The Problem with Adding Your “2 Cents”

I am seeing a pattern and I am concerned.

Social media is a hot bed of controversy.  Some people jump at the opportunity to promote and/or defend their platform.  Some people shy away and avoid those conversations all together.  Some people are skilled in trolling.  Some people are lurkers who enjoy the discourse but are not active players.

And then there are the “2 cent-ers”.

The 2 cent-ers are the ones who pop in, express a well thought-out opinion in a respectful and civil tone, and then retreat back with the qualifier “that’s just my 2 cents, though.”  Oh, and there’s usually a smiley face after that.

As far as I can remember, I’ve only ever seen women do this.  Men either have an opinion or they don’t- but if they do, they seem to be more willing to defend its legitimacy as one that should be seriously considered and even adopted by others.

But with the women, it’s often a different story.  They make good points about a serious issue, but seem to discount themselves in the very next breath by saying that it’s “just how I feel” or that “I don’t want to fight about it.”  They will also sometimes initiate conversations about hot issues with pleas for people to not argue or become too heated.

While I love controversy, I get very uncomfortable with contention, and therefore appreciate efforts to keep things civil.  But there’s much more to it than that.
Backing away from your statement and saying that it is “just your 2 cents” implies, in my understanding, three false ideas that I take major issue with.

1. Your opinion is less valuable than others’.  Everybody realizes that what you say is your opinion or perspective, and that you hold no super-human authority to proclaim what is true or how people should feel.  This is also true of everybody else.  This is implied.  The “2 cent caveat” implies that because  statement is yours, it shouldn’t be taken as seriously as a statement by another person.

2. Having one’s ideas challenged is essentially confrontational.  Here’s a fact: if I’ve never challenged the veracity of something you’ve said, we aren’t good friends.  Likewise, if you’ve never challenged the veracity of something I’ve said, we aren’t good friends.  This is one of the hallmarks of a strong relationship for me- our bond isn’t altered by whether or not we agree on an issue, and disagreeing openly is actually a sign of closeness rather than dislike or mistrust.  Issues are complicated and require scrutiny.  Receiving input from people with differing viewpoints helps us all to refine our own understanding and conclusions.  This is why I dislike “2 cent caveats”- they seem to try to avoid contention even though, in my opinion, contention is not a natural result of comparing ideas.

3. It’s more important for a woman to be likable than to be anything else.  When you end your statement with the 2-cent caveat (especially if followed by a smiley face), you are essentially saying, “if you don’t like what I said, please ignore it.  I would rather be easy to tolerate than have my thoughts taken seriously.”  Now, I know I’ve argued that discussions of ideas do not need to be contentious, but sometimes others will make them so.  I believe that being kind and respectful to all people should always be our top priority. I also believe that many issues are worth upsetting people over in order to propagate correct ideals.  Take, for instance, my stance on abortion, which doesn’t win me very many friends.  But who would I be if I kept my mouth shut for the sake of being liked?  Being principled is more important than being palatable.

What you have to say is just as important as what anyone else has to say.

Disagreements are not essentially contentious.

There are things that are more important than being nice.

 

But that’s just my 2 cents.  🙂

 

 

 

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The Desire to Be Loved and the 1,000 Ways that Feels

I am a lover.  I love people wholly and truly.

I can be a little bit stingy as far as who I begin to love, but once you’re in, you’re in, and I will be happy every time you walk through the door.  I will miss you when you are gone and I will tell you as much.  I will sing your praises to your face and behind your back.  I will thank you for loving me more than you are probably used to.

I am lucky to be able to love the most incredible people- my family, my classmates, my coworkers, my friends, my mentors, and even some people who would call themselves my acquaintances, but over whom I find myself particularly enthused.

But I still don’t have a lover. A real lover.

Being LDS constrains you to be preoccupied with love and marriage, and, at the same time, be incredibly picky over who you’ll embark on that love and marriage journey with.  I am almost to the end of my 20s- long past my expected window of marrying and family starting.  I’ve been at just about every point on the “How Much Do I Care Spectrum”- from the extreme of crying myself to sleep to the other extreme of seeing freedom and flexibility as preferable to security and stability.

But most of the time, I find ways to deal with being alone.  Not totally alone, but alone in what can feel like the only way the matters.  I set goals, I busy myself, I work hard at things, I try to be outward-focused, I make long-term plans under the assumption that I will be alone forever and get excited about them.  For most of the minutes in a day, being *that* kind of loved doesn’t feel all that imperative.

But sometimes it does.  And it feels so many different ways.

It feels like excitement when he goes out of his way to talk to you or when he asks for your number.

It feels like disappointment when he never calls or texts.

It feels like success when he does.

It feels like hope when you’re getting ready for your date.

It feels like jealousy when you see him talking to another girl.

It feels like surrender when you realize they’re a “thing”.

It feels like despair when you can’t stop from believing that it’s because something is wrong with you.

It feels like a good kind of pain when you catch a glimpse of his arrestingly handsome smile from across the room.

It feels like regret when you realize your mistakes.

It feels like fun when you have a good time together.

It feels like safety when he keeps his word.

It feels like betrayal when he doesn’t.

It feels like peace when he’s there for the good and for the bad.

It feels like guilt when he leaves your home too late at night.

It feels like shame when you see him in church the next day.

It feels like importance when you realize that you’re the one he really wants.

It feels like sorrow when you realize you’re not.

It feels like loss when you are the one who has to end it.

It feels like freedom when you can start looking for someone better.

On many occasions, as I’ve thought myself to be a “strong independent woman who don’t need no man”, I’ve been stopped dead in my tracks to be reminded that while I may not need a man, I want a man.  And I want that more than nearly anything else.  I could give speeches on self-fulfillment and self-actualization and the idea that if you’re not happy without him, you’ll never be happy with him, but I would soon be humbled by some reminder that I’m just a woman, just a human, just a lover.  Those reminders are strong enough to jolt me every time. Every time it feels like I’m waking up to who I really am.

