How the Drum Saved my Life

As a married woman, I was an active and devout member of my Utah Culture's religion for many years. Before that, I wasn't.
I, like many young teen girls, fell off the wagon of religion until I became a mother.
Perhaps you could say I was a wayward teen.
I was raised going to church weekly, having family nights, doing service projects and caring for the elderly my entire life.
Somewhere along the line- I wandered.
Not necessarily away from Spirituality- but to a path different than structured Religion. A lot of it revolved around poor self worth, an eating disorder, and unwise choice of friend circles.
I was pregnant at 19, my daughter being born 2 months after my 20th birthday.

When I saw this beautiful, tiny, pure and precious creature entrusted to my care- I reflected heavily upon the teachings of my upbringing. 

I hadn't been to church regularly in years. I didn't really believe in it any more. I didn't drink or smoke or use drugs. Contrary to the rumors blanketing over my reputation; I wasn't a slut or even promiscuous. I hadn't even had my first kiss til I was 17.

But, as I looked down at this baby, I remember considering how I wanted to raise her, what I wanted to provide for her, how I felt I could protect her.
I felt like offering her the opportunity to believe in a God would be a good thing. But when I considered the word "God" I also considered all the death and judgment that name included.

The God I was taught was not only ALL LOVING, but was a "Jealous God" The same God that saved Moses- slaughtered the Egyptians. The same God that saved Joshua, buried the women and children in rubble at Jericho. The same God that was all forgiving carried a hammer of devastation.

Looking at the bundled baby in her bassinet, eyes closed, breathing lightly as newborns do; I made the decision that I would only teach her the Jekyll side of our "Hyde and Jekyll God." The loving Side.

I did. Time passed, she grew. As a toddler and young child I read her children's bible stories and taught her nursery hymns, played primary songs on CD while she slept. We had another child, Jonah. Her dad and I went to church every Sunday, taught classes, were "sealed" in the Saint George, Utah Temple with all our family traveling to be there for this sacred moment. I have a picture of my daughter, dressed in white on the stone steps up to the majestic building that is one of my favorites.

When they brought her into the temple ceremony to join her dad and I that day- it was one of the most spiritual and sacred moments of my life. I wept. In the LDS culture, it is believed that unless you go through the temple, your family will not be in tact and united after death. I believed that too at the time and after years of working to repent for my sins of having intimacy before marriage to be able to go through the temple sealing; having her beautiful face smiling at me that day was the perfect reward for the dedication and self discipline and time it took to get there.

If only... if only... the highest moments of bliss in our lives could stay forever.

When my daughter was 5, her brother, Jonah; my son, died in 10 hours time from getting sick. The doctors had no explanation why. I was 5 months pregnant with my next son.

There aren't words to express the horror of pain and chasm of loss it is to experience child loss. My eyes are brimming full as I write the sentence, 15 years later. I don't write about it often or speak about it much. I can't. It never doesn't feel raw.

I thank my Creator for the spiritual preparation I had for the trauma. Who could have known that  years of daily scripture study, weekly church going, and service centered callings were paving the way for my emotional survival of that tragedy. I can't imagine where my life would have gone without the bond of community I had from the friendships and sisterhoods I had gained from that rigorous religious path. My people surrounded our family. We were drenched in support and service.
This culture of compassion alone is why I encourage those who feel drawn to a Religious path to take it.

More years passed. We lived. We never moved on- you don't move on, you live on. 

The statistics of couples staying together after child loss are minuscule. People process pain and loss in their own ways. We processed it differently. We were both drowning in a whirlpool of emotional damage and each of us were casualties from the others internal war.

But, my practice was the same.

My discipline, my active participation in religion was the same. My community was the same. My beliefs were the same. I was going through the motions. I was reading scripture, teaching classes, praying daily, visiting sisters in my ward monthly... and waited for it to lessen the grief.

Patiently, untiringly, pursuing peace.
For eight more years.

I dove deep into the doctrine of the church. I studied, I served, I prayed and prayed and prayed.

For eight years, my heart continued to bleed. My smile was plastic. It was what people expected to see. I was expected to get over it. So I played the part. I was expected to be an inspirational story of overcoming- the problem was- I wasn't.

A hobby I had was painting and sketching through all of this journey and as I painted- the hours would drip by like melting chocolate and I had repose from time and with time- the constant barrage of despondency.

A woman saw a sketch of a tree I had done and asked if I could paint an Elk Hide Hoop Drum.
First of all, I didn't know what that was.
Second, I didn't know how.
I googled it.
I called someone who knew how and asked them.

I eventually took the risk, and the commission.

I knew that to the people who invested in leather drums, they weren't just a musical instrument, but a leather handmade hoop drum was said to have it's own spirit- it's own voice, it's own beat and echo. People were "called" to their drum. It was a partner, not a tool.

