The Impermanence of Things

Monday, October 15, 2018

The beauty of the desert
is not pink sands in purple sunsets,
not in the sweet smell of creosote in rain.

It is not the family of quail with their royal headdresses,
toddling together between bushes
finding their way home again and again.

It is not the expanding reach of the prickly pear,
nor the stubborn, staunch squat of the barrel cactus.

The beauty of this desert
is the impermanence of things.

In the time of the sun, heat seems to ooze from every crevice,
and the earth cries for relief.
Clouds move in and the dust rises to meet them,
greeting all the desert
with breaths of rushing wind and crashes of thunder,
God saying "Here Am I" by striking the flint of divinity
and pouring blessings on dry bones.

The rains keep falling, flooding, until one lonely howl from Coyote
raises the choir of eerie, longing voices
to stir up the ancient ache
of the need to belong.

Their chorus reigns until Saguaro's coronation,
her white and yellow crown
a nectar cup for bees to drink
and make honey.

Just before time starts it's strange cycle again,
it suspends itself between sorrow and celebration.
The Queen of the Desert
gives her ripened red fruit to the people, saying,
drink nectar.
Embrace your place
in the sacred, ordered chaos of reciprocity."

The impermanence of things
in this land of five seasons, not four,
bears the gift of presence.

In lives entangled,
the permanence of love
does not fade
with the impermanence of things.

Let Go and Let God: Another Narration of the Story of Job

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The poetic books of the bible (Psalms, Job, Ecclesiates, Proverbs, and Song of Solomon) are absolutely fascinating to me. A few weeks ago I was excitedly preparing for my ward's gospel doctrine discussion about Job in the bible. I began to understand his story it in a way I had not before, and for the strangest reason ever: right in chapter one, I started to wonder "What if Job had a little bit of OCD?"

We read in Job 1 that this guy had it all. He had flocks and land and a large family. Not only that, his family actually got along, which is rare, considering the many family feuds mentioned in the Old Testament. Everybody got together and "feasted in their houses, every one his day, and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and drink with them." (Job 1:4) As if this wasn't enough, we learn that Job is basically beyond all reprove, being "perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil." (Job 1:1) Practically perfect in every way.

Then I got to verse 5:
And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

When I received my OCD diagnosis, I was screened for a sub-type of OCD called scrupulosity. I did not exhibit any symptoms (a tender mercy for sure), but I learned a lot about it anyway. Scrupulosity involves obsessions and compulsions surrounding religious and moral beliefs. The basis of most obsessions is a fear of being punished or rejected by God for never being good enough. The corresponding compulsions are usually comprised of:

  • strictly following the rules
  • praying for hours and hours on end
  • compulsive confessions to clergy or in prayer
  • constant worrying of having offended God or the Holy Spirit
  • never being able to know if the thoughts in your mind are coming from Satan or the Holy Ghost, so one preemptively avoids the possibility of evil by singing hymns or mentally reciting scripture.

These things aren't bad in and of themselves, but they become a problem when they are done to excess. Here's what tipped me off about Job.

...for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

First, let us note that the scriptures don't say his children actually sinned - only that Job worried they did. Because he was so worried, he preemptively prayed and sacrificed on their behalf (as if that's even how repentance/divine forgiveness works). Not once. Not twice. Continually. Now, I can't definitively say that Job had scrupulosity, but it is apparent from these verses that for whatever reason, Job was anxious in his righteousness - to excess.

The story then goes to tell how God and Satan have a conversation during a meeting. Allow me some creative license. Or, if you like things straight from the source, you can read all about it in Job 1: 6-12.

"Hey Satan, why are you even here? Where did you come from?" asked God. 
"I've been wandering the earth to and fro, like you told me to." Satan said. 
"Well in your travels, have you seen Job? He's basically, like, the best ever*." said God. 
"Yeah, I've seen that guy. I've seen his house and his sheep and his family, too. Of course he's the best ever*, you gave him everything he could ever want." Satan said. He continued, probably still a lil' bit bitter from their last meeting in Eden, "I betcha if all that disappeared, Job would hate you." 
God said, "Hmmm, interesting theory. Let's try it."

Why would God do that? I mean, I hope God never says, "Hey Satan, have you met Channing? She's basically the best ever*." That sounds like trouble. Why would attention be called to Job, who has done everything right his whole life? Why would Satan be encouraged allowed to cause him pain?

So a ton of horrible things happen to Job. His flocks are stolen, his house falls down, and all his children die. All that is topped off with an affliction of boils all over Job's body. Job 1:22 makes sure to tell us that Job is still the best ever*, seeing as he "sinned not, nor charged God foolishly." Everyone also likes to note that his super-mean wife gave up on him and encouraged him to do the same.

Or did she?

Maybe its just the feminist in me who wants to say "Stop demonizing women in the scriptures." Or maybe, Job's wife might have seen something in him that needed to change.

 My experience of attending therapy to treat my OCD symptoms was this: it was a fight. Many sessions ended in sweat and tears. I had to wrestle with the parts of my mind that were trying to steal my life from me. I had to be consistent in objectively watching my thought patterns and actions. I had to consciously choose to do the opposite of what my brain was screaming at me to do, and it was terrifying. But the biggest battle I fought was over the part of myself that convinced me for years that the OCD Channing, the one who cleaned for 5+ hours a day and washed her hands until they were raw, was actually the best ever*. My brain's insidious message was that OCD version of me was even better than the real me.

The real victory came when I let my own ruthless expectations of perfection die. Only then, after the storm of intrusive thoughts had quieted, after I wasn't spending all my time fighting with two versions of myself, could the real "me" be re-birthed.

When I hear Job's wife say, "Curse God, and die," (Job 2:9) I hear compassion. I know how weird that sounds, but hear me out. I hear the voice of wisdom that says, "Do the thing you are afraid of and let this fear, which has overtaken your life, die." I hear a wife who wants her husband back.

