Shattered Silence

Shattered Silence

Monday, October 2, 2017

Captain of My Salvation

Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, USA - a beautiful campus
nestled in the shadow of the majestic Mount Timpanogos.
School is back in session, and I am finally officially in my undergraduate program for a Bachelor’s degree in Family Studies. This last year has been one of the most difficult since I was a young man, just entering adulthood. As I’ve been navigating my way through Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) for more than a year now (finally knowing what it is and realizing that I’ve been depressed for many years now without really understanding it), it has become amazing to me how a single choice each day affects the rest of my week, and even the months after. 

My one choice is like a bullet ricocheting off of a solid stone wall that I put up to try to keep out hard issues like pain, struggle, discomfort, and anxiety. I’m talking about choosing to skip school, work, or time with loved ones to isolate myself in my room and sleep, because when I am asleep, I don’t feel anything; I only dream, and usually those are the most pleasant and surreal moments for me, completely deadened to my grief.

Living with depression, my choice of whether or not to get out
of bed every day is like choosing to fire a bullet that eventually
comes back to strike me.

But eventually I have to wake up from the safety and innocence of my subconscious mind and face that bullet that I fired ten, fifteen, or even twenty hours before, which has slowly bounced back to strike me square in the chest. And as I sit up on the edge of my bed in a fog and suddenly take in all that I have put in jeopardy—my grades, my employment, the trust and care of my family and friends—I feel as if I am falling figuratively to my knees as my lone wound quickly gushes out a flood of emotion—shame and guilt, mostly.

As I lay dying (or at least, feeling like I would rather perish in that moment), I see flashes of the day I could’ve had, and should’ve had. The things I would’ve learned in class, the money I would have made at work, and the fun and enjoyment of the company of others all appear in my mind’s eye and then dissipate like a stinging mist of regret and self-blame. Sometimes, for a second or two, the idea of just lying back down to escape this new pain once again seems appealing, if not for the stiffness of my muscles and growing hunger in the pit of my stomach.

This is often when I force myself to get in the shower, which consists less of cleansing my aching body and more of leaning my head against the shower wall under the hot water, reliving the day that might have been. Frequently I even say out loud, “I can’t believe I slept all day.” But then the pessimistic voice of shame and guilt blurts out, “Of course you can! You do this all the time!”

I've taken numerous medications to treat 
my many disorders for over 20 years; for a
long time I was reliant on drugs to function.
After I wake, there is a cocktail of drugs that I must take (far past the time when they will actually do the most good) upon which I have relied for twenty years to achieve some level of normalcy and functionality. The pharmacological mishmash that I have become dependent on to have some quality of life seems to really keep me bound in chains, fearful of what might happen if I suddenly ran out or was separated from them. It’s like my tics, my OCD, my anxiety, and now my depression—all of which I take several medications for—are each different demons living within me; they are the dreaded creatures that will erupt from within my body if they are not appeased by an array of tablets and capsules meant to keep them at bay.

Sometimes, on a good week, sleeping most or all of the day will occur maybe just once or twice, if I’m lucky (which is all I consider that feat to be now—sheer luck). Other times, I have weeks where my Sunday night, start-of-the-week rest, turns into a Thursday evening of waking up to the piercing feeling of that bullet in my chest, after literally not leaving my room for three or four days, except the use the bathroom a few times. 

The lengths of time vary; sometimes I will eat between those days, sometimes I won’t. Sometimes I counteract my oversleeping by staying up all night (which is usually when I wake up, after the day is already over) and then go to bed “normally” at the end of the next day over 24 hours later. I get so sore and weak on those days, and the increase in motor and vocal tics under fatigue do not help soothe my mind or body. Sometimes I lose my voice or ache so terribly that I can’t get to sleep even when I’m exhausted.  My mind continues to race and retrace my day, or plan the coming day, and I struggle to turn it off.

But even after sleeping an entire day and staying up and entire day, I am afraid to go to bed the next night. In fact, I am afraid to go to bed every night, because I literally don’t know how I will feel about getting up the next day. The more tired I am, or the more trouble I have falling asleep, the less motivation I have in the morning to face my day. The scream of my dozens (not an exaggeration) of alarms is the worst thing in the world for me to hear. I always have the best, most responsible, active, productive intentions when I say my prayers at my bedside every night. But even when asking for help from God, I am usually always disappointed at what seems like a lack of heavenly help.

I use excessive sleep to avoid my anxieties, and have frequently
missed school, work, appointments, and time with loved ones.
As far as faith goes, I wax and wane between feeling like I do not needs God’s help if He is content to ignore me, or feeling so helpless and lost for guidance and assistance that I cry to Him for mercy. Some nights I feel Him there, and my words ascend to heaven like the sweet smelling smoke of incense burning within the holy place of the ancient Hebrew temple. Other times, I get frustrated and angry, telling God that I am not going to ask Him for help anymore if He is unwilling to give it. I sometimes stop praying for a few days in protest until utter need for comfort and peace brings me to my knees finally. After not praying most of the summer, feeling betrayed, I have finally come back to trying to trust God again.

I have hurt many people by choosing to sleep instead of to wake. The anxiety of certain events, people, or going certain places will always play a role in my decision of staying or going (next to how tired I really am). Not uncommon for individuals with neuropsychiatric disorders like Tourette's and OCD, I have many sleeping problems, including insomnia and sleep apnea (a condition related to my steady weight gain over the years on psychiatric medications). Still, my mother has told me that I was the most disturbed and unpredictable sleeper of all her four boys, even as an infant.

After dropping out of college twice because of my mental health
issues, I finally earned my Associate's degree in Behavioral
I have almost lost at least one friendship that means a great deal to me by standing her up too many times—while I stayed home and slept knowing that we had plans together.  I can't imagine my life without her now, and it terrifies me that I almost forced her out of my life by my neglect.  There is a person whom I considered a good friend, but have not seen in many years because I failed to show up at her going-away party several years ago. She is now living out of the country, is married, and has a young son. I’ve missed wedding receptions, family get-togethers, scheduled appointments, and so many other things.

Countless others have been affected by my poisonous depressive “medicine.” My parents and siblings have expressed that they don’t like to take me on trips to see other family members because I just end up sleeping most of the time out of town. I have missed many bonding moments with them and my niece and nephews because I was unconscious. On those trips I wake to criticism and playful teasing from my family, who act shocked when I actually get up at a reasonable hour and walk into the kitchen for breakfast. This has gone on for years; and even though I know full well my issues with sleeping too much, my family doesn’t seem to conceive how much it tears me apart inside to be reminded of it so callously.

