Tag Archives: Christianity

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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When Your Mission Ends Early and It’s The Best Thing That’s Ever Happened to You

Guys, this is the post I’ve been afraid to write.

On this blog, I’ve talked about all kinds of sensitive subjects- mental illness, abortion, gay marriage, and pornography to name a few.  While I am usually pretty open about my mental processes regarding these tough issues, I actually tend to stay fairly guarded when it comes to how they affect me personally and emotionally.

This post, however, is going to be the mother of personal and emotional.  It’s the post I’ve been needing to write for about 6 years, and afraid to write for just as long.  Brothers and sisters, today I’ve been assigned to talk about:

My mission.

*****

I struggled with depression from my late childhood on up through college, however, by the time I was able to serve a mission, I was on a pretty good combo of meds that kept me balanced.  So off I went to preach the gospel.

The first few months of my mission were wonderful- challenging and frigid cold, but wonderful.  Somehow though, things took a turn for the worst- and I lost my mind.

I cried every day- usually during personal study time and after we were done planning for the evening.  Truth be told, there was no good reason for me to be so upset, but my depression-laden mind told me that I was a horrible and a useless missionary, and that I would never be able to do anything good or important on my mission.  I began to see the downs in the normal ups and downs of missionary life as being entirely my fault. (Ex: Feeling like an unfruitful tracting session occurred because of my general ineptitude.)

I had a hard time understanding why God was doing this to me.  I had always been told that it was Satan who gave us sad, unproductive, and pessimistic thoughts, and that I simply needed to draw closer to the Savior.  Well, at that point, I was literally knocking on people’s doors day in and day out, had moved halfway across the country, put my school on hold when I was only 6 months away from finishing my degree, and had cut off almost all contact with my (nonmember) family all for the cause of Christ.  How could I have been any closer?  I remember, as I knelt in prayer one night, wondering if this was some kind of a joke.  If there was somebody who deserved a little bit of piece of mind, wasn’t it me?

Usually when I prayed during this time, I just felt empty space.  However, at one point I began to experience something even worse.  When I would attempt to pray, my mind would immediately be filled with vivid and horrible images of my own death.  There were a few different scenes that played out in my head, but the one that I saw most frequently was death by lethal injection- and I was the one doing the injecting.  I imagined that I had a syringe in one hand, extended the opposite arm, and injected myself with some kind of poison that would kill me quickly and painlessly.  For some reason, the poison was blue.

And God was nowhere.  I realize that this makes people uncomfortable- but I honestly felt then and continue to feel now (in respect to that period of my life) that God was simply not available to me.  There are probably some people who are thinking to themselves, “she must have have been doing something wrong!  Where was her faith?!  God always helps us when we ask for it.”  And I reply with a polite, “Go to hell.”

Well, you don;t have to go to hell, but the idea that I was suffering because I was unworthy can burn next to the devil himself.

I of course do not claim perfection, but everything I know about life, the gospel, and truth in general tells me that my pain was requisite of my sin.

This is part of the reason why I have been afraid to wrote this post: The only way I can understand what happened is that God refused to comfort me.  And it felt terribly cruel.

*****

I didn’t choose to come home.  My mission president became aware of the extent of my struggles through another sister.  I didn’t want her to tell him per se, but I wasn’t upset that she had.  He called me around 10 pm on a Sunday night and told me to pack all of my things and come to the mission office first thing the following morning.  You should know that the mission office was a five hour drive from where I was serving.

I didn’t think he was going to send me home.  I thought he was going to turn me into a Visitor’s Center sister.  Either way, I wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but I knew that God was involved.  The drive from my area to Independence the next morning was one of the most peace-filled experiences of my life.  I didn’t know what was going to happen, but the Spirit told me that God had been hearing my prayers, and that he was finally going to help me.

Upon arriving at the mission office, my mission president immediately invited me into his office, sat me down, and, perhaps before saying anything (if he did say something it was brief and inconsequential) handed me my plane ticket home.

Arrangements had been made for me to leave before I even knew that was going to happen.

I hear a lot about the crazy shit that other missionaries do, and sometimes still feel a little bit bitter that I was dismissed so thoughtlessly while other people caught to spend their whole missions goofing off and having little regard for the work.

I probably sound a little bit contradictory right now, as I look back on that experience, I feel both resentment at gratitude.  I still haven’t quite worked these feelings out, but the rest of the story is only about love.

*****

After that meeting with my mission president, he sent me across the parking lot to the Visitor’s Center to use a phone to call my family.  My mom answered, and I of course just began to bawl.  I explained to her what was happening.  I could here the smile on her face as she exclaimed, “Oh honey!  This is the best news I could have gotten!”  She then told me that everybody who really loved me, and really knew me, was just going to be proud of me.

That was hard for me to believe at the time.  I was so fearful of coming home- how could people respect me after I had failed at the one thing I felt like I was good at?  From the time I had joined the church 5 years prior, everybody told me how great of a missionary I would be.  I had a testimony, I was a good teacher, and I was obedient, but, when it came down to it, I was not a great missionary.

When I arrived at the airport the next day, I called a good friend who had had to come home early from her mission for medical reasons from a pay phone.  Man of man, was I grateful to have somebody who understood and who didn’t pass any kind of judgement.

I had a layover in Dallas on my way home.  It is weird to be a missionary, in an airport, alone- especially in my condition of trying to decide how I was going to hide my face in shame for the rest of eternity as soon as the next plane touched down in California.  I ended up at  food court where I bought a taco for $8.  The young cook who gave me my taco called me “sister”, and I somehow established that he was also LDS, and had actually recently returned home from his mission.  I told him that my mission was over and I was heading home, and he congratulated me without knowing that my mission had only lasted 5 months.  I felt a little bit guilty for not disclosing it, but hey, he didn’t ask, and either way, there was something comforting to me about being acknowledged as a missionary one last time.

Other people get huge welcoming committees when they come home from their missions. I had one person at the airport waiting for me- my dad.  He didn’t have a sign, or a balloon, or even tears (prior to my mission I had been an adventurous college student who only visited my parents when obligated to by the closure of the dorms, so being without me for a few months wasn’t a world-rocker for him).  He was just standing there at the bottom of the escalator, with his sleeves rolled up and his tie off and that “it’s been a long day at work” look on his face.  On the day I left with my family to go to Utah to enter the MTC, my dad sat down on my bed and said, “Juliet, I know this is important to you, and I know how much you want to do this, but I want you to know that you can always come home- whenever you are ready.”  I had dismissively jumped up and assured him that there would be no coming home for the 18 months everyone was planning on, but 5 months later, as I rode down that escalator in that airport, I got the feeling that he had known something that I hadn’t, and I was grateful that his offer to accept me back home whenever I was ready still stood.

On the way home from the airport, we stopped at a church building to meet with the first counselor in the stake presidency so that I could be released- it was just the three of us.  During that meeting the counselor said something that would become incredibly important to me and that I have oft repeated to others: “You don’t owe an explanation to anybody.”

We then went home, where my mom was sitting in her nightgown watching TV.  She was happy to see me, but, like I said, five months really isn’t that long for parents of twenty-somethings, so it wasn’t really an emotional or exciting reunion.

I then called my good friend Ryan Shapiro.

Ryan: Hello?

Me: Hi Ryan.

Ryan: Who is this?

Me: You don’t know who this is?

Ryan: Oh my gosh…IT’S JULIET!!!!!!

And then the rejoicing continued.  He had missed me, and was thrilled that I was home.  What a comfort it was to be met with such joy.

Do you remember the friend I called from the airport before I left?  Well, next I decided to drive over to visit her and her family (husband, 4 kids, 1 niece who was living with them at the time).  I knocked on the door and was greeted with not just hugs and smiles, but, get this: a banner, balloons, and a cake.  They threw me a welcome home party!  I then was brought up to date on this new dance craze called the dougie and was wowed by a middle schooler’s ability to perfectly recite every word of a song called “Fergilicious”.

*****

I didn’t stay with my parents long.  Withing a few weeks, I had headed back up to Santa Barbara where I had lived for the three years prior to my mission.  This is also where just about all of my LDS friends lived.

I had been so nervous about coming home early, but not only did people nit shun me, but people weren’t even awkward around me!  They were happy to see me!  I was quickly invited to take over an open spot in an apartment of LDS girls, and they really were needing somebody to be the 1st counselor in relief society.  About a month passed between me being sent home early from my mission and my call to be in the RS presidency.  I was met with love, trust, and enthusiasm.

I heard an account of a girl who hadn’t met me hearing of my early return and speculating that I had done something wrong.  Apparently, another girl, who had known me for a few years scolded her with something like, “Don’t even say that! Juliet would never do something wrong on her mission!”  Bless her heart- she may have had more confidence in me than I deserved, but I am immensely grateful for the sentiment.

*****

Upon returning home, the depression let up immediately.  Suicidal thoughts no longer roamed in and out of my mind, and I felt capable, important, and happy.

Oftentimes, I hear that people come home early from their missions, for whatever reason, and never really make it back to church again, in part due to people being judgmental, isolating, and even cruel.

But let’s recap what happened to me when I returned home:

  • I was congratulated by a (granted, uninformed) stranger who made my taco.
  • I was told by a church leader that I didn’t owe anybody an explanation.
  • I was accepted whole-heartedly by my family.
  • I was thrown a party.
  • I was offered a place to live.
  • I was extended a leadership calling.
  • I was defended by people who knew me to people who didn’t.
  • I was met with joy, excitement, and, most of all, love.

At the place in my life where I thought I was going to see the worst of the Mormon people is where I found the very best of the Mormon people- kind, accepting, and eager to support and connect.  By the time this happened I had been a Mormon for about 5 years, but this was when I knew that the Mormons were mine, and that I was their’s. This was when I knew that they would stand by me no matter what.

And they, collectively and individually, are still standing by me.

*****

I received a blessing in the MTC from my district leader.  In it, he said, “Juliet, you mission will be a success in the eyes of the Lord.”  Well, you should know that I achieved a grand total of zero baptisms as a missionary.  That’s right- on paper, my mission was a waste of 5 months and few thousand dollars.

So how was it a success?  I believe that my mission was never supposed to be longer than five months.  Being a missionary was an amazing and life-changing experience, but far and away, hands down, without a doubt, the most valuable part of my mission was the end of my mission.

Before my mission I loved Jesus, loved the gospel, and liked the Church.  I still love Jesus best of all, and the gospel is still second on the list, but now I love, not just like, the Church.

*****

My God, who had seemed absent while I suffered in Kansas, surrounded me with compassion in California.  Every act of love shown by a fellow human felt like God’s hands reaching through them.

Thank you, God, for taking me out there.  Thank you, even more, for bringing me back home.

And that is the post I’m no longer afraid to write.

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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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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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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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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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Being Honest About the “Gay Problem”

Upon joining the Church, I quickly learned that one of the people who had been most influential in my conversion was gay.  He was very active in the Church, coming from a very active, large, mostly typical LDS family.

We bonded over our different marginalizations- me being so new, and him being gay.  We both had a deep and sincere desire to be faithful and believing, and we both struggled at times to be so.  His friendship was a great blessing to me- I felt that I could tell him anything.  I hope that my friendship was a blessing to him as well.

But it’s a tricky course to navigate.  I knew that I believed in the Church, which taught that homosexual actions were unequivocally wrong.  I knew that I believed in the importance of the family and that gay couplehood did not fit into my picture of ideal familial life.  But I also knew that my friend was honestly attracted to men, and I knew that he didn’t choose to be so.  I knew that he tried for years to “pray the gay away” (it doesn’t work, FYI).  I knew that he was doing just about everything one is “supposed to” when attempting to rid themselves of an affliction or temptation.  And, although I professed to believe the opposite, I knew those things would never work.  The atonement can heal us physically and spiritually, give us strength, and refine our natures.  But it does not turn gay people straight.

I campaigned for California Proposition 8 in 2008.  I don’t really care if gay marriage is legal or not, and I didn’t really care then either.  But we received a letter from the First Presidency asking us to donate our means and our time to help it pass, and I did what i was asked.  For me it was about following the prophet, not about the “sanctity” of marriage.  When the Proposition passed, I felt relieved- not because it had been successful, but because then I would be free to go back to not caring about the issue.  I don’t feel bad about my involvement in that campaign, but I don’t feel good about it either.

My friend cut ties from the Church a few years out of high school.  This was a hard revelation for me, as he had been so paramount in the early development of my testimony.  I didn’t want to be Mormon without the support of one of my very dearest friends.  It is shaking when people stop believing, or when people stop pretending to believe.

I was, at first, uninterested in knowing about his “gay” life.  I still loved him, enjoyed him, and wanted him to be happy, but I didn’t feel like I could love the “gay” part of him.  I felt that it wasn’t part of who he really was, and the last thing I wanted to do was encourage it.  I found out that he had a steady boyfriend and did not want to know anything about him or about their relationship.

I don’t know what prompted it, but I can still remember the moment that I decided that I was okay with him being gay.  I realized that his boyfriend at the time was not the enemy- I realized that there was no “enemy”.  I wanted to know about their life together- not because I was in support of their relationship exactly- but because one of them was my friend, and anyone who mattered to him should matter to me.  Once I stopped feeling like I had to oppose their relationship in thought, word, and deed, I finally felt like I could just relax.

Even if I believe that homosexuality is immoral, what does it have to do with me if other people are active in a gay lifestyle?  If I know a couple who is having premarital sex, I don’t avoid acknowledging the entirety of their relationship, even though I may not support certain aspects of it.  And here is, in my opinion, one of our big cultural flaws when it comes to how we see homosexuality- given that homosexuality is sinful (for the sake of argument), we tend to define people who partake in it by that sin, as opposed to other sins, where we see people just as “dealing” with something.  For example, if I broke the word of wisdom by smoking pot, I don’t think people would label me as a “pothead”, destined to a life of munching and being mellow.  Smoking pot would be seen as a choice, not as a natural result of my very nature.  But in the LDS culture, we tend to act as if people who are gay are only gay- that it defines them, and that when thinking of them, the fact that they like other people of their same gender, should be the basis of our attitude towards them.  Being gay does not define anybody any more than being straight does.

So I learned about his boyfriend, and then their break-up, and then his new boyfriend.  I never was interested in their sex life…but I’m not interested in anybody’s sex life.

I always pictured, though, that my friend would come to me one day and invite me to his gay wedding.  I would then be obligated to express love for him, and good-will towards his partner, but decline the invitation.  it’s one thing to support people, it is another thing to support a ceremony that is directly symbolic of sin, after all.

Last year I met the man he planned on marrying.  And he is so wonderful- his fiance was kind, down-to-earth, grounded, and genuine.  He seemed to be not only a great complement for my friend, but someone who would be a great blessing to him.  I am grateful that they have found each other.

They were married in July.  I didn’t go.  I didn’t go because I was broke and was already obligated to take a few different our of state trips.  But I very much wanted to be there.  After all the years of preparing myself to tell him I didn’t want to be at his wedding, when it came down to it, I found myself tired of “standing up” for something that I didn’t even understand.  And my love for him and his now husband had a much greater pull on my heart than my allegiance to the idea of the traditional family.

This is not a proclamation that the LDS Church should redact it’s teachings on homosexuality.  It is also not a statement that homosexual actions are morally acceptable.

I do believe whole-hardheartedly in the teachings of the Church.  I do believe that God is very serious about the Law of Chastity and that one cannot keep that law while leading a gay lifestyle.  I do believe that families are meant to be our source of greatest happiness and that they cannot be formed or maintained with a homosexual couple the way they can be maintained with a heterosexual couple.

But I know that people don’t choose to be gay.  And asking them to live a complete life of celibacy seems like an order too tall for anybody to reasonably expect.

So this is my problem- I know what I believe, but the things I believe don’t quite match up right.  I think that most compassionate, thinking members of the church have this same problem to some degree- not supporting homosexuality, but also not feeling right away denying the opportunity to find love to those who are gay.

There really are no “good” options for a gay member of the church.  Life-long celibacy is not a good option.   Marrying a woman for the sake of having a family is not a good option.  Living a life of sin is also not a good option.

Whenever I declare that I support the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, I do it with a pang of “I’m so sorry” in my soul.

I have a handful of gay friends who grew up in the church.  I have a handful of other friends who I suspect are gay but have not yet admitted it.  One thing I want to apologize publicly for is if I have ever made any of these friends (or anybody else) feel like being gay made them less loved, less important, or less valuable to God or to the Church.  I don’t want any young man (or woman) to EVER feel “defective” for any reason, including being gay.

All I know is that I have a problem, a “gay problem”, and that I have no answers.  I want to do right by God, and I want to do right by my fellow man, and this is the only issue wherein I feel like I can’t quite do both.  Help me feel know how to feel like a good Christian and a good person at the same time.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here they are, in their tattered glory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the MTC, December 2008 or January 2009.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

10yearpaulkaylawedding

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

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

 

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

10yearlatemple

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

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

10yeargilberttemple

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

God is real. 🙂

 

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Of Illness and Easter

I was really sick two nights ago.  Like, throwing up every half hour all night long sick.  It really hurts when you’ve already lost all of what’s in your stomach but your body still insists on emptying itself for about 6 more hours.  I wouldn’t say it was the sickest I’ve ever been in my whole life, but I think it made the Top 5 list, and could have easily claimed the top spot if it hadn’t been so brief (praise God for that).

I had one violent night of pain, and then one day of exhaustion, dizziness, and dehydration as my body tried putting the pieces back together.  Today is day two, and I would say that I’m at about 80%- I don’t have much of an appetite, but I can eat, and I don’t have a ton of energy, but I can do more than lay in bed.

But today I am in a bit of amazement at how much better I feel after being so depleted yesterday, and so ill the night before that.

Are our bodies not totally amazing?

We break bones…they put themselves back together.  We contract a virus, our immune system fights it off (like, seriously, how does it know to do that?).  We burn ourselves and our skin says, “No big deal, just give me a week and you’ll be good as new.”  My poor digestive system was totally ravaged, but as soon as things calmed down, this tabernacle of clay just patched itself up so that it could go about its merry way.

Now, I know that my illnesses and injuries have been minor, especially compared to the huge physical hurdles dealt to others.  We obviously all have scars from incidents that we weren’t able to perfectly recuperate from, and the perils of mortality will eventually overtake us all.  But even on one’s death-bed, I will marvel at the fortitude and resilience of their body.  Can one not stand in awe at the last pulse of a heart that’s been beating every second for better part of the last century?  And even when seeing a child born still, are their tiny little features not magnificent?

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Jesus Christ was flogged, had nails driven to his hands, wrists, and ankles, was stabbed in the side, and was crucified.  He died.  The physical, emotional, and mental suffering he endured by perfectly executing the atonement was the most violent, abusive, and torturous experience of all eternity.  It left him like this:

jesuscrucifiedalone

I see the healings that happen in our own bodies as a kind of type of what happened to Christ.  His body underwent a healing even more infinite than his ailment.  I join in the nearly mocking tone of 1 Corinthians 15:55 when I ask “Oh death, where is thy sting? Oh grave, where is thy victory?”  As we have recently been taught by President Uchtdorf in his April 2014 talk, “Grateful in Any Circumstances”:

The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here in mortality are not endings at all. They are merely interruptions—temporary pauses that one day will seem small compared to the eternal joy awaiting the faithful.

How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings.

How embarrassed, how worthless, how meaningless must both death and the grave felt when this happened:

christressurected

The man who had endured all the anguish and pain mortality had ever and will ever conjure up stands whole, perfect, and alive.  Now let’s zoom out and look at the bigger picture:

jesuscrucifiedwiththeives

 

Christ rose not just for himself, but for the thief on his right and the thief on his left.  They hung, suffered, and died there together, but because of him, and only him, they will also resurrect, rise, and live together.

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Our bodies are miraculous in the way they can heal themselves, but they are only that way because their creator is miraculous.  The wonderful but minor repairs it does on itself will one day pale in comparison to the glory that shall be revealed in us.

Because of him, every hurt will go away, every cost will be worth it, and every longing of our hearts shall be filled.

Revelation 21:4:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

As we walk (and sometimes just stumble) through mortality we will encounter pains that will be healed.  We will also encounter pains that will not be.  But, brothers and sisters, through Jesus Christ, all will be made well.

Not just well, but glorious.

I will praise his name forever, and for starters, I am praising it now.

jesuschristsolo

 

 

 

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