The next 36 chapters are a long back-and-forth conversation between Job and his friends arguing about whether or not Job had sinned, thereby causing his unfortunate circumstances. A large amount of chapters contain Job's self-assured, defensive rebuttals to his friend's accusations.

Eventually, this cycle of self-reassurance morphs into something a little more insidious. I think the turning point comes in chapter 29. Its worth reading when you get the chance, but I'll give a summary here. Job, in essence, says this to his friends:

I remember the good ol' days when my life was perfect, when my house was in order and all my children were around me. Remember that, guys? Remember when I would walk in the street, the old men stood to honor me and the noblemen held their tongues? Remember when "the ear heard me, then it blessed me"? (29:11) I delivered the poor and the fatherless. I caused the widow's heart to sing. "I put on my righteousness, and it clothed me... Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel." (29: 14, 21) Remember when I was the best ever*?

Reading this chapter reminded me of something Christ said in Matthew 6:1

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward... 

Job's best ever* list in chapter 29 seems to me to describe the opposite of secret and hidden good deeds. Even if his service had been performed in a humble manner as described by Christ, that was not how it seems Job expected it to be received.

Job's heart was glad in the physical blessings surrounding him, including the social prestige and privilege he enjoyed . He assumed that these treasures had come to him because of his righteousness, and to a point that may be true. Choices have connected consequences. When righteous choices are made, the consequences are blessings. Put good in and get good out. Put bad in and get bad out. Right?

But here's the funny thing:

God is not a vending machine.

You don't put service
or tithing
or long-suffering
in the money slot
like a crisped five dollar bill

and have houses
and children
and friends
and a bag of chips
deposited to you after pressing A-6.

In chapter 31, Job issues a challenge to God to judge and punish him if he's done anything wrong. By Job's own account, he hasn't, because remember? He's the best ever*.

My favorite part of this story is when, in chapters 38 and 39, God answers all the voicemails Job left on his proverbial answering machine. The entire scene is basically a giant "Who do you think you are, Job?" Here's some highlights:

  • "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. (Job 38:2,3)
  • Where [where you] when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou has understanding. (Job 38:4)
  • Where is the way where light dwelleth?... knowest thou it, because thou wast born? or because the number of thy days is great? (Job 38:21)
And then in Job 40:2:

Shall he that contendeth with with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it. 

Translated: Come at me, bro.

Job is terrified.

But why? Hasn't Job been the best ever* this entire time? And now he's over here like, "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? (Job 40:4)

God's not done yet. He says, "Wilt thou disannul my judgement? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?" (Job 40:8)

that thou mayest be the best ever*?

that thou mayest be


Finally, Job understands. In chapter 42, he repents with these words:

"I know that thou canst do every thing (2)... I have uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. (3) I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. (5) Wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes. (6)

I can imagine Job in awe of God, finally admitting to himself and the Lord that his worship before wasn't really worship at all. "Vending machine worship" is a faith born of fear, not love. Now, after all that has happened, Job is ready to participate in a relationship with God that actually does "lay up treasures in heaven".(Matthew 6:20) God forgives Job and restores to him everything that was taken in the beginning of the story.

The story of Job holds many lessons, but the one I read teaches me of a God who wants to make mortals perfect. Did you know that the biblical meaning of perfect is "whole"? (ref)

God's message to Job
(and to all of us) is
let go:

Let go of the need to control
to perfect,

let go of the unreasoned obedience,
the compulsory shame,
the lifetime's score of saintly cause or sin, and

be unapologetically in a constant state
of worship of a God
who is and does majesty,
one who loves,
and creates.

Hope lies in Love, and
the price it asks
is not a ledger
nor the ashes of repentance,
but a marshmallow heart.

**I am indebted to this essay titled "I Had Heard of You, But Now My Eyes See You": Re-Visioning Job's Wife by Roger Scholtz, from which I gained the foundational understanding of this alternate narration.
**Also, I can't stop thinking about this post I wrote about the connection between pride and shame. I swear to you that I'm not tooting my own horn. I genuinely think the concept is fascinating.

I'm Channing. I'm a witch and a Mormon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Almost a year ago I had a really painful experience in my church.

I love to read. I am a lover of stories, especially myths and fairy tales. Over the summer of 2017, this love deepened into a curiosity about the archetype of the witch, a major character in old tales and ancient stories. I studied the history of pre-christian goddess cultures and nature worship, how women were systematically removed from positions of power and influence in their communities by "witch" propoganda, and what the patriarchy is. I wrote a bit more about that here if you're interested. This was my first real study on feminism and it was powerful. Life-changing. When potent women's issues were added to my interest in environmental sustainability, an ecofeminist was born. That, topped off with my intense love for religion and spirituality, forged me into a passionate, creative, and inspired activist.

For me, the archetype of the Witch became symbolic of a spiritual, earth-loving, feminist force for healing and good. I fell in love with the Witch - not anyone in particular, not any particular "practice" - but an image of a woman reclaiming her place in the world as an equal, as a spiritual guide and healer, as a protector and friend of the earth. When Halloween rolled around, I decided to really embrace the idea of stepping into the role of a powerful feminine figure by dressing up in a witch costume. I shared a picture and some heartfelt words on social media:

I got a usual amount loving words of support in response, but otherwise, this post disappeared into the immortal abyss of Instagram and Facebook with little fanfare.  One week later my husband and I were contacted by my local church leadership for a meeting. I don't want to re-hash the story of how, in that meeting, I was accused of witchcraft in this post, but you can read my detailed account of it here.

After that meeting, I also met with a higher church authority to get help handling what happened. I also ended up meeting with my local leadership again and was able to have some reconciliation and closure. I attended church the following Sunday. Everyone moved on.

Except me. I could not "move on".

Here I am, ten months later, still talking about "the witch thing". Part of me feels ashamed, as if me still talking about it is an indication of my own pride and inability to forgive. I am constantly beating myself up for thinking about it, constantly telling myself to "let it go". But this last month I've started to understand just how far-reaching the effects of that experience have been and the difficulties I've had healing.

