Putting Away Childish Things and Quitting Selfies

I am finished with taking, retaking, editing, filtering, deleting, and posting selfies.

Just a few years ago, I would have been appalled at the idea of taking a picture of myself, with my own camera/phone, and posting it to my own social media account.

I mean, really, how conceited does that sound?

Conceited, immodest, vain, prideful, distracted- all words I would use to describe our selfie culture.

In criticizing the selfie, I am really criticizing myself, because inasmuch as I was tempted, I partook.  I always knew that the selfie was a show of vanity, but I dismissed it because, and oh dear Jesus forgive me for saying this, “everybody else was doing it”.  Older relatives whom I respected, pretty women, less-pretty women, mission friends, LDS friends, non-LDS friends, moms, teachers, business women…everyone.

So I jumped on the bandwagon- I curled my hair, glued fake eyelashes to my face, stuck my neck out, put my chin down, tilted my head, pouted just enough to make my lips look bigger and my cheeks look thinner and took the picture.  And then took another, and another, until I captured one I saw fit to share.  I then spent a few minutes trying to find the perfect filter- something that would make my hair look shiny, my skin look clear, and my lips look red.  Finally, I would post it to Instagram, and Facebook via Instagram, with some comment to try to justify the need to post yet another picture of myself and attach ridiculous hashtags.  Then I would wait for the validation.

I am usually a pretty low maintenance girl- make-up is not a part of my daily routine and my hair and jewelry are usually pretty simple.  Except for Sundays, that is.  Sunday is my “go all out day”- I use velcro rollers to make my hair big and spanx to make my waist small.  I like getting gussied up sometimes…and plus, this makes Sunday morning, right before I leave for church, the perfect time for a selfie.

What I am about to admit is so very embarrassing.

I have spent many sacrament meetings with my nose in my phone waiting for notifications of people liking the picture of my face.  I have partaken of the sacrament with my hands while, with my heart, I devoutly worshiped myself.

When I take selfies, there ends up being a whole lot of unused ones (my forehead looks too big, my eyes look to small, that curl is curling the wrong way) on my camera roll.  Maybe I am the only one who takes multiples to try and get the right one- but, I doubt it.

I’ve had instances where I’ve been sharing my photos with a friend and we get to a host of selfies.  I usually make some kind of joke, but I have always felt awkward about it.  It’s one thing to take ONE picture of yourself to share, it’s an entirely different thing to take 15, that differ only by the slightest of angels and expressions.

Really girls, really.

I’m reminded of 2 Timothy 3:6, which refers to the “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts”.  I have a hard time accepting that a woman who is fully engaged in the cause of Christ even has the time or energy to think about taking her own picture to show off to the world.  How silly would that be?

I took selfies because I wanted people to think I was pretty.  More so, I wanted people to tell me I was pretty.

You can insert your own lecture on how we are all beautiful and should find our worth first as daughters of God right about here.  All I’m going to say is that grown women feeling good about themselves because a slew of acquaintances gave them a thumbs up is totally ludicrous.

If you are a selfie-taker who only snaps one picture, doesn’t use filters, doesn’t monitor the likes or comments, and only posts them so that your out-of-state relatives can see how much you’ve grown, then please understand that none of this applies to you. I think it is entirely possible that my relationship with the selfie was more dysfunctional and harmful than most.

Sometimes the selfie helps me feel good about myself- but it is a shallow and fleeting “good about myself”.  And more often, it makes me feel bad about myself- hypercritical and ultimately disappointed.

I find my flaws forgivable when I see myself in pictures taken spontaneously with people I love or while doing something cool or standing in front of something beautiful.  Who cares that my hair is crazy when I’m having so much fun?  Who cares that I look tired when I’ve been on a 22 hour road trip?  Who cares that I have a double chin when I am cuddled up to the people in my life who bring me joy?  Real life shows us the insignificance of our flaws (which really, we don’t have flaws- God makes no mistakes).

But a selfies is all about us- it’s all about the way we look.  There is nothing to redeem us from our perceived imperfections.

Nothing monumental happened to turn me off from selfies- I just happened to see one I had posted to facebook one day while looking for something unrelated when I thought to myself, “I don’t need selfies anymore.  I don’t want them either.”

To me, the selfie was like a pacifier, a teddy bear, a blankie, or a number of other “childish things”- things that really serve no practical purpose, but imitate the things we want on an instinctive level.  Children part ways with their trinkets when they realize that they are just occupying the space meant for something real.

So now that I’m a woman, I’ve decided to put away childish things.

I want to give a thank you to the women I know who have been an example to me by not taking part in the selfie craze, particularly my sister, Megan.  Thank you for representing to me that to be female does not mean to be seen, and to be beautiful does not mean to be approved of.

 

 

 

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Gravy, Grilling, and Why I Love Mormon Men

Shortly after my baptism, a Young Women’s leader invited me to her home to view my very first general conference with her family (herself, her husband, and three young children).  She told me they would be having a big breakfast and watching church in their pajamas- my very first introduction to the custom I would participate in for the rest of my life.

Upon arriving at her home, she answered the door and we engaged in a few moments of polite conversation about her house, my Friday night, you know, the usual.  But something seemed amiss.  I could smell breakfast cooking (I still remember that scrambled eggs, bacon, and biscuits and gravy had been on the menu- and it smelled delicious) and kept anticipating her needing to scoot back to her kitchen to keep something from burning.  The sound of clanking kitchen tools then caught my attention- she wasn’t needing to worry about the eggs getting rubbery because someone else was doing the cooking.  “That’s strange,”  I thought, “She’s right here, her kids are too young to be in charge of a meal, and I didn’t think anyone else had been invited.”

After a few more moments, we migrated enough that the kitchen and it’s workings became visible, and what  I saw shocked me enough that I couldn’t keep from expressing my surprise.

“I didn’t know Mormon men cooked!”

There was her husband, with a towel over his shoulder, perhaps in an apron, stirring the gravy.

I am a little bit embarrassed to admit this, but I really didn’t think Mormon men cooked, or cleaned, or cared much to help with the children in any kind of “housewife” way.  You may be surprised that I was willing to join a church where (I thought) the men were so unwilling to deviate from gender roles, but maybe we can just take it as a sign that I really did join the church for God, and not for guys.

The couple giggled at my surprise and the conversation moved on.  I have since learned that Mormon men do, in fact, cook.  And they fold the laundry, and take the noisy babies out of sacrament meeting, and do any other imaginable thing that needs to be done.

Now I don’t consider cooking, cleaning, or caring for children to be actions that make a man extra-special.  I expect any good man to be completely willing to do anything that needs to be done to help care for his home or his family, and I was raised with a father who, while being the primary breadwinner, cleaned and cooked regularly, without expectation of recognition or applause.

