Good Girl | Vision Board Series Part 4

Thursday, December 26, 2019



They say
sex is holy
but here I lay
indecent
trying to both
love and repent.

I split myself in two -
parts unclean and spirit -

I try to make
an awkward whole
with a man
who is broken also,

Only to find
"one flesh"
is not
halves of two
come together.

The Gift of Twenty Minutes | Vision Board Series Part 3

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Use it up,
let it go.

Whatever comes to you:
use it up
let it go.

If it comes back to you:
use it up
let it go.

Use it up,
let it go.
In that order.

This is how
to honor a gift.

Five years ago, in one of my writing groups, I was given once piece of sage advice by our mentor.

"Write for twenty minutes a day, " she said.



Twenty minutes is really a reasonable amount of time. Its the average length of a shower, the time it takes to cook boxed mac and cheese from pre-boil to finish, and a quarter of the typical time a Facebook user spends watching random videos and arguing with strangers on their local neighborhood group.

But twenty minutes to a bone-tired mom with two young children is precious, holy time. There is not enough for every twenty minute thing. So she must be choosy with her resources.

Much of my writing post-college has been sporadic. I usually wait to sit at my keyboard until "something comes to me." Waiting around for inspiration works when one or two dips in the pool of creativity has to be enough, but for me, it is not.

I am the kind of person who appreciates art in every shape and form. Poetry, music, painting, drawing, design, story, cinema - I love all of it. I've learned over the last few years that it is worth my time to pursue the arts for the simple fact that it brings me great pleasure. Not only that, but when I take part in someone else's creation, I've found hints and nudges toward my own purpose.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in her book Women Who Run With The Wolves,
It is not the quality of our creative products we are concerned with... but the individual's recognition of the value of one's unique gifts and the methods for caring for the creative life that surrounds those gifts. Always behind the actions of writing, painting, thinking, healing, doing, cooking, talking, smiling, making, is the river under the river that nourishes everything we make. 
Women's eyes flash as they create, their words lilt, their faces flush with life, their very hair seems to shine all the more. They are excited by the idea, aroused by the possibilities, impassioned by the very thought, and at that point, like the great river[s of the earth], they are meant to flow outward and continuously on their own unparalleled creative path. That is the way women feel fulfilled.

When creativity stalls we lose the nourishment that its water's bring. My biggest challenge for continuously flowing creativity is the responsibilities of adulthood. I have allowed so much of my time to be eaten up by tending to my family, my home, my yard, the dishes, the bills, the mail, the unswept floors... One particular paragraph from Estes really spoke to me. She says,

I've seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write... and you know its a funny thing about house cleaning... it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman.
A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she "should" be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.

So it has been in my life. Writing only when dinner is made, the house is clean, the family is sleeping makes a dry well of creativity. After nearly seven years of trying to find time to follow my heart's calling, I've decided to change things up and make time instead. Twenty minutes is plenty easy to make. Estes' estimate of saying no to half of my "shoulds" list is pretty accurate. I am currently writing on a dining room table cluttered with twelve colored pencils, two bowls of cold pasta from my kid's lunch, a half-eaten tortilla from last night's dinner, and two dirty mugs of hot cocoa. I've let go of the myth that my space needs to be clean in order to create, or else I'm a bad mom, a bad housewife, a bad person. Whatever. I refuse to waste my life's purpose on waiting on my husband's schedule and my kids thirtieth request for fruit snacks. Everyone else is equally capable of helping. I am not solely responsible. Everyone can do a little so I don't need to do it all.



If I create only some of the time, I am not using my gift to its fullness. I am not using it up. I think about some of the female artists and writers I most love. What would we have if Mary Oliver only gave us stolen moments? We would not have her poem Wild Geese, that she wrote just to prove a point in a writing exercise. What would we be left with if Georgia O'Keefe painted only some of the time? I would not have seen Manhattan in such a beautiful light. What if Nellie Bly wrote just on her free time? Our mental healthcare would likely still be stuck in the 20th century. Women should not be expected to give stolen moments only.

Women deserve the freedom and ability to give as much time as necessary to their life's work and passion, independent of relationships,

just like men.

Make time.
If you've got a gift, use it up.
Use it all the way up.
Then, and only then,
let it go:
out into the big, wide,
wild world.

This is the way
to honor your self.
...

This is part 3 of the Vision Board Series.