President Boyd K. Packer once referred to “the full blown rapture of young love”.  Rapture is “a feeling of intense pleasure or joy”.  What other experiences are there that we can really call a rapture?  Not many, I submit.

There have been moments of exasperation in which I’ve attempted to throw up my hands and throw in the towel.  Moments when I’ve proclaimed that asexuality was my new life style and that I didn’t “even like boys anymore”.  Well, you can imagine how long that lasts for a lover like me.  The desire to be loved hurts so bad.  But the fulfillment of that desire feels so good.

So good.

It’s All in Your Head (Unless it’s in Your Ovaries)

I’m sitting on my unmade bed, surrounded by folded piles of clothes that just dream of being lucky enough to make it into and actual drawer.  My flaky  mud mask was due to come off about 20 minutes ago.  I need to get ready for church AND a trip out of state tonight AND a trip to Disneyland tomorrow morning.  But instead I am writing this, because, it is all of a sudden feeling urgent:

A year and a half ago I had a horrible thing happen to me.  It’s something that I’ve been private about until now.

Somebody sung happy birthday to me.  Well, actually, a group of somebodies- a whole cultural hall full of them.

The only additional context you are getting is that it was as well-intentioned as “Happy Birthday to you”‘s usually are, but that it was extremely embarrassing to me.  I had pleaded with the initiator not to announce that it was my birthday, but he ignored my request.  This is understandable, since most people resist these kinds of things even if they really want them.  I on the other hand, am very good at saying exactly what I do and do not want. At the conclusion of the sining, I gave him the dirtiest look I could imagine, gave the group a slightly less dirty look, turned around, walked to my car, and left.  Oh, and I started crying before I made it out the door.

From there, the night devolved into an emotional crisis.  I felt embarrassed and depressed, and then felt upset with myself that I felt so embarrassed and depressed.  I was inconsolable, and experienced just about every negative emotion one could imagine within the space of about two hours. I would think that I had soothed myself, just to spontaneously break down a few minutes later.  I knew that what happened was not a big deal…actually, a “normal” person would have felt happy to be recognized.  So what the f*** was wrong with me?  And why couldn’t I let it go? Also, it should be known that these emotions had not been nearing the surface as a result of some previous experience- they all stemmed from the singing episode.

I happily joke about the incident to this day- it’s funny, isn’t it?  Or ironic at least?  That someone would fall apart like that over something that was supposed to be positive?

This event, of course, is not significant in and of itself, but I began to notice a pattern.  Every once in a while, turmoil would arise in me out of seemingly little more than thin air.  It would usually start with feeling hurt or offended, then depressed, then hopeless, then angry, then mean, then suicidal.  I would start researching the “highest bridges in Arizona” over things like not getting invited to a party…whose host I hardly knew and probably honestly wouldn’t even mind if I showed up.  I never sought any kind of professional help because I knew that by the time I accessed this help, I would likely already be feeling better.  I also don’t trust therapists, but that’s for a different blog.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “wow, I didn’t know Juliet was quite this crazy,” (which I hope you are, to be honest), you are probably in good company.  I’m not usually falling apart, after all- at least, not falling apart like this.  I, of course, experience disappointment and discouragement as much as the next person, but there is a very distinct nonsensical nature about these kinds of episodes.  They have triggers, but there is no predicting what the trigger will be.

About a year ago I figured that it was about once a month or so that I would have one of these “freak outs”, and they lasted anywhere from a few hours to a few days.  I then began to realize that it wasn’t about one a month- it was exactly once a month, and that I couldn’t remember it ever happening while I was on my period.  And then the lightbulb went off:

I had horrible, terrible PMS.

I had always thought that PMS meant that you were a passive-aggressive b!tch who didn’t want to be accountable for her own words or actions.  I had never even considered  the possibility that I had PMS, because I was always nice to the people in my life.  Truly, my angst always goes inward.

Well, I was wrong, and it’s not just PMS, it’s PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), which is basically a severe form of PMS, often marked by extreme episodes of moodiness.

This is what I have, and I’m grateful to know that there is a cause of perceived as just losing my mind.  It’s a real, physical problem, linked to the onset of an objectively observable bodily function.

I’ve written about mental and emotional health in the past, and I’ve always attempted to distance my personal experience from my ideas.  To be bland, I didn’t want people thinking I was mentally ill, even in writing about removing the stigma of mental illness.  Hi, my name is Juliet Miller and I’m a hypocrite.

But writing about this disorder doesn’t instill the same fear in me.  Why would I be ashamed of having arthritis, or the flu?  My condition is just as real and non-chosen as those things are.  There is a predictable beginning and end to it, and, as mentioned above, it is linked to objective physical events.  Because of these facts, I see it as being more similar to breaking your foot than to having other mental illnesses, as far as how willing I am to talk about it.

But this is wrong.

Mental illnesses with no or less obvious physical traits are just as real, valid, and deserving of care and understanding as any illness that manifest entirely or partially in the body.  This experience has revealed an important bias to myself:  I still have a hard time distinguishing the illness from the person.  I sometimes discredit a person’s claims to having a mental illness because, honestly, I don’t think they’re terribly competent.  I have thought to myself, “it makes sense that she’s depressed” or “her anxiety really just makes her more annoying.”  I’m so embarrassed to be admitting this.  I struggle to shake the idea that mental illness is a personality flaw, regardless of how many times I’ve told myself and others that this isn’t the case.  I have several people who are close to me who struggle with mental illnesses of all kinds, but I see them as the anomalies, and not as adhering to the rules of what it means to be depressed or anxious or obsessive compulsive or bulimic.

I might feel crazy for a few hours to a few days every month, but that defines me as much as having allergies defines a person.  And even if I felt crazy 28-31 days every month, that still is not defining to me, or to anyone else.  It can be hard to distinguish mental illness from normal “ups and downs” in ourselves and in others, but there is a difference, and it usually just takes the tiniest amount of kindness and openness to separate the person from the condition.

And I hope you don’t define me by the 1st-4th of the month.

