A week and a half ago, after setting the intention to be more budget-conscious I found myself needing a black ink cartridge. Those things are expensive and I didn’t have enough left in my weekly home management budget to buy one. I could’ve used money from another account or my savings and it would’ve been fine but I tend to do that a lot so I decided to stick to my budget and get creative. I printed everything in blue ink instead of black for a while but as the week wore on this strategy got increasingly frustrating and I found myself with a list of “things to print when I get an ink cartridge.” I needed a black ink cartridge to live efficiently. I decided I could try to earn one. Now I’m a little rusty when it comes to earning money since I’ve been staying home with Jessica (and preparing for Jessica and trying to conceive Jessica) for the past 11 years and I’m particular about the time I commit outside our home. So I decided to post a message on my community Facebook group offering to cut back the myriad brown and crunchy frozen plants in people’s front yards. I listed my qualifications (Master Gardener Training, Landscape Design practice/consulting) as well as my availability (3 spots on Thursday) and price ($20). I hoped 3 people would want to take me up on my offer so I could buy my ink cartridge and get on with my life. In less than 3 minutes I had 3 customers and I was elated. Within 8 minutes I had 5 customers so I said I could do 2 front yards on Friday too (Hey, I thought, I can also buy the essential oil I’ve been needing to replenish). By the end of the night I had about 20 messages and by the next morning I was up to 30. The following week saw an additional 10 people added to my list, each wanting a different service (tree pruning, lawn consultation, landscape design, winter clean-up). As I met with different neighbors I realized that I inadvertently stumbled into a ready market for my landscape love. I’ve worked hard, I’ve made some mistakes, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve gotten dirty, I bought a hedge-trimmer and wielded it with pride (because I spent 60 hand-cramping minutes cutting back ornamental grass with hand pruners and that hedge trimmer gets the job done in less than a minute!). So this past week I filed papers with the Texas State Comptroller to officially establish Beautiful Village Landscaping LLC. Now proudly (and humbly) operating in Bulverde Village.
if that’s what you’re seeking. There was a time when I would focus on all that was missing from a picture like this. That view was usually wrapped around a desire for more carefree cartwheeling children. Life is so much richer now that I have eyes to see all that is there. There is one beautiful joyful child and I get to mother her. There are cartwheeeling children the world over. They don’t need to be mine for me to appreciate the hope, love and meaning that they represent. The overflowing love I have for this one can fill her and then spread wherever it’s needed.
Whenever I need a reminder about what abundance feels like, I look at the never-ending sky and feel gratitude for the chance to experience life below it each day. And then I do a cartwheel.
A little over two years ago I found myself coaxing my lungs to pull in some air after receiving a blow that reverberated to my soul. The nurse at our IVF clinic had just informed me that I was no longer carrying the babies I had been cradling in my womb. I fumbled through a few more blurred conversations with Ritchie and Jessica and my close friend Cindi and wrote this email to our family and close friends later that evening:
I have never known something with the strength that I knew this so I am left to reconcile that kind of knowing (which seemed to have a pretty cut and dry interpretation :)) with this place where we are sitting now which, at this point, still feels a lot like shock. It is uncomfortable to be sure, confusing, devastating and yet hopeful. I have felt the hand of God so clearly these last few months, it’s undeniable. And I am confident that He won’t leave me now although I imagine the answers and understanding will be slow in coming. In the meantime I’m going to grieve the beauty that has been before me.
Thanks for your love,
A year ago I shared some thoughts with my local congregation and close friends and family after suffering the loss of a briefly held but long-cherished and promised pregnancy. In my anguish and confusion, I testified of my faith in the love of God and of His patience with my growth and understanding. In the throes of that grief, tinted with hope, we entered a year where our little family, my body and my spirit have been challenged in ways that have required more of us than I could’ve imagined. Sustained by a beautiful tapestry of heavenly grace, personal strength and loving support, I can stand here today with a different kind of faith and knowing. There is something about being nearly undone that makes one realize where true sources of strength can be found. I would like to testify of these true things.
I know that because I chose to follow the Savior in the pre-existence that He has blessed me with a body. This body is mortal and is subject to all sorts of influences in mortality, some self-imposed and some beyond my control. Cultivating attunement between my spirit and body has given me beautiful insight regarding my work on earth and the specific things I can learn and offer. I know that Satan does not have a body and that many of the ways he tries to influence me have to do with the use and care of my body. I believe if he can thwart, interrupt or distract me from my connection to my body or put my in a position of opposition to my body that He can disrupt a measure of my growth. I know that whatever gifts I have been given or whatever talents I have cultivated can be used for good, unifying, growth-promoting things or for destructive purposes. If Satan can offer the primary influence in my life, those gifts, talents and skills are put to use for his destructive and divisive purposes, whereas if I am constantly and humbly seeking to obediently follow the Savior, I am in a position to grow and my growth is multiplied exponentially, along with the peace that I have access to. I can also serve as a resource to other souls who are seeking growth.
I know that the Savior Jesus Christ is the author of peace which passeth all understanding and that He offers us that peace in the very moments we sincerely chose to follow Him or at the very least hope to believe in Him regardless of where we have been in the moments before. I know that through His atonement, the ashes that we either find ourselves in or create in our lives can be transformed into unimaginable strength and opportunities for growth. However, the ashes have to be recognized as such in order for the cleansing relief of the atonement to be truly felt. I know that the Book of Mormon, the Bible, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price all have powerful and true insights regarding the atonement, the Savior and the ways to integrate those two things into our personal lives. Through study of the scriptures and my efforts to see the hand of God here on earth, I know that Heavenly Father is mindful of me and each of you. I know that there is incredible strength that can be derived from our collective faith and our unity. Like one of my local leaders taught a few weeks ago, I know that the roots of our faith are intertwined and in the midst of fierce storms, the strength that we can draw from each other can literally be life-saving. I reiterate that I know this.
I know that the strength, goodness and truth that I enjoy today in my life, my home, my chapel and our local temple was set in motion by a 14-year-old boy who was confused and wanted to communicate with Heaven. I have been in the grove where he offered that first prayer, and I know that Joseph Smith was graced with a view of heaven, particularly of God the Father and His son Jesus Christ, that few people experience in this life. I know that he received further revelation and that that revelation led to the re-establishment of a beautiful religion with Jesus Christ’s robust doctrine, merciful and insightful answers to mortality’s questions and a clear authority to teach from heaven. I believe in the power and efficacy of that priesthood authority from Joseph Smith to our prophet Thomas S. Monson today. I know that my local bishop is a man who receives revelation for our little group of believers here and I am profoundly grateful to be led by someone who seeks the guidance of the Spirit as much as he does. I testify of the grace and mercy of a God who wants to continually reach out to His people to offer them glimpses of heaven in this life. It is hard for me that these glimpses aren’t permanent but that they come and go and that there are times of wandering and confusion that naturally result from trying to access heaven from a fallen world but that doesn’t change the veracity of those true moments when we experience them. These are things I know. And while the path to this knowledge has been at times seemingly unbearable, I am so grateful for the knowing because that’s why I’m here.
In early January, I found myself face-to-face with some surprising bloodwork and in an effort to understand what was going on with this body of mine, I began to see a new endocrinologist. She made some pretty severe diet recommendations and encouraged me to follow them for 6 weeks to see if we could adjust a few metabolic processes. Little did I know this would be my baptism into the world of genuine body awareness. I have always had a belief that my body is the house of my soul but never have I felt (noticed? appreciated?) the inherent unity that my soul has with it’s earthly vessel. As I received people’s regrets regarding the state of my health, I felt such a sense of defensiveness about this mortal tabernacle that is an integral part of me. It has definitely been really hard and frustrating but sometimes I also say “You don’t need to feel sorry for me, this is my body and it’s struggling right now. I am going to figure out how to help it heal if I can but even if I can’t it’s the only body I have.” As I joined the same team as my body I began to realize different ways that I’ve been in a combative relationship with it at times. Whether it was injuries, body image, illness, infertility, I’d begun to think of my body as a drag on my existence instead of my tether to existence. I have been graced with a dawning awareness that this body, just as much as my spirit, will give me cues regarding my divinity and the work I have on earth. Whereas my spirit used to be the supreme dictator over my flesh, the two are becoming a more balanced team as I recognize the parts of me that are heaven and earth.
This week I received a lot of kindness. I often am the recipient of kindness but I was kind of surprised at the number of people who were “worried” about me. Perhaps I’m still learning to be an emotive person who showcases more than joy so a blog about poignant sadness was a surprise. Perhaps, like my sister Lisa often reminds me, a few of my dear connections were trying to offer empathy and it came across as sympathy. Empathy is the realization that we can connect on feelings. Sympathy only looks at the similarity in experience and often feels like pity. So one could look at my life and sympathetically say “Wow, yes, I’ve never had infertility, a miscarriage, an autoimmune disorder, a puppy, and severe dietary restrictions all in the same year that sounds like a lot to handle, that must be really hard.” Or you could say “Wow, I can relate to feeling really sad or very vulnerable, broken, worn out and or restricted, or completely overwhelmed. Those are really difficult places to sit, I will sit there with you.” The difference is subtle but the effect is inclusive. With empathy, there is an air of non-judgment regarding the emotion and experience and the recognition that, at our core, we share so much humanity in our vulnerability. With sympathy there is a line in the sand between your experience and mine that often looks like fear, as in ‘I really hope that never happens to me!’ I can relate, I’ve felt my share of fear about my life this year, for sure. But please know that my ability to articulate what I’m feeling is a strength. The words I use to define the experiences I’ve had help me to process them and by sharing the experience I am owning it in a way that simultaneously makes me vulnerable and empowers me. I’ve been thinking a lot about being a muted, faded out version of myself or the real thing. This blog, it’s gonna be the real thing and that’s going to involve emotion. Hang on :).
Since last fall our household has been navigating a substantial disappointment. In the aftermath of our experience, amidst the agony of confusion, self-doubt, and just plain hurt, I feel unsettled about my ability to trust myself and anyone else, including God. As I acquaint myself with this rift that has torn my spirituality to shreds, I comfort my soul with the assurance that there is no animosity directed at me. There is no condescension or judgement aimed my way and this moment I speak of didn’t represent a “lesson” or a “trial” that I had to endure. Rather, it’s an experience and it will be what I make it of it. And it doesn’t have to be all sorted out right now. I believe someday I will I look back on this stretch of my life and really respect the substantial work that I’m attempting to do in settling my spirit so that it can begin to heal. Even now, with a small amount of space, a bit more heartbreak and further introspection, I can sometimes see these months as maybe as a prodding, a gentle nudge. It’s surprising, even to me, that moments have the potential to move from ‘near death blow’ status to ‘gentle nudge’ in the space of a few months. In addition to simple time, I think a lot of that has to do with not berating myself or forcing meaning but rather trying to wait compassionately with an eye towards recognizing the hand of God while the rest of my story unfolds.
And here, all these years later, when I would like to say that I’ve left this struggle behind, honesty dictates a different story. In the eyes of some, having a baby after infertility is like a pat on the back, “See, there there, it’s all better now. ” In some, cuddly, late night, staring-with-wonder-at-your-sleeping-babe-moments, it most definitely is. And sometimes I am simply filled to overflowing with gratitude for the grace that has been offered to me in this precious, small, blue-eyed child. Other times, I’m gripped with a painful awareness because I’ve joined the sisters who know.
During the years before we heard little feet bounding around upstairs, we didn’t know the feeling of being forever changed as we peered into the face of a little bundle of screaming pink for the first time. We didn’t know what it was to tentatively venture into the front door for the first time, holding our very own baby. We didn’t know what it was like to graze the top of a sweet-smelling bald head with a kiss in the wee hours of the morning. We didn’t know the sweet sound of “Dada” happily emitted from a gap-toothed smiling face, or the pride that comes from watching wobbly steps become speedy runs. We’d forgotten the simple joys nature offered in the form of acorns or dirt and ladybugs. We didn’t know how much glee could be exchanged in a glance between us over the head of a three-year-old full of stories to tell. But now we do. And because we do, we vacillate between just treasuring this sweet miracle that wanders around our house everyday and petitioning heaven for more. It feels selfish, again, to want. How can we possibly ask for more than this? And it feels scary, because a different kind of loss is at stake. And yet, we find ourselves flirting with the idea in a word here and there. This time though, we have an idea of what we stand to gain and whenever we do venture through that door, we’ll do it with some experience and awareness under our belts which changes things. Kind of a lot.
Initially I balked at the idea of grieving. Remember we’re talking about infertility here and RJ and I had apparently ordered up the complicated barren variety. Having witnessed the losses of beautiful lives, both before and after birth, it felt wrong to grieve something that was only an idea. Those losses that I’d seen were so painfully legitimate; there was someone there and then he/she was gone. It felt selfish to claim a nebulous feeling of loss in the face of such awful longing. My inclination was to say “Yes, I am hurting, but I’m not hurting that much.” Or, “Losing nothing isn’t even worth mentioning in the face of losing a life that had barely begun.” But loss there was and as I sat on that familiar therapist’s couch and set out to increase my self-awareness, a veritable cavern of intangible losses opened wide to greet me.
Perhaps the discriminating discomfort of grief relegates her to last-resort status on the emotional awareness menu, but because grief has found a permanent place in my soul, I’m learning to read her cues and speak her language. She has become a surprisingly valued ally in my journey through life. Grief’s teachings, far from welcomed, eventually forced a certain self-awareness that opened the door to light and insight. As I first made her acquaintance, I realized that my grief was different and unique to me, which is something that could be said of all of us. Once I claimed sadness as my own and made grief my companion, I realized there was ever so much relating that could be done. In terms of children, I was shedding tears about an unknown quantity alongside dear friends who missed their babes with a different kind of knowing. I think the most poignant tears were (and sometimes are) shed over a life turning out vastly different than what was expected. I grieved a loss of control, feeling helpless in a situation that affected so many facets of my life. There was relational loss, the inability to take on a role I’d always relished. Marital naivete was yanked out from under us and after only a few short years together, our abilities to relate and cope would be refined in intimidating fires. As I endured the pain of grief, I eventually developed a vocabulary to talk about it in ways that respectfully connected me to the grief of others and helped me realize how universal many of those aforementioned losses are.
As RJ and I slogged through the icy, isolating waters of our infertility, we met some specific losses that we learned to claim as our own; the possibility that we may never know each other as a father and mother, the loss of social connection as years went by and babies were born to others, but never to us. It is hard to know that you don’t understand how most of the world operates. It’s hard not to be able to relate to your sisters and brothers and friends and cousins as they plan families and immerse themselves in the business of creating and cultivating children. It’s hard to admit that opening a baby shower invitation is akin to getting the wind knocked out of you. It’s hard to feel jealous and angry and anxious when you want to feel excited and happy and peaceful. It can be a lonely, all-encompassing and very misunderstood place.
After walking timidly across the tan industrial carpet, into my initial appointment with my good psychologist, I sat on the proverbial couch and nervously drew breath. After a few initial questions, it didn’t take long to begin unearthing some of the struggles that were weighing heavily on my heart. For various reasons, these heartaches were things I had kept fairly close, hoping, with sincere faith, to manage on my own without burdening or embarrassing others. (My, how times have changed, as I apparently feel comfortable enough these days for anyone to happen across these solemn struggles of my soul). As I verbalized hard experiences, she would say “Wow, that sounds really rough” or “What a struggle for you.” These thoughts were refreshing to my parched soul because they were honest and true. It began to be clear that I hadn’t allowed myself to feel through the experience. You see, in the interest of believing that the Savior can make beauty for ashes, I thought that faith meant that I should ignore the ashes, sweep them under my bed, under the fridge, anywhere, because someday something beautiful would come in their place. My belief was that if I had enough real faith, the process would be immediate. I thought faith meant that the pain should be lessened or completely mitigated and that by feeling the sadness and the loneliness, I was denying the grace offered by heaven. What I didn’t realize was that my soul-squelching pain could indeed coexist with my steadfast faith. I could be completely heartbroken AND also possessed of a firm belief that the Savior was still mindful of me and that my losses would be made up.
I think the Savior teaches this when he meets Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus. He knew, he KNEW, that in moments, they would be reunited with their brother. I imagine there are a lot of reasons that He wept with them, and those few verses are among some of my most treasured bits of knowledge about Him. He was dealing with two separate souls with distinct personalities and struggles. Martha greets him with a faithful expression of her belief that He can work this miracle. They converse about the resurrection and He alludes to the work He is about to perform. At that point Martha retrieves the distraught Mary. The Savior could’ve said, “Hey, don’t worry, I can fix this, dry your tears and let’s go.” But he didn’t. He sat with her in her sorrow. He took in the experience alongside both sisters. He felt the disappointment (had you been here…), he felt the loss. And he let them feel it too. He wasn’t put off by it and he didn’t need them to go elsewhere to manage themselves so that they might present their polished, faithful and smiling faces before He would work His miracle. No, they all descended into the awfulness of grief before they made the ascent out of it together. How did that frame the miracle of Lazarus coming back to life? If the grief had been glossed over or denied a voice or tears, how would those miraculous moments have changed? If He hadn’t respected their individual understanding when it came to Him or life or the resurrection, what would the exchange have looked like? I think the palpable agony of loss and the tears give life to those moments, it makes them real. And I believe the Savior is nothing if not real.