A Thrill of Hope

Earlier this month, I heard a report on NPR titled, Another Mass Shooting? ‘Compassion Fatigue’ Is A Natural Reaction. It begins:

“Roger Chui first learned about the mass shooting that killed 12 people in a packed bar Wednesday night in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when he woke up the morning after and turned on his phone. “And I was like ‘Oh, that seems really soon after Pittsburgh and Louisville,’ “says the software developer … “I thought we’d get more of a break.” Chui feels like these kinds of shootings happen in the U.S. so often now that when he hears about them all he can think about is, “Oh well, it happened again I guess.” He’s not alone. … but science suggests that these feelings are quite normal. It’s a natural response called compassion fatigue… Thinking too much about traumatic events, whether it’s a refugee crisis on the other side of the world or a school shooting in our own country, can make people too anxious or depressed to function in their daily lives.”

I don’t know about you, but I know I have felt some level of compassion fatigue looking back at the events of the year. It seems it’s getting easier and easier to slip into despair. As my awareness of the suffering, injustice and oppression around me increases, my ability to feel hope is increasingly threatened. Add to this the daily challenges we each face individually, we can almost effortlessly, slip into moments of complete hopelessness.

In the October General Conference, in a talk titled Try, Try, Try, President Henry B. Eyring, spoke to encourage us through the troubles we face. And today, mostly as a practice in encouragement for myself, I want to do the same. President Eyring said:

“All of us live in a world where Satan’s war against truth and against our personal happiness is becoming more intense. The world and your life can seem to you to be in increasing commotion.”

He continues:

“My testimony is that the Savior is putting His name in your hearts. For many of you, your faith in Him is increasing. You are feeling more hope and optimism. And you are feeling the pure love of Christ for others and for yourself…”

I know each of us here, like me, knows what that feels like –when you are filled with hope and optimism, when you are able to feel and give love freely. Those are times of joy, gratitude and hope. But if you, like me, don’t feel that way all the time — even if you don’t feel that way right now — I want you to know that’s okay, too. That’s part of life. In 2 Nephi 2:11, we read:

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.”

In this scripture, Lehi is speaking to his son, Jacob. Jacob was born in the wilderness. In fact, the chapter begins with Lehi describing how well acquainted Jacob is with affliction, sorrow, even rudeness, but Lehi also says that Jacob “knows the greatness of God.”

There is clearly opposition in all things. So, without despair, we would not know hope. For those times of darkness, the wildernesses of our lives, President Eyring acknowledges:

“I realize that some of you listening today may feel your faith and hope are being overcome by your troubles. And you may yearn to feel love.”

Scripture is replete with examples of good people living in this darkness, feeling sadness, feeling despair, feeling hopeless and overcome by their troubles. An obvious example is Job. We often applaud Job for his faithful approach to his significant trials. That’s absolutely deserved. His faithfulness in the face of losing everything is astounding. But in Job 19, Job is describing all the truly terrible things that have happened to him. In verse 10, he says:

“He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone: and mine hope hath he removed like a tree.”

Did you catch that? Job felt hopeless. Even still, after acknowledging this moment of despair, he ends the chapter testifying of His Redeemer Jesus Christ.

Then there is Jesus himself, who has been described as the Master of Hope, is it possible that he ever felt overcome by troubles? The answer, I think, is yes. The famous scripture in John 11:35 is “Jesus wept.” I recently re-read this full chapter. The scripture, of course, refers to Jesus’ reaction to the death of his friend Lazarus. What I found interesting is that Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead. And he already knew he was going to bring him back to life. Clear back in verse 11, he said:

“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep.” Isn’t that fascinating? Skipping down to verse 33:

“When Jesus therefore saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, 34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 35 Jesus wept.

Less than 10 verses later, Christ has risen Lazarus from the dead. I believe this is not only a remarkable display of compassion but also simply the hallmark of living a human life. Even in times when we have the knowledge of eternal life, we can feel troubled. And we can feel deep sadness. That doesn’t make you wrong. It makes you human. But in those dark days, it is also possible to hope.

