Blog posts are the “media age” journals, a way of recording the data your life experience has stored in your mind. Rereading them (whether you or your children are doing the reading!) is a way of ‘mining’ that data in order to come up with ‘reusable solutions.’ Did you ever think, “If my children only knew what I know”? Consider the possibility that your life is being used as a training video for those who have not yet stepped through the veil into mortality! (…and the Oscar goes to…!)
I believe as we go through much of our pain, we are being tutored, as Christ was, in the sacred work of learning to succor one another. Much of our learning in (and gaining wisdom in) mortality comes from our pain and the developmental growth that happens as we work through each lesson. Passing that wisdom to others along our path — whether by our compassionate, nonjudgmental presence in the lives of others or by our willingness to share what we have learned that may be helpful to lift their pain — is our commission. It is the most vulnerable and humbling experience I know.
It is understood that all we can do is drop the rope ladder into the abyss of another’s pain. You cannot climb it for them. You can’t heal the people you love, nor make choices for them. You can’t rescue them. However, you can promise they won’t journey alone, and loan them your map. You can shine a light into their darkness, but you cannot tell them what to see. The trip is theirs. Be gentle with yourself. It’s hard work to be present to the freedom of the Other.
As I am nearing my 75th birthday, although in great health, I am acutely aware that I am standing in the closing season of my moral existence and reviewing what I have done with the “dash” in my life. Much like the musical “My Turn On Earth” from 1977, I wonder if I’ve learned what I need to know and done what I was supposed to do. Is there more to learn before I return home?
My season as a daughter has been temporarily interrupted as each of my parents passed away over 25-35 years ago. I am, gratefully, still in the season of being a wife. My role as a parent is modified as I watch my children becoming grandparents. As I’ve reflected on this, I recently pondered my responsibility as a grandmother and a great-grandmother. (Each of these are eternal callings from which we will never be released.)
My granddaughter loves her Native American heritage. From it, she is learning how to respect the wisdom of the grandmother as taught in that culture. She loves me and believes mine is a very important voice to ponder. I counted on that respect when I wrote her the following letter on November 1, 2016:
I’ve been wanting to talk to you. I’ve been noticing myself in you for a while. I want to appeal to you as your grandmother and remind you of the two wolves that dwell inside each of us: “light and love” and “bitterness and darkness.” The one that survives is the one you feed.
I was so scared as a little child and teenager that I built a protective shell around me that even I couldn’t penetrate. I became hyper-angry and decided no one was ever going to hurt me again. I became hard and mouthy, defensive and hurtful. Nothing was more important to me than venting my anger. I hurled words like they were hand grenades at anyone who got in my path.
It wasn’t until I learned that my sons were sexually molested that finally their pain was more important to me than my pain was.
One morning, I heard a voice in my head that I recognized as the Spirit talking to me. The voice said “Physician, heal thyself.”
That was when the pendulum finally began to swing the other way. I began to realize I had to learn how to heal the anger inside so I could help my children learn how to heal.
It has been a long, long journey from anger to peace. In reflection, I’m grateful I learned how to protect myself with the cloak of anger because it allowed me to survive long enough to gain the knowledge that Heavenly Father is my protector and understand all the pain helped me get to the place where I could learn to trust in Him and His plan for my life.
It still hurts to realize that I sacrificed my children on the alter of my ignorance, and the memory of that pain still lingers even though I came to understand I did the best I knew how to do at the time.
So why am I telling you this? I see myself in you as you are swinging on the pendulum from being abused physically, emotionally, sexually, mentally and spiritually, to being hyper-protective and combative in every situation that triggers those memories.
I know you have no memory of me being a brassy, mouthy, hurtful person. It wasn’t a quick or easy transition to the grandmother you know and love. The only difference in me then and now is that I learned to recognize, own, express, and finally let go of the anger. Now my life is truly dedicated to helping others do the same.
You are a very strong woman, and you give away your power when you have an attitude. The difference between a brassy hurt-filled woman and a seasoned warrior woman is the absence of attitude. Attitude is fueled by anger and helplessness. When you finally let go of the anger, you will truly be a warrior woman.
It’s important to feel the anger as long as you want to. It’s important to use whatever weapons of your rebellion you need because the most important step is to survive long enough to get to the place where you don’t want to be angry anymore. When you are finally ready to stop the war inside and process your own PTSD, you will rise like the phoenix from the ashes of your pain.
