Dates With God, Chapter 2, Part 1: Emma’s Letter #2

I’ve been having some super fun family bonding time this week hence the lack of blogging since last weekend. I can’t wait to share what I have been up to with my family and what we’ve learned. Maybe I can get to that next week, but no promises! Our homeschooling classes start up soon so I will have to be getting ready for all of that. Anyway, here’s the next installment of my new novel Dates with God: How Four Mormon Mamas Beat Satan Using the Book of Mormon. In this excerpt, Emma writes a letter to herself and reveals the scars of her childhood. She discovers how the Enemy uses her past to get her to feel lousy and interfere with her marriage. Here’s Emma’s Letter #2Note: I am aware of some typos and odd characters in the text. I will be working on getting rid of those when I get some help. I’ve worked on it and for the life of me, every time I go to delete these odd characters the cursor moves to the beginning of the line. So I will be cleaning those up. If you have comments or feedback about other issues in the story, please comment below.

 

Dear Self,

 

If people came to your home they would be so surprised. Most people think of you as mild and mousy. OK, well, it’s true you don’t aspire to be the next diva American Idol sensation. But you also aren’t mellow or mousy with your kids. You’re more like a lion, no, make that a witch.

 

How do you think you can stop your anger problem? The class this week was about noticing chemical shifts in ourselves, which precede changes in moods. I’ve noticed many times that right before you started yelling you felt the build-up of stress and overwhelm. It was so interesting to really notice what it feels like. It’s like this swelling inside me that is quickly gaining momentum.  I also hear these voices in my head, “You shouldn’t have adopted these kids. You know they would be better off with their birth mothers.” It’s been so freeing to realize that this voice is not really me, it’s really satan! Maybe you can get to the point where you recognize the voice before the heat of the moment and do something to reverse the negative energy. I’ll let you know when I learn how to do that.

 

I’ve been wondering how satan can put his voice in our heads? How does that work? I guess it’s because he’s a spirit. Just as the Holy Ghost, as a spirit, can speak to our spirits, so can the evil spirit. I noticed this scripture:

 

“And it came to pass that the people began to wax strong in wickedness and abominations; and they did not believe that there should be any more signs or wonders given; and Satan did go about, leading away the hearts of the people, tempting them and causing them that they should do great wickedness in the land.” 3 Nephi 2:3

 

So how did satan “lead away the hearts of the people”? I think it’s because he could speak to them as spirit to spirit, or spirit to heart, and that’s how he tempted them and caused them to do wickedness. I/you learned in class that the reason we fall for his temptations often is because he can speak in my own voice, so I think it’s me talking when it’s really him. I am learning things I never knew before about myself and my inner world.

 

This class has really opened up some old wounds. I had a dream last night. I was pulling on Clark’s arm, asking him to come with me to see a little girl. I kept tugging and tugging and tugging, and he kept resisting. He would not come with me. Finally I opened a door without Clark standing by me and saw a little girl in the corner of the room crying. The little girl looked up and kept sobbing and stared at me. She was actually me, at the age of 4.  I woke up and I started crying in real life. Then all of the memories I had of being 4 and scared came back to me.

 

I lived in Indiana and my parents were not there for me. I remember a lot of yelling and fighting and hitting. I also remember being left alone in charge of my younger brother while they were out night after night, drinking and doing drugs. Lots of times Joey and I had no food in the house and I would put him to bed by telling him stories, and then I would cry myself to sleep. Sometimes we could find some food, like stale bread and canned beans. My dad left us when I was 10. I sometimes cringe when I hear that song “I am A Child of God,” because I was not born to parents “kind and dear.” Maybe that’s why I have a hard time connecting to you God as my heavenly father. Finally when I was 12 my grandma intervened and came and got us to come live with her in Utah. My mom ended up dying of a drug overdose and we still don’t know where my dad is.

Anyway, I lived with Grandma until I left for BYU the fall after I turned 18. I guess Grandma is the closest thing I have to knowing what you must be like God. Hey, I just realized something. Grandma is the “kind and dear” parent that I can think about when I sing that song. I do have a parent “kind and dear”! She is the one who figuratively heard that little girl crying in my dream and came to her rescue. That dream reminded me that we are all little children at heart who just want to be noticed, loved and happy.

