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Hello, brain? Are you up there?

By Justine Dorton

I walked out the front door fuming. I could’ve smacked that kid right across the face — and felt good about it. I was so ticked off about her snarky attitude, her willful disobedience, her provoking comments. It was a good thing I had a breakfast date with some girlfriends. I had to give myself a time-out in a serious way. Christmas break was in its waning days, and everyone was getting a little too tired of being on top of each other every day. I walked out the front door thanking the Lord for public schools.

I sat down at breakfast with three of my dearest friends. We ordered, and spent the next two hours gabbing and picking at delicious french toast with cream and fruit. (ok, just typing that makes me want to go back there. I’ll be back in 20 minutes).


During our time together, I unloaded about the kids behavior. I turned to one of my girlfriends — who is in the middle of a divorce — and said, “How do you keep it together, being all alone? I’d come completely unhinged without my husband around to relieve me. I really wanted to kick and holler at that kid this morning!”

Her response is still echoing in the fairly hollow recesses of my brain.

“You wouldn’t want to kick and holler at them if you were in my shoes. I thank the Lord every day that I get to do their laundry, that I get to cook their food, that I get to unclog toilets for them. I thank the Lord every day that I get to be in their lives.

I had to watch them go out the door on Christmas Eve with a man who is so totally unworthy of them. I sat at home and cried for hours. When I was married, I would have given anything for a weekend alone. Now, I’d give anything to never have to watch them walk out the door again.”

Me — chastised. Seriously.

We all cried together over delicious french toast, trying to support, trying to understand the Lord’s plan for her, for us. She knew something that I clearly had yet to learn.

I went home and hugged that naughty, bratty kid of mine.

And I’ve spent the last four days trying to figure out how to learn that lesson without having to go through all the pain. I’d like to stay married and appreciate my children. I’d like to be smart enough to learn from others’ pain, but I’m not sure if I am.

How do I really learn from others? How do I make it stick? My brain appears to be covered in Teflon — Nothing sticks to it. Oh, sure, I can have a couple of good days, but pretty soon and in spite of my best efforts, someone tips me over slightly, and all the great things I’ve just learned slide right out — right into the trash. I need to be cast iron. Everything sticks to that stuff.


About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

14 thoughts on “Hello, brain? Are you up there?”

  1. Nothing sticks to cast iron that has been well seasoned (but that can take years and lots of careful care.) I'm thinking that dovetails with your analogy.

    A little perspective never does me any harm.

  2. How do you make it stick?

    I don't think you can, not instantly. I think it's a life process. Not to discourage you, I just think that this is why we have to read our scriptures every day and pray every day and go to church every day: we forget. This is what Alma's talking about in Alma 5: "if ye have experienced a change of heart, if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?"

    That's the question: we've all felt our hearts change, but can we feel so now?

    I am prone to wander… but I think it's like climbing a mountain, you know? I climb up and then fall, go up again and fall again, but each time I fall I don't go as far down as I used to. It used to be a struggle for me to pray every morning. I would forget… but now, that part of my heart is permanently changed. I don't fall that far down anymore.

    Still hoping for permanent change on many, many things.

  3. "go to church everyday."

    Not such a big slip. I have several Catholic friends and acquaintances who attend Mass every single solitary morning. Even on business trips when it's inconvenient and we have to call up a variety of local churches to see who has a 6:30am service. Talk about vicarious lessons. I suppose sometimes its about making time — somewhere somehow even for a few brief moments — for that which is good for my soul (which may look a bit different than what you need for your soul).

    I sympathize with your final paragraph, Justine. Today I exercised for 30 minutes and at the end I thought — wow, I feel GREAT. Body and soul. So why do I resist it so much?

  4. I've thought about this too. I have friends who have endured such heartache, and I want to learn what they've learned without going through what they've gone through. But I'm coming to believe that's not possible. Your friend's knowledge is the flip side of her pain. Can't have one without the other.

    Not that that means we shouldn't try to appreciate our kids before something tragic happens, or whatever the lesson-through-pain may be. Of course we can, and should, constantly reach for a clear, wise frame of mind, and others can remind us of what this wisdom might look like. And yes, we can change our habits and our attitudes through practice.

    But there's still precious ground we can't reach without paying the price of painful experience.

  5. So, if I never get divorced, or never lose a child, will I never learn the lesson? Will I die not understanding something I'm supposed to understand? Should I consider myself short-changed?

    I've just got to believe that I'm a smart enough woman to figure this out. I realize we don't all have the same lessons to learn, but ultimately, we've all got to pretty much figure out roughly the same stuff. There's got to be an alternative way. The scriptures mention it over and over. Be humble because you love the Lord, not because the Lord made you sufferingly poor. Be obedient because you love the Lord, not because I sent an army to destroy your village.

