Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Back on the Wagon

I have done no consistent writing for years now. I have journaled here and there, and had an occasional sporadic blog post.  I finally sat down and did some significant journaling a few months ago, and felt sane and level for the first time in a very long time. Because I live with a verbal processor, and I have so seldom had time to write, I convinced myself that talking through some of my thoughts was enough. It wasn't.  As I always have, I need to write. I need to write to empty my head, to process and organize my thoughts, to deal with my emotions.  And I really, really need to do a better job of recording my kids, and the Lord's hand in our lives.

To get my brain in the right mode, and my habits back on track, I decided to do a 30 day journaling challenge. We'll see how many days is actually takes me, if I finish it at all. But here goes.

The first task is to reintroduce myself. This seems simple enough, but its actually quite difficult for me, because I feel like in the busyness of school and work and callings and injuries and illnesses, the frenetic pace has caused me to let go of who I've always been trying to be.

A few months ago, I asked on Facebook what was unique about me, for a school assignment. An old friend from high school responded thus: "A fiercely analytical flower child. Emotions are valuable, vital even, but they don't circumvent knowledge or logic. You have an innate ability not just to separate the two, but to weigh them appropriately to the situation. . .Lots of people can bring a smile to the room, and lots of people know the right answers to the question, but few can manage it at the same time."  He coins this as having "an air of grounded whimsy".  That response saddened and delighted me at the same time.  I'm grateful to know that I have made that impression, but I haven't felt like that is who I've been lately.

So who am I?  I'm the girl with long hair and bare feet who loved sunshine on her face and wind in her hair and fields full of daisies, and did everything she could think of to radiate smiles and compliments to the people around her, desperate to make them feel loved.  I'm the young woman who knelt at an altar in a room full of strangers and trusted: trusted the Lord, trusted her new and forever companion, trusted her family.  I'm the mom who can't think of anything more delightful than a 2-year-old and somehow never quite feels like she has enough time with her kids, even on the days when she's had entirely too much of them.

I'm someone who wants to know and understand: principles, practical knowledge, people. And then I want to use that understanding to uplift and encourage and educate. When I'm tired I get very sarcastic and critical, and tremendously self-righteous when I'm angry or hurt.  I can be too sensitive, and I withdraw too easily.  I'm an outgoing introvert, who tries to people too much and then crashes.

Hopefully this month we'll work more on the details.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Pure religion

