I Rely On the Wisdom of the Divine to Guide Me - Vision Board Series Part 1

Tuesday, December 10, 2019




This is the mantra for the image titled The Old Astronomer by Charlie Bowater (click the link for the image)

For so long I have given my belief away.

I have absorbed messages from parents, leaders, my religious community, and prophets that have injured my heart, stunted my spiritual growth, and borrowed my power and labeled it with words and ideals that do not match my innate purpose and worth.

I have relied on their permission, acceptance, and validation as both a rubric for my spiritual development and proof that I am loved. Though I have sought for the better part of my life to be a good girl, to keep my shoulders covered and my skirts an appropriate length, to keep not only the commandments of God but of culture too, the truth is I am rarely gifted with either permission or forgiveness. Thus my spirit has largely made its own way, relying on a single guiding star with ever-changing names: Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, God, Heavenly Mother, the Divine, Love, the Universe; talking about my testimony at eight years old I said to my best friend, "I don't know what to call it, but I know there's something out there. Is it God? An all-wise and loving octopus? I'm not sure, but I feel it in my heart." How wild. How creative and full of sincerity and wonder.



At some point, everything I learned about the religion I was raised in fell apart. As my knowledge base grew and developed, my faith came under severe scrutiny. At the peak of my doubting and questioning, external events provided a unique opportunity for decision - did I believe enough in LDS teachings to justify staying or was leaving the right answer for me? If you know me, you'll know I've been an active and faithful member my entire life - the last two years have been no different. Church history, culture, and teachings are pretty wild, but they are also beautiful, deep, and meaningful. The LDS church gives me a framework and language in which to explore, communicate, and develop my faith and understanding of the nature of God. But if I'm wholly truthful, it is not my everything. It simply can't be - the church, its leaders, and its people are limited. I refuse to wait any longer for top-down instruction and permission to develop in the depths and directions my spirit takes me. To do so would be an act of willful ignorance against the greatest spiritual asset I have - my intuitive and intimate connection with the Divine.

When I am in sync with this inner voice, I am not called to the chapel, not called to scripture, not called to conference talks or articles in the Ensign, not an Instagram account, not a hands-on-head blessing of any sort. I am not called to exotic places in the great wide world, not even to the mountains and forests a twenty minute drive from my house. The call I hear comes from right in my chest. Sometimes I think if I pound on it hard enough with an open hand I will feel her in there, reaching out and poking me with a tree branch. She says, "Walk outside. Listen to the trees. Dig in the earth. Talk to the birds. Care for the snakes. Look people in the eyes when you speak to them. Finally, only after all this is done, write down what you have learned. Share generously."



That sounds unlike any church I have ever worshipped in. But I can't explain what or why the voice tells me to what it does. To eat the bread and receive a blessing from the pastor at my friend's Lutheran church. To light a candle - who knows what for - at a gigantic, gothic Catholic cathedral in Manhattan. To bow reverently and say the most sincere prayers of my entire life in a single namaste at the end of every yoga practice. To dance, to sing, to scream, to laugh loudly with abandon, and be fully and unapologetically human. To give voice to the rage, the confusion, to both heartbreak and hope. To speak words of genuine encouragement and love over a friend who vulnerably shares her decision to leave the church. When a day is filled with worship like this, my heart rests in the melody of a peaceful lullaby: well done. Well done.

My worship and spiritual practice is a graceful, evolving embodiment of the holy woman Mary Oliver's poem, Wild Geese. I share it here with love and gratitude: 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


Being good is overrated.

Be wild.

Be free.

Notes on Birds, Sunflowers, and Belonging

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Moving to Utah broke my heart.

I did not make it to Syracuse in one piece. The woman I was last year - my wild, creative, brave self I most love and value - stayed in Arizona. I could not pull her away from Saguaro. She fought tooth and nail to stay.

I had to make the move without her. My husband needed his wife and my kids needed their mom. For over a year, she and I have lived apart. Doing so opened old wounds and hiding places of anger, which I see now is good and necessary. But in the process, it felt very much like a small series of deaths.



Despite my judgement and fear, Utah has worked its subtle magic on me. The credit goes to the birds. For a year I have watched them from my kitchen window. I've identified over 10 species of bird that visit my backyard at any given time of the year. The family of sparrows that helps me pass the winter. The robin I really, truly, cross-my-fingers-poke-my-eye saw pulling up an early morning worm in April. The magpies that incessantly harass the sparrows in late winter. A hawk that took cover from an especially harsh winter storm in the vine on my fence. An American Goldfinch that enchanted everyone at a small family bonfire with its bright yellow tail. The springtime starlings that eat the seed from the feeder before anyone else can get to it. Crows that come for a feast of walnuts in the fall, their murders everywhere. The single bluebird that visited once in summer and never again.

