Sunday, July 9, 2017

Christ Has Boundaries


Is "boundaries" a buzz word this year, or have I been hiding under a rock my whole life?   I never even heard the word before last year when my world exploded.  But it turns out that a lack of boundaries can make your world explode.  Haha!  So I'm learning now.  It's uphill work because imposing boundaries typically makes me feel un-Christlike because I've internalized some ideas about the Savior that aren't quite right.   The best antidote I have found to this unhealthy sense of shame is a study of Christ's life and teachings.


What are Boundaries?
Simply stated, my boundaries define my own knowledge of who I am and what kind of treatment I will accept within a relationship.  Boundaries do not dictate others' actions, but guide my own in providing safety for myself when others fail to show respect.

Within a relationship we issue invitations to interact in ways that work for us.  When our loved ones can respect our boundaries and help us feel healthy and safe within the relationship, those boundaries can move in a little.  When they refuse to respect those boundaries, the boundary moves out to provide protection.

Boundaries often get the bad rap of killing intimacy, while really it is the fertilizer that grows closeness.  For example, say my best friend knows that trust is a basic principle for me within a relationship.  I let her know that it's important she doesn't share anything confidential with others.  If she honors that need and can keep a secret, I feel safe letting her see more and more of me, hence the boundary moves in toward greater closeness.  If she chooses not to honor that boundary, it moves out and I no longer feel safe sharing personal things with her.  I find a safe place in the relationship either way.  The quality of the relationship, the closeness and intimacy are determined by both members knowing and respecting each other's boundaries.  

Does Christ Have Boundaries?
In Christ's mortal ministry, he demonstrated boundaries in his daily life and taught them in precept. Christ knew who he was and did not allow others to define him.  Christ knew his personal mission on the earth did not extend in every direction, and so focused his efforts where he knew they should be.
Christ took time to rest physically, ate when he was hungry, and took time to be alone when he was tired or heartsick.  Christ didn't comply with unreasonable demands.

Christ's teachings are replete with these principles, too.  I would copy Matthew 18 word for word here, but for the sake of brevity, consider these (and read the rest as soon as you can!)

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
Wherefore if they hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
My translation?  Relationships are important, but only insofar as they promote our health, happiness, and progression back to Heavenly Father's presence.  

The ultimate example of Christ's boundaries is that he has decreed only those who love him will enter into his presence.  This very simple concept is the basis for a healthy life for us as well.

Boundaries=Love
There is a little devil on every covenant woman's shoulder, telling her to be "Christlike" whenever she starts to establish boundaries.  Search the scriptures carefully and see Christ for who he really is, not who he is painted to be.  True disciples of Christ must emulate his example in kindness towards themselves before they can ever minister to anyone else.

If you desire to be a blessing in the lives of those around you, start by becoming the happy, loved woman God created you to be.  Only from a full heart can flow those acts of genuine kindness and those principles of truth that will lift the world each day.  Only from healthy relationships founded on Christ's teachings can come the light we are commanded to shine.

I had a very tender experience recently as the Lord set about to teach me what boundaries are about. I had felt some pressure to let down a boundary in order to see family members who have recently hurt me very much, had held firm to protect myself (yay!) and had felt immediately guilty about it (boo!) I took my problem to the Lord and he asked me if I would ever force my 10-year-old self to participate in a family gathering with people who had been mean to her and most likely would do so again.  My mind recoiled at the thought of forcing a child to be with people who make her uncomfortable, and the Lord told me, "that's how I feel about you."  I felt a flood of peace and love from the Savior, and perhaps just as important, for myself.

That honest, kind, nurturing love toward myself has been a lifetime in coming.  It swells when I listen carefully to my own feelings and honor them as I would a tender child.  Because I am safe and loved, I have a lot more love and tenderness to share with those around me.  But I must resist the impulse to say that is the whole point--that kind of martyr attitude hurts after awhile.  While the ability to minister to others certainly increases with a true sense of self, the point for me is that I can feel the love of my Heavenly Father.

Christ did and does have boundaries.  He provided them for us not to keep us out, but to draw us ever farther in toward the center of his love by making us more like him.  As we allow his love to refine us and feel it burn more brightly, we will guard that light from the winds around us so that those who want to, can draw closer and feel it, too.

