on a cloud.


i stroked her hair and sang the words i had sung before to a scared young boy who had now turned into such a courageous man,  one i loved so fiercely.

as i sang i hoped these words would provide comfort, they way they had for me and my little brother so many years ago.

bringing us out of the darkness together.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

an opportunity to share.



i've been an avid reader of CJane's blog for years, and have grown to admire her so much through the beauty of her vulnerable and real writing.

a couple of months ago, she wrote about an experience she and her husband had one night while visiting a home that housed severely abused teenagers.  after her post, she asked a question about boundaries--what they looked like to her readers, and why they felt they were important.

normally i'm too shy to actually comment, but when this subject came up, i couldn't help myself.  when ben and i worked at the group home in north carolina, learning how to set and implement boundaries was a year-long struggle, but one that i realized brought me down a path of learning that changed my life significantly.  

through my comment, she asked if i would be willing to write a guest post for her about what i have learned.  i'm not going to even try to hide it, i almost wet my pants on the spot. i was extremely nervous--not only because this was a request from someone i admired from afar, but because i wasn't sure i could put into words what i learned through our experience. 

i had to work really hard to silence the insecurities that started popping up internally all over the place.

i started writing.  

the process of writing it down was unexpected; one that provided a reminder of how far a journey i have been on, and how much i have changed.  there has been a lot of pain and tears along the way, but one that has undoubtedly brought about a much more rewarding feeling of peace.

if you're interested in reading it, here's the link for the guest post:

{A Story About Boundaries and Love}

a huge thank you to Cjane for being willing to read my story and post it for her readers!!

and an even BIGGER thank you to the small support group i had while writing....

i know i was a semi-nutjob there for a couple of weeks.
i hope you know how much i love you & appreciate you.  so, so much.
{ben, lauren, andrea, rachel & clancy}

if you want to read more about learning while at the group home,

here's another post i wrote a couple of years ago.

giving it all to those who deserve it, and only pieces to those who don't.


Monday, March 11, 2013

learning to ride.




Well I started out down a dirty road

Started out all alone

And the sun went down as I crossed the hill

And the town lit up, the world got still



I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings

Coming down is the hardest thing.



yesterday had an unusual moment in it.  a moment where ben and i were able to look at each other over a blonde, fuzzy little head of hair and know that we did something right as parents.

we've been working with caleb on riding his bike for over a year now, and it has been a battle of both physical and emotional wills.  ben has taken the brunt of these, because he's been the main trainer, though i've gone out a handful of times with him.

one of the hardest things i've found being a mother--especially caleb's mother--is knowing when to push, and when to ease up.  teaching a child with disabilities has tested ben and i, at times causing tension between us.  we've been forced to look inwardly most often, humbling ourselves to see what is ours, and what is his.

ben is the pusher; coming from a place of wanting his only son to know he can do anything he puts his mind to.  i am more cautious; concerned that if we push too hard, we will not only break his fragile body but his fragile self-confidence along with it.  there have been countless conversations, going back and forth about crying it out as a baby, nursery at 18 months, bedtimes, half-day kindergarten, diet, tying his shoes, physical therapy, which sports to sign him up for, and many others.  we start out the same way; stubborn, both believing we are doing what is right and best while believing the other has no clue.  sitting on opposite sides of the see-saw, going up and down as the conversation begins.

where we end is what is most important.

sometimes the resolution is found after a few minutes....sometimes it's found after more than a few minutes, and it only comes when our fears are laid to rest.  ben letting go of his fear of caleb always being viewed as smaller, weaker and incapable.  me letting go of my fear that i am not protecting the child who actually was born smaller, weaker and less capable.

we have to work within caleb's limits, his reality.  a place without the fear and insecurities of his parents.  it isn't easy to find this reality, though it sounds like it should be.  luckily we're finding it much faster than we used to, working together instead of against each other.

