by Lani

Celebrating Life on Mother’s Day

April 23, 2016 in Abortion, Adoption, Adversity, Depression, Fertility, Grief, Heavenly Mother, Lani, Loss, Motherhood, Pain, Parenting, Waiting by Lani

 

Image SourceMother’s Day can be really hard.

Hard because you want to be a mother, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Hard because you recently lost a child through miscarriage or stillbirth.

Hard because you’re healing from an abortion.

Hard because you have been waiting to adopt for a very long time.

Hard because you weren’t able to have as many children as you wanted.

Hard because your mother passed away, and you miss her terribly.

Hard because you wish you could spend more time with your children.

Hard because you’re a single father without a partner.

Hard because you’re a single mother, and you’re tired of doing it alone.

Hard because you’re unable to be with your husband or wife because of military, work, or other reasons.

Hard because your stepchildren reject you.

Hard because your mother struggled to give you the love you needed.

Hard because you struggle yourself to be the mother you want to be.

Hard because your mother was brutally abusive.

Hard because your mother committed suicide.

Hard because you gave your heart and soul to raising your kids, and now you never hear from them.

Hard because you long to know your Mother in Heaven.

So hard.

It’s OK if you love Mother’s Day. It’s OK if you hate Mother’s Day. Your feelings about Mother’s Day are valid and real, and I want you to let yourself feel them. You don’t have to pretend. You don’t have to hide your tears. Because I believe Dr. Aletha Solter’s words about children are also true about adults:

No matter what the source of stress, children will not feel better until they have been allowed to cry and rage as much as needed (Tears and Tantrums, p. 12).

Sometimes we will cry and rage for years.

I can’t take away your pain. I won’t take away your pain. Your pain belongs to you. But I do want you to know that I celebrate you.

I have carried some heavy rocks in my backpack. One of the heaviest was labeled: no-will-to-live. It was so heavy that when it was gone I felt like I might float right up to cloud nine-hundred-and-nine from the relief of it. I never could have imagined how much joy and hope my future would hold. I thank God every day that I chose life. This Mother’s Day I have so much to celebrate.

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These words quoted in our most recent General Conference are brutally true:

Each one of us experiences dark days when our loved ones pass away, painful times when our health is lost, feelings of being forsaken when those we love seem to have abandoned us. These and other trials present us with the real test of our ability to endure. –Thomas S. Monson

I know you have carried, are carrying, and will carry some of your own heavy rocks. You too have known indescribable sorrows. You have dragged yourself, bloody and bruised, over piercing paths and menacing mountains.

But.

You are still here. You are still breathing. You have successfully endured. All of your days. And all of your nights. And you are still here.

That is why I celebrate you.

Yes, let’s celebrate mothers. Because there are some inspiring and remarkable mothers out there, and thank the Lord for those nurturing souls who heal humanity with their presence. Yes, let’s celebrate women. Because women give life in so many ways beyond what happens in the womb. But even if you don’t personally feel like celebrating anything on May 8th this year (and that is totally OK), I will still be celebrating you.

That’s what Mother’s Day will be for me this year… A celebration of the gift of life. A celebration of the ones who gave us this messy, brutal, exquisitely beautiful thing we’re living every day.

I will celebrate those who have had the courage to give life, and with an extra measure of compassion and awe I will also celebrate those who have had the courage to give life a chance. And to keep giving life a chance… day in and day out… even when those days are full of ache.

I am so glad your mother gave you the gift of life. I am so glad you exist. And every day that you choose to keep going is a gift to humanity and yourself.

On May 8th I’ll be holding you in my heart.

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Sale begins April 24th

Sale begins April 24th

by Lani

Conceiving Courage

March 29, 2016 in Adversity, Book, Conception, Depression, Events, Faith, Family size, Fear, joy, Lani, Motherhood, Personal Revelation, Pregnancy by Lani

 

Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. -Joshua 1:9

Almost three years ago, Robyn and I hosted a Gift of Giving Life party at my parents’ home in Utah County. It was very well attended, and I was privileged to meet many beautiful women who have since become my friends in addition to reconnecting with other women who were already dear to me.

Robyn, Lani, and Robyn's sister

Robyn, Lani, and Robyn’s sister

At the time I was busy mothering my four children, my youngest being just over 2 and my oldest 9 years old. The previous summer and fall (2012) had been harrowing for me as I battled for my life with severe anxiety and depression. Finally having regained joy and peace and a solid foundation, naturally I was not inclined to do anything to jeopardize the calm I had so painfully won. And yet… deep down inside my heart I felt that there was at least one child who was still hoping to join my family. Meanwhile, my husband had very strong feelings against having any more children. And most of the time I was inclined to think he was right. I didn’t think I could do it.

As part of the event, we broke into two groups to discuss and share spiritual experiences related to pregnancy, birth, and mothering. Among the women in the group I joined were several seasoned mothers of very large families. I couldn’t believe my ears when they talked about how much “easier” it got as their families grew (in years and number). “The older kids are so helpful!” they shared.

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A friend of mine (who also had four young children at the time) and I were aghast as we shared our fears that we couldn’t possibly handle any more children, despite feeling that our families weren’t complete. These mothers assuaged our concerns, saying, “Right now you are in the hardest part! With lots of little kids and none old enough to help out. It gets easier!” Even so, my friend and I were still hesitant.

My hesitation eventually gave way to courage, however, and over the course of the following year I attempted weaning off my anti-depressant in order to prepare my body for another pregnancy. When my weaning attempt turned into an even more severe and prolonged battle with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts (summer and fall of 2014), my intention of bearing any more children seemed impossible to retain. My husband and I just didn’t think my mind/body/spirit could handle it. So we did what we could to prevent pregnancy. In our then-thirteen years of marriage we had never had an unplanned pregnancy. And our prevention methods continued to work well for us… for most of a year.