PS:  After you've read Matthew 18 (for real), you should really take a look at this article, which details many instances of the Lord showing a healthy sense of his boundaries.  It greatly influenced my progress and helped me to write this post!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Choosing to See

What I Had to do Before I Could See Christ in My Troubled Past   


Since the family pictures have fled with all their cheer and beauty to Instagram lately, this blog has experienced a bit of an existential crisis.  Why did I write here and why did you read here?  Do I continue my ruminations on what pain means to a woman of faith?  I guess part of the reason I've been silent lately is because my story has expanded from the lonely battle of depression to the wider war of family dysfunction--and I don't know how much of that you need or even want to know.

But I'm still here and the major theme of pain through the lense of faith persists in my life.  I assume it persists in yours as well, or you would not be brave enough to keep coming back.

And so as long as this soapbox of mine continues to bear my weight, you will still see me here, whining just as little as I can, but mostly sharing my hope of a better world to come.  This blog is a love song to my perfect Savior, and so...I write.

.     .     .

If you've missed the basic outline of my last eighteen months, and just so you can have some context, here it is.  My brother admitted to a major pornography addiction, left his wife, and left the church. My parents separated, then divorced.  My dysfunctional relationship with Dad has painfully exploded into complete rupture.  The counseling I've resorted to in order to help me cope has sometimes been a cocoon of validation and support, but more frequently a brutally painful opening and scrubbing of old wounds so that they can heal properly.  And the past year has been very physically painful as I've battled chronic pain and tension in my neck and shoulders, which no amount of medication, yoga, exercise, massage, chiropractic care, or physical therapy seems able to touch.

There is a lot of good news, though.  I've won a lot of battles with anxiety and depression this year because of all the great therapy, medication, and especially love and support from family and friends. My kids have thrived in their new Montessori School, alleviating my responsibility to home school them and also the guilt that I would have struggled with if they didn't love their school.  My relationships with TJ, the kids, my mom and my siblings have grown in intimacy and joy--more, I think, than they ever could have without these struggles to pull us together.  I spend hours and hours every week connecting with my loved ones as we do everything from Muppet movies to serious discussions about our feelings and our lives.  The adults in my family have given me the most important validation, counsel, feedback, and support, despite my excellent professional counselor.  And I'm learning to make friends for the first time since college, fighting my way out of the self-imposed isolation and loneliness depression often brings.  Girl friends!  Thanks for loving me even though I have no social skills.

.     .     .

I suppose the best news of all is what you hoped it would be.  My testimony of Jesus Christ becomes brighter and more hopeful as time passes and I learn more fully what he has done and continues to do for me.

As I said, I've had to revisit some very painful facts about my childhood, and there have been some very dark times when I've wondered where God was when I was suffering so much.  Those who enjoyed relatively healthy childhoods will struggle to understand this, but examining my past has brought home the painful reality that I'm not sure God loves me--and the closer my therapist has helped/forced me to look at the painful circumstances of my childhood, the more this wound has hurt. It's not the age-old philosophic debate, if God existed he would not allow so much pain in this world. It's worse than that: He does exist and He is full of love, but he doesn't love me--or I would have felt his love during that dark time.  

One of the most painful and lingering effects of childhood abuse is that it can be difficult and even impossible to believe in a loving Heavenly Father.  Feeling unloved and unlovable is also a classic symptom of depression.  And this can rec havoc on our faith.  It's a pretty awful irony--those of us who feel unloved by parents will also struggle to feel God's love.

I listened to a podcast recently featuring Deborah Pegues, who wrote "Forgive, Let Go, and Live," and identified so much with her story.  My heart especially resonated with what she said about facing the fact that God has allowed our suffering.