The thing that I love so much about Mormon men is not that they are willing to cook meals for their family- it is that they seem to be willing to do just about anything that needs to be done for anybody.  And they don’t do it to be self-serving- they simply do it because it needs to be done.

There are a lot of common positive attributes shared by LDS men- they’re hard-working, they’re kind, they’re self-regulating, they’re ambitious, and they’re valiant.  But the attribute of being willing to take personal responsibility in a broad spectrum of situations is what endears them most to me.

I once attended a “Linger Longer” at a singles ward in Utah- basically, an excuse to talk, eat, and generally not go home after church ends.  That day we were eating burgers, and they were delicious.  As I was walking to my car, I noticed the two young men standing at the grill, wearing suits and aprons, flipping burgers so that everyone inside could enjoy the fruits of their labors.  I remember there being snow on the ground and that it was cold- much too cold for them to be comfortable.  I’m sure these boys were thanked for their work (I certainly did), but I also know that many people enjoyed those burgers without acknowledging them or even being aware of what they were doing.  And that’s okay- they weren’t standing outside in the cold making our food for praise- they were just doing it because it needed to be done.  And they were doing it happily.

I had a vision of sorts in that parking lot that day.  I pictured them standing in front of a grill, in the cold, in their suits, with everyone else in the warm church building filling their bellies, for the rest of their lives.  Or maybe they are cleaning cheerios off of pews, or giving the young man in an other-wise inactive family rides to church for years and years, or jumping up to pass out the hymnbooks, or scraping the ice off of their wife’s car before she is even awake.

Maybe this characteristic of personal responsibility is so impressive to me because it stands on stark contrast to what the media tells us we should expect of men- that they are carnal, lazy, and only take care of business when they grow tired of the naggings of their wife.  I hope that no woman has accepted this as what she should expect of her man, and I hope no man has accepted this as what he should expect of himself.

Now, I know that there are LDS men who are complete jerks, to whom my admiration is not applied.  I also understand that I am being extremely general in describing a large and diverse population.  And maybe at some time in the future I will highlight one of the general flaws I’ve observed among Mormon men.  But with all of my women-centered ranting and raving, I need to make sure that people know that not only am I not a “man-hater”, but that I am a “man-lover”, in every sense of the word.  I love them, I admire them, and in total candidness, I need them.

I know that there are good men of every faith and of no faith at all, but my experience is with the Mormon ones, and I’ve never witnessed evidence that there is any better collective group.

I want to send a special message to the young single men of the Church: Please continue in faith and in devotion.  Your goodness and your efforts are being noticed.  Romantically, you are not “needed” by women, but you are so, so very wanted by them.  Nothing inspires me to be obedient, gentle, or devoted like the influence of a priesthood holder who is serious about the gospel.

Thanks, boys.  You’re amazing.

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Not Just to Young Men Only: On Being a Girl With a Porn Problem

On October 2, 1976, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles addressed the men and young men of the Church in the the priesthood session of general conference.  That talk, titled “To Young Men Only” would gain a permanence in the church, being printed and distributed to young men in leaflet form for years to come.  The topic was chastity, with a specific call to abstain from the sins of masturbation and homosexuality.

This address has come under criticism from members and non-members, and surely the language used is different than what we would hear from the pulpit in the present day.  My aim, however, is not to disagree with the content of the talk but to call into question the prevalent attitude reflected in the very title- that issues of a sexual nature are of a concern for men, and for men only.

Pornography has been a hot topic for the past several years, as it should be.  Pornography is as evil as it is ensnaring.  It plays on the most sensitive human vulnerabilities and pollutes one’s self-control, self-worth, and self-confidence.  It dissolves familial trust and can cause the building blocks of a marriage to tumble.  Also, the treatment of women in the porn industry is positively deplorable.  (Can you imagine showing up to a regular day of work to be told how and with whom you are going to have sex with?)

They say that men are more responsive to images than women, and I am willing to accept that as generally true.  I am also willing to accept the idea that men are generally more sexually driven then women.  What I am not willing to accept though, in fact, what I know to not be true, is that women are sexless beings, so filled to the brim with virtue that sexual temptation only comes when it is to feel the love of a man, and never because women are themselves sexual.  Sexual feelings and temptations are normal for people in general, and shouldn’t they be?  If choosing chastity is one of the greatest signs of spiritual strength and self-mastery, then wouldn’t we all need to find ourselves at a place where that choice is not an easy one?

Why then, do we teach young men about pornography so differently than we teach young women?  Young men are frequently spoken to about pornography.  Most, if not all, of church-produced media on the issue choose males as the people with the struggle, and females who are influenced only indirectly, through the sins of their husbands and fathers.  Young men are typically given, along with the warning against sin, the affirmation that sexuality is in their nature, and that it is normal and acceptable to feel tempted.  On the other hand, young women (youth and YSA groups alike) sit in lessons that teach us how to deal with our boyfriend’s use of porn, not our own.  (I fully support the former, as a woman who is not addicted to porn but has dated porn users, but I am sure there have been girls in those classes who could have greatly benefited from a discussion on the latter.)  There has never been a general Relief Society or Young Women’s general talk on pornography, and sex is typically danced around very generally, with the seeming assumption that our goodness makes us immune to such things.

Some personal examples of how I’ve witnessed this attitude in other Latter-day Saints:

  • When I posted a request over social media to talk to women for whom this is an issue, a male friend replied that women didn’t struggle with porn, unless it was because of their husband’s or boyfriends struggle.
  • Once, at the inference that only boys wanted to look at porn, I piped up with, “or girls, they can struggle too.”  A young teenage girl in the room looked at me, bewildered and said, “girls can get addicted to porn?!”
  • I had a roommate in college who didn’t even know that women were ABLE to masturbate.

So imagine then, if you are a young woman who struggles with a pornography addiction (any kind of sinful sexual habit, really).   Here are two accounts of young women in the church who have struggled.

Jakilynne’s* Story:

The first time I saw pornography I was in 7th grade, so 12 or 13 when a male friend I was chatting with online showed it to me.  The transition from this first incident to it becoming a major issue in my life is kind of a blur, but once I saw it, it was like I “had” to see it again.  I had never felt those feelings or excitement in my body/brain before, and I liked the way it felt.  It was captivating, in a completely overpowering way.I thought I was the only one [the only woman with a porn habit].  I felt very alone, and honestly like I was a freak, I mean, I had my first orgasm before I had my first kiss.

I think church members could be a little bit more understanding, and remember that sin is not gender specific.
I think people in general are pretty uncomfortable talking about porn.  Any time there is a lesson on chastity, it’s like, “let’s just mention this porn thing because we should.”  I guess it’s just that people are uncomfortable, and I’m not about to raise my hand and share my personal experience on the topic.

I think people in general are more open to the idea that women struggle with this issue.  But maybe not that it’s anyone they know.