Sacrament Meeting talk 04/16/2017

Our little girl is getting baptized next week, and I’ve been pondering the promises we make in our covenants, particularly in taking the Savior’s name upon us, and what that should look like. We promise to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand need of comfort; we promise to take care of each other. For years, I had a sign on my wall that displayed a scripture from Galatians: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  I still largely believe that it’s as simple and as difficult as that.  As I was thinking about that, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post my dad had put up about turtles.
My parents live near a sizeable wildlife refuge that consists of several shallow lakes and ponds, and there are many turtles that live in the refuge.  Several roads, including the highway, run next to or across the it, and consequently there are sometimes turtles in the road.  It isn’t uncommon for these little creatures to be run over.  Yesterday my dad was out doing some wildlife photography, and caught on camera a couple who had stopped to pick up some turtles and get them safely back to the water. That isn’t an uncommon occurrence either.  People who ignore the turtles moving slowly across the road, and even the people who run them over, aren’t bad people, and certainly don’t intend any harm; usually, they are just in a hurry and don’t have time to worry about turtles, or, more often, they simply don’t even notice.  I have said many times that I believe a great portion of human misery is caused not by malice, but by myopia.  How much good have we failed to do, or even harm have we failed to prevent, because we simply didn’t take the time to slow down and look around us, beyond our immediate destination or concern, and see what we could do--however small--to build the kingdom of the Lord by some small act of service that was easily within our reach?
James describes pure religion as visiting the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.  Service is a bit like immunizations, healthy eating, and exercise all in one: it helps us build a strong relationship with the Savior, increasing our spiritual health and personal strength, as well as keeping us focused on and occupied by good things, protecting us from distractions and temptations.
Too often we treat service like a check-list of things we have to get done, and when we are approach it that way, it often feels overwhelming or draining. Elder Marion G. Romney once said, “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom.  Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”  The covenant we make at baptism, to learn better to be our brother’s keeper, to look on the needs of our neighbor with compassion and patience, prepares us for the ultimate covenant of service we make to consecrate our time, talent, and means to the building of the Lord’s kingdom.
In the same letter, James counsels to be not just hearers of the word, but doers of the word.  He tells us to “lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word”.  In other words, he tells us to let go of any greed, selfishness, laziness, and be teachable so that we can have the word--the Savior--written on our hearts.  To assess how well we’re doing with that instruction, we can ask ourselves a question posed by another ancient prophet, “Have [we] received His image in [our] countenances?”  The service we give and how we give it is not about tasks we check off--it’s about who we are becoming.
The Lord asks us to consecrate our means, and while this serves a very practical need--people need to be fed and clothed and housed and cared for--this is also about helping us become the people he needs us to be. When the wealthy young man comes the Savior and asks how he might obtain eternal life, the Savior reiterates the commandments, which the man says he has kept from his youth. And so the Savior tells the man to sell all that he has and follow him.  The Lord doesn’t always ask us to part with all our earthly possessions to serve him, but he does ask that our hearts are prepared and willing if that is what is required of us.
And that, in part, is why the Lord asks us to consecrate our time and our talents.  I’m annoyed if I feel like someone has cheated me out of my money, but I struggle not to be angry when someone wastes my time--I can’t get it back, and I feel like they’ve stolen a little piece of my life.  The Lord isn’t just asking us to donate some of our stuff, he’s asking us to dedicate our lives and who we are; he isn’t concerned with the substance of what we have so much as he is the substance of who we are.
A few months ago, during the massive flooding in Louisiana, an old friend, who lives in Oregon and is not a member of the Church but knows that I am, contacted me and asked if I had any way that I could get ahold of someone in Louisiana who might be able to find a few people to get a dad who was in one part of the city to his wife and infant who were at a hospital in another part of the city, because their car was inaccessible and there was no working public transportation due to the severe weather.  Without personally knowing a soul in the area, I told him that I could.  It reminded me of our own experience a decade ago when our infant son ended up in the hospital hours from home, where we knew no one.  We called our bishop and informed him of the situation, and an hour later, a couple of high priests were in the hospital room helping my husband administer a blessing to our son, with messages from their wives about meeting other needs we might have.  No matter where my children are, or anyone else I love for that matter, even if I can’t get to them I know that there will be someone I can call on to serve them and love them, because of who those Christ-centered souls have chosen to be.  That is pure religion, and in an often unkind, ugly, fallen world, it’s hard to imagine a more celestial blessing.  That is the natural fruit of choosing to be a Zion people.
One of my favorite lines, by W.H. Auden, is “You owe it to all of us to get on with what you’re good at it.”  What talents has the Lord blessed you with? What skills has he given you the chance to learn, what educational opportunities has he extended to you?  All those things can be used to build the kingdom, though sometimes it isn’t immediately obvious to us how, and we may need the help of the Spirit to know in what way the Lord would have us use those gifts.  One of the adversary’s most effective tools for dissuading us from serving is trying to discourage us and convince us that we have nothing to offer.  President Packer had a response to this that I love: “When you say ‘I can’t’. . .I want to thunder out ‘Don’t you realize who you are? Haven’t you learned yet that you are a son or daughter of the Almighty God?’”  You most certainly do have things of value to offer, and in the areas where we fall short, the Lord has promised that he can make weak things strong.
But most importantly, we each need to remember one very important thing as we reach out to serve: its not about me.  If you’re thinking about your insufficiencies, your focus is on you.  If you’re worried about whether or not someone appreciates the service, you’re thinking about you.  If you are angry or impatient or annoyed, chances are very good you’re thinking about you.  We are, each of us, a work in progress; everyone you serve, and everyone you serve with, is going to have some rough edges, some glaring blindspots, some idiosyncrasies that you find more annoying than charming, and they are going to make mistakes and they are going to fail.  That’s, if not irrelevant, at least of minor importance.
The Lord loves you: flaws, sins, annoying personality traits, and all.  And he loves each of those you live and serve and work with just as much.  He is not asking you to put up with that weird ward member that you got stuck putting on the ward Christmas party with or to try to be polite to that clueless blowhard you got assigned to home teach, he is asking you to love his child. He is asking you--imperfect, morally accident-prone, spiritually clumsy you--to be his hands in the life of one of his children.  That is not a logistical obligation, it is a divine privilege and sacred trust. The Lord declared that his work and his glory is the immortality and eternal life of man.  He doesn’t say men, and he doesn’t say Man; the salvation of the Lord’s children is reliant upon the salvation of each individual child.  The Lord has given everything for us, and in return he asks us to pray for guidance, and then stop thinking about ourselves and look around us to see what needs to be done.