"First of all, you understand that everything that has happened in your life--this is a hard one--God saw it before it happened.  He saw it before it happened and He saw it while it was happening.  And He could've stopped it.  That has been a big pill to swallow.  God saw that.  He could've stopped it.  So it must gonna be something that's gonna work together for my good ultimately...I'm gonna grow.  Something good is gonna happen.  If you don't take a divine perspective towards that kind of pain, you're gonna get stuck in it. You're gonna say, "It shouldn't have happened."  And it probably "shouldn't have happened," but in His divine providence, God knows..."All the days ordained for me were already written in His book."  Not the good days, the bad days, too.  And so, yes, I can relax.  So I'm gonna choose how I remember this...When you walk by faith, at some point, you gotta start abandoning the "why" and just say, "it did and that I'm gonna trust God."
I like what Joseph said when his brothers came to him.  And you know the story, how he was sold into slavery and they came and they knew they were mean to him and they said, "Forgive us, we're sorry."  And he said, "Listen, you meant it for bad, but God meant it for good."  
I've been grieving this year, hard.  I have been shedding a lifetime of bottled up tears.  I have been kneading and beating on my grief like a big wad of bread dough, trying to pound out my anger and expel my pain.  It's been necessary, completely awful emotional work to say goodbye to the blessings denied me over all these years of  life.  And even through this latest installment of pain, I've asked Him, "where were you all those years?  and where are you now?"

I planned on wearing this t-shirt for a picture in a canyon
just for you guys.  I didn't plan on waking up feeling alone
and unloved on the day of the trip--and I almost didn't go.
Yet the combination of a favorite t-shirt and God's glorious
creation tuned me right in to his love.  Not always that simple,
sadly.  But sometimes it is.  
So this painful, painful year has been very much about forcing me to face The Big Question: does my painful past prove that He doesn't love me, or is it just the opposite? Emotionally this year would look like a V on a bar graph, with my grieving over all I've lost, feeling abandoned and forgotten, and generally unloading a lifetime of repressed sorrow.  Down toward the bottom of the V, I was still hanging on to some kind of hope that Heavenly Father loved me, but it was very academic at that point.  My whole life is based on the assumption, the trust, that it's true, but I needed to know.  And so God has been teaching me in real time that the hardest trials are proof of his love, because this, the hardest of years, has taken me to the nadir that I needed to reach in order to be ready to believe.  I had to climb to the bottom of the canyon before I could ascend the mountain on the other side.  And God let me do it, because it was part of his plan for me to feel the joy that can only come when we're willing to face our fears down.

I reached the bottom of that canyon, and I'm climbing up the other side now.  The height of the mountain will crown me with sure knowledge of my Father in Heaven's love, but for now it's just wonderful to take step after step up into the sunshine.

My sense of how much Heavenly Father loves me has deepened as I have looked back over my troubled past and have seen the multitude of tender mercies He gave to me.  My vision has cleared , and now when I look back on the pain of my past, I see that Father in Heaven tempered my troubles. He cleared dangerous obstacles out of my path and saved me from many snares.  He sent care packages, always at the right time: teachers, friends, mentors, siblings, great books and beautiful music--to inspire me, give me hope and joy, and to teach me about a beautiful life just out of reach but worth hoping for.

But the most important thing he did was to provide a Savior.  My Savior redeemed me from my many follies and mistakes, making me worthy through his grace of the Comforter.  He gave me hope for a bright future in the company of the most loving Father a girl could have.  And at great personal cost, Heavenly Father allowed his precious son to suffer with me.  

I have come to know that I never cried alone.  That sad little girl who has always lived in my memory as very alone and unloved--had her Savior beside her, helping her bear her burden, comforting her, protecting her from trauma that would have undone her, and this is the most important part, crying with her.

Elder Merrill J. Bateman's words on the Atonement have helped me come to this new understanding of my painful past.  He said,

For many years I thought of the Savior's experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him.  Through the words of Alma, Abinidi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed.  Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt "our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15), "[bore] our griefs,...carried our sorrows,,,[and] was bruised for our iniquities."  (Isa. 53:4-5).
The memories have gone from bitter to semi-sweet, because that image has changed.  I wasn't alone. He literally shared my pain, felt it in its entirety for as long as I was feeling it.  He experienced the full magnitude of it not only so he could help me heal, but really for the same reason my earthly angels do--because He loves me.  He loves me enough to suffer with me.

My trials will continue to refine me, and I will still struggle to feel loved sometimes, but I'm climbing up into a safer and surer knowledge that feeling alone is not the same as being alone.  My Heavenly Father and my Savior lavish me with more love every day than I can even conceive.  Especially when I'm in pain.  

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Basement Pantry Before Kari, Basement Pantry After Kari

Naptime!

 Easter at Georgia's house
Mia and Jackson

Naomi

Got enough basket there, Ezra?

