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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

Ode to a Saturday

A Saturday is a funny thing.

As an adult, I know I should use this day to get my crap done. I work all week, and I put off laundry and dishes and cleaning, and there are piles all about the apartment. It’s okay though. I know which is the clean pile and which is the dirty… at least I did on Wednesday. By Saturday, I have to go by the smell test. Smells clean? Good to go. Smells dirty? Move it farther away from the clean pile… It’s not a perfect system.

I know I should clean it all up on Saturday and get everything ready for the coming week. I should go grocery shopping and do some meal planning. I should make freezer meals and vacuum carpets. I should clean the shower and take out the recycling. I know what adults are supposed to do.

But, sometimes, I don’t want to be an adult.

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Sometimes I want grab a fork and scarf down half a watermelon straight out of the giant bowl.

And then I want to NOT go grocery shopping. I want to NOT spend a hundred dollars on food. I want to NOT have the self-check-out-lane voice yell at me to place my items in the bagging area.

And instead I want to go to the mall and buy a new hat. The new hat will look like I should wear it on the beach. It will make me want to go on vacation.

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So instead of doing grown up things, we’ll pretend we are on vacation. And we’ll road trip down to our old stomping grounds. And we’ll reminisce.

I’ll eat a donut for lunch. We’ll compare Dunkin’ Donuts with Krispy Kremes. And we’ll decide Krispy Kremes are superior because they melt in your mouth.

And we’ll pretend, for just a day, that it doesn’t matter what food we eat.

We’ll take the long way home and drive through small towns. We’ll look at dilapidated country homes and crumbling main streets.

We’ll catch a view we’ve never seen before. We’ll catch the sun glimmering on sacred stained glass and gaze at the vibrant tulips all around. We’ll scoff at big homes and wish for the small ones.

We won’t listen to NPR. We’ll listen to music. And we’ll hear “Magic” every other hour and sing along to Imagine Dragons.

We’ll stroll through the park, and I’ll do the unthinkable and use a park bathroom. Then we’ll decide it’s time to go home. But we’ll stop in Target on the way. We’ll find you a reading light and me a new backpack.

But we’ll still pretend you don’t have finals, and I don’t have chores.

I’ll love every minute of this wannabe vacation. ‘Cause I love every minute with you. We’ll do the chores and the studying later. There’s always Monday. For now, I’m just happy it’s a Saturday with you.

She Was Not Hid

I needed spiritual enlightenment.

I mean, I was seriously struggling. God seemed far away. My mind knew that he was there, but my heart felt abandoned. And it seemed like, if He was there, He didn’t care much for me.

Do you know that friend, in elementary school, that you had only when you needed them? You kept them around for desperate situations. Like, if all your other friends were busy or on vacation, then you would hang out. They were the friend you talked to when none of your other friends were around. Maybe you were that friend — the sometimes friend. Being that friend is not much fun. It feels like no matter what you do for your “cooler” friend, they will never like you as much as they like their “cooler” friends. You will always be their sometimes friend.

That’s the way I felt with God. It felt like no matter what I did and what I said, He was only there sometimes. He seemed to like all those “cooler” people better. He showered them with blessings and always seemed to be guiding their paths. When I was here stumbling through the dark and grasping for something to keep me from falling.

My head knew something that my heart didn’t want to admit yet, though. My head knew that God was always there for me. My head was certain that He would “not leave [me] comfortless” (John 14:18). My head knew that all I needed to do was ask him. Because my head knew the scripture, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). My heart knew it once, too. 

But this time I was hurt. I wanted Him to come to me just because He knew I was in pain. I wanted to be rescued. I got very close to insisting a very dramatic solution. If that required my wandering from His path, then so be it. I needed Him to prove to me that I was worth it. I wanted to know that I mattered to Him. I didn’t want to be the sometimes friend anymore.

How silly!

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t His sometimes friend. He was mine. He turned into my sometimes friend when I stopped praying to Him consistently. He changed into my sometimes friend when I read my scriptures (or not) and didn’t take the time to ponder and study them. He became my sometimes friend when I dreaded going to church on Sunday. Little by little, I let my attitude and actions make Him a stranger to me — which explains my irrational thinking and total misjudgment of His character.

Lucky for me, He is full of grace. And He never did leave. I befriended him by studying his words in the scriptures, earnestly praying for guidance and comfort and answers. Instead of reading verse after verse without processing the words, I began to study by topic. I let His spirit guide my study. Whatever topics latched onto my mind and heart, I studied.

First, I read about the phrase “Come unto Me.” Then, the story pictured above. You can see a video of it here. Basically, there is a woman with an “issue of blood.” Year after year, she is sick. She searches for cures from all the best physicians. She spends all her money. Yet, 12 years later, not only is she still sick, she is actually worse off than before. (Tell me you haven’t felt like this before — especially all you amazing women who are unsuccessfully trying to conceive.) This woman, with great faith, “came behind him [Jesus]” (Luke 8:44, Mark 5:2, Matthew 9:20) and said that if she can just touch His clothes, she will be made whole again. She will be healed. So she touches His clothes. And immediately the sickness she had dealt with for 12 years disappears.

First, I find it interesting that the woman came behind Him. That means she followed Him, right? And, unlike me, she wasn’t throwing a pity party or making a dramatic scene. No, she just knew that if she followed Him and got close enough to touch His clothes, she would be healed. She was sick for 12 years and had every right to be bitter, sad, disappointed and angry. But she wasn’t. She chose to follow Him. And because of that choice, she was healed. Because of her faith, in combination with her closeness to the Savior, she was made whole.

I must choose to follow Him, too. And not just from afar. I need to get close enough to Him to touch His clothes.

You know what happens next in the story? It’s so cool. The woman touches Jesus’ clothes when they are in a crowded city street. She touches His clothes and is completely healed. Jesus says “Who touched me?” The apostles look around at each other and the busy city street and answer, “Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou who touched me?” (Luke 8:45). In other words, there are people all around. We’re getting pushed every which way. How can you ask who touched you? But, guess what? Jesus noticed her. Among all those people in the street, He noticed her pain and her faith and her healing. This story is recorded in a few places in the Bible, but my favorite is recorded in Luke, chapter 8, simply because of this verse: “And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately” (Luke 8:47).

She was not hid. She was not hid. She was not hid.

And neither am I.

Though the woman in this story is nameless to you and me, she is not nameless to Him. History does not know her (but for this brief recorded moment), but He knows her. The crowd — and even the apostles — did not see her, but He saw her.

And now that I see I am not hid, I will “Come unto [him, for I] labour and [am]heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28). I will do all in my power to draw closer to Him that, one day, even if that day is 12 or more years away, he might say, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole” (Matthew 9:22).

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