I am a person who lives with depression and anxiety. As a person who experiences mental illness, I know that in some of those dark times, you may need medical intervention to help you feel hope again. And I also know that there is hope and beauty and light waiting for you on the other side of those trials. It has helped me to learn that hope is not so much a feeling as it is a cognitive behavior. Social science researcher, Dr. Brené Brown’s work theorizes, “Hope is not how we feel; it’s how we think.” And, she graciously adds, “it can be learned.”

So how do we cultivate hope?

President Eyring’s solution is simple but not particularly easy. “Try, try, try.” Practice living like Jesus. Try taking His name upon you every day. President Eyring says,

“Brothers and sisters, the Lord has opportunities near you to feel and to share His love. You can pray with confidence for the Lord to lead you to love someone for Him. He answers the prayers of meek volunteers like you. You will feel the love of God for you and for the person you serve for Him. As you help children of God in their troubles, your own troubles will seem lighter. Your faith and your hope will be strengthened.”

Hope is so intricately tied to faith and charity, that I am not going to try very hard to distinguish between the three. Elder Dieter Uchtdorf said, “Faith, hope, and charity complement each other,and as one increases, the others grow as well. Hope comes of faith, for without faith, there is no hope. In like manner faith comes of hope, for faith is “the substance of things hoped for.”

While despair might call you to disconnect from the world and from others, it might say, just don’t read the news, just think of yourself. I don’t think this is a sustainable answer. Rather, hope asks us to engage. Adam S. Miller, in his book Letters to a Young Mormon, writes:

“Faith is a willingness to care for what’s right in front of you. Faith doesn’t wish these difficult things away. It invites them in, breaks bread with them, and washes their feet. … God constantly gives himself to us in the inconvenient, in the hungry, the outcast, the prisoner, the sinner. He gives himself in what we would like to ignore. “For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” … “just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me”. Faith has to do with the least of these. It takes us down and into the unwieldy world, not up and away from it.”

Faith, hope and charity — and, I would argue, especially hope — cause us to engage more fully in the world. Neil A Maxwell said:

“Significantly, those who look forward to a next and better world are usually “anxiously engaged” in improving this one, for they “always abound in good works.” … Hope is realistic anticipation taking the form of determination — a determination not merely to survive but to “endure… well” to the end.

In other words, we hope for a better world because we are working to make the world better. In 1 Corinthians 9:10, Paul puts it this way: “He that ploweth should plow in hope; and he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.”

You’ve probably felt this happen in real time. For me, I saw this at work while in graduate school. I spent two years learning about systemic injustices and oppression, the root causes of some of the world’s most pressing problems. It was difficult to feel hope. That is, it was difficult until I started my field research. In the field, I worked with a group of elementary-aged students. And that’s when I found hope. I saw hope in their resilience, in their interactions, in their capacity to love and laugh. Hope is learned in the doing, in the work, on the ground, connected to those around us.

We can also learn to cultivate hope by looking for examples. Or, as Elder Maxwell put it, in “illuminated individuals.”

I saw a shining example of hope fairly recently when I watched Be One – A Celebration of the Revelation on the Priesthood. People of color in our church certainly know suffering, injustice and oppression. To witness this beautiful celebration of their stories, music, poetry, art and voices gave me hope for the future of our church. Their examples of hoping and working for a better world and a better church were inspiring. And the example of endurance through troubling times had me in tears. “There’s a place for us” –all of us, in this gospel, in this world, and in the eternities.

Sister Cheiko Okazaki put it this way:

“Hope persists, even when experience, reason, and knowledge all say there is no reason to hope. Hope does not calculate odds… It is a double-sided virtue. It is prepared for either sunny or stormy weather. To choose hope is to choose life. To choose hope is to choose love.”

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about a single metaphor quite a bit. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about surfing. Now, I’ve never been surfing, but I’ve seen enough movies to make the metaphor useful to me. I think, for me, I have often looked at the waves of life as something to avoid. I will spend a lot of time thinking about how I can stop the waves, or trials and challenges, that might come my way. As someone who lives with anxiety, I can tell you I have spent WAY too much time thinking about all the different ways some wave might come and be terrible. Of course, this is futile. Just as we could never stop the waves in the ocean, we can not prevent trials and challenges from occurring in our lives. The goal of this life is to have experiences,or to get out on those waves. I see hope as a thought process that moves us out into the ocean and up onto that surfboard. Hope says, there’s beauty in riding that wave. Faith, hope and charity then work with us to keep us balanced on the board. And when the wave inevitably throws us off, hope gets us back up on that board for the thrill of riding out that wave. Challenges are not always enjoyable, but riding out the wave is where joy is inevitable found. Remember? There must be opposition in all things.

