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It’s My Real Life

Real talk time.

When I was twelve years old, I decided that I wanted to influence the world for good. I determined that I wanted to do it the introvert way…by throwing profound literature at it from a safe distance.

By the time I was fifteen, I had decided that I wanted to go to BYU-Idaho and study Creative Writing. That was my plan. I was going to write novels, and somewhere along the line, somehow, write something that would change the world for good.

If you’ve read my other pieces, you probably know that I dropped out of BYU-Idaho to prepare to serve a mission for my church, because Heavenly Father told me to, even though He and I both knew that I wouldn’t actually go. After I finally decided, and confirmed with Him, that my time of preparing was past and I could move onto other pursuits, I reapplied to the BYU schools, and I got into BYU, which is where I am now.

So, obviously, there have been some major plot twists in my life plan. Here are a few more:

One: I’m switching my major to psychology.

Two: I’ve been diagnosed with four mental illnesses or emotional disabilities.

I still want to help change the world, but I want to do it person by person, individually. I’ve been suffering a lot lately in my personal life. This is where I start talking about stuff so personal, my Mom would say, “Rachel, honey, be careful of what you put on the internet.”

But I want to be real about my life. I want people to realize that they can talk about their struggles, and maybe, just maybe, writing about my struggles with mental health is one of the ways I can help people.

Here we go.

In September, I was officially diagnosed with the illnesses I suspected that I’d had for years. I have post-traumatic stress disorder, major recurring depressive episodes, generalized anxiety, and panic disorders.

At the end of a very stressful summer term of school, the latter three disorders all spiked in intensity. When fall semester started at the end of August, I was emotionally wrecked. I met with a psychological counselor and scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist. I had panic attacks walking from class to class, couldn’t focus on schoolwork because I was too anxious, and would break down and cry, hard, almost every day, overwhelmed with sadness.

Towards the end of September, I met with the psychiatrist and started medication: This was my first time using medication for any of my issues. After a few weeks, it seemed like it was working: I would get super excitable for an hour or two every evening. But then that phase passed, and my mood nosedived. I had persistent thoughts of suicide, and the only reason I could think of to not end my own life was the emotional trauma it would cause my family, friends, and those who found my body.

Not. Good.

I met with my psychiatrist again and she immediately changed my medication. I’ve been on this medication for about a month now, and it doesn’t seem like it’s completely effective, but I’m better than I was without it. I still have panic attacks in class. Sometimes I feel miserable and cry. It takes a lot of effort to get out of bed each morning. I still think of death and dying every day, but not in a way that would inspire me to end myself. And I am insanely lonely, but I can rarely muster the motivation to go out and socialize.

YES. I REALIZE THIS IS ALL INTENSELY PERSONAL.

But I want to tell you what I’ve been learning, what I’ve determined to do.

The last few months, I’ve been feeling like an annoyance to those who love me because I can’t hide my emotional instability. I feel like I burden others with my emotional baggage. No one has given me this impression: This feeling originates within myself.

On the contrary, I have had the best friends help me out lately. One would give me energy massages when I had panic attacks, and would stay with me for hours every day. Another, who is going through much that is similar, has been able to empathize with me. One crawled into my closet, where I was sobbing one night, to wrap her arms around me and hold me. Another helped me figure out how to get disability leniency with school, and yet another will take the time to read my textbooks to me when I’m too anxious to force myself to do it. When I told my Mom about my suicidal thoughts and that the psychiatrist had asked me if I had a plan, she replied: “The Plan is Call Mom.”

I know I am loved. I may have a distorted vision of myself right now, but there are people who are keeping a hold on me, keeping me from tipping over the edge.

I tell you this so that you know: You are also loved. No matter how isolated and lonely you feel, no matter what emotional baggage you carry, no matter how many times you break down in front of your friends, you are loved, and not just by those that you can see. Even if you’re not a religious person, I will tell you, and firmly believe, that there are unseen angels guarding your footsteps, strengthening you against the darkness that is prevalent in the world. I know they’re there.

This bridges into the other thing I’ve been re-learning.

