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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.

My relationship with fear

Author’s note: I wrote this late last year but never published it. In some ways, it feels quaint to post it now. So much has happened. In other ways, it feels necessary to acknowledge. I’ll go ahead and release it into the world now. 

I was in eighth grade on 9/11. It was picture day, and I heard what happened during my first-period algebra class. In gym, we were taken into the dance room to watch the news. The image of those two towers falling is forever etched in my mind. When I got home from school, I watched the news all day and into the night.

The next day, I stayed home from school. I was scared. My innocence was shaken that day. My worldview was suddenly broadened.

***

I was 28 on 11/9. And I watched it unfold all night. I went to bed disillusioned. My sleep was restless and burdened. When I awoke, the sun was shining. The beautiful and bright day felt like a betrayal. My puffy eyes and heavy heart reminded me of my fear. My fear for women. My fear for my LGBT family and friends. My fear for people of color and of faith.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it.”

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me…”

“Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States… “

And then I started sobbing. Not crying. Not sniffling. Not whining. Sobbing. It felt like a death to my idealism, my optimism, my belief that people would come together in solidarity with those most vulnerable among us.

I wanted to stay home. I wanted to shield myself. But I got up, dressed in black and headed to work. I cried once more on the bus and again while sitting at my desk. I saw other strong women around me wearing black and walking slowly.

This was a loss that stems beyond a candidate. It transcends a difference in political leanings. This was a loss that induced fear for the most basic of values: human rights and dignity for all.

***

I will not tell anyone that they shouldn’t be afraid. Growing up, my mom told me something that’s always stuck:

“You can’t be brave if you’re not scared first.”

Fear doesn’t have to be our final emotion. I believe it rarely is. And being brave is not an absence of fear. It’s action and faith in spite of fear. So, I will wake up each day and go to work. I will continue to fight for equitable systems. I will continue to stand up and say that I am here, and I’m with you.

My relationship with fear has deepened as I age. It no longer keeps me home.

It moves me.

To faith.

To question.

To stand.

To choose.

To fight.

 

Nevertheless, she persisted.

My story is mostly typical. When these things were said to me in person, from the pulpit and through writings, I did not question them. I thought they were all part of this truth.

God has given me an open and curious mind — on purpose, I think. Because of this mind, I can see the inequities I never felt before. And because I can see, I can hope for a better tomorrow.

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I am not these things. I am not these conflicting messages. None of us are. We can do better than this. That’s why I’m practicing sharing my voice now. In vulnerability. With love.

They never said a baby looked good on me.

This is silly, I know.

I was once holding a baby. I felt awkward, like the small babe just didn’t fit in my arms. She felt stiff, like she couldn’t relax. And maybe I couldn’t either. I have to admit, I don’t like how breakable babies feel.

I was only able to hold this little girl for a few minutes before she was whisked away by someone more capable. This younger woman, more confident than I, held the baby, swinging her back and forth. And it looked like they both (baby and woman) belonged. They both fit.

“She looks good on you,” somebody instantly said from over my shoulder.

The younger woman smiled and laughed, “Oh, no. Not yet.”

Tears welled up in my eyes despite how desperately I tried to suppress them. It’s silly, I know.

Infertility is many things. And, for me, one of those things is the feeling that I am not able to become pregnant because I am not good enough. At that moment, I felt inadequate to parent. Unable to mother. Too awkward. Too stiff. Too hesitant.

And my fears felt validated. That’s rarely a good thing. It seemed nobody else thought the baby looked good on me. So why should I want one so bad? What if God doesn’t think a baby looks good on me?

It’s a silly thought. I hope.

But, really, maybe motherhood will (eventually) look different on me.

This weekend I played “Anna and Elsa” with my niece, Clara. She just turned three. We ran in circles in the middle of my parents’ family room. We took turns saying lines from the movie. If you have to ask which movie, I’ll have to ask you where you’ve been hiding for the past few years.

“Do you want to build a snowman?” That was my line. I was Anna. Clara was both Elsa and director. She told me where to lay my head and which words to emphasize. Like the trained actor I am, I obliged. By the way, it’s, “Do you want to build a snoooowMAN?” not “Do you want to BUILD a snowman?”

Clara would say, “This is a special Frozen, because there’s no Hans in it.”

We can make up the rules can’t we? I watched her as she thought, and I watched her laugh, and I watched her watch me.

Who cares what other people say or imply or forget to say.

I make up the rules, and (I know / I hope) I’m going to be a silly, rockin’ mom someday.

Sad Calm

I once had this dream.

I was living in an old house. It was three floors tall and dangerously skinny. The house was leaning, but solid. It was skimming a silent, silver lake. The weeds and yellowing wildflowers outside were dusted with ice. The sunshine was cold and lifeless; and everything was gray — like an eternally impending rainstorm.