Jesus Christ says, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The goal is not to feel nothing. It’s to live and feel abundantly. Elder Maxwell puts it this way: “Those with true hope often see their personal circumstances shaken, like Kaleidoscopes, again and again. Yet with the “eye of faith,” they still see divine pattern and purpose.”

And that pattern and purpose leads us to see that God is actually in the winds and the waves and the hope and the despair.

Because our Heavenly Parents are with us always. And hope in Christ, of course, leads us there.

I’m glad it’s Christmas time. I’ve been covertly listening to Christmas music for a couple weeks now. One of my favorite songs is O Holy Night. Because this topic has been on my mind, some lyrics have hit me as especially poignant. It goes,

“O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn”

I love that description. A thrill of hope. I testify that Jesus Christ offers our weary world a thrill of hope. Because He was born. Because he chose to atone for us. And because he overcame death. That is our ultimate hope. And that He did all this because He loves us.

As Paul puts it, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Speak Up! (second draft)*

They told me to speak up when I spoke to them.
They said, “We can’t hear you from waaaaay back here.”
Your voice is too mousy, too quiet, too soft.
They told me to speak up.
“OK,” I said. And I cleared my throat. And I used my “theatre voice.”
— It’s not my voice, but I’ll wear it for awhile. —
Why won’t they move in closer to hear?

They told me to speak up in class.
When I sat next to that guy
— you know the one —
who wouldn’t stop talking, monopolizing, arguing
Even though he didn’t know. He didn’t read. His words meant nothing.
Not a thing.
Why didn’t you leave space for my thoughts?

They told me to speak up at my meetings.
The ones where half the people sitting around the table are somewhere else
And the other half are repeating each others words in different words.
And the boss is sitting back in that chair (the one with armrests),
But they’re actually at another meeting on their cell phone.
And I wondered, ironically,
Why didn’t you hear what I said?

They told me to speak up.
And for a long time I believed them.
They said I was wrong, quiet, shy, unsure.
They told me to speak up.

But one day, I realized
My voice is my voice
And telling me to speak up
Is no better than telling me
You’re not really listening.
Not to me, at least.
And must I remind you that listening isn’t always done
In a classroom, in a meeting, crowded between four walls?
And am I the only one that realizes
Hearing me doesn’t require I have a voice at all?

They told me to speak up.

But they didn’t know I was listening
And that ears to hear were stronger
Than tongues to speak.
My ears were my power
And listening — my odyssey.

My ears blessed me with stories.
Beyond my own. Beyond my tongue.

My ears granted me journeys.
Beyond my own. Beyond my toes.

My ears gave me thoughts
Beyond my own. Beyond my mind.

And (mostly) my ears taught me your heart
So when I spoke — quietly, sure —
I had been shaped (and re-shaped)
by you
and yours
and theirs, too.

They told me to speak up.
But speaking up didn’t connect me to you.
Because that power belongs to ears.

So, now,
when they tell me to speak up.

I say, (or maybe think)
No.
Listen up.

-Megan Attermann

The first draft was scribbled in a notebook in the middle of the night. The third draft isn’t here yet. 

Home #2

I am from Heroes of Might and Magic and One Touch test strips
(almost empty but also full)
Grass clippings and Grape Vines
Singing from backs of trucks
Nice
Causey, Me and Tika
Long time Mormons!
“I want you to be alive for a long time.”
Camp Utada
Potato casserole
The time when the boat almost sank.
Home — which now belongs to
Someone Else.

-Jeffrey Wade Attermann

*Jeff wrote a poem, too. I love it even more than I love mine. This is a really fun exercise.

