Stranger at the Pulpit, Don’t Say You Love Me

You know the scene.  It might be in fast and testimony meeting, or perhaps in a regular sacrament meeting.  Maybe even in a Sunday school class or at a fireside.  But, let’s be real, it’s probably happening in Relief Society.

“I just love all of you!  I don’t even know you, but I love you!”

This is where I turn to my nearest friendly neighbor and pretend to gag myself with my index finger.  If there are tears involved in this exclamation of love, I might actually throw up in my purse a tiny bit.  Why, why must you say you love me?  It’s annoying.  You don’t even know me.

This statement was likely made by some woman who refers to herself as a “hugger” and insists on hugging you because…I don’t know…you both showed up to church I guess?  I like to hug, but I don’t give my hugs out like pretzels.  They are sacred and are reserved for those who I really like and do not see often enough.

Oh, and no matter what, please don’t act excited to see me in that high-pitch whisper voice.

A few days ago a good friend told me about a girl she had been working with who did exactly that (acted excited to see her in a high-pitch whisper voice)  who had really grated on her nerves.

We asked ourselves, “Selves, are we bad people?  Are we wicked for not wanting strangers to tell us they love us? Or act like they love us?  And why don’t we love everyone like they do?  Are we bad? Do we even have souls anymore?” After all, Christ loved everybody, didn’t he?  And isn’t that his message, to love as he loved?

And then- light bulb. Are you ready for this?

Christ did love everybody.  But Christ did not love strangers.  

There are no strangers to him. He knows us perfectly, and perhaps it is the perfect knowing that makes the perfect love possible. And we our counseled to be “no more strangers”.  Christ has also said, “if ye are not one, ye are not mine.”  Can you really (really) be one with people whom you don’t know?  I don’t know if I can.

So, no I don’t think we are bad for not loving everybody.  We don’t know everybody.

This might sound a little bit bratty, but I choose to continue to dislike it when strangers tell me they love me, even if I am part of a collective group which they have generally good feelings towards.  It isn’t love they’re feeling, it’s something else.  I don’t know what, but it’s something else.

I am eager to accept the love of those who have reason to love me.  Knowing my name and my face isn’t a good enough reason for you to love me.

Let us all love, but first, let us all know.

Now, you know what to do.

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I’ve Been a YSA for 10 Years and I’m Done Making Friends

I’ve been in the YSA scene for a long time.  In July, it will be a decade.

The dominant attribute of these last ten years has been my search for companionship.  Now, there’s the understandable search for a permanent mate, but I have also been on an endless search for friends.

Now, you are probably thinking, “but don’t you have friends?”  I do have friends, and have always had friends.  There have been a smattering of times when I didn’t live near anybody I considered myself close to, but I had a substantial list of people who I knew loved me and were only a phone call away.

I wasn’t looking for friends because I didn’t have any- I was looking for friends because that’s just what I did.

I wouldn’t even sit by my current roommate, Elizabeth, at church.  I love her- I positively adore her.  We do a lot together and enjoy being in each other’s company.  But, in my mind, church wasn’t for people I already knew, it was for getting to know new people. Always new, always more. Never satisfied, always empty.

How was I bred this way?  Firstly, I feel a deep sense of responsibility towards those who don’t have friends, who may be lonely.  How can I fulfill my responsibility to them if I am caught up with my regular group of friends?  Secondly, we are told pretty frequently to “get out there and meet people!”  I took the admonition very seriously.  Thirdly, and unignorably, I do still want a husband, and it would seem that that would require getting to know some new people.

I live in Mesa, AZ.  If you’ve never been here, don’t worry.  You’re not missing much.  Except for house parties with 300 people.  And 5-stake New Year’s Eve dances where there is hardly enough room to walk, let alone actually dance.  And game nights where half of the people who shoe up have no idea whose house they’re even at.  For some reason, Arizonians like to do things big- bigger than other places I’ve lived.  There are always new people to meet.  And the bigger the event, the more I felt like I needed to be there.

I needed to be there to make friends, to make connections, to be happy! But, like I said…I already had friends.  But I wasn’t happy.  Just a few weeks ago, I was driving home from a ward Family Home Evening activity that was not a particularly good experience, when I though to myself:

When will I have made enough friends, and will be allowed to actually start enjoying them?

I have gone to party after party, event after event, looking for human connection.  Desperately seeking it.  But I walked into those parties with some AMAZING people right at my side.  I gave them the designation of “wing girl”- really, a tool to help me get what I wanted in somebody else. I had friends.  And I was loyal to them.  And I loved them.  But I always needed more.  I always needed to be looking.  I always needed to be finding.

I recently decided to overhaul my Sunday habits in an effort to make it a more Christ-centered, uplifting day.  One of my new “rules” was that I was no longer going to socialize on Sunday.  I could talk to people, laugh with people, hang out, invite, share…even flirt.  But not socialize.  What’s the difference?  In my mind, the difference was that I was no longer going to seek after new friends for the sake of having new friends.  It’s worked marvelously.

More recently, I considered extending that frame of mind to my mid-week institute class, which is attended by a hefty group of YSAs.  Or even church functions in general.  The issue with that is that almost all of the functions I attend are church functions.  Doing so would change the way I interacted with social situations entirely.  It would change me, change my friendships, and maybe change my life.

Well, I put it to the test last week at institute.  I wasn’t going to try to meet new people.  I was going to strengthen the friendships I already had.  Instead of constantly gazing around the room looking for my next target, I sought out the people who have already proven to me that they love me and are good for me.  I reached out to them, I was joyful to see them, I took comfort in their kindness.  It was a beautiful experience.  On the surface, it probably didn’t look very different than normal, but it felt different, and it was different.

In the past, I always left social gatherings feeling empty and unaccomplished, because my opportunity to seek out new people had ended.  But last Wednesday, I left feeling full, and grateful, and loved.

I of course have no aversion to making new friends, but I can honestly say that I am content with what I have.  Not only content- I am thrilled.  I recently heard a quote referenced that said that anytime somebody we love walks through the door, we should go insane with joy.

Well, I guess that you can just call me crazy then.

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Motherhood as a Case Study in Sacrifice

We all have mother’s, but beyond that fact I’m not sure how much universal commonality we can really find on the topic.  All of our motherhood situations are different, and that makes giving a talk on such a broad topic fairly challenging.  So I’m going to be a little bit deviant  The topic of my talk is not actually motherhood.  The topic of my talk is sacrifice, using mothers as a kind of case study.   I know that we typically think of it as “giving up something good for something better”, but I want to invite you to try and see sacrifice through a slightly different lens, the idea that sacrifice is a manifestation of our love of God and our love of others, and that that love is the ruling motivator in our lives.

 

First, the woman who, sacrificed more, and for more than perhaps any other woman who has ever lived.   We know that it was Eve who first partook of the fruit, and that is was she who bid Adam to do the same, so I don’t feel like I am being too radical in suggesting that just as much as in Adams case, Eve fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy.  She had the courage to leave her comfortable and peaceful home in the garden of Eden, where she was immortal and walked and talked with God, to fall into mortality, to labor by the sweat of her brow, and to bring forth children in sorrow for a few hundred years on earth before dying and returning to dust from whence she came.  And this she did so that she could fulfill her role as the mother of all living, and that, through her, we would all have the opportunity to realize our potential through the experience of mortality.

 

The next mother I would like to talk about is not a literal mother at all.  Mother Teresa is best known for her work among the orphans, the elderly, the sick, and the impoverished in the slums of Calcutta.   She came from a rich family who were known for their philanthropy, and enjoyed many of the privileges of being well-educated and well-cultured, but took upon herself a vow of poverty when she became a nun.  She once said, “ ”I will be a saint” means I will despoil myself of all that is not God; I will strip my heart of all created things; I will live in poverty and detachment; I will renounce my will, my inclinations, my whims and fancies, and make myself a willing slave to the will of God.”  Her language may sound severe, but surely it was this fierce dedication to God that gave her the desire and the ability to leave behind her worldly riches and devote herself to the kind of life that would earn her a place in the memories of billions of people as literally the kindest and most peaceful woman who has ever lived.  She has done a lot for people, but so has Oprah Winfrey, and for some reason the phrase “Mother Oprah” feels a bit awkward.  They are both very giving, and very generous, but I wonder if its the fact that Mother Teresa sacrificed so much so tirelessly that it just feels natural to people everywhere, both rich and poor, catholic and not catholic, religious and irreligious, to refer to her as “mother”.   She said, ““A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.”

A few years ago I flew from Salt Lake City where I had been working to Tuscon to be with my sister Megan for the birth of her first child.   She started labor at around 3pm, and labored long into the night.  She was in one of the bedrooms of the birthing center, and I was waiting restlessly outside in the hallway where there was a noisy heater that kept switching on and off- I preferred having it on, because it muffled the sound of my sisters moaning and groaning, which honestly made me kind of queasy.  But after several hours of listening to this, probably around 2 or 3 am, I thought to myself, “Wow, this baby she is about to have should live his life every day with so much confidence, happiness, and gratitude.  If he only knew what this poor woman was going through to give him life, he would would think of himself as the most worthy, most important, and most loved person on the face of the earth.”  I then realized that what I was thinking about this baby was true of myself, and also every person. Some woman went through a great amount of pain and struggle to bring each of us into the world, not to mention physical and emotional sacrifice that mothers usually make for their children for the entirety of their lives.  Just as a side note, my amazing sister labored until the sun came up, and until the sun went down again, totalling 30 hours of labor, 24 of which were without medicinal pain relief.

 

In matters of sacrifice, Jesus Christ is our exemplar. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”  My interpretation of this scripture is that we were the joy that was set before him.  Christ knows us, loves us, and desires to be with us forever.  The agony of the atonement was unimaginable and inexpressible, but his love for us is even more so.    he suffered the grief of the garden and the cruelty of the cross because he sees us as a worthy reward for his pain.  Jesus is the love of my life and I am trying to be perpetually satisfied in him.

It may seem strange that up until now I have made no mention of my own mother. Many of you know that my mom was recently diagnosed with 4th stage brain cancer.  But, honestly, no matter what happens, I know that I am still one of the lucky ones, because I got the best mom in the world for at least 27 years.  I was a sensitive and preoccupied child, who grew up to be a sensitive and preoccupied adult, and my mom has constantly sacrificed for me.  She forgives me for my weakness, and loves me for my eccentricity.   Truly, as abraham lincoln said, everything that i am, or ever hope to be, i owe to my angel mother.  And in the words of Maya angelou, I am her baby, and that is better than being anybody else in the world.

Why I Don’t Wear Makeup in May

First of all, let me do the obligatory apology for dropping off the face of the blog earth.  My reason is that I normally blog about things that really matter to me and that really get me thinking, but lately, those have not been the kinds of things I can be public about.  Now…moving on…

It is May again, and you know what that means!  It’s time for my third annual round of No Makeup May.

For those of you unable to detect the obvious, No Makeup May is when, during May, I wear no makeup.  No blush, no lip color, no mascara, no eyeliner, no concealer, no foundation, and last but certainly not least in terms of difficulty, no brow pencil!  I wear moisturizer and chap stick and will continue to have my brows threaded, and that’s all that happens to my face.

Why do I do this?  Well, a few reasons.

1. It saves me time.

2. It saves me money.

3. It gives me something to blog about.

4. It gives me an opportunity to discuss issues surrounding beauty and confidence.

5. Most of all, it is a way that I glorify God.

Let me expound on that last one a little bit.  I am a lover of nature, and see God’s love reflected in the beauty that abounds in the natural world.  Mankind has made some beautiful things, but nothing that compares with the majesty of the grand canyon, or the serenity of the ocean, or the wonder of the silent snowfall.  I believe that God’s creations cannot be improved upon.

And I believe that about his greatest creations- us- as well!

“I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made..” says Psalm 139, verse 14.  I feel that one way I can praise God is to show gratitude and satisfaction for what he has given me.  That includes my face.  My smooshy, big forehead, eyes too far apart, no eyelash face.  In other words, my fearfully and wonderfully made face.

I recently became inspired to set down my preoccupation with my personal goals and standards of success, and to instead strive to be satisfied in Christ on a daily basis. I want to feel complete and joyful each day by relying on his love and his atonement and allowing those things to really penetrate my mind, heart, and will.  This year, No Makeup May is a step I’m taking toward that.  My aim is to not be distracted with what I think others think of me or with what I think of myself, but to abound in the evidence that I am created and loved by God.  And to take a break from my perpetual need to find something about myself to be dissatisfied with.

Every year I ask for joiners, and every year I get zero.  I ain’t even mad though.  I get that this is not the kind of thing everyone cares about.  And to be honest, I don’t know if I’m ready enough to be satisfied in Christ that I would be able to give up my flat iron or Velcro rollers.

But if there is someone out there who wants to give it a try, I invite you to join me.  And talk about it. And write about it.  I would even invite you to post no makeup selfies, but we know how I feel about those.

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The Untold Love Stories of the Scriptures

When I study the scriptures, I try to really “read between the lines” to get a sense of the humanity of scriptural characters. I love the scriptures.  I also love love.

We have our classic love stories- Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, etc.- but I often wonder about the love “back stories” of many others.  It is my dream to produce a series of films titled “The Untold Love Stories of the Scriptures.”

Here are some of my ideas:

1. Adam and Eve.  Let’s start at the very beginning.  This film would really just be a variation on the story of the creation and the fall, but with an emphasis on the relationship between Adam and Eve.  They’re in the garden and everything is all good until Eve meets the serpent.  In most biblical depictions, Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit is rather immediate.  But in my story, she would emotionally and mentally labor for weeks (or whatever that translates to in Eden time) over the decision to stay with her dear, lovely, Adam, or to seek self-fulfillment by partaking of the fruit.  Her decision to partake of the fruit serve as the main plot-thickening agent.  The climax happens when she tells Adam what she has done, and the resolution comes when Adam decides that he loves her enough to also partake of the fruit and be cast out with the woman who was willing to be cast out even without him.

2. David and Bathsheba.  David is one of my very favorite characters of the Old Testament.  He was a spiritual giant who defeated a literal giant, and his exhibition of such great faith is what makes his demise (his affair with Bath-sheba and the killing of her husband, Uriah) particularly cutting.  But what if it wasn’t so simple?  I picture David and Bath-sheba s having been childhood sweethearts, promising to one another that they would be together forever.  As a matter of fact, when Samuel first sends for him, he isn’t with the sheep, but with Bathsheba, hanging out in a tree and flirting over fruit.  He promises that he will see her soon, but learns that that very evening she and her family were captured by the Philistines.  So his defeat of Goliath is really an act of love.  Israel defeats the Phillistines, but Bathsheba and her family are unable to be found…that is, until the night David sees her bathing from his roof.  He inquires after her and learns that her husband, Uriah, while being a faithful soldier, beats Bath-sheba and is a wine bibber.  David can’t handle the idea of his childhood love being hurt and sends for her to come visit him.  They go on a walk to the very fruit tree where he left her, and an affair ensues. Upon learning of her pregnancy and wanting to protect her honor, David sends Uriah home to be with his wife.  But Uriah has caught word of the affair and refuses to protect the king and his wife in their adultery.  He now hates David and wants to expose him, so he doesn’t go home.  David gets angry, but the decision to put Uriah at the front lines of battle is actually Bath-sheba’s.

3. Laman and the oldest daughter of Ishmael.  Poor Laman and Lemuel, they get such a bad reputation!  Can you imagine being one of their wives- a daughter of Ishmael?  One day your dad tells you that you are going off into the wilderness to follow some visionary guy because his apostate sons need wives.  Sounds like a pretty bad deal, if you ask me.  Unless there’s more to the story.  Let’s say that back in Jerusalem, before Lehi and his family left, Laman and the oldest daughter of Ishmael were actually in love.  The daughter becomes pregnant, and gives Laman the exciting news.  That very night, however, the people of Jerusalem show up at Lehi’s house and run them out of town.  Laman has to decide between staying with his love and possibly endangering her and their unborn child (since the angry mobs will continue to target him), or leave and probably never see them again.  He decides to leave, and swears in his wrath that he will never forgive his father or brother for the circumstances they created.  On one of his trips back to Jerusalem, he visits the daughter, and swears that if she will but wait, he will come for her.  He and his brothers come for her and her entire family just a few weeks before their baby girl becomes the first child to be born in the wilderness.

To Immodestly Dressed Girls: I’m Sorry I Called You Porn

During a routine meeting with his mission president, a young elder is surprised to be asked, “Elder, do you struggle with pornography?”

“Of course not, President!  How could I be?  I follow all the mission rules- I always stay with my companion, I work hard ad follow the schedule as best I can, and I only use the internet on P-day to email my family!”

The mission president leaned in, looked the missionary right in the eye, and said, “Elder, I’m talking about walking pornography.”

*****

I heard this account, given as a true occurrence, several years ago in a Relief Society meeting.  I’ve heard the term “walking pornography” here and there, and did some quick internet investigation of the story to see if it had some attributable origin.  Perhaps it did happen, just like that, but it is likely just Mormon lore.

Mormon lore is a story that happened to somebody who knows somebody who you know, and they are repeated in order to encourage their hearers to follow certain gospel principles- some common examples are being miraculously physically protected by one’s temple garment, or receiving a check in the mail for the exact amount of money you paid in tithing the day before, in spite of being in financial crisis.

This particular account was shared to warn the sisters in room of the potential of being “walking pornography” in the eyes of men by dressing immodestly.

I have since retold the story, and have frequently shortened it’s message to, simply, “girls, let’s not be walking porn.”

I fell into the trap of equating dressing “immodestly” (which, by the way, what does that even mean?), with being pornographic.

To any of the women whom I may have had in mind, please, please, forgive me.

If pornography was just a stream of images of “scantily-clad” women, going about their days doing normal things like going to class, walking to the mailbox, and getting to know friends of friends, then I would be able to justify calling your average girl walking down the street in on a July afternoon “pornographic”.

But pornography is something different entirely.  Pornography is routinely violent and degrading towards women.  It is extreme and depicts the most deprave of situations.  It glorifies the exploitation of adolescent sexuality- and does so legally.

And, at it’s worst, it abuses little children to serve it’s purposes.  Sometimes, it rapes them.

A curve-revealing dress, a little jiggle of visible cleavage, or a thong peaking out the top of a yoga pant are not pornographic.  Immodest? Maybe, who’s to say? But these things are entirely not porn.  Porn is evil. A woman’s breasts, butt, legs and stomach are not.

You might be saying, “Even if women aren’t doing anything evil, their dress still encourages a pornography habit in men.”

Maybe it does contribute to it, but it is still not the same thing.

As stated above, porn often depicts things that are depraved, extreme, and even implausible- the real world and the porn world are two very different places.

Also, we absolutely must consider the intention behind a woman wearing clothes.  And, in some cases, we are great at considering intention.  For example, picture a young woman wearing a very short pair of shorts- they leave nothing about her form to the imagination.  On top, she has on a tank top that is cut low in both the back and the front.  Perhaps a sliver of midriff is showing.  What did I just describe?  Well, if she’s going out to dinner on Friday night, it’s a very immodest outfit.  But if she’s at the beach on Saturday afternoon…she’s actually wearing a very modest bathing suit, as far as bathing suits go.

My point is that, as long as a woman is not dressing to specifically arouse men, she is not pornography. Actually, remove that disclaimer.  Even if she IS trying to turn guys on, she still isn’t porn.  Please understand that they are not the same thing.

So, girls, I’m sorry I called you porn.  And I didn’t just do it once, I did it over, and over, and over again.

Please accept my apology.

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So…Am I Allowed Not to Be in Love With “Meet the Mormons”?

meet-mormons

I saw Meet the Mormons on the day of it’s release.  Honestly, I thought it was fine.

Now, the Church has an incredibly talented group of people who produce their media.  I have been brought to tears by many-a-Mormon Message, and I could watch their new series of New Testament videos all day long.  The Church creates a lot of high quality, powerful media, and I have been singing their praises for it for years.

But Meet the Mormons isn’t new, or powerful, or even really all that interesting.

I’m grateful for this explanation from Elder Holland explaining the origin of the film.

The film wasn’t produced to change people’s lives, or even teach gospel truths.  It was simply produced to educate people who had wandered onto temple square about the fact that you can be a lot of different things and still be Mormon.  Hopefully, it will dispel myths based on stereotypes.

But I already know that there are black bishops in our church, that LDS people do cool things to help the world, and that Mormon moms do more than cook and clean.  So really, what was I supposed to get out of this?

I do have to admit, at this point, that I enjoyed the story of the missionary mom.  Many others have also cited it as their favorite.  It was the only one, in my eyes, that showed the struggle that accompanies being LDS.  A very “worth it” struggle, but a struggle nonetheless.  I honestly thought her whole story would be about how much she loves being a mom and is excited that her son was going to serve the Lord.  I did not expect (spoiler alert) that she had been a teen mom, had lost her second child, and married a man with only one leg.  Her story surprised me, engaged me, and moved me.  Those featured in the other 5 segments all seemed to have basically perfect lives.  There was reference to hardships, but we as viewers did not really get to see or feel those hardships.  If we had, I would be giving this film 5 stars, two thumbs up, and all the accolades I could articulate.

I’m not saying that Meet the Mormons was bad or that it should not have been distributed.  I am just saying that, for me, it was fine.  It is basically a long “and I’m a Mormon” commercial- it’s agreeable, positive, and unobtrusive.

I was asked a few days ago how I felt about the movie.

“I thought it was fine.”

“You are so hard-hearted!”

That’s right, I was called hard-hearted (a serious accusation in my opinion) for finding the film to be fine.

Would weeping at it’s influence be a sign of my sincere humility?  Would pretending to wonder at a work that was not even intended to inspire wonder make me more faithful?  Am I obligated to act like I love everything the Church produces just because I love the Church?

Some of the things the Church makes I love, some I really like, and some I am just fine with.  It just so happens that the thing that is prominently in the public eye happens to fall into my “fine” category.

Please, don’t try to make me blind, don’t try to make me into a sheep.

When the Church produces media I love, I share it, I talk about it, I show it to my non-member friends and family, I bookmark it, I blog about it, I extol it. But in order for my enthusiasm for those works to be genuine and powerful, I have to be allowed to be just “fine” with some things.

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Realizing That Things Would Have Worked Out Better Without the Church

Just yesterday, a friend asked, “where do you think you would be right now without the Church?”

And for what may have been the first time, I thought honestly about this question.

And my honest answer is that I would have been happy.  I would have still graduated college, I would still not be addicted to alcohol or drugs, I would still have an abundance of positive relationships, and I would still be a healthy and contributing member of society.  Also, I would be married and have a few kids.  My husband would have a good job and I would be able to stay with my children.  Now, I obviously don’t know any of this for absolute certain, but if I were to make my best guess, this is how it would be.  I know who I would have married, a very smart, dedicated, and compassionate man I dated my Freshman year of college.  The only reason we broke up was because of our religious differences.  Other than that, we were perfect for each other.

Without the church, my life would have probably worked out pretty well.  It probably would have “worked out” better than it has with my being in the church.

As I articulated this to my friend, I felt the gravity of realizing that there are good things that I am missing out on, that I could have had if I had chosen a different path.  But I did not feel sadness, or regret.  Nor did I doubt my commitment to my religious convictions.

For me, Jesus just makes up for everything.  The satisfaction I find in him is greater than the satisfaction that I could ever find in any set of circumstances.

I will not tell you that striving to be a faithful member of the church guarantees happiness, ease, or even peace.  Sorry, but my experience has been otherwise. But nothing, nothing, is more fulfilling than knowing that I am living in accordance with the dictates of my conscious.  To understand the truth is the greatest blessing I could want.

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What it Really Means to Be Grateful- by Dieter F. Uchtdorf (feat. The Preppy Panda)

When I was a kid, I thought that being grateful meant that I was supposed to shut up until I got what I actually wanted.  That makes sense, right?  Being told to be grateful usually came from a disgruntled parent after hearing my complaining about some dissatisfaction I had over some, surely trivial, thing.  It was often accompanied by talk of money trees and African children.

I don’t think it has ever been in my nature to be grateful- to recognize and verbally acknowledge the manifestations of work and love dedicated to me by God and by others.  But I have tried to improve, and am beginning to know the peace and happiness that results from gratitude.

Last April, President Uchtdorf gave a powerful talk titled “Grateful in Any Circumstances“, an address which I was lucky enough to view in person at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.   As you might guess, his talk was on being grateful regardless of our situation.  I sensed that the crux of his talk could be well represented with this quote from his talk:

But some might say, “What do I have to be grateful for when my world is falling apart?”

Perhaps focusing on what we are grateful for is the wrong approach. It is difficult to develop a spirit of gratitude if our thankfulness is only proportional to the number of blessings we can count. True, it is important to frequently “count our blessings”—and anyone who has tried this knows there are many—but I don’t believe the Lord expects us to be less thankful in times of trial than in times of abundance and ease. In fact, most of the scriptural references do not speak of gratitude for things but rather suggest an overall spirit or attitude of gratitude.

Awesome, right?  We should always be grateful, not just when things are going well.

This talk resonated with others, as it had with me, and was frequently discussed in the days following the conference.  It continues to be referenced on occasion.

But nearly every time the talk was mentioned, I felt frustrated- I felt that the people who were commenting on it, while saying true and good things, were missing something crucial, were missing his very point.  What frustrated me was that I could not articulate what it was I felt like they were missing.  (And if I can’t articulate a thought, what can I do?)  People usually said something to the tune of of one of these phrases:

“I was having a rough day, but then my mom called, and I realized that I should be grateful for the wonderful people I have in my life.”

“If we look around, we will see that there are all kinds of things to be grateful for, the trees, the flowers, a baby’s laugh.”

“I always feel better after I have made a list of my blessings.”

None of these statements are bad, but the idea they express is not the idea President Uchtdorf was expressing to us.  And I recently figured out what the difference was.

The above statements imply that, while we can be grateful in any circumstance, our gratitude is supposed to come from our circumstance.

In other words, we are grateful because we recognize our blessings.

But what I believe President Uchtdorf was trying to teach us is that gratitude should work in the very opposite direction.

In other words, we recognize our blessings because we are grateful.

We are grateful first, not grateful as a result of our situation.  We are grateful because gratitude is in our nature.

I would like to suggest that there are in fact situations where one has very very little if not nothing to be grateful for in their present circumstances (the holocaust, other extreme and heinous situations).  I don’t really expect that God would expect a person in such a circumstance to offer him thanks for some contrived “blessing” in order to fulfill the commandment of being grateful.  But still, a person could be in such a situation and be grateful.

But what is gratitude if it is not necessarily attached to a recognized blessing?  Let’s let President Uchtdorf educate us:

Being grateful in times of distress does not mean that we are pleased with our circumstances. It does mean that through the eyes of faith we look beyond our present-day challenges.

This is not a gratitude of the lips but of the soul. It is a gratitude that heals the heart and expands the mind.

Being grateful in our circumstances is an act of faith in God. It requires that we trust God and hope for things we may not see but which are true. By being grateful, we follow the example of our beloved Savior, who said, “Not my will, but thine, be done.”

True gratitude is an expression of hope and testimony. It comes from acknowledging that we do not always understand the trials of life but trusting that one day we will.

Gratitude, as I understand it, is not so much about what we have, but what we know.  To be grateful is to understand and find joy in the implications of having a real and loving God. Knowing that God loves you is so powerful that it shines it’s light on all circumstances, transforming otherwise dark situations into good or at least bearable ones.

It was once brought to my attention via a sacrament meeting talk that when the one healed leper returned to the Savior to thank him, Jesus says, “thy faith hath made the whole”, not, “thy gratitude hath made thee whole.”  He was clearly expressing gratitude, but what Christ found important enough to recognize was his expression of faith.  I imagine that the other 9 lepers were just as pleased with their healing as the one who returned, but what made him both grateful and faithful was the fact that he knew that the healing meant something.

He knew that Jesus was divine, that Jesus was powerful, and that he had been given freedom and healing under his hand.  May you, and I, and everyone, know these things also.

 

 

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Why I Wasn’t Afraid of Getting Sexually Assaulted in College, Part 2

I recently wrote a Part 1, to which some anonymous stranger wrote an interesting comment.  I had so much to say in reply that I decided it deserved a whole post of it’s own.  Here is what “Amanda” said:

It is fantastic that you are comfortable with who you are, and that who you are is someone who is religious, teetotaling, and conservative(ish) of garb and behavior. However, the world is a big and diverse place, and as you know, there are as many ways to experience it as there are people.

Basic morality checkboxes aside, your habits and likes are no more legitimate than those of party animals, surfers, ravers, or any other less buttoned-down subculture. What you’re espousing is not common sense prevention–it is perpetuating the unfair redistribution of the burden of preventing assault back to victims. Despite your statement to the contrary, your basic message is that women should behave, dress, and conduct themselves to avoid attracting the attention of harassers. Is that really any different than the antiquated “she was asking for it” mentality rebranded slightly to be palatable to the modern ear? Women who want to show skin, drink alcohol, talk loud, and party hard deserve exactly as much respect as those who choose not to partake.

I rarely respond to blog posts simply because it’s worthless to get involved in flame wars with faceless internet people with whom I disagree. However, you seem smart and thoughtful, and despite our radically different worldviews, I thought I might have a fighting at shot changing your mind.

Would you consider the possibility that your post may be unintentionally advocating for some women to make themselves small to accommodate a culture that is too tolerant of some men’s appalling behavior? Thanks for reading.

 

Dear Amanda,

First of all, thank you for such a thoughtful and respectful response.  I not only expect, but welcome critiques of the ideas I present.  I am the absolute first to admit that I have very little figured out in life (if anything), and often feel overwhelmed at the idea of trying to understand the world as it really is.  My posts help me verbalize the conceptual progress I’ve made in trying to grapple with complex issues, and critical responses (like yours) do a great job of bringing to light ways I need to refine my understanding.

First, I will address the idea of my habits or ideas being no more or less legitimate than others.  I have to be honest in saying that I do personally believe they are more legitimate, and that is why I choose them.  However, this “legitimacy” has nothing to do with deservingness of being the victim of sexual assault.  In other words, the way one behaves (alcohol consumption, manner of dress, social habits) should not increase the likelihood of sexual misconduct. My actions and the actions of others are equally legitimate in the sense that the expectation of safety while engaged in these particular actions should be the same.

The phrase “unfair redistribution of the burden” caught my eye, particularly the term “unfair”.  Picture this scenario:  I decide to leave my wallet on the seat of my car in a poorly lit area that has a lot of foot traffic.  Also, I leave all 4 windows completely rolled down.  When I get my wallet stolen, everyone will tell me that I was “asking” for it.

What was the burden I had to bear in order for me not to be “asking for it”?  I would have had to roll up my windows and carry my wallet with me, or maybe even just stick it in the glove compartment.  Not particularly burdensome.

But in order for a woman to minimize her chances of sexual assault, she must conform to a number of different lifestyle habits.  Basically, she would have to live a lot like me.  And no, I don’t think that anybody should have to live like me for the sake of not getting raped.  That would be an unfair burden, whereas taking precautions to keep your wallet from getting stolen really do not present any significant burden.

Is this what you mean?  Are we on the same page?

Also, I never want to advocate that women should make themselves feel small to accommodate the culture.  I actually want to be an example of a woman who is making herself big (my blog is one of the main ways I do that), so that hopefully I can invite other women to “live out loud” and walk with confidence.  I also do not want to encourage women to walk in fear, but to walk in love for self and others.  This brings me to a very important point- I live the way I live because I want to.  So I get to “live big” and feel and generally be safe at the same time.  However, if another women adopted my lifestyle for the sake of not being assaulted, she would not be living big, but living small as a result of being in fear.  That should not be expected of anyone.  And yes, maybe I was unintentionally advocating this.

In regards to the “party” lifestyle, it has always been my intuition that, generally, it brings more sadness than happiness, and more frustration than joy.  And I have suspected this sense before I was committed to teetotaling, sexual abstinence, or my current religious affiliation.  I also think that many college-aged women adopt the party lifestyle simply because that is what most everyone else is doing, and offers the path of least resistance for having fun and meeting people.  I guess that what I am suggesting is that maybe there are women who actually would find happiness and fulfillment in living more similarly to the way I do, and would thus not have to be made small in order to prevent sexual assault.  I feel that a sober and chaste life has MUCH to offer, a feeling of sexual safety being one of its perks.

I hope that you find my response as thoughtful and respectful as your was.  I still stand behind my first post, but you have brought me to an awareness of some of the underlying issues that were not expressed.  I do hope to hear your response.

Thank you,

The Preppy Panda

 

 

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