 

Hillary, Feminism, and What I’ll Tell My Granddaughters

Making the decision of who to vote for in this presidential election cycle has not been easy.  I’ve considered every known option- including not voting for POTUS at all.  I had serious misgivings about every option.  I didn’t want to stand behind the potential catastrophes of any candidate, nor did I feel that abstaining would make me rightfully absolved of blame altogether.

I weighed my options more and more intensely as Election Day neared- and even as the hour neared.  I was willing to put money on a win for Hillary Clinton- in my mind, she was the presumed winner.  Nobody else ever stood a chance.  She was going to make history that day- taking a jackhammer to the roof of the glass-ceiling skyscraper and launching all of us women into outer space.

Regardless of the fact that I live in Arizona is a swing state, I didn’t think my vote mattered at all for consequential purposes- its only real purpose was to take a stand for something, and simultaneously against some other things.  She was going to win, and I was  simply deciding whether or not I would check the box of the winning team.

As I exited my car at the polling location, I had a vision: Fifty years from now I’m sitting with my granddaughters, telling them about Hillary Clinton- the first female leader of the free world (and bonafide badass), who decided once and for all that little girls (like them) could truly be anything and do anything and go anywhere they aspired to.  I pictured myself bragging to them about how their very own grandma got to vote in that very election where we chose our very first lady president.

I then asked myself: “Will I be able to bear telling those little girls that I didn’t vote for her?  That I chose not to?  That I stood on the sideline and watched as history was made?”  I don’t find her perfect, but she’s a woman, and I swoon over the idea of a woman president.

But, here’s the thing:

In all of the potential for regret that comes with choosing a presidential candidate, I see the most potential for regret with her.   Now, before you confuse me for some conservative  email-obsesser, let me assure you that I don’t think Hillary is awful.  I find her compromised, but not a criminal.   I find her smart, hard-working, and confident.  I see her caring about people who are different from her, and even with people who dislike her.  She’s amazing- a giant, in my eyes.

But there is one issue that matters more than any other to me.  I am not sharing what that issue is, as my objective is not to speak poorly of her.  However, I cannot in good consience but my vote behind her.  I felt a little bit ill about it, but I walked away from the polling both hoping that God would have mercy on my soul, and trying to accept that I was not going to be on the victorious side of civil liberties that day.

And what am I going to tell my granddaughters?  I am going to tell them that I respected Hillary enough to vote based on her choices, and not on her gender.  Being female should not disqualify her from anything- nor should it qualify her.  Her values and her virtues are more important to me than her vagina. I am going to tell them that we are big girls playing a big girl game, where being a girl isn’t enough to win.  Hillary has played a good, long game, but she’s not my MVP.

As it turns out, I was wrong- so very wrong- in my predictions.  I wouldn’t have been about to brag about the first female president even if I had voted for her.

But you better believe that I am going to tell my granddaughters about the first female president, it is the most earnest desire of my soul that I will be able to claim that candidate as my own.  I dream of the competent, rule-breaking, renegade of a woman who is going to be the star of my stories.

Thanks for being our giant, Hillary.  We will need your shoulders.

 

 

 

The Thing About the Woods

Last Monday at 3:45 am I woke up in a “teepee” made of logs.  Somehow my headlamp had ended up in my shelter mate’s sleeping bag and “turned itself on”, startling her into waking up, which startled me into waking up.  Our conversation began with the expression of minor annoyance with the situation, and ended up a peaceful and easy discourse on some of the most “uncomfortable” topics.  Having lots of hard conversations is the price you pay to get the kind of relationship where nothing feels hard to talk about any more- where you can mention heavy and serious things in passing because you both know the rest of the story, and where you can let your sentences trail off because you’ve visited the   topic before, and you know you’ll be visiting the topic again.

As we mumbled about the dreams we had woken from and I gazed out into the small clearing that surrounded our little shelter.  It seemed that no darker night had ever existed.  I’ve spent plenty of nights in the woods, but I seem to have gotten more than my fair share of full moons and noisy neighbors who left their lanterns on past any Godly hour.  Not only was it dark, but it was quiet.    The windy day had turned into a still night.  We were too high in elevation to hear any coyotes, and too low in elevation to hear any elk.      I could hear the sound of the creek babbling down below our campsite, but it was somewhat in a different sphere than the one I was in.

She dozed off first, and as she did I was struck with a kind of awe about my situation.  Something about the serenity of both the conversation and the physical environment surrounding me left me feeling something like wonder, but different.  I felt a groundedness and connectedness that is difficult to describe.

As I took in the crisp air, the smell of the wood surrounding me, the sight of the shadowing forest that could have gone on forever, I realized that everything in that scene was peaceful and content.  Everything, that is, but me.

One of the few discernable objects in my field of view was my neon yellow hammock, which hung between two trees about 80 feet away from where I was sleeping.  The evening before, as we enjoyed a beautiful sundown in that very hammock, I told her that sometimes, and that that day in particular, I felt like all the universe had to say to me was “f*** you”, and that I had been getting the message loud and clear.

The work, the beauty, and the decision making of the hike that day had distracted me from my contention with the universe.  But I was like a bouncy ball- I could be propelled upwards into an elevated and exciting state of mind, but with each bounce, I was jump lower than the bounce before, until before long, I was sitting still and motionless at the bottom of my despair.

I love being away from the city- mostly because the city is where my problems are.  The mountains have no beef with me.  I have nothing to prove to them, nor they to me.  Many have described that being “in nature” helps them feel calm, peaceful, collected, and confident.

As I laid there, propped on my elbow, experiencing the darkness and the stillness, I thought to myself, “this is when it’s supposed to hit me.  This is when the perspective and wisdom that will solve my problems is supposed to flow into me and make me feel whole and wise and maybe even good again.”  I observed the peace, but I was not it, and it was not me.

I was not enlightened with the solutions to my problems, the antidote to the things that were tormenting me.  I walked out of the woods with the same problems I walked in with.  But I also walked out with something else.  I walked out with the understanding that the mountains, the trees, the creek are peaceful just because they are.  They existed the same way every dark and still night for who knows how many years in the past, and will for how many years to come.  They didn’t become what they were because I, or anybody else, had shown up to observe and label them.