Earlier this year I felt I had a very close connection to my Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. I’d been working on developing my relationships with each of Them, and when things went south I could always feel the Holy Ghost witness in my heart: We’re here. Everything will be okay. I grew distant from them again during the summer, when I was stressed and preoccupied with school, but now I realize that if I want to make it through my trials with grace, I’m going to need the Savior with me every step of the way.

When I kneel and pray at night, I ask for the Lord’s help in being worthy of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, and that, as I remember Christ and keep His commandments, I may have His presence in my heart. Sometimes, the most comforting thing when I’m anxious is to imagine the army of angels that is backing me up, and to remember that no matter what, Christ understands me and is waiting to help with whatever I offer to Him. I imagine the spirits of my future children, cheering me on, staying by me in my roughest hours, a promise of what is to come if I can just hold on.

The last week or so I’ve been feeling particularly down on myself. This is odd, because even though I’m depressed, my feelings of helplessness are usually directed at external things, and rarely at my own characteristics or choices.

Part of it is because the plan I thought I had for my life is changing, yet again. I have to factor in that mental illness is going to be a major part of my life, and probably permanent. When I’m particularly angry with myself, I think: How on earth am I going to find someone who will be willing to put up with my issues for the rest of his life?

But the success of my life isn’t measured by my ability to maintain romantic relationships. It can be measured, though, in a sense, by the relationship I have with the world at large. It struck me the other day: Even if I never find that special someone, I can change the lives of everyone I encounter. I have a relationship with every human on this earth as a spiritual brother or sister, and being as Christ-like as I can, I will have the ability to impact their lives for good. It doesn’t have to be in a dramatic way, either: A smile, a kind word, a new friend on a lonely day. I can change my corner of the world by daily acts of simple kindness.

That’s why I’m writing this. This is my real life. It’s messy, it hurts, it’s confusing, and sometimes I despair of understanding God’s plan for me. I want others to realize that they’re not alone, that life is rough, and it’s okay to be real about it. It’s okay to talk about the struggles of mortality. It’s okay to admit that things aren’t just peachy all the time, that you have to drag yourself out of bed every morning, that you’re overwhelmed with despair or anger when you think of certain aspects of your life, and that you’re uncertain of what will ultimately become of your plans. It’s okay to hurt, and it’s okay to talk about it.

Life isn’t a pretty package perfectly wrapped, with a perky bow on top. The paper tears and the bow is flat and uneven. It doesn’t make the gift inside any less worthwhile, though, or any less precious. Life is a great gift.

I’m going to use my life as well as I can. Suffering doesn’t have to make my life less than it would otherwise be. My Savior suffered the pains of every soul who has or will live, and died for them as well, and yet not a being could claim that His life was wasted. Suffering doesn’t make us less: It gives us more experience, more ability to understand others. The Savior’s understanding of us, after all, came by His suffering with us.

It isn’t easy, but it is worth it.

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It’s the Little Things…

I created the title for this piece probably a month ago. This is a “Little Things” appreciation post, so get ready for it.

Little Things that pick me up…

  1. Hot cocoa on a lazy night at home
  2. Lonely walks to places I’ve never been before
  3. Quotes I love so much that I put them all over the wall
  4. Waking up early and watching the sunrise
  5. The woods at sunset, mysterious and thrilling
  6. SWEATERS
  7. Owls and owl decorations
  8. Keeping a journal
  9. Taking pictures of my little adventures
  10. Everything about October: the crisp days; red and gold leaves and the way they smell
  11. Fresh fruit
  12. Best friends. The weirder the better
  13. Complimenting strangers
  14. Smiling at people you pass on the street
  15. Getting a full night’s rest
  16. Dressing up cute
  17. Not dressing up and still feeling perfect
  18. Cozy spaces with controlled lighting
  19. Running into someone who’s happy to see me
  20. Those people that I barely know but who have apparently decided, independent of that, that they love me. Thank you and bless you
  21. Looking up-at the trees, the clouds, the sun, the stars
  22. Pictures of Jesus
  23. Laying on the floor (I don’t know why, but I really like to do this)
  24. Headphones in, music up, dancing behind everyone’s backs
  25. Books that make me think

There are a ton more I could add, of course. These were the ones that came to mind. I guess it goes along with my gratitude post. Just be grateful for the little things. Stop to pick up acorns. Stare up at the stars. Listen to flowing water and the wind in the trees. Take a moment, enjoy something, be happy.