    We all lead such distinctly different lives, but our purpose is generally the same. We've all got to figure it out. So how do I figure it out without expecting that all the bad things that could potentially happen will happen?

  6. Social psychologist Daniel Gilbert notes that we are notoriously bad at predicting our personal future: events we anticipate will make us happy (e.g. winning the proverbial lottery) will give us less joy than we think — while things that fill us with dread (e.g. losing a spouse) "will make us less unhappy, for less long, than we anticipate." Our own faulty expectations — and fear of the "what if" can cause us a lot of anxiety. Our day-to-day happiness, studies say, is much more predicated on small events than on big ones.

    Of course, that makes good spiritual sense, too. I'm not sure it matters so much what our sorrows and pains are — they'll come — but whether we can find ways to consecrate the daily drudgery and chaos that is distinctly our own.

  7. I knew a woman who said "I want to learn the lessons the Lord has for me in the least painful way possible." She was speaking from the position of a mother who lost her 9 year old child in a tragic car accident. She did not appreciate the pain, but boy did she acknowledge the lessons.

    And Justine, I doubt you will die not understanding something the Lord wants you to learn. One thing is for sure–nobody gets through life unscathed. So, as one excellent bishop once said to me: strap in, open your heart, pray your guts out, and enjoy the ride.

  8. This is an interesting question that you pose Justine. Can we learn these lessons without the actual experience? Unfortunately I don't have the answer. I have thought of this before too. Can we more fully appreciate the Atonement without making huge transgressions? My husband was ex communicated from the church before I met him and was rebaptized after we were engaged and has since had his blessings restored and is in full membership of the church now. He is very quiet about his experience of the Atonement, I know it was a huge experience, but it's a very private one for him. But I wonder, will I appreciate the Atonement as much as he does since I wasn't excommunicated? Again, I don't know.

    I do know that the Savior experienced all that we have without committing the transgressions. I do know that we are striving to be like Him and that while we never achieve His level of perfection and/or compassion during this earthly life that we can pray to more fully appreciate the Atonement or more fully learn the lessons that Heavenly Father has in store for our lives.

  9. No, Justine, of course you don't have to experience every terrible thing to learn what you're here to learn. Each of us will be given all the opportunities we need to gain the knowledge exaltation requires. My point is simply that we can't expect to reap the full benefits of the suffering of others. We learn most from our own experience.

    The Savior suffered purposefully so that he could gain knowledge "according to the flesh", knowledge he needed to fulfill his divine role. We are not supposed to sin deliberately, seek adversity of any kind, or envy the pain of others. But the truth still remains that we're here to gain knowledge, and knowledge has a price. (Thus saith Eve.) We'll all pay our own price.

    This is my favorite NT parable:

    41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred apence, and the other fifty.
    42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly aforgave them both. bTell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
    43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.

    Jesus goes on to say, "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little."

    To me that clearly answers Kelly's question. But I daresay, if each of us were fully aware of our debts, and sought earnestly until we obtained a full remission of our sins, we would have no cause to worry whether we had enough love for the Savior.

  10. I hear what you're saying. I get impatient with myself alot, especially as a mother, because I want to more fully live my ideals. At the same time, I don't think you should be too hard on yourself. I believe that not so deep down you love your children intensely; your life choices bear that out. It's not a crime to get tired or frustrated and need a break once in a while. A life tragedy would certainly be a perspective check, but I don't think that at the end of the day the kind of learning that comes as a result of your longsuffering efforts in the face of the mundane is any easier to attain or any less valid.

  11. Well said, Angie. I don't mean to imply that dramatic events are the only things that teach us. Sometimes knowledge comes in a big (painful or joyful) burst, sometimes incrementally. Enduring the daily grind as gracefully as we can, being open to its teachings, consecrating it like Deborah said, is no small price to pay for understanding. But it still all boils down to personal experience, whatever our lot may be. Justine can learn the same lesson her friend did, but not by osmosis.

    Justine's comment that she's not smart enough to learn from others made me pause. I really don't think it has anything to do with your lack of intelligence or skill, Justine! It's just the way of things.

  12. "So, if I never get divorced, or never lose a child, will I never learn the lesson? Will I die not understanding something I’m supposed to understand? Should I consider myself short-changed?"

    I think my experiences will teach me compassion and understanding, even for experiences I didn't actually live through.

  13. What a question. How do you make it stick? Well, even though you haven't had your friend's experience, I think it helped you already. You went home and hugged your daughter. You spent time thinking about it and maybe you'll even do something else differently because of your pondering. Plus, you may be able to look back and remember her words when you need it. I don't know about you, but I rarely learn something once and them apply it consistently–I need lots of reminders and practice.

    Thanks for sharing this. It was food for thought.


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