And the seagulls. What more can be said for this seemingly obnoxious bird except that once, in early June, I heard the strangest sound. Why I remember it so clearly, I'm not sure. I was standing on my sister-in-law's front driveway. I placed my hand on the door handle of my mini van, the gold paint glimmering in the fading summer sun. Just as I was about to pull the door open, screeching music fell from the sky. It was unmistakably seagull, but instead of the usual "cah - - - cah - - - cah - - -" and momentary silence between calls, it was "ca-ca-ca, ca-ca-ca". So strange and unfamiliar was a hurried and desperate call from this bird, one that would soon as snatch a fry from your plate on the tables of the many Bear Lake "Best Raspberry Shake" shacks, that I looked up in wonder. The call came from a young gull. His wings were still shaky. He swayed back and forth in the wind like an unoccupied swing in a dust devil. He was terribly alone up there too - I could not see another gull in the sky for miles. The lake wasn't too far off, and I imagined his flock wouldn't be either. It was getting dark and I was a bit worried for his safety. "Go home!" I whispered to him. The answer came strong.

"I'm looking," he said.
"I am new here, too" I said.
He and I both
lost and in a hurry
to get back to something better.


Soon after that day in the driveway, I went to a work party hosted at my husband's boss's home. I watched my kids jump on a trampoline in the backyard. The fence was just high enough that I couldn't see the street. The tall trees lining the yard (and all the neighbor's yards too) gave the impression of a seclusion. The sun was just starting to dip below the horizon and the sky turned all my favorite sunset colors - it looked like the orange Creamsicles I used to eat drip-drip-dripped onto the pink sidewalk chalk I drew hopscotch squares with as a child. It was a surreal experience being briefly suspended in time. What a slippery, Jello-sweet moment to feel like I was seeing a classic Arizona sunset, and then to hear unfamiliar laughter behind me. Later, my husband's boss asked me how the move had been for me. I was honest.

"It's been hard," I said. "I miss Arizona so much."
"What do you miss about it?" he asked. "I'm not trying to be rude or pry, I just really want to know."
I took a deep breath and a quick inventory of my feelings, trying to decide if I should share all the details with a man who had no idea what I left behind.

"Well, my best friend Elise still lives there. It was hard to leave and have to navigate the changes that brought to our friendship." I said, almost stopping there. But no one had asked me about Arizona for six months.

"I miss Bell Road, where all my favorite stores were five miles away. I wonder if they ever finished that Costa Vida right before 83rd Ave, where the Carl's Jr. used to be? I don't know, and it bothers me still. I miss Pita Jungle. What I would do for some garlic potato dip, some jalepeno cilantro hummus, and two puffy greek pitas. I miss the Glendale library. And I miss the Skunk Creek trail I spent hours walking, documenting in my notebook the difference between the eucalyptus tree's thorny black trunk and the Palo Alto trees that blossom in March. I miss the perfect teal-to-purple ombre of opuntia macrocentra and I miss the Saguaro. I had to give all my cactus plants away before I moved. They would not survive Utah. It is simply not the same here."


By this time my breathing became rushed and hurried like the young gull's call. My eyes filled with tears. I immediately felt immense shame about being so candid, worried my grief sounded bitter full of blame.

He looked at me and gently said,
"It sounds like it's been really hard for you.
You're right. Utah doesn't have any of those things,
but we really are so grateful you are here."

His words, brief but genuine, opened up a space inside me that was just large enough to hold a small piece of Arizona me. It might be safe here after all, I thought.



In May, I headed to the foothills in Bountiful to take a field class on edible and medicinal herbs and plants of the Wasatch front. Most of the plants we learned about were not native to the area. At first I was confused - this was a class about plants of the western Wasatch front, right? Why waste my time on a class learning about plants that could be found in most of the contiguous US? But during the four hour class taught in rain and near-freezing temps I also learned that these non-native plants had, for the most part, settled beautifully and respectfully into the local ecosystem. Maybe I could learn something from the wild, healing balsamorhiza sagittata.



