different

Just to clarify who I am: I’m “the other Michelle L.”  here at Segullah’s blog, not to be confused with the lovely Michelle L. who helps this blog run so smoothly. Because online there are so many Michelles (and ‘Chelles…see yesterday’s post), you’ll usually see me comment with my handle, m&m.

Curled up in bed, I spent an hour praying, crying. I needed to be sleeping, but, as is so often the case, sleep wouldn’t come. I felt that panicky, desperate feeling. Four hours of shut-eye is not enough for any normal person, I thought, let alone someone with chronic fatiguey illness issues. I knew if I went to church today, I would pay for it. Big time. But I also knew I wasn’t going to get any more sleep, especially now that I was so worked up. I was conflicted about what to do.

My husband called from the church; he had left early with the children to get a soft seat. The poor guy got an earful as I vented my frustration and voiced my indecision about whether wisdom and order or diligence and desire should win out today.

“Maybe you should just stay home,” he suggested, concerned, as usual, for my health.

“But I need to be there!” I yelled in his ear. (Poor guy, again.) Today was a regional conference. I ached to be taught at my leaders’ feet. With love and patience in his voice, he expressed his support of whatever I decided to do and left me to sort through my thoughts.  

Still torn, but running out of time before the meeting began, I dragged myself out of bed and started to get ready. I looked at my puffy, red-eyed self in the mirror and felt anger about my situation. Anger and self-pity. A ten o’clock meeting is nothing for most people, I thought. I knew life had to be lived and scheduled according to what “most people” can do. But I felt that familiar despair that can come from being the exception, from feeling so broken, so different.

I cried out in prayer again. “Please, Father, please — please help there be something at these meetings today that can make this effort worth it.” I remember thinking how much I usually welcome the usual teachings and talks, but today, I needed something special, something personal. Something different.

Hoping beyond hope, I headed off to our building –  late, as usual. The chapel was already dark, the satellite broadcast illuminating the big screen at the front of the room. As my eyes adjusted to the light change, I scanned the congretation to see if I could find my family. Oh, great, I thought as I saw them: second row, dead center. Embarrassed, I walked to the front of the room, and slid over the multiple pairs of knees between me and my seat.

I was grateful that I hadn’t missed much, and waited with no small measure of anxiety as the talks began; I really felt I had reached beyond my usual comfort zone of faith as I had made the choice to come, and especially as I had asked specifically for something that could help me today, now.

Elder Marlin K. Jensen began his talk sharing stories about his brother, who had multiple handicaps, and had required a great deal of loving care and service when he was alive. I was touched by the stories, and the message about the importance of service, but then was stunned by the direction his talk took.

He started listing all of the ways people can feel different: being single, or divorced, or faced with same-sex attraction, or struggling wtih mental illness, or…. The list went on – ways that lives can fall short of ideals that are necessarily taught in the Church of Jesus Christ.

He reminded us that, sadly, sometimes such situations are not treated with sensitivity in our culture. While he was unapologetic about standards and ideals that are necessarily taught (reminiscent of Elder Holland’s talk at last year’s Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting), his message about the need for charity was clear.

The message I got from his message was also personal and powerful, meant for me.

At some point, each of our lives will be different in some way. God loves us in our imperfection, and we need to love each other.

Elder Jensen ended his talk by reading these words:

If you don’t walk as most people do,
Some people walk away from you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
If you don’t talk as most people do,
Some people tak and laugh at you,
But I won’t! I won’t!
I’ll walk with you, I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.

Jesus walked away from none.
He gave his love to ev’ryone,
So I will! I will!
Jesus blessed all he could see,
Then turned and said, “Come, follow me.”
And I will! I will!
I will! I will!
I’ll walk with yoyu, I’ll talk with you.
That’s how I’ll show my love for you.

(Children’s Songbook, #140)

After the meeting ended, I had friends walk away — afraid, perhaps to talk to me after such a dramatic show of emotion. I didn’t fault them; it’s uncomfortable to reach out when someone is obviously struggling. But I will never forget sitting there, waiting for the chapel to clear. (I was still so emotional that I didn’t trust myself even to casual conversation.) My husband had busied himself with clean-up to give me some time to calm down. I felt an arm slide around my shoulders, and turned to see my friend, Lisa, who had obviously seen my tears. She was there, ready with a listening ear, a loving heart, and a willing shoulder, all of which I accepted with a grateful heart.  

I still get teary-eyed when I think about the miracles of that day. Heavenly Father answered the cries of my soul through a talk prepared long before my prayer was uttered, and through the kind, loving, simple, unhesitating actions of a friend. I pray that I can be that kind of friend — that I can be more aware, more willing to reach out, more sensitive to those around me. And more accepting of those who may seem “different.”

