A Soul’s Supernova

Last year, a friend I hadn’t seen in a while lost her child in a tragic, unexpected way. She demonstrated this amazing strength and inspiring faith as she posted about what happened.

Person after person wrote a message of love and sympathy, including me. And while I was typing and wondering what I could possibly say to be of any comfort whatsoever, it occurred to me in that very moment that someday too soon the notes of sympathy, the flowers, the tight hugs when words just weren’t enough—they would come to an end.

I can’t pretend for a moment to know what it’s like to lose a child, but I hate to think about how this friend of mine must have felt when the sympathy texts faded out and people no longer checked in with her to see how she was coping. It must have been soul-crushing for her as everyone else snapped back into their regular routines when her world would never be the same again.

I hope no one reading this right now has had to bury a child. It’s in the realm of unimaginable trials. But no matter what it is you have faced before, or currently face, or will face in the future, at one time or another we will encounter that one trial that divides our lives in two:  life before it happened and life after.

I know there are many out there who are, right now in this exact moment, treading the waters of unspeakable grief.

Perhaps for you the grief is so poignant you wonder if any other emotions even exist—and if you’ll ever feel any of them again.

Perhaps you feel frustrated as you watch the rest of the world just move on and keep living when it feels your universe has literally stopped.

Perhaps if feels impossible to exist and simply be when you figuratively see the life you once loved in broken pieces on the floor.  

Occasionally, a star will end its life in a massive explosion called a supernova. This occurs when there is so much pressure on the core of the star that it literally collapses, sending debris and creating an incomparable explosion. In some cases, a once brilliantly bright star becomes but a black hole.

Sometimes the trials we face feel like a “soul’s supernova”—when, in a moment it seems, life as we know it crumbles, when there is so much pressure and shock and grief pressing against your heart that you feel it might literally burst, sending the pieces of your soul into the vast abyss of time and space.

And so, like a star that becomes a black hole, you’re left with the tragic remains of a would-be fairytale.

About a year ago, I had my own soul’s supernova. I’m not ready to blast the details of it into cyberspace just yet, but I will say this:  I never thought I’d bounce back from it. My soul, for a time, became a black hole of hopelessness.

It went on for months, this trial I couldn’t really talk about, this sadness so deep it was nearly impossible to even try to explain to anyone else. There were days and moments when it felt the world was mocking me with the happiness everyone else seemed to claim. Everyone else was still moving forward with life when I felt so stuck.

One night, during the worst of it all, I felt the comforting truth that when my universe stops, so does Christ’s.

That’s true for you too.

When we feel engulfed in our own sorrow, the Savior spends time with us there, in that dark place. He’ll come to us when it seems no one else can. He mourns with us. He sends peace. He offers reassurance that some way, somehow, the pieces of our broken hearts can be put back together.

And since this post is kind of about stars, let me draw attention to one of the many titles given to Christ:

The Bright and Morning Star

The Savior is a star that will never stop emitting the light we so desperately need, a star that shines in darkness.

I look at my life now compared to what it was a year ago and everything has changed. That soul-crushing trial is over. It didn’t just magically disappear overnight and it still affects my spirit in some ways, but I’m able to see just how much the Bright and Morning Star has healed me since then.  

It’s as if, in His infinite goodness, Christ reversed this supernova of my soul. He restored happiness and purpose where there was darkness and pain. He undid my heart’s explosion with healing only He can offer.

Elder L. Whitney Clayton said, “All of us will, at some time or another, have to traverse our own spiritual wilderness and undertake our own emotional journeys. In those moments, however dark or seemingly hopeless they may be, if we search for it, there will always be a spiritual light that beckons to us, giving us the hope of rescue and relief. That light shines from the Savior of all mankind, who is the Light of the World.”

Jesus Christ really is the Light of the World. He is the Bright and Morning Star. He is the glorious Savior sent by a loving Father, and He shines unceasingly for us.

A Valentine’s Day Tribute to my Leggings (and my husband)

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I hate wearing jeans. They are leg prison. They are an unnecessary form of oppression. They are stupid.

