Holy Places

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

*This whole post gets a trigger warning for body shame and trauma.*

Last week I listened to my body for the very first time.

From morning to sleep, I asked her, "What do you want today?" Her needs were simple yet specific. More rest. Warm wheat cereal for breakfast. Water. Deep breaths. Though listening was new for me, I never refused. What I received in return was a deep, unwavering sense of wholeness and a mantra that has stuck with me for days.

I am a holy place.

This affirmation is medicine for my aching body that for so long I have believed to be gross, unclean, dirty, broken, dark, and empty. For a long time I thought these feelings were the product of my OCD. But after a 6 month period of feeling increasingly numb and sad, I decided to go back to counseling and do some digging around. To no one's surprise, the intense feelings of grossness were rooted beneath the OCD, sometimes even beneath my conscious awareness. In fact, what digging has revealed makes me doubt the accuracy of my OCD diagnosis. I am beginning to lean strongly toward an alternate diagnosis of C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). Though I am unwilling to share details of what I am finding, I will say this:

I have hurt since before I remember remembering.

I have been told a hundred cruel, dehumanizing lies about who and what I am during a time in my life that I was forming critical, fundamental understandings about myself and my body.

I have been afraid my.entire.life. Every breath feels like a rebellion.

I have never felt like a child of God because I was told he hates unclean things.

The wound I carry is the deep, festering amputation of spirit from body, of heart from mind. It is the weight of a carefully severed self.

Knowing this, it should come as no shock to hear that this peace-starved body of mine has lived on crumbs and street garbage for 28 years. Choosing to feed this body breath, love, and safety now is honestly unfathomable. To believe "I am a holy place" is to tie myself to a hot air balloon and hope it takes me somewhere new.

All my life I've heard at church that my body is a temple. That I should dress it modestly and keep it clean from drugs, alcohol, men, and my own self because this body is a gift-on-loan from God and it really belongs to him anyway.

I was also taught that men are special because they get something called "priesthood" which I was taught is God's power on earth.

My own experience has taught me

that this power and authority
makes some men believe
they can lay their hands
on me
whenever they want
and I'm supposed to trust
everything they say and do.

I also learned
this body isn't mine anyway,
its a gift (on loan) from God.
(I better treat it with respect
even when no one else does.)

Its only mine when its broken in,
when no one wants it anyway.

All these lessons about my body
all the measuring of my skirt against the length of my legs
all the rules about "shoulds" and "can'ts" and not once
not a single time

was I ever taught about autonomy
and sovereignty.

Every LDS temple I've been to has a gate around the property line that can be locked. I can't go inside the temple unless I have a recommend. Sometimes the recommend is limited to allow only certain activities. There are acceptable attitudes and behaviors at the temple and though its never happened to me, I'm sure people have been kicked out before for not acting appropriately.

If my body is a temple, I can have the same boundaries. I get to decide who has an all-access pass to my life and who gets locked out of the gate entirely. I can give and revoke them at my own choosing. I have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I can receive my own revelation. Above that, I have intuition and I can listen to my body. Those things give me both the right and the power to say "no" to people who have or would hurt me. There is not a power on earth that has the right to override those decisions about my body, my home, my heart, and my spirit. No blood relationship, no friendship, no male privilege, not even priesthood can override sovereignty when it comes to these holy places.

If my body is a temple, it deserves regular cleaning, maintenance, and re-dedication as needed. It deserves honor and protection. It deserves to be prayed in and prayed over.

I deserve u n c o n d i t i o n a l  love.

If someone picks the gate lock, kicks down the front door, takes a dump on the threshold, and spray-paints the inside of a holy place, NO ONE blames the holy place. It is the thief, the intruder, the unsanctified presence that begs the wrath of their own angry God for their actions.

Let this be my message to the world right now:

I am done making justifications
and exceptions
for people
who spit on hallowed ground.

