Tag Archives: Faith

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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Why I Don’t Wear Makeup in May

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

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

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

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

1. It saves me time.

2. It saves me money.

3. It gives me something to blog about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

salt-lake-temple-772737-gallery

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.  

10yearmanuel

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.

10yearinstitutekitchen

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.

10yeargardencourt

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.

10YEARmillerkids

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.

10yearscriptures

Here they are, in their tattered glory.

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

10yearrichpoarty

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

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

10yearforstefygirls

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.

10yearsaltlaketemple

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

10yearmissionpointing

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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It’s Okay to Not have an Ensign Worthy Life, and Here is Why

Some people have “Ensign Lives” which are made up of “Ensign Experiences”.

ensign experience (n)- one of the many varieties of spiritual phenomena wherein an act of faith is met with an immediate or nearly immediate physical or temporal blessing from God

Examples of Ensign Experiences: You randomly get a check in the mail after making the difficult decision to pay your tithing.  You find your spouse as soon as you decide to devote your life first and foremost to God.  You find an entire family ready to jump in the water because you decided to listen to the Spirit and knock on just one more door.

These make great ensign stories-  they also make great talks and facebook posts.

I don’t have an Ensign Life.  When I was a seminary teacher, I was frequently criticized by both my pupils and my superiors for not sharing enough personal stories.  Well, sorry, I don’t have any of those uplifting, faith affirming stories that people love to feel secured by.  I just don’t.  Most of my suffering has been met with more suffering.  In times of emotional and mental distress, the feeling of God’s distance, not his proximity, has been both prevalent and painful.

I’m not an Ensign Story.

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I’ve been feeling pretty proud of myself lately for establishing a reasonably regular and meaningful scripture study habit.  My lunch break at work was recently extended by 30 minutes, which gives me the perfect amount of time to retrieve my food, eat my food, and study my scriptures (and sometimes even socialize a bit).  I really love being able to read at work. I’m a lot less distracted there than at home, it’s the middle of the day so I’m alert, and, most of all I LOVE it when people ask me what I’m reading.  I have been having the most wonderful experiences with the Book of Mormon.

One day I read the account of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.  In summary, they were a group of Lamanites who delighted in bloodshed and all manner of iniquity who became converted to Jesus Christ and experienced his wondrous love and mercy.  As part of their repentance and desire to become a changed people, they buried their weapons of war and covenanted to never, under any circumstances, take them up again.

This is all very beautiful and romantic, and as I read, I felt a sense of admiration for these souls as well as a love and gratitude for the Savior of us all.

But these new pacifistic converts are coming under attack.  An army is coming to slay them.  I thought to myself, “There’s no way God is going to let these people die.  How could He?  They are converted!  They are showing so much faith!  God saved Shadrach, Meshack, and Abendego from the fiery furnace.  He tamed the lion in the Den with Daniel!  He parted the Red Sea and delivered an entire nation!  God will do something!  He will strike the army dumb and lame, or cause a great wind to come and sweep them away, or send down a league of angels to fight the battle.  These people are so good, so pure, so devout!  These are the kinds of people who get saved!

I have read this account several times before, and have pondered and discussed it’s implications on numerous occasions, but I, for some, perhaps divine, reason, saw it with new eyes- eyes that couldn’t see how God would actually let them die.  This is the perfect set up for an Ensign Story.

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I am guilty of looking at different areas of my life and thinking, “this is the perfect set up for an Ensign Story!  I’m faithful, right God?  I’m trying my best, right God?  I’m faithful and I’m trying my best even when I don’t feel like it, right God?  …right?  …God?”

I look around and see what looks like God loving his faithful children.  Sometimes, from these ignorant and prideful eyes, He seems to bless others with so much more than he blesses me with, even though I feel like I give so much more than they do. I’ve suffered and struggled and been faithful through it, so where is my reward?  Where is my awesome compensation that I can use as proof of God’s existence from the pulpit in the next testimony meeting?

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The Anti-Nephi-Lehis stand firm in their faith and fastened to their covenant to not take up arms against their enemies.  As their enemies approach them, they peacefully go out to meet them.  Lying prostrate on the ground before those who wish to kill them, they call on the name of the Lord!

Such humility!  Such preparation for the hand of the Lord to perform a miracle on their behalf!  This is when it’s supposed to happen!  This is the punchline of the Ensign Story!  But wait…

And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God. (Alma 22:24)

No angels.  No wall of fire.  No miracle.  They devoted what was left of their short lives to God, and he allowed them to be slain while lying face-down on the dirt with his name on their lips.