The wilderness just is what it is, independent of me. And I just am what I am, independent of the wilderness.

The wilderness has peace, but only enough for itself.  I’m not sure who came up with the idea of “inner peace”, but I am finding myself wanting to cozy up to it more and more, as I see that, for me, “inner peace” is the only peace.  I don’t know how to get it, maintain it, or magnify it, but I think that to really be at peace is to be able to be so in both nature and the city, in both calmness and in chaos.

I laid down, humbled by my  inability to share the vibration of my surroundings.  As I closed my eyes, I accepted that the woods (or another place I may walk) would not change me, and that bursts of inspiration would not be floating down from the stars.  But the woods, and the stars, and everything else there that night revealed me to myself.  Just as much as I could not change them, they could not change me.

The wilderness just is what it is, and just I am what I am.

But I want to be more like the wilderness.

 

 

 

 

To the Woman Who Shamed Me About My Swimsuit

I was able to share this weekend with this great woman and the two great guys standing beside her. So grateful she took the time to write about this!

A Thought She Wrote

For almost thirty years, I shamed myself for my body. I rarely felt pretty enough, lean enough, or feminine enough. After living in an abusive marriage where my body was the object of heavy scrutiny daily, that problem was magnified. But over the last couple of years, I have worked hard to heal those painful lies and love myself exactly as I am, regardless of my weight or shape and no matter if I have shaved my legs, curled my hair, or applied my mascara.

So it’s sort of uncool that today, you decided to private message me—even though we don’t know one another—to tell me that you hope the man I posted a picture with (who is one of your old friends), will end up with a cute girl one day. But that essentially, I am not one of them because I thoughtlessly posted a photo of myself in a shear bathing suit that shows everything…

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Lord, it is I, isn’t it?

There are three women who have given me a sizable amount of strife over the last two years.  I am not going to use their names, or even provide general details on the circumstances, in order to protect their identities and good names.  I’ll just call them “she”.

SHE was rude.

SHE was passive aggressive.

SHE was dishonest.

SHE was frivolous.

SHE was out of touch with reality.

SHE had unfair expectations.

SHE was hypocritical.

Sometimes, SHE was even cruel.

I complained about her to my friends- those who knew her and those who didn’t- and boy oh boy did I feel vindicated in my anger.  They told me that I was in the right, that I was the reasonable one, and that I didn’t deserve to be treated in such a way- facts that I was already entirely confident in and couldn’t be shaken from.

I wondered why she was the way she was, what it was she didn’t like about me, what I had ever done to her, and why all of my efforts to rectify the situation and make peace seemed fruitless. Actually, I thought I knew why they were fruitless- it was because she was a thankless bitch who was dead-set on hating me.  Poor little me who was just trying to get along.


 

Nearly two years ago I stood in my stand-in closet (because let’s be honest, it wasn’t big enough for actual walking) hanging laundry while listening to the priesthood session of general conference.  I hadn’t been to intent on paying close attention to the speakers (it was priesthood, after all), but had it on in the background as I did some chores.  I mention my location because the moment I received the following teaching is seared into my brain. It was Dieter F. Uchtdorf giving a talk titled “Lord, is it I?“.  These were the words he shared, emphasis mine:

It was our beloved Savior’s final night in mortality, the evening before He would offer Himself a ransom for all mankind. As He broke bread with His disciples, He said something that must have filled their hearts with great alarm and deep sadness. “One of you shall betray me,” He told them.

The disciples didn’t question the truth of what He said. Nor did they look around, point to someone else, and ask, “Is it him?”

Instead, “they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?”

How humble, and how aware of their weakness before God, these men must have been.  They had given up their lives to follow Jesus- became a homeless wandered like He was in order learn of Him and do His work.  Surely they had proven their devotion.  Surely they would not betray him.

I know that if I sat at a table with Christ and those three women and He told us that one of us was out of line, I would have sat demurely, feigning humility, while thinking to myself, “Oh it’s obviously HER, and man oh man I’m glad He knows how wretched this lady is.”

It must have been difficult for the disciples to believe that THEY would be the ones who would betray our Savior, but they had such love and admiration for their brethren, and such a desire to be perfect in Christ, that they saw themselves a sinner before the man siting next to them.”


 

Now it would have been nice if that talk had brought me to an immediate knowledge of my unworthiness before God, and I never looked to blame others before myself ever again. But this isn’t the ensign after all, this is my honest and dirty chronicle.

I knew that we should always look for the beam in our own eye before noticing the mote in another’s, but I honestly thought I was 100% certified beam free.

I was the one who was honest and forthright.  I was the one who was kind in spite of being treated poorly day after day.  I was the one who worked hard to meet expectations.  And SHE was everything horrible and foul.  And I had it reconfirmed to me over and over that it really WAS her.  My friends and acquaintances declared with certainty that nobody liked her and that she was jealous of me because I was smarter/prettier/younger/happier/morally superior/generally better.

“Lord, it’s not I.  I’m the smarter/prettier/younger/happier/morally superior/generally better one, after all.” I really had myself convinced that I was blameless.  If I were to recount to you every detail of these relationships, you would probably judge that I was, in fact, in the right (or at least not so much in the wrong as she was).  My mom, my dad, my friends, my church leaders, internet strangers even- EVERYBODY told me it was NOT ME.

“Lord, I know we are supposed to look inward to find fault, but there’s really none there, so please get this awful woman out of my life.”


 

The circumstances surrounding the revelation escape me, but somehow I realized that it wasn’t her after all.

It was me.

After months of struggling and complaining and thinking about how wrong she was and how right I was it hit me.

It was me.

I saw my errors, the greatest of which being my pride in deciding so early on that SHE was the problem.  I did do things to try to fix the situation and make peace, but it was because she needed the fixing.  I was already in the right.

Well, I was in the wrong.

I was distant.

I was insincere.

I was inconsiderate.

I was gossipy.