 

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Attitude of Gratitude

 

There are a ton of reasons why we should try to be grateful in everything. For one, Heavenly Father has given us so much, even during the hard times, that to be ungrateful would be frankly ridiculous. For another, IT HELPS YOU BE HAPPY. That’s right. Sure, there’s a lot of bad, and it’s okay to acknowledge that, as long as you also acknowledge the good and are grateful for it. “Hey, I’m in fair physical health. Good news!” “Yo, I have a lot of really cool friends who help me out.” “I slept very well last night.” Accentuate the positive!

Since the beginning of the year I’ve kept a purple jar next to my bed. Every night before I retire, I write down one grateful thought on a slip of paper, fold it up, and put it in the jar. As of last night, this purple jar contained 228 grateful thoughts. For the first 6 months of the year, I would post a picture of the jar or one of my thoughts on Facebook once a month. I didn’t do it for July or August…not that I’m not still grateful! The jar is still going strong. But since I didn’t post it there, I thought I’d write up this blog post, instead. Look how full it is in the first picture! 228 days!

So here you go, some insight into my grateful thoughts for the last 7 and a half months (pictures and comments from Facebook posts).

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“This year I’m making a gratitude jar. Every day I write on a slip of paper one thing for which I’m thankful, and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, or whenever I feel like complaining, I’ll dump the jar and remember why I should be grateful. Eventually I’ll have 365 reasons why my life is blessed.” -4 Jan. 2016

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“I meant to post this when January ended, so I’m a few days late.
The gratitude jar is still alive, and now has 34 little slips of paper reminding me of the things I’m grateful for. This one says:
‘I’m grateful for and astounded at a world full of optimists who value life, despite its flaws.’
Other days I’ve written my appreciation for lotion and chapstick. It doesn’t matter what you’re thankful for. Just take a moment to be grateful. :)” 3 Feb. 2016

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“62 days of gratitude as of today. February was like a personal gift from Hades on SO many levels, but the gratitude jar still got a little slip of paper every day. Now I’m grateful for gratitude itself. ;)” 2 March 2016

(It’s true. February was AWFUL. Good glory, what a month. But hey, I’m still alive and kicking!)

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“We’re a quarter of the way into 2016, my friends! April is going to be a busy month for me. I’ve been accepted to Brigham Young University and move to Provo, Utah in three weeks, so I can attend the spring/summer semester! I’ve been grateful lately for all the opportunities Heavenly Father has given me, challenging me and making me grow. Here’s for the next step! College bound once more!” 2 April 2016

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“Month 5 already?! Yikes! The little purple jar came to Utah with me.
I have to say, it’s started off rough up here, but I’m thankful to be back in school. :)” 5 May 2016

(This was only a few days after I moved to Utah)

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“Did you know that it’s the 157th day of the year? True story.
Another true story is that the Gratitude Jar still gets a slip of paper everyday, and boosts my spirits when I’m feeling down.
Have an attitude of gratitude!
Also, remember Christ is always your friend, and waiting to help you out.” 5 June 2016

That was the last one I posted to Facebook. But now I’m going to give you some straight from the gratitude jar itself. All right? All right. Here you go.

8 Aug. “Two more days of exams and then I’ll be free! Yay!”

6 July “So thankful for my bed. Zzz” (Haha, all right, Rachel.)

3 July “I’m grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, my Savior <3”

19 July “I’m grateful for sunshine :D”

31 July “I’m grateful for prayer”

3 Jan. “CHRIST”

15 Jan. “I’m thankful for my short hair, that I can wear it short” (Pixies for the win!)

7 May “I’m thankful for my Savior and Redeemer <3” (Okay, so things I’m REALLY grateful for show up a LOT. So sue me.)

15 March “I’m thankful Heavenly Father has a plan for me, even though I don’t know what it is” (Oh yeah, the enigmatic plan. Ah, buddy.)

9 Feb. “I’m grateful for honesty–ha-ha–Honesty” (FEBRUARY WAS A BAD MONTH, OKAY?)

25 May “I’m grateful that I can write the truth and that I love myself <3” (Cannot stress enough the importance of just freaking loving yourself, my peeps.)