Bear Woman

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

In her book "An Unspoken Hunger" Terry Tempest Williams tells a story of a man who returned from World War II and went hunting in Wyoming. She tells it better than I could.
"He came home from the war and shot a bear. He had been part of the Tenth Mountain Division that fought on Mount Belvedere in Italy during World War II. When he returned home to Wyoming, he could hardly wait to get back to the wilderness. It was fall, the hunting season. He would enact the ritual of man against animal once again. A black bear crossed the meadow. The man fixed his scope on the bear and pulled the trigger. The bear screamed. He brought down his rifle and found himself shaking. This had never happened before. He walked over to the warm beast, now dead, and placed his hand on its shoulder. Setting his gun down, he pulled out his buck knife and began skinning the bear that he would pack out on his horse. As he pulled the fur coat away from the muscle, down the breasts and over the swell of hips, he suddenly stopped. This was not a bear. It was a woman."
This story was strange to me when I first read it. A woman wearing a bear skin? I guess strange things like it have happened before. I know the Celtic tale of a woman who wore a seal skin, lost it, and found it again. I know stories of women inside trees, inside wolves, inside snakes. Woman inside Bear? Its mythologically both possible and plausible.

I happened upon this story as I was sifting through thoughts about my own body shame and self-worth. The putting them together made the other seemingly dance with excitement. "Yes," I thought, "there is an answer here."

I think through my life, about my experience of being in this body. How many times have I found myself wandering into a metaphorical meadow? Plenty. Its unapologetically joyful. Times when I have wandered up into the black, rocky hills of Henderson to do some yoga, just the lizards and I saluting the sun. Or when I walked the trail behind my home in Arizona, talking to Palo Verde, Mesquite, Quail, Opuntia and Saguaro. Or even when I climbed a trail in Cottonwood Canyon, and stopped at a flat rock that jutted out far enough to stand on so I could yell to the world what was in my heart. I still remember the words.

I am Channing Parker.
I do not believe the things you say about me.
I am not who you say I am.
I am strong.
I am smart.
I am beautiful.
I am brave.
I know that now,
and nothing can every take it away from me.

I walked down from that ledge tasting the salt of my tears weeping in from the corners of my mouth. I did not wipe them. I knew there were more meadows to cross.

How many times have I found myself, this bearskin body, under a the scope of predator's eyes? I've heard countless comments about the body I live in - about my mysterious green eyes, my hair so short I look like a boy, my boobs too big for a 14 year old, a 16 year old, an 18 year old. "You are so lucky to have such small feet," someone said to me once. I said "thanks" but I wanted to ask if they knew about the ancient Chinese practice of foot binding and did they know, did they know, this world can make any part of the body about sex? What does it matter, since I am too thin, I have no hips to grab onto when making lust in the back seat of a Jeep. "Bodies get you lost in the ways of the world, so keep them covered." I remember being told as a young woman. I knew that was bologna the day I heard it, but I listened anyway. I am almost thirty now. I can tell you this: no amount of clothes ever saved me.

I once walked home to my blue house on Holick Street after dropping off my siblings at summer camp at our elementary school. I was wearing blue pajama pants and a teal tank top, both with cartoon puppies printed on them, even though my parents said not to. I felt so rebellious and justified in my 13 year old wisdom. "See? Nothing bad happens when I wear these cute pjs out!" I thought. I crossed the street, my house three down from the corner. Just then, a man pulled up to the corner in a beat-up brown car to ask me for directions. I was polite and helpful, as I was taught a girl should be.

"Just follow this street straight and turn left, then right at the light," I said.
"I can't hear you!" he said, so I repeated myself in a yell.
"Come closer, I still can't hear you!" he said.

My bearskin hair stood up a bit, but I brushed it down, told myself to be nice,
to listen to that man
who was after all, just asking for directions.

I walked cautiously to the car, repeating myself again,
when I saw his face turn from a questioning gaze
to that of a leery smile.

"Can you see what I'm holding?" he asked.
I looked, not realizing yet that this was a game
and I was the prey.
But it wasn't a gun he held.
It was himself,
exposed above the waistband of his camo shorts.

I was a good girl
and in that moment I remembered that good girls don't talk to strange men in cars.
I was afraid, so I turned and ran.
The man laughed maniacally and drove away in the opposite direction.