Then, in May of 2015, I stared down at a positive pregnancy test after my morning meditation. Immediately I was overcome by so many emotions. I did not see that coming. It was not planned or expected or convenient. But nevertheless it was happening. Friends and family were also surprised but full of support and faith. Many separately shared their strong feelings that all would be well and that this baby would be a beautiful healing blessing to me and my family. I hoped they were right and courageously moved toward my baby’s birth.

It has now been almost a year since I stared at that surprisingly positive pregnancy test. My oldest daughter is nearly a teenager now. The other kids are 10, 7, and 5. And our sweet Baby Hope is 3 months old. Out of the most difficult and darkest years of my life emerged the brightest and most beautiful.

When dark clouds of trouble hang o’er us
And threaten our peace to destroy,
There is hope smiling brightly before us,
And we know that deliv’rance is nigh.

(Hymn #19)

Hope smiling brightly

I have been wanting to shout to the world, “They were right! They were all so right!” The seasoned mothers-of-many at the Gift of Giving Life party I hosted three years ago were right! Having a baby when you have several older kids to help is amazing. It is so much easier. And my friends and family who encouraged me throughout my pregnancy were right. This baby has been one of the greatest healing gifts of my life.

I am so happy. Life is so good.

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If you are interested in hosting a Gift of Giving Life party, you can apply to be a hostess. A GOGL party is a gathering designed to get women (and men when appropriate) together in person to share how God’s hand has worked in their lives (in the area of giving life). It is an opportunity for people who wouldn’t normally to hear spiritual birth-related stories. It is also a great way to spread the word about our book.

We offer hostesses books at wholesale. You can pass on the savings or use profit to cover party costs. We have held many of these gatherings in different states with amazing results (friendships, fun, spiritual growth).

If you would like to apply to be a hostess please email us at thegiftofgivinglife@gmail.com for more information.

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by Robyn

How a Prisoner of War Story Helped Me Prepare for Birth

January 20, 2016 in Adversity, Book, Depression, Faith, Fear, Gratitude, Guest Post, Jesus Christ, joy, Missions, Motherhood, Pain, Postpartum Depression, Pregnancy, Preparation, Robyn, Savior, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Waiting by Robyn

American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese are shown at the start of the Death March after the surrender of Bataan on April 9 near Mariveles in the Philippines in 1942 during World War II. Starting on April 10 from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Penisula, 70,000 POWs were force-marched to Camp O'Donnell, a new prison camp 65 miles away. (AP Photo)

American and Filipino prisoners of war captured by the Japanese are shown at the start of the Death March after the surrender of Bataan on April 9 near Mariveles in the Philippines in 1942 during World War II. Starting on April 10 from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Penisula, 70,000 POWs were force-marched to Camp O’Donnell, a new prison camp 65 miles away. (AP Photo)

 

I want to thank my friend Natalie for this beautiful post.  We became friends because of our mutual love for birth but beyond that Natalie really is a beautiful person inside and out.  –Robyn


I am currently “overdue” with my FIFTH boy. Yes, my fifth. There are no girls among them. That’s a lot of boys. And oh how I love them. 
And after all these boys, I am a bit experienced, in my own experience at least.  And that is why I have been so scared recently. Yes, scared to bring home another baby because I know what could possibly be coming along with him.  Finally, after going through 4 newborn phases, I’ve figured out that I usually get a good case of post partum OCD/anxiety. After I give birth, I really struggle with the newborn phase. I struggle with scary and intrusive thoughts, anxiety, lots of crying, irrational fears…… which result in guilt, embarrassment, shame, and feelings of failure, for a few months.  I’ve had some hard times. I know that there are a lot of mamas out there who also have hard times after their babies arrive. Oh how we love our babies, but we don’t love what the hormones that come along with them, can do to us.  And there are many mamas who go through much more intense experiences than I do –especially with post partum depression that can last for many, many months.
My poor little soon-to-be baby boy.  I am so excited to meet him, but I have not felt ready to jump into that phase of life again.  And yes, I’m over 40 weeks!  What 40 week pregnant woman isn’t asking every other mom what she can do to encourage her baby’s eviction!?  Me. I’ve been over here chanting… “Not quite yet. Not quite yet.”  So even before he’s here, I’ve already felt guilty for not being ready.
But that all changed a couple of days ago. On my actual “due date,” we had the adult session for our stake conference.  I decided to go, even though I’m at that phase where I just want to hibernate and not socialize or be seen in public. Yet, I knew it would probably be good for me to be spiritually fed. So I changed into my maxi skirt, told my husband to pull on my boots for me, and off we went.
I have been trying really hard to get emotionally and mentally prepared for this next phase.  I also have been constantly reminding myself that I have overcome it before, and I can overcome it again.  I’ve prayed and have continually given myself pep talks and positive affirmations.  I’ve been trying, but had not quite conquered the fear of the future. Earlier that day, I had broken down into tears, while telling my sister-in-laws how nervous I was to care for another baby. 
But we made the trek through the snow to our stake center. And on this night, a special story really struck me. Yes, a story about a man who was a prisoner of war.  I will share most of the story, but you can read the full article on LDS Living:

“When my father, Alfred R. Young, was liberated from a Japanese POW camp at the end of World War II, he weighed 90 lbs.—scrawny for any man, but skeletal for someone 6 feet 3 inches tall. His weight, however, was only ashadow of concern compared to his mental and emotional condition after 39 months of wartime captivity. He endured two hellship voyages; physical, mental and emotional starvation; innumerable beatings; forced labor; disease; psychological abuse; isolation; and six months of Allied bombing raids that eventually obliterated his prison camp, devastated Tokyo and Yokohama, and killed many of the men who had become his brothers.
His physical internment ended in 1945, but Dad was still a captive almost eight years later when I was born. I knew he was a captive because Icould see he was somewhere else, walled up inside the sternness of his countenance. I knew it because I could see emptiness in the depths of his eyes.
One of those pictures was a close-up of a man completely alone, whose eyes were so deeply set that sunlight could not reach them. I can still remember my amazement upon learning that the man in the picture was my father.
In 1939, Dad had enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and was bound for Fort McDowell near San Francisco. From there, he was sent to Clark Field—an air base on Luzon Island in the Philippines.
Dad’s enlistment required only two years of duty overseas, but by 1941, America was preparing for war and his return to the States was canceled. Consequently, on December 8, 1941, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dad endured the terrible destruction that swept over Clark Field, doing to America’s air power in the Pacific what had just been done to its navy. Before the war was two days old, Dad had lost two bombers and was the sole survivor of his crew.
Christmas 1941 found him in a foxhole on an island named Bataan. In the dead of night, his outfit was split up and he was assigned to a group that boarded an inner island cruiser. He was assigned to a machine gun post on the Pulangi River among the iguanas and head hunters.
For four months, he watched planeload after planeload of American officers and men evacuating from the Del Monte Air Field just a few miles tothe north. As a bombardier, he should have been aboard, but the call never came. One morning, he and his men awoke to discover that their officers had vanished in the night. Those left behind survived on worm infested rice, lived off the land, traded with the More people, and eventually retreated into the hills.
Life as a Prisoner
When his command surrendered in May 1942, he passed through thegate of a makeshift prison camp at Malabalay. From there he was among prisonersloaded into what would become known as a hellship and was taken to Manila’s in famous Bilibid Prison. From Bilibid, he and thousands of other prisoners were loaded into the holds of unmarked freighters bound for hard labor in Japan to drive the Imperial machinery of war.
Climbing down the metal ladders into the dark holds of those ships, prisoners were forced at rifle butt onto cargo shelves where they crawled in darkness toward the bulkhead. Dad descended until nothing but the naked rivets and rough joinery of the hull separated him from the murky waters of Manila Bay. In the deep shadows, he crawled through the prisoners, already packed intothe hold like bodies without coffins, until he came to the small wedge of a space where the curvature of the hull met the underside of a cargo shelf. The hatch closed. Darkness swallowed him.
Cradled in cold steel and stifling stench, groaning men with dysentery and other diseases lived and died around him in their own waste. It was impossible to know whether the shadowy forms around him were still men, orcorpses. The only reprieve was waiting on deck in the long lines for the over-the-side latrines that had to serve nearly 2,000 prisoners.
Because the freighters were unmarked, during their journey they came under Allied submarine attack. Dad watched, with the rest of the men inline, none of whom had a life jacket, as the captain tried to out-maneuver white tufted torpedo trails that claimed more than 3,000 prisoners. Fortunately, Dad’s ship escaped such a fate.
Not until the prisoners aboard the Tottori Maru were unloaded in Busan and hosed down on the docks like cattle, were all the dead discovered inthe holds. From Busan they sailed for Mojiand. Dad was sent to a labor camp on the island of Kawasaki in Yokohama’s waterfront industrial area.
There he endured steel gray days of disease, deprivation, starvation, forced labor, humiliation, beatings, and the constant threat of death for more than three years. He worked at the nearby steel mill, brick factory, railroadyard, and docks.
Reading material in the camp was scarce. He read Robin Hood so many  times he never wanted to see it again. Commenting one day to a fellow prisoner about how glad he would be for anything new to read, Jim Nelson, a young man from Utah, said he had a book he would gladly loan to him, but it was about religion. Dad exclaimed that he was desperate enough to read anything. Anything!
With the book in hand, Dad took it to the mat where he slept, sat down cross-legged under his blanket and began his first reading of the Book of Mormon. Much to his delight, it was not a book about religion, it was a story.
In fact, it was a story about a family, and memories of childhood and family were something that had already saved his life through the long ordeal of captivity. Whether it was the dreariness of meaningless labor or surviving the kicks and fists of his captors, he escaped into his memories of home, and in the Book of Mormon he found himself suddenly in a family with a bunch of rough and rowdy kids who acted just like his five brothers and two sisters.
Before the story was 10 pages old, the neighbors had tried to kill the father, the family had left home, wealth, and comfort behind to cross a wilderness, and the boys were swept up in a quest. And it was an exciting onethat resulted in theft of the family fortune, assault and battery on the youngest brother, beheading a corrupt military commander, subterfuge (complete with costume), kidnapping a servant, and smuggling a priceless treasure out of town in the dead of night. Whether or not the book had any religious significance, it was one walloping good tale!
After completing the Book of Mormon, Dad asked if there were other books like it that Jim would let him read. Jim admitted he had another book, but he really didn’t think Dad would like it. Dad pleaded, however, and excitedly returned to his mat and his blanket to lose himself once again, this time in the pages of something called the Doctrine and Covenants. When he finally finished, Jim wanted to know what Dad thought. Dad replied thoughtfully: “It’s very well-written, but the plot is lousy.”
Liberation at Last
From October 1944 through July 1945, as Allied air strikes intensified over Tokyo and Yokohama, Dad lived in the crosshairs of Allied bombsights that widened their circle of terror night after night and then day after day, killing  many friends and forcing him to dispose of their remains while assigned to body-burning work details.
Liberation finally came on August 29, 1945. In the chaos of release, Dad lost track of Jim. In fact, he tried to lose track of everything stained with the memory of his time as a POW. However, he crammed a  duffle bag with  belongings and memories he wanted to forget and put Jim’s books  on top of everything else.
On his way home, Dad kept leaving the duffle bag behind from ship to ship and port to port, trying to lose it. But from Tokyo Bay to Tulsa, it kept turning up, always a few days or weeks behind. But those were days for forgetting. The world had changed. Dad was out of step and anxious to make up for lost years. So the books followed him through his re-enlistment, marriage, a promising career in nuclear weapons, and the death of a daughter.
The books were still there when I was born in Albuquerque in 1953. Owing to the loss of their daughter, my parents feared to even hope that they might bring me home from the hospital, but I survived. And after a year, they began to look farther ahead, wanting to offer me a better home environment than they knew how to create. Those were days before post-traumatic stress had a name, and Dad was still captive to the ghosts of Kawasaki, disabling headaches, paralyzing dreams, alcoholism, and other disabilities resulting from the beatings, psychological abuse, and starvation.
Faced with a crisis of parenting, Dad remembered the Book of Mormon and the talks he had had with Jim about the Church. So he looked up the Church in the phone book and left a message asking that the missionaries drop by. Time passed, the message was lost, and the missionaries never came; at least, not in response to the phone message.
Weeks later, however, two full-time missionaries, traveling through our neighborhood en route to their tracting area, decided to try just one more door before going home for dinner.  They picked out our little house in the middle of the block. No one answered the doorbell; Mother was in the backyard and Dad wasn’t home from work.  But as the two missionaries mounted their bikes and were about to leave, Dad, who had worked a lot of overtime recently and had decided to come home early that afternoon, pulled into the driveway. Ignorant of Dad’s message asking that the missionaries drop by, they  introduced themselves.  Dad replied: “It’s about time. We’ve been waiting for you.”
Mother and Dad were baptized in the spring of 1956. In August ofthe following year, our little family was sealed in the Los Angeles Temple. On the way back to Albuquerque, we stopped in Reno, Nevada. Dad had had no contact with Jim Nelson since the war but had heard he was living in Nevada.
We stopped at a pay phone and Dad found a listing for James Nelson. A phone call and a brief conversation with Mrs. Nelson confirmed that it was the same Jim Nelson who had been a prisoner of war in Japan, but he was still at work. We drove to the Nelson home and were sitting in the living room when Jim got there. The reunion was everything that could be wished, but nothing was said about the Church. Nothing, that is, until Dad reached down to pick up the two books he had hidden on the floor beside the couch.
“Jim,” he said as he lifted the volumes into view, “We’re on our way home from the LA Temple where we’ve been sealed and thought we’d drop by to return your books.”
Until the day Dad died, in 2012, he was true to what many people have heard him say: “If what I went through was the only way I could receive the Book of Mormon, I would do it all again—even knowing beforehand what Iwould have to endure—just to have that book.”
Wow. Wow. What an amazing story.  What a HARD experience.  I sat there feeling grateful for the blessedlife that I live, and for the challenges that I have, even though some trials may be difficult.  And then it hit me.
“If what I’ve gone through is the only way I could have received my children in this life, I would/will do it all again – even knowing beforehand what I would/will have to endure – just to have my precious children.”
 