24 April “I’m thankful for Father’s Blessings” (The night before I moved to Utah.)

23 Jan. “I’m thankful for Personal Revelation”

23 March “I’m thankful for Temples! :D”

8 April “I’m thankful for good movies”

7 Feb. “I’m thankful for my family, past, present, and future :D”

18 March “I’m thankful for the scriptures and words of the Prophets <3”

27 Jan. “I’m immensely grateful for the Book of Mormon and its influence in my life. The Word of the Lord will never let me stray too far from God and righteousness”

16 March “I’m grateful for my agency”

23 May “I’m grateful for my testimony and hope that it will be able to help someone someday”

5 Feb. “I’m grateful for Art”

4 May “I’m grateful for my body :)”

19 Feb. “I’m way grateful for my self-esteem, ha-ha” (February, you menace.)

25 June “I’m thankful that I did baptisms and confirmations at the Temple today”

21 April “I’m grateful for honest service rendered and received and the love of God in our hearts”

Huh. That was a lot, and we didn’t run into most of the ones about my bed. Weird.

Well, guys, final thoughts about this…

Life is no walk in the park. Believe me, I know. But although life is hard, there are a multitude of things that make it truly, truly worthwhile and lovely. Heavenly Father’s love is obviously one. Even when I murmur (which happens sometimes), He’s got my back.

You know how they talk about rose-tinted glasses? Yeah. You put those suckers on. It’s your prescription, because mortal life has messed up your eternal vision. Put on your happy spectacles and get back out in the world to do some good!

Love you guys!

 

The Last Labyrinth

I’m not afraid of the dark, or of the crumbling, sand-colored walls, and I’m not perturbed by being alone. In fact, my step is almost bouncy as I wander the ruins, the remains of the garden walls of an ancient castle. It used to be a labyrinth–well, I guess it still is, now in sad disrepair.

This morning I spent several hours climbing the trees outside the walls of the fortress, surveying the woodlands that surround it. For some reason, now, as I turn each corner, I’m expecting to see the walls end in sand dunes and for the ocean to stretch out before me, tossing black beneath the moon. But I’m far from the sea. It must be the mist in the air which tricks me.

I mumble lullabies from my childhood beneath my breath as I round a corner and step into an amphitheater. The pillars around the stage are cracked and crumbling. The tiers of seats, formed of stone, are grown over with vines and chipping. A pool of water has gathered before a throne, some twenty feet from the stage, and I hop down the stairs to the floor of the space, turning in circles to take it all in.

I turn and vault myself onto the stage, throwing my head back to take in the starry sky.

“You can sing,” a voice says.

My gaze drops abruptly, to the throne on the other side of the pool. A girl is sitting there. She has dark curly hair, large brown eyes, and wears a crown perched above her round face. She smiles at me. Besides her rich clothes, the friendly countenance, and the crown, there’s a transparent quality about her…and about the chain on her wrist that connects her to the throne.

“Sing for me,” she says. Her voice is soft, courteous.

I shrug, bouncing up on the balls of my feet. “I could. What would you like to hear?”

“Anything,” she replies. She straightens her posture and leans forward, waiting for me.

I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I open them again, wondering how the acoustics of the amphitheater are, and sing one of those lonesome lullabies. The princess smiles. There is something unnervingly familiar about her, but my lullaby chases away the chill that races up my spine.

When I finish, the mists have grown thicker. I jump down from the stage and splash into the pool. The girl disappears. I look down into the water, and am greeted by the pale face and dark brown eyes that watched from the throne, now staring back from my own reflection.

 

 

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I am Abraham and this is my Isaac

It’s late on a Sunday night. I should be reading my scriptures and getting ready for bed, but I feel like I’m finally ready to tell this story.

I’m at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a place I never imagined nor wished to be, and I’m still wondering what I’m even doing here, but I do know how it ended up happening.

And here’s for all those people who wondered what happened about me serving a mission.

This is the story.

October 6th, 2012. It’s a freaking historic day for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On this day, it was announced that young men could now serve missions at 18, and young women could go at 19. CUE THE MASSIVE FREAK OUT AND FLOODING OF THE MTC.

But on another note, October 6th, 2012, was also my 18th birthday.

I was happy about the announcement, of course. I thought it was one of the coolest things to happen this decade, but I didn’t find it personally applicable. I didn’t intend to serve a mission, but I was delighted about this change.