Over and over, the resurrected Lord emphasized to his apostles that the way to manifest their love for him was to feed his sheep.  In speaking of this teaching, Elder Holland reminded us recently that “we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do.  In short, we have a lifetime of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord.”

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Kylie's Baptism

Kylie was baptized at Mom and Dad's house on April 29th, by her dad. He also confirmed her, with her Papa Umpy, uncle Paul Tanner, and cousin Kenny Krantz standing in. She asked her big sister to give a talk on baptism,
and she asked me to speak about the Holy Ghost

She was so excited to be baptized, and she got to be surrounded by a lot of really wonderful people to welcome her into that covenant and support her.  Most of her Umphrey cousins managed to make it in between softball games (auntie Christa drove back from Frenchtown--and took these photos--and then drove back to Frenchtown afterward, attending tournament games).  Auntie Jen and Uncle Paul drove all the way up from Pleasant Grove with all five of their kids, and then Facetimed in Mimi and Papa, who couldn't make it due to Papa's very, very recent open heart surgery.  My parents were, as ever, our gracious hosts.
Part of the reason we waited so long past her birthday (which was in December) was that she had requested to have her baptism in the creek.  I'm not sure she was mentally prepared for it.  Her face when she popped out of the water was priceless (I have no photos, because I was standing at water's edge with a warm towel to wrap her up).  When asked if it was cold, she nodded solemnly and said, "Feet are one thing, but faces are different".  All too true, kiddo.

During her confirmation, she was blessed that she would build on what she had already learned about seeking the Lord's direction and listening to the Spirit. Kylie is already a prayer.  During my talk, I told every one about a recent incident where one of our cats, Shawn, disappeared for about a day and a half. Kylie is also a worrier, and she was terribly worried that he wouldn't come home and was very upset. After bedtime, she came downstairs and tearily told us that she and Keilana had prayed that Shawn would be safe and he'd come home.  He showed up a couple of hours later.

At Christmas time, she helped me make salsa, and accidentally touched her eyes after handling habaneros and jalapeƱos. She said through painful tears, "Mommy, I prayed. I prayed three times."

She's confident and silly, but also very sweet and tender. She's thoughtful and notices the people around her.  She's clever, and tremendously funny. She has a terrible temper, but she knows it and its only because she's so sensitive.  She nearly always takes responsibility for it without being prompted, and feels terrible when she realizes she's made someone feel badly.  She's always trying to make the world around her a little more beautiful, a little more colorful, and a little more fair.

Welcome to the fold, Kylie Bear. We're pretty fortunate to have you.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Outside the lines

Dylan's pediatrician gave us a referral for a neuropsychologist in Missoula to do further evaluations, and thanks to a fortuitous cancellation, we got in almost immediately.  So we did an initial interview with the three of us (me, Doug, and Dylan) a few weeks ago, and then we took Dylan back for a full day of evaluation a week later.

Today Doug and I went back to meet with the doctor about the results.  The short version is "Your kid doesn't fit neatly into the classic box.  He also doesn't fit neatly into any of the alternative boxes we've developed for the kids who don't fit into the traditional box".    When Dylan was six weeks old, Doug gave him a name and a blessing, and one of the things our little guy was blessed with was that he would have the fortitude to face his challenges, because he would have some that were very unique to him.  As this doctor checked off the challenges that they saw in their evaluations, I felt better because they were all exactly the things I thought I was seeing as his mom.  And I felt a little apprehensive about finding the right combination of tools to help him, because there are little pieces of a lot of different things going on in his unique little brain.  But the doctor was unflinchingly optimistic about the future, stating succinctly, "Its complex, but not difficult".

Something that was reassuring was that, despite having many of the other challenges that usually go along with it, Dylan's emotional reciprocity and attentiveness is not my imagination, or a mom's overly rosy view: he really is in tune with the emotions of others;  all that sweetness is really there.  Despite the fact that he hyper focuses on his interests to sometimes the exclusion of everything else, when he is tuned in, he sees what people need, he sees when they hurt or struggle, and it matters to him. It make him happy when they're happy.  I've always loved that about him.  The doctor also said that, with his combination of challenges, Dylan could be doing very differently without a lot of conscious, intentional engagement at home, and told us that we were doing great for him so far.  I'm not someone who seeks or needs a lot of external validation, but with all the frustrations and disappointments we've had the last couple of years, I admit that it was comforting to hear that from someone who has helped a lot of kids with a wide variety of challenges.