I have told very few people about this struggle.  I’ve thought about telling friends, but I have been in conversations with friends (girlfriends) and heard comments like “I just don’t understand how someone can be addicted to porn, it’s just so nasty, I just don’t get it.”

My bishop was the first person I ever told.  It took several years before I confessed because I had felt too ashamed. I had held a calling in my ward, been to the temple, and had been taking the sacrament, and I was extremely fearful of what would happen if I confessed. And at that time, there wasn’t much talk of women having issues with porn.

Telling your male bishop that you have this struggle with pornography, you kind of think, “how is this man going to understand where I’m coming from?” or “he is going to think I am some sort of sex heathen since I have this problem that ‘only men’ struggle with…that women aren’t supposed to have this problem.”  But none of my bishops have acted that way- they have all been extremely sympathetic in their understanding of how addictive it can be.

When I decided to confess it was because I saw it as an opportunity to see if the atonement was real and if it could really work in my life, like I had heard people testify of for my entire life.  I took a leap of faith and found that the Atonement does work and can enable you to change.   It still requires my best effort, and just because I might slip up, it doesn’t mean the atonement doesn’t work.

To other women who are struggling my advice is that there is no need to try and overcome this on your own.  There is nothing weak about seeking help.  Seek help immediately, do not procrastinate.  If you procrastinate, more than likely you will become engulfed in pornography, which is what Satan wants.  Don’t lose sight that you are His precious daughter and that you are of great worth.

 

Khristyna’s* Story:

I was with some friends and we followed a pop up when I was 12 or 13.  It would come and go it wasn’t like I would watch everyday.I like to pretend like I had some sort f control but I totally would isolate myself and volunteer to stay home alone so I could watch porn.  It is the most addictive thing in the world in my opinion. I didn’t think it was a big deal until it escalated things. It lead to a desire for promiscuity and the breaking of the law of chastity further

I would hear about it in church all the time, but I would just brush it off and justify it, making it seem like it was the same thing as how some members choose not to drink caffeine and some do. I blocked It out for the most part, to be completely honest. Someone at church brings up porn and my ears just shut off.

I was still in my teens when my mom caught me.  She was totally shocked, disappointed and confrontational.

I’ve only told 2 friends and my bishop. Bringing it up and talking to my bishop was horrendous…. Like not only was it embarrassing but it wasn’t exactly something I ever even thought women struggled with!  I thought I was a weirdo for watching porn. I feel like there is such a heavy burden on a woman’s virtue and not so much a man’s… that the attitude is definitely kind of  like “oh you’re a whore stop watching that” and then when it’s boys “boys will be boys”. People should realize that porn isn’t just a boy or mans issue that it effects women… and don’t alienate people that share.

I first talked to my bishop just last year, when I decided that I really wanted to be temple worthy.  That meeting consisted of a lot of cry and feeling like the most useless human being ever.  I felt this way because I wasn’t the cookie cutter I didn’t fit the mold and I didn’t ever think to apply the atonement But my bishop was amazing.  He helped me utilize the atonement and I regained a lot of my self-worth.  I have been porn-free for several months now.

 

There are (at least) three negative consequences that come when we do not acknowledge that women have issues with porn:

  1. The women who do struggle feel especially embarrassed and overwhelmed, often feeling like they are some kind of a freak.
  2. This feeling of embarrassment keeps them from seeking out the help they need, perpetuating the cycle
  3. Because they tend not to be vocal, people are generally less aware that it is an issue, and resources are not provided for women in the same way they are provided for men.
  4. Women, especially young women, even those who are not trapped in any kind of sinful sexual habit, associate sexual urges with feelings of guilt, since we do not validate sexual temptation in young women.

It is kind of a cycle- women are not open about their situations because they think they are the only one.  And they think they are the only one because nobody else is being open.  I am  not suggesting that anybody should advertise their addiction over Twitter, but nobody should feel so ashamed of a sin that they are not willing to be open with those who are absolutely closest to them, and certainly not with their priesthood leaders.

I’ve heard talk lately about how “pornography is even a problem for women these days.”  While this is a step in the right direction, it is still problematic for two reasons.  The first is that women have been struggling with porn for years.  The only difference is that now people are talking about it.  But it is not a new temptation.  The second is the implication that pornography has become so evil and so widespread that even the previously-immune gender is now taking part in it.  As I said earlier, I am willing to concede that women are less sexually driven than men, but is not as if we have a stone fortress built around our cerebral reward system.

My topic has been pornography in the narrow sense- porn you look at.  However, other kinds of pornography can be as addictive while seeming to be more innocent.  The sole purpose of romance novels is to be sexually exciting (if you don’t believe me, read up on some of their ghastly story lines).  Even the magazines placed at eye-level in the grocery stores contain graphic and detailed descriptions of sexual acts.  We should also be careful with how we use our social media- especially SnapChat, which I like to call “Satan’s App of Teenage Sin”.  It can be awfully tempting to send and receive exciting fleeting images that can’t be saved. (And we all know that they actually can be saved).

The difference between visual porn and these other types is that visual porn always involves other people committing sin (the people you are watching).  Also, visual porn often ventures into the extreme and even depraved, ruining a person’s healthy sexual expectations.  Still, anything that is filmed, photographed, drawn, or written that is intended to be sexually erotic or arousing, and even some things that are not intended to be so, can be addictive.  We need to broaden our perspective on what counts as pornography, be wary of it in all of it’s forms, and teach our young people to do the same.  There are many young women who have no interest in visual pornography, but would have a very hard time putting down a book that encourages sexual fantasy.

I have had a lot of male friends confide in me the details of their pornography habits, usually calling it an addiction.  Many of these men have been returned missionaries, active in the church, and absolutely respectful in their actions towards the women in their lives.  As difficult as the struggle is for them, I always knew it would be harder for a girl.  I’m not trying to play a game of one-upping, and I am not saying that it is at all easy to be a man with a porn addiction, but I am asserting that our cultural attitudes toward it complicates a woman’s position in ways that it would not complicate a man’s position.

So what is the solution?  Well, for once, I have some ideas.  Here are some ways we can de-gender the concept of porn addiction:

  • Don’t make generalizations about porn users. (ex. they’re perverts, they’re all horny little boys)
  • Don’t assume that you know whether or not a person struggles with it.
  • In lessons on chastity, acknowledge that nobody is immune.  Do not imply that a woman being addicted to porn would be the exception to an otherwise male issue.
  • Teach young women and as well as young men that sexual feelings are normal and healthy in both genders.
  • Never dismiss sexual sin in males as being expected or excusable.
  • Be open to using females in hypothetical examples or discussions. (ex. “One day Susie was on the internet when she saw a pornographic pop-up.  What should Susie do next?)