Home

I am from Super Nintendo and Otter Pops.
The red brick, multi-level, tract housing
seen in every suburb in the West.
The freshly mowed grass and sandbox villages in the summertime.
And how about those Mad-Lib versions of The Night Before Christmas?
The cacophony of voices at the dinner table
And the I-dunno-where-do-you-want-to-eat gene.
Those Mormons, Those Democrats Down The Street, Those Cubs Fans.
That thing that doesn’t seem like it fits,
but you can’t discard.
The phrase: “Do what you love.”
Wrigley Field, College Campuses and Movie Theaters.
The Green Slush from the giant Tupperware and
Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies.
That time Mom got struck by lightning in the Grand Canyon and
“It’s July.”
The album in the dusty box in the office of my parents’ downsized condo.

-Megan Noyce Attermann

* From time to time, my job provides the opportunity to be inspired by amazing people. And it gives me moments to be introspective and creative. Today was one of those moment. In a workshop led by the storyteller Kevin Kling, I wrote this poem (in 5 minutes) about home. 

 

On Waiting

We are children waiting in the
Lengthy line of a roller coaster.
No concept of the depth of the wait.
Little understanding of the role of the ride.
And yet
We excitedly choose to step both feet
Forward.

Here we stand.
Shifting our weight from foot to foot.
Anxiously inching closer to the
Screeching wheels and clacking metal.
Hearing from those before us what awaits.
Elation.
Exhaustion.
Exhilaration.
And, really, the unknown.

We wait.
We wait.
And with a deep breath
— we hope —
we’ll ride.

-Megan Noyce Attermann

*Occasionally, my job gives me the time and space to be introspective and creative. This poem is a result of one of those moments. It was written very shortly after we were approved to adopt.

On Creating

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

For the past few years, I lived to support creativity. Working in arts administration can be a funny thing. You go into it because you’re drawn to creativity in some form or another. And, because you want to make a living and make a difference, you wind your way over to the business side of artistic endeavors. And, at least for me, that meant I inadvertently began to distance myself from the creativity that drew me there in the first place.

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I loved my job, and I cherished most every moment of it. And there were certainly creative opportunities in the job. It just wasn’t the get-down-and-dirty kind of creativity that really uncovered the depths of my soul. It had to be more polished and professional, less revealing. Because government work doesn’t generally provide lots of space for vulnerability. I’m sure I could have found a way to weave creativity back into the fabric of my every day existence, but I never really found that balance.

I was inspired by the work I read in the grants that came across my desk. These were true artists — people devoting their lives to their craft. Seeing their devotion, passion and brilliance was moving. But comparison is a trap. Compared to these artists, I had little to contribute but my support and devotion. No originality. No artistic endeavor. Nothing good enough, at least. Comparison stopped me from even starting.

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Beyond all that, the work of arts administration can be exhausting. At the end of the day, all I wanted to do was plop down in front of Netflix and binge. And that’s about the least creative undertaking there is.

At the end of last summer, I made a job/career transition. I left arts administration. I’m sure I’ll be back someday, because, like I said, I loved my work. But this time away has been significant. It’s given me the opportunity to refocus and center myself.

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It’s reminded me that life is about creating. It’s not about sitting around and waiting for something to happen to you. It’s about intentionally choosing a path, and making a life that gets you there. It set us on the path toward adoption, giving us the time and energy to evaluate our lives and our direction and our goals. And it’s helped me remember self-expression. Writing, drawing, photography, painting — all those creative pursuits in which I barely qualify as amateur yet are so deeply engrained in my way of seeing and expressing — have again risen to the surface. They’ve grounded me again. I am no longer floating through life. My days feel more intentional. My evenings feel longer.

Plus, we got rid of Netflix. (Gasp!)

Top View of Modern working Place

When I likely return to arts administration, I’ll have this newfound awareness. This memory of this moment in time where I was free to create without so much comparison and planning and strategy.

And, so, we’re creating. And we’re putting that creativity out into the world. We’d like to announce our little shop in it’s beginning stages. Making Three is an Etsy shop that Jeff and I have started as our creative outlet. It’s our way to fill our time with more than reruns. We don’t expect to make money, but any money we happen to be lucky enough to make will go toward funding our adoption journey — our quest to move from a family of two to a family of three.