Three months later I began my Freshman year at BYU-Idaho. It was hard. The struggle was realer than real. I developed multiple psychological disorders (or became aware of ones that I already had), and on top of this, a thought occurred to me, amongst all of the other things that were swarming my life: “You need to ask the Lord about serving a mission.”

What? Ha-ha. No way.

But it persisted, so I did.

I received a peculiarly clear impression that I needed to complete two years of school at BYU-Idaho, and then prepare to go on a mission. Um. Okay. That left plenty of time for the revelation to change and for my life to go in another, more hopeful direction, because like I said, life was really rough right then.

One year down. Second year in progress. Halfway through my third semester, I began to feel the desire to serve a mission. I was ready. I was pumped! This was going to happen! Whoot! I was ready to drop out of school right then, head home, get a job, and start saving up my money!

I asked the Lord about it, and He said…

“No. We agreed on two years, and two years it’s going to be.”

Again, What? All right, I was devastated. CRUSHED. But I did it. I stayed for the rest of the semester and then the one after that. And you know what happened, and happened fast?

That desire to go died. And I don’t mean it faded. It was snuffed out like the flame of a candle. Gone. And when the end of that second year came, I wasn’t ready to go on a mission. I didn’t want to do it. I was still suffering mental illnesses, I was in debt from those two years of college, and had no money to a) make payments on my loans while I was on a mission, b) pay for a mission, and c) pay for the things I needed to go on a mission (mostly medical).

But I went home. I got a job. I started saving up my money, and it went real slow. The time came when I would ordinarily be buying a plane ticket to Salt Lake City, and I let it pass. I let my enrollment at BYU-I drop, and I’d tried so hard, as a 16 and 17 year old, to get my life together so I could get into that university. And I had to let it go. Oh, believe me: I asked the Lord about going back. Of course, the answer was no. Hard as it was, I had to sacrifice my pride, my former ambitions, and my life plan, to do something that I didn’t want to do.

The way didn’t open up, either. There was no, “I can see you’re really trying so I’m going to bless you with this freebie.” I don’t get freebies in life.

It seemed, month after month, that the Lord was putting me on an obstacle course leading to a goal I didn’t want, but which He insisted was His plan for me, and asking: “How much do you want to do what want you to do?”

“Lord, with all my heart.”

The finances didn’t line up. My mental issues weren’t resolved. My family wasn’t blessed–in fact, my Dad lost his job, twice, the second time being the day before I spent everything I’d earned thus far to get my wisdom teeth removed. I was feeling the pain, and by that point (September 2015) I’d been out of school a whole year, trying to save up money, trying to fix my brain, trying to find the desire I’d lost.

And it didn’t help that from at least April that year, I’d been receiving spiritual messages, both subtle and not so much, informing me that I wasn’t going to go. It wasn’t going to happen. The Spirit would say “By the way, you’re going to […]and not go.” I’d say “Whaaat? Does that mean I can…(go back to school, stop preparing)?”

“No, we’re not talking about that right now. You need to focus on serving a mission.

“But at the same time, Rachel: You’re not going to go.

“But keep preparing.”

…For a mission I didn’t want to serve, that the Spirit was hinting I never would.

But keep trudging on.

I prayed for the desire to serve. What I got in return was one of the most awful feelings I can ever remember having, a terrible, forbidding: “YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO ASK FOR THAT.”

How else was I supposed to gain the desire to serve? I was trying! I took mission preparation classes, I saved up my money…I was trying! But it wasn’t working out, and I didn’t want to go.

Then the Lord threw me another curve ball, not a subtle hint about something that would happen in the future, but a very direct, “This is something that could happen.”

And it wasn’t about a mission, and it wasn’t about school, and if it was true, it meant that I wouldn’t be serving a mission. It was the promise of a possibility.

I had to make a decision. The Lord had been saying “prepare for a mission,” for almost a year and a half by this point, but now He was saying, “This other thing could be a possibility.” I didn’t want to serve a mission. I did want to try for the thing. But after preparing for this long, would it be right to give up on a mission?