Here are some ways we can minimize the effect porn has on our lives:

  • Educate our children about their bodies, about sex, and about pornography as early as they are able to understand.
  • Generally be honest with ourselves in regards to our vulnerabilities, and set up defenses accordingly.
  • Trust our priesthood leaders and be willing to talk to them.
  • Strive to be honest with our families.
  • Be understanding of those we love who do struggle.
  • Educate ourselves.

If you are a young woman, or a young man, or anybody who is struggling with an addiction to pornography in any form, please know that there is hope!  You do not have to overcome this on your own- Christ can help you, because, through his atonement, he has overcome it already.  Your porn habit has already been defeated…the only thing you need to do is attach yourself to Christ so that you can taste of that victory.  I know that this is as hard to do as it is easy to say, but I know it’s true.

And for the rest of us, let’s just try to be a little bit more sensitive with our language and with our assumptions.  We can’t know for sure who is and who is not struggling, but we can make sure that those around us know that we will love them and support them regardless of their sins.  And please, the next time porn comes up, don’t point to the boys automatically, as there may be a shameful and lonely girl in your midst.

 

(*Overly-spelled UT names used in place of actual names.)

Some resources:

Overcoming Pornography (official LDS website)

Combating Pornography (official LDS website)

Fight the New Drug (lots of great educational resources)

By The Light of Grace (the blog of an LDS woman struggling with pornography)

Beggar’s Daughter (the blog of a Christian woman who is a former porn addict)

Dirty Girl Ministries (Christian ministry, specifically for women with porn and other sexual addiction issues)

r/pornfree (Very supportive, anonymous, non-religious community for those trying to quit porn)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Taking the Sin Out of Eating

I love Trader Joe’s- enough that I do almost all of my grocery shopping there.  I will sing their praises all the day long for their delicious food and manageable prices.  Hopefully, they will forgive me for the nuclear blast I am about to put them on.  Observe the following food package from my dear TJs:

reducedguilt mac n cheese

Mac & Cheese!  Yum!  Hey look, it has less fat and fewer calories than some other mac and cheese!  Well that’s cool and everything…but why does that make it “reduced guilt”?  Are you telling me that eating macaroni and cheese is an action worthy of our guilt, and that eating this special kind will reduce that guilt enough so that my soul will only have to do a little bit of pining with regret?

I have done many wrong things in my life, but eating a gooey mix of dairy and grain does not get a place on that list.  Nothing I eat get’s place on that list.  

But food companies tell me they should.

Chili’s has “Guiltless Grill” options.

BJ’s has “Enlightened Entrees”.

On the Border has a “Border Smart” menu.

And that’s just to name a few.  The main criteria for these menus is being under a certain calorie limit (usually around 600 or so).  The implication is that eating a low number of calories makes a person intelligent, advanced, and morally good.  It also implies that if you eat something off of their normal menu, you have done something morally wrong.

But it’s not just the food industry that perpetuates the idea of food choices being moral.  Here are some statements one might hear at a gathering of food-conscious friends:

“Don’t tempt me with that chocolate.”

“I was so bad last night- I ate three slices of pepperoni pizza.”

“I’ve been so good on my diet; I haven’t messed up once!”

“I can’t wait for my cheat meal Saturday night.”

“Cheese is my weakness!”

“That chocolate cake was sinfully delicious!”

All of these phrases imply that there is a moral value attached to food- that those who eat “well” are good and deserving of veneration, and that those who eat “poorly” should feel guilty and repent with a few extra miles on the treadmill.

One might say, “Don’t you believe your body is sacred?  Shouldn’t you take care of it?”  Well yes, as a latter-day saint I believe that our bodies are sacred, and that we have a responsibility to care of them just like we have a responsibility to care for our minds and our spirits.  But the laws that govern what we should eat are very general, and, for the most part, God allows us to govern ourselves.  We should expect ourselves to eat for our health and vitality, and as in all areas of our life, we should always strive to improve.  

Morality is, in my opinion, objective.  Things that have a moral value are either right or wrong.   However, there is no food that has an inherent moral value.  It is not evil to eat candy, and it is not righteous to eat vegetables.  Your attitude towards your body may be evil or righteous, but the act of eating is never in and of itself wrong, no matter what it is you are consuming.  Different diets and health programs tell us differently things about what is good for us and what is bad for us.  On top of that, every body is different and requires slightly different nutrition to function at it’s optimum.  The difference between a “good food” and a “bad food” is so subjective that there is no way to say that our food choices are a reflection of our morality, since morality is objective.

I see women around me every day (and sometimes men, too) who either beat themselves up for their food choices, or are swollen with pride and vanity because of their food choices. (I am guilty of both myself.)  Neither reactions are appropriate, and neither are mentally or spiritually healthy.  And they usually distract us from more important ways of improving.

The biggest problem with feeling guilt for eating is that there is no good way out of that guilt.  Legitimate sins can be washed away through the atonement, but I don’t think that Christ ever suffered for me exceeding my calorie goal in a given day.

If you like sticking to a strict diet, then I totally support that.  I admire your motivation to be the master of your physical body.  Feel free to ignore the haters who are critical of your own physical aims.  Just don’t judge others because they eat differently (don’t worry, I’m telling them the same thing about you).

 We don’t have to answer to anybody and we don’t have to use our food choices to prove ourselves worthy to the bikini-body gods. We get to be the bosses of our own bodies.  Let’s own our decisions and own the consequences of those decisions.

Tonight I made a guilt-free macaroni and cheese, a Paula Dean crock pot recipe.  It didn’t call for bacon, but I put it in anyway.  And it’s totally guilt-free.

Because when it comes to food, I’m guilt-free, period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Did The Salad Decide to Leave The Church?

Why did the salad decide to leave the church?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because it was a pasta salad!

Periods and Power: Why I Wish I Had Known About “The Camp Gyno” When I was 9

When i was in fourth grade, a fifth grade boy sitting a few rows behind me on the bus hollered to me, “Hey, have you had sex yet?”  I gave him either words or just a look of bewilderment.  He then exclaimed, “‘Cuz you have big boobs!”  I got my first bra in the second grade, began wearing one regularly in the third, and was probably a full B-cup by the time this incident occurred.  

I also started my period when I was in the fourth grade.  I turned 9 in October, and got it the following January.  I was the first girl in my grade to get it by almost a full year. (Luckily, the next girl to get it happened to be my very best friend.  I very much appreciated the camaraderie.

Experiencing puberty at such a young age wasn’t traumatic.  I didn’t cry, I wasn’t afraid of the blood, I didn’t curse Mother Eve’s hankering for sucrose.  

I didn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed, but I felt secretive and self-conscious.  Elementary school bathroom stalls don’t have disposal units (little girls don’t menstruate, so why would they?), so I would have to put my pad in my lunchbox and change it in the one stall in the bathroom outside the cafeteria that was commonly used by adults as well as children.  I didn’t feel burdened or angry about my period, I just felt like it mad me different in  a way that couldn’t be celebrated.