I hid behind the large black trash can in the side yard of my neighbor's home.
When I felt like it was safe, I went home.
I threw those blue dog pajamas in the trash.
I went to my room and picked up my cello, practiced until my fingers grew blisters.
I had not grown callouses there yet.

I told no one,
because when you aren't a good girl anymore,
you don't announce it.

I had betrayed my bear skin. It had tried to keep me safe, and I ignored it. I took it off that day, tossing it into a corner with my innocence and naivete. I've worn other skins since. Girl inside Chameleon. Girl inside Badger. Woman inside Rock. None of them fit well.

For most of my life, I've distracted myself from the call of my stuffed-away bearskin. Who is my new boyfriend? My next one night stand? Move to college. Will this boy I'm dating marry me? Yes! Get my first office job. Now I'm getting married. Wooo, marriage is not what I thought it would be. Distract myself some more. Then have a baby. Babies are hard. My body is making me uncomfortable again. Better have another baby. Kids are hard. Shiz is getting real, I want out of this body. Mmmkay now that I know I have OCD, anxiety, depression, and C-PTSD, lets make things fun and...

"No. It has to stop." I said to myself soon after I moved into my new home in Utah. So began my torpor. No writing. No huge life changes. No undertaking of great philosophical and theological issues. Only rest.

I have rested like I was awake for one hundred years and never slept. I have mended and licked my wounds. I have dreamed dreams. I have asked questions and waited for answers. Elise, if you're reading this, the lipstick is the bearskin. This is power: presence in the wild nature of the body.

This week I find myself face-to-face with Bear. She is begging me to remember, remember that this body is my one and only home. It comes with me wherever I go. I can't trade it in, move out and buy up. There are no "starter bodies". Just this one, magic, wild, and precious.

Bear is the one who puts strength in my words. When someone tells my daughter to put on a shirt or close her legs when she's wearing a dress, I growl, "Its just a body. She is fine. Leave her alone." When my son shows off his new undies now that he's learning to use the big boy potty and everyone tells him to pull up his pants, my claws protrude a bit, and through a bared-teeth smile I say, "Its just a bum. Everyone has one. Its just a little baby bum." When my daughter breaks the growth plate in her elbow being rough on the swing set, but she's scared to tell me it hurts because she's already had a broken arm twice, I say, "Its your job to take care of your body. It is my job to help you learn how. I am your mama. I will always help you." I am mama bear. My children's bodies are not what you say they are. They are their own. It is my mantle to teach them that, so they know and never forget. So they never have to dismember and remember.

Bear is the one who holds me in her giant paws and says, "You listen to me, girl. You've got legs to move you faster than the trees can whisper secrets to each other in the breeze. Your eyes can see far - in depth, not distance, and you can bring up truths from the waters of a black river like a glistening rainbow trout. Your ravenous appetite is a gift. Those claws you call fingers are long for a reason - hunt down your answers and fiercely protect the precious things in your heart. Days will come when you must stand at full height and speak your native tongue. Say it with love and the earth will shake."

"I want to believe you," I say, "but I am not ready." She leads me to the mirror where my naked face and body stand before me. She shuts my mouth before I can speak. She knows all the things I will say. In the reflection I see her slowly pull one arm in close to her body, and the bearskin there falls limp, like a void sleeve of a jacket. She does it again on the other side, then lifts herself up out of the skin. I am staring at a woman - green eyes, brown hair, full breasts now limp. I would not dare call them pancake boobs like I call mine. I begin to cry.

"I am not ready!" I say, mouth open wide like a roar. "This body has seen too much. Remember all the times I lost my voice? 10 years of regular strep, throat abcesses, and eventual tonsillectomy? Remember when I was too afraid to speak, to move, to live? Remember the hallways and corners of my childhood home? Remember the bleeding at my babies' births? Can't you see the blood even still? Look at the scars on my left shoulder. I put them there when I was 14, when no one believed I had seen too much. Look at my heart ripped open, the pieces scattered everywhere from Vegas to Phoenix to the Great Salt Lake. People like me have no business being bears."

Bear Woman laughed.