Twice this summer I found myself at Bear Lake. When I was a child, I used to play in the shallow beaches at Lake Powell and Lake Mead.  One of my favorite things to do was to shell search, and because an invasive mussel species was thriving in those waters, there was never a shortage of shells. Thanks to the Utah Division of Fish and Wildlife has been so vigilant about keeping Bear Lake clean, there were no shells. I really am truly grateful for that, but it was a surprise to me to visit a lake and find limitless large, smooth stones, but not much else. On the trip when it was warm enough to play at the lake, I laid on the beach for some time. With my feet in the water and my stomach on the sand, I watched the waves roll in and out, in and over, in and under my body. Only, it wasn't just sand. With every wave, rocks the size of a lavender seed along with thousands of pieces of broken shells rolled in and out, in and over, in and under my body. Every once in a while I would find a full, intact shell.

What a strange lake
to not even have
shells the size of a box elder bug!

What a strange place
with shacks on all four corners of Main Street
each selling the World's Best Raspberry Shake
made from "real Bear Lake raspberries"
on Raspberry Days
when raspberries haven't grown wild here in thirty years!



When I got home from the lake, I hopped in the shower and stripped my swim suit off. As I did, small rocks and shell bits fell from the folds of my suit and onto the porcelain floor of the bathtub, making small clink-clink-clink sounds reminiscent of crystal glasses and real silver flatware you'd more likely hear in an upscale restaurant instead of a private bathroom.

As a young teenager, my Aunt Di introduced me to one of my favorite traditions. She'd pour sparkling apple cider into real crystal champagne glasses and give one to every person in our group. We'd each take a turn celebrating the things we loved most in life, and after each annunciation we would all shout "Cheers!" and clink our glasses together, making sure to hit every one. "To Reese's Pieces on top of yogurt!" she once said, remembering the time I came to visit her house at 12 years old and introduced her to the delicacy. She didn't like it much, but always kept it in stock when I came to visit. "Cheers!" we'd all say, laughing. I felt so seen and loved in that moment. "To fireworks! To scrapbooks! To trying on pants three sizes too small!" Eventually "Cheers!" ended with the circle falling apart into a chaos of giggles.

Clink-clink,
an invitation.

"To belonging
nowhere.
everywhere.

here.
now.
then.
there.
trees.
cactus.
coyote.
sparrow."

"To coming home
to yourself
again."

"Cheers!" I said softly,
brushing the last bits of
shell and sand
from underneath my left breast.




Is it possible
for a place to lodge itself in the crevices of the
heart and body?

I spent the summer gardening. It seems like a far-away dream now, another life entirely, to remember the zuchinni plants waist-high and bearing fruit faster than my entire neighborhood could eat it. Pumpkins sprawled over and out of the small corner of the yard I had given them, in return giving me over 15 large gourds and countless small ones. Sharing them with the children in my neighborhood was honestly the highlight of autumn for me. And the sunflowers - oh! How grand and regal they stood, some twelve feet or more tall! I loved hearing the kids walk by on their way to or from the park and school, saying "Look at those sunflowers! They are huge! I want to take one home!" And occasionally, when an offshoot branch had a particularly beautiful bloom, I would cut it off right then and there and hand it to the passerby. "I have flowers enough for everyone," I said, making a mental note to dedicate more garden space next year for cut flowers. The children's smiles were always thanks enough for me, whether flower or pumpkin. Gardens really do bring people together.



In September, I went with my twin wife (my sister in law, we are married to twins) on a fall leaf hike. The mountain trees always start and finish their autumn celebrations earlier than the valley. By the time we arrived with cameras in hand, the branches were already bare. Disappointed yet undeterred, we went on the hike anyway. About a quarter of the way into the hike, a small, shallow creek ran its way through the trail path. It was wide enough that we couldn't clear it with a leap over. We'd have to walk. I was wearing waterproof boots - crossing the river was not a challenge for me. But Kyla had worn tennis shoes, and had she tried to cross like I did, she'd have wet feet and be miserable for the rest of the hike. As Kyla carefully chose dry stones scattered along the river path, I stood in the water and held her hand as she stepped from stone to stone, making sure she kept her balance.



Why me? I am a stranger to this land, and though I've been begging for the better part of the year for this desert rose to open her secrets to me, I have had no response. I have no business guiding people across rivers they already know. And yet, as the clear, cold water ran over my boots, I felt like the land spoke back to me.

You came here ready 
to fall in love
to be taught
to find a place.

Not many people arrive here
calling to know the land.

We had to be sure you were willing. 
What have you learned?

As I held Kyla's hand
my heart answered,

Sparrow says there is joy in community.
Crow gives permission to go about my purpose unfettered.
Aspen shows me that every place is the perfect place.
Vine teaches me persistence.
Snake is gentle and embodies respect and reciprocity.
Sunflower shows me fame is short but seeds last forever.
Honeysuckle teaches evergreen sweetness.
Apricot tree is generous.