I was the one “rejoicing in iniquity”.

I was filled to the brim with pride.

“Lord, it is I, isn’t it?”

I had fallen short of Christ’s charge to love my neighbor, and had therefore fallen short in my love for God.

I still think that even if you could watch a replay of everything happened, you would judge me “the bigger, better person”, but being better than other people, being more right than other people, is totally unimportant and irrelevant in our strive to find happiness in Christ.

What matters is how we compare to Jesus, and we know that we all fall short of His glory.  Every day we fall short.  And what does Jesus do for the billions of people who he is infinitely better than?  He extends his hands and invites all people to come unto him and be perfect like him, through the power of His atonement.  I do not possess in my vocabulary and adjective to describe the magnificence and miracle of that atonement.

Confronting our sins can be a bit paradoxical.  We don’t want to do it because it’s uncomfortable, but having those sins remitted is the most comfortable thing in the world. In order to know Christ, love Christ, and live with joy in His reality, I have found that I need to know Him intimately in the way that He wants me to- as my Savior.

In the words of the hymn “I Stand All Amazed”, I marvel that he would descend form his throne divine, to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine.

When I marvel in God’s goodness, judgement of others no longer even makes sense.  How can I be the recipient of such a great gift of forgiveness and redemption, and simultaneously look to my sister and scorn her for being fallen, just like me?

So, was it all my fault?  I don’t know.  Was it all her fault?  I don’t know.  Equally at fault?  I don’t know.  And I don’t care!  It doesn’t matter!

Being “righter” than others is only important when we forget how much “righter” God is than we are.

That is why it is always I.  An acknowledgment of our weakness and sin before God is always the answer, as that his what brings about his ability to bring peace and resolution to our souls, regardless of how the world rages on around us.

And when that peace and resolution comes, I hope I will always remember to cast my eyes heavenward, and declare,

“Lord, it’s You.”

 

Why I Choose to be Vulnerable (And Why You Should Too)

 

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I write a lot of really vulnerable blog posts. Usually, and thankfully, they are well recieved.

But it finally happened- I was finally called out for being too open, too vulnerable.  I was told by an acquaintance that people are turned off by vulnerability, and if I remember correctly, no man would ever want to date me that way.

This was only a matter of time- right? My writing- let alone the rest of my life- IS vulnerable.  It’s gritty and exposing and unflattering.  Anybody watching the “highlight reel” that is my Facebook page is able to get a good dose of reality by coming to my blog and cuddling up with this novel of my weakness and failures.

So yes, I am vulnerable- online, in real life, with my friends, and with strangers.  Isn’t this a bad idea though?  Doesn’t it open me up to being hurt?  Yes, it does.  And no, it doesn’t.

When You Choose Vulnerability

I wish I could say that every time you reach out for help, admit your weaknesses, or in some other way display vulnerability your gesture will be universally well received.  It won’t be.

There will be some people who find it off-putting.  Some people will think of you as obnoxious, needy, burdensome, even, perhaps, pathetic.  The account of the acquaintance at the beginning of this post illustrates how this has happened to me.  It will happen to you, too.

These people will distance themselves.  They will begin avoiding you, if they can.  They may say hurtful things.  They may make you will unimportant and small.  All in all, they will communicate that your weakness makes you unworthy.

They will like you less.  They will want to be around you less.  And that is exactly what you want. Think of it as social exfoliation.

Being vulnerable will drive people out of your life who cannot provide for your needs.  It will rid you of those who don’t want to help strengthen and support you.

And who will be left?

The people who are going to make your life awesome are going to be left.

While being vulnerability will likely remove some people from your life, it has the potential to greatly strengthen your relationships with those who stay.

Think about it- have you ever been nervous about telling someone something about yourself, but then found that they took the news way better than you had expected?  How did they make you feel?  If you’re anything like me, it gave you a new level of trust and connectedness to that person.  It may unlocked the gate to a whole new level of emotional intimacy.

Have you ever had someone help you out in a situation that you may have been embarrassed about?  But instead of being judgmental, they were understanding, caring, and helpful?  How did that make you feel about that person, and, more importantly, how did that make you feel about yourself?

Have you ever had someone sit with you during a breakdown?  Lend you money in an emergency?  Deliver a meal to you in a time of tragedy?  Forgive you when resentment seemed justifiable?  Offer to help you work your way out of a bad situation you got yourself into?  Pray for you, without even being asked?  Clean your house, because, let’s face it, you’re a hot mess?

And they did it all out of love?

It is nice to be respected and admired by those who just know the good stuff I like to show off, don’t get me wrong- but, at least for me, this kind of validation is fleeting at best, and pride-invoking at worst.

I don’t think anything makes me feel more important than being accepted- flaws and all.

Going a step further, knowing that people will love me with my failures makes me far less afraid to fail.  And being less afraid to fail makes me less afraid to try.  And that means more trying.  And that means more succeeding.

Also, it is often so much easier to work through problems with help.  And if they’re the tough kind of problem, you need the kind of help that you can be honest with- not the kind where you are only partially honest about the situation because of the fear of being viewed poorly.

Do you get it?

Willingness to be weak makes it easier to be strong.  Letting people know you have failed makes it easier to succeed.

And all the while, you’re relationships will be rich, rewarding, intimate, and fulfilling.


 

I put off having a blog for a long time.  I wanted to write, but I didn’t feel like I had anything special to write about.  I didn’t cook or craft.  I don’t go on exciting vacations.  I don’t have cute kids.  Then it hit me- I needed to say the things that other people thought, but weren’t willing to say.  I needed to say hard things, and I was probably going to have to say hard things about myself.

The lure of my writing, from what I’ve been told,  is that it is confidently honest about things I’m not confident about.  It is always scary to press the “publish” button, but always worth it.

 

 

 

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today was the worst day of my life.
A year ago today was a sad, rainy February Saturday.  I spent most of its hours in a hospital.