when it came to teaching him to ride a bike, we assumed it would be more simple than it's been.  we have heard friends tell us of their own children, self-taught without training wheels, who just take off and never look back.  we knew it wouldn't be this easy with our boy, the boy who needs us to break each thing down for him into small pieces.  the whole package overwhelms him physically, which causes his emotions to spike and creates mental barriers.  and once those mental barriers are set, heaven help us all... caleb has a really difficult time breaking through.

we pushed too hard, initially, and caleb's fears of failure came to the forefront of our teaching.  it became a mental game, full of motivational techniques and a lot of affirmations.  we scaled back the pushing, but kept trying.  the focus of our family walks became less relaxing, and instead were filled with his cries of resistance.  we would turn another corner, me pulling the wagon with the two girls, ben jogging alongside caleb as he yelled and sobbed and tried to convince us to turn around.  after each walk, ben and i would re-evaluate.  is this too much?

a couple of months ago, we decided the bike was working against him--even though it was practically brand new, it was from walmart and we realized while watching him that his legs just didn't have the strength to pedal for long periods of time with it.  so we took him to an actual bike store and bought a legit one, after watching him test it, pedaling with ease.

we took him out that day, crossing our fingers that this new bike would help build his confidence and ease his physical burden.  and it did, but the mental barriers were still there.  so each sunday night we went back out on our family walks, disrupting peaceful neighborhoods with his bouts of frustration.  ben would tell him affirmations he needed to say, and as the girls and i would notice the flowers and stray animals crossing the road in front of us, i could hear caleb behind us, yelling these affirmations through his tears.

"I CAN DO THIS!"

"I'M DOING A GREAT JOB!"

"I'M TRYING MY HARDEST!"

as we would end each walk, caleb would completely melt down.  one specific time, ben let caleb release all of his frustration on him, giving him permission to scream and yell and even punch him.  i was in the kitchen making spaghetti when i heard what sounded like a mini-exorcism take place, with guttural yells and tiny fists hitting against a father's chest.  after he had let it out, all that followed were the sobs of a 7-yr-old and ben's soft words of praise for his son and his hard work.  i peeked around the corner to see ben holding caleb in his arms as he cried.

i'll admit, there have been times when i've felt a little hopeless because it looked like we weren't making much progress.  we both knew caleb was capable of this, we knew what we were pushing him for wasn't because of our deep-down insecurities to have a son who couldn't ride a bike.  but fighting these emotional battles with him each time made me weary, wondering when {or if} we would see the day that he believed in himself enough for him to push physically to accomplish it.

last night as i stepped into my walking shoes, i felt dread.  i admitted this to ben, silently mouthing over caleb's head "i don't think this is a good idea tonight," because i was not in the mood to have what had been a mostly-pleasant and peaceful sunday interrupted again with yelling and frustration.  caleb clearly did not want to go, whining and pleading before strapping on his helmet.  but ben held firm, so the rest of us got ready.

before starting off, ben gave him some affirmations and i motivated him with the green gatorade he'd been asking for, telling him it was his if he could work as hard as he could with a good attitude.

i began walking, going ahead with the girls around the cul-de-sac and nearing the park.  normally within a minute or two i would hear caleb approaching me with his yelling about how he was going to fall or run into the curb.  but this time, there was silence.  i kept going, assuming they had gone the opposite way down the street and we would meet in the middle.  after passing the park and rounding the corner of another block, i heard them.  but instead of crying and frustration, i heard ben's encouraging shouts.

"KEEP GOING, BUDDY!"