"I have not left my back yard," I said, feeling ashamed.

You don't need to. 

Welcome home.

Kyla crossed the river successfully with dry shoes, not knowing the woman beside her had transformed completely from one bank to the next.



Over the next few months, Wild Channing said a slow goodbye to Arizona. I think she flew home to me on the same November flight as Elise, knowing she'd need a companion for the trip. Elise eased and completed my transition with her signature love, adventure, and compassion. Our weekend together - which mostly comprised of sitting in front of various paintings, eating delicious food, and talking til our mouths were dry - taught me that love will follow me wherever I go. When Elise boarded her return flight to Arizona, I no longer felt the stinging loneliness that had been my companion for over a year.

Welcome home Channing

the land spoke to me again.

"Cheers!" I said, this time with my whole heart.




Cookie Dough Covenants

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

My daughter was nine months old when I ate raw cookie dough for the first time after being pregnant. It was delicious, crunchy, and melted right in my mouth. That night, I began to feel a tummy ache beginning. With a sinking stomach I remembered eating the cookie dough. My worry that I had caught some uncurable strain of Samonella grew as the hours passed, even though no symptoms of food poisoning ever began. In the middle of the night, sick with nothing but a crushing sense of worry, I said a quick prayer.

"Please God, don't let me die. My daughter is still so young and she needs me. If you save my life just this once, I promise to never eat raw cookie dough again for as long as I live."



Feeling that my bargain was satisfactory, I fell asleep. I didn't get sick. I faithfully kept my end of the bargain for years. One day, when telling this story to some friends, my friend Lauren asked me,

"Do you still eat over-easy eggs?"
"Yes," I said, confused.
She laughed. With a gentle smile she said, "Channing, that's really not any different than eating cookie dough. It is still, essentially, eating raw eggs."

I was horrified. I broke my promise without even knowing it! An immediate sense of guilt set in. For a few days I wrestled with the new understanding. I slowly came to a heartbreaking realization. My extreme and desperate cookie dough covenant perfectly illustrated what my understanding of God was, and what I saw was terrifying.

I imagined God to be observing me through some kind of "earth security system," waiting for me to fail not only at my Cookie Dough Covenant but the hundreds of promises I had made. When failure did come, I imagined God to come up with an elaborate scheme through which he would administer my punishment. It would be intricate and hit me always where it hurt most: death. Losing my husband. Losing my child. At the moment of punishment, he would sit on his high and white throne and let loose his swift and justified "godly anger" with a smile.

This story I had absorbed about the nature of God was so entwined with my lifetime of church education, my OCD, and my childhood trauma that it took me years

years

to eat cookie dough again.

My first post-fast spoonful wasn't revelatory. Honestly, its not really memorable at all, except for one brave act of defiance that went with it. As I tasted the raw dough, crunched the chocolate chips between my molars, and savored the texture of the sugar crystals, I turned my thoughts to God and said,

"I dare you.
Do your worst."

Then I waited. I watched for signs of epic Salmonella poisoning. When it didn't come, I waited more. For what I wasn't sure. A surprise car crash? Falling down my apartment stairs and dying? The apocalypse I was sure to burn in? I looked over my shoulder for months, fully expecting to find death and misfortune following me. None arrived. Eventually I relaxed into my rebellion and decided I had caught God on a good day and got off lucky.

It wasn't until a few years later that I was exposed to new language and understandings about God. Through many books and podcasts I listened to, I learned about two different images of the Divine - the Angry God and the Loving God. I recognized Angry God immediately. He was the God of my Cookie Dough Covenant. He was the God who was always watching me, waiting for me to fail. He was the one who made the rules and turned people to salt for not following them. This was the God who destroyed cities, struck people dumb, and sic'ed whales on proud prophets. Quite frankly, I felt like he was outta control and needed to reign it in a bit.

But I did not recognize Loving God right away. It took me time to understand what unconditional love meant. As hard as I tried, it was impossible for me to see Loving God as male. There was too much trauma for me there. Too many bishops shaming me. Too many men using their priesthood as privilege over me. No, I could not know Love as male.

I went in search of my Heavenly Mother. I found her in all the unexpected places. I learned to trust her, to see her flavor of love work inside and outside of my heart. I learned to recognize Love everywhere - in the trees, the earth, the birds, people, places, my own reflection. Only after resting in this love for a while could I bridge the gap between Mother and Father and bring them into a loving whole. Unconditional Love is the God who has my heart today.