And just like that, something clicked in my mind and in my heart.  I wondered if there was a time when I was accepting my life’s mission as a Mother, where I told Heavenly Father the same sort of thing. That I was willing to go through such hardships, to bring my children to me in this earth life. Somewhere, sometime, I just might have agreed to this.  I know I can do it. I know it’s worth it. I know I’ll have another beautiful little soul to love and who will love me for many years to come. To enrich and bless my life. To teach me. To help me grow, and who can live with the rest of our family forever and ever. What a blessing. And I will go through what I need to go through, to have him in my life.
How especially blessed am I to know of God’s love for me. That He will be there for me, if these times are difficult, and if I have to go through the hardships of newborn life. I had someone remind me of a beautiful song, that I could apply to my post partum period.  I love it so much – it’s been in my head ever since. I want to share the words that strengthen me, even when I feel like my world is falling apart.  The song is “MyKindness Shall Not Depart from Thee,” written by Rob Gardner.  You can listen to it on this link .
Though thine afflictions seem
At times too great to bear,
I know thine every thought and everycare.
And though the very jaws
Of hell gape after thee I am with thee.
 
And with everlasting mercy will I succor thee,
And with healing will I take thee ‘neath my wings.
Though the mountains shall depart,
And the hills shall be removed,
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea,
Know, my child,
My kindness shall not depart from thee!
 
The Son of Man hath descended below all things.
Art thou greater than He?
 
So hold on thy way,
For I shall be with thee.
And mine angels shall encircle thee.
Doubt not what thou knowest,
Fear not man, for he
Cannot hurt thee.
 
And with everlasting kindness will Isuccor thee,
And with mercy will I take thee ‘neath mywings.
For the mountains shall depart,
And the hills shall be removed,
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea,
But know, my child,
My kindness shall not depart from thee!
 
You can watch the music video here:

 

 

Kindness – Paul Cardall – from Ephraim’s Rescue Soundtrack (2013)
by Lani

Laboring Through

October 3, 2015 in Adversity, Depression, Doulas, Fear, Gratitude, Heavenly Mother, Lani, Love, Motherhood, Pain, Uncategorized by Lani

So Elder Holland hit another home run. I’d say his talk today ranks right up there in my heart with “Like a Broken Vessel” from two Octobers ago. Today Elder Holland honored women and mothers and the ways their service is nearer to Jesus Christ’s role as deliverer than any other service in mortality. He called mothers “messianic figures” and “saviors on Mt. Zion.” He even publicly thanked our dear Mother in Heaven.

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All of the talk was beautiful, but do you know what my absolute favorite part was? My favorite phrase Elder Holland uttered today was this: “laboring through the battered landscape of his despair.” As Elder Holland spoke of a mother striving to bear up her son as he traveled through the darkest days and nights of his intense anguish… I can’t even really describe to you what I felt inside. Perhaps those words and that story impacted me so deeply because I know so intimately what the battered landscape of despair looks like and feels like. Perhaps more intensely, however, I know the sheer magnitude and magnificence of the gratitude that can be felt toward those who have labored with us through the battered landscapes of our despair and anguish.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself thinking a lot about where I was last year. I went to my blog and re-read old posts full of the raw reality of what I went through. The more time passes, the more I forget just how bad it was. But in those moments of remembering, I felt it all come back to me… the utterly bleak and painful reality of what I had experienced. But the overriding and prevailing emotion I felt that night was gratitude. Gratitude beyond my capacity to describe. Gratitude so intense that it gathered with fierceness in my tear ducts and flooded down my face for a very long time.

