Four years ago I lost my 21-month-old daughter, Penny, in a tragic accident. The cliché is that the death of a loved one puts your faith to the test. While this might be technically true, the actual experience is far more devastating than this little catchphrase lets on.
In the weeks and months that followed my daughter’s death, I desperately sought for some kind of real, tangible connection with her. But her death had wrecked me. And I felt nothing.
I believed that the Sunday School answers to read my scriptures, say my prayers, and go to church were inspired and true. But I was earnestly doing those things, yet felt nothing. I didn’t know how to be inspired or guided anymore. I was lost.
Meanwhile, in the midst of all this, my husband was also searching. He was looking for greater understanding, deeper knowledge, deeper connection, and deeper meaning to life. His searching had led him to question his faith.
So my situation was this: I had lost my daughter, and I believed the only way I could have her again was to fiercely live the gospel. But my husband was blocking our eternal progression by seeking answers outside of our church. I had lost my daughter. I was losing my husband. And according to my belief system, I was losing my eternal family. Where do you go from here?
My whole life I had found “formulas” to live by. There was a formula I had learned in my youth to stay on the right path and to earn my parents’ trust. There was a formula I had learned as a young adult to get married in the LDS temple and have a family. When I decided to be a film photographer in a very dense, digital age, I found a formula that helped me become successful at my craft.
But now, with the death of my daughter, I found myself in a situation where the formula wasn’t right in front of me. I earnestly searched and prayed and eventually found a new formula that I discovered through the lens of photography. To understand it fully, bear with me as I share this story.
Imagine that we have a master and his intention is to create masters of green. Now imagine that up to this point we have never experienced color. So he could plant us into a world of green and it would be great. Except if the whole world is green, nothing is green.
The next option for the master would be to just tell us it’s green. Except this is how we teach our preschool students; we point and say, “This is green.” The master would be teaching us, but on a very basic level. This isn’t good enough for us. So what would the master do?
I propose he’d introduce distinction. He might plant us in a world of blue, but then he would take us out of the world of blue and plant us in a world of yellow. In doing so, there would be one group of people who would love yellow. They might even say, “Who needs blue anymore?”
But another group of people might hate yellow. They might say, “I hate these new ideas and these new perspectives. I just want to get back to what’s familiar. Get me out of here. Take me back to blue.”
Then you would have a third group of people. And this group is interesting because they wouldn’t abandon blue and they wouldn’t abandon yellow. They’d see that the master gave them both blue and yellow. In that moment they would have an awakening and they would see green.
This is called a paradox—two ideas or concepts that are both true but in general can’t be true at the same time. Now, I realize by definition blue and yellow are not paradoxical, but they are on opposite sides of the color wheel, one warm and one cool. And they’re helpful in explaining how you can have two contradictory ideas or concepts that can lead to a transcendent concept that eliminates the apparent contradiction.
It’s what I call “seeing green,” and I believe it’s where the highest truth lies. It’s how we learn to see things as the Master intended. And we can only do so through opposition in all things. Let me share how blue and yellow were manifested in my life.
When I got married, I lived in a world of blue. I had a great family and I was doing what I loved in film photography. Life was good.
But the day my daughter Penny died, I was abruptly yanked out of my world of blue and thrown into a world of yellow. I hated yellow. It was full of grief and pain and suffering. My daughter wasn’t there. It was full of new ideas and new questions like, “What does it really mean to be a forever family?”
All I wanted was to go back to blue—to be happy again. So I tried. I tried to go back to my everyday life. But as I tried, I discovered that blue no longer felt blue any more. Things that used to excite me about life didn’t anymore. I knew the distinction between blue and yellow.
My world was just going to be yellow now. And since I didn’t feel like I was finding the answers I was looking for, I thought, “If I can just endure yellow, one day I’ll die and then answers will come.” But this didn’t resonate with me either.
So I started to create a space within myself where blue and yellow could exist together inside of me. At first this was very uncomfortable. But then something amazing happened. I realized the Master gave me blue and yellow because He wanted me to experience something more. He wanted me to see green. And I did. Through opposition in all things, I had direct experiences that brought me closer to God.
So where am I now in this journey we call life? I found more than the apparent split of happiness and its opposite. Down this path I found green. I found God. And I found my daughter. They were in green the whole time.