Family things

Since I realized that becoming like God was the only real important thing in my life (all else is just a way to get there), I’ve had one real goal: expand the people I consider “family.”

Obviously my parents and brother fit that place. My brother’s wife is mentioned only as my sister, because the “-in-law” thing just serves as a means of separation.

I learned this pattern from my mother, who is always trying to broaden her “family.” In her church congregation at home, she often finds a young mother desperately in need of help and becomes a local grandmother to her children. She’s done this many times, and often adopts a woman whose marriage is struggling. My mother’s support provides relief and assistance as both husband and wife struggle through learning to balance family, church, and military responsibilities.

My volleyball club culture is intended to support the families of our players, and I play whatever role the players will let me. Often, and most appropriately, this is the role of coach. If nothing else, I do that. But some allow me to be a little more, and ask for personal advice.

During this last season, I was in the throes of woe, and struggling to simply be the coach. My players–the ones who have allowed me to be closer than just a coach–reached out and asked me what was wrong. They recognized a connection that was personal as well as professional, and they wanted to help.

It took me a long time to figure out how best to tell all I was going through to teenagers, who I would have preferred remain blissfully unaware of the challenges and vicissitudes of life.But their parents had prepared them well–as I mentioned, the club exists to assist families–and they knew life was hard. As 15 year olds, their parents had chosen to let them struggle (which was a choice because monetarily they didn’t have to do that), and my players already had a mature framework to understand what I was going through.

I wrote several times previously about how difficult the season was for me. The players who supported me, and their parents who have not inappropriately shielded them from life did at least as much for me as I did for them. They were the extra bit of family I needed when I was alone.

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Dimes become quarters

Life is changing rapidly. I think it’s changing for the better.

But I can probably no longer claim it’s turing on a dime. It’s turning quickly, but I am more like a super-tanker than a volleyball player pivoting on a court.

Super tanker changing course.

Change takes time. Although some decisions need to be made quickly, lasting change cannot come overnight.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell provides a simple explanation why: “Twigs are bent, not snapped, into place.”1

Thus God takes time in effecting change in his children’s lives.

I’ve railed against God many times during this process. Mine, however, is only the sound of straining engines in a large ship (those who have cruised understand this sound; you likely woke to it on 1/3 or more of all your mornings onboard). It is the sound of protest, but the sound of acceptance of the Captain’s will.

A few things became clear during last week’s General Conference:

  • The path I was on prior to teaching high school was good, but not good enough
  • The choices I was making would not as immediately lead me back to God’s presence: I would have had a longer period of difficulty and struggle than I have currently been through
  • God loves me, even though He might have instigated the things that I considered painful in the last 18 months

This fits well with the instruction from Elder Maxwell:

Without patient and meek endurance we will learn less, see less, feel less, and hear less. We who are egocentric and impatient shut down so much of our receiving capacity.2

I may have been accused of egocentricity on more than one occasion and probably rightfully so.

I can certainly self-identify much time over the last 18 months where I was so pained that all I could focus on was myself. These were the darkest times. I still don’t know whether egocentricity was a cause or a result of these experiences.

Regardless of the chicken or egg coming first, egocentricity kept me from receiving answers to the question that was ever-present on my mind: why?

I could not begin to understand or learn from my lessons until I became more patient. And only after I began to accept the possibility of no release from the difficulty did the chances to learn and understand really begin.

Deliverance will come. Many, many nights may be spent drowning in tears of despair, but deliverance will come. It will not be how you expect it, and it will not be in the time you expect. But at some point as you scratch, claw, fight, and attempt to pull yourself out, the hand of the Master will reach down and provide exactly the strength you need to keep climbing.

That is Divine Deliverance. It comes to all, and only those who have given up their egos in the process recognize His hand.

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1. Maxwell, Neal A. “Endure it well.” General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. April 1990. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1990/04/endure-it-well?lang=eng. Visited 11 October 2015.

2. Ibid.

How can I want revelation when revelation led me here?

I’ve always tried to follow revelation as best as I could. When I recognized I should do something, I did it with the expectation good would come of it.

While talking with my bishop yesterday, he said I should seek revelation about dating. That set me off and contributed nastily to the spiral I was already in.