My conversion to Love required me to examine every part of my spiritual beliefs. It still does. Being a faithful, active LDS member often brings me to a crossroads of the paths of the Loving and the Angry God. There are a lot of gospel and cultural practices that I question. This causes me great anxiety sometimes because hanging in the balance between eternal life and damnation is not a comfortable place to be. But if I'm completely honest, I do question the necessity and health of some of the "saving" ordinances of my faith. Baptism? The ritual itself is beautiful. The covenant to love God and serve others is about as good as things get where promises are concerned. But is it necessary? Necessary, defined as "needing to be done to be fully accepted by God and have greater access to blessings"? I'm just not sure. As I move down the checklist of ordinances, practices, and experiences I've been taught are expected and necessary, I become even less certain.

My experience with some of these ordinances and practices have been acutely painful. My endowment was one of the most layered traumatic experiences of my adult life. Wearing the sacred garment causes me to have, at best, heavy and condemning body image shame and at worst, intense and horrific PTSD flashback episodes. Considering these moments in my life, I have to question the validity of claims that these terrifying experiences are "life-saving", let alone life-giving. Surely, surely, a Loving God would not require these things of me. Surely Love exceeds expectation. That is my prayer, anyway.

When I think of Loving God, I think of looking out at the meeting of sky and sea from La Jolla Beach in San Diego, California. I can't pinpoint exactly where one ends and the other begins because they melt into each other in the middle. Waves roll in from this center and crash on the sand between my toes. "I am bigger than even that," the waves whisper. Love, Love. Peace, Peace. Beneath the surface of stillness is a swirling under toe of compassion and acceptance that begs to sweep away my fear.



Last week I took a moment to look deeply into my daughter's eyes as she gave me a hug and kiss goodnight. In them I saw glitters and speckles and various shades of green and brown. With all the love in my heart, I said to her, "You have the most beautiful green eyes. They remind me of mountain meadows, where the grass sways gently in the wind and smells sweet in the rain." She smiled at me and said, "I love you, mom." Later, I thought on that moment. It was totally spontaneous and it was made of the purest love I had in me.

There is not a thing in this world my girl could do that would make me not love her. I've considered as many scenarios as I could think of, checking my love against them to see if it would still hold. I can say with confidence that my love could withstand any of her life's choices. I think God's love is the same. It is a constant presence. Like my friend Rachel wrote recently, "love is what fills my children's snack bags." It does not wait until we do something good to arrive and it doesn't leave when we make a mistake. It fills the snack bags every day, every day, every day.

I guess the question that's really been on my mind is this:

Is my God a God of love?

The Radical Love of Christ

This post was originally given as a Sacrament Meeting talk in early 2019. I'm sharing it here because 1. I'm very proud of it, and 2. almost a year after writing it, I'm still inspired by it.

Yes, its true. 
I'm big enough to admit that I'm often inspired by myself. #leslieknope

Now that you've heard my terrible opening joke, on to the real post! Enjoy.
...

In his October 2018 General Conference address, David A. Bednar teaches “The gospel of Jesus Christ provides the greatest perspective of truth and offers the richest blessings as we heed the admonition of Paul to ‘gather together in one all things in Christ’.”

When I think of Jesus Christ, many words pop into my mind.

love
service
forgiveness
example

But what I would like to share with you today is how my understanding and implementation of Paul’s admonition to “gather together all things into Christ” is shaped by the Savior’s example of radical love.

What makes the love of Christ so radical? I believe it is because of its unflinching availability to all.

If we look to the scriptures, we will find countless examples to explore.
Who did Jesus exclude from his love and forgiveness?

Not a blind man,
not an “unclean” woman with an issue of blood.
not a Samaritan woman at a well,
not a tax collector,
nor the fishermen who became some of his closest friends.
Not a woman with a thousand devils,
not even
the gentile woman 
begging for blessing-crumbs for her daughter.
Not the Savior’s sleeping companions
nor the Roman soldier with a missing ear come to take Him away.
Not even the fearful denials of a friend.

Christ commands us to both abide in and invite all into the experience of his love and forgiveness because he knows a fundamental truth of the origin of man. The countenance of the Divine is in every one of us. Author C.S. Lewis wrote, 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”



In essence, if we want to see the face of God, we need look no further than across our neighborhood streets, no further than the walls of this room. Indeed, look no further than even the faces sitting next to us now. We honor our shared divinity by first honoring it in ourselves. We do this by claiming the radical love of the Savior and the forgiveness from his atonement. We then honor it in others by proclaiming this good news to everyone we meet, much like the woman caught in adultery. For are we all not caught and accused in some way, at one time or another? That is what it means to be mortal. Let us then offer, time and time again, a drawing in the sand and a blessing on all we meet.