A few of my friends had their periods in the sixth grade, and by the end of seventh, it had become the norm rather than the exception.  It was nice to begin to feel that my body was doing something that made me like other girls, instead of something that made me different from them. But I wish it wouldn’t have taken so long.  

But, with the exception of one, I never knew when any of the girls in my grade began to menstruate.  I got the feeling that, for everybody, the sexual maturation of one’s body was something that we felt we were supposed to keep quiet.  It may not have been something to be ashamed of, but it wasn’t something to be proud of.  You didn’t have to cry, but you certainly wouldn’t be happy…you certainly wouldn’t act anything like this boss of a little girl:

This self-proclaimed “camp gyno” is more than okay with getting her period- she’s excited, confident, and empowered. She is anxious to share with others what she knows and is comfortable shouting the word “vagina”.  One should never act or speak for the sole purpose of shock value, but “vagina” is not a crass word, and mention of one’s cycle is not uncivilized.  

This advertisement for Hello Flo, a period supply company, doesn’t portray the onset of menses as unnerving or awkward, like it has been in every other media form I can think of.  It portrays it light-heartedly, with humor and practicality.  This portrayal is empowering for not just pre-teen girls, but for all women. The internet is full of videos making fun of every-day life, why shouldn’t we as women take time to make fun of ourselves?  

 I’m not negating the reality of the discomfort that can come from PMS, camping, and other effects of hormonal changes, but we don’t need to be miserable, complaining victims of the natural processes of our own bodies.  The upcoming generation of both girls and boys would benefit from a shift in the way we as a culture view and explain puberty.

One of my favorite interactions portrayed is when one young girl hands another young girl a tampon and a handheld-mirror, calling them her “sword” and her “shield”. Those are powerful descriptors- and there is power in knowing, understanding, and accepting your body.  

And we don’t need to be so uptight about it.  A little blood never killed anybody.

 

QotD: “Note the empowerment and celebration of women’s sexuality”

thepreppypanda:

Your Fair Warning: Since these are descriptions of porn videos, deplorable language is used and totally appalling situations are described.

Many of my readers know that they don’t like porn to be a part of their personal lives, but a lot of us don’t really have a sense of what porn does to those involved in the industry (especially the women), or what it does to our societies view of sex and women in general.

Shutting down the porn industry is SUCH a worthy cause. Thanks to Anti-Porn Feminists for blogging this.

EDIT: I realize that the image is very blurry- basically unreadable.  I am not sure how to remedy this problem, except to direct you to the “view original” link at the bottom of the post to go to the original posting.  

Originally posted on Anti-Porn Feminists:

View original

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The 8 Actual Reasons I Dress Modestly (And Only 1 of Them Has to Do With Boys)

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My body is a temple, after all! I know that pictures of the Salt Lake temple are all over everywhere, but it is my honestly my favorite one.

Since joining the church, I have always dressed modestly.  By “dressed modestly”, I mean I dress according to the cookie-cutter standards of covering one’s body- shorts and skirts to the knee, shoulders covered, no midriff, and no cleavage.  I’ve taught many EFY, mission, relief society, and seminary lessons on the topic, and, honestly, many of those lessons were probably at least a little bit misguided.

My vocalized reasons for being modest were usually that it “showed respect to God” and “showed respect to myself”, but these reasons are problematic because I feel just as much respect for God and for myself when I am wearing a bathing suit, a running tank, and even nothing at all.  I had a “come to Jesus” moment with myself and got down to the real reasons I am modest.  Here they are, first being most compelling, last being least compelling.

Number 1: I am modest because, to me, not wearing the temple garment would be a symbol of me denouncing my faith.  I am not going to denounce my faith.

Number 2: I am modest because my body is sacred and I don’t seek after the approving eyes of others to call it acceptable or desirable.  I know that it is both.

Number 3: I am modest because I want young men to identify me as chaste and obedient.

Number 4: I am modest because I want to be an example to other women, especially younger women, by showing them that modesty is enjoyable.

Number 5: I am modest because I want people to know me by my kindness and my mind, and not my body (as bangin’ as it may be).

Number 6: I am modest because my thighs won’t chafe if my shorts are long and I don’t have to try to manipulate this rack into a strapless bra if my shoulders are covered.

Number 7: I am modest because I want my husband to feel like he’s getting to see something special, not something that has been seen by every Tom, Dick, and Harry.  

Number 8: I am modest because I don’t want my body to be a source of unnecessary distraction.

You will probably notice that I said nothing about keeping the thoughts of young men “clean”.  Boys will be boys, men will be men.  They are going to look at women, notice their bodies, and desire them.  I feel overwhelmed at the idea of trying to keep this from happening. And I don’t think that desire is dirty, and therefor is not in need of cleaning up.  If we really thought that the sight of a thigh would ruin a man’s moral fiber, would we ever approve of him taking a trip to the beach?

I am very impressed by the men I know who actively try to be masters of their minds and emotions by not inappropriately dwelling on things of a sexual nature (by the way, this is a struggle had by women as well as men).  I don’t want to imply that I think that men should see whatever jiggling body part piques their interest, and I don’t want to imply that women should recklessly display their bodies out of a lack of respect for men who are trying to do the right thing.  If I purposely expose my body to a man in an attempt to make him lose his self-control, I am clearly guilty of sin.  

But I am not going to base what I wear on a guessing game of who’s thinking what about whatever it is I’m wearing.

Some of my reasons are good, and some are less good.  This isn’t about the right reason to be modest, or the reason why you should be modest, or even what I want to be the reason that I’m modest.  It’s just the truth- and an exercise in investigating my motives.

Why do you choose to be or not be “modest”?  How do you even define that?  Please feel free to comment on anything on my list.

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A Confession and a Celebration: What I’ve Learned in 10 Years as a Mormon Convert

Today, August 21st, 2014 is the ten year anniversary of my baptism, my first covenant with God, and my joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

Me on the day I was baptized! I don’t look too different, but look at how skinny these elders were! And so much hair on their heads!

I tried to come up with some awesome way to celebrate…and this is what I ended up with.  :)  My journey these last ten years have not been easy, but it would have been so much harder if I didn’t have the gospel, the Church, and the membership of the Church in my life.  I wanted this to be titled “The 10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years”, but for the sake of quality ideas, we are going to have to leave it at 8.  

After ten years, I still struggle with my faith sometimes.  Honestly, I think I struggle more now than maybe I ever have before.  But I have a rock-solid testimony of the reality of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and I know that there is happiness found in genuine gospel-living.  What follows is a bit of a memoir, a bit of a confession, and a bit of a celebration.  But it is written with a heart that is bursting with gratitude.  