She laughed at me.

"Are you not Channing Parker, smart, strong, brave, and beautiful? I heard you say it yourself on that mountaintop two years ago. I've been waiting until you are ready. Now I am here."

I felt the familiar prickle of Saguaro in my heart. When I left Phoenix, she had promised to hold me for as long as I needed. She was here now, to tell me it was okay to let go. "You will always be a queen of the desert," she said, "just not the one you left behind. But we always welcome royalty here." There are times it is dumb to hug a cactus. This was not one.

I faced Bear Woman
and promised:

"I will run to keep my legs strong.
I will eat when I am hungry.
I will rest when I am weary.
I will protect the weak
and roam this world with open eyes
and a heart wide and wild as the plains.
I will visit the rivers, lakes, and oceans
when I need to heal.
When necessary,
I will make myself tall and roar,
but these big paws will walk gently upon this earth
and weave in and out of the lives of those near me
with the quiet humility of a dove.

I am ready.
Teach me."

Bear Woman smiled, and held my very own coat of black, soft fur out to me.
It looked like the kind of bearskin I'd like to lay on naked in front of a roaring fireplace in winter.

"No amount of clothes ever saved me," I said to Bear Woman and smiled.
"Have you ever seen a bear with clothes?" she asked.

We laughed, together now.

Notes on Modesty, Shame, and Humility

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A navy blue knee-length pencil skirt.

A long sleeve button-down blouse with purple and white stripes, sleeves rolled up a bit for style.

A white camisole underneath to account for any perceived sheerness.

That's what I was wearing one August day when I walked into my then-bishop's office to renew my temple recommend. I answered all the questions with all the confidence of a woman of 21 years. I scooted to the edge of my chair to be ready to sign my new recommend when the bishop looked at me and said in his grandfatherly voice,

"I'm sorry Sister Parker, but I am unable to issue you a recommend at this time. When we conduct recommend interviews, we ask that Sunday dress be worn. We also ask that the clothing be modest and cover the garment. You are welcome to come back next week to repeat the interview, after you have taken these guidelines into account."

My eyes welled with tears and my face grew hot and red. Shame bulldozed me into silence. "Okay, thank you," was all I could muster in response. I rose from the red cushioned chair, shook the bishop's hand, and turned to the door behind me.

I walked home instead of waiting for my husband to finish his interview and drive home together. "What just happened?" I thought to myself. I was wearing my garments. They were fully covered. I had answered the interview questions right. I still walked away empty handed.

"Its probably my ginormous boobs," I thought. "They always make my clothes look immodest." I looked down at my chest. I thought the camisole I had worn underneath my blouse covered what would have been considered inappropriate. I was wrong.

I got home and went through every item of clothing I owned. I donated all the v-necks, camisoles, the tight shirts and dresses, and pencil skirts. Tank tops with cute prints or sequins went too, even though they'd be perfectly modest with a cardigan on top. I wanted there to be no question of my commitment to modesty or to a temple recommend. I took $50 and went to DownEast Outfitters warehouse, the ultimate destination for modest apparel. I bought as many fugly floral print dresses, work shirts, slacks, and bermuda shorts as I could. I even stayed away from the cap sleeve layering tees, modest as they were. I was the picture of Molly Mormon perfection.

I returned for a repeat interview the next week in one of my new floral numbers and walked away victorious.

I share this story with you not to shame that particular bishop. I share it with the intent that it serve as a stepping stone into a conversation about modesty. Different personal experiences and the stories from other LDS women suggest to me that my experience was not a random fluke. I am of the opinion that there are aspects of the modesty narrative within the LDS church and community that require our thoughtful, collective consideration.

Tackling a topic such as modesty is tricky. I think the difficulty stems from the fact that modesty has become subjective in LDS culture. Adding to this, there are conflicting messages about what modesty really is. My hope is to add some depth and insight to this conversation while also examining the current stories heard and told about modesty.

Conflicting Interpretations of Modesty in an LDS Context

The "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet defines the standard of modesty as:

"Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior. They should choose appropriately modest apparel when participating in sports. The fashions of the world will change, but the Lord's standards will not change."