Conversion


When I speak of “gathering all things one into Christ”, of course I am talking about conversion. But conversion to what?

Jean A. Stevens, a prior first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, teaches “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a checklist of things to do, rather, it lives in our hearts.”

We become converted not to “read our scriptures, pray, come to church, eat the bread, drink the water.” These communions are important, surely, but not because we do them. Conversion is about why. We are not converted to “get baptized, be confirmed, receive the endowment, and be sealed.” Again, these ceremonies and the covenants we partake in are important, but it is not because we do them. It is about why. These practices are empty offerings without our hearts, our mind, might, and soul. They are empty without conversion. Not conversion to the events in the Sacred Grove, not to the Plan of Salvation or “forever families.”



Conversion must be to the source these beautiful practices and beliefs originate from - 

the radical, ceaseless, unconditional love of our Heavenly Parents and their son Jesus Christ, who is one in purpose with them

Or else our checklists,
our social media fasts,
our Book of Mormon challenges
are for naught.

Or, as Elder Bednar says, “Only as we gather together all things one into Christ, with firm focus upon Him, can gospel truths... enable us to become what God desires us to become… Our only objectives are to facilitate continuing conversion to the Lord and to love more completely and serve more effectively our brothers and sisters.”

Unity


Last year, the Relief Society in my Phoenix ward held a discussion about unity. When asked what unity meant to them, one woman answered, “togetherness”.

When the discussion went deeper, our facilitator asked, “How do we develop unity with our ward and our community?”

One woman answered, “We practice unity each time we take the sacrament.”

She continued, saying that the sacrament is a unifying covenant in two ways. It unifies us with the Savior, binding us to him both with our re-birth into the fold bearing his name and with our promise to bear witness of him always. Secondly, it unifies us with our community because it reminds us every week of the promises we made at baptism to mourn with and comfort one another.

Every week we participate in renewing those promises, both to God and to each other.

Ministry


What does it mean to mourn? 

Using the story of God weeping in the story of Enoch, Terryl and Fiona Givens, religion professors and co-authors of the book “The God Who Weeps”, perfectly illustrate what godly mourning looks like.

“Enoch asks God... “how is it that thou canst weep?” The answer, it turns out is that God is not exempt from emotional pain… He weeps because He feels compassion. It is not wickedness… but “misery”, not disobedience, but “suffering” that elicits the God of Heaven’s tears… There could be nothing... more perfectly good, absolutely beautiful, worthy of adoration, and deserving of emulation than this God of love and kindness and vulnerability.”

Let us not become blind or numb to the pain and suffering of the mortal condition. Let us instead allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be broken open and therefore become a conduit of divine love.



What does it mean to comfort?

Comfort is ministry. That is the example Christ gives to us, and I am happy to see an increased focus on ministering both in our wards and our non-member communities.

Colossians 3: 12 & 14 provides guidance for the kind of ministering we are called to do. I read it and was struck by the tone of the verses, which strongly reminded me of the wording of scriptures about the armor of God. How would our approach to ministering change if we were to dress ourselves as outlined? “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
Again, those articles of ministry, if you will, are:
bowels of mercies - not just a singular mercy, but many -
kindness, 
humbleness of mind, 
meekness
longsuffering
and above all else
charity, which is
the pure, radical love of Christ.

Unless we are willing 
to succor and serve, 
to comfort and rejoice with, and
without condition, 
feed every hungry soul that comes to the table, 

we are proverbial tares,
not wheat.



Each week the sacrament unites us in the body of Christ. It should also prick our conscience. Each time we partake, we invite self examination, asking ourselves, 

“Am I fulfilling my first estate?”

I’m gonna be honest with you guys, like 80% of the time, I’m really not doing a great job. ‘Cause people are scary, ya know? And I’m just a little woman staying at home raising her two young kids, no college degree, no fancy letters before or after her name. Just your everyday lady, with a buncha books and houseplants, an OCD diagnosis, and a big heart.

A nobody.

But God begs to differ, so I put on my snow boots and put my big heart on my sleeve and I go out into this big scary world and do exactly what the second sister in my old Relief Society advised:

Have love and appreciation for our shared sameness.

When we practice opening our eyes and hearts to those around us, we begin to see all we share with those who seem very different to us. When we put aside our judgements, our fears, and our prejudices, we quickly see we are all woven with and by Love itself.