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Manuel Arellano- one of my very best friends. I first became interested in the church because I wanted to one day be his Mormon wife. Turns out I wasn’t really his type, but I will love him forever for what he has done for me.

 

 

It is a bad idea to base your sense of self-worth on whether or not you are able to pull off the “good Mormon” image.  I used to be a really, really good Mormon.  Shiny temple recommend, marked up scriptures, a closet full of T-shirts and knee-length shorts, and a testimony that you had better believe got shared every chance I got, first Sunday or not.  I felt very confident in my standing with God, but also very confident in the idea that other people thought I was a first class Mormon.  I’ve always known that I wasn’t the stereotypical perfect Mormon, but I thought that my uniqueness actually contributed to the validity of my testimony and my general awesomeness as a member of the Church.  I have never uttered a word from the pulpit that I did not mean.  My testimony has always been sincere, and it has always been hard work to maintain.  The deepest, most genuine part of me is converted to the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I was 21 I was sent home early from my mission (that is a whole other blog post).  When I was 24, after working very hard for two years, I was told that CES was not interested in hiring me full-time.  The exact same thing happened again at 25.  I’m about to be 27 and am joining the ranks of “old”, unmarried, Mormon women.  These things have stripped me of my confidence that, if nothing else, I am good at being a Mormon.  There are other things that have taken an even greater toll on my confidence, but they are too personal for even me to share with the internet.

I felt like I could no longer sell myself as a five-star Mormon.  I felt more like a three-star Mormon- not bad, but not good, and certainly not special.  And honestly, I am still trying to figure out where exactly I am supposed to get my self-worth from.  It helps me to know that I have almost always been kind, and I have almost always been authentic- those things have to count for something.  All I know on the subject for the time being is that it is a bad idea to base how you feel about yourself on how you think others perceive you.

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Me in the institue kitchen during my first year of college with Brother Ray and Sister Turner. That place would be a safe haven for me for the 4 years I studied at UCSB.

God cares about the condition of our hearts.  It is hard to be mortal, and hard to feel far from God.  Some of the pain we experience in life comes from the choices of others, some just comes from living in a fallen world, and some come from our own choices, whether they be unwise or just flat-out sinful.  There are all kind of sins- major sins, “minor” sins, sins of omission, sins of commission, sins we commit with our minds, sins we commit with our bodies, sins we commit with our words. We can even commit sin with our smartphones these days.  You may have heard of something called a “pet sin”- the sin that belongs to us, that we keep around because you’re lonely or scared or bored.  We can sin in our bedrooms, in our kitchen, on our way to work, in our college class, at our boyfriends house, at the store.  It is literally impossible to ever fully escape temptation.

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Me standing outside of my very first apartment with my roommates! Garden Court 119! This is the first time I ever lived with members of the church. That apartment was a great place for me to grow and improve.

There have been times when I felt like God was so displeased with me that he actually didn’t like me- times when I have felt like my sins had driven such a wedge between myself and the Lord that I didn’t even see a point in trying to work things out.  I have felt like a hopeless sinner who had messed up just too many times. The good news is that I was blessed with a good bishop who turned around that way of thinking with one simple phrase: “The Lord cares about your heart.”

Our actions, no matter how good they might be, are not what bind us to God.  We can’t save ourselves through good works.  The only thing that saves us is the grace and mercy of Jesus.  And Jesus does not have a checklist of things we need to accomplish before he loves us or is willing to let his atonement work in our lives.  The only thing he needs from us is the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  “Only the penitent are saved” is a phrase found multiple times in the scriptures.  Notice that it doesn’t say that only those who have never sinned are saved.  It is the penitent.  You could have spent your life paying a perfect tithe, reading your scriptures every day, keeping a 100% home teaching records, and going to the temple every single week.  You could have never lied, never stolen, never cussed, never lost your temper.  You could have received your Young Women’s medallion at the age of 12 and your institute graduation certificate at 19 (which by the way, I actually did).  But still, if you could not be saved if your heart hadn’t humbly sought reconciliation to God. So don’t get caught up on the minutia of mortality- instead, be honest with yourself as you evaluate what direction your heart is looking.  Is it looking to the world, to yourself, or to God.

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I can’t believe this is the only picture I could find with me and these kids! Shortly after being baptized, a family in the ward sort of took me in and adopted me. Their oldest child was seven at the time (he would be the one in the striped tie) and their oldest was still a baby (she is the one trying to cross her eyes). I have loved getting to grow up with these kids. They love me for me. :)

The scriptures are a powerful way to develop spiritual strength and autonomy.  I love the scriptures.  They have been the backbone of my testimony and my enthusiasm for the gospel.  There was more than one night during my investigation of the church that I stayed up past sunrise studying the scriptures (I had a particular interest in the Doctrine and Covenants).  My parents bought me my first wet up scriptures a few weeks after my baptism.  They had my name printed on them and they were mine, inside and out.  My parents have since bought be two other sets up scriptures- one when I left on my mission and another when I began teaching seminary, but I still feel like that first set is more mine than any other has been or will be.  I don’t use them anymore because it has lost it’s entire cover, along with Genesis 1-4 and part of 1 Corinthians, but they represent a period of my life when I was learning the most profound truths that one could ever learn, and I was learning them straight from the source- from the word of God.

There is a lot I don’t understand about the Holy Ghost, but one thing I know is that when I read the scriptures, he talks.  He helps me see the world for how it really is.  He shows me patterns that enable me to liken the scriptures to my real life.  He confirms that what I am reading is not only true, but that it has been preserved through the will and love of a God who desires that his children understand his nature and his plan.

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Here they are, in their tattered glory.

My favorite part of EFY is our daily scripture study- a period of time every morning set aside for the youth (and counselors, if they so choose) to read from their scriptures or other gospel literature.  Each day we would meet together afterwards and invite the youth to share what they had learned.  Usually a handful of kids wanted to share, and it was powerful every single time.  I was able to see their eyes opened to truths about God that motivated them to live better and happier lives- truths that they had been carrying around for years in their scripture cases or pockets and were just now becoming aware of.

10yearrichpoarty

Santa Barbara gave me some really great friends. I can tell you all about every single one of them!

I love that, in our church, we are encouraged to know for ourselves throughout our lives.  When I explain my beliefs to someone, I can rely on the word of God, the Holy Ghost, and my own personal experiences.  I don’t have to look to other people for spiritual knowledge or understanding, I only have to look to God.

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Me with my very first group of EFY girls. This would be week one of an eventual 17 weeks of EFY.