So I mostly wear leggings. Years ago, my grandma got me the world’s most comfortable leggings ever from White House Black Market. There is not a softer legging in existence, I’m sure of it. I sported those black leggings so much that I wore holes into the knees, and inevitably those once-tiny holes stretched to frisbee-sized ones. Even though they are now unacceptable to wear in public, I still wear them around the house. I’m just not ready to retire those babies.

Months and months ago I voiced my utter sadness over the dwindling leggings. My husband heard and he obviously took note…

Because today for Valentine’s Day Brad surprised me with a package from…you guessed it…White House Black Market.  

A NEW PAIR OF THE WORLD’S MOST COMFORTABLE LEGGINGS!

It’s truly one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. Every time I comfortably lounge in those perfectly crafted leggings, I will thank the heavens for a thoughtful husband who, gesture upon gesture, day after day, has demonstrated his love for me in the purest yet simplest of ways.  

This post isn’t really about leggings; it’s about love. I love you, Brad. I’m one lucky jeans-shunner.

And to my new black leggings:  I promise to love you until you are stretched so thin you barely conceal my booty. 

Tuning out the Negative Voices in my Head

c0bfab5e-4177-465a-8726-9fa8fcdf39c2The negative self-talk has been particularly loud this past week.

Phrases like these have bombarded my mind:

“You’re useless.”

“You’re a bad mom.”

“You’re falling short in every aspect of your life.”

“Why do you even try?”

I’ve given these words way too much power by even listening at all, so the voices—they continue to taunt and harass and demand my attention.

But I hereby vow to tune out all the negative feedback I inadvertently give myself. It isn’t healthy or helpful.

I have a plan and I intend to be proactive about implementing it.

First, I need to replace those negative phrases with uplifting ones.

“You’re doing the best you know how right now.”

“No one can love Milo quite like you can.”

“God is proud of every effort, no matter how small.”

“Keep trying! You got this!”  

Second, I need to remember that my worth in the sight of God is not contingent on what I accomplish—or don’t accomplish. His love is so pure and without condition. It is, I dare say, the most constant, steady, unfailing truth in existence.

I need to remember that when I try to talk myself into feeling like a failure.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen said, “We never have more value in the Lord’s sight than when we are feeling completely worthless.”

The Father and His Son are ready to pour out Their love for us the second we are ready to listen.

I’m ready now. I hope you are too.

Celebrating Two Years of Milo & Motherhood

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It is officially birthday month for my Milo, and I can’t believe he will be TWO.

To put into words how much I love this little human really is impossible. He is my purpose, my world, my peace, and my absolute joy. I have learned much (and failed much) these past two years as I’ve navigated my role as mother to this insanely cute wild child.

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I have learned that he who screams loudest is in charge.

I have learned that a spoonful of chocolate syrup helps the medicine go down.

I have learned that there is no such thing as peeing in private anymore.

I have learned that sometimes bribery is the only way.

I have learned that fresh air is good for his soul and good for my sanity.

I have learned all the words to the Paw Patrol theme song. No job’s too big, no pup’s too small!

I have learned that a leak-proof sippy cup is a rare find indeed.

I have learned that bananas are the worst possible car seat snack.

And that you can never have enough baby wipes on hand.

I have learned to embrace the crazy train that is us at church.

I have learned to hide my contact lens case from little pilfering hands.

I have learned that I am ⅛ as patient as Daniel Tiger’s mom.

I have learned that I’m not cut out to be the “strict” parent…and neither is my husband 🙂

I have learned that nothing heals the soul quite like a hug from your toddler.

I have learned that children are forgiving and gracious and close to heaven.

I have learned that I am 100% unqualified for this dream job of mine and also 100% divinely helped.

Most of all, I have learned that God gives us—imperfect mortals—an infinite capacity to love.

A few weeks ago Milo grabbed my face in his hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Mommy happy.”

It wasn’t a question; it was a statement. I am happy, and he’s the reason why.