SLC Color Mockup

Mostly, we’re excited to create this shop, and this life, together. Is it professional? No. Is it polished? No. Are we trained? No. But is it a happier, fuller, bigger, expanded, more interesting life?

Hell, yes.

Letting Go

moving day

I stared down at the question: “How has infertility affected your life? How have you processed your infertility?”

A few years ago, I don’t think I would have been able to answer that question.

Jeff and I are working on our adoption home study right now. If you missed the announcement, here it is.

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The home study consists of a lot of parts, including: a lengthy 12-page questionnaire to be answered in essay format, a background check, a home inspection, a doctor’s report, and a financial disclosure statement.

It’s a lot of paperwork.

The questions are personal. And that question about infertility struck me. It caught me off guard because I saw the word. I thought about infertility, and it didn’t hurt anymore.

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I realized that I am content. I know I am worthy of love and belonging despite my (in)ability to become pregnant. And I’m grateful the pain has dulled.

A few years ago, hurt hung over my head daily. With pointed reminders of my inability to get pregnant, I was always seconds away from despair. I thought about it all the time. I changed my diet. I changed my lifestyle. I visited the doctor. I took medicine. I prayed. I hoped. I wrote. Looking back now, I can see I was grieving. I needed to go through it.

But, still, my body remained unchanged.

And then.

A shift.

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I moved forward. I started (and finished) grad school, and I began to see that my life could mean something even without children. I made goals. Jeff did, too. And we stopped waiting to make decisions for an imaginary future. We made our lives fit us for the present.

I let go of the responsibility of getting pregnant. I let it go. And it made all the difference.

We still wanted children. We still wanted that life. But our approach felt different somehow. It gradually became less important to achieve that vision of our future through traditional means. Adoption became our Plan A — even though it took us years to process our grief to get there. We needed to grow and change and learn.

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Of course, I still have moments where something triggers that old familiar pain. A family member announces their pregnancy. Oof. I attend a baby shower for a dear friend. Ouch. But those moments are rare. Mostly, I’m grateful.

Adoption is not a cure for infertility. There are things I will never get to experience. I will never carry a baby within me. I will never experience the strength and courage of childbirth. I will likely never nurse my child or feel their kicks or hiccups in my belly. That’s a real loss.

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But my gains will be real, too. My story will be different. It will be shared. It will have a level of connection with other humans that is incomprehensible. I will be a parent. I will get to love and nurture a child. I will get to provide them with opportunities and watch them surprise me as they grow. And we’ll have a big, beautiful, different family that is connected through love. I am thrilled to see how life will unfold. How I change. How I grow. And how my love will expand.

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I wouldn’t change my situation. I’m grateful for the person infertility has helped me become. Infertility didn’t end me. It didn’t become me, and it didn’t define me. But it changed me, and it’s giving me the most meaningful experience I’ll ever have.

How have I processed infertility? I let it go. And letting go made room for so much more.

*Jeff and I love to explore our city and all it has to offer. The photos in this post are from those explorations.

Planting a Seed

We are growing our family. It’s going to happen. We just don’t know exactly how or when.

Jeff and I are excited to announce that we have started the domestic infant adoption process. We are working on our home study now. (The home study is a big pile of paperwork that assesses our ability to provide and care for a child.) This means that, once we are (hopefully!) officially approved, we will be legally eligible to adopt a child in the USA.

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We have gone back and forth on how and when to announce this to our family, friends and acquaintances. After all, announcing during the home study phase may be akin to letting the world know that you are trying to conceive. Usually people don’t do that. We certainly didn’t. Beyond that, adoption is often a long and difficult process. Once a home study is complete, it can take years to be matched with expectant parents interested in pursuing adoption. And, once matched, there is still no guarantee until final relinquishments are signed after the child’s birth. In short, there are a lot of questions and unknowns. Going through this pain would be difficult, and going through it publicly seems (at times) as if it might add heartbreak to already heart-wrenching situations.

But we believe in connection. And vulnerability is a prerequisite to connection.

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Jeff and I love to escape to the mountains whenever we can. In our beautiful state of Utah, there is a single quaking aspen that covers 106 acres through an underground connected root system. Like the aspen, we, as human beings on this planet, are all connected.

