The Family

The Family
For Christmas 2010

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Reflections - Part 3

Now I come to the most interesting part.  Thomas had his healing experiences working through his anger and found peace.  It was a big relief to him, and should have been for me too.  It was a relief for a while, but then before long that changed.  I started thinking more about all those things that hadn't bothered me for all those months, and for some idiotic reason that I still don't understand, they started to bother me.  I was annoyed that Nathan had been in the hospital for so long with no visits.  I was annoyed that I didn't have anyone to confide in or with whom to share my burdens.

And then I was annoyed that I was annoyed.  It just added to my feelings of instability that these things hadn't bothered me until Thomas had brought them up.  Why didn't I get bothered on my own?  Am I so easily swayed?  Can't I make up my own mind?  Not only did I feel like I had no control over my emotions, I felt like I had no control over my opinions.  I was frustrated, and frustrated that I was frustrated, and I didn't know what to do about it.  Was this something that, like Thomas, I needed to work through on my own, or did I need to work through this with a therapist or an ecclesiastical leader?  Was there someone I should talk to, or did I just need to repent and forgive? 

My healing process was a long one.  For a long time I just tried to push it aside and ignore it.  But it kept cropping back up.  I found myself at church unable to listen to what was being said because I was annoyed.  I prayed for help to let go of my hurt and irritation, and for help forgiving those I imagined had hurt me.  I reminded myself that no one had tried to hurt me, that we had not told anyone that we were hurting.  How could I expect that people would meet my needs when they did not know I had any?  I was afraid that if I talked about this with someone from church that it would just sound like complaining.  I wondered if I just wanted attention, if I enjoyed people telling me how strong I was.  Did I just want to be admired?  The worst was that I didn't want to talk about this with Thomas.  I felt like he had made his peace and I was afraid that if I brought this up then his anger would be rehashed and I did not want him to have to be angry again.  I didn't know what to do, so I just kept ignoring my feelings.

Over the next 2 years I talked myself out of being angry and just felt annoyed.  The practical side of me told my emotions that they were unreasonable, and that was enough to keep them at bay.  I became better friends with some ladies in our area, so I had someone I felt comfortable asking for help when we needed it.  And little by little I did heal.  I was also able to see that people are not perfect, myself included; that no one had intended to hurt me, or even been aware that I was hurting, and that that was as much my own fault as anyone else's.  I learned to look back and be sad that things had not been better, but not feel so hurt anymore.  And I decided that I wanted to do what I could so that other people did not have the same experiences we had.

My Reflections - Part 2

I decided I needed to reach out.  Nathan's health was a roller coaster, so the only way I could see to find some stability was to find something else to care about.  Not something to care about instead of Nathan, something in addition.  I needed to have some other source of validation and comfort and relief. 

Of course, finding a way to reach out that did not add to my stress and that would work around my unpredictable schedule was not easy.  I started very, very small.  In our church the ladies have a friendshipping program.  Each lady in a congregation is paired with a companion and assigned 2 or 3 other ladies within the congregation to visit every month to strengthen friendships, to offer comfort, and to bring spiritual uplift.  Unfortunately, the companion I had before Nathan was born moved away right after he was born, and I had been unable to connect with my new companion once I started spending all my time in the hospital.  And without the support of a companion I just had not been able to motivate myself to visit other ladies since.  So, in my newly found desire to serve, that was what I decided to start with; I would visit the ladies I was assigned to visit, with or without a companion.  It was a little tough at first and I felt a little awkward, but it gave me a chance to get to know a few new people, and it was very uplifting to my spirits.  I was glad I was trying again.

This brings us to the time when Thomas was starting to get really frustrated, and he began to feel the anger he has talked about.  This was a hard time at home.  Thomas was so frustrated and angry and I really wanted to help him, but I just did not know how.  So when we talked about how we were doing and Thomas would talk about his frustration I tried to just be supportive.  I listened and agreed that things were hard, agreed that I wished things were different, and on occasion I tried to suggest things to help the situation.  When Thomas complained that he did not have friends, I suggested that he try to make some friends, or that we have someone over for dinner, or for games or something.  This was not the kind of thing he wanted to hear, and I was not about to press the issue.  I wanted to be supportive and loving and calm, hoping to diffuse some of the anger and the tension that came with it.  I never felt particularly helpful or effective, but I knew that he knew that I loved him, and that would have to be enough.