We should not think of others’ spiritual progress as our own accomplishment.  One day on my mission, I was sitting with my trainer working on some elaborate project designed to persuade one of our investigators to be more committed to prayer and scripture study when, kind of out of nowhere, she said to the affect of, “You know, nothing we do really matters.”  I thought, “Hold up.  You are not seriously saying that we are walking around this frigid prairie looking like nuns just so that nothing we can do really matters.”  (I was in Kansas, it was winter, and my mission had a very strict dress code.) She elaborated with something like this, “We spend so much time planning lessons, scheming on how we are going to get people to church, finding members to go with us who aren’t that weird.  We feel really good about ourselves when we can respond to their concerns with an awesome scripture chain or recent conference talk.  But really, has anyone ever said, ‘I joined the LDS church because my missionaries could recite scriptures really well’ or ‘I got converted when the sisters gave me this awesome colorful calendar dictating what I should be doing when’?  People get converted because they are ready to get converted.  It’s really between them and God.  We just happen to be around when it’s their time to find the truth.”

Please do not take this to mean that I don’t think missionary work is extremely important- I will be singing the praises of the missionaries who taught me until the day I die.  But I do think that we sometimes see other people come to God and chalk it up to our hard work.  This could be an investigator, a less-active member, a seminary student, and EFY participant, a friend, or even a son or daughter.  God uses us to love and lead each other, but our spiritual path is a very personal one that is only walked by two- ourselves and our Savior.  When someone excels spiritually, it’s because of the goodness of God, and not because of the cleverness or devoutness of another. If we ever tie our own sense of accomplishment with the spiritual accomplishment of others, then we really are “trusting in the arm of flesh.”

On the flip side, maybe we can take comfort in understanding that when those who we have stewardship over so not flourish in the gospel, it is not because we have failed.  If we have loved and we have tried, we have succeeded, and God will be aware of that. In life, as in missionary work, no effort is wasted.

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One of several General Conference road trips. Standing outside of a building that would eventually become very important to me.

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In the MTC, December 2008 or January 2009.

Your friends really, really matter.  I have friends from many walks of life, and with many different habits.  I’m not going to brag about the rebelliousness of my social circle, but I will say that I am close to people who have a variety of illustrious pasts and presents.  If they are honest with me and I enjoy being around them, friendship is not a problem.  That being said, I know that the people we spend time with automatically “pull” us to be more like them.  I recently had a good friend come into town from out of state to visit family.  Upon her arrival, she sent me a text message that read, “Would you want to go to the temple sometime this week?  I’m in town, and it’s my goal to go to the ones in all the are when I’m here.” So we went to the beautiful Gilbert temple, where I had such a wonderful time.  I had been needing to make it to the temple for a while, but to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have gone that week if it wasn’t for her invitation.  Another example is the friend who often sends me one-word texts on Wednesday afternoons: “Institute?”  Sometimes I can go and sometimes I can’t, but it’s good to know that there is always someone who thinks of me and whom I can ride with and sit by.  It makes going to institute easy.

When you have good friends who are active in the church and sincere in their desire to follow Christ, doing the rights things becomes the path of least resistance.  I recently read on reddit (the source of all true enlightenment) that “time+opportunity=sin, even for the best of us.”  If you are hanging out in bars, or going over to “watch a movie” at 10pm with that guy whose standards basically don’t exist, or spending a lot of time with your gossipy girlfriends, you are going to be affected, and if you spend enough time in those situations, you will sin.  I am not trying to use a scare tactic, I am not trying to criminalize anyone, and I am definitely not trying to tell you how to live your life.  What I am telling you is what I have learned for myself by making mistakes and being prideful in my perceived spiritual infallibility.  You will become like the people you surround yourself with.  It is worth actively trying to seek out and fill your life with good people who will make it easy for you to become the person you want to be.

It is worth it to make it to church ever single Sunday.  In these ten years, I have only missed church a handful times.  Only once did I not go because I was sick.  I skipped stake conference once right after I was baptized because I wanted to go shopping with my mom instead.  There may have been about 4 or 5 times that I didn’t go because I was either traveling all day or tied up with my family.  So in ten years, I have gone approximately 98.5% of the time.  I think there have been two Sundays when I was mad at the world and wanted to punish it by not going to church (logical, right?), but just couldn’t stand the thought of not actually showing up so I made it to church late.

 

It might sound like I am bragging, but that may change when I tell you that of those 513 times I’ve been to church, I’ve shown up happy only about 2/3 of the time.  The other 1/3 I didn’t feel like going for a variety of reasons.  I may have felt unimportant and under-utilized.  I may have been depressed over the lack of dating prospects in my ward.  I may have been under a load of stress because of school or work and felt unable to focus on the messages I would be hearing.  I may have felt embarrassed over the way I look (even with a whole morning available to me to do get my face and hair together).  I may have even not wanted to go because I felt like I had nothing to wear, since I don’t like wearing the same outfit to church more than once.  I tend to feel unpresentable at church if I think l my outfit is boring.  When I taught release time seminary during the week and worked in the temple for six hours on Saturdays and was trying to go to institute every week and had an obligation with my calling on Wednesday nights, I became very uninterested in church.  Now, I was extremely invested, personally, socially, and at that time even financially in the Church, but by the time Sunday rolled around, I felt like I had pretty much given more than my fair share and was ready for a day where I could just nap and eat straight from the crock pot.

10yearmissionhaybalesBut I always have managed to drag my ugly, stressed, discouraged, entitled, self-congratulatory and/or unimportant self to church.  I can’t say that I always leave church feeling spiritually full, but I have never once felt like having gone was a waste of time.  Sunday worship has honestly been the thing that has kept my head above water when I have felt like I was drowning either spiritually or emotionally.  On my way home, I am allowed to say to myself, “The gospel is still real, I am still a part of it, people are aware of me, and I am alive.  And even though sometimes I don’t feel spiritually full, sometimes I do.  Sometimes I have those, “Oh THIS is why I needed to come to church today!” experiences.  And they are worth it.

The members of the church are not as good as you think they are… Let me paint the picture:  They met at BYU when he was just home from his mission and she was a freshman.  They have been married for at least a few decades.  He makes enough money that she was/is able to stay home with their children.  Their house is always tidy and well decorated.  Their kids are active in the church, respectful, and easy to get along with.  Oh, and there are at least 5 of them.  Their family is strewn with talents- musical, athletic, artistic, genius.  All of their sons and some of their daughters serve complete and faithful missions.  They all marry in the temple.  I have the bad habit of picking families or individuals in the church and labeling them as the “perfect ones”. Surely, a different breed of Mormon than I.  But when I actually get to know these perfect families, I see that they really are normal.  Maybe their perfect priest of a son is actually a total pothead.  Maybe the wife has been on Prozac, Lexapro, Welbutrin, and Zoloft and still struggles to get out of bed in the morning.  Maybe that prominent church leader, while maintaining excellent rapport with members of the church, is actually short with and cold to his family.  (That pained me even to write).  And maybe, just maybe, if you show up unannounced, there will be laundry on the sofa and last night’s dishes still in the sink.