One image kept coming back to me and renewing the flood of my tears. It was an image of me lying on my friend’s tan leather couch, our kids playing in front of me watching something on Netflix, my friend sitting at her kitchen table sewing together a quilt for her youngest son. If someone were to take a snapshot of that moment, they might conclude all sorts of things. They might wonder why we were “ignoring” each other. They might think it odd that I was seemingly sleeping through my visit with a friend. They might question the depth of our friendship. But all of those assumptions would miss the profound beauty of what was happening in that room.

I couldn’t tell you how many days I spent on my friends’ couches last summer. Sometimes I could have semi-normal conversations. Sometimes all I could do was stare at the wall or ceiling and try to breathe. Sometimes I closed my eyes and attempted (usually with very minimal success) to sleep. My friends really didn’t understand what I was going through. But it didn’t matter. I never once felt like a burden. I never once felt like an intrusion. I knew I could just be… just be… in whatever state I was in, and it was OK. If I wanted to talk, my friends would talk. If I was paralyzed by my body and mind and could only endure, my friends held space for me to endure. They played games with my daughter and fed her lunch. They made it OK for me to do whatever I needed to do. They sat with me, but not in a way that made me feel like a spectacle. They sewed quilts, did their dishes, folded laundry, but all the while bearing me up with their presence, their willingness to witness my pain, their open doors and couches always there whenever I needed them.

As I lay on my friend’s tan leather couch, my body was wracked with agonizing withdrawals, my mind was a whirl of fear and darkness. I didn’t know when the darkness was going to end. But in that moment, despite the fear and pain overwhelming me, I knew I was loved. I knew I was safe. I knew that I had support anytime I needed it. I knew that my friends and family believed in me, prayed for me, and most importantly that they were laboring with me in that landscape of horrific despair.

Elder Holland thanked mothers for their pure Christ-like love and service, and I myself do feel deep gratitude for my mother’s efforts to lift me in my deepest days of darkness. But beyond that I feel gratitude more profound than human language can convey to all the people in my life who labored and bore with me last year through my life’s most painful test of faith. Thank you. More than I can say.

silentpresence

by Robyn

Their Hearts Were Changed

August 24, 2015 in Adversity, Cesarean, Depression, Doulas, Education, Fear, Grief, hospital birth, Love, Postpartum Depression, Pregnancy, Robyn, Uncategorized, VBAC by Robyn

“Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” Alma 5:14

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Life as a doula. Every birth changes me in some way. I always learn. Often the lessons are unexpected. A little over three years ago, I attended at birth that I recognize as one of those unexpected yet key experiences that shape a doula. I still talk with this friend and I mentioned to her that this birth changed me profoundly. She asked me to explain. I have to admit that I struggle to put it into words on a page because it was a change in my heart and mind. So I will make an attempt to put words to how my heart was changed but just know that I’m not sure I can fully capture what I want to express.

To explain I should start with experiences that shaped my thinking in regards to birth. I grew up being afraid of birth and that transferred to my own first birth experience that ended in an unnecessary cesarean section. I was filled with love as I held my baby for the first time but I felt robbed of something. Somehow I felt something wasn’t right. I knew I wanted more children but struggled to know how I could possible accomplish it with all of the fear I felt inside me.

I replaced my fear with faith and knowledge. I read and studied birth and took a comprehensive natural childbirth class. I admit I felt anger and guilt after realizing my birth could have been very different. I didn’t want other women to have to do things the hard way. After the beautiful natural VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) of my son I became a childbirth educator. I was a birth activist. I had an Us vs. Them mentality as it relates to birth. We, the birth advocates, were fighting the establishment and all of the lack of informed consent/information and cultural misconceptions of the mainstream birth world. Even though I was teaching a lot of good information in my classes I know that I taught with my own bias because of my own experiences. I was often judgmental of the birth experiences of others if they didn’t turn out “ideal.” I worried when someone was making a decision differently than I would. I didn’t want them to suffer through the emotional baggage that I had.

Well, four years ago I met my friend whose birth I am referencing. She was easy to talk to and fun to be around. We quickly became close friends. She had had two cesarean births. All of her sisters had cesarean births. It seemed it was the just what they had to do in her family. I was quick to share with her that I believed she could have a VBAC. I had done it. She was open to learning more. I kept feeding her information which she read and studied. She wanted to have a VBAC. She became pregnant after we met but soon experienced extreme fatigue and nausea while at the same time being weighed down by prenatal depression. We went on walks most mornings. I checked on her often. We carefully talked over her options and made a plan. She took a childbirth class with her husband, planned to have me as her doula, chose a supportive caregiver that she had to drive 45 minutes to see. I was excited. I felt like the Lord brought us together so we could experience her VBAC together.

And then she moved to another state in the last trimester. We scrambled to find the right birth place and birth team. She found a supportive group only to be faced with a cesarean birth because her body seemed to not be cooperating as she passed her due date by 10 days without any change. She was in tears. I was two and half hours away. I jumped in my car and made it there just before she was wheeled into the operating room. I sat in their room and waited. I paced the floor. It felt so long. I wracked my brain. What could I have done differently? What does this mean? Why were we brought together if this is how things were going to unfold?

As she was wheeled into her room with her perfect baby boy, a quiet reverence surrounded her. All of my questions melted away. I stifled my own tears as I watched her tears fall. She had given what she could.

This past July I had the privilege of listening to Dawn Armstrong speak. She is the “missionary mom” from Meet the Mormons. Her story is not your typical missionary mom story, it is powerful, it is messy, it is real. And that is how I felt a little with this birth, that we are all here very different children of God having a human experience, just trying our best to find our way. Sometimes it is messy, fully of tears and heartache, but it is real. It is someone’s life experience and journey to find their way back to their Heavenly Home. Along the way we experience disappointment but hopefully we also experience God’s hand in lifting us up. Hopefully those experiences open our hearts to the greater scope of the plan, love. Christlike love. I couldn’t judge my friend’s experience. I could only be there for her. Mourn with her. Be a friend.