How might people around us (in or out of the Church) feel “different”? How can we reach out more effectively to those in our midst? How have people reached out to you in times of loneliness and trial?

About m&m

really hates writing bios. But here's the summary: She's a married mom who loves reading, writing, tennis, and Italian food. She also savors opportunities to sort through the stuff of life with good friends, which is one reason she loves the sisterhood at Segullah.

19 thoughts on “different

  1. I don’t have much to comment on in terms of the questions asked here…but I do want to thank you for sharing this beautifully written piece. It makes me want to be more of that kind of friend too.

  2. What a wonderful and touching post! Elder Jensen is probably my favorite general authority. He gives the most inspired, in-touch talks.

  3. I’m learning that there are so so many ways that those around us feel isolated. We erect a set of expectations around us, and when the scaffolding falls and the structure is crooked, or the view isn’t just right, we often question why we even bothered at all.

    But the truth of it is, we only need look around to see that everyone’s structures are crooked, or otherwise imperfect. I doubt there are but a handful of people who really live their lives as they expected to. We’re all touched by feeling those differences.

    This year has been that learning year for me. I’ve learned that lesson so acutely that I now see struggle and pain in everyone’s face. It’s been a very difficult lesson for me to learn, but my life has been tremendously blessed to know and understand what it feels like to be different – to harbor quiet agony. It makes me want to hug everyone, that’s what it does. Hug everyone or sit at some little Trattoria with each one individually for five hours and talk and talk and talk. Wish I could really do that.

  4. I remember this talk. It was wonderful. You exercised faith and it was rewarded. I think it was Elder Packer who said, “God answers prayers, but it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” Doubly true here.

  5. I love this post, Michelle, because I think the idea of being different is the one thing we actually all share. I don’t think anyone fits the ideal because we’re all imperfect. And we all have our trials; some harder than others, but still trials all the same. I, too, have felt many walk away from me this last year –friends I thought would see how badly I needed their friendship. Instead, I’ve seen how their own insecurities have stopped them from helping me –and then I wonder if I act the same way. I’m positive (now, more than ever!) that we all need to take turns helping each other. Sometimes, I can be the one to give (I just need to do it!) and other times, I need to be the one receiving. It’s taken me some time to realize that now I need to be on the receiving end, and yet I feel guilty for this. Perhaps that is the one vice in service? Those of us needing the service feel guilty we can’t give it away? Hmmm….
    Anyway, thank you for your words. :)

  6. Last year when I was in sacrament meeting a friend leaned over and said “I just wanted you to know that I admire you for coming and bringing your kids” (my husband stopped coming about two years ago). It was just a little comment and I bet that she felt a little awkward, but I really needed it that day. I’d felt a little “different” in that ward because there were so many other young families that had both parents at church. So my advice is for everyone to listen to the spirit and don’t be afraid to do the little things like giving a kind word, offering a seat next to you, or even smiling at someone else. Inclusion doesn’t have to be big or showy.

  7. Michelle, your post reminded me of a book I’m reading, Waist High in the World by Nancy Mairs. She has crippling MS, her writing is illuminating. This I found particularly applicable to your post:

    “I often need no more than someone to whom I can speak frankly about MS without being dismissed as a whiner (a distancing tactic often practiced by those in whom disability triggers unbearable anxiety)…”

    It points out several things- often we all, especially those that are different, want to be listened to and told that we are of value. With my own health issues it is heart-rending to be asked how I’m doing, answer honestly and then be given a verbal litany of exercises, vitamins and general health advice. This can be hurtful. Don’t they realize that I want to be well and I am doing everything possible to make that happen?

    The other thing Mairs points out in this quote is that we often try to distance ourselves from others that make us uncomfortable. I think this happens both consciously and unconsciously. What Elder Jensen’s words mean to me is that we need to be more conscious of how we treat people who make us feel anxious or awkward. When you see someone coming down the hall in a wheelchair, do you look them in the eye and say “Hi” and introduce yourself? When you know a single sister in your ward do you invite her to Mommy’s night out even though she isn’t married with children? We need to step out of our comfort zone, be willing to be anxious or awkward for a minute or two, just until the ice is broken, so that we can lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees.

  8. Beautiful post Michelle. And Justine– I think the 5 hours at the trattoria sounds fantastic. In fact, I imagine that in heaven(for the first million years or so) we’ll have all those long conversations and FINALLY understand each other.

    But for now, compassion is the answer. Thanks for your honesty Michelle.

  9. I’m loving this discussion. Thank you for all of your thoughts.

    Kristin, thanks for your comment. JenSwen, I agree that Elder Jensen says some really amazing, sensitive things. I am grateful for his tender service, many times over.

    Justine, I love this: “everyone’s structures are crooked, or otherwise imperfect.” YES. We are all different, even broken, in some way. It’s part of our mortality…a test not only for the one experiencing the brokenness, if you will, but also for those around that person.

    I also love your solutions! Hugs and hours of talking. :)

    wonder woman – thanks for reminding me of that quote. This was indeed a doubly-blessed day for me.

    cheryl, I think you bring up an important point: “and yet I feel guilty for this. Perhaps that is the one vice in service?” I see learning to give true service as a process, just as any other Christlike characteristics take time, choice, and the Lord’s grace and help to develop. I think awareness, though, is a good first step.

    jendoop, I could go on and on about what you have written. I think you have captured a key thing to be aware of — when we avoid someone because of discomfort. It’s a good time to take a step back and think about what it is driving the anxiety, and pray for help in knowing what to do to, as you say, break the ice.

    Michelle L (the original – hehe), can you imagine how wonderful it will be to finally KNOW, to see with clearer eyes? And yet, I can’t help but be anxious for some of that vision now. I just hope that the Spirit can help pierce the clouds that cover my vision now. I have felt glimpses of that in my own life, and pray for more light to clearly see others. I think that’s part of the charity we are supposed to pray for with all of our hearts, yah?

  10. I have a husband who suffers from depression, and this has caused me to be more aware of how I treat and how I judge other people. It’s hard for people who don’t understand a disease where from the outward appearance everything looks normal. I have learned that there is no room for critism just supporting love, I have learned to trade my impatience with patience. I am grateful for a husband who is patient with me while I learn to be patient and loving for him.

  11. I remember the first time I felt different IN church after being baptised. At Enrichment we were painting angels that were cut out flat, with outlines for feet and a bow in the hair – very prim art style.

    *ERK* I thought – and proceeded to paint mine into a beautiful african woman, complete with high head wrap. “Gee, you really AREN’T crafty!” someone said to me when they saw my finished masterpiece. Add to that comment the fact it was my first Enrichment after being called as Enrichment Councillor… I felt not just different, but WEIRD!

    Happily, I got over it! =)

    I feel different now because my husband has walked away from the gospel, our temple marriage, the kids and from me. That scares alot of people, for lots of reasons!

    Everything that we tell ourselves we should/ought to be doing particularly in the gospel are ways that we make ourselves or others feel different. I’ve been learning that everyone is fighting a battle, no matter if we can see the signs, or see them as perfect.

    To answer your questions on how to help others and how I have been helped in trials and lonliness, I would say just say hello. They are a person, no matter what they are going through. Mourn with those that mourn – don’t try and fix what you see as their problem (like recommending stuff like Jendoop related!) Let them tell you what is going on for them. Just listen.

    Be prepared to be cried on. Be prepared to feel stupid about things you say. It’s hard, but avoid saying nothing at all. Even saying “I don’t know what to say” is good.

    Find something they enjoy, or will raise their spirits (stupid cards, funny cartoons, a dammit doll) and casually give it to them as you leave or post it (who doesn’t love getting real mail?) Little bits of love are still love, regardless of how they are delivered.

  12. I am grateful for a husband who is patient with me while I learn to be patient and loving for him.

    Camille, I like how you captured the reality that there is much to be learned and gained, whether you are the one whose life is “different” or one trying to reach out/love/share a life with that person. My chronic illness has tested our family, but also helped us grow and learn and draw closer together.

    I also try to be patient with those around me; I know it’s not always easy to know what to say. I find that the instinctual reaction is to try to fix it (and I would definitely agree with jendoop and Selwyn on being careful with that) — but at the same time, I have come to realize that sometimes that is the way people show love in the way they can. (I recently gave a talk in church and was interested in how a couple of people had lots of ideas for me. After six years of this, I have tried a LOT of different things, but I realize that it’s out of concern that people do that, so I usually just try to smile and listen. Sometimes I will also explain that right now, I feel that some of what I need to do is just endure well, not try to fix it all.

    Selwyn, I like your ideas — it really can be something so simple. I also like “I don’t know what to say” because it acknowledges the complexity of the trial of the person, and also acknowledges your concern.

    Thanks everyone. I am appreciating all the good thoughts here.

  13. Great comments. I don’t have much to add- just much to learn. Reading all your stories and suggestions are enriching on so many levels. Thank you.

  14. I really really loved Elder Jensen’s talk, and I really, really loved this post of yours.

    I also loved that quote from Nancy Mairs. When I was diagnosed with Grave’s Disease (8 years ago; I’m currently in remission but dealing with a different chronic health issue) it affected every aspect of my life and I needed to talk about it (constantly!) and was disappointed and surprised when some friends in my student ward seemed to try to change the subject as quickly as possible. I can see how that response could have come from their inexperience or fear rather than from an intention to hurt me, but it did make me feel labeled as a whiner and rejected as a friend.

    More recently I’ve many times had the experience where someone asks how I’m doing, really listens to my reply, asks more questions, and genuinely seems interested in the whole long story — and it is SO nice. I hope I give the same listening ear to others when they need it. And I love Michelle’s suggestion of saying “I don’t know what to say” — I’ll have to remember that one.

    Oh, and I HATE having to field advice whenever I bring up a health challenge, but I think your response is more charitable than mine. It’s just that people don’t realize that when they say “Well have you tried this yet?” it can come out sounding like “You’re sick because you’re not doing things right.” But again, I’m going to try to judge that response more kindly, as meant to be helpful rather than critical.

  15. alanna, I agree with you — this has been a wonderful discussion.

    Zina, I’m sorry to hear about your health struggles (and that you are facing new ones!) I continue to be pretty floored by how much this impacts me on every level. And I understand SO well what you mean about feeling rejected and labeled.

    And just to make sure credit goes where credit is due — “I don’t know what to say” was not my thought. You can thank Selwyn. I liked it so much I just repeated it. :)

    And about the advice thing — in my heart, I don’t usually feel frustrated at the people who want to give it. But I will tell you that the psychological and emotional impact of repeatedly having it feel like I’m a problem to be fixed (even if it isn’t their intent) has been real. It is very, very difficult for me not to have it affect how I see myself. So there is a mixed bag in there for me. I am charitable with the other person, usually, but sometimes not so much with myself.

  16. Hi I am Vicky and I am new to the blog. I really sympathize with you. I don’t know if I am saying the right thing, but I suffer from manic depression which means I have highs and lows. Some days I can get 3 hours of sleep and go on with my day. Then there are other times after not getting enough rest for a couple of days I sleep alot. My doctor says to go to sleep later like 11:00 pm. So I tried and learned that getting up 8o’clock in the morning was not for me and I had to resort back to getting to bed at 9:00 pm unless I am up writing like I am tonight. Even then I will probably will wake up tomorrow at six am. I guess what I am trying to say is that I see my disablity as a reed in the wind when the wind blows hard I don’t fight the it. I bend with it. If and when I am up for say three days straight I know it is time for a medication adjustment (which doesn’t happen often). I go to bed usally at 9 or 10 pm and wake up about 4am and I can stay up practically all day.
    And as for advice I have had people tell me I need to pray to be healed. I say to those people I am already blessed not to be sitting in some institution. I have my own apartment I’m sorking and I live in the community and that to me is a blessing.
    About Church if I don’t get my rest or say I am too depressed to go I don’t. I’m not saying it is a solution for you, but it works for me. I feel that God knows I have a disablity. I tell myself this when I have to take off from Church I don’t like it. I try not to make excuses but if I have not gotten enough sleep in say three days I tend to stay home.
    God loves us, he created us, and how can you create something and not understand how it functions with defects and all. And with that I say goodnight.

  17. Vicky,

    I appreciated your comment. I especially like the notion of trying to not fight the trial, but to move with it. Your image of a reed in the wind was powerful to me.

    And it was something that helped me last night, so thank you.

    While this is a little different image, I have tried to talk to myself about embracing my trials. I think it’s human nature to want to bury or fight pain (the fight-or-flight instinct is REAL and POWERFUL), but I am finding that it’s when I accept that it is part of the journey, I can actually learn from it.

  18. This has been interesting to read, as it reminds me of my previous struggles with extremely severe eczema over my whole body. When your disability/problem is all over your face (as well as other more hidden places), you get lots of unsolicited advice. I appreciate the comment that the problem with that is how you feel so broken when everyone is trying to fix you. It is indeed disheartening.

    Along the lines of Vicky’s comment of “a reed in the wind”, I learned from my trial, that it was so hard for me to handle, until I finally accepted it and moved forward. I think that is equivalent to submitting to the will of the Lord. I’d been given blessings and told that I would be healed in the Lord’s time. It took about ten years. Now I am almost completely free of it, but I learned so much about myself and others from that trial of looking and feeling different.

    I can now say I am grateful for the trial the Lord gave me. My daughter struggled with it too for her first couple years and that broke my heart. But, it brought me to truly have a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” and I grew closer to my Savior. He is the one who heals us–or makes up the difference. I believe it is our hearts that are healed most importantly. Our chronic diseases and pains may stay with us for all mortality, but our hearts can receive peace through Christ.

  19. The thing I’ve taken away from this post is that everyone is struggling with something. We just need to open our eyes to see it. I thought I was so different because I’ve struggled with lupus for nearly 5 years. And yet, as I look around more and more, I see women who struggle with various chronic diseases, spiritual trials, emotional trials, etc. While we struggle with different things, I guess in the end, we all struggle. And that’s a commonality that I can accept.

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