Then he pointed back at himself and said, “Milo happy.”

Happiness will be my forever wish for the boy who made me a mom.

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Why it’s Okay if your Only New Year’s Resolution is to Just Survive

It’s that time of year again. Gym memberships are purchased. Quotes from the best self-help lit circulate. We vow to ourselves (and sometimes to the public) to make big changes.

“This will be my year,” we say.

I am a goal setter myself—and a HUGE dreamer. I always have been. I love making New Year’s resolutions. I love the metaphorical reset. I thrive on the idea of a fresh start.

But the past six weeks have robbed me of all ambition, motivation, and drive.  

I have been stuck in “survival” mode. It’s like I can barely keep my head above water, like I am doing only the bare minimum, and even that sucks all the life out of me. Tell me I’m not alone.

I think we all find ourselves in a place like that at some point. Usually, it’s emotionally or spiritually. Sometimes it’s physically. For me, during the month of December, it was all three.

I have been more physically sick than ever. Despite the festivities of Christmas time, I can count on one hand the number of times I actually got out of bed. I didn’t make gingerbread houses. I didn’t admire the lights at Temple Square. I didn’t play in the snow with my toddler.  I didn’t make it to holiday parties or deliver gifts to neighbors or attend church on the Sunday before Christmas. All I did was survive.

In fact, my daily to-do list for December consisted of these two items only:

1.) Keep my son alive

2.) Keep myself alive

The physical anguish has also taken a toll on me spiritually and emotionally. I have never felt more like a failure. Weird, right? To feel like a failure for being sick. I know it’s not my fault, but I feel too weak to build the mental dam that can block the self-deprecating thoughts from flooding in.

I am wracked with acute guilt for the mother I want to be, but can’t. I want to take Milo outside and together freeze our buns off while building a snowman. I want to chase him around the living room and barely avoid stubbing my toes on his inconveniently placed monster trucks. I want to engage in our daily fight of teeth-brushing—and of course win. But I’m honestly too fatigued.

Also, the realization that I’m not carrying my load in my marriage hurts. My husband is the most celestial degree of patient, and he has lovingly expressed that none of this is my fault, but I’m a bad listener. I feel burdensome and guilty that I cannot do the grocery shopping and certainly not the cooking. You should see the piles of laundry. And what my two-year-old wears in public with his dad. I haven’t been there for my husband like he has been there for me. I hate that.

I’m frustrated that I can’t contribute more to my church calling. I feel like I’m letting those who matter most to me down.

Social media certainly doesn’t help. We see the highlight reels of others’ lives, the edited, glorified version of everyday moments. Most tuck the bad and the ugly away from the public eye, leaving those of us in “survival mode” wondering why we don’t have it figured out. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

The root of my frustration is that I don’t want to just survive, I want to THRIVE. I wish I could set gargantuan goals that ignite within me a spark of motivation. I want to dream big. But right now, even just surviving feels like too much.  

And so here I am at the start of the new year, face to face with the disheartening truth that this trial of mine will carry over into 2019. It won’t just come to an end simply because 2018 did. No, the internal wrestling match is still in full swing.

For that reason, I am clinging to an experience I had a couple weeks ago, an experience that serves as a powerful reminder that it is okay if my only New Year’s resolution is to just survive.

I think it was a Thursday when it happened. I had, for like the 20th day in a row, been miserably sick all day. My son was with his grandma and my husband was at work. I was alone, thinking too hard about my physical and emotional plight and how much I hated it all. Then my eyes wandered to the Harry Anderson painting of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane hanging in our living room.

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I see this painting every day, but that night the reality of what I was seeing really struck me. Christ really knows what it is like. Every bad, terrible, unfair thing that ever happens to us…He knows. He’s felt it. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He confronted the agony of our every physical pain, the anguish of heartbreak, and the constant ache of wishing you could do more and be more. His atoning sacrifice is infinite and all-encompassing. He knows how draining and even excruciating it sometimes is to just…survive.