It was interesting that all the things that bothered him did not bother me as much.  When he talked about what bothered him I could see what he was talking about, and I agreed that things could be better, but somehow I was not frustrated like he was.  As I have looked back and thought about it in retrospect I think there are two main reasons for this.  One reason I think, is that I was feeling more of that compassion for which Thomas was wishing.  If we were at church and someone was going to come over to ask us how things were going, it was likely to be a woman, and therefore she was likely to come speak to me.  And if someone came to me at church and asked me how Nathan was and Thomas did not happen to be by me, I might not remember by the end of church to tell him that it had happened.  So I probably saw more of our congregation's love and concern than Thomas did, and so I think I wasn't as frustrated.  The other reason I touched on a little already.  I think I felt a need to try to keep as much peace in our home and in our lives as possible, and I knew that if I were to join in the frustration, it would escalate.  I already had so much stress and tension on my own, I did not want to add more.  But not sharing Thomas' anger did not keep me from being very worried for him.

My Reflections - Part 1

Well, now that Thomas has gone through his story, he has asked me to write about what I was feeling and thinking through all of this.  So here goes.

Let me try to take you back a couple of months to begin.  We were in the middle of Nathan having many shunt problems.  He'd been out of the hospital and back in again several times, always for shunt problems, which meant that he was always vomiting while he was home, and he always had surgery when he had to go back to the hospital.  I was so fortunate as to have been able to be Nathan's primary care giver at home.  I was not working outside of the home, but was able to dedicate myself full-time to taking care of our boy.  This was not only what I wanted, but was probably the most practical option for us at the time since the amount of care Nathan needed would have required us to hire a nurse, or something close to that, in order for me to work and I probably would not have made enough to pay for that anyway.  But since Nathan did need that degree of care, and I was devoted to that full-time, that was pretty much all I did.

So for about 8 months Nathan had been my biggest, and essentially my only focus.  In many ways that is just how it should have been, and I do not regret it at all, but in many ways it was very wearing on me.  I was very tired of sitting in the hospital.  Being in the hospital is lonely and boring and stressful.  But when Nathan was home, he was very often sick.  Depending on how close Nathan was to needing another shunt revision, he would throw up as many as 7 or 8 times a day, and each time I had to clean him up, and clean up whatever he'd been lying on, and sometimes clean myself up.  And each time I also worried and wondered if he was ok and if we'd be back at the hospital again by the end of the week.  I was so stressed out all of the time.  When Nathan was really bad I felt like I could not leave the room because I was afraid that he would throw up and choke while I was gone.  Being in the hospital meant some of Nathan's care wasn't my responsibility, but it meant a lot of driving, a lot of sitting, and it meant he was too sick to be home.  It was all very, very draining. 

I started to feel very unstable, like I had no control over my emotions.  If Nathan had a good day, I was doing well, but if he threw up a few times, or if we had to go back to the hospital, I was so sad and disappointed that I just plummeted.  I was so absorbed in Nathan's life and health that his health determined if I was ok or not.  I was on such an emotional roller coaster, I didn't know from one day to the next if I would be walking on clouds or sobbing in the floor.  It seemed like I was always on the verge of a major breakdown.  It was really hard on Thomas too.  He did not know how to help me and he wanted to so much, and he never knew if he was going to come home to find me smiling or crying.  I felt so bad for bringing more turmoil and anxiety into our home, but I did not know how to escape the roller coaster.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Even though I had found a measure of peace and comfort, I was still feeling a little unsettled.  I had gone through the anger.  I had gone through the complete despair.  And I didn't want to go through any of that again.  So the thing that was still so disconcerting to me was that I still felt that so many of my prayers had gone unanswered.  Specifically, the ones where I prayed so hard to have a friend, to have someone just want to come over talk and listen and help share the burden.

