Missing Shawna

shawna

On April 29th, 2005 – five years ago today – the South Salt Lake Police Department called to inform our family that my sister Shawna’s body had been found in a hotel room – due to an intentional drug overdose.  As a family, we sobbed and screamed and searched for solace amidst the heartbreaking shock of her suicide.  She was 34 years old…a musically-gifted mother of 5 children, and the wife of a devoted spouse.  Just prior to taking her life, my sister left a voicemail message on her therapist’s cell phone.  She said, in part,

“…My children are the reason I was born, but it’s time that they have some semblance of normalcy.  I’ll never ever be able to revive that for them.  But what I can give them is my eternal love…to be their guardian angel… and this is my last gesture of true love.”

In Shawna’s distorted reality, she was relieving her husband, children and family from the burden of HER; the burden of her illness, her suffering, her perceived inabilities to effectively parent or to function daily without torment and drama.  Knowing how very much she once loved life – how she sang and danced and lit up every room she walked into – it’s painfully apparent to those who love her that it was the ILLNESS – the darkness – not Shawna, who spoke those final words.  Rather than relieving us of any burdens, her choice to exit this world has compounded them.

My sister suffered from Bipolar Disorder and from an addiction to painkillers.  She had been in treatment facilities for both conditions, and had literally exhausted all her family’s resources and insurance benefits.  She was in a “high risk” category for suicide, in that she had a history of inpatient psychiatric care, was in severe psychological pain, and had previously verbalized a suicide plan.  Even though our family knew that she was at high risk – that she was in pain – and that a plan to suicide perhaps lurked within her psyche for years, we could never conceive that Shawna would actually bring herself to do it.  Even 5 years after-the-fact, I cannot believe she really went through with it.  It’s still hard for me to accept that she would actually choose to leave us…

Because I lost someone I love very much to suicide, this makes me a suicide “Survivor.”  There are millions of bereaved suicide survivors worldwide, who themselves may be at significant risk to entertain the idea of suicide.  One out of four people who attempt suicide has a family member who also tried to commit suicide.  Suicide and depression run in families.  In addition to losing my sister, I also lost my 32-year-old aunt to suicide.  As a family, we now join together with the other survivors of suicide as we send this united message:  THE CYCLE OF SUICIDE STOPS HERE.  No more will Satan and his minions claim a member of our family this way.

Research shows that the #1 reason survivors believe their loved one suicided was because they WANTED TO BE RELEASED FROM PAIN.  As survivors, we will tell you to always, always take a suicide threat or comment seriously….even if in passing or in a “joking” manner.    Suicide is born of untreated and/or unhealed depression; spiritual sickness.  We are never responsible for another’s illness, but we can create awareness.  We can create open doors of communication about depression and break down the stigma surrounding it.

My sister Shawna’s focus on being released from pain superseded all other blessings and gifts that God had given her.  A couple of years ago I was asked to speak at a press conference about Suicide Awareness through the Utah Attorney General’s office Suicide Prevention Task Force.  Before I spoke, I asked Shawna’s husband, David, what he felt her message would be now – now that she’d had a clearer “head”, so to speak – and a broader eternal perspective.  He told me Shawna would probably tell us this:

  • “My suicide hurt my family more than it helped them. It wasn’t worth it.  I made the wrong decision.”
  • “I woke up on the other side with a whole set of new issues.”
  • “I lost everything on earth and it was excruciatingly painful to watch my family move on without me.”
  • “Even an impaired life can be beautiful when compared with the alternative.”

I sense Shawna would also add this, with her five-years-in-the-Spirit-World perspective:

  • “I see now that all my life, Deity was constantly throwing me healing lifelines, yet all I could ever see was my own pain.  My pain created blocks with recognizing and receiving the Light.  Pray with all the energy of your soul to have your MIND and HEART OPENED.  The blocks will be released if you have faith.  The Light will stream in.”
  • “Having a body is THE vehicle to receiving glorious gifts, rights and power…not just after you die, but WHILE YOU ARE MORTAL.  I wish I had my body back and could couple my physical being with the spiritual knowledge I have gathered since I entered this realm.  Never take your physical temple or your Earth experience for granted!”
  • “I can never take back my final decision.  All I can do is watch over and serve my loved ones and continue to increase in light and knowledge until the beautiful hour of our reunion.

And last….I believe Shawna would tell us:

  • “He is a merciful Savior and has welcomed me with open and healing arms.  Turn to the Him with full purpose of heart. Believe Christ. Believe you can heal through His infinite power and mercy.  Expect a miracle.”

Shawna’s children are now 7, 9, 11, 12 and 16.  There is a lurking grief and sadness from her passing that perhaps can never be completely healed (at least in this lifetime) within their little hearts and minds, just as there is in mine…and in her husband’s and my parents and siblings and relatives and Shawna’s friends.   Each of us carries a piece of her light with us and a twinge of regret and sadness as well.  Today my prayer is that we all look a little closer, love a little more deeply, increase our faith and take up more spiritual courage.

And Shawna…I really miss you.

Godly Confidence

confident

My friend Sarah Hinze sent me this excerpt from M. Catherine Thomas’ essay “Redefining Our Self” and it is soooo up my alley, in terms of what I promote and teach about GODLY CONFIDENCE that I just had to share.  Love M. Catherine Thomas, she’s become one of my new favorite authors.

She writes,

“Sooner or later we realize that the time has come to find greater spiritual power, to own our divinity, and to live with greater confidence — with boldness. By “bold” I don’t mean arrogant or overbearing (see Alma 38:12), but rather, the ability to take risks, be confident, and courageous.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to the same thing. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may … find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4).  He exhorts us to have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10).