With this astonishing reminder of what my Savior did for me came an accompanying reminder of His unconditional love. I felt it so powerfully, so undeniably.      

And then I had this epiphany, courtesy of a God who knew I might soon collapse under the weight of the burden I carried.

It was as if I could hear my Father in Heaven say to me, “Jessica, all of this—what you are doing now—is honorable. I have seen great faith from you.”

What? Really? This is faith? This is honorable?

Heavenly Father helped me to feel that my weeks and weeks of just getting by really were a great demonstration of my faith in Him. I felt not just His approval, but that He was proud of me for hanging on. He was proud of me for putting one foot in front of the other, for moving forward even when it felt impossible. He was proud of me for believing that better days were ahead even when all I could see then was darkness. He was proud of me for surviving.

I’ve decided it’s easy to trust God when things are going right. It’s easy to set big goals and accomplish great things when all is well, or mostly well, around us. Is there really any honor in that?

 I have come to truly know that there is no shame in merely surviving—whether that’s physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or all of the above. It is a noble work to keep trying when we feel taking one more step into the unknown might kill us. I believe it’s when we are simply surviving that we grow the very most, and that growth is permanent. It is in survival mode that we produce unshakable faith and learn just how strong we really are. Surviving means we come to know Christ in a whole new way, at a higher and holier level. Surviving is honorable and admirable and worth celebrating in the eyes of God.  

Let me say that again:  SURVIVING IS HONORABLE AND ADMIRABLE AND WORTH CELEBRATING IN THE EYES OF GOD.

To those feeling like failures amid your goal-setting peers, I am speaking to you.

To those dreading 2019 because your resolutions fall short of your own high expectations for yourself, I am speaking to you.

To those brave enough to continue facing the same trial you have faced for weeks, months, or even years, I am speaking to you.

To those enduring to the end of a trial, I am speaking to you.

To those doing the very best you know how, I am speaking to you.

SURVIVING IS HONORABLE AND ADMIRABLE AND WORTH CELEBRATING IN THE EYES OF GOD.

To my fellow “survivors” out there, I echo these words from Elder Holland:

“Don’t give up…Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead…You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”

2019 will probably feel like the world’s longest spiritual marathon. I don’t plan to cross the finish line first. I don’t plan on claiming a new personal record. My only goal is to finish the race. And that, according to God, is enough.

 

Thank you for the Trials that have Brought me Here

I recently discovered an old journal of mine. As I flipped through it, I found an entry from two years ago that brought back a lot of emotion. I had made a list of all the people and all the things in my life  I needed to remember to pray for—it seemed there was so much adversity at that time that I literally had to sort it all out on paper.

As I reviewed this list, I realized how much has changed since then. Milo came into my life, I quit my full time teaching job, I received a medical diagnosis that shook my world, I passed through one of the most difficult trials of my existence, my husband started a new job, we moved…

Everything has changed, and yet nothing has changed.

Because I’m still praying for a lot of the same things (and those same loved ones) on that list from two years ago.

If you had told me then that many of those prayers would remain unanswered even now, I think I would have sobbed knowing how hard the years ahead might be. It would have been impossible for me to imagine then that some things could actually get worse.

And yet amid amid those thoughts, there was another. It just kind of occurred to me that I am so grateful for the trials that have brought me here.

I am so grateful for the way these trials and disappointments have shaped me, the way they have pointed me toward the only true source of healing, my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.

If it weren’t for the items listed in that journal (and every other hardship over which I have desperately prayed), would I really know Him?Would I feel, to my very core, that Christ knows and understands what it is like? Could I have experienced “peace which passeth all understanding” if my soul never yearned for it in the first place?

I have actually needed every trial I’ve ever faced. I have needed the growth, the understanding, the compassion I’ve developed for others and their own unique trials. Above all, I have needed to get to know the Savior in the way that I have.

And that is why I really am grateful for all the trials that brought me here.

Motherhood & Mental Illness: How Will I Ever Make it Through?