I arrived around 2 AM to the ICU to take my shift staying with my mom, relieving my brother.  I don’t remember a lot about those first few hours, except for that I could not for the life of me find a comfortable sleeping position in an upright hospital arm chair.  Around 4:00 or 5:00, I stepped out of the unit to…do something (who knows what it was).  As I returned, a few nurses were pushing a hospital bed out the doors.

“Where are they taking my jacket?” I wondered.  It didn’t immediately occur to me that not only my jacket, but also my mother, was on that bed.  After 2 1/2 days in intensive care, we were moving upstairs to the PCU.

The PCU was like a dream come true.  The spacious room had an actual door instead of sliding glass.  I was relieved to see a cot in the room, and pleased when our new nurse offered me not only a blanket, but a snack.

I closed my eyes, but the heart monitor beeped loudly every time I was about to fall asleep. My mom slept some, but woke up frequently, asking questions that I didn’t have answers to and attempting to rearrange the myriad of medical devices she was hooked up to.  She was recovering from brain surgery and her mind had a lot to work out yet.

My dad arrived to the room around 6:30.  I stayed with them for a while before deciding to head home for some real rest. The next several hours are very blurry in my memory.  I think I may have eaten what was leftover of my breakfast burrito.  I think I may have watched TV while I ate it.  I may have stopped by my sister’s house.  I may have called a friend or two.

But I know that sometime during the early afternoon I ended up back at the hospital.  My dad and my sister was hanging up “get well, Grammy” drawings and messages of “complete healing”.  Shortly after I arrived, the neurosurgeon invited the three of us down the hall to look at the monitors that displayed the MRI images of the tumor on my moms brain- the tumor he had attempted to remove three days prior, but was only able to cut out a small piece for biopsy.

He showed us images from different angles, pointed out swelling, and explained that the tumor had “fingers” that made it impossible to surgically remove without causing life-ending or life-ruining damage.  The lab results had not come back yet, and he reiterated that it was impossible to know the diagnosis or prognosis.

Lo and behold, before we left the room, he noticed a tab on his desktop which he had previously been oblivious to.  He clicked it, quickly skimmed through it, and told us that some preliminary lab results suggested that the tumor was caused by a bacterial infection.  If that was the case, good news!  Antibiotics are miraculous, after all.  We felt encouraged and hopeful for a moment.

But then another tab appeared.  The final lab results had just come in.  He clicked it, quickly skimmed through it, and just said, “oh”.  He avoided eye contact with any of us as he moved across the room to grab the print out of what he had been reading.  I saw the paper.  It had a lot of words on it that I didn’t know.  But I recognized one thing- and it was the only thing that really mattered: “Grade 4”.

He explained that it was a glioblastoma, which I would later learn is both the most common as well as the most aggressive form of brain cancer.  He didn’t attempt to give a prognosis.  “There are, of course, textbook statistical averages, but every case is different.”

Well of course every case is different, but this was my mom!  My mom who had cancer!  In her brain!  What was I going to have to prepare myself for?

“So what is the textbook statistical average?”  I asked him.  My family members looked at me as if they were both relived and afraid that I had asked.

The doctor didn’t miss a beat, “A year and a half.”

A year and a half.  For my mother- the woman who had been planning on riding her bike through Spain a few months later.  Who was going to Australia at the end of the year.  Who  did yoga and had a personal trainer.  Who volunteered at, ironically, the hospital, every week.  Who decorated cakes and carved clay figurines and made baby quilts and threw all of the family parties.

We walked solemnly back to her room, and the doctor gave her the news so cryptically that my dad had to clarify the seriousness of the prognosis.  “A year and half”, however, wasn’t mentioned.

I remember crying on my knees at the foot of her bed, but other than that I don’t remember much about that afternoon.  My brother showed up that evening, my dad gave him the news, more crying.  My father and sister then left the hospital, and I went down to the cafeteria to eat while my brother stayed with my mom.

I ate a thai curry dish that had been sitting waiting to be eaten most of the day while I returned a call to a friend.  He had just found out that his wife was pregnant.  When I returned to the room, all of the lights were off, my mom was asleep, and my brother was sitting next to her bed, in the dark, watching her.

“This poor boy,” I thought, “this poor boy has been sitting here for the past hour, in the dark, thinking about his mom dying.”

He offered to spend the night, and I went home.  I immediately turned in for the night, but then I heard my dad turn the TV on.  I don’t know why, but I felt like I needed to get out of bed and watch TV with my dad.  We watched one episode of Modern Family.  It felt strange, but good, to be able to laugh.

After the show, I went back to bed, bawled like a baby, and fell asleep, ending the worst day of my life.

*******

My mom came home a few weeks later.  She spent most of her time in a hospital bed in our  living room and was visited twice a week by a nurse.  She began chemotherapy and radiation and a month later.  She required physical therapy, as she had lost her ability to move the left side of her body after the surgery.  She took a lot of pills.  She suffered from horrible anxiety episodes.

But things have gotten easier since then.  Every day she pushes her wheelchair as far as she can down the street, and when she can’t go anymore, she pushes it and my dad pushes her home.  I think she’s up to half a mile now.  The hospital bed is long gone, as is the visiting nurse.  The anxiety has also subsided (praise God).

She just finished her 10th round of chemotherapy, and wears an electromagnetic treatment device on her head 24/7.  The tumor spent several months shrinking, and is now what the doctors call “stable”.

I wish I could report that a miracle healing has occurred.

Instead, I am here to report that a miracle life has occurred.   Do you want to know what the good thing is about having the worst day of your life?  It means every other day is better.

I wish that I could go back to myself a year ago while I was crying at the foot of her bed that day and show me what the next year would bring.  I would show us reading in the front room of our vacation beach house.  I would show Thanksgiving dinner.  I would show Christmas eve.  I would show playing games and laughing until we cry.  I would show raising over $2,000 for brain cancer research.  I would show my mom in her craft room, making the shirts we wore when we raised that $2,000.  I would show her out to lunch with her girlfriends.  I would show the doctor’s huge smile as he explained the good news of how well the tumor was responding.  It is amazing how many wonderful things can happen, even in the midst of the worst experiences of our lives.