Having a child who is constantly sick and in the hospital is very tiring -- physically tiring, emotionally tiring, spiritually tiring.  In fact, it's down right exhausting at times.  And not having more of a resolution was leaving me feeling a little vulnerable to a possible relapse.  Not that I wanted to be angry or sad all over again, but I felt that if I wasn't careful that I would be susceptible to a setback.

So instead of praying for "someone," I tried to rely on the Lord, to trust in Him, and to pray for strength and understanding.  Fortunately for me, my Heavenly Father was merciful to me and gave me the understanding I sought quicker than I expected.  It wasn't but a few days after I had been partly comforted that I was blessed with what I consider to be wonderful understanding and insight.

I was just getting home from work.  I happened to be on the phone with my mother.  She worried a lot about Nathan and wanted updates on him almost daily.  So as a good son I would always try to comply.  I would usually wait until I got home, though, so that I could get an update on the day from Bekah before calling her.  If I happened to miss a day or two, she would always become anxious.  And when she could no longer wait, she would call me.

On this particular day, she happened to call before I had gotten home from work.  I was just pulling into the driveway when I answered her call.  She asked how her grandson was doing, but I was having a hard time hearing what she was saying.  Between all of the cars passing on the street, the people playing outside, the music from the ice cream truck, and me being distracted getting the mail from the mailbox, I had a hard time giving her the attention that she deserved.

And that's when the inspiration struck me: Noise.

I had previously spent many an evening, pouring out my soul to my Heavenly Father.  Asking...pleading with Him to inspire someone to come over, to come spend a few minutes visiting with me.  And after every single prayer, I always expected a knock on the door or the phone to ring.  I really, truly believed that it would work that way.  That's how I had been taught.  That's what I believed.  That's what I expected. 

But when there was repeatedly no one at the door and when the phone was repeatedly silent, I began to question if my expectations were too high, or if my beliefs in such miraculous promptings were erroneous, or if maybe I was unworthy of such a blessing.

I've mentioned before that we believe in a very real and a very personal God.  One who cares about each of us.  One who hears and listens to our prayers.  One who wants to bless us.  One who wants to answer our prayers.  I also believe that very, very frequently Heavenly Father uses others to answer our prayers.  And therein lies the potential to have a breakdown in communications.

If God is going to use us as a means of answering the prayers of others, we have to put ourselves in a position to "hear" Him when He communicates with us.  But unfortunately, each of us has personal "noise" that either distracts us from giving God the full attention that He deserves; or the noise is too "loud" and makes it hard to hear Him.  Both can prevent us from properly listening to the inspiration or promptings that the Lord is trying to give us so that we can be a help or benefit to someone in need.

The "noise" of which I speak can be a variety of things, some of which may include (in no particular order):
  • our own problems and concerns
  • we think we are too busy
  • we think someone else will take care of it for us
  • someone talks us out of it
  • laziness
  • pride
  • anger
  • not recognizing the inspiration when it comes
  • many other things
I came to understand that evening that my Heavenly Father really was desirous to answer my prayers.  He was trying to let people know of our needs, but that those he was trying to inspire were distracted by various incarnations of "noise."

I also felt more than a little admonished myself.  How often over the last couple of weeks had He been trying to communicate with me and His voice had been drowned out by the noise of my anger?  It wasn't until I had rid myself of anger and humbled myself more and remembered in Whom I should trust, that I was ready to receive this glorious inspiration.  So I couldn't hold it against anyone else that they had succumbed to noise.

For me, once I had this understanding, I was good.  For the first time in a long, long time, I was good inside.  My heart and soul felt healed.  I understood that my Heavenly Father still loved me.  That He wouldn't let me down.  That it was on Him that I should rely and put my trust and not anyone else.  Everyone else can get distracted by noise.  But Heavenly Father is always there, always listening, never distracted.