From Lectures on Faith we learn that we are not only to”commune with Him … but be partakers of his power, and stand in His presence” (Lecture #2).

The Lord shows the way to this power and strength: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughtsunceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:45).

This confidence begins in our thoughts, in the way we use our mind. We are highly potentiated beings who may have excused ourselves for not being who we really are.”

I love her for writing this!  I absolutely know that our lives rise and fall with our thoughts.  Our spiritual power is either blocked or magnified by the creations yielded from our thought forms.  If our minds were TRULY single to God, through mentally focusing on things of the Light UNCEASINGLY, we would have the spiritual confidence to not only speak with God, but stand in His presence.

To “own our divinity” and live boldly within this Sacred Station ...what a beautiful and powerful invitation!

Stand

The word Station comes from the Latin word that means “to stand.”  Therefore, my basic, overall meaning of Sacred Stations is to stand in holy places.

stand

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? (Psalms 24: 3)

When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand)…  (Matthew 24: 15)

How do you stand in holy places…and BE NOT MOVED when your environment is anything BUT Sacred?

A holy place is not always a location.  It’s about YOU…  It’s a state of being.

viktor frankl“… In spite of all the enforced physical and mental primitiveness of the life in a concentration camp, it was possible for spiritual life to deepen…In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”  (Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”)

Holy place: (where Light and the Spirit can safely dwell in abundance) = You

The point is to diligently avoid putting yourself into situations where it would be difficult to feel the Spirit.  Choose places where Light abounds, but if you have no choice… ask God to shield you so that you can  BE THE BEACON that brings the Light in!!!

light_of_god_by_taubenfeld

Things are going to get hard.  Things are happening with our economy…there are wars/rumors of wars and secret combinations within governments and disease and abuse and pornography and…need I go on?  All kinds of horrible, evil crap.  We don’t know when the cup of wrath of the Lord’s indignation will be full; when He will say, “Enough,” and bring about the final reaping of the Earth.

I used to be in a place of “gloom and doom” with respect to all the changes in our world but I choose not to go there anymore.

I’ve realized that it really doesn’t matter, as long as I choose to stand for – and with – Christ.  We may not always be able to avoid walking into darkness, but we can choose to hold His Light.  And if I’m holding that, I am NOT going to be in a mindset of gloom and doom.

The Bottom Line

being of light

I just listened to a woman who’d had a near-death experience share the main thing it taught her:

“We are here to hold the light of God in our being.  That’s all…just hold it.  We don’t have to do anything.  Just hold it.  And as we hold it, other people around us find it and feel it.  We’re here to bring heaven to earth.”

I really love that.  I’ve heard variations on this same theme in a number of near-death studies and experiences.

I would add that we DO have to “do” things.  We’re here to love and nurture and lead and heal.  The cool thing is, those “doings” are natural by products of holding that Light.

I’m thinking Gathering Light really is the bottom line.

Jesus Knew What it Meant to be Depressed

Today is Easter.  All week I’ve been reflecting on something I’d seen in a different light during last Sunday’s lesson.  I teach the 9 and 10 year-olds…I swear they feed me more than I could ever attempt to feed them.

Anyway, the topic was on Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection.  Much of what we explored as a class was found in Matthew 26.  We talked about how the Savior’s sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemene wasn’t just about atoning for the “bad” or sinful things we end up doing here on Earth, but about our sadness, our disappointments, and the things that make our hearts feel heavy.

How He didn’t just take on our sins, but our sorrows.

What struck me was that Jesus was already beginning to get “hit” with this sorrow, this heaviness of heart, even before He knelt in the Garden…right as He and a few of His disciples entered Gethsemene and were conversing.

He felt our heartbreaks coming.

And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me.  (Matthew 26:37-38)

His heart was already breaking before He left His friends to kneel down.  Sorrow (depression, sadness, ALL of those mortal feelings of despair) were coursing through Him so powerfully He felt as though He would die…or perhaps wanted to.  He asked His disciples, “watch with me”.. I think because He knew He’d be needing emotional support.

And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.  (vs. 39)

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I picture in my mind’s eye a man so burdened with torturous depression and emotional heaviness that He all but made it to His chosen place to pray before He literally collapsed.

He knew who He was and He knew why He was there.  Yet, the first thing He uttered was something along the lines of, “If possible, please take this away.”   He qualified that plea with, “Not my will but thine,” yet His sorrow and grief seemed to initially overshadow the feelings of purpose and hope He carried upon entering that Garden.

Depression tends to do that.

Part of that crippling sorrow had to be intense loneliness.  He was not only feeling a withdrawal of Divine Assistance, but the mortal kind.  Three times He came back to His disciples, each time finding them asleep.  I’ve been thinking this week that maybe He came back to them, in between agonizing stretches, to “regroup”…to get a “charge” from their companionship.

To make sure they had His back.

And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? (vs. 40)

Could You Not Watch with Me One Hour?

It made me think of the times in my life when I “slept” through the Savior coming towards me.  Those times when I really had no clue of the magnitude of this sacrifice.  Oblivious to the fact that He’d already carried and paid for the things I was struggling with.

Like depression.

This Garden experience, and that of the cross, were definitely not His only sorrowful and heartbreaking times while walking this Earth as a mortal.  The atoning sacrificial act was not His first taste of depression.  I find solace in that, even though it makes me sad to think of Him in emotional pain.

Jesus knew what it meant to be depressed.  Not just blues and disappointment, but the kind of crippling depression where you feel you cannot go forward…”even unto death.”

I long to be the kind of disciple that, though tired, watches with Him because we have become One.  That Oneness is the best healer of depression there is.

I should know.