For months after, I attended church feeling I had a scarlet 'A' sewn on my dress. Sometimes I walked in the building on Sunday afternoons and wanted to turn right back around. Church no longer became a place of solace and community for me.

To this day I don't know who to trust at church. Apart from a few people I don't know who is my friend and who thinks I'm a satanic witch. Am I welcome to attend Sunday meetings? Do the people in Sunday School roll their eyes at my comments? Are those whispers and laughs in Relief Society about me? Will someone tattle on me for talking about Heavenly Mother or loving the earth? I now lead the music in Relief Society and if I'm 100% honest I have some anxiety about standing in front of my fellow sisters, some of them the wives of the church leaders who accused me of satanic witchcraft.

I had a good, strong, friendly relationship with the children I taught before I was released from my calling as a primary teacher. Now, I see them in the hallways at church and hesitate talking to them, let alone give them the hugs they reach for. I wish I could tell them why the same primary teacher who made them necklaces, treats, and was making plans for a weeknight Moana movie and pizza party was suddenly so distant and cold. But I don't, because they are young, because I love them, and because my cheeks still turn red and my eyes grow hot with tears when I think of what happened to me. I am doubtful I will feel comfortable having a calling in or interacting with the children's and youth organizations in church ever again.

It is one thing to forgive. That happened last year, soon after the "witch thing" first happened. It is quite another to be re-traumatized every Sunday: every sacrament meeting when I'm looking at the stand, every meeting with leadership about callings, every time I go to Primary opening exercises to watch my daughter give a talk, every time I see the sweet girls and boys in my old class in the hallways.

Its been increasingly difficult for me to feel the spirit in church the last few months. I've only recently figured out why. Church is no longer a place where I can be vulnerable. I show up to church every week having studied the lessons and speaking the language, but I have hidden myself away into the closets of my shame. Doing so has made me angry, empty, and ready to pack up my broom and leave the church forever. I do not learn. I am not fed.

I am marah - bitter, like biblical Naomi.

I feel, since the "witch thing", I cannot be my whole self, especially at church. After ten months of splitting myself in two - a Mormon at church and something deeper every moment outside that - I realized I am dying inside. I'm living with my heart outside my body and dumbly wondering why I feel numb and empty. That is not wholeness. That is not peace. That is not reconciliation. That is not at-one-ment.

My battle cry for months has been "I am not a witch!" But something about that statement didn't feel right. I realize now that it was as close as I could get to the truth with the language I had to express myself.

What I meant to say is this: I am not evil. I didn't sell my soul to the devil; in fact, I'm quite fond of it, maybe even overly-protective sometimes. I don't believe in hurting people. I do not do the things people usually think of when they hear "witch" and "witchcraft".

I do consider myself a witch. The words "witch" and "witchcraft" carry meanings with them that incite feelings of fear, disgust, and shame. They invoke images of satanic worship, death, and warty hags cackling over a bubbling cauldron. This ability and imagery is a great example of what thousands of years of patriarchy and propaganda can do to the idea of a woman in her own power. But for me, being a witch is not about eyes of newts and riding brooms over a full moon (though that would probably be an amazing experience to be honest). Its about being a whole woman, at one with herself, her community, and the earth. Witchcraft is about healing, learning, and forming relationships with the same.

I believe in the equality of men and women. I believe that nature has much to teach humanity and gives us so much goodness. I believe it is my responsibility to have a relationship with and learn the language of the earth, so I do just that. I believe in conservation and sustainability. I believe that plants can heal. I believe that the earth, the water, and the celestial beings have meaningful things to say if I learn to listen.

I believe in the power of women, individually and collectively. I believe in their ability to teach, learn, grow, know, and speak. I believe in the healing and sustaining power of sisterhood. I believe a woman has rights to claim her own spiritual gifts, healing, and relationship with God. I believe in the eternal, tangible presence of a Divine Feminine, a Mother God, a Heavenly Mother.

I believe in the equality of women and men. I believe we are all affected by the influence of patriarchy and can work together to heal the wounds it has inflicted on us all - spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I believe in equality of all - not one is above another. God is no respecter of persons. Neither am I.

I believe in the healing power of stories. I also believe that ignoring the gifts of myths and stories from other cultures and religions as well as the stories of individuals is a conscious choice to cut oneself off from growth, understanding, and empathy.

I believe in God, Jesus, the Atonement, and continuing revelation.

I consider myself a strong, committed, righteous member of the LDS church. I will forever be reconciling my questions and answers, but that is what faith is about.

I am aware of the possibility of others reading this and 1. not understanding and/or 2. not agreeing that its possible to be both a witch and a righteous member of the LDS church. I accept that. I know that by describing myself as a witch that I open myself to the ridicule of others and the possibility of discipline from my church if someone decides my local leaders need to know about it. That's okay too.

I can say this: Never before have I been so committed to making the church I love so deeply and dearly better as I am now. Never have I been so Christlike as when I open myself to the experiences and stories of others, and vulnerably offer mine in return. Never before have I been so passionate about advocating for the "least of them". Church, if you decide to kick me out because I love the earth and Jesus, its a loss for both of us.

Why am I sharing this? Friends, I have to be vulnerable again if I want to genuinely connect with you. I have to give my whole self, not just the parts that are deemed "good" and "acceptable" by society. I've come to see that my inability to accept this part of myself has been a huge creative and spiritual block. I need to be brave and come as I am, be who I am, if I ever hope to have integrity and peace. I want to experience courage and genuine connection. Do you want to join me?

Hi, I'm Channing, and I'm a witch and a Mormon. Can we (still) be friends?

How the Enneagram Taught Me How to Love Myself

Friday, July 20, 2018

Have you heard of the Enneagram?

That's how I've started many conversations over the last few months. Almost every person I have talked to has not.