Danish artist Don Kenn captures mental illness 
so well with his macabre, otherworldly drawings; 
this one represents my feelings on depression 
and the way it seeks to constantly drag me down.
More than this, a large portion the treatment for my myriad disorders has been stalled or interrupted for weeks and months at a time because I sleep through my appointments frequently. I have a therapist with whom I’ve been working for over three years, and I’ve only seen him maybe two-dozen or so times because I choose sleep instead of the satisfaction of my visits with him. I’m lucky (again, I use the word loosely) that I only have to see my psychiatrist every three months to refill the prescriptions that keep me going to the weak extent which I have been. I still miss those appointments often, too. I recently had to find another primary care doctor because the one I had would no longer see me because of my failure to keep appointments.

I have been blessed (no, not lucky—truly blessed) that I have had understanding teachers and a patient, forgiving boss at my day job as a cashier at a retail store. In May 2017 I reached a welcomed milestone by graduating with an Associate degree in Behavioral Science after twice dropping out of college in 2005 and 2012. Still, I have been known to be absent for at least one class or more per week at times. In truth, some semesters I have missed more days of school than I have probably attended in the last three years as a part-time student. 

I still get my homework done, often in the middle of the night after I’ve slept through the entire rising and setting of the sun. When others are lying down after a long, productive, busy day, I am rising to take a bullet in the chest, with a river of shameful blood pouring from my stinging wound of regret. But I do what I have to do, usually in an uncomfortable rush against the clock. And somehow, as I keep my instructors informed and receive a little leniency from them (per my Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) student accommodations), I have been getting all A’s (I got my “worst” grade of the last three years just last semester—a B+).

Monthly Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is the only
reason I am not homeless. It has been a blessing; but I am
striving toward career and self-sufficiency.
My boss at work has known of my disorders and struggles since he took over our store about three years ago, after I was hired by a kind man who saw past my shortcomings and looked instead on my potential and my need. At 31 years old, this is the longest I’ve ever held a job in my life, though I’m still only paid minimum wage. Prior to this I hadn’t worked since I lost my job as a certified nurse’s assistant in 2007, and I’ve been living below the poverty level now for almost a decade now.

Another blessing is that I’ve been able to receive social security disability benefits since I lost my CNA job, without which I would be living on the streets or with my parents. I don’t tell a whole lot of people about where I get my money, but I know they wonder. I have to use Medicare and Medicaid programs for my health care and medication management, and I have lived on food stamp privileges on and off for ten years, before I started working again. The increase of coprolalia, the tics that involve swearing and inappropriate words and phrases, made working with the elderly difficult for me; and an increase in the medication I was taking at the time was the fuel to the fire for my needless sleeping, as many neuropsychiatric drugs cause extreme drowsiness and fatigue.
Another unsettling illustration by artist Don Kenn
this one is representative of the ever-lingering 
disruption and disorder of living with heavy, 
often debilitating anxiety.

Nevertheless, I am persevering through school in an attempt to make a better life for myself. Though blessed by my social security disability payments and full insurance, I am ashamed of getting “free” money at the expense of others, and I am reminded by some of my chiding friends that their taxes pay my rent; I don’t think they know that their joking hurts and embarrasses me. But I have never been content to stay on government assistance forever, and the help I’ve received has truly been a godsend while I’ve been focusing, slowly but steadily, on completing my education. 

I know that God prepared a way for me to live while I got my life together through this long learning process, and I am forever indebted to Him for that. My intention is to use the challenges I’ve been given and the experiences I’ve had to help make sure that other people like me don’t have to suffer psychiatric disorders and mental illness alone; that’s why I want to be a therapist, to show others that there is hope and empathy in living with these types of challenges.

It’s frustrating to experience troubles in life that seem to come out of nowhere at the most inconvenient times; certainly that happens to all of us from time to time. In my experience, though, it is even more difficult knowing (or feeling, at least) that most of my problems are my own fault. Not to suggest that I am personally to blame for the biology, physiology, and genetics that resulted in me having Tourettes, OCD, anxiety, and MDD.

But rather, it's that I most often feel like I am not trying hard enough to combat these issues, choosing to avoid daily responsibilities rather than to face them bravely, and worsening my circumstances. I recently read over three-hundred of the timeless fables of Aesop, and among many of the morals, one stood out to me especially, declaring, “Misfortunes springing from ourselves are the hardest to bear.” True, indeed.

All my life I have put up emotional and psychological 
walls to avoid difficult feelings and stem my deep fears 
of failure.
When faced with normal daily tasks—like work, school, social life, and taking care of myself—the strain of subsisting from day to day usually feels impossible or hopeless. It takes a great deal of effort most mornings to want to get up and begin the day. These challenges I face in motivating myself to act like an adult should (or the ominous possibility of challenges unforeseen) leave me in constant fight or flight mode, and I almost always choose to fly away to the magical world of dreamland, which, in the moment decision, is always the easiest.

I would rather keep sleeping than be at work for five hours. I would rather sleep than shower, do my hair, brush my teeth, and get dressed. I would rather sleep than drive to my friend’s house in a nearby town for a party. I would rather sleep than sit in a lecture for over an hour taking notes at the sound of a droll voice. So, rather than fighting against my better judgment, knowing that I have the figurative gun cocked in my hand a ready to fire, I find life that day too scary or too stressful—before it has even begun—and I pull the trigger at the wall that I put up to keep out the pain, and I lie back down and drift away.

It’s difficult to describe this to people, and why I do it, which is one reason I haven’t talked to many others about it—other than my therapist—until now. I often hear, “Well, I don’t want to get up and go to work every day, but I do it anyway because I have to.” These people don’t usually understand how anxiety feels when it is constantly present in one’s life. Of course I realize each time I fire that gun that everything I am doing will most likely come back to bite me; I could lose my job, fail a class, miss a huge assignment or social event, and disappoint someone I love.

Anxiously avoiding emotions and responsibilities creates a
snowball effect that only increases my stress and worry.
But in the moment, I just don’t care about anything but making the anxiety go away immediately. Then, as I wake to the anxiety that still exists, I get even more anxious about the approaching consequences, and the anxiety compounds and snowballs from incident to incident. The relief of avoidance is temporary, and I rotate through this anxiety cycle. My therapist and I have been working on helping me to take the leap of courage to face my smallest insecurities and anxieties when they occur, so they don’t linger and grow worse and more debilitating.