 

I think maybe I am always at a Level 1 or 2 on the Chemical Scale [see page 21 of Like Dragons Did They Fight by Maurice Harker and Lucas Reynolds]. I have gone for decades not knowing this. It is like I have been going through life blindfolded, not knowing that satan has been attacking me every moment. I have this constant dissatisfaction going on. I think a lot of it stems from orphan envy, and then satan builds on that with Level 1 and Level 2 to turn it to frustration and then anger. Then I lash out at my kids. This envy stems from when I was a kid. I feel like I spent my whole childhood feeling like I was on the outside looking in. First it was in Indiana. I was on the outside of a happy family life, looking in symbolically at some of my classmates who had cheery family lives. It’s like I was standing on their porch, freezing cold, looking in the front window at happy family scenes around a glowing fireplace. Then I moved to Utah, and my physical life got better. I had plenty of food and attention from Grandma. But I still felt emotionally off. She loved me plenty. But I never felt completely “whole.” I felt like I didn’t have a “real, forever” family like the Butterfields, my childhood friends. Mark and LaVonna Mae Butterfield were grandma’s neighbors. Their daughter Cindy was my exact age to the month, so we did a lot at school and church together. More on LaVonna Mae in a minute.

Adjustment from life in Indiana to suburban Mormon Utah was hard. Grandma lived in a ward with tons of kids. I wasn’t used to going to church and being around other kids, except at school. I had never played at a friend’s house before. I didn’t even own a dress or very many toys. The girls my age in the ward and neighborhood were into clothes and boys and hair. I felt so different from them. I was only used to thinking about surviving. One of the first thing I noticed was that the girls all had fluffy bangs.  I remember thinking, “What is it with this Utah hair?” Grandma got me some dresses for Sunday and nice school clothes. I remember finally feeling accepted because I fit in, at least with my clothes. She took so much better care of me than my parents ever did! For once I felt I had a remotely normal childhood, as mu[[

Looking back I realize that I still felt poor and orphan-like as I kept comparing my life to Cindy’s life. I still felt like I was an outsider, looking in, despite the Butterfields’ welcoming acceptance of me. LaVonna’s girls took me in like a sister. LaVonna Mae was like a third mom, next to my grandma, and mom. I close my eyes and remember sitting in her 70s Harvest Gold formica kitchen, drinking red punch and eating her homemade mint brownies and laughing with her girls. She was the Relief Society president, homemaking queen, and fashionista maven of the ward. She sewed all the girls’ matching dresses, curled their hair perfectly for every Sunday, and taught piano lessons.

 

LaVonna Mae was a would-be Hollywood starlet who was part of a singing sisters group in Los Angeles in the 60s. She also had a stellar swimming and track career in high school while she pursued the training to become a classically-trained concert pianist and vocalist. That didn’t keep her busy enough, so she had a budding acting and modeling career as well. She had the athleticism of Esther Williams, the voice of Marni Nixon, the figure of Grace Kelly, the talent of Katherine Hepburn, the likeability of Lucille Ball, and the fashion sense of Audrey Hepburn. She appeared with a few lines in several movies. Her Type A overdrive mixed with her natural talents and good looks propelled her onward and upward to center stage, which she managed completely graciously. She was the female everyone wants to hate at because she is so perfect but the more time you spend with her the more you can’t help but love her because she is so pleasant and generous.

She left her glamorous careers, yes, careers in the plural, to marry and settle in Utah to a life of Mormon motherhood, full of diapers and dishes. But in true LaVonna Mae style, she plunged right in and made motherhood just as fulfilling and attention-gathering as her former careers. She had two boys, then Cindy, then Christy, Allison, and Ashley, and then four more boys for a total of 10 kids. Her girls were like sisters to me. LaVonna Mae was like a third mom, next to my grandma, and mom. I close my eyes and remember sitting in her 70s Harvest Gold formica kitchen, drinking red punch and eating her homemade mint brownies and laughing with her girls. She was the Relief Society president, homemaking queen, and fashionista maven of the ward. She sewed all the girls’ matching dresses, curled their hair perfectly for every Sunday, and taught piano lessons. I still remember seeing her family march up to the front row of the chapel on Christmas Sunday, with all of the little girls wearing matching velveteen dresses and holding Cabbage Patch dolls they had received from Santa that morning. I had no such luck and my cheeks burned with envy. LaVonna Mae had a way of always looking perfect. She made the mommy roles that Julie Andrews portrayed look like negligent, underachieving slipshod caretakers. For some odd reason, I feel like LaVonna Mae is always watching me, to see if I am living up to her s

LaVonna Mae was fun, but she was also about business. The only time we relaxed was when we ate her baked goods. Most of the time, we were working. In the spring or summer, we either planted the garden or picked raspberries or other harvest from her garden and orchard and helped her with canning. In the fall and winter we made dolls, blankets, and wooden toys to donate to homeless shelters. We also worked on writing skits and sewing costumes to present the skits to old people in nursing homes, complete with LaVonna Mae’s favorite songs, like “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” LaVonna Mae was the executive producer, piecing all of the song, dance, and instrumental music numbers together and having final say on the scripts we wrote. She had practically her own orchestra to play for the show because she taught each child to play piano starting at age 4 and then required that they learn the violin plus one other instrument of their own choosing. She graciously let me join the family troupe of performers even though I gave up on her piano lessons. She was amazing in every way, in personality, industry, service, kindness, feminine fashion, beauty, homemaking, and being a wife and mother.

 

LaVonna Mae had a way of always looking perfect and going over the top. If she was asked to make cupcakes, she would produce wedding cakes. She wrote her checks in calligraphy, made Faberge eggs out of sugar and frosting for Easter, gingerbread houses for Christmas that looked like the Von Trapp family villa, and her girls’ hair like they were going to the prom every Sunday. I am still friends with the Butterfields and Cindy and I message each other on Facebook a lot. She still lives in Pineview, so does Christy. They each have an upwardly mobile husband and a bunch of kids. I have always wanted to buy a house in Pineview and live there too so we could raise our kids together in such an idyllic environment. Houses there cost a lot more, and we’ve never been able to afford it. If I could somehow talk Clark into using his inheritance money to use as a down payment and he got a job within commuting distance, to replace the inheritance money we are living on, then we could afford to live there. But we would have to use some of the inheritance money to get us out from under the water with this mortgage. Right now, with him out of work, there’s no way I could risk taking on that size of a house without a regular paycheck.

 

So I realized the other day how much this longing, this intense desire to move there affects me every day. Satan uses it to build on with more negative feelings. He takes the frustration I have at being stuck in this cramped old house, faraway from what really feels like home to me, Pineview, and mixes it with envy for a big house with marble countertops, vaulted ceilings, sub-zero fridge, and bull-nose corners, and then he keeps building it until it is anger. Hmm…I am going to have to figure out how to deal with that. I am not sure yet.

 

I’ve also realized that mixed with this unsatisfied longing is my poor-orphan-on-the-outside-looking-in emotional framework which affects me everyday. I still feel socially inferior to my “peers,” like all the moms in my ward. On the other hand, I have never felt intellectually inferior. I’ve always known I could hold my own academically. I have prided myself that I’ve known, even before college, that Jean Piaget is a male, the difference between socialism and communism, how to spell voila which most unlearned people spell “wallah,” and despite the common misconception, that most chairs you see on pool decks are not “lounge chairs,” but “longue chairs” which comes from the French phrase, chaise longue which means “long chair”. But I’ve always felt like socially, I was still a bit backward. Like I don’t know how to give a tip or make small talk with strangers, and I am absolutely petrified of ever being called to serve in the ward’s Young Women presidency. I don’t know how I would relate to a gaggle of teenage girls. These themes of wanting to move and feeling socially inferior are like undercurrents that satan is always playing with to help me miss battles.

Yesterday, I missed a battle with saying my evening prayer. I was in bed when I remembered I hadn’t said it. Then I thought, “Oh, I need to say my prayer.” I felt soooo tired. Like I would fall apart if I even tried to sit up. I did not want to do it. I lay there for about 5 minutes, wishing the situation would somehow go away. “Really?” “You really forgot to say your prayer before you got into bed? How could you?” Uggh, I hate the misery of those kinds of conditions. I got up in the bed and knelt under the covers and started to say my prayers. Then I fell asleep. I woke up and started again, trying to remember where I left off. Then I would start over again. I kept falling asleep and then waking up, looking at the clock and starting over. First it was 11 PM then 11:13, then 3:34 AM, then 5:17, then it was the alarm at 6 to wake me up. At some point my legs collapsed underneath me and I was sleeping on my stomach. I would have gotten more sleep if I just had gotten out of bed in the first place and said my prayer the first time I realized I missed it!

 

In the morning, I hit the snooze button because I was soooo tired. Then when I finally got out of bed I had missed my get up time, which is one of my Girl Goals. It hit me that’s how it feels to be stoned, that feeling I had when I was so tired and craving sleep. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t realize that I was giving up on my 6 AM wake up time. I totally have now lived what we talked about in class last week, with that story of the Lamanites drugging the Nephites’ water and the Nephites getting stoned! I was in my limbic or animal brain, and all I cared about was getting more sleep. I remember hearing in class about how when we are in the animal brain all we care about is satisfying basic animal instincts, such as sleeping, eating, and reproducing.