"YOU'RE DOING AWESOME!"

then suddenly, zoom!  caleb passed us on the left, yelling an excited, "HI, MOM!" with a smile on his face.  i watched him pass, widening my eyes, looking at ben jog next to him.  he smiled at me too as they kept going down the street.  they circled back around, and i took pictures, feeling warmth hit my toes and work its way up and over my body, knowing tears would soon fill my eyes.

as i watched him go, tom petty's "learning to fly" came to my mind, and has been stuck in my head all day today.



when we got home, there were no screams and fists, only hugs and congratulations.  ben pulled me aside as caleb chugged down his green gatorade.  he told me that caleb started saying his own affirmations as he pedaled, and ben said when caleb yelled the words, "THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!" he had to hold back his own tears.

this parenting stuff is hard work, full of constant re-evaluations and prioritizing and checking our egos at the front door.  most of the time i have to fight the feeling that what i do here is mundane and meaningless.  i know it's not, but it's easy for me to get caught up in trying to find the meaning in the daily little things, fighting feelings of discouragement.

but sometimes we see rewards like the one we saw last night, and it reminds us to keep going, to not stop trying.  that what we're doing is making a difference for the better, helping a little person build self-confidence and overcome a challenge that would have been so much easier to just give up on.

i'm glad we didn't give up.













Monday, March 4, 2013

touching the stars.







“There were once two sisters
who were not afraid of the dark
because the dark was full of the other's voice
across the room,

because even when the night was thick
and starless
they walked home together from the river
seeing who could last the longest
without turning on her flashlight,
not afraid
because sometimes in the pitch of night
they'd lie on their backs
in the middle of the path
and look up until the stars came back
and when they did,
they'd reach their arms up to touch them
and did.” 


i'm sitting here in the airport in provo, yet again with a 2 hour flight delay provided by the inexpensive and unreliable allegiant airlines.  at least this time i'm outside of the plane, instead of inside like i was when i was stuck in arizona, sitting in the stuffy cabin while the engine of the plane was manually started.

what??  yes.  not so comforting.

i'm learning the hard way what my time is worth, weighing the cost of flying cheap vs. flying reliable. and i've decided this is okay, it could be worse.  i have my laptop with a small amount of battery still left, so i'm making myself useful.  not only that but i don't have my kids with me, which would have made this an entirely more exciting experience.



i spent the weekend with my beautiful sister and her beautiful family.  i celebrated birthdays, laughed, cried, snuggled babies, stayed up too late, cooked food, took pictures, and tagged along a birthday party of 7-year-old girls to see my darling niece get her ears pierced.



growing up my sister and i fought like alley cats, with claws and fangs.  the differences between us intimidated me, and my insecurities became glaringly obvious when i was next to her.

now i look at her and she shows me the very best parts of myself through how much she loves me, even at my worst.  it's hard to describe the love i have for my sister, especially when talking about it in person.  hard because i cry and can barely choke out the words.

we have both been broken, 'veterans of the same war' as she says.  we have both stumbled along our paths, and have had to pick ourselves up, bandaging our bruised elbows and scraped knees as we started walking again. apologizing for our mistakes under hot tears and lowered gazes, with soft resolution and squared shoulders to stop the cycle of pain. and we have marched on, more vulnerable yet less naive.

i'm not great at remembering a lot these days, my mind is full of so much that it pushes memories out so it can make room for piano lessons, school homework, teething gums and playing ponies.

but one memory of my sister is still as vivid as if it had happened yesterday.

at my father's wedding, sitting next to each other, both of us bursting with emotion.  sadness, uncertainty, hesitation....and hope.  we were silently saying our good-byes to the life we had known to embark on a new one with so many variables.  i looked at her, and saw the tears streaming down her face, matching the tears falling down mine.  she reached over and took my hand, and we held on that way through the ceremony, crying--grieving--and trying to learn to let go so we could be open to what was ahead, finding acceptance in the possibility of more love.

i remember looking down at our intertwined fingers.  she and i have been through so much together and i knew that no matter what, we would continue to be there for each other.  sharing joy and pain as it came in waves through our lives.  i have no control over what happens, but i really hope she and i can grow old together, holding hands as wrinkles deepen and the skin wears.

promising to not let go.

happy 34th, lauren. i love you.