How I can I want to seek revelation when following revelation is what landed me in the situation I’m in now? How can it possibly be a good thing to specifically seek revelation about dating when the last time I did that I was in a relationship for 16 months that I was expecting never to end? How can I seek for revelation when I was told in words as clear as “if you both work hard at it, you’ll have a very good marriage” and then not have that ever happen–God knowing full well that the girl is/was not in a place where she trusts herself enough to be in a relationship of that level of commitment?

How can I trust God not to put me through the ringer again when He knew the outcome of that revelation that started this entire experience more than two years ago? How can I want to seek divine guidance when I followed it to become a teacher and then had to leave for my sanity’s sake?

How can I want to do that to myself again? How can I want to seek for something that theoretically makes my life better when for the last year doing what I felt inspired to do has left me a humiliated shell of who I was?

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Given a choice, I would never go back and change the decisions I made. Starting to date the girl based on revelation was the best decision I made to that point in my life. God knew how strongly I’d fall for her. He knew that giving me clear revelation about our potential future would cause me to do certain things. I wouldn’t trade those 16 months for anything.

Revelation gave me the best things I have in life. Revelation also caused me to end the relationship when she didn’t have the strength to. Revelation encouraged me to leave my job and protect what little of me there was left. Revelation helps me rebuild myself each day.

Trusting Father is difficult. I don’t expect He’s enjoyed watching me suffer. I don’t expect He will stop my suffering, either. I have some expectation that, no matter what, He is in charge, and because He is good, the things He gives me can only be for good.

The things I’ve been asked to do, and the consequences of my actions have been more difficult than I ever expected I would deal with. I daily ask for strength to deal with the difficulties of that day. Asking for more is thinking too far ahead.

But I don’t want to again go through what I’ve been through. I don’t want to have my heart and my being torn out and shredded into pieces. Thinking of that and considering it as a possibility causes me to spiral out of control. But if I must go through it, I will. Jesus drank His bitter cup. Mine is not the bitter cup of the world’s sin, pain, illness, and struggle. Mine is specific to me. I may ask for its removal, as He did, but when faced with it, I will not shrink.

Replacing me, one piece at a time

While speaking about my experiences with a close friend this week, I came to a new comparison and new set of lessons regarding what I’ve been through. 

I’ve struggled a lot trying to understand the reasons for my excessively painful experiences. I’ve been through a lot of things I didn’t want to and a lot of things I never want to again. (The quote at the bottom may help beyond what I can describe.)

Before she died, my grandmother had both of her knees replaced. She had never been particularly active, but the process was horrible for her. The intent of the operations was correct: restore more youthful functionality to her and allow her some greater flexibility for activities in her life. 

Due to failing health and other things, the intended results weren’t realized. However, important lessons can be learned from the Platonic form of what her replacements should have produced. 

Everything I wanted and was going to have in my life was taken from me over the course of the past year. The person I had spent 27 years building was broken into uncountably infinite pieces (that’s a thing, look it up), and I was a shambles. 

The things I wanted, the person I wanted to be was not possible any longer. After many months of darkness, prayer, pleading, and waiting, I found myself beginning to be rebuilt. 

And the rebuilding wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t what I wanted, nor was it in areas of my life I wanted change. God had removed the skeleton of my self confidence and was starting from scratch. Much of the matter composing who I was was good and would be reused, but God needed a better structure to build around and reattach my spiritual desires to. 

He started replacing me, not only my knees, but every bone, every joint. 

The process is not easy. Nor am I perfect yet. Like everyone who has physical joints replaced, I must exercise my new structure. I must rehabilitate myself to become active and functional again. 

And similar to physical reconstruction, there are hiccups. Sometimes old habits, long forgotten come to the forefront, to be dealt with again. The most difficult experiences for my grandmother were the times her knees kept getting infected. As I am rebuilt, I may be challenged by things that have not been challenging for many years. 

The rebuilding process leaves me in a weakened state that I must work and rehabilitate myself in order to exit. 

The future is not certain, but it is becoming clear: I needed to be humbled so God could make something better of me. I am on that path. Even though I am susceptible to infections and things that should not trouble me, I will overcome. All things considered, I am better than I was. My structure and foundation is being replaced, and I can continue to build on it.