So now we get everyone at school on our team, and start making some more specific accommodations for our little guy, who, as I've always believed, is going to be just fine.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Shine

Have you ever had someone ask you if they're too damaged? Too flawed? Too riddled with weaknesses and imperfections to obtain the good things they desire?

Too damaged?  You, dear soul, are a bright, shining bit of divine light.  You  are far more beautiful than you suppose.  Life has beat you up quite a lot lately.  Some of the people you loved, who you thought loved you, have said and done things that hurt.  Intensely.  They are in the Lord's hands, leave them to him.  Those painful stumbles have caused you to question your value, your abilities, your worth. You are in the Lord's hands, and he sees the glorious being you were designed to be.  He sees all the amazing things that you are, the incredibly good that you are not only capable of doing, but that you have already done.

Many of the vicissitudes of life sting so deeply precisely because they do have eternal consequences. Having to redefine what we thought our eternity would look like may make it hard to believe we can have the best blessings of eternity--or lead us to doubt those things are even there.

The light is still there, and I see much of it in you, even if your glow has been dimmed a bit by a broken heart and a bruised soul.  The Lord knows well the stones that have been strewn about your path, and understands why they've slowed you, weighed you down, or tripped you up.  And he has glorious things in store for you, his loved and cherished child, and he will help you overcome the world, so that all things might work together for your good.

Its a new year. Don't fail to learn the lessons of the past, but move forward with faith--in the Lord and in yourself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Asking for help

*deep breath*  I'm about to share more than I am usually inclined to do in so public a forum. Bear with me.

Dylan was in tears when I met him after school today.  That isn't all that unusual these days, unfortunately.  Some kid in his class had told him, just before the bell rang at the end of the day, that he didn't matter. I don't know what the context was, and he told me he knew it wasn't true, but it still hurt his feelings.  Then he said, "I hope Ammon is back tomorrow. He's my only friend."  We've heard that refrain a lot the last couple of years. He's mostly kind, and quite sensitive, but unusual (and obsessive) in his interests, and somewhat awkward, meaning he is isolated a bit, socially. Despite high standardized test scores, he struggles in school, and was in tears multiple times the week before parent-teacher conferences, frustrated and embarrassed about the poor grades he assumed were inevitable.

Dylan has always been unique, perhaps a little quirky, and those closest to our family have always known that and it was just Dylan, no big deal. It certainly wasn't a problem, or really even that far out of the ordinary.

As a baby, he was a dream: if I wanted to hold him, he was happy to be held and snuggled. But if I had other things to do, well, he didn't so much mind being ignored for long stretches of time.  Even though every one of our other babies rolled, scooted or slipped off our big king size bed at some point (yep, I'm that stellar of a mom), Dylan never did. He was weirdly aware of edges, so he would scoot to the side and just look over the edge and whimper until someone picked him up or moved him back to the middle of the bed.

By the time he was approaching his first birthday, he was obsessed with matchbook cars. He had one in each hand everywhere he went, all of the time. He loved to drive the cars around, but the cars needed tracks--something relatively narrow with boundaries, such as the window sill, or the trim on the coffee table. If he couldn't find a track, he'd make one.  The example that always stands out in my head, because he was so little, was one time, he was sitting on the floor of our bedroom, about three weeks after he turned one, and he picked up Doug's tie that was sitting near him, fashioned it into a rough circle, and then drove his cars on it. His favorite game was his car track through the living room: we had long windows with low sills he could easily reach. He would find about a half a dozen of his cars, line them up (usually according to size) on the piano bench, and then pick up the first one. He would drive it down first sill, then the next on the north side of the living room; then he would drive it on the narrow edge of the TV stand in front of the TV; next, he'd move it to the center of the room and drive it around the border on the coffee table; then he'd take it and drive it down the back of the couch on the south side of the living room, and then along the window sill on the southeast side of the room, and finally park in on the bookshelf next to the window.  Then he'd go to his line of cars, pick the next one, and do it all over again.  He would do that, uninterrupted for sometimes hours at a time if he was allowed to.  He loved it.

Whenever he was done with his cars, he would line them up neatly somewhere, hoods aligned and usually organized from smallest to largest.  He loved to play with blocks or megablocks, but would generally sort them by size or color before he started to build anything.  During all of this, he had no language.  He had scarcely any words before his third birthday, but by 2 1/2, he knew the entire alphabet.  He could recognize every letter and tell you what sound it made, simply from watching his sister play alphabet games on the computer.