I have been so wishy-washy about my commitment to a college education over the last twelve years, that I’ve pockmarked my transcript with many unfortunate grades. As a poor, first-generation student with no other way to pay for college, I have been blessed (yes, again) to receive federal financial aid to pay for my schooling. Bad grades along the way, and dropping out twice has made it necessary to file three separate appeals to my university petitioning for reinstatement of my financial aid.

With endorsements from many wonderful and influential people in my life, all the appeals were approved. I have almost had to file two more in the last year because I had reached the maximum time frame allowed to earn my degree, and because I had exceeded my attempted credits limit for my Associates Degree. I escaped those appeals by graduating this year and switching over to a Bachelor's Degree.

"Jumping ship" is a phrase I've used to describe my total physical
and psychological abdication of the responsibilities of daily living
in favor of choices that are easier and less painful, for a time.
When I thought that I might have to appeal the cessation of my financial aid again, I looked up the appeal statement letter that I submitted three times before to gauge if another appeal would be successful. In two of my letters, I had to explain to the Satisfactory Academic Progress board members why I had dropped out in 2005 and 2012. The phrase I used in both letters, hugged by quotation marks, was “jumping ship.” I explained that due to my mental state and other challenges, I had grown accustomed to “jumping ship” to escape my problems instead of facing them.

This phrase wandered in and out of my mind for several weeks while I was working simultaneously on four different blog posts, one of which I only just finished (see God Will Send Rain,” May, 2017). I had incorporated some beautiful imagery into one post about how life was like sailing a ship. I enjoyed the metaphorical pictures so much that I cut all references to the “jumping ship” idea and inserted them into this post already in progress at the time.  Because of this, you may notice that my tone or the emotion of this post will gradually change as you read on; that's because I wrote the two halves of this blog months apart, after my life had improved.  Still, allow me to carry you into the scene that played out in my head.

I liken life to sailing a ship; our bodies are
the vessels, and the ocean represents mortality.
My “sleeping issues,” a careful and discreet label for my depression troubles, is the abdication of all my responsibility and accountability, like a Captain deserting his vessel when the waters get rough. That is how I feel about what I am doing; my behavior is an act of total physical abandonment and emotional deadening as I sail this body and soul through the waters of mortality, which can be unpredictable and dangerous from day to day.

Our bodies have been called our mortal vessels—the vehicles that allow us to travail through life. I can see myself and my body as a large ship. When our ships are brand new and aching for their trial at sea, we are born, and then take our maiden voyage to a greater and grander port than the one from whence we launched. Though we will make many stops along the way at many ports, this will be the only trip we will make, and so it has to count.

I think of the water as life itself. It sustains us; it is what carries us on to our destination. The water can be calm and pleasant, wavy, choppy, or sometimes downright tumultuous. Sometimes life can seem like it is going to destroy us and take us down to a watery grave. But we cannot sail a ship on a nice, even plane of asphalt; our vessels were not meant to take the easy route. We are here to learn how to sail, and we knew the risks to some extent before we launched into the ocean. The water is the only way we can get where we’re going, and we take that risk as Captains of our vessels. 

Sometimes our time at sea is uneventful, but safe and purposeful; we know the basic naval skills and we float along steadily and consistently. Naturally, waves will come as the tides of mortality wax and wane, and we may need to put more effort and attention into our captainship. In all of our journeys, there are hopefully some of those moments when the elements are on our side, and we glide along the water’s glassy surface briskly with no interruptions, no apparent dangers, and a lively wind of motivation to keep us sailing in stride with nothing out ahead of us but an ocean of potential. 

Neglecting compassionate self-care can
create slow, mental and emotional "leaks"
that can eventually sink me.
In these wonderful times, though, there is the risk that we can become complacent with our success, and relax to the point of contented idleness; if we don’t remain vigilant, misfortune can occur, whether by our own neglect, or the natural forces of the ocean of life. Sometimes we cannot maneuver out of the path of a hidden, treacherous reef, or sometimes we slacken our maintenance duties by not caring for ourselves, and our ship can weaken and spring slow leaks that threaten our success. 

This has been the pattern in my own life: If I sense for even a moment that my ship—representing my present or sometimes perpetual situation in life—has even the smallest risk of a leak, I am much more compelled to dive overboard to avoid perishing with a sinking ship, rather than trying discover the issue (if there really is one), and then work to repair it. Certainly getting a little bit uncomfortably wet to repair a small leak in my vessel and ensuring its continued buoyancy and efficiency is much better than treading water in the middle of the pulsing ocean, far from my destination shore.

But I don’t usually think about that in the moment; all I am thinking about is avoiding the hurt, pain, distress, increased anxiety, and hard work of being a good Captain and meeting head on the responsibilities of sailing my ship on to the next port. I figure if I can detach myself from what seems to be the problem (even if that means utterly abandoning the well-being of my ship), I can be free from the guilt and shame of knowing that I have neglected my vessel and been a poor sailor. Obviously, this causes more problems for me that I may not have encountered had I just stayed aboard, taken a deep breath, and problem-solved a little. 

Sometimes in my life, after I have already forsaken my vessel, there will later come a sudden sense of panic and a rush to action as I realize that I only have one ship, and that I am not going see the safety of the shore again without it. I see that even though jumping over the rail was an easy task, bringing an instant feeling of relief, the stretch of water is endless around me (as life goes on without me), and I see the greater despair of my hasty choice.

Being a good Captain of my own life is a
conscious choice I have to commit to every 
single day, and it still isn't easy for me.
In those moments, I often find a shred of courage before it’s too late, as I float regretfully in the sea with still no plan, and no better solutions than I had before I jumped. Before my ship is about to crash into the craggy rocks of a harsh, uncharted shore, I swim back—close enough to seize a dangling ladder and pull myself aboard my aimless and neglected ship to recover it just in time. I am able to steer it away from disaster, even heroically and brilliantly stopping the leak, while living to tell the tale another day. 

That means jumping out of bed just in time to get ready for the day ahead; running into class and finding a seat just as the teacher begins; rushing into work a little bit late, but nonetheless present and accounted for; showing up fashionably late to a gathering, but smiling cheerfully knowing that I saved the day (literally).

These are the real-life waves—the back and forth motions—of living with major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety. It’s like an indecisive fight with my body and mind in deciding how much I want to “adult” each day, and then convincing myself, exhaustingly, to take that first, reluctant step in my day, my week, or whatever task is at hand (again, usually a work shift, a class, an appointment, plans to spend time with someone, homework, or big school projects like papers—all the responsibilities I presently have in my life).