This is the standard of modesty given to all members of the Church of Jesus Christ. The standard is clear and measurable. Modesty is cleanliness and neatness. Modesty is not tattoos, piercings, short skirts, crop tops, bikinis, etc.

The LDS Guide to the Scriptures defines modesty as:

"Behavior or appearance that is humble, moderate, and decent. A modest person avoids excesses and pretensions."

If you look up the word "modesty" in the Topical Guide, you will find nothing. No scriptures explicitly mention the word "modesty". Instead, any references alluding to modesty fall into two categories in the Bible Dictionary:

  • "apparel" contains references to descriptive phrases about an article of clothing someone was wearing (such as Joseph's coat of many colors), or
  •  it is referencing an attitude, most often "humility."
These definitions vary because they are pixels of a gradient image. The For the Strength of Youth pamphlet presents a picture of modesty that is very black and white. The Guide to the Scriptures lends itself to a more flexible definition of modesty, making it about appearance and behavior. The Bible Dictionary gives the most nuanced and complex understanding by suggesting modesty as an attitude of humility.

None of these interpretations are bad or wrong, but I wonder if some are more helpful and healing than others.

Is Focusing on Physical Modesty Helpful?

I believe that a strong focus on modesty of the physical body is not helpful or healthy.

I realize this opinion may be distasteful to some. That's okay. You don't have to change your mind. We can still be friends.

When we focus on physical modesty, we are placing value and attention on outward appearance. While this is a natural tendency, it is also an attitude that tends to be less forgiving. Outward appearance is a quick and easy way to identify whether or not someone is "modest," therefore allowing us to make judgments about someone without knowing their character. This is directly contradictory to the commandment to "love our neighbor" and "be one."

Our brains are wired for social connection. We tend to gravitate toward those that share our values. Our clothing can be an indication of our individual values, beliefs, and personality. Physical modesty has the potential to become a kind of sorting tool, allowing us to know who is "in" our pool of shared values and who is not.

The most unsettling aspect of a focus on physical modesty is the contribution it makes to the shame-judgement cycle. When we have been or are afraid of being excluded by our community because of our physical appearance, we move into a place of shame and fear. Shame is toxic. Just ask Brene Brown. It doesn't feel good. We want to pass it on to others, and we often do - as judgement. So we contribute to judging and shaming others, who threaten to judge and shame us in return. Yuck.

Sometimes in order to avoid judgement from others, we learn to take on shame for ourselves. Shame about our shoulders, our legs, our breasts. We cover them, sometimes to excess. We may become afraid to show them at all, when swimming at girls camp, or maybe even to our spouse during intimacy, or when giving birth, or when feeding our babies. I feel so sad when I think about this. I've carried that shame. Its heavy.

Looking at the potential damaging effects both individual and communally, I am convinced that a focus on physical modesty is neither helpful nor healthy.

Wearing an Attitude of Humility

Humility is defined as "having a modest view of one's own importance." To me, humility is the recognition and practice of being in loving relationship with the people and the world around you. It is not to forget oneself entirely, but to see oneself as part of a much larger sphere. You are yourself, you are part of your closer family, a community, a land, a larger human family, an ecosystem, an earth family. An attitude of humility is a posture of deference to the communities you find yourself in. It is an attitude of equality - one void of privilege and oppression.

 What is considered modest clothing? A shirt that covers the shoulders and the navel? Shorts that cover the knees? Something fairly or moderately priced?

When shopping, do you consider what the clothing is made of? Is the fabric made of natural or synthetic fibers? What process did the fabric go through before it landed in the well-lit store you find yourself in? Is that process kind and healthful to the earth? Are the dyes poisoning rivers? Will those butter-soft leggings sheds micro plastic fibers into the water for unsuspecting fish to eat every time you wash them? If these things matter less when dressing than making sure shoulders are covered, I submit that our clothing is not modest.