The Enneagram is a personality typing method. This is no Facebook quiz that asks you to pick five pictures and gives you a complimentary paragraph about yourself. Its a legitimate test that has been used and studied for a long time. There are nine different types, each with unique traits, characteristics, and purpose. To find out more about the history and how the method works, check out the Enneagram Institute's Overview and History.

Admittedly, I have known of the Enneagram for a few years but have been willfully ignorant of it, considering it to be a 'lesser' method compared to the Myers-Briggs method which boasts 16 unique personality types. More is more, right? My first introduction (and continued exposure) to the Enneagram was made by Anne Bogel. I've been following Anne on her blog Modern Mrs. Darcy for a few years and have loved her heartfelt and informative writing style. She has such a passion for personality typing, she wrote an entire book on the topic. When I saw "Reading People" at my library last year I checked it out with enthusiasm. The book spends time overviewing a variety of personality typing methods including the Enneagram, but it was not 'Reading People' that finally brought me to try out the method for myself. Instead, it was music.

When Anne included an announcement in her newsletter that a musician by the name Sleeping At Last was writing songs for each of the Enneagram types, I immediately took a test to find out which type I was. As a girl who has always harbored a secret dream of someone writing a song for and about me, I had to know: Which song is for me? What does someone love about me?

First I took this free Enneagram test here but I was unsatisfied with the results. I had a close tie between two of the types and I wanted a definitive answer. I made my way to the Enneagram Institute's online test. I think $12 is a really small price for the wealth of knowledge a test like this has potential to provide. Comparatively, the Myers-Briggs paid test ran about $70 a few years back (still a worthy investment). I took the 140 question test in about 15 min (fair warning, it can take upwards of an hour if you take tests at a slower rate) and got my type: 4. "I hope that means I'm special," I thought to myself as I clicked on the type descriptions. I laughed as I saw the title for the Type 4: The Individualist.

"Mmmkay, maybe the Enneagram is not for me," I said to myself as I read through my type description on the site. Apparently I am "The Sensitive, Introspective Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental". That doesn't describe me at all! I thought. I enjoy the friendship of others. I am polite and tactful and want people to like me. I take great pride in my Myers-Briggs type, ENFJ, "The Protagonist". Its one of the least common types (which I tell myself makes me special) and is very "people" focused, almost to a fault. ENFJs are extroverted, enjoy interpersonal relationships, love to encourage people to be their very best, and intuitively know what makes people "tick". This makes them great friends, problem-solvers, mentors, and teachers. Basically, I'd make a really bomb advice columnist. If I had really lofty goals I'd be a great human rights leader. Me, self-absorbed and temperamental? This test is wrong.

Brushing off my annoyance, I made my way over to YouTube to listen to the song for Type 4. I was hoping for a deep, touching experience. Something I could cry my eyes out over, ya know? Instead, I felt nothing. The test had to be wrong.

The test was indeed interesting. Even my official Enneagram Institute test results tied for two types: 4 and 2: The Helper. The "Caring, Interpersonal Type: Generous, Demonstrative, People-Pleasing, and Possessive". (Side note: I think its really interesting for an ENFJ to tie those two types) I wrote off the Type 2, as the results did mention that women can sometimes incorrectly type as 2 because of learned social behaviors and expectations. I was starting to get annoyed with the Enneagram and almost completely wrote it off. I gave it one last shot by listening to the Sleeping At Last podcast for the release of the Type 4 song. What I heard was life-changing.

The podcast is hosted by Ryan, the singer/songwriter behind Sleeping At Last. He also hosts guest Chris Huertz who is an Enneagram expert and the two of them spend a lot of time talking about each type. They highlight their strengths, inner landscapes, challenges, hurts, and advice for those in relationships with each type. Listening to Ryan and Chris talk about the Type 4 helped me fall in love with myself.

In summary, their discussion reveals Type 4s as deeply introspective. They seek the meaning behind being. They are incredibly sensitive to the nuances of emotion, experiences, and relationships. They have a rich inner world in which they explore the depths of themselves and the role they play in the world. They want to know, "What makes me significant? What meaning do I give to the world?" Certainly, this "self-absorbtion" can be viewed in a negative light, but it roots in a place of wanting to belong in a world, among other people that they see carry so much significance. In a healthy Type 4, this search for meaning grows into a beautiful fulfillment of purpose, both personally and in the community. Hearing myself described in this way healed the self-doubt and shame around my intricate, involved, sometimes heavy inner self. I felt seen. I felt loved. I felt celebrated.

I have a friend who is passionate about language and the power of words. In our conversations, we often celebrate when we discover new words and concepts. She often reminds me that having the language to express oneself is power. Though it may seem silly to some, personality typing methods such as Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram are more than just fun quizzes to feel good about yourself. They provide a framework to explore and discover oneself. For me, the Myers-Briggs test types my outward motivations and the way I interact with others. It was powerful when I was first introduced to it by my aunt eight years ago. The Enneagram is equally transformative for me because it provides me with a concept and language to describe my soul.

Ever since discovering this amazing language, I am obsessed with learning to speak it. I'm reading this book and encouraging those around me to learn about the Enneagram too. I am privileged to be married to a Type 3. My soul sister is a Type 2. My lovely twin-wife (that's what we call each other because our husbands are identical twins) is a Type 6. I love having real-life examples of each type because they help me understand the Enneagram better, and the Enneagram helps me know them deeper. But my favorite thing about the Enneagram is not how it helps me know others. I love it because it helps me know myself.

What are you waiting for? Go ahead and fall down the rabbit hole already! Here are links to every resource I've talked about here:

The Ennneagram Institute
Modern Mrs. Darcy Blog
Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel
Free Enneagram Test
Enneagram Institute Paid Test
Sleeping At Last Podcast
The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth by Chris Huertz
Four by Sleeping At Last
Two by Sleeping At Last
The Myers & Briggs Foundation
Myers & Briggs Free Test
Myers & Briggs Paid Test

And because I can't help myself, I have to know...

