The suns also rise

On painting day I open the bedroom window as wide as it can go, letting in a mild harvest breeze. Autumn again, autumn already: the aspens on the mountainsides are beginning to turn; the early morning carries a chill. I shiver as I remember the crisis that was building in our household this time last year. We’d just gotten the blunt results of Thomas’s cognitive evaluation. Christine’s depression was in a tailspin, making school attendance impossible. And my own mental health was quickly deteriorating.

Shaking off the memory, I pry off the paint can lid with a flathead screwdriver. The bright shade of lilac takes me aback for a moment. Maybe too bright for bedroom walls? It’ll dry darker, I remind myself. And besides, this is what Christine picked out. I promised her she could choose.

After flipping on the ceiling fan to chase away fumes, I pour some paint into the tray and slide a fresh roller into place, eager to get started before my happily playing kids start pounding each other. But as I raise the saturated roller to the first wall, I hesitate again. Although this has been Thomas’s room for more than a year, the lime green walls look too fresh to paint over. (Unlike his brothers at age four, Thomas doesn’t dry his soapy hands on the walls or mark them with contraband Sharpies.)

But this isn’t Thomas’s bedroom anymore. The other day we lugged his crib down the hall to his brothers’ room, making space for ten-year-old Christine to invade with her piles of books and clothes and plush cats. Which in turn made it possible for the teenage boys downstairs to have separate testosterone-laden lairs. Although not ideal, the bedroom switch serves the greater good.

Still, I sigh as I roll a swath of bright lilac across the green. I spent many carefully saved hours and dollars to decorate Thomas’s room. It was the only spot in the house that even vaguely resembeled a Pottery Barn catalog. Last summer, when the rest of the main level was in chaos from laying hardwood floors, I would visit this room for periodic breathers, savoring the vibrant colors and the palpable newness of everything in sight. The area rug–a perfect red circle–punctuated the room like an exclamation point.

But Shmi Skywalker was right: you can’t stop change, any more than you can stop the sun from setting. (Suns if you’re on Tatooine.) The bedroom switch is not that big of a deal, although I hate how Thomas’s circle rug clashes with the muted earth tones of his new digs. But weightier changes are on the horizon. The fall equinox has passed; the summer light will quickly wane. After only a brief taste of mental and emotional stability, Christine and I must walk a thin line through the winter months once more. And with uncanny timing, the challenge of Thomas’s disability, which we’ve slowly absorbed over the past few years, is erupting again: born with Down syndrome, he was diagnosed Monday with PDD-NOS, an autism spectrum disorder.

The problem with past pain: it makes future pain seem inevitable.

I cover the lime green with broad strokes of the roller, trying to avoid the deeply rutted path of fear. Be reasonable, I order myself. Despite the gathering clouds, we are not doomed to revisit last winter’s crippling storm. Christine and I have better therapists and more effective medication on board. Thomas has a new, highly skilled support system in place to manage the complications of his multiple disabilities. And even if change overpowers these safeguards, change itself will eventually rescue us, ironically enough. Every setting sun must rise again.

That’s what I tell myself, over and over, as the lilac paint dries to a gentle shade of June.

Okay, your turn. When has change thrown you for a loop? What have you learned from enduring difficult change? How can we be both hopeful and realistic as we face daunting challenges?

_________________

The suns also rise

Comments

  1. I’m glad you are in a better place this year, even as you face the prospect of even more challenges ahead. You and yours are in my thoughts and prayers.

    And I love that you can include Shmi Skywalker in a post. That just rocks.

  2. Wow – I identify with this posts on so many levels.

  3. Another set of thoughts and prayers as you walk your thin line, Kathy. Future pain *is* inevitable. Take it slowly. Get yourself and your family to Halloween (teletubby again?), and then batten down till Christmas.

    After that it’s a tough stretch. Spring equinox is March 20, 2010. You’ll get there, and then you’ll have another June to anticipate.

    Hugs to you, and wishes for a gentle winter.

  4. Okay, your turn. When has change thrown you for a loop? What have you learned from enduring difficult change? How can we be both hopeful and realistic as we face daunting challenges?

    Monday we had our third daughter. She’s my first one to be in NICU. I learned I desperately love this baby and want her to come home. I learned when you can’t do anything else, you can pray.

  5. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Thanks, Kaimi and Rory. Where would I be without such friends?

    Matt, congratulations on the birth of your daughter, and best hopes for her health and strength. Two of our babies spent time in the NICU, one for three weeks and one for six. The experience of having a child there can be as traumatic as it is life-saving. I don’t have words to describe the utter helplessness and vulnerability that comes during and after such a crisis. Your family will be in my thoughts.

  6. Matt – blessings on your family.

    Thanks for the post, Kathryn. I’ll need to come back in a bit for more substantive commentary.

  7. I love you, Kathy–both for who you are and how you write! One thing I have learned from enduring difficult change is that I am both stronger and weaker than I thought I was. I’ve learned that sometimes the best I can do is just hold on tight and ride out the storm. I’ve also learned that when the thing I choose to cling to is the Rock of our Salvation, there comes an underlying sense of peace that steadies and calms me despite the raging winds. I’ve learned that sometimes Hope will suffice and cover for Faith when Faith wavers or even decides to take a brief vacation. I’ve learned that being realistic and being hopeful are not mutually exclusive; that, in fact, hope is often born of the action that results from looking something square in the face and choosing to exercise my agency.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    Matt, the NICU is one of the most terrifying and sad places I’ve ever been, and our son was only there for a short while. You’re in my prayers, as ineffectual as they may seem sometimes.

    Kathy, even though I must hate you for bringing the name Shmi back to memory, I think you are right. Life and change does go on, and even though we cannot prevent this, there are also blessings in store. My new kids at first seemed to mark the end of my life. No question that for weeks I felt almost depressed by their needs. But, strength-sapping though they are, have begun to fulfill in me a joy that I didn’t know I missed. Your post reminds me of the potential for joy and progression in each day.

  9. I’ve learned that submission is a true, but often overlooked gospel principle that grants a sanctifying power of its own.

  10. Sharlee, I love what you said about hope sufficing for faith during dark times. Sometimes when life shakes me up the truths of the gospel shine even more brightly than before, and the spirit is a tangible companion. But often, these comforts disappear behind an impenetrable wall just when I need them most, and all I have left is the hope that they’ll eventually return.

    Steve, I really appreciate this peek into your personal life, and the reminder that good things can come from hard things. (But what do you have against Shmi?)

  11. Steve Evans says:

    I liked Shmi fine, but I’ll admit I was glad when she was killed by Tusken Raiders.

  12. “Okay, your turn. When has change thrown you for a loop?”

    Some of my most devastating times were in the winter. One recurring theme has been difficulties with family or with close friends. Our links to other people bring us the most joy, but they also cause the most pain.

    “What have you learned from enduring difficult change? How can we be both hopeful and realistic as we face daunting challenges?”

    If you had a good day today, write it in your journal as a hedge against the darkness to come.

    Take the moments as they come. Find support wherever you can. Even in hard times, notice the good things. Times may get worse, and you may look back on today’s challenges as an idyll.

    Also, don’t listen to pessimists. B-)

  13. I can relate to this piece in so many ways. The depression, the imperfection of life, the changes, oh how I dread changes. I don’t have a good therapist or the medication. Depression is so unmanageable for me. Each time I feel I am gathering my composure, strengthening and moving beyond, I am slapped with a great big reality check.

    I often wonder if there will ever be a time when I am truly happy, or if this life is the life I will have until I have no life at all.

    “The problem with past pain: it makes future pain seem inevitable.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. In fact, I think that my expectations for failure in any given situation are much larger than what an average person would assign. I beat myself up for not being able to overcome the ugly me that I am. The me that hides in the house and spends entirely too much time crying. The evil me.

    I admire you for being able to share your experiences the way that you do, and for your relentless pursuit to overcome.

  14. I liked Shmi fine, but I’ll admit I was glad when she was killed by Tusken Raiders.

    And consequently you’re glad that Anakin was given the impetus he needed to let his rage out, become a murderer, give in to Palpatine, become a Sith Lord, and nearly destroy the galaxy?

    Good call, Evans.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Scott, arguably that was improvement in Anakin’s overall demeanor and behavior. Or perhaps you would like him to hold you as he did by the lake on Naboo?

  16. More to the point, Kathy, this is an absolutely phenomenal post. Thank you so much.

  17. Wonderful, Kathy- per normal. :)

    In a small measure, I know your pain.

  18. No matter how many times I have felt comforted by the Spirit and felt the joy that brings, I am nevertheless absolutely frustrated at being a slave to my own body chemistry. One month I feel put upon, my true self evident in my failings, my convictions meaningless, and the next I feel blessed, confident, and sure. And nothing’s really changed. Objectively, the exact same struggles/blessings/challenges are there. And yet, my view is as different as when I lose a contact.

    I assume it’s the vicissitudes of being a creature of flesh.

    Since I’m always functional, my guess is I’m not even ill. I’m probably just normal. As most do, I make it through the dark knowing the sun will rise again — I just have to make sure I don’t say or do anything I’ll regret until it does. But, when it’s dark, it can be really hard knowing that as surely as the sun will rise again, it will also set. A part of me wants to just get comfortable in the dark, and that’s not good.

    Fortunately for me, I live in summer. The days are much longer than the nights.

  19. Kaimi: It’s hard to not listen to myself, because I follow me wherever I go and I never seem to shut up. :)

    Rebecca: There’s a big difference between weakness and evil, and there’s only so much upheaval we can take before we start to shut down. The harsher life treats us, the more we need to be gentle with ourselves (and each other).

    Martin: I know what you mean about the drastic change in perspective. And I, too, struggle to embrace the happy times because I know they’re only temporary. Of course, that’s all the more reason to enjoy them while they last …

  20. The thing I’ve learned is that bad times never last and that good times never last. I’ve learned it will always get better.

    The trick with this is to not get your hopes too high or too low. The trick is to live in the moment when it’s good. and to know that when times are really tough, they will get better.

    I learned to talk with God every day and tell Him what I’d like to accomplish, to tell Him of my fears and then to say, “thy will be done.” God’s will, to my surprise, is usually the good stuff. But in a more peaceful way than I’d expected.

  21. I love this post Kathy, and definitely agree with the truth you bring out here– that sometimes orderly and neat (and resembling a Pottery Barn showroom) isn’t what we need most from life. I’m so glad that you and Christine are in a better place this year, and I’m sure she’ll love her new room.

    This year I’ve been surprised at how easy things can be that were hard before. Our cross-country move hasn’t been that bad, even a major surgery and a kid in a body cast was a breeze compared with how it was the first time around. The hardest thing? Watching people I love struggle (mainly my parents) and not being able to do much to help out.

  22. Kathy, this was a beautiful post. And a poignant reminder that the one constant in life is change (cliche, I know, but so true). I don’t like change one bit and do my best to avoid it. But I have learned the most during seasons of change. I used to throw tantrums and dig in my heels during unwanted changes, but during this latest trial (financial hardships this past year), I’ve noticed I’ve been more quiet and submissive, felt more supple and pliant. Maybe I’m learning something, after all.

  23. Shelah, I’m amazed (and glad!) you can put “body cast” and “breeze” in the same line!

    Interesting comments regarding submission. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Until a few years ago I believed that everything that happened to me was God’s will and that submitting to the circumstances of my life was a way of saying “father knows best.” These days my perspective is different. I don’t believe, for example, that God zapped Thomas with multiple disabilities in order to teach him, or me, or anyone else an Important Lesson. At the same time, I do believe important lessons can be learned as a result of living this set of circumstances. So submission, for me, has less to do with trusting God’s wisdom in causing a specific situation, and more to do with trusting the dynamics of growth in a broader sense.

    Hmm, I’ll have to write a post about that.

  24. Yes, submission in the sense of trusting that I will learn something valuable in an uncomfortable situation. I think I’ve given up the idea that the Lord is orchestrating my trials, but I’m trying to learn to let Him lead me through them and refine me in the process.

    And you should write that post!

  25. I love this post, Kathy. Beautifully written.

  26. “That’s what I tell myself, over and over, as the lilac paint dries to a gentle shade of June.”
    I loved this post (and especially the final line). One year ago our family was experiencing another round of absolute chaos; it just seemed like the forces of darkness were going to win some major battles. Some people watch Star War movies, but I actually live them. A year later, it all just seems like a bad dream. The good guys ultimately won every battle that was raging one year ago. It was another reminder that a mother’s prayer can be quite powerful in the battle between good and evil.

    I always have to remind myself that change is always uncomfortable, but I’ve learned from 50 years of change and chaos, that I have an Unsinkable Molly Brown personality, which is a wonderful blessing. Sorry to mix my movie metaphors in the same comment…

  27. Kathy every thing you write is beautifully expressed and wise. This especially so.

    So many ‘loops’ are flying this way that most are being dropped and the few I’m holding up I don’t know what to do with. I just wanted to write and say that I’m glad you are taking the time to send out a life line rather than more of these loops I’m being thrown for.

  28. and now even with migraine i had to read this. crying.

    mortality is just so dang hard. and sometimes that makes me mad. sometimes in my mortal weakness i wish the plan didn’t include so much opposition.

    yes, contrast that with my long comment (or blog post, perhaps, instead) on the affirmation thread. but it’s in part because i *have* to believe in the impossible, i have to have hope, and i have felt the reality of it, even as i have no idea how it sometimes ends up playing out (usually not as we think it should or would — something a wise friend once told me…that hope, that faith, is often counterintuitive — thanks, kathy).

    it’s that hope and that hope alone in the end that will keep winter at bay. or that brings spring anew. winter would win without The Son.

    i love you, kathy.

  29. Kathy,
    I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about your post. I sent the link to my adult daughter, who also battles depression. I put the subject as “Decorating and Depression”. The first time my daughter’s depression hit crisis mode, after the sudden death of her friend, I felt so helpless. My first response, as I watched her sink lower and lower, was “Let’s redecorate the living room!” She has an amazing gift for creating beautiful spaces. In the past, we had lifted her spirits through mild depression episodes with decorating projects. I now have a fabulous living room that we all love, but, of course, it took a lot more than decorating to treat the severe depression. She’ll love your daughter’s selection of lilac paint, because several years ago, while my husband and I were away celebrating our wedding anniversary for a week, she surprised me with a WHILE YOU WERE OUT – style makeover of our master bathroom. Her first paint selection was a lilac that turned out to be too intense, so she ordered a second can that dried “to a gentle shade of June.”

    It is interesting that my UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN spirit was assigned to a body that also, as you know, battles the dark winter of depression. I am fabulous in a crisis, but only when I have the depression under control. I will continue to pray for your family and thanks for a touching and thought-provoking post…

  30. Wow. Thank you for these thoughtful comments.

    Kathryn, give your daughter my very best. I’ll think of you both whenever I walk into Christine’s lilac room. Your friendship and prayers are much appreciated!!

    m&m, I love you too. Someday, we’ll meet on the other side and laugh and cry about everything we’ve been through, separately yet also together.

    SteveP, with all the burden that comes with pain, it does offer this perk: meaningful connections with others. Thank you.

  31. Wow. This? is so true: “The problem with past pain: it makes future pain seem inevitable.”

    And yet, the hope that the sun will rise, fueled as a symbol by the fact that the Son has indeed risen, asks us to hope and believe and trust otherwise.

  32. Whenever I think I’ve figured some issue out, it pops up again later on in my life, the hydra head that won’t die. I go through spells where I think I’ve got a handle on mothering, or on writing, but whenever I feel like I can handle life, I find it’s really an illusion, a veneer. Holding on to the trust that the suns also rise is very hard sometimes. Thanks for this post, Kathy.

  33. I don’t like to remember how I got through the darkest days, but I do remember a realization just as I started the incline at the other end of bottom. I came to know that there were guardian angels who attended my journey. Some were in human bodies and some spirits. Sort of like a “footprints in the sand” realization. I have called on them frequently and not forgotten them in the 23+ years since.

  34. Rick in Nashville says:

    Death of my firstborn and many other loved ones, financial ruin, job loss, divorce, parental alienation, childhood abuse, crippling motor vehicle accident injuries are just some of the ‘highlights’ (LOL) of my first 50 years in mortality. I was even ‘rewarded’ with what ultimately turned out to be false positive HIV test results, after making a directed blood donation solicited from the stand during sacrament meeting, for a baby having open heart surgery. I can scarcely wait to see what the next 50 bring (LMAO)! What the hell was going through my mind as I sat in the pre-existance signing up for some of these life lessons? At least my sarcastic sense of humor has survived intact!

    So not surprisingly, I too am well aquainted with depression ranging from the low grade chronic to crippling clinical darkness. While I wouldn’t suggest it for most, I have one way or another, managed to survive without benefit of medication or therapy. Not that I haven’t tried them, but with environmental triggers such as these, neither seemed to work very well for me, as the event that was so disturbing to the psyche was still ever present, in spite of any attempts at abrogation by the former.

    Embracing depression as an old, but deeply flawed friend that I can learn from, has helped me to neutralize many of it’s negative effects. A keenly sharpened sense of empathy has been one unexpected benefit of all of this, as our pain makes us more accutely sensitive to similar pain in others. It also has the effect of making some scripture, especially concerning adversity, so much more real and personal. In order to escape some of the ravaging effects, I have found that service opportunities, especially to children, provide excellent cathartic and even healing relief, as I am distracted from myself by the needs of another. Don’t underestimate the positive effect that some extended physical exertion came provide to negate some of the negatives. Understandably, merely getting out of bed some days can seem like scaling Everest. Making oneself do so and then putting one foot ahead of the other will yield some positive results.

    Some life events leave us no option except to accept the new normal or die. I have no fear whatsoever of death, so that isn’t personally really much of a motivator. However, by slogging through so much of this until I come out on the other side of it, I have found that this new normal can have unanticipated benefits and blessings, IF I can only endure the ugly to reach them. By exercising faith, which does not really come naturally to me, even I have also been blessed with some tremendous personal revelation, that I would not trade the world for.

  35. Kathryn, thank you for this beautiful post.

    You probably already know many mothers of kids with ASDs (and probably some with both down syndrome and an ASD, which I have no experience with), but I just wanted to say if you ever have any questions or just want someone to listen to you rant about it, feel free to contact me. I was very blessed to have some great people from the bloggernacle offer advice and a listening ear when my son was first diagnosed, and I love to be able to pass on the blessings.

  36. “The problem with past pain: it makes future pain seem inevitable.”

    I recently had a cancer scare, and the above line definitely sums up my feelings. Luckily we caught it early, but the inevitable seems to hang over my head sometimes. I too, try to look for the sun when these clouds try to block it out. Thank you for sharing Kathryn.

  37. I loved your post. It resonates deeply. What you say in #23 sounds like what Camilla Kimball said about her son having polio.
    I was raised in California and moved to South Dakota when I married. Every midwest winter throws me for a loop even though we’re much farther south now. I’m already burning full spectrum lights longer as the days grow shorter. Our first son died his first February. Our second son was very premature and has multiple handicaps. He lives with us at 30, aware of his differences and struggling.

  38. I find this comforting and yet difficult to read, because we are actually at a good place in our lives right now. This is only after several years of total upheaval: husband leaving the church, then leaving me (for a time), difficult birth of my second child followed by PPD, my decision to go to grad school and a miserable year until I realized it wasn’t the right thing for our family at that time…

    But right now, my husband has a good job, my daughter loves first grade, I’m actually really happy being home with my kids, and my son is even making some progress potty training. Husband is still inactive, but I think that after a few years I’m starting to make some peace/adjust–talk about major change. I still don’t know if I’ll ever completely ‘adjust’ to that particular change in our lives, but sometimes time does make things easier.

    Anyways, I also liked your line about future pain being inevitable. I’m halfway through my third pregnancy, and I already know the delivery and recovery will be terrible based on past experience. Plus I’m giving birth in February, right in the middle of winter when I always get depressed anyways. So I’m trying to find the balance right now between realistically preparing for another turn of the seasons into darkness and still trying to find some hope that it can’t be all that bad since I’ve done it before.

  39. FoxyJ, congratulations on the pregnancy! (Or condolences, which is what I always look for when I’m actually pregnant and feeling miserable.) Good luck!

  40. Thanks Vada; some days I’m not sure if it should be congrats or condolences. I get bad circulation issues in my lower body when I’m pregnant and they’re already starting, so I won’t be sad to be un-pregnant. And we’re crossing our fingers that there won’t be any sort of rushing to the hospital because I’m bleeding profusely. That’s another reason why February (snow) scares me.

  41. Thank you, everyone, for this latest round of insightful comments.

    FoxyJ, congrats AND condolences. You’re reminding me of this Segullah piece from a while back. I hope everything goes well, and if not, that you receive the support you need.

    http://segullah.org/winter2007/a-living-sacrifice/

    Vada, thank you for your encouraging words! The dual diagnosis is pretty overwhelming, considering how the two disabilities exacerbate each other. I will keep your kind offer in mind.

    Rick, thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m working on some posts about depression–will look forward to your input when the time comes.

    Karen, my very best to you and your family. Sometimes I imagine what life might be like when Thomas is 30. It’s not easy to go there.

    I’m buying a light box today. :)

  42. Kathryn–thank you. That essay is beautiful and just what I needed to read :)

  43. I don’t know, but I loved your Star Wars reference.

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