Do you consider who made your clothing? The clothing label gives you many clues as to what hands cut, sewed, printed, and finished your garment. Did those hands receive a fair wage? Does that person work in a safe place? Do they work reasonable hours? More often than not, "Made in Developing Country" means the answer to all these questions are "no." Who profits from the work of those hands? An attitude of humility requires us to examine the role we play. What do we purchase with a $10 short-sleeve tee - modesty or costly apparel?

Physical modesty becomes a stumbling block when it prevents us from acting in loving relationship with those around us. When physical modesty indicates social standing within our communities to the point of judgement and exclusion, or when it takes advantage of our human family across land and sea, it is not an attitude of humility. It is one of pride.

I am not telling you that physical modesty is inherently evil. Its not. But as with everything, actions carry intent. If our clothing covers the shoulders, is made ethically and sustainably, and does not contribute to the social judgement and shaming of others or ourselves, at that point I feel we could comfortably claim we are a peculiarly modest people. Its a big ask, I know. But I think these are important things to consider.

"Men Are That They Might Have Joy" - An Invitation To Presence, Not Transcendance of Mortality

2 Nephi 2:25 is a short scripture in the Book of Mormon, but it presents a powerful perspective of mortality.

In the LDS church, there is a strong focus on going through the motions of covenant-making and then living out the remainder of our lives with the sole intent of "enduring to the end." If we make it to the end, our heaven-mansion prize will be waiting for us. Yay! Treasures in heaven!

But something deep inside me wonders if when we get to the finish line, God will want to hear about our adventures. We will tell him about our trials, our families, our jobs, our good deeds and probably our bad ones too. And I just imagine, with all the love in the universe, God will smile and hug us,

and ask "Did you dance?
Did you taste the salt on the spray of the sea?
Did you lie with your back on the sun-baked sand of the desert at sunset?
Did you sing with a pack of coyotes or speak to the moon?
Did you climb a sequioa tree, even in your dreams?
Did you drink from a well in the ground?
Did you chase a deer just for the thrill of running alongside, then behind it?
Did you sleep in a cave or under the stars?
Did you breathe?
Did you rest?
Did you see?"

What if our physical bodies, this physical, mortal world, is not a place given to us just for learning, but is a gift itself? What are we missing if we are constantly focused on managing, improving, even bridling body and earth?

What if the body is not a prison?
What if the earth is not a school?

What if we are here for joy
in the body,
because of the body?

I can't help but feel the policing of bodies with a strict code of physical modesty makes it harder to make and feel joy. Its awfully hard to feel the coolness of lake water on your neck when you're swimming in the required shirt-over-swimsuit at girl's camp. You'll never feel the warm kiss of the sun on your shoulder if its always covered.

God is not policing us, not waiting to dole out punishments or prizes based on our false sense of earned worth. He's not waiting to make sure we are injured in an accident because we aren't wearing certain clothing. He's not there with angry eyes when we walk in the door in a tank top and ripped jeans.

God is waiting with a warm plate of cookies
"Did you love with abandon today?"
and when our answer is no,
the reply is always
"I will teach you how
and we can try again

So bake brownies and bring them to your neighbor in shortie or bermuda shorts. Weed your garden and whisper to your tomatoes in a tank or tee. Wear your nose ring to church and serve your heart out. Spread your arms wide and hug the ocean as if you haven't seen her in forever, and let her hug you back. She doesn't care if you're in a tankini or a bikini. Rescue a puppy wandering the streets. Invite someone in. Say yes. Show up. Be you.

2018 Life Changing Finds - Books, Podcasts, and More!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

2018 was a tumultuous year for me. It involved deep self-examination, graduating from counseling, an out of state move, and buying our very first home. Those are some big things jammed into 12 months! Luckily, because it was another year of big discoveries, I found so many resources worth sharing. I hope you'll click the links, give a listen, read, and enjoy some of what I have collected from this year!