So that day I made the conscious choice to rely more on my Heavenly Father.  To trust Him more.  To look to Him more for strength, for hope.  And to rely less on those who are so easily distracted by noise, myself included.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Finding a Measure of Peace

With each step I took away from the chapel, the more I regretted leaving.   I had really, really wanted and hoped to speak with someone, to help me feel better.

But at the same time, the further I got away, the more it seemed like staying would have been the wrong decision and that I had made the right choice.  If it was me against protocol, I didn't see that I had a chance to win.

Protocol is a very...necessary part of organization.  Protocol exists to ensure that there is order.  As I've mentioned before, the three gentlemen who are asked to serve in the main administrative positions of the ecclesiastical unit do so on a voluntary basis.  Outside of church, they have full-time jobs and families that occupy most of their time.  The time they volunteer to other members of the community congregations is taken out of their free time. 

So without protocol, it is very easy to imagine people calling them or visiting them at home all the time.  So I understand protocol.  As I said, protocol is necessary.  But sometimes protocol can be very frustrating.  Very, very frustrating.

You want to think...hope...believe...that the love of God and love of neighbor would, at least on occasion, trump protocol.  So I couldn't help but think that if Jesus was actually here, he would have time to help heal my heavy heart, just like he did for all those people nearly 2,000 years ago. 

And I really, really wanted to believe that one of them would have similar compassion and take the time to meet with me, to counsel with me, to advise me, to love me...but I just didn't know for sure.  So I wanted to stay, but I guess, in the end, I just believed that protocol would win, and I couldn't take the rejection.  So I left and walked home.

And when I got home, I did the only thing left to do: I prayed.

I prayed hard.  I poured out my soul to my Father in Heaven.  How I felt alone.  Abandoned.  Hollow.  Empty.  Disappointed.  Sad.  How sorry I was that I had gotten so angry.  How sorry I was that I felt like I was losing hope, losing faith.  I also expressed how grateful I was that, for the most part, I felt like He had always listened to our prayers.  To my prayers.

Nathan was still with us.  Despite all of the days in the hospital.  All of the surgeries.  All of the times we had come so close to losing him, he was still with us.  And that meant something.  It meant something huge. 

It meant that there was still reason to hope.  We had not been abandoned.  We were not alone.  God was still with us.  He still loved us.  And He would continue to be with us and support us through our trials.  I could have absolute faith in Him and He would not let us down.

And for the first time in a couple of weeks, I felt good inside again.  No anger.  Much less sadness.  I felt comforted.  I felt a measure of peace in my soul.  I felt like God had put his arm around me and said "Trust me.  You'll be OK."

And I believed I would.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Searching for.......Something Else

I had hoped that venting all of my anger and frustrations would prove to be therapeutic and cleansing.  And in a way, it was.  I was relieved to have the anger out of my system.  I had also expected that once it was gone that I would quickly return to being happy.  But it didn't happen that way.

Instead, I was swept over by a huge tidal wave of sadness and despair that flooded in to fill the giant empty space that had so recently housed my anger.  Indeed the sadness and despair filled me up just as much as the anger had.  Instead of being fueled by rage, I felt overcome by complete misery and grief.  It was like a giant rain cloud of sorrow and melancholy had parked itself inside me and was drowning out my faith and hope.

And honestly, it was worse than the feelings of anger.  I felt trapped inside my own sadness and sorrow with no hope of escape, almost like being trapped inside a well with no way to get out.

I was disappointed in myself that I had let the anger get the best of me.  I was saddened in my own actions, that I had let the actions, or inactions, of others get to me as much as they did.  But mostly I was saddened that I had prayed so hard and so earnestly with all of my heart and with all of the energies of my soul, only to not have my prayers answered.

After counseling with Bekah, I decided that it would be best to try and visit with one of the gentlemen who administrates the larger ecclesiastical unit of which our local congregation is a part.  I knew that they were in their offices on Tuesday nights, so the first Tuesday night that came around, I made my way over hoping to seek help, guidance, inspiration...something...anything to help lift the heavy weight of sorrow that was weighing my heart down.