What's your type?

What Disney's Coco Taught Me About Heavenly Mother

Monday, June 11, 2018

My family has been enjoying watching Coco (1) since it made its appearance on Netflix in early May. The movie is a beautiful story of family and forgiveness. If you haven't seen it yet and don't want any spoilers, don't keep reading! Watch it and come back. It will be worth it!

I loved so much about this movie. The music and messages are beautifully interwoven to create a two-hour experience of color, culture, and adventure. I could go through and name everything that touched me about the show, but I'm not in the business of movie reviews. So I'll just tell you about when Coco collided with my experiences in church on Sunday.

In my Relief Society meeting we had a lesson about being a child of God (2). One of the questions that was asked during the lesson was "How do we become familiar with God?". I was surprised by the weight of the question. As I considered my answer, my heart began pounding. My body became really warm and my fingers got tingly. That is usually a signal from my soul that I need to share my thoughts. So I stood, and though my voice shook a little, I spoke.

"I'm really nervous to share this," I said, "but I used to think that the word "God" meant only Heavenly Father. As I grew and desired to know my divine nature more deeply, I studied and searched and found that I do not just have a Heavenly Father, but a Heavenly Mother too. In my studies, I learned that each of my heavenly parents have scriptural symbols that correlate to the mortal world, such as birds and trees (3). As I became familiar with these symbols, their characteristics, and what they had to teach me, I became familiar with my heavenly parents also. One of the most important lessons I learned from that experience was that if a tree or a bird could be sacred and precious to God, so can I."

I was too nervous to notice how my comment was received. One of my friends whispered her words of support and it comforted me. It took at least five minutes after I shared my comment for my heart to stop pumping so hard that I could feel the blood rush through my fingers. Why was I so scared to share my heart in a community of women I love and who love me? I think its due largely to the fact that the topic of Heavenly Mother, the divine feminine, is still kind of a hushed topic in LDS communities. Even though there is no doctrinal or prophetic ban on learning and speaking about her, she is viewed culturally as "secretly sacred". I worried well into Sunday afternoon if in breaking this unfounded and unspoken rule, I was willfully rebellious. I worried I had done something wrong. For whatever reason, every time I thought about my comment I felt shame.

I reached out to a friend who reminded me to focus on the most amazing part of the experience - the spiritual confirmation I received, accompanied by the unmistakable prompting to share, and that I listened and obeyed. Her gentle support was exactly what I needed.

My kids were watching Coco as I made dinner. As I listened and watched from the kitchen, I held my experience from church and the messages from Coco together and watched them weave beautiful music into my mind and heart.

The movie begins with young Miguel who feels called to music. His family has banned music thanks to his great-great grandpa, who was a musician and seems to have abandoned his wife and young daughter. The setting is in Mexico on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, the one time a year when those who have passed on to the next life can cross over to this life and share time with their families. If their family has the deceased's picture on the ofrenda, or family altar dedicated to ancestors, they can cross over. If not, they cannot. Early in the movie, Miguel innocently takes the photo of his great-great grandmother Imelda off the ofrenda. The plot really gains traction when it is discovered that Imelda cannot cross over to the living world because her picture is gone.

Watching that scene on Sunday night made me wonder, is anyone missing from my divine ofrenda? I am not of Hispanic descent, so I don't have a physical ofrenda. But the ofrenda's purpose is to remind the living of the stories and influence of those who came before them. That is not so very different than the LDS focus on family history. Members of the LDS church are enthusiastically encouraged to seek out their ancestors, learn their stories, find their pictures, and perform salvific ordinances on their behalf. It is believed that doing so not only is an essential part of missionary work but also gives a person a deep sense of belonging, purpose, and legacy.

I humbly submit that additionally, if someone is missing from the picture of our divine heritage, we cannot have a full understanding of our belonging, our purpose, and our legacy. I guess a good question we could ask ourselves, both personally and as an LDS community, is this: is anyone missing from my divine ofrenda? Is my divine family tree complete with photos and stories? Do I have personal visceral experiences with my divine parents?

When She is left off the table
She cannot return to us
for our thoughts
and memories
and hearts
are turned from her (4).

Later in the story of Coco, Miguel finds his great-great grandfather Hector and explains that "My whole life, there's been something that made me different and I never knew where it came from. But now I know. It comes from you." Miguel is talking about his love and talent for music. Because Hector was forgotten from the family - photos, stories, and all - Miguel does not have a complete understanding of the working parts of his life. Family legacy is passed down in stories and in DNA - we do not pick and choose our talents, affinities, and passions just as we cannot personally select our father's bright eyes, our mother's smooth hair, and our great aunt's nose for our physical features. Our mortal or our divine heritage cannot be nullified by simple erasure from memory. It is an eternal truth residing in our cells and spirits.

When we forget who we came from
our talents and gifts and callings seem a mystery.
We fear we do not belong.

and yet

She finds ways to reach us
through art and music and poetry.

Coco is full of song, which is poetry set to music. It is full of culture, showing that family reaches across all lines and divisions to unite people and give them a place to belong. Coco is full of art, thanks to many nods to the well-loved Frida Khalo. Art and music have power that words spoken or written on some random girl's blog do not - they reach through the senses straight to the feeling center. Straight to the heart, straight to the soul they travel, bypassing our prejudiced and hardened minds. They teach and soften us to truths and to Truths.

Coco ends with Miguel's grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, remembering her father and restoring a photo of him she had saved for decades. Hector's photo is placed on the ofrenda and the Rivera family story, which savored strongly of curses and hate and abandonment, is restored to one of love and forgiveness. The legacy is repaired. A family is healed.

Wholeness heals. Balance heals. We cannot claim to be children of a singular God. Eliza R. Snow says "the thought makes reason stare" (5). You can find it plainly stated right there in our prophetically-dedicated hymnbook.