I am apprehensive to express gratitude, because I don’t want to give anyone the impression that this reality has not been emotionally excruciating.  It has been.  But I am thankful.  I am not thankful for the disease or for the trial or for the sense of loss.  I am thankful that God has used this experience to open my eyes to the beauty and generosity of life and the bounty of His love.

 By the way, when you have a brain tumor like mine, you easily qualify for social security disability. One question they asked me was “do you have a condition that is expected to result in death?” I wanted to answer, “well duh, everyone does. It’s called life.”- My mom

 

 

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Planting Doubt: How I Almost Quit the Church

This is another one of those “do I dare say these things?” posts- but this one is the dariest of them all.

I love having a blog for the purpose of expressing myself and reaching out to people.  The most frequent comment I get on it might be, “you said what I was thinking, but didn’t know how to say.”  This makes me happy, because I like being the person who is willing to speak up and say the things that everyone else is thinking. It makes me feel powerful and important.

But it also makes me feel vulnerable.

I bare a lot with my writing- my weaknesses, my sins, my questions, my failures, my insecurities- and every time I do, I wonder if I am crossing over the line.  The line of respectable, the line of likable, the line of credible.  It always feels like I am taking a risk in sharing a little bit too much about a “little bit the wrong thing”.  I care what people think of me, and while I don’t want to be intimidated into silence, I would rather keep a few things to myself than have people find me distasteful or too brazen.

So, I’m nervous about this, but I am willing to go forward if you are.  We are going to get right down to the nitty gritty, right away:

Last fall, I almost left the Mormon Church.

Yup, I really almost did.

By “almost left”,  I mean that I was one step away from disassociating myself from my Mormon identity.  I no longer felt the need to be approved of by the Church, and was looking to find God somewhere else.

Whilst preparing to become a seminary teacher, I wrote the following words in my journal, bolded, capped, and twice as big as everything else:

NEVER PLANT DOUBT

This has been one of my mantras though teaching and after teaching.  I never wanted, and still don’t want, to shake people’s faith.  This is why what I am about to say will be news to almost everybody.  Even when I was at my very closest to being gone, you would have never known it.  Church on Sunday, scriptures in my lap, smile on my face.  I kept my spiritual situation private both for the sake of my own reputation, but also because I didn’t want to be a negative influence on the spiritual journey of others.

And I still don’t want that- I never want to plant doubt.  I worry about this being read by my former seminary students, or EFY kids, or anybody else who has ever looked up to me or considered me “stalwart”  (I’ve been called that and I hate it).  In writing this, I am running some risks.

However, I want to be bold in my inkling that there is more good that will come from this than harm.  I have a few aims in writing this:

To express my love for God and for His Creations.

To help active LDS members understand why people leave.

To give hope to those who are thinking about leaving or who have left.

To help people be open about the process of dealing with doubt and disbelief.

I Was Wrong

I had always believed that people left the Church for one of the following reasons:

  1. They were unrepentant sinners, trying to justify themselves in wrongdoing.
  2. They never really had a testimony.
  3. They became offended, or had some other petty issue, and decided to disassociate themselves because they couldn’t just work it out.
  4. Generally, they were prideful, and lovers of themselves instead of lovers of God.

In summary, I didn’t think that good people left.  I made them a villain, and resented them for treating the most important thing in my life like it meant nothing at all.

Also, it scared me, because it shook me.  If they, especially those who had once seemed os faithful, could leave, then couldn’t anybody?  Couldn’t I?  And what would that mean?

Waking Up

I am not interested in talking about the specific issues that shook my faith in the Church, because they aren’t very important to me at this point.  It’s not that they are necessarily resolved in my eyes, but I’ve just moved on. However, I would like to share what caused me to “wake up” to the fact that there were some issues with my spiritual location.

I had an institute teacher dedicate one day to talking about “the hard issues”, the things that people use to discredit the Church.  They included blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, Mountain Meadows massacre, and a few other issues.

He tried really hard to resolve issues and concerns, but, at the end of the class, I was more confused than I had ever been.

My struggle, summed up:  We seem to be able to look at the actions and words Church leaders in the past that don’t sit well with us now and say, “everybody makes mistakes” or, “that was just one apostle” or, “he wasn’t speaking as the prophet at the time”.  Basically, we accept that mistakes and been made, and that we can move on from those.

So I raised the question, “So, how do we know today if a Church leader is speaking prophetically?  Or if he speaks for everyone?  Or if he isn’t making  a mistake?”

And nobody had a good answer.

I guess that people either think that what was once possible (leaders making mistakes) is no longer possible, or that it is better that we obey absolutely everything, even if it isn’t actually right, or actually the will of God.  The former doesn’t make sense, and the latter was not going to work for me.

The Turmoil

After that, I began to see a lot of things in the Church that I had never witnessed, or at least paid attention to, previously.  Inconsistency of doctrine, inconsistency of teachings, unfair and discriminatory practices. And some things were not bad, but, frankly, ridiculous. (Meet the Mormons, if you know what I mean.)  I saw the ways that people, especially young people, were manipulated into believing, or at least into acting like they believed.  My eyes were opened to the relationships with God people were having in other religions and life styles, and began to feel  a lack of authentic and enthusiastic worship in the Mormon culture.

And all the while, I felt like God was opening my eyes.  I know that, if you are a true blue, rank and file Mormon you are shaking your head right now and thinking, “this poor girl has been deceived”, but I absolutely felt like what I went through was a revelatory experience.

I felt, for a while, that I was going to have to choose between the Church, and God.

The Conflict

At this point, one might be wondering why I didn’t just leave.

I said I almost left, and that “almost” is loaded with meaning and experience.

While I began to feel easy about the general establishment of Mormonism, the truth is that I didn’t want to leave it.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. All of my friends, just about, are LDS.
  2. There are people who look up to me spiritually and I didn’t want to have hard conversations with them.
  3. Ordain Women was the talk of the town at the time.  While I don’t think that women one day getting the priesthood is an impossibility, I have never felt disrespected or disregarded because of my gender.  Actually, I feel that, as a woman, I am treated better in the Church than maybe anywhere else.
  4. I love the values of the Mormon community- family, service, sacrifice.  We are not perfect, but we usually take these things seriously.
  5. I love serving in the Church, especially teaching from the scriptures.
  6. I actually really like living Church standards, and find them liberating.
  7. Generally, the Church has NEVER done wrong by me.  I have no complaints about it, generally or specifically, in regards to my interaction with it.

 

So I was left dealing with the following premises:

  1. I want to be in the Church.
  2. I don’t agree with the Church as often as I feel comfortable with.
  3. I don’t want to pretend to believe something I don’t believe.

And having to choose from the following options:

  1. Leave the Church
  2. Stay in the Church and try to ignore the cognitive dissonance I would have for the rest of my life.
  3. Stay in the Church and privately disagree.

I was not okay with any of these.  I take pride in being genuine, and if I was going to stay, I was going to mean it.  I did;t want to be one of those people in church with that dead, meaningless look in their eyes, like the reality of a living God was as regular as sweeping the kitchen floor, or as insignificant as a single blade of grass being picked from your lawn.  I wanted to love church, and love THE Church.  I wanted to mean it, to be enthusiastic, to feel saved, to feel excited.  So faking it wasn’t going to work.

So then, was I going to go?

Why I Stayed

The thing about going is that you have to go to somewhere else.

And this realization is what stopped me from leaving, dead in my tracks.

When I joined the Church over 11 years ago, I felt like if Christianity was legitimate, than this church was it.  If anybody knew the truth about Jesus, it was the Mormons.

Through all of my questions and doubts, I never doubted God, only the Church.

A few times I tried telling myself that I was done with religion all together, that atheism was simple, and that I would be happy to former have the whole “is this the right church?” issue behind me.  I entertained this notion for a few seconds, and then moved on from it.

Because, for me, not believing in God is a joke.

There’s no way I don’t believe.  I just do.  And I want to.

And not just God generally, but Jesus.  I really believe in Jesus and in His atonement.  I wouldn’t believe in it if I hadn’t experienced it, but I have experienced it.  It’s not just a mental understanding of what supposedly happened.  It’s not just demotivating myself to change because I believe in a God who wants me to.  I have felt the actual atonement work in me, being something separate from me.  I have been healed by it, enlightened by it, and transformed by it.

I say this all the time, and I will say it till the day they put me in the ground: Jesus Christ is my God and my Savior.  He is real and he is relevant.

Leaving religion altogether was not a real option- only leaving Mormonism for a different Christian sect.

All of my experience with Christ and His atonement falls in line with the teaching of the LDS Church, especially what we learn about Him in the Book of Mormon. (That’s another issue for another blog- the reality of the spiritual experiences I’ve had with that book.)

I am not going to turn my back on what I know, and in my heart, I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is special- it’s unique in the most significant way a Church could be unique: I think it’s actually got the truth.

How I Deal

In case there is any confusion, let me make myself totally plain:  I generally accept the eternal doctrines espoused by the Church as true.  I have an enthusiastic testimony of many of these doctrines.  My cause of concern, or reason I almost left, revolves around the way in which decisions are made for the Church today.  I feel that there is a discrepancy sometimes between the Lord’s involvement and the degree to which we are supposed to believe that the Lord is involved.

Because God is perfect and the Church is not.

Like I said, I don’t want to be half-in- I don’t want to come to church but not care, because I’ve become numb to skepticism.  I want to be all in, and all honest.  What does that mean?

That means, straight up, that if I get some directive from the Church, at any level, that I don’t genuinely believe to be the will of God, I won’t comply.

I am not saying that I will always be right, but I am saying that if I am wrong, that will be between me and God, thank you very much.

Also, I prefer that everything that comes down from the top, or the middle, or just from right above me, really feels right.  I am okay with being asked to do difficult things, but I’m not okay with doing things in the name of God that I don’t really believe are His will.

That would make me a bad Christian, and I would rather be a good Christian than a good Mormon.

A Law Unto Myself

I realize that there are people reading this who are assuming that I am sinful, or faithless, or deviant.  And, at least to some extent, those people are right.

After all, are we not all sinners?  I certainly am.

I have asked myself frequently over the last year, “Am I having doubts because I am just evil?  Am I just too prideful?  Have my sins consumed me to the point of being hard, beyond feeling?”

In other words, is it just me?  Are all those things I used to believe about people who love the Church true, but I am able to see it because now I AM it?

If you think that my faith crisis was entirely due to sin, you’re wrong.  If you think I am blameless, you are also wrong.  I am somewhere in the middle, and the only thing more I will say about my personal righteousness is that I am grateful for a forgiving God.

If You’re Having Doubts

If you, too, are troubled by your doubts, I would recommend a few things to help you work it out.

  1. Write down what you DO believe.
  2. Be fair in your moral self-evaluation.  Get rid of your pet sins.  Repent of those sinful things you’ve been putting off repenting of.
  3. Pray to know the truth, and be open to WHATEVER God has to tell you.  I major milestone for me was praying without the idea that I was “doing it wrong” if God didn’t make me feel like “I know the Church is true, I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today”, in that order.
  4. Try to cling to the fact that God is real and aware of you.

In Closing

This really has been a very brief overview, and while there is so much more I could say, I probably won’t say much.  Like I said, I have mostly moved on from the specifics of the issues which I have found troubling, and I don’t want what I don’t know about to distract me from what I do know.

However, as always, I am happy to talk.  I have a feeling that what I have written will resonate with at least a few people, and I want you (whoever you are), to know that there is hope.  There is a way for you to at peace with your God and with your church.

I hope that I have been able to shed some light on the fact that there are good, righteous, loving people who leave the church because they feel it is their best option.  I am not one of them, but I understand them, at least to a degree.

I hope that all will truly find God.  I don’t know what that will look like for everyone, but I know what it means for me.

Sunday morning, 11am.

I’ll see you there.