There’s no ‘big reason’ behind every hard experience

After a very full week of driving three days cross country to get my husband settled in for a new job, hunting for a house in a CRAZY sellers’ market, arriving to our new city to a very sketchy AirBNB (then having to switch to staying in an Extended Stay hotel and contacting AirBNB to get a refund), getting my youngest switched over to a new school in California now that schools in are doing in-person learning (knowing also that soon we’ll just have to switch her to Alabama, but there it was), making sure we had what we needed for my husband’s job and the last bit for licensure, … and other things, I was eager to get back to California to be in my own bed and hit the ground to prepare for MORE things to do. 

I had a one-way flight from Birmingham to Fresno on Friday afternoon, with two legs, layover in Dallas. Weather delayed the first flight and I speed-walked from gate B4 to C31 in Dallas, no easy feat. I was late, but a number of other people were as well. We finally were let onto the plane. Well, long story short, at least three issues caused three hours of delays on that flight, and we ended up having to deplane at 10 p.m. because there were maintenance problems that couldn’t be fixed. It was stressful for us all. We waited in line after line, and I ended up in a hotel 15 miles away from the airport around midnight without my suitcase. Luckily, our flight the next morning took off without any delay and I was very happy and relieved to be home.

The flight from you-know-where

What I noticed several times were people trying to make the best of the situation late that stressful night by saying, “Well, I’m sure we’re better off not being on the plane. God must be protecting us.” Or “God has a plan, so it’s all for the best.” And while they’re not wrong that God has a plan, I felt in my heart a truth making itself more known in my heart: Not everything that goes wrong has a particular purpose. In fact, a lot of things that go wrong have no reason whatsoever. 

Let me explain. 

I believe that God, our Heavenly Father, created us as spirits before we were born here on Earth. He had and still has a plan for us, which included us being born here and receiving physical bodies to join with our spirits, as well as having lots of opportunities to grow and learn in this mortal existence. And generally speaking, while I believe and know that He is absolutely mindful of every detail of our lives and is watching over us, He doesn’t control or micromanage everything we go through. We’ve been put into this experience of living in a fallen world, and we learn through all the things that happen naturally in this world. And a lot is difficult, stressful, tragic, worrisome, heartbreaking. On the flip side, a lot can also be joyous and happy and beautiful. But we are truly subjected to all that life has to throw at us, and I don’t believe God will remove most of those natural difficulties, just as He generally won’t protect us from the results of other people’s choices. Sometimes He intervenes. But most of the time, we must learn and grow through this experience just as it is.

I’ve learned a lot about this from being a parent and grandparent. I’ve watched my little ones (and then older ones too) struggle mightily with navigating life. I’ve always been there, watching and making sure they weren’t in serious danger, but many times as they’ve struggled to do something they just have to learn on their own, I’ve had to just watch and let them struggle — and then triumph. That’s how they needed to learn. But I’ve been available for hugs and love and a listening ear. I think that our Heavenly Parent does the same thing: He’s there, He’s watching and available and ready to intervene if needed, He’s listening. But He doesn’t rescue us from everything. 

So while God was aware that about 200 of us in a plane in Dallas were stressed and waiting for hours and then had to wait overnight to get where we were going, I don’t necessarily think there was a particular purpose. It’s POSSIBLE that plane was going to have a serious issue and He saved us from it. But more likely, a bunch of stuff just went wrong, as it tends to do in life, and that’s that. The situation didn’t need to be orchestrated by God for us to learn something, nor were we saved from a potential danger. 

However, each of us had the opportunity to learn whatever lessons we needed to learn from what took place. 

For me, the lesson was that our loving Father in Heaven isn’t going to take away most of what life naturally throws at us. Sometimes He tempers things that happen, sometimes He does save us from something; but mostly, He’s watching over us and always listening. And He’s cheering us on. I’ve gone through a lot this past year, on top of all that’s resulted from Covid. My mental health is generally helped well by medications, but in the extreme pressure cooker of one thing on top of another, it’s slipped a lot. I’ve felt myself crying out to God, “Why?? Why are you letting this happen? You know how precarious my situation is. You know. Why aren’t you doing something?” 

And too often, I’ve felt He wasn’t. And in a way, that’s been true. He hasn’t removed these trials from me. Life has continued. I’ve been angry and railed at Him. But I’ve also grown and become stronger. And I know He’s there, saying, “OK, see? You did it! I knew you could. And you did. I’ve been here the whole time.” 