Best Books

Nature and Ecology

  • Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer: Part autobiography, part history lesson, and part call back to the earth, Braiding Sweetgrass is a beautiful tapestry of story, science, and the implications of both on our personal lives and the health of our communities. Kimmerer calls upon her indigenous heritage to tell the stories of the North American landscape and uses her scientific research background to offer readers a complex, yet more complete view of the intersection of humans and the earth. She encourages connection to the land on which we live and responsible stewardship. I listened to the audiobook version and never wanted to turn it off. Find it here.
  • The Wander Society by Keri Smith: "Do you find yourself increasingly distracted and unable to focus? Do you feel like technology is taking up too much of your attention and time? Do you find your quiet talents going unused and unnoticed in a world that values bravado, celebrity, publicity, and money? If you answered yes, the Wander Society can offer a respite. This small anonymous organization is looking for thinkers to conduct research. No experience needed. Membership is completely anonymous. The world is waiting for your gifts! The Wanderers are everywhere." Find out how to join with Keri Smith's guide. I rarely pay full price for a book. This one is worth every cent. Get your copy here.


  • Mother's Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother by Rachel Hunt Steenblik: This collection of poems is a gift to all who are searching for the divine feminine. Steenblik's poetry is at once easy to digest and sustenance for a hungry soul. If this milk had a flavor, I bet it tastes like warm, freshly baked cookies waiting for you when you get home from school. The perfect illustrations by Ashley Mae Hoiland only add to the beauty of this book. Its the same price as eating out for lunch, and will feed you for much longer. Buy one for yourself, your daughter, your mother, your friend, your everyone, right here.
  • Walking With the Women of the Old Testament by Heather Farrell: If you're looking for a study partner for the Old Testament, this is it. Well-researched and beautifully written, this detailed look into the lives of the women and the stories we love (and some love to hate) is essential for understanding them fully. Accompanied by Mandy Williams' tasteful photographic depictions of the women using real-life models dressed in historic clothing, this collection is a wonderful addition to your bookshelf. (Look for my midwife modeling for the Puah and Shiprah chapter!) And luckily, she's got a New Testament collection too! Find the Old Testament here, New Testament here.
  • The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life by Fiona and Terryl Givens: These professors of literature and religion add to our understanding of God by using the weeping God of Enoch as a study guide to the nature of the divine. Readers are led gently into the discovery of a loving, vulnerable, and kind God that directly contrasts the wrathful, vengeful force most Christians are accustomed to hearing and reading about. Get your highlighters out - you'll need more than one to catch all the treasures contained here.
  • The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: I don't read much fiction, but if ever there was a book that turned my life upside down in all the best ways, this is it. The Red Tent is a re-telling of the story of Dinah, Jacob and Leah's only daughter. With a focus on sisterhood, womanhood, and the reclaiming of voice and a story that is largely silent in the biblical text, this book comes with my highest recommendations. I have seen some readers emerge from the story skeptical of the accuracy of the story, and this is my response: Welcome to patriarchy and the bible. Change your life in 321 pages here. No time to read? Watch the excellently made two-part series here.
  • The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey From Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine by Sue Monk Kidd: I am left so speechless by this book that still, 6 months after reading, I don't know what to say about it except "Wow. Everyone needs to read this." Kidd narrates her own experience of discovery, joy, loneliness, sorrow, and eventual peace through the journey of finding her place as a woman in the church and the world. Don't let the title scare you away - this book is tenderly written and well-researched, containing an 8 page bibliography of resources that highlight the difficulties of being a women and the exclusion (and sometimes demonization) of women in Christian theology and culture. I found it both a balm and a calling. Find it here.