This practice equips us with a great and necessary spiritual gift: meekness, which Elder Bednar defines in separate talk as: “spiritual receptivity to learning from both the Holy Ghost and from people who may seem less capable, experienced, or educated, who may not hold important positions, or who otherwise appear not to have much to contribute.” Blessed are they that obtain it, for they shall inherit the earth.

Again, those articles of ministry I spoke of earlier:
bowels of mercies
kindness, 
humbleness of mind, 
meekness
longsuffering
and above all else
charity

remind us

the only people excluded from the radical love of Christ
were those who excluded themselves 
on matters of pride with stony hearts

and even still

his arms are open to them

like they are open to all of us

because we are one flock
with one shepherd

all things gathered into Christ.

Last Place Girl

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Have you ever had the experience of being picked last or being someone's last choice? I asked this question on Instagram, and 93% of you said yes. When asked to share those experiences, here are some of the things you shared with me:
  • "I was last picked at an EFY dance 😂"
  • "As a kid I was often chosen last for sports at recess. I felt embarrassed about it."
  • "I felt lonely and devalued when for my eighth birthday I invited my whole class to my first and only birthday party. Only my best friend showed up."
  • "I was "hanging out" with this guy (his words, we were never a couple) who broke my heart into pieces and lead me to feel worthless and undeserving of better, but who was also so broken I reasoned everything away and tried desperately to help him feel whole. I decided this charmer was the one who deserved my virginity I had been saving, but when I felt uncomfortable or didn't want to because it was empty and life-draining, he would remind me that plenty of other girls would be happy to be in my shoes and he'd be happy to call them over. He told me once I wasn't even his second choice, or even further down the line, to call over."
  • "Before my husband and I started dating we were best friends who had just opened up about being interested in each other. He ended up choosing another girl over me and telling me he wasn't ready for a relationship, but I saw a few days later on Facebook that they were in a relationship together. I loved him so I stayed close friends with him throughout their relationship. Eventually he realized he made the wrong decision and they broke up after 2 long years. I watched them kiss each other and live together all while knowing it should have been me. After he left her we got together but it still hurts me that he chose her before me. We've been together for 4 years now, have a daughter and another baby on the way, but it still hurts to think about it. No one wants to be a second choice."


When I asked myself the same question, I had two answers.

I've never been picked dead last at a dance, for a team at school, never placed last on individual or team sports, never had the lowest grade in the class, never was the only one not invited to a party.

BUT, in the same breath,

yes. I have been in "last place" many times.

"Last Place" - and so aptly named by those that shared their stories as "Second Choice" - experiences can be painful because they produce a unique kind of shame. The shame of not being "worthy" or "good enough" creates a deep gouge in a person's self-worth. I've had my share of those.


I was hospitalized near the end of my senior year of high school with a painful throat abscess. Not one person came to visit me in the hospital, even when opportunity presented itself. Not a single soul came to visit, sent a text, anything. I'm not talking about friends bringing balloons or nice ladies from church coming by. I'm saying literally no one. At 18 years old I spent 48 hours in a hospital room alone, save the nurses who came to check on me and prep me for surgery. At one point I was certain I would die, not only from my physical condition but from the deep wound of being not just forgotten, but ignored. I remember being disappointed to wake up from the anesthesia post-surgery.

Last Place. It does things to you.

I found myself there a lot. It wasn't hard to feel like I wasn't high on anyone's list when I very often had no pencils for school and when the quantity of memories of going to bed without dinner far exceeds those of gathering around the table for a hot meal. Last Place was a real thing for me. I know what its like to be second pick, third pick, one hundredth pick, never picked. Last Place Girl. That's me.

Are you a Last Place Girl too?

Chosen last in an intimate relationship?
Overlooked for promotion after promotion at work?
Feel unwelcome at church?
Forgotten by friends?


Last Place looks different for everyone. Unfortunately, when we have heavy Last Place experiences Last Place becomes comfortable. It often becomes our frequent, unconsciously preferred choice. Women in particular find themselves making camp, sometimes even building brick houses in Last Place because women are taught from a young age to swallow disappointment, their own needs, and a million tiny oppressions in the name of making everyone else comfortable. Women are taught to say "yes" to everyone, to serve until their hearts give out, and have the smallest portions at dinner when there is not enough. Millions of women know Last Place as home.

So if you find yourself in Last Place, you are not alone. But whether what makes up Last Place for you is only a tinge of embarrassment or a truckload of shame, its important to know:

Last Place Girl has things
and she needs things.