CS Lewis puts it in similar terms. 

I pray your rebuilding process may be perfect for you (and less difficult and painful) than mine has been.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.

Mere Christianity, CS Lewis

I want to be a house. God wants me to be a palace. His plans are better. 

Pulling myself out: developing a pattern

In March an angel told me, “you need to move back to Provo. In that ward you have friends and people who love and support you. You can’t do this alone.”

She was 100% right. Within 10 days I was back in that ward, even though I blew off the suggestion at first. The location is in pretty high demand, so the fact I ended up there so quickly is miraculous. 

I’ve written several times about how it was the right thing at the right time, so I won’t belabour that point. There are some other things that might be assistive. 

I’ve worked everyday to overcome the depression I experienced. I don’t think I’m out entirely yet, but I’ve put my nose to the grindstone and pushed forward. Some days “effort” is defined as “waking up, throwing off the covers, kneeling, praying, and getting back in bed until tomorrow, promising to fight harder the next day.” But every day there was some effort. 

That drive to fight and progress has to be there. Even in the darkest hour. 

I need friends and support. I have several people who know most of what’s going on in my head. I’ve asked for their help. Several more people in the ward know to come looking for me if I drop off the radar for a while. But friends have helped me cope and fight my way out of the pit. 

I had to set good habits. I had to find simple things that I could accomplish consistently. Little things are how big things happen. Most of you will be familiar with Alma 37:6,

by small and simple things are great things brought to pass;

It’s true. Small things provide momentum that allow me to move forward and steamroll the big things that previously blocked my way. 

My friends provided help here by providing a level of accountability. I set myself two simple goals to start

  1. I would kneel and pray every morning and every night. After any kneeling prayer–sometimes I needed more than two each day–I would send the praying hands emoji,   , to a friend. 
  2. I would spend 15 minutes each day (ideally in the morning) studying and memorizing scriptures. When that was finished, I sent    to another friend, because I nailed it. 

Several other goals have grown from these, a bit more grand, with a bit lesser success, but these two have provided the foundation for me to build on and claw my way back upward. 

No matter what is troubling you, I believe these three things can help:

  1. Fight everyday. Make the choice to fight, even if the only battle of the day you win is to choose to fight harder tomorrow. 
  2. Include friends in your struggles and ask them to support you in specific ways. 
  3. Find small things that you can do everyday to build momentum, even on your worst days. 

Success comes from these three small things alone. Your success is based on your continued effort, not on any immediate outcome you can see. In the moment, we imagine overcoming as a Sisyphian task, but the daily struggle yields progress of millimeters and momentum. 

Lingering effects I never wanted

While I was at the lowest points of the depression I experienced, every morning was a struggle. Typically a morning was preceded by a night of less than adequate sleep, ending at 5 a.m., when I woke to eat breakfast and prepare to be to school by 7 a.m.

Every morning was filled with dread. Every morning was dark, difficult, and a struggle. Every day I wanted to give in and not leave the house. I was anxious about going, and I didn’t want to put myself in a place where that anxiety could grow and my feelings of hopelessness would increase.

Over time, those feelings became associated with volleyball–all vitality my passion for it brought was sucked completely out of me. It once was the haven to which I fled when the struggles of the day were over. Now it is the main trigger for depressive thoughts.

Now, I am mostly through the depression I experienced while teaching. I’ve had healing that allowed me to regain love for life and for moving and doing new and difficult things.

But my anxiety toward coaching volleyball remains.

I don’t want to think about the fact I have to coach a tournament today. I just don’t want it. I know I’ve written about hating volleyball and about having brief moments of enjoyment while coaching, but right now, I can’t convince myself to get out of bed and shower so I can be halfway presentable for the day.

And when I can get out of bed, I know I’ll have the same feelings in the shower–a place that once was energizing, not enervating–I did before school: dread, worry, near breakdowns, occasional, breakdowns. Nothing logically founded, but everything vividly real, nonetheless.