The idea of the “perfect Mormon” is a cultural illusion.  Yes, there are people who are always happy, there are people who always have a clean and organized house and schedule, and there are families where every member truly loves and is devoted to the gospel.  But every has their demons and their struggles, and I think that by giving them any kind of a label we are actually objectifying them.  Instead of getting to know them, we tell ourselves that we already know who they and what they’re about and we move on.

10yearpaulkaylawedding

At the wedding of my dear friends Paul and Kaela in May 2012. Paul is honestly the tied-for-first best thing Utah ever gave me.

The members of the church are actually way better than you think they are.  This is a lesson I find myself relearning all the time.  I am constantly surprised at the amount of love, resilience, and wisdom that exists in my fellow church members.  I could write you a list, pages long, with the names of people who, having once thought that I knew what they were about, surprised me with their ability to bless me and love me in ways that have shown me that Mormons are really amazing and really good people.  I believe that there is no other organization where people are so willing to sacrifice for others.  Now, I am not familiar with every organization in existence, but if there is one where the people are as good as they are here, I want to be a part of it (or at least visit).

 

The only problem is that we are often shy, and assume that others either do not need or do not want what we have to offer them.  Sometime this shyness even comes across as snobbery.  We end up not talking to each other, not knowing each other, not helping each other, and, most sadly, not loving each other.  Stepping our of your comfort zone and getting to know the people you go to church with will have great returns.  You may not become besties with your whole relief society, but I know that someone there has something you need.

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A group of EFY counselors I went to the temple with in the summer of 2013. Interesting fact- both of those girls had mission calls at the time this was taken. And both of the boys speak french and that’s just cute. :)

As I searched through photos to find the ones I wanted to include, I couldn’t help but feel gratitude rise to the top of my spirit.  Gratitude for the many people have been so kind to me, and who have led me along, sometimes without even realizing it.  I also want to give a shout out to my non-member parents who have supposed me throughout my whole life, and specifically have supported me in the church.  They threw me a party when I was baptized, outfitted me for my mission, supported my crazy plan to move to brand new state and pursue teaching seminary, and they have done all of this without ever raising a word of criticism of the Church or of my activity in it.  And, surely, if there is one person who has taught me about faith, it has been my mother.  And if there is one person who has shown me what God is like, it is my father.

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Here’s to ten more years.  God bless anyone who is reading this.  

God is real. :)

 

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To my twenty-something friends: Can we stop trying to be each other, please?

be each otherSo I have some stuff going for me. I graduated from a Top 50 college at 22, I went on a mission, I’ve taught seminary as my actual job, I’ve done awesome outreach work through multiple non-profit organizations, and I’m a published author. That’s good, right?

But I’m not married, have no children, no graduate degrees, and really not much professional progress. And that’s bad. Well, at least I feel like it’s bad, and it’s the part I think about.

I’m 26, and all of my friends fall into the early 20’s to mid 30’s range. I’m blessed to know and love the best set of people on the planet. They are awesome and they do awesome things.

But (and you knew this was coming) every time I become aware of some facet of their station in life, I immediately compare myself. If my 24 year old friend just got her Master’s, I feel so far behind. If my 29 year old friend get’s her Master’s, I feel an anxious urgency to hurry up and “do something” so that I can keep pace.

My late teens to early 20’s had a good cadence about them- I left for college at 17, took classes every summer, got my mission call two weeks after my 21st birthday, moved out-of-state two weeks after receiving my Bachelor’s degree. From there, my progress felt like it was slowing, but remained steady. I had made up my mind that I wanted to be a full-time employee for the Church Education System, but after two years of actively pursuing that, I found myself at 24, jobless, hopeless, and driving from Salt Lake to California to move back in with my parents.

My self-confidence took a major blow. I had never been the pretty one, the funny one, or the adventurous one, but I had always, ALWAYS been the smart one. My sense of self-worth came from a good college (since that’s what smart people do), and the post-degree translation of that was to get a good job. Or at least an interesting, respectable job.

Not having a job caused me to feel that my education didn’t matter, and really made me feel like it may as well not have happened. When people ask me if I was in school, I wouldn’t tell them I had finished, I would just tell them no. If they asked me if I was working, I wouldn’t recount any of previous work or explain that I was “between jobs”, I would just tell them no. I expected people to see me as a nobody, because I saw (sometimes still see) myself as a nobody.

My lack of direction and lack of hope became so serious that I began to fantasize about death. I would never kill myself because I don’t want the people who love me to have to carry that weight around for the rest of their lives, but I was hoping to get hit my a bus or stricken with some aggressive terminal illness so that I could still die, but without everyone having to know how miserable I was.

I know this sounds crazy to a lot of you. But I also know that to a lot of you, it doesn’t sound crazy at all. I hope that none of you have ever actually secretly wished for death (if you have, you have my compassion), but I know that I can’t be the only one who feels slowed down, held up, or halted all together.

Maybe you are happily married, but struggling to conceive while well-meaning folks keep asking when you’re going to have a baby. (How long have you been married? 5 years?)

Maybe the marriage you hoped and prayed for came, but then went when some cruel form of “incompatibility” arose. Maybe you are in your seventh year of undergraduate work and still struggling to feel comfortable with school. Maybe you got your “dream job” to discover that whatever your dream was, this isn’t it. Maybe you feel slow socially, wondering why you are not a part of the friend groups you see forming around you. There are a lot of ways to feel behind, and in order to be behind, we have to feel like someone else is ahead.

I’m just trying not to feel too far behind.

I’m a lot happier now (praise God). I had a few tender mercies that got me out of my hell-hole of a state of mind and into a more literal hell (Arizona…and it’s July), which was right where I needed to be. That feeling of progress hasn’t quite come, but my hope-o-meter hovers at around 96%. Right now I am facing 3.5 more years of school to earn my second bachelors degree in Nursing, followed by a 2 years master’s degree. This means I will not be done with school until I am 32. This scares me into not wanting to try at all. Graduating at 32 seems so far behind all of my friends who did things “the right way”.

But I know that there is no “right way” besides the one that is right for us. So many of our concerns in this life involve things not matching up to our preferred time table, or feeling like we ourselves are not matching up to our preferred time table. It’s good to have goals, it’s important to have plans, and I believe it’s essential to our happiness to feel like we are progressing. But the rate and nature of the progression of others has nothing to do with our own.

Comparing ourselves to each other either makes us prideful or makes us spiteful. I propose that we should be patient and joyful. Patient with ourselves and with others in times of struggle. And we should allow ourselves to feel joy over the accomplishments achieved by both others and ourselves.

I am likely preaching to the choir. I have said nothing new, but I have said something important. Even if it’s just important to me.

Go (your own “right” way). Fight (your own battles). Win (at your own life).

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