Talking about our deeply personal “issues” can be scary. Launching my story into the blogosphere is one of the more vulnerable things I’ve done.

And so is loving the tiny human I call Milo. In fact, loving my baby boy (who’s definitely more of a toddler now than a baby) is THE absolute most vulnerable thing I have ever done. Or ever will do.

Parenthood is like strapping your heart to the outside of your rib cage, totally exposed. It is knowing that in any moment the child for whom you would literally die could get hurt, feel pain, experience sadness or disappointment or heartache. It is surrendering your control over life and its inevitable tragedies simply because you don’t have a choice.

The tender love of a parent is beautiful in all its rawness, but also terrifying when combined with mental illness. And that is the purpose of this post.

Motherhood, mental illness, and the seemingly impossible question:  How will I ever make it through?

I remember about 6 weeks into my pregnancy the round-the-clock morning sickness hit. And so did the deep, penetrating feelings of despair. I agonized over feelings of inadequacy and fear. I obsessed over worse-case-scenarios that I just “knew” were ahead of me and my baby.  Doing just the simple things became an impossible feat.

I figured my emotional crisis resulted from my physical one. After all, it’s difficult to be cheerful when you’re camped out on the bathroom floor 24-7, puking your guts out. I clung to the hope that as soon as the baby came, the sadness would depart.  

So when that perfect, healthy baby with big eyes and curly dark hair entered my life, I couldn’t figure out why those feelings didn’t just flee. Now don’t get me wrong—I was so happy he was finally here, and I loved him infinitely the moment I laid eyes on him, but those familiar feelings of darkness I’d experienced throughout pregnancy were there, more suffocating than ever.

Like any new mother, I felt overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for such a small human, so fragile and so helpless—and I felt equally fragile and helpless. Even though anxiety and motherhood go hand in hand, I knew what I was feeling was not normal.

Paralyzing fear bit, and it bit hard, especially at night. My body was so desperate for rest, yet I dreaded falling asleep. I worried something horrible would happen to my baby in the night, particularly SIDS. That became an obsessive worry. I would wake up at least every hour in a panic—heart racing, sweat dripping—and lean over my baby’s bed to confirm he was still alive. I slept with the hall light on every night to illuminate his tiny body so that I could monitor the up-and-down movements of his chest. Nothing, including a sleep monitor, seemed to help. Thoughts that he’d be lifeless the next time I woke up tormented me.

The only thing worse than the nighttime anxiety were the intrusive thoughts that pecked at my mind for what seemed my every waking hour. Horrible, scary images popped into my head—thoughts I absolutely detested, thoughts I’d felt I’d done nothing to deserve. I felt stuck in a cloud of darkness that was slowly smothering me. I’d beat myself up over these haunting thoughts. I blamed myself, even though I’d done nothing to merit them.

It seemed everything around me posed a threat. I hated leaving the house for fear my baby would contract a life-threatening illness. I refused to drive without my husband, because that meant I couldn’t sit next to my baby in the back seat and constantly check that he was still breathing. Even news headlines became toxic. Whenever a disturbing story surfaced, my paranoia peaked. The irrational side of me worried I’d be capable of the monstrosities I read about in the news. I felt like a burden to everyone around me. I began to worry my husband would leave me if I became too much to handle, even though he was so gracious and supportive throughout my struggle. Logically, I knew these fears were irrational, but that’s the thing about mental illness and logic—sometimes the two can’t coexist.

I just felt so…dark. I can’t summon a better adjective. I sought even just a sliver of sunlight from the depths of a dark and lonely ocean.

After almost a month of feeling trapped in my own mind, I contacted my doctor. He diagnosed me with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and prescribed medication. The medication gradually lifted the blanket of sadness, but the extreme panic and the intrusive thoughts lingered. I just didn’t feel like the diagnosis I’d received was complete.

So I continued to struggle, barely keeping my head above water. My husband encouraged me to finally seek help from a therapist.

About a year after Milo’s birth, I met with a wonderful counselor who identified something profound: Not only did I have the symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, I had many of the symptoms of Postpartum OCD.