He didn't pay attention to people very much. He was very interactive with me and Doug, and his sister (who sort of made it impossible to not be interacted with.  There was a reason we considered adding an exclamation point to the spelling of her name: Keilana!)  If Doug and I were both gone, he seemed to somehow determine who was the primary caretaker adult in his vicinity, and find that person if he needed something, but otherwise occupy himself with his toys and mostly ignore everyone. He played with toys in their intended way in a very focused manner, and gave most of his energy and attention to that. He interacted with Amanda, and in a tender mercy that I still can't explain, he played with Conner. They were so little, at an age where most kids engage in parallel play, and with all Dylan's quirks, they truly played together, babbling at each other and moving in tandem when they were in the same house.  After Conner was gone, he was often a part of Keilana and Clayton's games and activities, but just as often they were playing with each other while he did his own quietly contented thing.

When he was a toddler, I had to take a niece to a doctor's appointment for a very contagious illness and asked a friend to watch my kids so that they didn't have to be around her.  When I went to pick him up and asked how it went, she said he had just mostly stayed in that spot, driving the cars over and over, and didn't really respond to her much when she tried to engage him in other things.  She asked, "Have you ever thought about having him evaluated for autism?"  What you need to know about this woman is that she is a dear friend, one of the most grounded women I know, and mother to five children of her own, including a daughter Keilana's age who has profound autism (at 12, she is still nonverbal and performs almost no self-care).  I'd had the thought.  He functioned mostly normally, and whatever his uniquenesses were, they didn't seem to be getting in the way of his development.

As he got older and hit preschooler ages, the language came, and with the language he became somewhat more social. He started to notice and interact more with his cousins and with friends.  He still spent a lot of his time solitarily, but when we went out or had people at home, he spent more time with other little boys, and he began to be a more active participant in Keilana and Clayton's games.  It was becoming increasingly obvious that he was sensitive, both physically and emotionally.  At times when he did decide to interact, he was easily hurt in a way that his sister never had been, and sarcasm  seemed almost impossible for him. He was so young that I didn't think much of that.  He was fairly particular about the clothes he liked, but he had trouble communicating that verbally, which resulted in frequent stripping down to his skivvies.

Eating has been a disaster pretty much since he started solid foods.  For the first few years he was eating real food, it was all but impossible to get him to eat anything other than refined carbohydrates: crackers (but nothing too flavorful), chips, cereal, bread (he'd eat jelly, but not peanut butter, until he hit the point where he'd eat peanut butter, but not jelly, and then either one, so long as not both on the same sandwich), and pasta sans sauce.  So I bought no cereal, bread, or crackers that weren't whole-wheat, bran-loaded cardboard in an attempt to get some sort of substantive food in him, and that worked for a while. I thought he was just being picky and stubborn, so one night when he was three, we had chicken and some sort of blah vegetable (I can't remember specifically what), and I told him he couldn't have anything else to eat until he ate his dinner. No spices, sauces, or real flavor of any kind.  For 36 hours, my 3 year old ate nothing.  And didn't whine, complain, or throw fits or anything like that.  Just quietly starved himself. If we tried to force him to eat, he would take 10 minutes to get down a bit or two, and then he'd vomit.  I realized at that point that we were dealing with more than stubbornness, and I quit fighting.  As he got older, his palate expanded--a little.  He'd still have pizza, chicken nuggets, or crackers for every meal if we let him.

As he's grown up, he's been able to channel his energies more consciously, he has seemed more "normal" in some ways, and that much odder in others. He can spot, name, and describe dozens of species of birds, and love wildlife biology in general.  He can classify hundreds of Pokemon without breaking a sweat, and generally loves any activity where he can sort and classify, and loves to expound on those things.  But getting 10 minutes worth of math homework done every day is nearly impossible.  He built a Spiderman web across the ceiling of his room using Legos and connects (it was rather impressive) but after five years of doing it every day, he can't do a decent job washing a dish to save his life.   He finally lets us give him a haircut without having a meltdown, but if the cat accidentally gets a claw across his foot when they're playing, it sounds like his foot has been lopped off with a machete.  A few months ago, he had to have a simply venipuncture blood draw for some lab tests, and I had to hold him down with help from a lab tech while the phlebotomist drew blood because he was in so much pain and so panicked.

He has a lot of behaviors that look like ADHD: very inattentive in class, needing frequent redirection from his teacher, you give him one task to complete, and by the time he's walked 10 feet away from you, he's forgotten what it was, etc.  We took him to the doctor for an initial evaluation, and his doctor almost had a meltdown at the whole idea, and walked into the room and started the conversation with a lecture about the problems with putting kids on amphetamines. I interrupted him and told him I was looking to get an IEP, not a controlled substance, and this was just an initial evaluation to see where were at and what seems likely/not so likely.  I was so annoyed at him that we never bothered to do the follow up at the end of last school year, and that doctor has moved now, anyway.