  • If Women Rose Rooted: The Power of the Celtic Woman by Sharon Blackie: This was my first introduction to Celtic myths and women. It felt like coming home. I learned about my heritage and the unique ways the Celtic stories encourage us to connect to the earth, our communities, and ourselves. Some of the stories shared here were instrumental in my own healing. I listened to the audio book, then bought the kindle version to take notes as I listened. I plan on getting a paper copy soon. A book well worth buying three times. Find it here.
  • The Birth of Pleasure: A New Map of Love by Carol Gilligan: I was gifted a copy of this for Christmas 2017 by my bff and it quickly became the ultimate battle cry for brave vulnerability in my life. If you like Brene Brown's work, you will love this. Gilligan uses the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche as a roadmap of love and relationship, using examples from her own work and research in the field of psychology. Deepen your understanding of love and what it means to be truly seen here.
  • Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes: Last year I recommended "Spinning Straw into Gold" for my 2017 "Best Books". I wish I had read "Wolves" first, because this is everything I wished "Gold" was. Estes weaves tales from around the world into a beautiful look at the psyche and experiences unique to women. Some will make you laugh, some cry, and some wonder, but each is a valuable look into the reclaiming of the power of women. You can't go wrong with a book recommended by Emma Watson. Find it here.
  • The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris: Harris is a pediatrician practicing in the most poverty-stricken areas of California. Years of research have proven that there are long-term effects of childhood stress and trauma that affect survivors well into adulthood. These effects include mental illness, addiction, heart disease, diabetes, often showing up unexpectedly and "without cause". Because of these effects, Harris advocates a whole-person wellness approach to healthcare, for early stress treatment for children with a certain number of ACE scores, as well as ACE screening in both childhood and adulthood. Her research and work in service of childhood adversity are groundbreaking and necessary. Find it here.

Honorable Mentions: Books That Were *almost* Awesome

  • The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho - Content was intriguing but the storytelling was less smooth and engaging than some of Coelho's other works.
  • The Sacred Enneagram by Chris Huertz - Was not nearly as detailed and fun as listening to him on the Sleeping at Last Podcast.
  • Healing Spiritual Wounds by Carol Howard Merrit - A primer on faith crisis. Great for those in the beginning stages of questioning and seeking. Less valuable for those further along.
  • Gaia and God by Rosemary Radford Ruether - So well researched and chock-full of information it was more like drinking from a fire hose and less like reading a book. Will re-try with more time and background research.
  • When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams: Half biography, half autobiography, promising stories but little resolution or clear takeaway. I was spoiled by reading "If Women Rose Rooted" and "Braiding Sweetgrass" first.

Perfect Podcasts

  • The Christ Who Heals with Fiona Givens - LDS Perspectives Podcast Episode 62
  • Wisdom Literature with Dan Belnap - LDS Perspectives Podcast Episode 89
  • Fowler's Stages of Faith Development with Sara Hughes-Zabawa: A Thoughtful Faith Podcast (Start with Episode 231)
  • Mormon Women and the Challenge of Assertiveness with Julie de Azevedo Hanks: A Thoughtful Faith Podcast Episode 180
  • How Patriarchy Hurts Men and Boys with Wendy Christian: A Thoughtful Faith Podcast Episode 217
  • Wisdom - She's All Around You: The Robcast Episode 163
  • The Buying and Selling of Feminism: Exploring "marketplace feminism": What Would A Feminist Do Podcast, Oct 3, 2016
  • How to Be Girl Friends: Unladylike Podcast, Aug 7, 2017
  • Every Enneagram Episode from the Sleeping At Last Podcast
  • 10 Habits of Highly Effective Advocates: Food For Thought Podcast, Dec 6, 2017
  • Woman: The Liturgists Podcast Episode 39
  • Heavenly Mother with Rachel Hunt Steenblik: Q.More Podcast by Rosemary Card
  • On Sovereign Wings Podcast with Amber and Tasha

Amazing Art and Articles

  • Kristina Kuzmic explains why she feels its important to call out those who post inappropriate sexual comments on her videos with this video.
  • This graphic perfect illustrates what it really means to be highly sensitive.
  • I'm a mom to a little girl and I learned so much about changing my language when talking to little girls from this sweet and short video.
  • Dehumanizing Always Starts With Language - wisdom from my girl Brene Brown here.
  • You Ask by Elizabeth Ostler - a beautiful psalm of forgiveness. Read it here.
  • Blessed Are the Unemployed, the Unimpressive, the Underrepresented. This video is everything.

Soul Songs

Last year I shared my top 3 songs for the year. This year, I am happy to share my updated list for your listening pleasure!
  1. Whispers by Ayla Nereo
  2. Trouble by TV On The Radio
  3. Soft Gentle Brilliant (Acoustic Version) by Corey Kilgannon

Friends, what made your 2018 Life Changing Finds list? 

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