Postpartum OCD?! I didn’t even know that was a thing! I always associated OCD with excessive hand-washing and episodes of Hoarders, but I was dealing with obsessive thoughts—thoughts that bombarded me and worried me and scared me.

She pointed out that my case of OCD led to anxiety, which led to the feelings of misery and depression. We discussed how the layers and layers of emotional trauma had affected me, and I left that appointment ready to face the underlying problem of Postpartum OCD head-on.

At first I felt total relief; it was nice to finally have a name for what I was experiencing. Discovering the root of the problem that had dictated my life for over a year was liberating. As I researched the disorder, I felt comfort knowing that what I was thinking and feeling was not my fault, but rather some chemical imbalance wreaking havoc on my brain.

Unfortunately, that sense of relief didn’t last long. I began to let my mental illness define me. I felt guilty and ashamed because of my struggle. I felt like a defective mother.

Useless. Incapable. Broken.

That is why I am eternally grateful for a tiny little moment that eased months and months of pain.

One day I was just feeling so tired of it all. The OCD was so demanding, so emotionally draining, and I felt crushed by the load I was carrying. I began playing the “Why me?” game in my head for the 1,000th time. I yearned to feel like myself again. I wanted to be the optimistic, motivated girl I once knew, not the panicky, paralyzed mom with a stack of postpartum illnesses blackening her personal resume. I wanted out.

Then I felt this all-encompassing feeling of love from on high—so strong it was almost palpable—and I felt the words so clearly, Yes, those things might be a part of you right now, but first and foremost I need you to know that you are a Child of God.

That feeling from my Father in Heaven became the catalyst to true and continual healing. I began to call upon Heaven more intensely. I spoke openly about my struggles with Heavenly Father and turned to my lifelines—my infinitely patient husband and my loving mom. I stopped giving the intrusive thoughts so much power and started attaching them to a figurative balloon and let each float away.

Most importantly, I relied on Christ in an unprecedented way. I envisioned Him by my side, helping me fulfill the tasks before me, helping me fight the battles I was too exhausted to face alone. I felt His tangible presence as I took things one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time.

There are days when I wish Heavenly Father would just “uninstall” the OCD from my mind, and thus the accompanying anxiety. And then there are days where I feel truly humbled, even grateful, for this trial. The promise found in Ether 12:27—that our weaknesses can be made into strengths through Christ—has come alive for me.

I see others and their unique trials with more compassion. I have connected with individuals I might not have otherwise. I don’t take Milo or the opportunity to be his mother for granted. Daily I thank my Father for giving me a piece of His heaven by sending Milo to me, despite my imperfections, weaknesses, and shortcomings.

And, oh, Milo is so gracious and forgiving of those shortcomings. He trusts deeply, radiates happiness, and heals my soul with his perfect spirit and bright smile. He brings breathtaking joy to my life.

One of the greatest blessings of this trial is the way it has transformed my relationship with the Savior. I trust Him. I know Him. I have learned that He is unfailingly true to His promise, “I will not leave you comfortless.” I have found Christ in my own personal Gethsemane. I’ve come to know that my hardship is not beyond His reach, that I am not beyond His reach. With outstretched arms and scarred hands, He pulls me from the mire of despair.

Again.

And again.

And again.

Said President Nelson, “In a coming day, you will present yourself before the Savior. You will be overwhelmed to the point of tears to be in His holy presence. You will struggle to find words to thank Him for…healing you from the injuries and injustices of this life. You will thank Him for strengthening you to do the impossible, for turning your weaknesses into strengths, and for making it possible for you to live with Him and your family forever.”

So to those who may be asking the same question I once did of How will I ever make it through this?, I say this:  The answer is Christ. He stands ready to help and to heal, to soothe and to strengthen. Whatever your own “impossible” might me, Christ has the power to help you conquer it.

I am so indescribably thankful for Him. I am also thankful for an infinitely loving Father in Heaven who gave His perfect Son so that I can be with mine forever.