It is because of this connection that we’ve decided to step outside our comfort zone and make our announcement early in this journey. We need you. And if there is anything I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, it’s that you have to make your intentions known. So, here it is:

We are searching for our baby, and we need you to know.

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It seems implausible, but you may know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who is considering placing their baby. When that trusted friend comes to you looking for comfort and friendship and hope, we hope you will be able to offer them support. More than anything, we want you to be the friend they need in that moment of vulnerability. We want what is best for that person. And we may not be what’s best. But if we are, we hope you will think of us.

We are all connected. Adoption is a miraculous manifestation of this belief.

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It may seem trite, but we hope you will follow our journey on our Facebook page. We’ll share updates about our journey over there. Please like and share our posts. I know it feels strange and impossible, but many matches are made through Facebook connections.

We are over-the-moon excited about this journey — long and challenging as it may be. We have wanted to be parents for as long as we can remember, and we have been trying to bring those dreams into reality for over five years. We are excited to bring baby Attermann into our home whenever the time is right. We are completely at peace with this direction, and we’re grateful you will now be walking with us.

We are all connected, and we can’t walk this path alone.

Profound strength

Over the summer, I have actively been practicing gratitude. This practice came about through necessity – a bit of a survival tactic to help me get through a rough season at work. I would sit on the bus every morning and try to list 10 things in my head that I was grateful for that day. This practice of gratitude led me to try to find the light and goodness in a situation that was really wearing on me. That practice is coming in handy today. While I am quite nervous to open up again on this blog today, I am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to explore a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately. The topic is identity.

I, like you, carry with me many identities. I am a wife, an educator, a community advocate, a performing artist, a Westminster Griffin and Puget Sound Logger, a progressive, a futurist, a millennial, a feminist, a cat person, a tree hugger, a Ute fan, a Cubs fan, a young professional, an introvert, a friend, a procrastinator, and (yes) a Mormon. The list could go on, right? We all have these identities that define us and inform our actions, opinions, thoughts and connections.

It seems to me that life can feel like a series of identity crises. It’s not just mid-life crises anymore. We have our teen years, the quarter-life crisis, and my pending 30s crisis. I’ve dubbed this crisis my rebellious years where I dyed my hair and started listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Rules be damned!

Throughout different period of my life, I’ve placed specific identities on a pedestal. Things like being an educational achiever, a hopeful future mother and a career ladder climber. All these identities are pretty good things. But I can say with surety (because I’ve experienced it) that placing your worth and value in these identities is dangerous. Elder Hallstrom’s, “I am a Child of God,” talk from the April 2016 General Conference raises this question for me:

Is my Heavenly Heritage as a child of Heavenly Parents my first and most profound identity?

As much as I wish the answer was a resounding “yes,” the answer, truthfully, is that this essential identity of mine is very rarely my “first and most profound” identity.

Here’s a personal example. Jeff and I married nearly six years ago. One year into our marriage, we started seeing babies everywhere. We decided to start trying to have a baby and to grow our family. Six months went by and nothing happened. Three more months went by, and still nothing. I started to get really worried. The internet can be your best friend or your most blunt enemy in times like this. I had read a lot about infertility and was terrified of the thought of being one of the women who would be affected and consumed by infertility. So we headed to the doctor, and a series of uncomfortable tests ensued. Through this, we learned the reason we hadn’t had any luck was rooted in a problem with my body. It was presented as a workable problem, but, nevertheless, I was absolutely devastated. Not only did I feel as if my body was broken, but I felt I could not live up to my eternal purpose and divine nature to be a mother. I had been taught, both culturally and in the church, that the most important thing I would ever do was to have children and be a mother. It felt that I had no purpose or meaning and comments about being able to mother other people’s children and wait until the afterlife to have my own children did not console me.

Elder Hallstrom says:

“In life, we face actual hardships. There is pain – physical, emotional, and spiritual. There are heartbreaks when circumstances are very different from what we had anticipated. There is injustice when we do not seem to deserve our situation. There are disappointments when someone we trusted failed us. There are financial setbacks that can be disorienting. There may be times of question when a matter of doctrine or history is beyond our current understanding.