Last Place Girl has shame. She feels sad and angry. She may feel forgotten, ignored, that the world is blind to her tears and cries for help and attention. She may feel she doesn't fit in and never will, or that she isn't good enough. She might feel she doesn't deserve better. Maybe she thinks she doesn't deserve anything at all. She might think, "What is wrong with me?" and "If only I was thinner, smarter, prettier, funnier, then they will see me. Then they will love me."

Last Place Girl needs to be seen, loved, and welcomed in. She needs to hear the words, "You are loved for who you are. You are important to me. You have a place, right here next to me." She needs people who are genuine in their concern and love for her. She needs safe people with whom she can be vulnerable.


Last Place Girl, find your people. Love from others is essential. It is a basic need to be loved and accepted in a community. Without a place to call home in the human family, we feel alone and exposed. My experience is this: people will show up. The people who show up consistently are your people. The secret to healing is to let them in. Let them love you. Let them show you what it means to be cared for, to be seen, to be watched over.

Last Place Girl needs medicine. That looks like a lot of things: intuitive eating, a special blanket, therapy, a girls night, a healing solo trip, a garden, a new hobby, journaling, meditation, etc. In reality, what I am calling "medicine" is really self-love. I'm not talking about the #treatyoself or the #selfcaresunday kind of self-love where you go out to buy yourself a new pair of Lululemon pants and some fine leather goods. I'm talking about the gritty, intentional, hard-working kind of love. It is the kind of self-love that is quiet. It has no hashtag. It doesn't make for a good Instagram pic. Its not easy. It requires you to sit with the discomfort of being human. This medicine is its own reward.

I've heard people argue for years over which comes first in healing: self love or love from others. Chicken or the egg? The answer I've arrived at is this: both are necessary. They are two sides of the same coin. They need each other. Self-love must come. Without it, there will be an endless, gnawing wound where the heart is meant to be. People who consistently show up for you reinforce your innate sense of worthiness. Self love transforms the love others give into enough. It is foolish to follow the path of insisting self-love is all you need. Wellsprings run dry when they are not fed. Someone who has strong self love spends time with people who are loving. This is because they have internalized the message: I am worth loving.


This week I walked out of a particularly difficult counseling session feeling the heaviness of Last Place on my chest. I hopped in my car and let the feelings that were bubbling inside just wash over me. I began to cry. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw my red eyes, felt the tiredness of my body, saw my unkempt hair and baggy sweater. I felt such shame. In a moment of extreme anger, I shouted at God. I wanted him to know I was pissed that he had forgotten about me in a hundred unforgivable ways.

"I am broken because of you!" I screamed at him through the roof of my minivan.
"You left me.
I was alone and you left me that way.
I hate you for sending me to a family
who hated me,
who treated me like an animal,
who forgot I was a little girl who needed things.
You never saved me,
never stepped in to help
or to stop the things you say you hate.
You are a liar.
All your fancy promises are lies.
What good is being a child of god
when you are forgotten like that?
I will never believe you.
I will never forgive you."

I cried until snot came forcefully out of my nose, because what else can you do when you feel Last Place to God?

And yet, there is a small girl inside me who wants more than anything to be held, to be loved, to have her hair brushed gently and sit down to a plate of hot homemade mac and cheese. She desperately wants to believe she is beloved, especially to God. As much as I want to keep that weeping girl quiet and tell her she doesn't need those things, I remember that my work right now is to listen to her and try to give her everything she asks for. So I took a deep breath and sat quietly in a wordless surrender.

Down the river of endless thoughts floated a faint reminder.
The first shall be the last
and the last shall be the first.
I rolled my eyes.

"Shut up, God. I don't care what you say.
Don't quote scriptures to me.
I'm tired of waiting for some future peace forever away
when you are forgetting me right now."

Obviously God and I are on good terms right now.

As I continued wading through my river of sadness,
another message flowed into consciousness.
Why wait?
Why not now?

Why not First Place now?

I was still deeply angry, so I said,
"Whatever, dude."
like the mature 28 year old woman I am.
I drove home,
holding my scathing anger as sword and shield,
and tried to forget my pathetic, desperate reaching
for a thread of love to hold on to.

But the question has been poking into my mind
like a rock in my shoe.

Why not First Place now?

I'll admit the idea sounds nice.
First Place.
I wonder what that even looks like?

What does First Place look like?
Last Place Girl wants to know.


So I pose the question to you:

What does First Place look like
for you?

and, more importantly,

why not First Place now?

Instagram Goodness

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