Life will continue to be stressful, heartbreaking, and challenging. And I’ll continue to have moments or days when I question why God isn’t doing more. But I know that there is an overall purpose and plan, even while each situation doesn’t necessarily have a reason. And as I’ve learned, I remember in my toughest times the experiences I’ve had where I’ve known for sure that God was telling or teaching me something very clearly, answering a prayer, or filling me with love and joy beyond my natural capacity. Because I do know for sure that He has done those things for me many times.

How to approach faith when depression clouds the mind

Thanks to this title, I bet you all think I have some magic solution to this conundrum. But ha! I don’t. This is where I’m writing to open it up to a discussion.

I have written just once before about spirituality and a connection to God as it relates to depression/mental health problems, and my conclusion was and stays the same: my deep faith in God and knowing that He is there and ready to help and support me carries me through the toughest times, but I don’t feel it at the toughest times very well. It feels like a thick cloud has covered the heavens and all I have left are memories that God is there.

Where does this leave me when I know we’re supposed to lay our burdens at the feet of Jesus? That we can’t carry them ourselves, that we absolutely need divine help? When I am depressed, I don’t feel much except distance: from my family, friends, those I logically know support me but, as I’m in it, feel far. I’m muffled. This distance especially takes in God. It can be difficult for me at times to feel Him because I tend to be a deep thinker. It’s hard to make SENSE of it: how in the world does He do what He does? How can He possibly know ME, just me, so well that he’s really there for me all the time, any time I need Him? He has billions and billions of children He loves as much as He loves me. How can I matter so much when I’m one tiny speck? It baffles me, even as that logical part of me can look back and tally up times I have no doubt He was doing things for me and supporting me.

When others say, and I remember talks or scriptures telling me to do this, Lean upon the Lord, let Him take your burdens, and so on, I have absolutely no idea how that works when I’m depressed in a way I feel surrounded by cotton, my ears and mind just stuffed with it. He won’t take away the depression. I know that over years of experience. So how do I lay those burdens down when He won’t take them or make them feel lighter?

Midway through my life, I don’t have an answer to this question. I simply know that there are plenty of beautiful, joyous, strong times in my life, and the darkness, the aloneness, do take good, long breaks… Well, sometimes shorter, sometimes longer… Is that hope, that knowledge from the times that I get to be above the clouds and feeling those rays of God’s love, enough? Is simply having faith and experience to know that tough times don’t last the best I can do in terms of laying down my burdens and showing faith?

And… discuss.

Envying the sinners and oppressors

I was reading some scriptural passages over the weekend that really stood out to me relating to beauty and self-image. They all spoke about envy and how dangerous it is. In my church’s canon is a wonderful chapter that allows us to ask ourselves questions about how prepared we are to meet God. One poses this question: Are you “stripped of envy”? (Alma 5:29)

So I began searching for other scriptural references to envy, as it relates to individuals. At one point, a prophet told his people, “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities.” (Mormon 8:36)

In Galatians 5:26, we are admonished: “Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.” And in 1 Peter 2:1, that prophet tells us: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings.”

What struck me particularly were these references in Proverbs about who in particular we don’t want to envy: sinners and oppressors. Proverbs 3:31 exhorts: “Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.” Proverbs 23:17 similarly says:  “Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.”

Today, we might not be oppressed by government or worldly leadership; we’re not in bondage to other people. But we can easily be oppressed by the images and messages that are constantly bombarding us. If we allow them, those who are behind these messages can oppress us in mind and in spirit. Advertisers do all they can to make us feel bad about ourselves, mainly how we look. Cosmetics companies want us to feel bad about our skin’s youthfulness, shine and clearness; clothing manufacturers want us to feel bad about how our clothes fit, how stylish they are, what fine materials they aren’t made out of. Everyone out there wants us to feel fat and ugly in some way so we will buy their products to make ourselves look better somehow, in some way. And it’s SO easy to accept and internalize those messages and to just feel bad about ourselves. And that leads us to envy. We’re envying those who oppress us. When you think about it, isn’t that crazy? Shouldn’t we be rejecting those messages and just laughing at the absurdity of it all?