In most of my nightmares, I’m confused. I hate being confused. I’m a thinker. I like to figure things out. I like to understand. I like to know the answer. Confusion is born of lack of knowledge. So, in my nightmares, I’m confused.

But this was different.

This dream was a nightmare. Not because I was confused, but because of what I knew. In my dream, I knew I was spending my last day with my husband. He was going to die. And we both knew it. We filled our day with simple joys, and it was beautiful. And then we said goodbye. And that was it. He was gone.

I remember neighbors from my childhood home coming to grieve with me, though I remember feeling alone. I remember sitting on the floor of the third-story bedroom. The dusty hardwood beneath me. The homemade quilts on the bed. And the gray.

When I woke up, I sobbed. I woke Jeff up and hugged him with everything I’ve got.

The eery part of the dream, though, was the calm. Sad calm.

Last night, I watched this video. First, I felt bad for her family. Her husband. Her mother. They were going to experience one of those “last days” — like the one in my dream.

But then, I watched How to Die in Oregon. It’s a documentary film about the “Death with Dignity” law. It’s uncomfortable and difficult to watch, but that’s why I recommend it.

After the film, I felt sad and grateful and confused and enlightened. I had more questions than answers. I felt empathy for those people like they were my mom, husband, grandpa or grandma. I felt love for them and their families. I felt love for others like them, though they are unknown to me.

And, I realized, I can’t understand it all.

I’m not trying to convince anybody to pick a side on this topic. If anything, I encourage you not to pick a side yet. First, listen. Really listen.

“But let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all… See that ye love one another” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:122-3).

Honestly, I don’t know where I stand on the issue. I’m processing. And I think that’s a good thing. I’m grateful I can’t fully understand.

I’m grateful I don’t know.

I do know this: Last night I dreamt I was the sick one. And Jeff and I knew when my suffering would stop. And we were calm. Sad and calm.

Broken

I woke up quickly. A rude awakening, for sure. I felt a stabbing, searing pain below my abdomen — like my insides were a washcloth violently wringing. I stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom. This pain was familiar. Too familiar. In the harsh and blinding light of the bathroom, my half-formed suspicions were validated. Blood. Familiar blood.

I held myself tight and trekked back into the bedroom, seeking a rice sock and some ibuprofen. I threw the rice sock into the microwave. Thank goodness for unnaturally quick heat. With my steaming rice sock bandage, I shuffled back into bed.

By this time, Jeff had noticed my rummaging. I whined out my pain and broadcasted my dismay that I was unable to find the ibuprofen. Thankfully, Jeff was able to find a few safely stored away in a ziplock bag. A quick slice of bread, glass of water and a couple pills later… I knew from past experience that the pain would soon subside.

Except, there is another pain. One that is not diminished so easily. It’s the pain that asks why.

Just over a year ago, I was diagnosed with PCOS (Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome). Along with a host of rather unpleasant symptoms, I may not be able to bear my own children. In reality, in this life, motherhood may not happen for me. I’ve now experienced 21 months (but who’s counting?) of familiar, and unwelcome, blood — 12 of those knowing how I am broken.

But still I hoped. And this month I felt especially hopeful. I prayed in a way that reminded me what it means to “pray always.” I was in constant conversation with my Heavenly Father. “Heavenly Father, I know you can make a miracle in me. Please make a miracle in me.” “Heavenly Father, I know you can heal me, please bless us with a baby.” And on more difficult days, “Father, I believe you can heal me. Help thou mine unbelief.”

And I felt hope. And peace. And like the timing was right and good and soon. I felt trusted and blessed. And above all, I hoped.

But then. Familiar blood.

It is hard to pick up pieces of a broken heart and a broken hope. It is hard to remember belief when it is viewed through tears and hurt and questions. But, as always, I have a choice to make. And I choose to continue hoping and believing — even (and especially) through my brokenness.

Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

To the one next to me

My Love,

Right now you are in the other room. You have a yucky stomach flu. I made you some Jello, but it won’t be ready for another hour.

I have to say. Sunday was a great day, wasn’t it? I wish everyday could be like Sunday. I wish I could stay wrapped up in your arms until 11:00 AM. I wish we could always talk before we get out of bed. I wish we could always help each other cook and watch documentaries and take golden time naps.

I’m going to miss you as we fill our evenings with classes and work and classwork. I’m going to miss you as we get wrapped up in books and research and theses.

Luckily, we’ll still have Sundays. Sundays will be ours.

You are mine and I am yours. I’m so glad that the treachery and drudgery of life, while temporarily stalling us, only ends up bringing us closer than ever before.

I am amazed by your quiet strength and caring. I am astounded by your love for me, even in all my weakness. You are my hero, my love, and I’m so glad I get to spend the rest of forever as yours.

To many more Sundays with you.

I love you to the moon and back.

Love,

Your Meggie, Your Love