See? I know I didn’t fully capture here the change in my heart. But let me just say that now, when I encounter someone and they are telling me about their birth, I don’t have to judge what they have experienced. It is liberating to just love them and listen.

What heart changing experiences have you had as a doula or midwife (or birthy momma)?

by Lani

Towers of Strength: a Call for Stories

January 28, 2015 in Adversity, Atonement, Book, Book reviews, Depression, Divine nature, Fear, Grace, Grief, joy, Lani, Miracles, Pain, Postpartum Depression by Lani

Last weekend I attended Felice’s Therapeutic Imagery Facilitator Training. It was five billion times more awesome than I ever could have imagined it would be. I’ve been guiding my daughters on imagery journeys nearly every night since, and I can’t wait to share these new skills with everyone and anyone I can. So much healing happened in that sacred space last weekend. What an honor and privilege to have been a part of it. I love these women!

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After the workshop was over, I was talking with the lovely Anna Hargadon (one of the creators of the awesome film Women of Faith). She asked me, “So what’s your next project? Do you have anything you’re working on?” Maybe it was God’s way of nudging me to get moving. One of the first things that happened after I recovered my will to live last fall was that God gave me an assignment. It’s time to write another book, He said.

So this is me acting on that prompting. Last Sunday, as I drove home from church, the book’s title came to me. It was inspired by something I learned reading Heather’s new book, Walking with the Women of the New Testament. In my review of her book, I wrote:

Heather writes, “While we don’t know the details of Mary Magdalene’s infirmity, we might deduce based on what we know of the others whom Christ healed from evil spirits that she was tormented with some sort of mental infirmity. The fact that she had seven devils cast out of her suggests that her infirmity may have been severe” (p. 77).

Heather explains that Christ called Mary “Magdalene” (meaning “tower of strength”) probably in much the same way that he called Simon “Peter” (meaning “rock”). After her healing, Mary became a devoted follower of Christ and a likely “tower of strength” to those around her, including Christ Himself. Of all the people Christ could have appeared to immediately after His resurrection, He chose Mary Magdalene.

Being a woman who struggles with “mental infirmities,” I gather peace from Mary’s remarkable recovery. If Christ can turn an infirm and darkness-plagued Mary into a “tower of strength,” maybe then there is hope for me too?

The title God gave to me for this book is inspired by Mary Magdalene, the original “Tower of Strength” and one of my heroes.

Towers of Strength: Stories of Triumph over Darkness. What do you think? This probably isn’t what the book will look like, but I had fun making a pretend cover. A quick search on Deseret Book’s website only brought up a few titles discussing mental illness, and none of them (as far as I could tell) is written from the perspective of the “mentally ill.” Mental health practitioners and caregivers certainly have valuable insights and perspectives to share, but I just feel strongly that we need to give a voice to the ones living with the illnesses. I feel like there is a sort of assumption that the mentally ill aren’t capable of speaking for themselves, but I couldn’t disagree more. Our voices need to be heard. It’s time.

So far this is what I have in mind:

  • Spiritual thoughts and stories about mental illness from the perspective of Latter-day Saints, emphasis on stories of triumph.
  • Written by those who have lived with and/or overcome mental illness.
  • Stories of all types of triumph (through counseling, medication, meditation, energy healing, temple work, prayer, priesthood, etc.)
  • Similar to The Gift of Giving Life with stories from a wide variety of people with a wide variety of challenges.
  • Intended to bring hope to those who are still struggling in darkness and their loved ones and to help doctors, counselors, and caregivers to better understand the perspective of “patients.”

If you feel impressed that you have a story to share or know someone who might, please send me an email (askbusca at gmail dot com). And please spread the word on whatever groups, forums, and facebook pages you feel might generate interest. The deadline for story submissions is May 1st. And if you know of a publisher who might be interested, please pass the word along to them too! Thank you!

**Posted today, January 28, 2015, in memory of Ashton Mayberry who suffered from depression and anxiety and took his own life on January 28, 2014.**

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by Lani

The Messenger

December 3, 2014 in Adoption, Angels, Book, Depression, Dreams, Lani by Lani

sarahandmeFor many years, I have been fascinated by pre-birth experiences (PBEs). I have also had the privilege of sharing a heaven-sent friendship with Sarah Hinze, the expert on PBEs with decades of research. Her website explains PBEs in more detail:

In a typical prebirth experience (PBE), a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or grandparent, etc., receives communication from a child before she is born, or in many cases, before he was even conceived. These unborn children at times can warn, protect and enlighten us through the veil.

Most of my children appeared to me in dreams or visions before they were born. I have written about some of those experiences on my blog (see HERE, HERE). I cherish these glimpses from beyond the veil.

Last week I wrote a blogpost on my blog about an encounter with an “angel.” Angels have been on my mind a lot lately. So when I was at the dollar store today and saw a little book called Moments with Angels (by Robert Strand), I picked it up. Robert Strand is a pastor who has spent thirty years collecting inspirational stories like the ones in Moments With Angels. I’ve only read a few of the stories so far, but I’d say it was worth $1, especially after finding a pre-birth experience on p. 21. Definitely money well-spent. I instantly wanted to share the brief PBE/angel story here. Here’s an excerpt:

Yvonne (name changed) was 17, pregnant, penniless, and afraid. She was at her wits’ end not knowing what to do. . . . Nightly, she cried herself to sleep.

Then, one night an angel appeared to her in a dream. It said, “Don’t be afraid. Everything will be fine because you and your baby will be well taken care of.”

The angel pulled back the curtain and gave her a look into the future. Yvonne watched as her baby, healthy, strong, and beautiful was placed by the angel into the arms of a wonderful, caring, loving couple. The next scene showed the baby as a grown woman, mature and happy. The angel told her God was concerned about the baby and would work it all out for good for her as-yet-unborn child. Then the angel turned to Yvonne and touched her with a light that seemed to give off a warm glow that stayed with Yvonne in her heart.

As Yvonne awoke the next morning she felt wonderful, loved, and that everything would be worked out for the best. On this same day she was introduced to a lady who told her about a support group/home for unwed mothers. The next day Yvonne found herself in attendance with this support group where she found healing. . . . Her choice was to give birth and place the child with a Christian adoption agency.

God is good.

I love Maggie’s Place, a local support home for pregnant women in need. I hope to be more involved in their mission as my children get older.

More stories like this one:

Saved from Suicide
Caleb-Colton
Ready to Receive
More stories collected by Sarah
Sarah’s soon-to-be-released book

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by Lani

Born Again

November 13, 2014 in Atonement, Depression, Divine nature, Holy Ghost, Jesus Christ, joy, Lani, Rebirth, Savior by Lani

This morning I was rereading some of my favorite book, Light in the Wilderness by M. Catherine Thomas. Chapter ten is about being transformed and born again, swallowed up in Christ. For some, like Alma the Younger, this transformation happens in a dramatic and instantaneous way. For most of us, however, “we are born again by degrees,” as Elder Bruce R. McConkie has said (p. 217). The latter has definitely been true for me.

Looking back, I can recognize pivotal times of transition throughout my life when I moved from a lower to a higher plane… when I was baptized, the first time I felt God’s love wash away my heartache as a teenager, starting college, receiving my endowment, giving birth to each of my children, starting my blog, moving to Arizona, writing The Gift of Giving Life, grieving my grandmother’s death, learning to meditate, surviving this year. Sometimes the process was relatively painless, but other times it was steep and intense. The end result was always the same, however. Joy. Every time we are born again, our capacity for joy is heightened.

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This past Sunday I had a taste of the heightened joy that is my reward for my most recent transformative rebirth. I have sat through thousands of Sacrament meetings in my thirty-four years. I have felt the Spirit thousands of times while sitting in those Sacrament meetings. Feeling the Spirit was as familiar to me as feeling hungry or cold. But for most of the past six months, my ability to feel and recognize the Holy Spirit was virtually gone. I felt cut off from heaven, truth, light. This is a byproduct of mental illness for some of us. And it’s absolutely horrific. I think it’s fair to say that this inability to feel the Spirit has been a small glimpse of the bitterness of hell. These words describing hell from Life Everlasting by Duane S. Crowther brought this point home to me a few days ago:

What is the darkness in which these spirits dwell? It appears that it is a complete absence of the light, guidance, truth, and inspiration of Christ.(p. 160).

I was grateful to be reminded by Truman G. Madsen recently that Christ has personally seen and felt that horrifically dark place. “He was ‘in all points tempted like as we are’ (Paul), with ‘temptations of every kind’ (Alma). How low then can we go in our thoughts? Not as low as he in the contemplation of evil. He was tempted through ‘the darkest abyss’ and ‘descended below all things'” (Christ and the Inner Life, p. 35). It was quite an epiphany to realize that if I had been tempted to end my own life, Christ himself was also tempted to do so.

So having spent six months inhabiting a body that no longer felt the Spirit in the ways I was used to, seeing a dark and hellish abyss, sitting through Sacrament meetings devoid of any “warm fuzzies” or “burning in the bosoms,” you can imagine my surprise and delight when I felt something last Sunday in Sacrament meeting. And I didn’t just feel a little something, my entire body was on fire. And I cried and cried and cried. And I felt the Spirit burning away months of ache, jump-starting my spiritual instruments, blazing them to life again. And I cried and cried and cried. Bliss. That. That is what bliss feels like. And I think it’s fair to say that I have now had a small taste of what heaven feels like.

I adore this passage from F. Enzio Busche’s amazing talk, “Truth Is the Issue“:

This is that place where the conversion and the rebirth of the soul are happening. This is the place where the prophets were before they were called to serve. . . . This is the place where sanctifications and rededications and renewal of covenants are happening. This is the place where suddenly the atonement of Christ is understood and embraced. This is the place where suddenly, when commitments have solemnly been established, the soul begins to “sing the song of redeeming love” and indestructible faith in Christ is born (Alma 5:26). This is the place where we suddenly see the heavens open as we feel the full impact of the love of our Heavenly Father, which fills us with indescribable joy. With this fulfillment of love in our hearts, we will never be happy anymore just by being ourselves or living our own lives. We will not be satisfied until we have surrendered our lives into the arms of the loving Christ, and until He has become the doer of all our deeds and He has become the speaker of all our words.

I clap my hands for joy and exclaim with King Benjamin’s people: “This is the desire of my heart!” I want to be changed from this carnal and fallen state, become a new creature in Christ, a branch on His vine, the hands and voice that do and speak His will in every circumstance. My brother reminded me (when I was feeling hopeless) a couple of weeks ago that it’s my choice, that I can achieve the future I yearn for simply by choosing it every day. I choose to believe that I will get there someday.

my phoenix shirt

my phoenix shirt

by Lani

God Keeps His Promises, part 2

October 15, 2014 in Adversity, Depression, Fear, Lani, Personal Revelation, Priesthood blessings, Waiting by Lani

Back in March I wrote a post called “God Keeps His Promises.” Feel free to click over and read it. The main part I want to draw your attention to is this:

I wondered, “Will I need to take this medicine for the rest of my life?” . . .

In another priesthood blessing, God answered my question: “You will be able to be happy without medication.” He didn’t tell me how long it would take, but I was satisfied with just knowing that someday I’d get there. And so I went on, taking my medication, feeling grateful for my rescue from the darkness. . . .

About a year ago, I started cutting back on my dose, little by little, very slowly, adding in supplements recommended by readers and friends to ease the withdrawal. I took a dose last Tuesday, but when I was due for another dose I felt restrained from taking it. The next day I felt restrained, and the next, and the next. I didn’t hear a voice, but I felt a message in my gut: “You’re ready. It’s time.” . . .

The other night, I asked for another priesthood blessing. He said, “God wants to remind you of the promises He has made to you. He will keep those promises.”

It has been seven months. Five of those were excruciating on many levels. Once again I’m taking medication… the same medication God prompted me to stop taking in March. Once again I’m depending upon a pill to remain calm and happy. Needless to say this has been a confusing year.

For much of May and June, as I battled severe anxiety and depression and finally surrendered to the necessity of re-medicating myself, I wondered, “Why would God tell me to stop taking my medication if I was going to crash without it?” Then I stumbled on a video that brought me a lot of peace. It shares a story told by Jeffrey R. Holland…

I took a dead end. Clearly the wrong road. Retraced my steps and got back on the right road. Why did I feel that the dead end was the proper road to take if it wasn’t? When I saw this video, my heart flared with the Spirit and I felt like Jeffrey R. Holland was speaking right to me. Now I can know with a certainty that I’m on the right road for me. I also know that my dead-end detour this summer served many purposes, many of them probably unknown to me, but some of them made clear to me many times over. It was not a waste. Many lives were blessed by it, including my own.

But what about God’s promise that I would be healed and be happy without medication? When I told my (Mormon) psychiatrist about those promises, he encouraged me to re-read a couple of talks. One of them I have adored since I first heard it spoken: “Like a Broken Vessel,” also from Jeffrey R. Holland. He urges:

If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.

This message from a friend also helped me come to peace:

Through prayer, meditation and personal revelation I’ve learned that it’s possible for me to have bipolar and be perfect/whole/complete. And it’s part of God’s plan for me to be medicated. . . . That was God’s answer for me. Not to be healed. For now or for this life? I don’t know. I know I will come forward in the Resurrection whole and perfect and I cling to that hope.

We live in a fallen world. For some of our brains and bodies, the world’s fallen nature has a deeper impact. My pure immortal spirit wanted to flee my fallen body so desperately this year. Enduring the darkness was excruciating. But, for now, medication is God’s compensation to me for the disparities between my spirit and my body. For now, a pill is what is making my brain and body bearable for my spirit. For now, the healing power of God has not removed my body’s weaknesses but enabled me to thrive in spite of them. It is not the healing I wanted or expected, but it is a healing of sorts. But mortality is brief. I will spend most of my existence free of medication. Someday I will be happy without medication. Until then, I’m OK with it.

by Lani

Don’t Quit, Keep Playing

May 4, 2014 in Adversity, Atonement, Depression, Grace, Lani, Savior, Thoughts by Lani

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The Sunday School and Relief Society lessons at church today were so inspiring, and I felt impressed to spill some of my thoughts about those lessons onto paper (or screen) here.

First, for whatever reason, I get really excited when I find scriptures that demonstrate the humanity and weakness of the Lord’s prophets (Mosiah 2:11 and 2 Nephi 4:17, I love you guys). Seeing their struggles helps me let go of shame about my own. Maybe you’ve always known about this time in Moses’ life, but I must have been asleep that day in seminary. I’m not a prophet leading thousands of frustrated people to the Promised Land, but these verses (from Numbers 11) were a gift to me today:

11 And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? . . .

14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.

15 And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.

The footnote for “out of hand” in the last verse lets us know that it could be translated as “immediately.” So Moses was basically saying, “God, this is too hard. If this is how it’s going to be, please just kill me now.” I turned to my husband, grinned wide, and laughed as I heard those verses. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve uttered words like that to God and my husband on dark days. Moses, you are a guy I can relate to!

Then, in Relief Society, the lesson was about grace. It seems such a hard thing to define something so divine as grace. I still don’t feel that I could necessarily give you a definition of grace. But I loved this story our teacher shared from President Faust about a young piano student:

His mother, wishing to encourage him, “bought tickets for a performance of the great Polish pianist, Paderewski. The night of the concert arrived and the mother and son found their seats near the front of the concert hall. While the mother visited with friends, the boy slipped quietly away.

“Suddenly, it was time for the performance to begin and a single spotlight cut through the darkness of the concert hall to illuminate the grand piano on stage. Only then did the audience notice the little boy on the bench, innocently picking out ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’

“His mother gasped, but before she could move, Paderewski appeared on stage and quickly moved to the keyboard. He whispered to the boy, ‘Don’t quit. Keep playing.’ And then, leaning over, the master reached down with his left hand and began filling in the bass part. Soon his right arm reached around the other side, encircling the child, to add a running obbligato. Together, the old master and the young novice held the crowd mesmerized.

“In our lives, unpolished though we may be, it is the Master who surrounds us and whispers in our ear, time and time again, ‘Don’t quit. Keep playing.’ And as we do, He augments and supplements until a work of amazing beauty is created. He is right there with all of us, telling us over and over, ‘Keep playing’” (Source).

As I heard this story, my eyes welled up with tears. Sometimes, playing my little “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” feels like the hardest thing in the world. And the Master’s request, “Don’t quit. Keep playing,” feels like the tallest order ever given. Endure to the end? Really? I so often respond, as Moses did, “It is too heavy for me,” and in my darkest moments, “Kill me, I pray thee.”

But grace. Grace.

God told Moses: “Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel. . . . and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone” (Numbers 11:16-17).

Grace comes to us in so many different ways. For me, in my life, grace has so often come to me in the same way it came to Moses here… people. God gives me people to help me bear my burden–doulas to give me counter-pressure through the hardest contractions. In October of 2012, after surviving many months of intense darkness and despair, I wrote a thank you letter to some of the “doulas” who had been the grace that kept me going. To them, I said:

And now, looking back over that valley of heartbreak behind me, I can see just how beautiful it was. Your words and actions have illustrated in vivid detail the beauty and perfection of God’s loving, tender mercies. You have painted a magnificent masterpiece on the canvas of my suffering. If I hadn’t needed you so desperately, I would never have had the privilege of witnessing those countless acts of love and friendship.

Grace is the reason I’m still here. Grace is the reason I haven’t quit. Grace is the reason I keep playing my little song. Grace is the Master turning that feeble song into something beautiful. Grace is God painting a magnificent masterpiece on the canvas of my suffering.

Grace is yours too.

Don’t quit. Keep playing.