I once saw it represented in an internet cartoon that anxiety is the creature upon its feet that is pushing us to the next needless task in an effort to feel busy and productive, while depression is at the same time tugging at our wrists from a comfortably-resigned spot on the ground, convincing us not to bother, insisting that any efforts we put in won’t matter anyway. Having anxiety and depression, I relate to that tug-of-war so much. I had never really put an image to the push-and-pull that I have felt for a great deal of my life.

The waters of mortality can be tumultuous and unpredictable;
when compounded with the waves of my mental illnesses, the
success of my journey is often threatened.
Being entrusted with such a priceless vessel on this mortal ocean is a blessing; no doubt, though, for many, it can feel like a curse. We prepared for untold eons to be Captains of our ships, but there was no way to know what exactly sailing would be like until we launched out from our ports. It’s interesting to me that when I experience true joy in life, this journey is the greatest experience I can imagine, and I never want it to end; but when I am anxious and depressed, I feel trapped on the waves in the middle of nowhere, wishing that could just sink into destruction.

This past year, I’ve experienced these vastly contrasting emotions a lot, alternating back and forth depending on my choice each day of whether to fire the gun at the wall, or to unload the ammunition and tear down the obstacles to my happiness. It seems like such a simple choice; believe me, I realize that! But it’s not for me; it’s the most difficult decision I make literally every single day. That choice determines my mood for days, weeks, and months at a time, if I consistently choose the bricks and mortar, and the gun. My happiness deteriorates with each anxiously-avoidant behavior I engage in, and it is very hard to build it back up, even when I am doing well, because I am a huge perfectionist who criticizes himself a great deal.

When I use maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with normal daily stresses—whether in smooth sailing or mountainous upheavals—even a small hole can sink a great ship with time and deliberate neglect. We can ignore it, certainly, and sail on; and I certainly try to do that often. But eventually a small issue can become (or at least sometimes feel like) our doom. I often notice these leaks myself, but I let them go. Practicing self-compassion and taking time for me has been an important thing for me to learn and consistently practice. 

Using sleep to avoid my fears and anxiety sets a course for
destruction; these emotional wrecks leave me feeling hopeless,
helpless, and alone.

There are times when I am doing well with my “sleeping issues,” comparatively, but I notice other things going awry—not eating well, giving in to bad moral habits, unwise spending as I reward myself for good behavior. Afraid to disrupt my good sailing fortune, I hide away in my Captain’s quarters thinking that if I ignore the present needs of my ship, they might just go away. After all, who wants to risk doing more work than necessary when the weather is agreeable? I suppose I feel that if my biggest challenge in life is under better control for a time, I can indulge in more of the things that I don’t get to do when my challenges hinder my participation in them.

Sailing our ships can be a breeze in fair weather. But when the waters of reality become turbulent once again, it’s easy to lose our direction, even if it’s just a brief departure from our goal. And it’s then, when I know I’ve gotten a bit off course, that I feel all is lost. Serendipity and grace fly right out the window, and suddenly all is for naught. “If my course cannot be perfect,” I criticize myself, “then I no longer want to sail this ship.” Being a Captain is no longer appealing, and my grand ship becomes a creaky, waterlogged burden.

Deliberate choices and purposeful actions every day contribute
more to my mental wellness than anything else; peace and
reassurance come from knowing that I can persevere. 
Being a perfect sailor is not necessary; we only need to stay afloat long enough for our sea trials to come to an end when we reach our destination. On the open sea, a Captain can do little about the whirlwinds. But as a Captain I can develop the knowledge and skills to navigate through the storms and learn by my own experience how to not just survive, but to flourish.  Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), has counseled that to live an abundant life, it is wise to remember that “we can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails (“Living the Abundant Life,” Ensign, Jan. 2012).

I also am learning that preparation is the best way to make the best choices. For me, that sometimes means having my clothes laid out and my backpack ready the night before in case I sleep in too late; this helps alleviate the fight-or-flight panic of whether I can make it to my destination on time. It also means getting homework done early and staying ahead of the reading and assignments so that I’m not up late racing deadlines, and can go to bed earlier to ensure better rest. 

Why build a taut ship unless you know that there is a risk of foundering on the sometimes-tumultuous seas? I spoke earlier of luck being my only savior in whether or not I actually get out of bed and go on with life each day. It’s true, I sometimes leave it up to fate whether I will succeed or fail, which is unfortunate. I suppose that’s one reason why I often feel like God is not answering my prayers for help—because I’m expecting results and solutions without any effort or forethought. Perhaps what I see as luck in these circumstances is the combination of divine support, faith, and eight or more hours of sleep. Or, perhaps Oprah Winfrey was closer to reality when she stated, “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.”

When I am mentally drowning, Jesus is my rescue.
("The Hand of God" by Yongsung Kim;
Copyright © by the Artist & Foundation Arts)
After all of these lengthy details, I am happy to report that I am feeling better about being the Captain of my ship after a long and difficult year. Last I saw my therapist, he asked me what feels different now, and why I feel more confident in myself. As I searched my feelings, I expressed to him that I feel I am more keenly aware that I am the agent of my own life. I choose my behaviors (Tourette's aside), and therefore I also choose my own consequences. 

What feels different is that the sky above me has seemed to clear, and I can see more clearly my responsibility to myself to care for my own mental health rather than conceding to the status quo and asking for God to save me in my troubles. Certainly, that is not to say that we are not to ask for divine support; that is another thing with which I am getting reacquainted—leaving my troubles at the feet of the Savior, “after all [I] can do,” and letting Him make up for the rest (2 Nephi 25:23).

Since school began again August 21st, I have been implementing this new focus on being in charge of my mental health, and I have seen considerable progress. A few times I have overslept, but not on days when I had to be anywhere (thank goodness), and I was gentler with my feelings after waking and actively encouraged myself to let it go, and do better next time. And the next time I had a day off, I did do better. I’ve been keeping appointments; I’ve been attending my classes and going to my work shifts, and I’ve enjoyed tremendously spending time with my closest friends and my family more regularly.

I guess I could say that I’ve finally put that emotional firearm away; I’m becoming less skilled in building solid walls around myself, and getting better at destroying them if I do. And like “our Captain of Old,” the Lord Jesus Christ ("Ye Elders of Israel," LDS Hymns, #319), I have accepted my life and mission on the oceans of mortality, have magnified my abilities and talents, and become an active contributor to my own destiny and future. “For it became Him,” said Paul to the Hebrews, “for Whom are all things, and by Whom are all things, in bringing many sons [and daughters] unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:10).

