Tag Archives: Mormon

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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9 Things Mormon Girls Should Understand About Guys and Porn, But Don’t

Let me start off by saying that this post is for, you guessed it, Mormon girls.  By girl, I am thinking unmarried females in the 14-30ish range.  If you are older than that, or married, or are not female, you are welcome to read and comment if you like, just know that this has a targeted audience.

I am frequently surprised at the false ideas surrounding pornography use and addiction in the LDS culture, particularly among young, single women.  I’m not by any means an expert on the issue, but the fact that people want to constantly spill their guts to me has given me some perspective on the issue.

My purpose in writing this list is to help young women to have a clear understanding of the issue as they prepare for marriage.  I am only going to talk about pornography in the context of male usage, but know that I would never want to convey the idea that pornography is a “male” problem.  For more on female pornography use, please read Not Just to Young Men Only: On Being a Girl with a Porn Problem

Disclaimer: I am not married, and I also do not use porn, so my ideas should probably be taken with a grain of salt.  If I say that I “think” something, I am basically guessing.  As always, I am totally open to both perspective and correction.

  • Most men have viewed porn.  And by “view”, I don’t mean “happen to have seen a pop-up ad”.  I mean they have sought it out. And it’s not the creepy guys (well, them too, but not just them.)   It’s the Elder’s Quorum President, it’s your EFY counselor, it’s the kid who just came home from his mission three weeks ago, it’s the guy who is always first to start setting up and last to finish taking down, the one who goes to the temple every week, the one who gives the sweetest, most heart-felt testimonies, maybe even the onle you feel that you will never be good enough for- yup, him too.  Now there are lots of guys who have never chosen to indulge, and there are lots of guys who have worked hard to overcome the challenge.  I don’t make this point to say that you should accept that porn will be a part of your marriage- I make this point to let you know that you will probably have to be understanding on some level.
  • Sometimes the porn doesn’t start until after the wedding.  This is not to scare you.  Rather, it is to let you know that it really isn’t practical to insist on only marrying somebody who has never looked at it, because nobody is foolproof.  It is fairly uncommon, but sometimes men do get addicted to porn after the marriage.Just because he hasn’t doesn’t mean he won’t.
  • If he looks at porn, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.  Fight The New Drug has a pretty cute phrase that has taken root in our community: “Porn Kills Love”.  While porn can certainly drive a wedge in relationships, I think our cultural consciousness has become confused into thinking that a porn user can’t love anybody, ever, or that they will begin to sabotage the their relationships in all kinds of extreme  ways (I’m thinking of a Mormon Message where the dad will no longer color with his kids because of porn).  While it is difficult to learn of a porn habit, I think it is even more (and unnecessarily) difficult to automatically believe that you are not loved because of it.
  • There are different kinds of porn.  It ranges from girls in bikinis to things too vulgar for me to write on my blog.  I had assumed that all guys looked at the really violent, degrading, extreme things.  Some do, but some don’t even watch the performance of sexual acts at all.  I am not trying to communicate that any kind of porn is okay, but sometimes understanding a little bit more of the details can be helpful in trying to work through a porn problem.
  • Marriage doesn’t cure porn.  I could go into more detail, but then I would rob myself of a 6th bullet point!  The reason marriage doesn’t cure porn is because…
  • Viewing porn and having sex are different experiences.  This may seem a little bit obvious, but let explain why this is important.  While viewing porn and being intimate with another person are both sexual experiences, one is all about immediate gratification and self-satisfaction, while the other often requires patience, understanding, and teamwork.  I think that sex was designed to be an appropriately  therapeutic experience.  Porn is also serves as a form of therapy- it distracts and numbs a frazzled mind or a hurting heart.  Thus, many porn users keep the habit not just for the sexual gratification, but also as a way to self-soothe.  Even when a sexual relationship becomes available to them, it is easier to get the soothing experience from porn, where they don’t have to do any work, than from actual sex, where they have to be concerned with the wants and needs of another person.
  • Masturbation and pornography do not always happen together.  They often do, but it seems to me that the assumption is that they necessarily go hand in hand.  I’m just here to let you know that if he masturbates that doesn’t means he’s looking at porn, and if he is looking at porn that doesn’t mean he’s masturbating.  That topic is going to get a post of it’s own one of these days if my readership thinks they can stomach it.
  • It is never because you are not good enough.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad girlfriend or wife, and it especially doesn’t mean that you are underperforming sexually, or are not attractive or desirable enough.  The truth is that no one woman will ever be able to compete with the world of porn when it comes to the ability to engage and excite the natural man.  Please notice that I said “the natural man”.  The “spiritual man” most definitely can find his devoted mate more desirable than anything in the world, but I think that in order for that to happen, there has to be a level of emotional involvement.
  • People break the habit.  And they break it for good.  Sometimes it takes years of trying, but I could give you a list of men that I know personally who have been able to move beyond porn, and many of them are wonderfully happily married.
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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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The Physical Illness of Depression