I rethought how I’d been asking about serving a mission. I rethought a lot. I came to a conclusion, and maybe it was just time. I told myself: “I have decided not to serve a mission,” and it felt RIGHT. Not a little right, but FLAMING, IN YOUR FACE, YOU FINALLY GOT THE POINT, right.

If I was Abraham, a mission was my Isaac. I had to sacrifice my university enrollment, my pride, and my life plan, to do something I felt was absolutely wrong for my life. But I went for it because the Lord asked me to. But, like Abraham, I was never meant to kill Isaac. I wasn’t meant to go on a mission. But I had followed the will of the Lord.

All right. No more mission. I went for the “possibility,” and for a while, it seemed like it was going to develop into what the Lord had said it could be. A friend suggested that I apply to BYU, here in Provo, and since that would definitely help with the thing (sorry for being so vague), I did it.

But a few weeks before I got my answer from the school, the possibility failed and failed hard. It hurt, but I accepted it. I wasn’t in control and it wasn’t my fault. It would be okay.

I got my acceptance letter to BYU. For some inexplicable reason, I accepted it, instead of returning to my old BYU-I which I had always, always, always intended to attend and graduate from. I had reasoned through it logically, and made my choice…but why? Why BYU?

So. No mission. And not BYU-Idaho. BYU.

What is happening to my life?! This was absolutely not the plan. Never. Never was any of this part of the equation.

And I wasn’t certain of my decision not to go on a mission. It bothered me that for so long I’d been prompted to prepare, only to have it suddenly turn around: “You don’t have to anymore.”

What was the point?

I did a lot of soul searching. I did a lot of praying. And crying. I became friends with Jesus. I learned to call God my Father. I learned to feel Their presence in the very center of my heart through the companionship of the Holy Ghost. This was at the beginning of the year. The possibility crashed: My Heavenly Father was there. Different horrible experience? The Holy Spirit is right next to you. Can you feel it? 

And I learned, after a lot of crying–on my knees, in the bedroom, in the bathroom in the middle of the night, after church, after institute, in the car, in the cold backroom, and even at work–that it was okay that I wasn’t going on a mission. Because you can only spend so much time trying to do God’s will before you really want to do His will. And I reached that point. It came to me one night that by this point, I was going to do whatever the Lord wanted me to do. Mission? On it. BYU? Going. I’ll go and be and do what you want, Lord. Here am I.

But it wasn’t a mission that He asked of me. It was just to go to Brigham Young University, where I had never planned to go, where I never would have applied if I hadn’t dropped out of BYU-I almost two years previously, where I wouldn’t have been able to afford if I hadn’t gotten that job and continued saving up after I got my wisdom teeth pulled.

If my life had gone according to my plan, I would be graduating from BYU-Idaho in July. Instead, I’m restarting at BYU with major credits that didn’t transfer, looking at four more years of college. I was apprehensive about coming up here. The anxiety was overpowering at times. But I’ve felt, since I’ve arrived, this small, light feeling: “You’re exactly where I need you to be.”

Life. It didn’t work out as I planned. Since the very day I became an adult it has been this terrifying, enlightening, challenging, heartbreaking, faith-strengthening ride. I’ve done everything I’ve been asked, though. I know that. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was trying my best.

What have I learned in the last three and a half years?

First and foremost, that my Heavenly Father has a plan for me, and it probably looks nothing like the one I had in mind. But I also know that it’s the best plan. Eventually, I learned to cope with most of the issues I’d developed my freshman year. I had an average job, but it was with amazing people. I was in an itty-bitty Single’s Branch, but the members were exactly the people I needed in my life right then. I lived at home with my parents when they were having a tough time, and then I lived with my brother and his wife, rooming with his wife’s sister, who became a solid pal. Now, somehow, I’m at BYU.

I remembered what was at my center. The shield around the core of my character is built of my hope in and for myself, and when hell breaks that shield, it unleashes the power of my core, the depth of my character, and that is my faith in Christ, my Elder Brother, my Savior, who will and has raised me from any hell into which I fall.

I learned to submit my will to my loving Heavenly Father’s, sacrificing my pride and what I thought was best for my life.

I was able to focus on strengthening my spirituality–again. Life is full of spiritual highs and lows. When the possibility crashed, I learned a lot about the nature of Christ, and how I wasn’t living up to my aspiration of being like Him.