Read Part 1 here.
The publication of Part 2, "I Participate In My Own Nourishment and Care", was live for a limited amount of time and has now been moved to my private collection.

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.




Letting Go of Christmas

Sunday, December 1, 2019

 Christmas has been one of my least favorite holidays for three years counting.

I can chalk it up to a few contributing factors. The stress of buying gifts is overwhelming. I'm not great at gifting, especially when the gifts are expected and come with a lot of pressure. My kid's wish lists become more complex and expensive each year. What I gift my husband is rarely what he secretly hopes to receive, so in recent years we've been purchasing our own Christmas gifts. This is an effective strategy in that we both get what we want, but the anticipation and surprise are gone.
 

Stores are awful from Black Friday to New Year's Day. Family expectations are high, and with them comes inevitable stress and disappointment. Its enough to make a woman want to throw in the proverbial towel.
My childlike wonder surrounding the holidays disappeared the year my parents divorced. I had been married for three years and had a two-year old daughter. Suddenly we had nowhere I wanted to spend the holidays. My family ended up staying in Phoenix and celebrating alone, which we did for the remaining three years we lived there.
For the first two years I bandaged the seeping sadness with celebrating Jesus. All our Christmas decor and activities were absolutely Christ-centered. The celebration soothed me during the transition through my parent's divorce. Sure, there were no more six-course Christmas Eve family dinners, no more Advent Activities countdown, no more gathering at my childhood home around the huge tree and Willow Tree nativity, but there was a baby Jesus and that made everything better.
 

Slowly, Jesus Christmas started to fall apart. I learned about the history of the holidays, suddenly realizing that it was historically inaccurate to celebrate the birth of Jesus when he was very likely to have been born in the Spring around Easter. I learned that historically, most Christian holidays and traditions were kind of twisted celebrations that mixed bits of pagan ritual and Christianity into a palatable, church-approved celebration. Christian attitudes and beliefs were enforced in attempts to wipe ancient pagan beliefs from conquered peoples, and it worked wonderfully. Something about knowing this sucked the last bits of joy out of Christmas for me. If Christmas isn't about presents OR Jesus, what is it about anyway?
I'm still not sure. Just this last week, I spent Thanksgiving day scoping out the Black Friday ads, trying to get the best prices on toys for my kids that they don't really need but definitely will love. Black Friday I spent all day participating in the shameful tradition of consumerism, even taking my daughter early in the morning to let her see what the excitement was all about. All the while, a voice in my heart reminded me about shopping small, environmental impacts of mass consumerism, minimalism, essentialism, intentionality, and climate change. Yet, in the middle of a Layton, Utah Target Supercenter, I had a hard time feeling any bit of bad about it. Which definitely makes me a little uncomfortable now.
 

My Christmas shopping is widely done. Now I have an entire month of nothing looming in front of me. The Christ-centered decor and traditions are empty for me now. The faithful LDS girl inside me feels a lot of shame about that, but its the truth. I can fill a few days with baking, gifting neighbor gifts, and a few scattered parties, but my overall feeling about the holidays now is confusion and sadness. There is no Christmas Spirit in my heart. Bah, humbug! 
What can I do to make this holiday meaningful? For someone who can find the beauty in a fallen leaf or earthworm, I'm having an especially difficult time with this holiday that once meant so much to me. Maybe its time to let Christmas go.
Maybe its time to let the gifts mean nothing.
Maybe its time to let Jesus rest for a while.
Even let go of the notion of service to others.
Though this all sounds terribly sad and disconcerting, especially for a Christian audience, I feel a strong undercurrent of surety and peace about this idea.
 

Stillness. That is the Christmas that calls to me.
A walk in the snow with my dog, taking pictures of frozen, sleeping Mother Earth, writing in a coffee shop, hosting an intimate dinner party with friends, a tree with lights, hot tea, a stack of unread books, a fur blanket, and sex by the fireplace. These are the things that seem to be most purposeful and full of promise. I am surprised by this deep desire to turn inward. Not to do inner work, not to shame or blame myself inside, not to do anything but rest. And rest seems to be the thing society is hell-bent on not letting anyone achieve during the holiday season.
Maybe I ought to be hell-bent on resting anyway.
Maybe this is my flavor of rebellion and activism for now. A conscious resting. Purposeful care of the self. Meaningful connections. Careful stillness and meditative solitude. 
Maybe in the spring I'll wake with the vigor of the daffodils.

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.

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