I intend to carry on and fulfill my purpose on the earth, and to do it honorably; to inspire and help others along the way, and look forward to that glorious homecoming when I reach my final berth—even though I know the journey will not always be smooth sailing.

"I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship."
~ Louisa May Alcott, American Novelist & Poet (1832 - 1888) ~
(From the 1868 classic "Little Women")

Thursday, May 25, 2017

God Will Send Rain

When we find ourselves stuck in the deserts of life, how can we
find our own oasis of hope?
During a Church meeting several months ago, there was a discussion among the brethren in my Elder’s Quorum on the topic of hope. The teacher that day used an analogy that I liked about taking a cross-country trip in a vehicle from Point A to Point B, and how hope is the courage, faith, and trust in God to keep going even if you break down along the way, which often seems to happen in the worst places; his example was having car problems in the middle of the desert. Do we abandon our quest and return to where we started, or do what we can to fix the issue and journey on to our destination?

A young man in my ward—a somewhat-troubled soul who has seemed to have experienced the lion’s share of hardship and disappoint in his life—brought our metaphorical trip to a screeching halt with a loaded, but honest and searching question: What about when hope runs out? What if there is no hope? It was a bleak proposal; my first thought, I ashamedly admit, was “Here we go again.” This wasn’t the first time this young man (and gospel novice—he was only recently baptized) entreated the class with his desperate, yet humble questions.

It came to me one day that life is like a plot of grass, and we are
the caretakers.
After a brief pause in the collective spirit of the room, hands began to shoot up as my brethren came to his aid, giving their views on what to do—or perhaps what they did once upon a time—when the waters of hope ran dry in a desert of despair (or maybe when the fuel of hope was not initially a driving force for them). As I pondered deeply on the analogy, hoping to contribute a relevant comment, I saw a familiar scene in my head—at least, it seemed familiar to me, though I’m not entirely sure it had ever entered my head so vividly as it did that day.

What I saw was a modest stretch of green, supple grass; in the middle of the grassy lawn, from the height at which my mind’s eye rested, could be seen an ugly, crudely-dug hole, akin to a grave. There were rocks protruding in spots from its dirt walls, and stringy, frayed-out roots exposed and hanging loosely among the stones. The sky above the scene was a terrible but majestic purplish-black, and stormy clouds in the distance seemed to break just enough on the horizon to show the stars glimmering above them; and from the gathered clouds poured a torrential rain.

Life with anxiety and depression sometimes feels like digging
myself into a hole of misery.
As this vision in my mind’s eye was displayed before for me, I zoned out of the classroom chatter and went into my own place where this image began to take on meaning, right then and there. Readers familiar with my posts will know that I have a keen ability to conjure up metaphors and analogies, with relatively no effort on my part, that often carry deep meaning to me. As a very visual thinker, these types of symbolic picture-stories make a lot of sense to me. This situation was no different. My mind raced, quickly but peacefully, about what meaning this image and its story could have for me.

Here’s how it all came together for me at that time. That hole became another metaphorical description—a place, really—of my state of living with depression and heavy anxiety which robs me of motivation, drive, and initiative. Sometimes when these struggles are at a peak in my day-to-day living, it becomes difficult to make small talk with well-meaning people who ask me how I’m doing, or how I’ve been.  Invariably, I just smile and say that I’m doing fine, because I don’t want to compel anyone to offer me sympathy or say, “Oh, I’m sorry!”—a phrase that is becoming increasingly hollow to me.

Tending to my mental health and well being is much like caring 
for a lawn, requiring constant upkeep.
Not liking to lie to people, but also wanting to just be polite and concise, when I am really not well, I have just grown accustomed to telling people, “I feel like I’ve dug myself into a hole that I can’t get out of.” It’s more honest, but it’s also easier to play off as normal stress; living around other young people who are working and going to college, it’s not hard for others to relate to what I’m saying. That’s why that hole in the ground was familiar to me because I sometimes picture it hazily when I have to report to others on my wellbeing.

But how did I get into the hole in the first place? I have pictured this at some length as well since pondering the analogy in class that day. It begins with a pleasant, soft patch of grass that can be easily maintained with diligent upkeep and regular, responsible care; we are the gardeners, entrusted with the role of caretaker for this little gem of botanical beauty. I thought the patch of grass represented my life, my existence—this mortal journey from day to day and year to year, in every season—which is nothing short of delicate and complicated, and sometimes vulnerable. 

Avoidant anxiety is probably my greatest enemy in caring for
myself; as I avoid stress, the weeds and molehills begin to surface
in my life.
Unlike my remarkable mother, for instance, I have no green thumb; even a simple houseplant is doomed in my care, and I don’t think tending to a little lawn would be any easier for me. Too much water can drown; not enough water can shrivel. The sun can scorch; the grass must be clipped and fertilized and protected from persistent, vicious weeds and vermin. One wrong move can set a course for destruction. Finding balance in one’s life is not always easy.

My greatest enemy in caring for my little lawn of life—the gophers, maybe? dandelions? anthills?—is my kneejerk reaction to all things that stress me out, or which may stress me out (present and existent or supposed and fabricated): To avoid them all. I’ve recently learned that anxiety is a repetitive process that an anxious person like me goes through when presented with uncomfortable or potentially uncomfortable situations—things that haven’t even happened yet. I avoid the causes of stress to avoid the anxiety of it, which alleviates short-term anxiety, but contributes to much larger and much more destructive long-term anxiety over unresolved conflict (or potential conflict).

The brown patches in my lawn of life only grow and multiply as
anxiety and stress turn to depression.
It is not easy for me to live my life—taking care of my little lawn—happily each day when watering seems too scary or difficult; when clipping is too tiring and too complicated; when fertilizing and weeding is too agonizing or can be put off for a little bit longer before it really becomes “necessary.” The grass doesn’t need to be watched unceasingly; but it’s good to check in every day to assess how things are going. Get enough rest, eat good foods, get a little exercise and sunlight, and spend time with others. It seems like a simple process, which, if adhered to, can help us to enjoy the grassy space, and be content with it—to have a happy life.

However, when I am depressed—which festers from the wound of anxious avoidance—I stop caring for myself properly.  I am also extremely critical of myself.  I suppose somehow that I ought to be stronger than I am, and that any continued mourning or melancholy is uncalled for. I don’t allow myself to slow down sometimes, and I push myself harder than I probably should at times. I would rather ignore the grass and assume that everything is fine; “I took care of myself enough yesterday, so that should suffice for the week. Suck it up; you’re just being ridiculous now.” 