I have mentioned before that I do not believe Heavenly Mother is "secretly sacred". In fact, just the opposite. I often find her pleading, "O remember, remember" (6).

I hear her call
in the gentle music of birdsong:
Remember me.

1. Coco, Walt Disney Pictures, 2017
1. Am I a Child of God? Elder Brian K. Taylor, April 2018 General Conference
2. A Thoughtful Faith Podcast with Rachel Hunt Steenblik
3. Malachi 4:6. Inspiration attributed to Mother's Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother by Rachel Hunt Steenblik
4. O My Father - Eliza R Snow, LDS Hymnal
5. Helaman 5:12


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I had difficulty sleeping last night. I laid in bed looking around the room. I could see by the dim light coming through the window the books on my dresser and the clean, unfolded clothes piled up on the chair in the corner. My husband breathed deeply next to me, our fingers laced over one another's like they always are as we fall asleep. After squeezing his hand one last time before letting go, I turned over and faced toward my bathroom. It was then that I noticed again a dim glow but this time it was not coming from the moon outside. A nightlight gently lit the room.

I remember the first few months after my daughter was born when I was up in the middle of the night feeding her. I bought my first nightlights then, plugging them into various outlets around the apartment so the darkness seemed less scary, less lonely. Those nightlights still light pathways from my kids room to mine, in case they need to find me in the night. The nightlights still light the kitchen for midnight drinks of water. They still keep me company on sleepless nights as witness to my restless mind and silent prayers.

As I looked out my bedroom door to my dimly light living spaces, I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort. Here was my home, my safe place wrapped in peace. Everyone was asleep, breathing deeply. I was alone in my wakefulness and yet surrounded by moonlight and night lights, my friends in the darkness.

My friend asked me earlier in the day how I was doing. I explained that truthfully, I currently am having difficulty engaging with any of my "feeling" capacities, which greatly stunts my creativity, my ability to interact spiritually, and many human capacities I normally pride myself on such as compassion, empathy, receptiveness, vulnerability, and desire to connect. As I thought further on it that night, I realized part of this may be due to a recent change in my OCD medication and part of it to my natural cycle. Usually in late spring and early summer my writing slows down as my mind shifts to other creative outlets. I also tend to lose interest in spiritual subjects for a while, focusing my efforts on temporal topics and physical acts like exercise, creation, and cleaning.

Instead of freaking out and worrying that I'm losing my spirituality or all my talents, I feel relaxed and accepting of the process. A huge part of this attitude can be attributed to my understanding of my cyclical nature. Moods like this have happened at this time of year before and it will probably happen next summer too. So instead of pushing my way through and beating myself up with my stick of perfection, I put down my keyboard and my pen and let myself rest. 

I tend to think of a spiritual person as always alight, basically on fire. Their testimony burns inside them. The flame of truth licks their tongues as they speak. Their hearts are warmed by the heat of a burning bush. Being a beacon, a pillar of flame is great for spreading light and searing in the savor of truth, but these last few months have taught me that being on fire is unsustainable for long periods of time. 

For all the love and talk of burning bosoms, I like to think God likes nightlights. 

His signature is inked in the things that provide a little light here and there. A prayer. A sacrament. A verse. A friend. 

The lower lights are outshone in daytime, when warm fuzzies and light are plentiful. But in the darkness where is comfort found?

In the gentle glitter of the night sky. 

When I wake in the night surrounded by a chill and fear of the great Alone,
the stars,
like nightlights,
paint my world in soft reminders.

Here are your friends:
the trees
the lizards
the earth.

Here is your family:
sleeping peacefully in a bed
which was nested promise by promise,
feathered with forgiveness.

Here is your life:
a pen resting on an open page beside
your very first marked book
with a gifted Chinese bookmark between its pages.

Here is your pain:
a bottle of Luvox on your counter and
you, still awake on the couch,
busy remembering.

Here is your hope:
Mrs. Annie, the old lady stranger
you met at the thrift store last July.
There is still time to invite her to Sunday dinner.

Here is your healing:
late nights, laughter and tears shared with friends,
Early morning snuggles with your babies in soft blankets,
freshly baked bread and your husband's kiss on your bare shoulder.

Psyche, Goddess of the Soul

Friday, May 18, 2018

The story of Psyche and Cupid is a beautiful, archetypal story that has been retold over the generations.

Psyche, the main character of the story, is originally Greek. Translated, her given name means "soul". You may have seen psyche referenced to in the modern medicine of psychology, and rightfully so. Psychology is the science of understanding and healing a person's inner world - not necessarily their mind, but their deep, complex, spiritual aspects.

Carol Gilligan, author of The Birth of Pleasure, encourages the use of this myth as a road map of the soul. The idea of "mapping a myth" inspired me to read this story in depth and find its guiding elements. I found that this myth teaches not only what the soul needs to find peace but how to achieve it.

Becoming familiar with the soul takes time. Unfortunately, years of experience can cloud the understanding of self. Luckily, with gentle effort and self-study, it is possible to become familiar again with this "forgotten", quiet voice. The story of Psyche, through the lessons Venus gives her, shows the way.

Sorting Seeds

As Psyche's first trial, she was given a massive pile of different seeds and grains to sort. Not a single grain could be out of place - not a single mistake made. At first, Psyche was overwhelmed by the task. Luckily, she had helpers. An army of humble ants came to her aid and did the sorting for her while she rested.

The act of sorting hints at a more sacred art than simple organization. Seeds and grain are nature's essential components of life. If Psyche's first challenge was to sift through them, to decide what is placed where, I think its a wonderful place to start - by individually determining what is most essential to life. I call this value-based living. Identifying what qualities and virtues are most important and valuable enables their prioritization.  I consider the ants to be a personification of the subconscious mind. If a person can hear their inner voice - the thoughts beneath the thoughts, the thoughts that create feeling - they able to identify what is most important to the soul. The soul already knows what is most important - one need only listen to the quiet voice inside to hear what needs to be heard.