I talked to my mom (a special ed teacher in another district) about possibly finding names of therapists who specialize in kids with ADD and/or ASD.  Its hard to know what his parameters are--whether we're pushing too hard on things he probably can't do right now, or letting things go that maybe he is capable of.  It can be tricky to know the best ways to help him, because he mostly fits under the umbrella of "normal".  But school is a struggle, and he is old enough now to recognize that he's different, and there are kids that don't let him forget it, anyway.  I want my kids to be able to reach his potential, I want him to be happy.

From the time I was 14, I was inexplicably convinced that I would have a special needs child someday.  When Dylan received his baby blessing at 7 weeks old, I was caught off guard by some of what was said, and I wondered if maybe that prompting came to prepare me to be his mom.  That being said, these weren't the needs I was expecting, and I hope that, with some help, his dad and I can figure out the best way to help him harness the power of that marvelous mind of his, and his sensitive, gentle spirit. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Adjusting

Its Thanksgiving. I've been more of a whiner than a gratitude monger the last couple of years. Oh heck, I'll say it, I've been a big, grumbly baby.  Last week, we got some news that fell into the same category that so much news the last few years has: unsurprising, but still disappointing and terribly depressing.  In my less charitable moments, absolutely infuriating.  I'm tired of being unsurprised by disappointment.

So as I tried to refocus myself on what I'm grateful for (because it is an exceedingly long list), it seemed ironic to me that the first thing that came to mind was one of my own biggest personal frustrations the last couple of years (all of which are pathetically small compared to what my loved ones have dealt/are dealing with).

I love language. My mom made a comment about some of my schooling choices initially being surprising to her because "I've always thought of you as so language-driven".  I learned to read early and was almost instantly a voracious reader, gobbling up just about everything I could.  And even more, the things I've read cover a rather broad variety of subjects.  Consequently, I have a rather extensive vocabulary, and a fairly easy command of language (for a lay person).  Because of the diversity of social environments in which I've spent my life, I, more intuitively than consciously anymore, modify my vocabulary to my surroundings.  There are certainly individuals and groups where I find myself more comfortable (we'll not delve into my social anxieties today), but its exceedingly rare that I struggle to communicate with anyone.

Last year, I faced a period of time where all of that went away.  I struggled to communicate, to express myself.  I was jumbled and inarticulate.  I lost my words.  I've thought of myself as a writer since I was 10-years-old.  I knew I loved the world of language.  But until that moment, even I didn't know how much a part of my self-conception those abilities were. I hoped (and had good reason to hope) that it was temporary, but I had no way to know for sure that it would be--no one offered any guarantees that my words would come back to me.  It was immensely frustrating.  And a little terrifying.  I was depressed and demotivated.  I had to face the reality that I might no longer even be capable of being who I thought I was.

We have moments in life, large and small, that force us to face our definitions and conceptions of ourselves. And its scary when we find that we're not who we thought we were.  As I struggled to figure out who I was without one particular thing I thought essential to myself, I realized that I had always known.  I am a child of God, loved by the Lord, frailties, insecurities, cluelessness and all.  I long ago stopped caring very much at all what anyone else thought of me, my beliefs, my abilities or lack thereof, because the Lord's acceptance is so much more important and meaningful to me than anyone else's rejection.  While I care very much how I make others feel, these days I sincerely rarely even think about what they think of me, much less let it affect how I feel.  But I realized last year that sometimes I still let what I think of me get in the way of my relationship with the Lord and my personal progress.  I still invest too much pride in strengths that aren't mine to boast of, in weaknesses that aren't mine to fear.  Whatever comes, the Lord will empower me to do good things in whatever way he knows is best, and I need to better trust his judgment and his love.

I have many really wonderful people in my life, and I am grateful to my Father in Heaven for putting those people in my life, or me in theirs.  But more than anything, as I reflect on the last few years, I am grateful for his wisdom in placing one really big, obvious-to-me hurdle and weakness in my life, to draw my attention to others that I have been turning a blind eye to.  I'm grateful that, through the Atonement, I have the opportunity to repent and improve, all the while feeling the supernal love the Lord has for me.  I'm grateful that through the Spirit, I can know how to move forward and be better today than I was yesterday.

I'm thankful for progress, however small and incremental.