At the same time, we’re also envying those in society who are sinners. So many celebrities are held up as the icons of beauty and style. But they’re also making headlines as people who are driving drunk, committing adultery, and just plain being immodest and immoral in lots of ways. I don’t think I need to give a whole lot of details to support this statement. Just pick up a magazine or glance at celebrity news on Yahoo. The next time you wish your waistline could look like that of one of the ridiculously talentless but still ubiquitous Kardashian sisters (which is easy to do while standing in a supermarket checkout line), take a second to think about them as people and what they stand for.

Peter goes on in chapter 2 to tell us who we really are: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. … Dearly beloved, I beseech you …, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”

No, we shouldn’t be like everyone else; we shouldn’t be envying our oppressors and the sinners in our society. Those of us who are faithful believers in God are a “peculiar” people, which means we’re set apart from others. We’re God’s special people, and He loves us. He doesn’t want us to envy and try to emulate those in our society who only want to hurt us and make us feel bad about ourselves. Envy starts with comparing ourselves with others, and then finding ourselves wanting, in both ways. I think the first step in stopping this cycle is not comparing. As soon as you find yourself seeing a picture (inevitably it’s some kind of image), just stop and think about where your thought processes are going. And don’t go there. Don’t compare. Don’t envy. You’ll find yourself much happier.

Spirituality and mental illness

As a faithful follower of Christ my entire life, my spirituality and connection to the divine have always meant everything to me. My life would not be what it is without my knowledge of and faith in God, my Heavenly Father, and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I have always depended on the great gift of the Comforter that Christ left with his disciples, the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. I’ve been taught since I was young how to understand what the Spirit is trying to communicate to me through his still, small voice. It is explained to people in various ways because it can affect and teach each of us a little differently, so each of us must learn exactly how he sounds to us. A scripture in my faith’s canon says that the Holy Ghost will speak to me in my mind and in my heart, and that really rings true in my experience. I can often just feel ideas popping into my head, and I can feel in my heart a good feeling that confirms they are from a trusted source.

But my challenges with my mental health over the years have thrown wrenches into that beautiful process off and on, in various ways. The depression, irritability and anger I’ve felt have blocked that positive flow of messages from a loving God, leaving me to feel adrift and alone and cut off. I’ve sometimes felt that there are just no answers coming to prayers, and I’ve given up asking. I’ve even gotten angry at the heavens then for leaving me in that isolated state, with no communication coming my way. All of it leads to me feeling that I’m alone and undeserving of God’s love, that for some reason he just isn’t paying attention.

Even medication I’ve taken has caused difficulties of its own. As I wrote in my previous post about my long list of medications over the years, when I tried Abilify for a few months about a year and a half ago, I felt absolutely numb. It was unnerving because I’m usually a bubbly person who often sees the bright side of things and, in terms of faith, relies on (even might take for granted) the wonderful peaceful feeling that comes from turning to prayer and scriptures and other messages of a spiritual nature. I know that when I listen to good music that reminds me of God and Christ or when I read a scripture or an inspirational magazine article, I’ll feel uplifted and recharged. I’ll feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, a marvelous gift. So for the few months I took that medication, I didn’t feel anything, including those spiritual feelings. I didn’t feel bad, but I didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel peaceful or Spirit-filled whenever I did all the things that would normally make me feel that influence. It bothered me a great deal. It was a strange feeling to go to church, where I would normally feel happy and inspired, and just feel … nothing. A black hole where there would normally be gardens in bloom with all colors of gorgeous flowers of faith.

What got me through that time was just the knowledge I had still in my mind about all the experiences I could remember. My brain had stored away the memories of knowing that God had answered my prayers at specific times and that I knew that the Holy Spirit had usually been in my heart. I couldn’t feel it then, but I trusted in my head that it had happened before and would come back to me, no matter what wacky tricks this medication was playing with me. And sure enough, when I got off that medicine and got to mostly myself again, I did feel that peace again. The black hole was gone, filled again with light.

So the wrong medication can play tricks on faith. Depression and other mental illnesses can do their own brand of damage. I’ve been through that emptiness before and am kind of feeling it again, and I’m sure I’ll keep experiencing it throughout this mortal existence. It’s not pleasant, and I’d rather not have to go through this. But my feeling is that this is my cross to bear, so I’m doing the best I can to handle it gracefully. Saying I’m doing my best is the truth, but even then it feels silly to say because “my best” can sometimes not be a whole lot. I feel alone inside of myself and that God isn’t sending me answers or the positive feelings I need. But I know in the part of my brain that’s not “messed up” somehow that he’s still there.

I think what I want most to do here is connect with other people who experience these feelings. I think that faith communities are slowly doing better at directly and publicly addressing matters of mental health in the context of religious belief, and that’s wonderful. But depression and other mental illnesses work hard to isolate their sufferers. Those of us who know in our minds and in our hearts that God is aware of us and loves us but sometimes don’t really “feel” it the way we should because of neurochemical vagaries can talk to each other to buoy each other up not just in our specific trials but in our faith. We’ve been given a great gift to have a Savior and the good news of the gospel he has taught. I believe there are still miracles today. Honestly, though, some days, amid the clouds that create a darkness of despair in my heart and head, I don’t feel a conviction that God will work a miracle in my life. And since I know that isn’t true, deep down, I have to work hard to combat the feeling that is false. A dear, dear friend of mine told me a couple of times that she and her mother were able to talk to a well-known Christian writer of our faith after he gave a talk they attended. She wrote me to remind me what he had told them: “He suffers from depression and told my mom and me that being faithful means that you remember the Lord is with you and mindful of you even when the depression doesn’t let you ‘feel’ it. He is still there!” I just cling to that like a little round life saver thrown to me in an ocean of big waves. Eventually the waves die down, and I’m still clinging on for dear life: alive and well yet again. Still.


So many talks have been given, quotes made into cute signs, and so on about gratitude. I am sure I have absolutely nothing new to say on the topic. Nonetheless, I’d like to take a few minutes to share some of the things that move me and leave me with a sense of gratitude for the abundant, luxurious life I live. I am not wealthy, just fairly middle-class, but I recognize that I am rich compared to so many people across the world, even in our own relatively wealthy country.

First, I am frequently very grateful for the conveniences we take for granted in our first-world life. Aren’t running water and electricity amazing? I love having a climate-controlled home. I don’t like the heat too much, although at this point, I’ve lived 25 years in warm climates where there isn’t much snow and the summers are either very hot and dry or hot and so muggy you might as well be in a steam room. I don’t mind the cold; I like bundling up, but I have come to appreciate not having to navigate around with snow on the roads or sidewalks. I appreciate just being able to go about my business unhindered. So I appreciate air conditioning and heating. When I moved to the South as a 10-year-old from the cold climes of Pennsylvania, I went to an elementary school that still didn’t have air conditioning. I sweated through the first month or two of school (August!) and walked home in a haze from the bus stop to my (finally!) air-conditioned house. Mom would often be waiting with a Popsicle. How sweet and wonderful that was.

And plumbing. To have hot water or cold water whenever we want it, without waiting, without hiking to a well or going outside to a pump. Wowee. And toilets: it’s pretty nice to flush the smelly stuff right out of your house and not have to use an outhouse that always smells (no trips to said stinky wooden shed in the middle of the night either when it’s dark and who-knows-what might get in the way).

Technology never ceases to amaze me. Sure, we’re living in a media- and tech-saturated society, which isn’t always a good thing, but I’m in awe of how much good can be done with what we have. I just think it’s cool if I or one of my children has a question we can just take a quick moment to run to the computer and Google it. When I was a kid, the only immediate sources available were my parents and the encyclopedia. If neither of those all-wise repositories of information had the answer, I was sunk, just stuck with a question and no satisfying solution.

All of these little things are just a sampling of blessings I appreciate on a daily basis. Of course, what matters most to me are my family and friends, my experiences and memories, the things I’ve learned. I have a husband who has his imperfections and little quirks that can make me a little crazy, but he is just overall a kind and unconditionally loving man who has been better to me than I could ever have imagined these past 19 years. My daughters are astonishing in their beauty, their talents, their sweetness, their good natures. I wish I could just sit down and enjoy them non-stop, but my own needs to be alone and do things for myself as well as just the daily needs of a household keep me from doing that. But I do enjoy the moments we have, even the hours, in which we talk, read, play or otherwise have fun and share together. I also have some wonderful friends whom I admire and love a great deal, who I wish could all live on my cul-de-sac and be available all the time for fun and commisseration. There have been many other people who have been kind and good to me over the years, and I hope that any good I do can just “pay forward” in their honor.

Finally, I am grateful for my faith in and assurance of a God in heaven. It is always comforting to know that he loves me and has a plan for my life, in this mortal existence and afterward. I try to live to show him how much I appreciate his goodness to me in so many ways.

Sure, it’s only March, but every day can be Thanksgiving Day, can’t it?