These last two days, I have been on the struggle bus.  I usually to describe being like this as “being off”, “not feeling well”, or just “not feeling quite normal”.  Really, I’m depressed.  But I hate that word.

When I hear the word “depressed” I think of somebody who is unambitious, unmotivated, pessimistic, and most of all, somebody who is acted upon, instead of somebody who acts.  I know this isn’t fair- some of the greatest, kindest, most accomplished people I know have dealt or are dealing with depression- but the idea of associating that word with myself makes me feel so very small.

I keep asking myself, “What is wrong with you?!” I keep trying to reason myself into feeling better.  I keep calling people, hoping they will cheer me up- they try. But nothing really “snaps me out of it”.  I will snap out of it, but your guess is as good as mine regarding when or why.

This depression thing, is not just in my head, it’s in my whole body.  It’s not only a mental and emotional, but a physical condition.  Let me sum up my experiences over the last two days for you:

  •  I cried hysterically over something that was inconvenient. Like, barely able to speak because i was crying so intensely.  I knew it wasn’t worthy of such a reaction, but I just felt so out of control, and like my physical response was not aligning with my cognitive understanding of the situation.
  • I couldn’t focus in my institute class.  Like, I got up and left because I just couldn’t pay attention.
  • I am going through an episode of “I am the ugliest person alive and therefor nobody could ever love me.”
  • I just feel so mentally tired.
  • I don’t really feel like talking.
  • When I do talk, I often lose my train of thought, stammer, and take longer than normal trying to find the words to use to say what I mean.
  • I had to decide if I wanted to fill out a Health Insurance application today or in a few weeks after I begin my new job.  I ended up just taking a nap because just deciding when to do it was so overwhelming.
  • The missionaries came over for dinner and I hid in my room because I did not feel capable of acting happy enough to talk to them.
  • Walking 200 feet to my car feels exhausting.
  • Also, I haven’t taken a shower since Tuesday morning (It is now Thursday night).

The symptoms of me “not feeling normal” are a combination of the mental, the emotional, and the physical.

I know that if you were able to perfectly see my body, at the molecular level, something would look different today than it looked a week ago.  Being depressed is as much my choice as having a headache is my choice.

I wish that all the well-meaning friends I have were actually able to fix my mood- I wish it was just a matter of mood.  Understanding that depression is more than just a bad attitude is a little bit scary, because then you know you can’t just make up your mind to not be depressed anymore.

However, it is also a little bit liberating to know that depression is something that happens to you, and is not something you just are.

I really hate the stigma that surrounds mental illness, and I want to be loud and proud about the fact that people who suffer from depression are perfectly normal…as long as they are OTHER people.  I don’t feel so confident in sticking up for myself.

If you have or are experiencing depression, know that you are i great company, and that there is no shame in seeking help.  If you had an infection, you would have no reason to be ashamed of taking an antibiotic.  Likewise, there is no shame in seeking professional help for mental illness, including taking medication.

If you don’t know what depression is like, and want to know how to help someone you know who may be struggling with it, try reading this.

One last thing- I’ve found that, often, the quickest way for me to feel better is to take care of myself in some physical way- either by going for a walk, taking a nap, drinking water, or eating an actual meal.  Additionally, I’ve found that my negative moods tend to come at a certain point in my menstrual cycle.  These things suggest to me that the depression really is a mental manifestation of a physical illness.  When praying, talking, convincing, and meditating fail, just take a nap.

I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

meet-mormons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I thought it was fine.”

“You are so hard-hearted!”

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

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

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

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

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

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Realizing That Things Would Have Worked Out Better Without the Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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