The prospect of painting something so significant was intimidating to say the least. I knew if I made a mistake, I couldn't erase it or just simply go buy a new one- like I could with a canvas. So, naturally, before I painted it, I prayed.

I prayed over that drum and every drum I've ever painted since. I prayed for the Angels to assist me, for the message of the Spirit to come through, I prayed that the drum would teach me to share the message it had and move my paintbrush to create the reflection of the soul it carried. I still pray. 

One drum commission turned into another and another and another. Eventually, I thought it would be nice to have a drum of my own and I sought out a man name Steve Christansen who hand made drums using sacred process just like the ancestors of indigenous people did.

I remember when I got my first drum, Steve laid out the many he had available and he let me choose. I wasn't sure if there was a "right" way to do it- but picked one I liked, an Elk drum and purchased it. Before I left, Steve asked me to hold on for a moment and he held the drum next to my back and beat it gently. "Feel that?" he asked. I nodded "Yes." but as I left, the drumming he offered was instantly forgotten.

My drum came home with me, I painted a dragonfly on it and it and hung it on the wall. It felt good to have my own, but this "Drum World" wasn't really my world, I just painted for the people who were in this world.

Until the day I showed a woman what Steve showed me.

I volunteered regularly at Breast Cancer retreats with Image Reborn Foundation in Park City, Utah. I took photos of the attendees and the events of the weekend.
One weekend, I felt impressed to bring my drum, and with permission, I did.

(There's a whole other blog post on why I felt impressed to bring the drum and what happened, but today- the story is focused on my own journey with the drum- not the miracle that occurred that day. Find out more about them here:

In the pristine white wintered mountains of Park City, I was able to show the drum to 5 women in stage four breast cancer. I shared that the drum was so much more than it appeared to be- I was sharing the philosophy of it being the heartbeat.

I decided on a whim to "drum" for one of the women. I asked her to stand and as she did I felt instinctively, to drum from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head instead of just behind her back. As I drummed, my heart filled with compassion for the tall elegant, red headed woman, perhaps in her fifties. I didn't know what it was like to face my own mortality, but I was touched by the spirit of her and her courage.

I closed my eyes and I began silently repeating "I love you. I love you. I love you." I drummed, I spoke silently. The drum rose from the floor to the crown of her head. When the beat stopped, no one moved. The other women and myself were transfixed by the sound.

She turned to me and stared solidly into my eyes.

"Were you speaking?" She asked.
I shook my head but responded with another question "What did you hear?'

She replied " I heard the words 'I love you.'"

 After that Cancer Retreat, it became practice for me to bring my drums and as I would drum the women, they would say they could hear different things, see visions of light and color as I drummed, and many would cease to feel their physical pain as I did. More of them, would have a re-boost of energy that had been missing for months, headaches disappeared, numbness in fingers or toes would cease.

I didn't understand why these effects occurred and when I was asked, I couldn't answer it. I began to study sound healing. As I researched I began to know how better to use the drum as well as other ways of sound to accomplish different results. But ironically through most of this... I didn't drum me.

Until the day I did.

I went every Sunday morning to a pond where the sun rose over the mountains and when the shimmers of early light illuminated the water; the mist and morning fog would vanish like a magicians smoke. Instantly, and quietly- leaving you questioning if it ever existed. And one Sunday morning, I brought my drum.

I sat cross legged on the cold grass and waited. My drum settled in my lap near my heart, drumstick motionless in my hand and waited.

The tell tale violet hues began to whisper of the oncoming Sun and as the globe of white light began to stretch and yawn awake over the valley- I softly, timidly, tenderly drummed to the dance unfolding before me.

As the drum echoed through my chest I witnessed the auras of the mountains and trees that I had never noticed before. I felt the resonance of the beat flowing through my blood like a crystal clear river. I felt the heartbeat of the Earth below me and my own heart synchronize with Her rhythm.

I closed my eyes and breathed. I beat the drum.

And for the first time in 8 years- I felt peace.
I felt a greater sense of all things.
I felt a knowing of all things in perfect order and I felt the knowledge that Creator had not forgotten me, or punished me, or stolen from me.

I simply felt peace.

Tears flowed over my face and down my neck into the collar of my sweat shirt.
Gratitude and healing that I hadn't known in all my life.
The drum. The beat. The heart.

Today, it's 7 years past that time. I still drum. I still visit that sacred pond. I still watch sunrise at least once a week. It still brings me peace.

And for the past 7 years now, I teach it, I share it, I live it.

I suppose our Creator does hear our prayers.
I suppose all those paintings and drums I prayed over; asking the drum to tell me it's message so I could part of sharing it's truth; all came to pass. Just in a way I never expected.

Katie Jo

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