Sunday, July 24, 2016

Coming UP for Air

I know what depression feels like. It nipped me in the heels the year I was turning 38. Up until that time, I thought depression wasn't really real. I mean, I was sympathetic or tried to be, but deep down, I thought being depressed was some kind of character flaw that could be overcome with sheer willpower. I related to the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of philosophy. But that was the year that I learned that sometimes what nips you in the heels can drag you under really quickly. And that year, I hated myself, but I also didn't care too much for anyone else either. It sort of narrowed my view down to a sliver and everything I could see in that sliver was darkness. Fortunately, it lasted only about a year, though long enough to change me forever. I think that was the year my heart changed and I really learned to empathize. 

It's hard for me to believe that was twenty years ago. Since then, I've learned that the secret to overcoming depression may be different for everyone, but for most of us it takes more than willpower. Yes, attitude is everything, but what if your mind is so cloudy you can't change your attitude on your own?

It's taken me a long time--this time--to admit that my few last years have been plagued with a mild depression, because it hasn't been as dark and relentless as that first experience. This time, I still do pretty much everything. I fail all the tests for depression because I still feel joy, gratitude, and love. I don't hate myself and I really don't hate others. I get up every morning and do my usual stuff. If you follow me on Facebook, you would not see a depressed person. You would see someone living a full life. And yes, I do. I love my life--for moments and bursts. 

I keep coming back to how I felt as a child. In Orem I spent a lot of my summertime hours playing in Scera swimming pool. Bigger boys loved to grab girls and push us under the water. It terrified me. Why? because it felt like I was drowning. Of course, they didn't keep us under long enough to actually drown, but the lack of control, the feeling of helplessness is a lot like depression.  After all playing in the water was mostly fun--except for when it wasn't. And then it was truly terrifying.The difference is that the year I turned 38, I essentially drowned emotionally. This time around, I keep coming up for air and being tricked into thinking that I'm fine. And of course I am fine. Or will be. In time. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Big Picture by Kayden Maxwell