“When difficult things occur in our lives, what is our immediate response? Is it confusion or doubt or spiritual withdrawal? Is it a blow to our faith? Do we blame God or others for our circumstances? Or is our first response to remember who we are — that we are children of a loving God? Is that coupled with an absolute trust that He allows some earthly suffering because he knows it will bless us, like a refiner’s fire, to become like Him and to gain our eternal inheritance?”

Again, I wish my answer was, “yes.” But, unfortunately, no. This trial was and has been a challenge to my faith. I did not have my truest, highest identity in mind. I had thought that my most important identity would be that of a mother. But Elder Hallstrom says no. Our most important identity is as a child. A child of God.

Matthew 7:24-26 describes Jesus telling the parable of the wise man and the foolish man. Jesus says that not everyone who prophesies in His name will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. One of the prerequisites, he says, is to do the will of the Father and know our Savior and God. Those who do this are like “a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon the rock.”

In contrast, those who do not know God are “likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.”

I don’t think anybody would argue that I was wrong to want to be a mother or that I was wrong to be hurt by this news. But it did teach me that building our worth, purpose, meaning and identity on our circumstances is dangerous. Lesser identities will always be subject to change through our circumstances. Like the rain and winds that fell upon the houses of the wise and foolish men. Rain fell on both, but the wise man had built a purpose and identity on something immovable and strong.

Elder Hallstrom emphasizes that our “earthly identities are not wrong unless they supersede or interfere with our eternal identity – that of being a son or daughter of God.”

My identity as a hopeful mother was not wrong until it began to block me from my true worth, purpose and identity. It began to disrupt my connection with God. Maybe you’ve experienced something similar, or maybe your tensions with competing identities are different. Maybe your value and identity was rooted in your physical appearance or degrees or job status or even your Mormon-ness (those are all something I can relate to). Or maybe yours is entirely different. But I’m guessing this struggle is part of being human. Again, these pursuits or identities are not bad, but they are lesser. It’s about the order in which we pursue these things.

Matthew 6:33 reads, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God.”

And in Luke 17:20-21, we learn what the kingdom of God is.

“And when he (Jesus) was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here!, or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

There are three different translations of this verse that I learn from.

The first translation is what I just read to you. On face value, this scripture suggests that the kingdom of God is found within us.

Elder Hallstrom says that “We live in a world that can cause us to forget who we really are. The more distractions that surround us, the easier it is to treat casually, and then forget our connection with God.”

Our connection is that we are children of eternal, majestic, powerful and loving Heavenly Parents. We have God’s DNA in us. Just like I got my blonde hair and empathy from my mom and my ears and critical mind from my dad, I’ve eternal characteristics and worth that is not based on any earthly circumstance. As the scripture says, the kingdom of God is within us. Or, as Paul taught, we are the “offspring of God.”

The second translation of this scripture sheds a bit more light on its meaning. Many translations of this scripture actually state that “the kingdom of God is among you” rather than within you. This doesn’t feel like a contradictory thought to me. As we establish our worth and identity as children of God, connection to His children who share this journey with us will natural follow. Sister Stephens mentions, in a talk about our divine natures, that our opportunity is “not just to learn from our own challenges; it is to unite in empathy and compassion as we support other members of the family of God in their struggles.” (There are a lot of things I don’t like about that talk, but I happen to like this quote from it.) In that way, as we connect with those around us, we tap in to our eternal characteristics passed on by our Heavenly Parents. And as we connect, we build Zion – the Kingdom of God on earth.

The third translation of the scripture is from Joseph Smith Translation. It reads: “Neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, Lo, there! For behold, the kingdom of God has already come unto you.”

As children of God, we have a divine birthright. This scripture suggests that the kingdom of God can be here, on earth, in our lives, among our brothers and sisters. But it is something that we must pick up and grab ahold of. The presence of the Kingdom of God is not based on our circumstances. Rather, it is based on our willingness to tap into our eternal birthright, forsake our lesser identities and to follow. It is more than something we do. It’s something we are.

There is a story in Matthew 19 that illustrates this point. In verse 16: “An behold, one came and said unto him (Jesus), Good Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

Jesus answers by saying, “Keep the commandments.” The man asks Him which commandments and Jesus elaborates: Don’t commit murder or adultery or theft. Don’t lie. Honor your Father and Mother. Love thy neighbor.

The young man says, I’ve done all this my whole life: “What lack I yet?”

Maybe this response is because of age. I don’t know. Maybe this young man hasn’t yet faced those trials of life – the winds and rain – that can beat upon our purposes and identities and cause us to fall and fail.

But Jesus answers him in verse 21 and says:

“If thou wilt be perfect” (which we know from other revelation means complete or whole – which can only be through Christ) he says, “Go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”

The verses continue, “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

I don’t think we know what happens to this young man after this encounter, but I can certainly understand his initial reaction. He was asked to give up all that he had. And along with giving up his things, he was asked to sacrifice his identity as a rich man.

Jesus continues by saying to his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

While I am personally fond of and drawn to the apparent anti-consumer, anti-capitalist, interpretation of this scripture, I want to interpret it much more broadly right now.

Jesus is saying, as is Elder Hallstrom, that it may be necessary for us to sacrifice our lesser identities in order to connect with God. “A correct understanding of our Heavenly Heritage is essential to exaltation,” as Elder Hallstrom puts it.

This may be discouraging. I know it can be for me. It is hard to give up parts of us – even if they are good parts – in order to connect. If this feels discouraging, know that Christ’s disciples felt similarly. Verse 25 says, “When his disciples hear it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, who then can be saved?”

And here’s the good part. Verse 26:

“But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”

President Thomas S. Monson has said, “We are sons and daughters of a living God… We cannot sincerely hold this conviction without experiencing a profound new sense of strength and power.”

I believe this power is granted through Christ’s atonement – the ultimate act that makes possible our connection with God. And this power, stemming from our internalization of our eternal nature as children of God is a power beyond what we receive from our lesser identities, circumstances, possessions, things, degrees, promotions, status, memberships, associations or even our familial roles.

I’d like to say I’ve tapped into this power, but the truth is I think I have more to learn. We’ve likely all experienced moments – as have I – of this true, eternal power. I pray that I will be able to internalize this divine nature and establish it as my most profound identity. As with most things, I am practicing as I move forward throughout this journey. But I know I can get there through Christ.

 

 

Suspension of Disbelief

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” (Alma 32:27)

I have a background in theatre. And, in theatre, there’s a term called suspension of disbelief. Basically, it means that when you go to a play, you allow yourself to sit in this world that is being created for you and believe the environment enough to see the story unfold as if it were logical. You allow yourself to believe that it’s totally normal to break into song. You allow yourself to believe that a light change means it’s now night or day or that you’re in the forest. And when you allow yourself to believe these things, you are transported to a new place. Only then you can be transformed by the story. I’ve had the experience of being changed by what I’ve seen as an audience member. Theatre simply is not effective without a willing suspension of disbelief.

I’ve been thinking a lot about faith lately. Faith in God. Faith in the gospel. Faith in things that seem — to my rational/logical mind — impossibly fantastic. I think faith requires a certain suspension of disbelief. I know that might seem like a negative way to view faith for some. It might seem demeaning to relate faith to pretending. Choose, for one minute, to not see it that way.

Faith requires you to allow yourself to go to a place where these impossibly fantastic things can be true. Once in that space, you can be transformed by it in the way the creator wants us to be transformed.

Sometimes I go through life acting as if I have complete control over the environment I inhabit.  But the truth is that I didn’t design this world. I didn’t create it. It was created for me. It was created for us. And, like a theatrical play, I am simply experiencing this space for a moment. Perhaps not as audience members, but as a participant. It seems the Creator made this world a place where we must suspend disbelief to see — even just a glimpse — of the full story. We have to suspend disbelief to give room for belief. And when we’re in that space, maybe we can be transformed.

I could easily choose to live in disbelief. I could choose to see a light change as a simple shift from blues to pinks to oranges, but (honestly) I’d rather see it as a sunrise. I could choose to see everything with my rational mind, but I’d rather see miracles.

I want to believe there is a grand design for this life and my place within it. So I choose to suspend disbelief, so I can latch on to faith. And, thereby, be transformed.