Isaiah and I went to IFA to see the chicks

Ezra's braces finally came off.  I was more excited than he was.  I was like, "how is it, are you so happy?"  And with typical teenage laconic style, he said, "it feels weird."  

TJ got to lead a special choir for the very first KinnectYou event, a ginormous, epic family history conference for teens.  I got a VIP pass, which I used to its full extent.  The classes were so amazing!  

Just in case you didn't know how cute my sisters and I were thirty years ago.  Here's proof.

Frodo

About a year ago, Paul started begging me to get a snake.  We already have two bearded dragons, and I had a feeling that the snake would be just as boring and just as stinky.  Of course, what Paul and really all the kids have always wanted was a dog, and I figured we might as well get one and skip the whole incremental process from lizard to snake to gerbil to parakeet to cat, etc, because we know we're going to cave eventually.  

So my campaign for a puppy began.  TJ never liked the idea, and we really couldn't afford the kind of dog we wanted, but when friends called and told us they were selling their dog's puppy for a great deal, we jumped!  Frodo is a standard poodle, and he's perfect for our family.  Poodles are smart, athletic, playful, and don't bother folks with allergies, like me.  

It has been major drama around here getting used to living with a dog!  Neither TJ nor I have ever done so, and we have no idea what we're doing.  Ezra does most of the work, thankfully.  And also thankfully, we're replacing the carpet soon.  Yikes!  I thought kids were hard on carpet!

We love Frodo so much!  He is sweet and fun and he learns so fast.  He is already bigger than most full-grown dogs, so we are carefully training him to obey before he can physically overpower all of us!  













Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dizzyland

In our neighborhood, going to Disneyland every year is standard.  Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the way my kids tell it, charities are considering helping us make the pilgrimage because it's so unheard of for a family to go six whole years without a trip to the Magical Kingdom. Well, the United Way can cross us off their list, because TJ and I finally got our act together and took the kids to California.  TJ's friend Preston, who works at Disneyland, kindly helped us get a great deal on tickets.  And after Disneyland we spent a few days in San Diego with TJ's cousins, the Papins. Their generosity made our trip epic!

On the way down, I discovered my kids have had no musical education, (nor has TJ, come to think of it.)  So, better late than never:



We did very little shopping at Disneyland, there was no time for boring stuff!  
But the Lego store was an obvious must.  


TJ with our hero, Preston!






I've said it before and I'll say it again: matching t-shirts at Disneyland are an absolute must!  Not only do they help you find your kids and help your kids find you--but when you're hurrying to make it in time for a fast pass, the crowd literally parts when it sees a huge herd of Mormons coming.  I saw people think twice, then step aside rather than try to cut through our group.  


And if you've never worn yellow pants, this is how they make you feel:



Disneyland was very busy, even for Spring Break, but we used RideMax and got to go on all our favorite rides at least twice!  Of course that meant sore feet at the end of the day from schlepping back and forth from one side of the park to the other all day, but it was worth it!  We loved Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain, and Indianna Jones Mountain.  :)



 Haha, there's one in every group...






California Adventure was a huge hit!  We especially loved Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin', Soarin' Over the World, and Goofy's Barnstormer!



World of Color was my absolute favorite part of California Adventure!  
This picture doesn't do it justice.




We met up with our friends the Walkers!


Before we headed to San Diego we hit the tide pools.  It was so beautiful and relaxing!



 TJ put a big rock under the water and dared the kids to run out and touch it without being touched by the next wave.  Such a fun game!










We loved our visit to the Mormon Battalion:





Balboa Park in San Diego was so gorgeous!  
We loved the amazing architecture and especially the botanical gardens.   





















Every time we go to San Diego, we find ourselves plotting to move there.  This house, for instance, right on the coast, and within walking distance of the LDS Institute, where TJ could get a job.  Of course, I'd have to start running drugs to be able to afford this place, which might not be in keeping with church standards for its employees...


Going to the beach with the cousins was a blast!





Too good not to post!  Ezra is a good sport!



A highlight of the trip was going to the temple with Monica, Jared, and TJ.  


Inside, we saw this gorgeous giclee of Minerva Tiechert's Mary and Martha.  I really identify with Martha, who was "careful and troubled about many things."  Walking away from the world and spending a few hours within the sanctuary of God's house was a joy.  


In the end of course, we made peace with coming home to live in St. George--
and we came home with bags of sand and memories of California to last us until next time!