Gathering Gold

Psyche's next task was to collect golden fleece from a flock of poisonous rams. When she saw the task seemed impossible, she walked to a nearby river and was ready to drown herself in it. Just before stepping in, a reed from the river told her the secret to success - to gather individual strands of wool left on the branches of trees until she had enough. Psyche, finding hope in the reed's message, was able to complete her second assignment.

This second task is essential for Psyche to learn to trust her inner self. Again, I look at the whispering reed as another personification of the subconscious. The inner voice, full of wisdom and experiences of its own, is able to guide success. It plays its part by whispering and gently guiding with nudges and hints on our journey. Dreams, personal poetry and journal entries, and visceral reactions to music and art are all ways the soul speaks. It is an act of wisdom to develop a trusting relationship with this inner voice by acting on the guidance it gives.

Sometimes the instructions given are unconventional, but they are unique to each individual and their circumstances and will not be ignored. In the myth, Psyche is surrounded by deadly animals and the temptation to drown in her sorrow. Stripped down to its archetypal bones, the story highlights a choice: act on the soul's direction or die. Deafness to the soul's voice is a willful acceptance of a death worse than loss of life - the death of spirit.

Fetching Water

The third task given to Psyche was to collect water from the River Styx in a bowl given to her by Venus. The river was nestled in the depths of treacherous mountains that not only were full of serpents but also continually crumbled and rebuilt themselves at will. For a mortal, these mountains were impassible.

Imagine Psyche sitting at the foot of these mountains, bowl at her side, filled with dread and the certainty of death. As she watched the writhing mountains, an eagle  appeared at her side. The eagle explained he had been sent by Zeus, the king of the gods, to assist her in this part of her journey. The eagle took her bowl in its talons, flew high above the serpentine mountains to the river, and brought Psyche her bowl full of dark water.

Life's experiences can sometimes push one to the limits of what they feel they can handle. The soul is keenly aware of ts limits. I believe these limits are divinely placed so the soul recognizes where it's obligation ends and others begin.

This is an opportunity to exercise faith. Whether faith is placed in divinity, a generous universe, or simply in the goodness of the human spirit, at some point one are required to reach out for strength and learning. It can be challenging to be vulnerable and allow space for this assistance, especially when  doing so in the past has brought let down and pain. But the soul knows the wisdom in connection. Trust and act on its encouragement to reach out and receive. Life was never meant to be lived alone.

Braving the Underworld

Psyche's final trial meant a trip to the Underworld, where she was to obtain a pearl of beauty from Persephone and bring it back to Venus. Just as she was to enter the Underworld, she was once again given advice from a nearby tower.

In order to make it past the giant, three-headed dog Cerberus that stood guard at the gates of the Underworld, Psyche must bring two honey cakes to give Cerberus - one for her passage in and the other for her return. On her journey, she will come across those who beg for her help. The tower explained that Psyche was to stop for nothing and never set the cakes down. She would not complete her journey otherwise.

Just as the tower promised, help was needed. An old man needed only a moment's assistance to gather sticks. Three old women asked for untangling wool for their weaving. As simple as the requests were, as much as she desired to stop and help, Psyche continued her journey without pause. She found Persephone and brought the pearl to Venus, completing the final step of her mission.

I believe each person is born with a life's mission, or a soul purpose. The missions vary in length, appearance, and purpose, but each brings value to the collective and meaning to the individual. Each journey is unique - and sometimes it follows unconventional paths. There are those who try to deter or detour the journey. Success may require a certain level of rebellion or shirking of the judgments of others. Sometimes detours are less sinister because they are merely distractions. When one chooses to hear the soul's direction clearly and follow its guidance, distractions can be avoided. Perhaps most importantly, one will find assurance to take the steps that lead to alignment with their true purpose.

 If this myth is a road map, where does it lead? 

After completing each of her given tasks, Psyche has become familiar with the voice of her inner self. 
She has learned to trust its sound by acting on her intuition. She finds humility by accepting both the limits of her mortality and the help of others. She appreciates the weight and influence of her soul purpose and seeks to fulfill it without pause. With this earned insight, she sees that the tasks given to her were lessons rather than punishments.  In summary, she has become a well-rounded, intuitive, and wise woman who understands her worth. This is a reward greater than pearls and rubies.

At this point, Cupid re-enters the story. He beholds Psyche in all her glory and remembers his love for her. Zeus transforms Psyche, making her a goddess (elevating her to a more fitting nature) and she and Cupid are married. Shortly after Psyche gives birth to a daughter named Pleasure, and fittingly so - for what greater peace can there be than to live in one's truth and find love there?

Originally published in Strong Yellow Soul Magazine, February 2018

How to Encourage Women Struggling with Mental Illness

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

When a friend or loved one is in the midst of a struggle with mental illness, it can be really tough to know the right things to say. This is especially true if she is newly diagnosed or has not received treatment. Even as someone who has a clinical diagnosis of OCD, its sometimes hard for me to muster up anything other than an honest "I know. I've been there. I'm sorry." when confronted with emotionally charged conversations.

Would it be helpful to hear some of the more brilliant things I've said or heard along my journey, either in conversations with friends and family or my therapist? I hope so. I want to share the most encouraging words of support I've both given and received about coping with mental illness. The following are the examples and their accompanying encouragement.

"I don't want to talk to anyone about this (doctor, therapist) or get help. Its scary."

Its SO scary, right? Its completely normal to feel hesitant to share how you're feeling with anyone, especially a stranger. They don't know you. They don't know all the things you're good at. They don't know what I know about you - that you're an amazing person and capable of great things. But I think you'll find that talking it out with them might help. Hear me out. They may not know you personally, but they know the brain and they know depression/PPD/OCD etc. You felt better after talking to me, right? They are here to help and listen too. They have special skills like knowing what to look for, how to give you a proper diagnosis, and how to help you with medicine and therapy. They can help you in ways that I can't!

I know its super scary because you've never done it before. But you're brave, you're strong, and you can do this. (Once they are ready:) How can I help you? Do you need help finding a psychiatrist? Do you need someone to go with you to your appointment? Do you need a babysitter for your kids? Let me know how I can help you!

"I am a bad person/mom for feeling this way/having a mental illness."

I understand how you could feel that way. There's a lot of bad energy/juju around mental illness. But here's the thing. Mental illness is just a physical thing. Your body had some bad luck. Seriously, what probably happened is that the universe read the hormone recipe wrong and you were born with some kind of weird cocktail that makes up this illness. It didn't even bother to send a note tied to your toe to let anybody know in advance. What the heck, right?

Your mental illness has everything to do with your body but absolutely nothing to do with your soul. To quote the fabulous C.S. Lewis, "You are not a body. You are a soul. You have a body." Your mental illness does not change your love for your family, your spouse, or your friends. It doesn't change your limitless creativity or your beautiful voice when you sing. It doesn't change how smart you are, how kind you can be, how hardworking your heart is. It can, however, change how strongly you feel those inner qualities and how you're able to act on them. Because your body is what you live in, it does affect you. To say otherwise would be a heavily sugar-coated lie. But your illness doesn't change the most important things that make you who you are. 

"I'm afraid I am crazy/going crazy. The real kind of crazy."

I bet so many people who have (insert mental illness here) feel that way too! Can I tell you a secret? Everyone is crazy.

Your mama? Crazy. 
Your husband? Crazy. 
Your bff? Crazy. You know it too.
Your frenemy? Cray cray.

Everyone here is crazy. Don't buy into the spectrum thing either. No one is more crazy than anyone else. We are all here with our own challenges, secrets, and inner demons that we grapple with every day. Crazy is just a word that people use to define something or someone they don't understand. Don't let that define you.

And if you're really worried about being 'crazy', let me put your mind at rest: If you had actually lost your mind, you wouldn't know it AND you'd be thrilled. Do you feel ignorant and blissful? No? Okay. You're just as sane as me. *cackle cackle cackle*

"People are going to judge me."

Yeah, they probably are. Jerks.

What matters is that you are taking care of yourself. The people who really matter, like your spouse and your children, they need you. They need you so much more than you need the people who will judge you for having a mental illness/taking medication/being in therapy. You need your health and peace more than you need judgement. There are people in your life who love you no matter what. Listen to their voices and tune out the others. Also, the haters have no room to talk *see "I'm afraid I'm crazy" point above*.

"I want to die."

*If someone says this to you, find help ASAP. I suggest the 100% confidential National Suicide hotline or calling it yourself. Is there anxiety about calling? That's okay, the Crisis Text Line has you covered.*

Those are really tough and scary feelings to have. I'm so sorry that you have had to carry them for so long. I'm here to help. Here's some ideas I have (mention the hotline, text line, ER, therapist, whatever resources you have available). Which sounds best to you? How would you like to move forward with this?

"Why is this happening to me?"

Why do you have brown hair? Why do you have freckles? Why are your feet size 8 instead of size 5.5? Why does your sis wear glasses and you don't? Its just a part of how your body was made.

Does it suck? Yes. Is it difficult and inconvenient to deal with? OMG yes. It might be awkward at first, but as you become more familiar with your mental illness you will learn that this is just another part of you that needs to be loved and accepted. *See also "I'm a bad person" and "I'm going crazy" points.*

"I feel like this will last forever" and its cousin, "I don't want to deal with this anymore."

*This phrase most often comes when someone has been struggling for a long time without help or are newly diagnosed. Its just part of the process.*

It sounds like you've been feeling this way for a really long time. I can't even imagine how difficult that's been (or if you can because you have mental illness too, its okay to say so). I am so proud of you for being strong and brave while you dealt with those feelings. Seriously, you are a freakin' star! And I'm even more proud of you for reaching out and getting help. Once you talk to someone/start medication/get a few months into therapy those feelings will start to subside a little bit. You do not have to carry that load alone any longer. You have good support and help now. Soon you'll feel a bit lighter. Hang in there. You're almost there. You can do it!

"This is too much for me to handle."

You're right. This is too much for you to handle, because you're just one person, right? You're just one person.

Well, Just One Person, I'm really excited to tell you that this is not too big for you with your spouse, your family, your friends, your therapist, and your doctor to handle. You have an awesome support group. Between all of them, you all can handle the load together. They are your team and they are there to help you. You don't have to do it alone anymore.

A note for friends and family of those with mental illness

If your loved one has confided in you, it has taken tremendous courage on their part to open up to you. They trust you and your relationship enough to risk sharing their thoughts and feelings of shame, worthlessness, hopelessness, and fear. Honor their bravery by receiving them with unconditional love. 

The words you speak in these moments are powerful. Do everything you can to make them compassionate. Be honest if you're not sure what to say or do. In some cases, the best thing I have done is ask the person what it is they want me to say or do. Sometimes I speak the words they give me. Sometimes I give a hug. Sometimes I help them find help. Its okay if you've never dealt with this before. They never have either. Its okay to figure it out together.

That being said, responsibility for their healing does not depend on you. You cannot go to appointments for them. You cannot do their homework for them. You can't take their pills for them. You can't be mindful for them. They must do these things themselves. You can support them in their journey but healing is 100% their job.

·  ·  ·

Friends, I hope this gives you some good ideas for helping someone who is relying on you for support and encouragement. The most important parts of being there for someone who is struggling is to be kind, understanding, and a good listener. Be honest and be yourself. My style is pretty humorous and sarcastic because that is how I deal with hard things; however, I am very careful to never make fun of someone struggling or make a joke at their expense. I am on their team and I see it as us against the problem. Your style may be different but no matter what it is, if its empathetic, supportive, and loving, it will always be the right thing to say.

Has someone shared encouraging words with you about mental illness? Have you shared any yourself? I'd love to hear them!
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