The Big Picture
Kayden Maxwell
Nov 8, 2015

For about 14 years now, I have been heavily involved with music. I’ve played piano from age 4 and I’ve been in percussion playing keyboard instruments such as a xylophone or a marimba since seventh grade. For me, music is one of my lenses through which I see the world, and I think it can be used to help us understand many of life’s concepts.
One of my friends has an amazing natural gift for music. She has perfect pitch, which means she can hear any pitch and recognize what the note name is, such as a C sharp or an A flat. In fact, her ears recognize notes so well that when she hears a piece of music, she knows instantly whether the notes sound good together or if there are mistakes. This means a couple of things. First, it makes it very frustrating to play next to her in marching band, because she literally catches on to every single note I miss and she will constantly let me know how atrociously inaccurate I am. But it also means that music can be hard for her to enjoy. While I hear a piano solo and only catch onto the beautiful melody and overall performance, she hears every note. She notices each mistake. And to her a beautiful piece of music can become a set of numbers- 4 missed notes, 2 ill-placed chords, and 2 flat pitches. While it is a gift for her to naturally understand music so well, it becomes challenging for her to enjoy musical pieces because she is distracted by the flaws. Her mind gets distracted by every individual note. Her attention to detail, while magnificent, makes the overall piece actually less enjoyable for her. She has a hard time zooming out. She struggles to feel the emotion of the piece. And she often misses the beauty of the big picture.
There are many examples of how we miss the big picture in so many aspects of our lives. Music is not the only thing that can be under appreciated by too much attention to detail. My friend Daniel also had troubles zooming out on a topic. But he doesn’t have perfect pitch, and it isn’t music that he misses out on. He is a runner. I was talking with him once about hiking a particular trail. I explained how beautiful I thought the trail was and how much I loved it. To my surprise, he responded by saying he wasn’t fond of it and didn’t remember anything particularly great about the trail. I soon found out that he ran up the path. His eyes were watching the ground the entire time to prevent himself from tripping, and he only looked up once he got to his destination, caught his breath, and ran back, watching his feet the whole way down. Obviously, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with running. But he had never taken the time to walk up a mountain trail and get his eyes off his toes. He missed out on almost all of the features that make hikes meaningful and special to me. His focus was on each and every detail. Every step was carefully calculated to avoid all obstacles and dangers that could potentially cause him to fall. He never saw the big picture of the beautiful mountain path, and he never understood why it was so special to me.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we are given a large amount of details for how to live a happy life. Every piece of instruction is meant to help us on our journeys and bring us closer to Heavenly Father. We know all of the notes that we should play, and we know all of the rocks that are on our paths that we should avoid so we do not trip and fall. However, I feel we could all use a reminder to zoom out and look at the big picture sometimes. What is the big picture of our church? What is the all encompassing message that we wish to share with others? The answer is simple to remember, yet simultaneously easy to forget. The overall message of Christ’s church is for all of us to love each other a little more. Be a little kinder, love a little deeper, serve a little more willingly, and smile a little more frequently. This blanket principle is outlined in Matthew 22:36-39. “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Jesus Christ came to this earth and taught a message of love in its purest form. Unconditional, limitless, and sincere. One of my favorite scriptures is in Romans chapter 13. Paul discusses how love is the center of all the commandments, and assures us that we need not worry so much about each and every detail, because if we remember to love each other, everything else falls in place. Verses 8-10 read, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Sometimes it feels overwhelming to keep up with every standard, rule, and guideline set for our behalf by church leadership. How peaceful it is to me to know that the only thing I really need to strive toward and remember is to love my neighbor. To love everyone regardless of anything.
Why has it become so hard for us to remember to see the big picture of Christ’s ministry? Unfortunately, it is human nature to pay attention to detail. The natural man can almost be considered a perfectionist, OCD mess. We feel that there needs to be a checklist. A list of rules with yes or no answers that we can look at and easily determine how well we are doing on our spiritual journey. Instead of asking ourselves, “How close do I feel with Heavenly Father,” we want easy yes or no check-list questions. We ask ourselves, “Did I pray today? Do I have any tattoos? Do I have more than one earring on my ear? Do I drink coffee?” And so on. There are many check-list questions that we ask ourselves to try to determine our worthiness and spiritual progress. While these are all good things to watch for and we should certainly be striving to pass all of these types of questions, we are endangering ourselves of losing sight of the big picture. Like the pharisees living in Christ’s time, we often count our steps in a way. We have rules set and we believe that following each rule ends in our eternal happiness. But we must keep in mind that the pharisees were not right, and that they had a bigger lesson to learn. The Church of Jesus Christ is not here to send away people with tattoos, friends with coffee addictions, teenagers with immodest clothes, or even, for my sake I hope, humble Kayden Maxwells with same-sex partners. We are taught to love, welcome, forgive, and love some more. That is the true purpose of the Gospel. It is the single most important thing for us to learn on this earth. Let us try harder to not only hear the wrong notes in someone’s life symphony. Let us hear their beautiful song and love them for it. Let’s no longer run up the trail of life, watching every detail so precisely that we miss the message of love hiding in the trees above. Zoom out a little, don’t worry about the details quite as much, and remember that we will never be in the wrong for loving our neighbors in need too much. I want to thank everyone in this ward for being so loving, patient, and friendly with me and providing a safe place for me to live out my journey. I pray that all people can be as loving as those I am surrounded by today, and I sincerely hope that we can all remember a little more frequently that we are here to love each other, and that is the big picture of Jesus Christ’s ministry.

To read more about Kayden and his mother go to A-Typical Mormon Moms

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Let's Just Be Friends

There are such great divides in our world, our nation, our churches, our families, and our homes. Building bridges is hard, but rewarding work. In times past, I have been praised by friends outside the LDS faith for being a bridge builder. For a while I seemed to be able to reach in either direction--to my faithful LDS friends with understanding and to my friends of other faith traditions. I felt solidly in both camps. But the division has grown and the polarization more extreme. I've had to retreat to one side for a while to heal with understanding hearts who can bolster me until I can become a bridge again. Sometimes the place on the other side of the bridge isn't a safe place. Because being a bridge requires an amazing ability to walk in another person's shoes, and to really see the world through their eyes. It's called empathy. The only way to be truly empathic is to strip away the pride and to really hear what someone has to say. To really understand that our experiences, our privilege or lack of privilege, our backgrounds, our hardships, our joys--everything we learn and see and do shapes us and forms who we are. But sometimes we think that everyone should think and feel the same way we do. Sometimes our own agenda screams so loudly in our brains that we can't hear someone else's heart. It's not easy. 
We/I stand on one side of a great chasm and can't understand how the person on the other side could possibly believe what they believe. And they are also looking across at me and thinking the same thing. Empathy--building bridges is the only way to have a relationship. And the relationships that are vital to us require that empathy if they are to survive. 
I recently heard of a friend who has left the LDS church telling another friend who has chosen to stay actively engaged in the LDS church that she was crazy to do so. I've heard of other friends who are active in the faith lecture friends who have left about following the prophet and warnings of eternal damnation.  Most people are more subtle than these extremes. But really, I'm the only one who knows what's best for me. And you are the only person who knows what's best for you. So let's just be friends.