Volleyball brings me no joy. I feel the same way about coaching volleyball that I did when teaching school. Cognitively I want to enjoy it. I know I should. But I cannot convince myself to enjoy the experience, even though I know nothing unfortunate will likely happen, nor is there any reason to be anxious about it.

Eventually, I hope healing will occur. Possibly time and separation will heal the wound. In the meantime, I’ll do the same thing I did while teaching: force myself to get up and out and rely on my kids to provide some amount of vitality.

“Should” the word I should probably stop saying

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend who had met with a counselor several times. She’s of similar intellectual capacity and intrinsic drive as I am during my best times–we’re pretty much brain-twins, and we’ve had some eerily similar experienced in the love department during the last several months. So we talk and request advice a lot. 

Anyway, she said the most important thing she learned from the counselor was to “not dwell on the things you think you should be able to do and to accept what you do and celebrate that.”

The times I spiraled the most quickly and the deepest were the times I allowed myself to dwell on what I thought should be. When I focused on what I should be able to do and what should have happened, I tanked faster than gravity could pull me down. 

Hearing this from her was a bit shocking. I had been focusing on what should have been (read: what I in my incredible conceit and self-focus think should have happened), and that dissonance with what did happen was ruining the harmony of my life. (I enjoy dissonance used well in music, and it has its place, but my ears require resolve.)

So I’ve spent some time focused on only appreciating what I can do. On celebrating what I actually do. I allow myself slight disappointments if I don’t accomplish something that is probably within my power, but I don’t dwell on what should have happened or what I should have done. 

What is past simply is.

They grow up so fast

One of my players asked me a few weeks ago if everything is ok.

Lee J, are you doing ok? You’re not like you were last year. You aren’t as happy and don’t act the same.

Hearing that from a fifteen year old is a bit humbling. I don’t try to hide the fact I’m not the same, but I didn’t expect a teenager to notice (general self-absorbency, etc).

Since then, she and I have had some interesting discussions about why she’s more externally aware than most or her age group. Going through really difficult times will mature you very quickly. She’s been through more trauma and difficulty than any young person should go through, and although she says she lives with memories and struggles everyday, she keeps going.

That level of resilience inspires me. She’s encouraged me to care for myself, to overcome what I’m struggling with. Her struggles have forged her into a strong young woman.

One of the things I called her before this time was “kid.” I can’t do that anymore. She’s far more mature than a child, and calling her “kid” would disrespect her growth through her trials. Like any of us, she’s a person. She deserves recognition for her growth.

I didn’t expect to have a fifteen year-old inspire me the way she has. Kudos to her and to her parents who love her dearly.

The future is as bright as your hope

Someone during general conference said this. I think he was quoting President Monson, and I think the actual quote is “The future is as bright as your faith.”

The actual quote–in my limited experience–is 100% wrong. It adds to the confusion of hope and faith (which are separate and individual) without really helping the hearer understand what is meant.

Faith is necessary, of course. But if the future is to be bright, faith does not provide the light. It provides the why, not the means.

Hope provides the light. When languishing in darkness, faith can exist (for me it always did), but I was completely without hope. I had no light because I had no hope. Faith provided cognitive understanding of what God could do, but it provided no expectation that He would.

Benefits of depression: Increased insight to atonement

This dovetails very closely with the previous post. Sacrament is an important part of applying the atonement daily in my life. 

Before I spiraled, I had a pretty good understanding of the atonement. I had benefitted from it as I repented of sins. I had cognitive understanding it could be used for other things, but I had not experienced it strongly relating to weakness. 

Because of what I was in the middle of, I could not do certain things, I could not motivate myself to do certain things. I was weak. And that weakness was not something I had experienced so poignantly before. 

By going through that period, I had to pray for strength provided through the atonement every day. 

Every day I struggled to gain, ask for, and receive the strength to push forward. Every day I had to humble myself and ask Father to give me strength from the atonement. Every day I was forced to recognize my weakness and work to accept it and overcome it with help. 

The atonement is for sin. It is for pain. It is for weakness, generally and specifically. It is for broken hearts. It is for depression. It is for physical and mental shortcomings. It is for illness. It is for healing in every possible meaning of the word. 

I understand it a little better now because I have been through more trials. Healing is real. It comes from atonement.