Stuck deep in a hole of depression, hope seems lost, and life
becomes an unwelcome burden.
After all, isn’t it selfish to always be thinking about oneself? Other people are caring for their lawns just fine, and they have far more troubles or responsibilities than I do. The plague of self-comparison can be debilitating for me. The harder I push myself, the more I actually feel like just giving up; it’s too much to bear, this lawn, my life. And as I neglect my self-care and compassion by refusing to tend my life, the grass loses its emerald sheen, and the dismal brown patches creep in, threatening even more to overtake what’s left of my life.

By not practicing self-compassion, those brown spots spread into my days, my weeks, even into months. Weeds pop up here and there, then everywhere; and pretty soon my life is in shambles. I no longer have happiness in caring for my little plot of grass. Just looking at it makes me ill; it gets easier to talk myself out of repairing the neglect every time I give even a casual thought to picking up a hose or rake. I can’t see how I can possibly catch up with all I have yet to do, and taking a break to breathe and think things out will only waste precious time.

As stress and work pile up, the easier it is to just abandon all
responsibility and isolate myself.
After all, who decided that I should have this little plot of land for a season anyway? Who would trust a person like me with the priceless vessel of mortality in such a turbulent world? I find myself stuck with difficult choices that could’ve been easier if I had thought them out better. Pacing myself would’ve helped—a long time ago. Doing that assignment for school early or preparing that lesson for church before Saturday night would’ve been helpful—a long time ago. I am faced with the drought of hope, and my choices seem limited—but giving up altogether is the most appealing option. 

When work and tasks pile up like this, I can lose all control; it doesn’t matter what it is (but it is usually housework and homework). Sometimes all I can see is the disgusting, unkempt plot of a gardener who should have known better—the caretaker who didn’t care. Sometimes this affects my mood dramatically; I begin to wonder if I even want to be in charge of so much! Do I even want to be in college? Do I even want to have a job? Do I even want to put myself out there and meet new people? Outside of my analogy, in real life, I might sometimes think that death would be a welcome way out, an easy exit plan—do I even want to be alive? How I wish then that I could tear up everything, down to raw, bare dirt, and start over again with fresh sod—heck, I’ll even resort to reseeding the soil myself if it just means all this grief will go away. 

From the bottom of my emotional holes, myview is is bleak; 
how will I ever get out?
Though suicidal ideation is rare for me, I am no stranger to it; it is not something I have ever gotten close to actually carrying out, but the thoughts of ‘leaving it all behind’ are disturbing, unnerving, and almost sickening. The frustration with my situation and the tiresome persistence of even being a human, in some moments, can be debilitating. I beat myself up for what I see as constant failure, and my little patch of decrepit lawn so often becomes a frustrated handful of grass, ripped out in anger. I hate the grass. I hate my life.  Anxiety has led to depression and depression has led me to the end of my figurative rope.

I can see myself taking the tools that I once used to care for my little patch of lawn and turning them against myself—faith becomes faithlessness, testimony becomes cynicism, belief becomes burden, religion becomes rejection, and hope becomes hopelessness. And why stop there? How much more hopeless could my situation become? With shovel in hand, I pierce the ground like I am putting to death the enemy of my soul. Then it’s a shovel full of sod, then soil, and soon rocky dirt. With every minute, day, and week that I avoid my duty in caring for the plot—for myself, my life—the hole can only get deeper. 

The regular storms of life can seem like a watery death sentence
when you are stuck in a hole.
Frustrated with life, I dig and dig—putting off homework, household chores, text messages, emails, phone calls, work shifts, class attendance, and even eating and personal care sometimes. Everything becomes burdensome in the looming uncertainty of my present and my future. I soon find myself in a deep hole that I cannot claw my way out of. In my anger and frustration, I was focused so intently on dwelling upon and enlarging the problems that I couldn’t see the pit I was digging myself into. Disparagingly, and realizing I’m about as low down as I can go, I tend to curl up in a figurative ball and force myself to ignore my environment, and the person whose fault it is that I am there—mine.  I also tend to isolate myself from others at this point.

This is when the depression is deep, the hurt is powerful, and there is nothing worse than realizing that you’ve brought it all upon yourself. Not to say that I can help the biology that causes my depression; but I can help to avoid the circumstances that cause the crushing dips into its abyss. These are the times when, though I am physically present at school, work, church, or with friends and family, yet I am emotionally detached and psychologically numb. The weak smile I put on for everyone is as fake as Astroturf; a false portrayal that everything is okay. But like the Astroturf, my façade is artificially produced by me to cover difficult emotions, rather than grown from roots of true contentedness with life.

When the courage to simply try strikes,the fog of 
depression disperses just enough for me to catch a 
glimpse of hope again.
No matter how bad things are, I can recount numerous times when I have received miraculous second chances (and third, fourth, fifth …). I have an understanding boss at my job, and he knows what I deal with. I have been blessed with instructors at my university who are the epitome of compassion and cooperation. And as the ones closest to me, my friends and family have long been patient and forgiving as I’ve struggled with many disorders and mental health issues from my childhood. 

When another of my trespasses is forgiven and forgotten, I can often catch a sudden glimpse beyond the smoky fog of depression, and for a moment, there is some hope! But what can I really see, then, when I have pushed back so much emotion and responsibility for weeks and weeks?—only the rugged walls of the hole that I am now in. As hopeless as this scenario sounds, whether as a parable or my occasional reality, I have learned something from it. 

The beauty of this analogy that came to me in my Elder’s Quorum class that day was not that I figured out a way to figuratively claw myself out of the hole. It was not even that someone came along to rescue me by reaching out a strong, helping hand. Neither did I perish in the ground while pitying myself and casting relentless self-blame. The beauty came unexpectedly—not as my present situation improved, but as it worsened.

What can be worse than being stuck, alone, in a deep, cold hole? To my mind, it was that ensuing darkness from the skies high above, and the threat of a sudden downpour. As if I’m not already in a predicament by digging myself into a hole of avoidance and procrastination, a storm enters my world—the world above the ground—and the rain begins to fall. It could be anything distressing that befalls me in addition to the predicament I am already in—family concerns, financial stresses, spiritual failings (more likely supposed failings), arguments, disappointments, shortcomings, illness—whatever may keep me indifferent to or uninterested in solutions that I might seek under normal conditions. When you’ve dug yourself into an emotional hole, there’s not much that can be done about the rain as life carries on despite your already-loaded troubles.