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At times I have felt like God has allowed me to be embarrassed, or depressed, or defeated, lying face-down in the dirt with his name on my lips.

Does God not love me?   Does GOD NOT LOVE me?  Sometimes I just don’t understand.  Sometimes things are just not the way they are supposed to be.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies may have not understood what was happening to them.  They may have been confused.  Maybe they even wondered about God’s allegiance to them in the face of their proven and complete allegiance to him.

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But, brothers and sisters, let us keep reading.  The Lamanites (their attackers) witness what is happening.

Now it came to pass that they threw down their weapons of war, and they would not take them again, for they were stung for for the murdered which they had committed; and they came down even as their brethren, relying on the mercies of those whose arms were lifted to slay them.

And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those had been slain were a righteous people; therefor we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved. (Alma 24:25-26)

A miracle did happen.  Others, even their murderers, were brought to a knowledge of the Lord, and thus, were brought to salvation.  This is not the miracle I was expecting.  This is not the divine intervention I was anticipating.

And it’s in verse 27 that we fine the punchline to this non-Ensign story:

…thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people. (Alma 24:27)

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I submit that this is always the punchline to the story of the faithful- God offers salvation, and works according to his own wisdom and his unspeakable love.

You may die a single man or a childless woman.  You may always be poor or in physical pain.  You may always struggle and you may always suffer.  To be candid, this pains me to say.  But I know that salvation can be found in even what seems to be the most dire of circumstances.

I’m not telling you to “have the eternal perspective” and exercise the “faith necessary” in order to imagine away the reality and pain of mortality.  What I am telling you is that God is working for your salvation.  You may not understand the means he is using, and you may go down to your grave not knowing.  But through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, true salvation is available to all.

So let’s not be discouraged if you don’t have an Ensign Life.  Don’t feel inferior if your testimony isn’t teeming with stories of obvious and immediate miracles.  I know that the greatest miracle (and the only miracle that really matters) is the one found in the grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ- which is ultimate salvation and redemption.

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Answering Google’s Questions About the Mormons (And Some of Yours Too) Part 2

Part 1 was just too much fun not to do it again!  Just a quick explanation:  I type the beginnings of questions about Mormons into Google, copy them into the post, and answer them!  Shall we begin?

Mormon

Mormon (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

1. Do Mormons like…

  • …the Book of Mormon? Yes.
  • …jews? Generally, yes.
  • …the Book of Mormon musical?  The LDS people I know who have seen it have said they liked it.  But there is quite a range as far as how people who have not seen it feel about it.

2. Can Mormons…

  • …drink soda? Yes.
  • …drink? We are going to assume this is referring to alcohol, which Mormons believe God has commanded us not to consume.
  • …drink caffeine? Yes.

3. Can Mormons eat…

  • …chocolate?  LOL!  Yes, OH YES.
  • …pork? Yes.
  • …tiramisu?  This is actually a really good question.  Some Mormons think it’s fine since it only has a little bit of coffee in it and because the coffee is eaten cold.  Most Mormons would likely disagree and say that eating tiramisu is in violation of the Word of Wisdom
  • …sugar?  Yes.

4. Can Mormons use…

5. Can Mormon women…

  • …have multiple husbands? No.
  • …wear pants? Yes.
  • …wear tank tops?  We believe in being modest, and it’s generally considered modest to have one’s shoulders covered.
  • …cut their hair?  Yes.

6.  Do Mormons actually believe…

  • …in Kolob?  Yes.
  • …the Garden of Eden was located in Missouri? Yes.
  • …their religion?  Yes.

7. Do Mormon Bishops…

  • …get paid? Not by the church.
  • …pay taxes?  Yes.
  • …have to be married?  Yes.

8. Are Mormons in…

  • …bred?  No, not really.
  • …sane? Not very many of us.
  • …the bible?  Uh…no.

9.  Are Mormons considered…

  • …christians?  By themselves, yes.  By others, sometimes.
  • …protestant?  No, not usually.
  • …a cult? Sometimes.

10. What do Mormons do…

  • …on missions? Preach the gospel.
  • …on Sundays?  Go to church, nap, eat, go home/visiting teaching, go to meetings, make meals, play games, and whatever else they feel like.
  • …for fun? Lots of stuff!  Let me name a few.  Have dances (80’s, stoplight, neon, etc.), play games (Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Uno, Catch Phrase, Apples to Apples, Sardines, Big Booty, Signs, Do You Love Your Neighbor, What If, the list goes on and on…)

If anyone has any questions about anything mentioned or anything else that has to do with the Mormon religion, I am more than happy to talk about it.

Not sure if there will be a part 3 yet.  Stay tuned.

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