I love you so much. I pray you will make the choice to rise from your ashes.
At the time, she and her two littles were living with us. They spent about 9 months with us as she adjusted to being a single mom. One day as I was walking my great-granddaughter, a first-grader, to the bus stop, she pulled a food item out of her pocket and said, “Look what I got, Nammy.” I asked, “Oh… Where did you get that?” She innocently said, “I snuck it from the school cafeteria yesterday.” I paused for a moment, praying the Spirit would provide me with a valuable teaching opportunity. I said, “I see. Um, do you know another work for ‘snuck’?” She quickly bowed her head and said in a small voice, “Stealing.” After a short pause, I asked her, “Do you want to be known as a person who steals?” She softly said no.
I let that sink in for a moment, then I said, “Maybe you could take it back to the cafeteria lady today and tell her you are sorry you snuck it and that you won’t do that anymore.” After a long pause, she quietly asked, “Can’t I just throw it away?” I said, “Well, who already knows you snuck it?” Head bowed further down, “Jesus.” “Yes… Well, I tell you what, you think about that and decide what to do.” With that, I gave her a big hug and said “I love you,” then sent her off on the bus to school.
I’ve thought of that interaction many times since then…wishing with everything that is in me that I’d have had that wisdom when I was a young mother with two precious little boys who deserved so much more than the skills I possessed then. In closing, I am reminded about a passage from an article I read several years ago (albeit possibly paraphrased, as I cannot find the original source) that continues to sustain me. I hope it sustains you as well.
In this world we learn about the nature of power, and the ongoing battle for our soul. We experience the difference between Satan’s version of power, which is power over, as in power over others, and God’s version of power, which is power to, as in power to do good, power to love, power to create, and power to heal. When we are feeling powerless because we are subject to the sins of others or the consequences of our own poor choices, what a blessing to be reminded of what powers we do have, what provisions God is making to reach out for us, and what good we can yet do amid all that we cannot do. Christ has been in all these hard places with us and for us, and knows how to guide and succor us in the loneliness of this dark realm we live in. He has taken on the hard task of atoning for all our sins, and He desires all to receive this message of hope and salvation.
But we agreed to do something hard as well when we came to this dreary world. We agreed to come down here and get dirty, to face the indignity of making messes we cannot clean up. We must have understood that the goal of mortality is not to stay as clean as we possibly can, for if that were the goal our best course would be to never take on the incredible risks of trying to parent, to help, to discern, or to grow. These tasks are simply so difficult that we will inevitably fail at them. No doctor lives up to the oath of doing no harm in the process of trying to learn to heal. No bishop takes the responsibility of feeding the flock without doing damage to any of the sheep. No mother parents a child without injuring that child’s soul a little before she is done. If the goal were to make as few mistakes as possible and return to God as close as possible to the condition we left Him in then we would be better off to lay down on the ground on the day we are born and never get up. But our goal is not just to avoid imperfection and failure. Our goal is to learn to do good, and in that process we will all do some harm as well. Only the atonement of Christ can make the risks of mortality worth taking.
When I am about the risky business of learning to create, heal, and bless in my Father’s footsteps, it is easy to get discouraged. How tempting, when I fail, to say, “Why do I even try to discern God’s voice, for I am forever getting it wrong, and at such a price? Why have children when I am such a poor parent, and my children suffer so for my sins? Why try to help others when I so often just end up hurting them instead?” Why? Because our learning is more important than our failures. How gratefully I read Christ’s words, “Fear not to do good . . . Behold, I do not condemn you…. Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not (D&C 6:33,35-36). Such words help me to see that God’s faithfulness to me, a sinner, is stronger than the cords of death” (see D&C 121:44).
Sonja lives with her husband, Dale, on Anderson Island, Washington. She and her husband are Church Service Missionaries serving in the Addiction Recovery Program, focusing on pornography and sex addiction. She is also a certified life coach and teaches "Life Skills for Emotional Self-Mastery" in her stake twice a month. She does not teach you only to process something traumatic done to you in the past; rather, she helps you learn to feel it, heal it, and LET GO of whatever you still do to yourself and to others in order to cope with what was done to you in the past.