 

In class when we were talking about the chemical scale of emotions that happen during self-betrayal I felt so superior, like “Oh I never experience that. I never get stoned. That’s for other people who use drugs and alcohol, not me.” Oh my gosh, how silly I was being. Or was that really satan putting that thought in my head, and I just thought it was me, so that I would have my guard down for the next time he whispered a lie to me? He is so sneaky! I did my lost battle analysis (LBA) and realized that the lie or Dude Moment came last night way before I would have initially thought that it did. When I was in my bed writing in my journal, I got a text message, and then I replied. I texted back and forth with my friend and when we were done, I snuggled under the covers and fell asleep. When I did the LBA I realized that when I heard the phone notify me of the text I heard the thought, “I have to read that text!” That was a lie from satan! I did not have to read it right then and there! Who is more important to talk to in that moment, God, in the form of my letter to God, or whoever might be texting me? If I had stayed on track, writing to God in my journal, not getting distracted, I would have remembered to pray next because that is my habit, to pray right after I write, and then check off my boxes. That lie I heard was satan talking to me, that wasn’t me.  I also did a LBA on the praying in bed scenario.

 

Q5 or Question 5 “Where and when were you when you experienced the ‘Forget it’ moment, Level 5 on the chemical scale?”

I was in bed, starting to fall asleep.

 

Q4 or Question 4  “Where and when were you when you experienced the ‘Stupid Conversation’, Level 4?”

It was when I was in bed, after I realized I hadn’t prayed, and before I dozed off. It sounded like this,  “No don’t pray, just lie here. I’m so comfy. I don’t want to get out of bed. I can’t get out of bed. I know I should, but I don’t want to. You can just say your prayer right here. Don’t worry about it.”

 

Q3 or Question 3 “Where and when did Level 3, the Dude Moment, happen?”

“You don’t have to get out of bed. You can just pray right here.” Maybe that’s true for some people, after all it does say on that Gospel Standards chart for the Primary kids that “I can pray anytime anywhere,” but in my specific situation I was not awake enough to stay awake to get through the end of the prayer, even though I was kneeling, and not lying, in bed. Getting out of bed would have helped me to rouse enough to pray in a wakeful  mode.

 

As I wrote that, I realized that the Dude Moment actually happened a lot earlier. The clue is that the Dude Moment usually involves a lie. As I thought about this I remembered a lie I had heard from the enemy earlier in the day. Usually I don’t let the kids watch a movie after 7:45, so we can have lights out way by 10 PM. But they asked for a movie at 8:15 and I heard this voice say, “It’s OK, just let them watch it. It doesn’t matter.” So we didn’t have everyone in bed until WAY after 10:45 because they still wanted me to read to them after the movie was over. That made me be really sleepy when I finally got to my journal writing. Like I wrote earlier, another lie or Dude Moment was when I heard a text message come in on my phone, and a voice said, “I have to read that text.” I realized that was putting someone else before God. In that moment, texting back and forth with my friend was more important than my nightly appointment with God to connect with Him by writing Him a letter and praying.

Q2, Question 2 “Where and when were you when you experienced the ‘Build-up of Negative Feelings’, Level 2?”

Hmmm…I think that happened all day. I had been going from errand to errand and kid to kid and duty to duty and had not taken time to nurture myself at all. So when that text message came I felt starving for some attention from a friend.

 

Q1, Question 1 “Where and when were you when you experienced the ‘Chemical Spill’, Level 1?” I haven’t figured that one out yet. Hmmm…maybe it was early in the day when I noticed the kids had spilled nail polish on the living room carpet and I yelled at them. Yeah, that’s another Lost Battle, because I lost my temper. I’ll be doing another LBA for that. I am thinking of maybe changing my goal about not getting angry. Maybe it would be better to have goals that help me feel more nourished and at a Level 0 so that I am less likely to get angry. I will have to think about that more.

 

I am grateful to God for the Lost Battle Analysis process. This is something I can do the rest of my life as part of my journal writing to keep me in my frontal lobe and on God’s covenant path. I plan on using this the rest of my life so I can be a better warrior for God. I can see how just as I get stoned when I am extremely tired I can be stoned when I get angry. I can see that I can prevent the stoned-ness from happening by being more discerning to those little signals along the way and acting on them.

 

Love,

Emma

 

Like I wrote earlier, I am aware of the formatting problems, odd characters, and the “s” that has no letters next to it to make a word. I have tried deleting it and it won’t delete! I will have to get my tech assistants (my R.M. son and his teen siblings) to help me.

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