I learned that there is absolutely nothing I want more than to return to the presence of my Heavenly Father and my Savior. And I mean that. I cannot wait. I have felt Their presence in my life through the Spirit. I have felt Them like beings standing beside me, giving me the strength to live when I knew I’d lost all my power to sustain myself; an arm around my shoulder in the dark of the night; an unmistakable presence in my heart when the world crashed around me. THEY’VE BEEN THERE. They have stood beside me. I just haven’t seen Them yet.

Now, I know some of this won’t entirely make sense to a lot of the people who read it. But it’s okay. It wasn’t your journey. It was mine. I hope maybe someone can learn from it, or be enlightened as they go through something similar. But in the end, it was all for me. This is my personalized test, challenging me in all of my weakest areas, turning them into strengths, creating in me the woman Heavenly Father can guide to do the greatest good in the world.

Through mental illness, through preparing for a mission I didn’t want to serve and then coming to grips with not going after all, through losing hope, and moving to a new place, and adopting a new plan, there’s always been this promise:

“If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils by land or by sea…if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my [daughter], that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:5 & 7)

Nosetalgia

It smells like bike tires and takes you back to a cool garage on a hot summer afternoon; dirty bare feet; tan, youthful skin slick with sweat as you wrestle the bikes apart. It’s unusually dark seeming because your pupils are still pin-points from playing in the sun.

It’s an essential oil, citrus or lavender. Taking a whiff reminds you of a fragrance your mother wore when you were very little, and you remember your child’s confidence in her warmth and love. Just a little, familiar smell.

The smell is wood smoke, drifting over the backyard, as you stand in an autumn twilight and watch winking stars peek through the veil of night. The air nips through your jacket; the wind musses your hair. You close your eyes and breathe deep of cold and smoke.

Fresh cut grass and gasoline. A golden summer evening as the sun approaches the horizon, a half-thought of fairies dancing in the sunbeams, and a heaviness on your eyelids in the warmth.

Laundry detergent. A particular brand; you don’t know the name. You’re standing on the balcony of the college dorms on a winter night, about to head down to the laundry room with the roommate who always uses that brand of detergent, a stuffed bag of sweaters and jeans slung over your shoulder.

Wood, fresh-cut…it smells like that one closet at your best friend’s house when you were nine.

A smell. It can take you anywhere and any time, back to years you’d thought forgotten, or a place your memory neglected for years, and all of a sudden, you feel that air on your skin again, see that light that hung in the sky, feel that hand or embrace or the cool stone underfoot, once more.

It’s just a smell. How does it capture so much?

 

aband7s

Lonely Places

I stood in the center of the room, closed my eyes, and breathed deep of the dusty smell. The room was empty, but the walls remembered, and I wondered about the lives that had passed this way, just as I wondered what would become of my own life, the thoughts and aspirations and passions of my soul. I opened the door that shut my anger in, and let the emptiness empty me. There is a strengthening, bracing solace in the memories of a lonely place, and how it breathes still upon the moving world.

Have you felt it? When you slip into solitude, let the emptiness empty you, in the desolate houses or crumbling barns, or by the broken windmills, or on the silent paths in lonely woodlands. You let the solitude steal your human life from you, turn you into magic and dust and little puffs of breath–no longer human, barely living and yet more alive than the entire world, in the moment that emptiness empties you, and fills you with the living and silent graces of a million faceless spirits. The ancient walls have words to whisper of scenes they have beheld. The trees’ roots are deep, and their strongest arms have held up the sky for a hundred years.

When you sit by the river, listening to the song that it has sung for a thousand years, ever changing and yet always still itself, remember that your life is so: Eternal, forever passing onwards and onwards, always you, but always changing, carving a deeper channel in the fabric of the universe.

You are you, but remember that you are a part of the world. When you stand in the silence, in what others would deem emptiness, remember that even places are themselves, that other feet have passed this way and other lives have revolved and spun out their threads here, passing by, as you now do. Do you leave a trace of yourself there? In your passion, in your anger, in your ecstasy, and despair, do you caress or claw the grand tapestry of a place, of the world?

You weave your print through theirs. Embrace the changing of the colors, the twirling of the figures, places, and “spaces” in the tapestry.

Enter the lonely places and let emptiness empty you.