Back at church, I no longer heard my Elder’s Quorum brethren commenting on our young friend’s question. I only saw myself gazing up from the hole, and the rain coming down in sheets. Simultaneously I also saw flashes of myself bending over my desk under a hot lamp, papers strewn about, as I typed furiously on the keyboard to make a deadline (a typical state of last-minute panic I encounter a lot). As I slip easily into this live metaphor playing in my brain, suddenly I cannot ignore where I am anymore, and I cannot pretend that this isn’t my fault or that someone else is to blame. 

When all seems lost, Christ's grace descends
gently to buoy me up and out of my darkest places.
Courage often strikes out of nowhere, like lightning piercing through the clouds of my hopeless depression.  Like the homework example, I sometimes decide at the last minute that I am going to try to get out of my hole, even if the forecast is bleak and the odds are against me.  In the hole, my feet are already covered in muddy water, and I am certain that I am going to drown in this miserable pit. The surface seems so far away, and my deadline, or class time, or work shift looms ever closer. But as the storm rages on, I try desperately to claw myself out. Initially, it always seems like it’s just no use. Doubt creeps back in; the water is now at my knees and rising.

The anxious attempts at getting myself out of the hole only remind me how deeply I have dug myself. I realize then that perhaps I should have thought harder about my possible solutions before consigning myself to a lifetime of pouting underground. These are the times that I finally care about what I’ve gotten myself into—long after any plausible, relatively-comfortable solutions have passed. I am still in the hole, and it's not looking good, but I continue to try.  The water reaches my waist. Not long now.

Sometime after the initial project is started, or I decide that I will go to work or class after all, the anxiety of beginning is gone and the anxiety of finishing is now what fuels me. Once I reach this stage, I am determined to complete my task no matter what it takes. I avoid the clock face, and just try to make it through the day. Those ominous deadlines I’m often racing against make the dread even more palpable. This process includes periodic pauses to breathe deeply, psyche myself up, and offer prayers for mercy. The whole situation is nonetheless precarious, and there is no certainty that I will make it out alive. Will work ever end? Will the teacher ever wrap up their lecture? Will this social gathering ever end? WIll I finish my essay in time?  Back in the hole, the water has reached my shoulders, and I still don’t know what will become of me.

Even when stuck in a hole, humility and patience can help us
"tread water" until we are delivered from the abyss.
The water level crawls up my neck slowly, and the storm will not quit. I’m scrambling, but also so close to just giving up and drowning in my stress. Perhaps if I had been more responsible and diligent in caring for my life, the worst I would be dealing with right now would be the raging storm of unexpected issues and personal concerns atop the green grass. When my anxiety is high and my depression is thick and cloudy over my mind, I would so often like to accept death (that is, missing that assignment, that deadline, that work shift, a class, or social event) by drowning in the hole—in other words, for me, sleeping through the impending doom, my chosen depressive poison.

But as the water reaches my chin, and I take a final deep breath, the beauty of the storm is realized. Suddenly, my feet are not touching the muddy bottom of the hole, and my head is still above water. I am not drowning! As long as I put forth the effort to tread water, I stay afloat. This is the moment of serendipity, usually when I notice, partway through my task or responsibility that things are working out. Maybe it’s not as bad as I initially thought. I am getting the answers right, I am nearing the end of my essay, only minutes remain of work—my mood is improving, I am closer to finishing what I began—I can see a way out of the hole if I hold strong.

As the storms of life thunder and flash above me, I am so often brought to humility by a sudden and instantly-discernible grace. When we are above ground, experiencing a mostly-happy life, the storms that come along to put a damper on our day can seem so difficult to bear. But when you’re already 10-feet under, sometimes you need to be reminded that there is a reason for the rain. The storms of life come, I have found, not to hammer the last nail in my coffin, but the lift me back to life by helping me to understand the need to constantly be humble and to trust in a higher purpose for some challenges.

The rain can sometimes be an inconvenience, but it is meant to
replenish and refine us.

If I can just be patient and continue to “tread water,” things will eventually be okay. And sure enough, the water lifts me high enough to finally grasp the edge of that terrible hole and pull myself out of it. Each and every time it leaves me in shock that I actually did it—I finished the essay; I made it through my whole class or my entire work shift; I made it to my date with friends; I finished the semester; or whatever it is that I had gotten stuck in. In reality, my shock is probably unfounded, because I know that the water falling from the sky in this analogy is not a coincidence or just good luck. In my real life, it is the grace of the Lord sent to buoy me up and carry me out of my sorrows and troubles (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I felt these moments as a child, long before I ever knew who God or Jesus Christ were—years before I ever found the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the gospel. I remember sitting at the kitchen table in the home I grew up in, laden with homework and on the verge of tears at the threat of losing my 4.0 GPA. And suddenly, as I cast my eyes hopelessly upon everything I still had to do, I would feel a sense of peace enter my heart. 

Instantly the doubt and confusion and unfairness of my situation diffused, and I could no longer feel troubled by my present responsibilities. I was touched by the Light of Christ within me, and His grace flowed over me to calm my fears and give me the push I needed to carry on and finish my tasks. And I always did in the end; and on those nights my bed never felt so comfortable as I lay down with the burden of work lifted from my mind and the assurance of continued academic success.

We won't ever be perfect caretakers of our lives,but God fills our
days with moments that help us to better appreciate what we've
been entrusted with.
Knowing what I know now about the sacrifice of the Savior and the grace offered through His atonement, I can see that the Lord was with me even before I actually found Him. And still I know He is with me, because I experience this washing over of the Spirit often when I am at my wit’s end, crying out in my heart for help. He answers my pleading by sending the rain to teach me that His love and blessings can reach me even in the bleakest of places. And if we have an eye to see His glory and an ear to hear His voice, He can raise us up out of whatever miserable holes we’ve dug ourselves into (Matthew 13:9-17; Ezekiel 12:2).

Blessings can come in disguise; but the Master Teacher can help us learn to see them in their true light. Just like the rain flowing down into what seemed might become my grave, the blessings of hope and humility amidst the storms can carry me slowly up to the edge of where my struggles began, and lend me the strength to grasp the solid ground of faith and pull myself out. And never am I more grateful to be safely back at the top, even while the rain may continue to fall upon me for a time. 

Somehow I recognize that if things hadn’t been so tough, my spirit may not have been contrite and my heart perhaps not broken enough to see the purpose of the rain (Moroni 6:2). When all things realign in my life and I see the hand of God in correcting the chaos, I am usually a little more grateful for life—my little plot of grass—and more willing to “act well [my] part” in order to avoid digging more holes (see this video for more). Additionally, the cleansing power of the rain—the refiner’s fire of tests and trials—can nourish and renew us where we have failed to take care of ourselves, giving us another chance to start over and make things right.