I didn't have an appointment, so I waited until they were almost done with all of their business, hoping to get in for just a few minutes near the end.  As they were finishing up, someone came out and asked me how they could help me.  I mentioned why I was there and that I was just hoping to speak with someone for a few minutes.

I was very politely informed that what I was doing was "out of protocol" and that "those types of appointments" are usually done by referral from the leaders of the individual congregations.  And since I didn't have an appointment it was unlikely that I would get to see anyone, but that he would see what he could do.

So I waited for a few minutes, debating what to do in my head.

Realistically, considering my then lack of trust in my own congregational leader, I didn't see that getting a referral from him was even a possibility.  So I considered this my one shot.  I understood very well the importance of "protocol," but there are always exceptions aren't there?  I didn't know.  That I know of, there's no set way of dealing with "exceptions."  Each group can deal with it the way that they deem best.  So I had no idea what to expect.

But I was already feeling so, so low, that I didn't feel that I could take what I would consider to be a "rejection," if they told me that they couldn't meet with me, even if they meant well and were just following protocol.

So I decided to wait a few more minutes.  I felt that the longer I had to wait, the less likely it was going to be that I was going to get an appointment.  And as the minutes went by, the less and less hopeful I became.  So I decided to start making my way back home.  But I decided that I would take my time getting there.  It was my way of both being hopeful yet realistic at the same time.

So I first stopped in a commons area, close enough to the offices that they could still find me if they needed to, but one step closer to the door for me.  So I paced around for a couple of minutes when someone poked their head in to find me.  My heart perked up a little, holding out hope that he would invite me back.  But he said that he was still waiting to find out and asked me to just wait for a few more minutes.

In my heart, I wanted to wait a few more minutes.  I wanted to wait however long it was necessary.  But my head kept telling me that I was going to be disappointed.  And I really couldn't take any more disappointment.  I just couldn't get over the internal struggle I was having between hoping that someone would take a few minutes to talk with me, and the realization that they might say no.

In the end, I decided that it was better to just go home than to take the chance of suffering additional heartache and disappointment.

That decision hurt so bad that I cried all the way home.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Searching for.......Something, Part 2

To be honest, I was a little worried about my meeting.  From what little I knew about Robb, he seemed like a good guy.  I was a little scared to just dump all of my problems on him.  I was scared how he would react.  But I was most scared that my anger would get the best of me and that I would just end up yelling at him and not get any resolution about my anger.

So I took a few days to think about why I was actually angry.  What was it that was causing me to be so mad?  As I thought about it, I was able to pinpoint exactly what was bothering me and why it had caused me to become so enraged.  That way I was hoping I could accurately (and nicely) express everything that was bothering me without jumping down Robb's throat.

As we greeted each other and shook hands, I sent up a silent but fervent prayer that I would be able to express myself fully and completely while at the same maintaining most of my composure.

After exchanging cordial pleasantries, I could see by the look on his face that I had completely taken him off guard when he asked me how I was doing and my simple but direct reply was "I'm very upset."

After inquiring as to why I was so upset, I told him that I realized that he was fairly new to the neighborhood and to this position and that I hoped that he didn't take anything that I was about to say too personally, but that I had a lot on my mind and in my heart that was making me angry.  And then I let it go.

While I wasn't quite yelling, my voice was loud and full of anger.

I recounted our story.  How Nathan was now 10 months old and had spent a total of 6 months in the hospital, including his first 4 1/2 months.  How during that time no one from the congregation, and in particular the congregational leadership, had ever been up to the hospital to check on Nathan.  To see how he was. To see how we were doing.

I asked him if he knew how lonely it was to spend what seemed like all of your time at the hospital, wondering if your child was ever going to be able to live a normal life, or even to spend more than 5 weeks out of the hospital at any given time. 

Did he know what it's like to feel like you have to go through all of that alone because either people don't know, or don't care, or they're too busy, or whatever other reason?

Did he know what it's like to feel like your a second-class member of the congregation?  Do you have to be in the congregational leadership to experience an outpouring of love?  To have people come and visit you in the hospital?

I explained that I understood that it may be inconvenient to have to travel a long distance to see Nathan in the hospital, but is that what we were?  Were we an inconvenience?

I said that I know it's an hour to drive up there and an hour to drive back.  And if you choose to stay a decent amount of time that's probably another hour.  I explained that I realized that 3 hours in a day can be hard to arrange, but finding 3 hours in one day out of 6 one can do that?

I mentioned that our apartment is only a 5 minute walk away.  And still no one could find time to stop by and take a few minutes to sit down with us and find out how we're doing?

Or is it because we come to church services every week that people think we're doing all right?  Do we need to stop coming to church in order to have the congregational leadership know that we were having spiritual and emotional needs and struggles?  Is that what we had come to?

I don't know how long my tirade went on, but I felt a little better getting everything out there in the open.

I'm sure Robb felt overwhelmed with everything I had just laid on his shoulders.  But to me, his reaction will forever be priceless.

He didn't get angry.  He didn't tell me how horrible I was for having these feelings.  He didn't call me to repent.  He never got defensive.

Instead, he just looked me in the eyes and very sincerely apologized and said that I was right.  They should have done better.  He should have done better.  He should have been more involved.  He should have done something.

And then he apologized and asked me to forgive him.  And promised me that he would do better.

I was in complete awe at the humility of this great man.

His attitude and response completely melted away my anger.  I knew that he cared.  I knew that he was sorry.  And that's exactly what my heart needed that day.

Searching for.......Something, Part 1

Anger is a lot like a big, noxious weed.  It's roots run deep and they can be very hard to pull out.  But if you don't do something to get rid of it, it will eventually choke out the good in you, overrun your heart, and leave your soul a barren and destitute wasteland -- a deserted shell of the beautiful oasis it should be.

So I knew that for the good of my family and the good of my soul, I had to rid myself of the anger that raged inside my heart and threatened to destroy me.  But I didn't know what or how.

Generally, these types of issues are addressed with the congregational leader.  As your ecclesiastical leader, he basically has charge over your spiritual well-being.  To give you counsel and advice.  But considering the circumstances and my feelings at that time, I didn't trust him and I didn't trust myself with him.  So I didn't consider that an option.

But I needed...something.  It's hard to put into words exactly what I felt I needed.  I needed someone to help share my burdens.  I needed someone to care about how I felt.  Someone to care about my anger.  Someone to care about me enough to let me be angry and not judge me.  Just someone to.....understand.

Our local congregation is part of a larger administrative unit composed of similar congregations from around the neighborhood.  Three good and honorable and spiritually inclined men oversee the overall function of this bigger unit.  Like those asked to serve in leadership positions in the individual congregations, the men are selected from among the members of the local congregations that comprise the larger unit.  Likewise also, they are not paid for their service or time, but rather freely donate them as an act of charitable service.  They accept the duties and responsibilities of service out of their love for God,  their love for their neighbors, and their desire to help and assist them in any way that they can.

These good men and are assisted in the day-to-day administration of the unit by a large number of good men and women whose responsibility it is to teach those in similar leadership roles in the local congregation how to more effectively serve those they are called to lead.

So I considered trying to "go up the chain of command," so to speak, and seek advice and counsel from one of the gentlemen who oversee the larger ecclesiastical unit, but another option presented itself before I could give that a try.

In addition to the main ecclesiastical leaders, each individual congregation also has supplemental leaders that assist in the day-to-day administration of the congregation.  The men, the women, the youth, and the children, are all provided with individual group leaders, also selected from among the members of the congregation, to serve as teachers and examples on how to try and live a good life and follow the teachings of the Lord from the Scriptures and the guidelines of the Church from the church leaders.  They also volunteer their time as they serve in their positions.

The man who was asked to serve as leader of the group of young, adult men (of which I was a member) was fairly new to the congregation and had only been in his position for a short time.  And it just so happened that he wanted to get to know each of us better, what our needs and concerns were, and how he could serve us better.

So here it was!  Here was my opportunity!  This is what I was looking for.  My chance to talk with someone.  So I took the first available appointment time to meet with him.