Although we can prepare for life's storms, none of us will escape
Indeed, when life seems to be going my way is when I am often compelled to be humble by experiencing a setback—some kind of stumble, trip, fall, or a suddenly-cloudy sky. I don’t feel that it’s God’s way of “kicking me when I’m down,” so to speak, but His way of showing me that things are not always as they seem—that things can always be worse. But perhaps more than that He is showing me that things will usually get better. No storm ever lasts; the sun always breaks the clouds in the end. What need is there of a roof unless you know that the rain could eventually come?

God’s intention is not to teach us how to avoid the storms of life, or to know when we should anticipate them coming and going. But His purpose is, I feel, to teach us that the storms will come throughout life, and although we can do our best to prepare for them, we cannot escape them. What we can help is how we care for our little plot of grass—ourselves; and we can also choose how we let the rain affect us. He wants us to learn to appreciate the rain, not to dread it. 

He wants us to get ourselves wet now and again so to better appreciate the warmth and comfort He provides. As the Lord has said in modern revelation, “If they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet” (D&C 29:39). Even though we may not mean to start digging in the first place, inevitably we will all do it, and God can encourage us to make the best of the holes we end up in. I think that’s why He sends rain. He wants us to discover that it is He who sends the sunshine and the storms when He knows that our little plot of life is ready to grow a little more. A favorite quote of mine, from Latter-day Apostle Richard G. Scott (1928 - 2015), reflects upon life's storms in this way:

          “Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. … [T]hey are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more. He therefore gives you experiences that simulate growth, understanding and compassion, which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain.” 
          ~ “Trust in the Lord,” October 1995 General Conference; see also Ensign, Nov. 1995, 16-17.

We neglect ourselves constantly, in my opinion. Many of us feel we are the one exception to God’s infinite love, or Jesus Christ’s ever-reaching atonement. When we don’t care for ourselves, our little plot of grass can become dry and lifeless; even if we have not broken the ground with our shovels through our avoidance, our rebellion, our silent pain, or our procrastination, and are still firmly planted on the ground, there is no living happily when our little plot has lost its health, vibrancy, softness, and glow. We are meant to enjoy lying in the grass that we have cared for, and be proud of our efforts to maintain it as best we can.

A tidy plot is not always a sure sign of an expert gardener; when
we compare ourselves to others, we only see what's on the surface.
But even if we don’t know how best to tend to our lives—let’s face it, who does?—God does know. That’s why He sends rain. Though challenges are difficult, they are not without purpose; they can be revitalizing to our lives by bringing back the meaning to why we were given this little plot of grass to care for in the first place. We are here to enjoy life, to live happily and abundantly (2 Nephi 2:25). Not everyone will be able to immediately see their personal storms as a good thing. It took a long time to convince me, and there are still times that I curse the drops that fall on my happy picnic. But I usually recover more appreciative of the sun—the Light of Christ in my life—and less worried about the next downpour.

One trap that I get myself into is to assume that as I sometimes suffer silently, I am suffering alone. I commonly forget that everyone around me is their own caretaker of a plot similar (but not identical) to mine. Maybe their plot is the blue-ribbon-best, or maybe it is sloppy, but healthy. Others might be feeling the prickles of dead grass between their toes and longing for a time when they were better at gardening. 

Our lawns don't have to be perfect to be enjoyed; life is never
idyllic, but with regular upkeep,we can be content with the plots
we've been given.
Still, some are merely surviving with both feet still planted on the ground, but trying to pass off their Astroturf lawn as the real thing. And others, still, are no longer living above ground, and are sulking in their own miserable holes. And all around each of them, storms are raging from time to time. What a comfort it is to know that no matter the climate in the lives of others, we all witness storms. Some are more powerful than others, but likewise, those individuals may also be better prepared to face them, according to Elder Scott. 

And while the sun may seem to shine endlessly upon some from our view, internally some of them are living with darkness, and they are sometimes the ones who keep their plots the tidiest so that no one discovers their pain. Similarly, I have learned that even those whose lives’ seem a little unkempt can still be extremely fulfilled in caring for the plot of grass that they’ve been given, even if they don’t do so ideally. 

God will send rain upon us all, the just and unjust; whether we let
the rain drown us or discipline us will always be our own choice.
For this reason, it is best that we learn not to think unkindly or be critical of those whose gardening techniques are different from ours, because we are all called to the same task, on the same earth, underneath the same ever-changing sky; God does not expect us to keep our plots spotless, but to endure until the season and harvests are over (James 5:11; D&C 14:7). As Jesus said of His Father, “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

As I mentally came back into the classroom that day in Elder’s Quorum, my mind was set at ease, while also being alive with personal revelation and wisdom from God, though I did not end up sharing my experience with the others. I do not know why He sends me these parables to help me understand my life, but I am intensely grateful for them; and I expound upon and share them in the hope that they may connect with someone else’s soul or mind in a way that will help them know their Father and their Savior the way I feel I do.

I have found that life's storms can often be a gesture of the
Lord's mercy, whether lost in the desert or stuck in a hole.
I’m not sure if my quorum brother’s predicament in the figurative deserts of life was ever resolved. I don’t know if that troubled young man ever found the well of hope he was seeking for. He stopped attending our ward a few months after I had this experience. Certainly there is much still from his past that he desires to resolve and work through; I have a prayer in my heart that he will. 

I don’t think I really have an answer either to the analogy that was presented in that class of a trip from Point A to Point B. It’s true, as we carry on with life, we make many different journeys; some are more pleasant while others can be extremely difficult. And like stumbling upon a lone mechanic’s shop when you are broken down on a highway to nowhere, or finding a true oasis when you have wandered the Saharas of mortality, I have found that serendipity often comes just when you are about to give up. The Savior’s grace arrives just in time, like “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).

We all find ourselves off track sometimes on our way to where and whom we want to be, and we might remain there longer than we anticipated. But occasionally those stalls in our progression are what we need in order to better recognize divine intervention in our lives. So my hope is that when this young brother finds himself stranded in the metaphorical deserts of life—lost and alone and not knowing what will become of him—that God will send rain.

"Many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and
knows not that it brings abundance to drive away the hunger."
~ Saint Basil the Great, (AD 329 or 330 - AD 379) ~
Greek Bishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia