Monday, September 11, 2017

Self-Care Isn't Selfish


My little sister Nikki is a freaking genius.  She recently came up with a metaphor for self-care that rocked my world.  Here it is:

Have you ever been surprised and frustrated at people who are hard to reach because the battery on their phone always seems to die at the wrong time?  It's like, "don't you just plug it in every night so you'll always have a fresh battery?"  Well, I've been that person, so I'm not pointing any fingers. Sometimes finding your charger is just too hard, and sometimes you have a crappy old phone that won't hold a charge.  But most phones have power saving mode for this kind of situation. Recently I went backpacking and had no problem with power because of this awesome feature.  

When you know you won't be charging up anytime soon, all you have to do is hit "power saving mode" and your phone will ration its power by shutting down nonessential functions and dimming the brightness of your screen.  This ensures that you can still do all the important stuff, like making calls, texting, and even browsing the web, until the next time you can plug in.  

Well, what about you? Don't you take time to charge yourself regularly so you won't completely power down right when someone needs you?  And just in case, does your life have "power saving mode?"  

It comes down to regular self-care and a knowledge of your own boundaries.  We'll tackle the preventative end first.

Plug In

When you plug in your phone every night, you are acknowledging that this device is not actually magic and that it requires some respect and care in order to function at its best.

Of course, we all know we're not immortal.  We have physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs.  Just like cell phones, we need to plug in regularly and recharge.  Do you know what your power source is?  Do you know what gives your life color and a sense of well-being?  

All you good girls out there are saying, "of course!  I read my scriptures and pray every morning and night."  

(buzzer sound)

For the purpose of this discussion we're going to assume that you are diligent in spiritual self-care but that your sense of self-denial doesn't really leave room for much else.  Spirituality is essential to a sense of well-being, but it's not going to constitute the whole couple of hours you need for a full charge.  

So, back to my question.  What gives your life a sense of fun, accomplishment, relaxation, connectedness, color, expression, or adventure?  What do you do that makes you more you?  Do you nerd out with the comic-con crowd?  Do you love rock climbing?  Do you miss chamber choir with all your heart?  (If you live close, call me and I'll hook you up.)  Figure out what, besides God's love, you need to be happy, and find a way to make it happen for yourself. 

I know it's hard.  I'm in the middle of raising five kids, and there are weeks when I am "on" for twelve hours or more every single day.  I did home school for four years and I was perpetually burnt out. (And for the record, I was doing it wrong.  I know many amazing women who take care of themselves and teach their children.)  My point is that I'm not telling you to fight a battle I'm unfamiliar with.  I'm right there in the trenches, too.

And I get that there are times and seasons.  When our kids are young, some of those dreams may go on the shelf for a bit--but find dreams that are workable within the boundaries of your life and enlist your loved ones in pursuing them.

Hit Power Save

Let's just say, hypothetically, that you do neglect yourself for a few months or years and you burn out. This may manifest in depression, anxiety, physical illness, relationship troubles, or just sheer exhaustion.  You are having trouble plugging in regularly enough to get a full charge and find yourself tapped out in the middle of a long day.  And when is the next charge?  Well, since the bank account is empty, or your husband's out of town, or you're down to the wire on a project deadline, or your child is in the hospital, heaven only knows.  But you do know that you're charging less often than is optimal, and while you work on fixing that, you still have to survive.

Time to hit power save, girl.  

It's actually pretty simple and some of us have been doing it for years but feeling guilty about it. (Time to stop, by the way.)  Basically it means cutting down on everything but the absolute basics of survival for your family.

What are the basics?  Well, I'm a good girl myself, so I'm going to come right out and say start with the big three: family prayer, family scriptures, family home evening.  Those three are your lifeline and if you're fighting to keep them going you're going to make it.  But there other essentials, such as, oh...eating.  Sleeping is a good one.  Some families absolutely insist on some time outside every day. For me it's reading time.  I feel like a good mom when it happens--every single time--so that makes it an essential I fight for even during power saving mode.  Every family is different, so find out what gives your family joy and connection. Whatever those things are for you, defend them against the less important things.  Because your heart will rest easier when you know that your basics are covered and that your babies are getting what they need from you.

Less important things?  Let 'em go as often and as quickly as you can spot them until you're in a better place.  It may include some of your kids' extracurricular activities (or even all of them.)  It may be an extra job or project you thought would charge you up, but is actually draining you. You may find yourself letting that signup sheet pass you by more often.  And be honest with your bishop about what you can or can't handle. He stands as God's representative not only to care for the ward but to help you meet your own needs and those of your family.  There will be times when your hands can be still, because another set is doing the work.  

Saying no is not for sissies.  Some people will shame you without even meaning to.  You will feel guilty sometimes.  At times like these, ask yourself if your family deserves a healthy, happy you until the next recharge. A happy woman in the home can make up for an astonishing amount of extras.

And you know how the brightness on your screen is dimmed when you press power save?  It may just work that way in life, too.  One of the less essential functions in our lives may just be keeping up appearances.  The faster we can let go of that one, the better.  The true light of Christ may not impress superficially, but it's constant and dependable.  

But I Don't Want to be Selfish 
My other brilliant sister, Georgia, helped me hammer this next idea out.  What's the difference between selfishness and self-care?

We all cringe at the thought of becoming the stereotypical suburban goddess, who really only seems to function as a drain on the bank account.  And I hate even dragging this cliche' out, because it's impossible to fairly judge each other, but okay, we're all thinking of expensive nails, implants, girl trips, cars, and furniture, without much thought for the rest of the family.  Now that I think about it, I don't know if I am actually acquainted with anyone like this, so maybe we're in even less danger than we thought.

The other extreme is equally scary, though.  A woman who doesn't care for herself is likely to lose her health and her joy and become either an angry dragon or a whining martyr, neither of whom are able to care properly for their families.

Both selfishness and its reverse, a complete lack of boundaries and self-care, can be angry, defensive, entitled, and endlessly unsatisfied.

By contrast, self-care is the perfect middle ground between these polar opposites, and it is based in a bedrock faith in Father in Heaven's love for ME.  Self-care flowing from that divine love fills us completely and overflows into the lives of those around us.  When we truly take care of ourselves, we have energy, joy, and a desire to share the goodness of life with our loved ones.

The center is grace

A lot of this is purely academic for me, because honestly I've been pressing power save from day one, and have rarely felt fully charged. Now I know that by taking better care of myself, my capacity for joy and service can grow--and so that's what I'm doing.  Until then, I'm going to feel better about the fact that I can stretch my battery life as long as it needs to go until that next recharge.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of self-care--whether you lean to the martyr or to the suburban goddess--take care of yourselves, my sisters, and center yourselves in Christ's love.  He made you to be happy.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

He Makes the Living, I Make the Living Worthwhile

Yesterday ALL my kids went to school ALL day for the first time ever.  And I know I'm supposed to say it was bittersweet, so, okay, there was the tiniest twinge of a pang.  It lasted approximately three seconds.

And then I did a happy dance.  Guys!  This is a whole new life for me!  I have never, NEVER spent more than an hour or two alone in my whole life, and now I have potentially SIX every single day. My introverted little heart just can't stop singing.

It has been a long summer.  A long life, come to think of it, and particularly the last fifteen years since I first clocked in as a stay-at-home mom.  There have been diapers. There has been drama. There has been depression. And thanks to the grace of God, there has been a boatload of joy as well.

But honestly? I am delighted to be starting a new chapter of mothering.

I'm not exactly sure about my plan.  As you read this, I am celebrating by binge-watching whatever people binge-watch these days and eating copious amounts of good chocolate.  But don't worry, that kind of behavior won't last long.  Eventually I will transition into sitting by the pool and reading.  I am taking a long-deserved break.

(If indeed this version of stay-at-home-mommying turns out to be a break.  I have my doubts.)

I have seriously thought about going out and getting a job or continuing my education right away.  I have a some dreams that are brewing, dreams that have been on the back burner many years while I have focused on the kids.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  They and TJ are the real dream.  So yes, I can feel the pull to get out in the world now that I have a little more freedom.  But for now I'm going to let those dreams brew a little longer while I enjoy success at this job I've been doing for so long.

Don't get me wrong, we are so far, so good.  None of the kids seem to be considering a life of crime, so I think my life's work has yielded good results.

But I have felt underwater for most of the time I've been mothering. While I've been raising kids, an enormous amount of homemaking and self-care has gone completely untouched, and I'm pretty stoked to try my hand at it.  I want to balance our budget.  I want to paint our ugly walls.  I want to plant roses to give to friends.  I want to do more yoga.

I even plan on trying out the previously unheard-of arts of dusting and window washing.  And maybe I'll figure out the mystery of why our dishwasher makes things dirtier instead of cleaner.

My dream is to cultivate a happy family.  My dream is to have a home where the Proclamation on the Family is a way of life.  I want to make this place a respite from the world when my kids are tired from their battles.  I want my husband to find good food and happy faces here.  I want to be a listening ear, a messenger of love, a supporter of dreams, a fighter for freedom.  I want to be healthy enough myself, well-cared for enough myself, to overflow with nurture for the ones around me.

Is this to say that women should always stay home?  Nope.  It's not even to say that I'll be here for long.  But maybe I will.  Even without the kids at home during the day, I think I might still be more valuable here than anywhere else.

Yesterday being the first day, I ignored previous plans to veg out in favor of getting the house in shape and walking the dog.  Then my brother dropped in and we had a nice, long heart-to-heart. Then, more housework, and as it was almost time to pick up the kids, I forced myself to read and nap for about an hour.  So, mostly work.

But when I picked the kids up, I felt like a whole different mommy.  I had dinner prepped already, so I sat around and listened to Eliza and Ezra chat about their first day of high school.  I saved Eliza's life by driving her to get some jandals to replace the ones the dog had eaten.  I read to them after dinner.

Counting the time I spent taking care of the kids before and after school yesterday, I still worked a seven-hour day.  Add five hours of housework and I still worked a twelve-hour day.  But I was more relaxed and happy than I've been in a long time.  That mysterious back pain of mine almost disappeared.  And those hours of silence recharged me and gave me a sincere enthusiasm for time with my kids I haven't felt in a long time.

Today I'm aiming for more play and less work, because I'm pretty sure a happy mama is the best gift I can give my family.  Three cheers for a husband who makes the living so I can make the living worthwhile!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Christ Has Boundaries


Is "boundaries" a buzz word this year, or have I been hiding under a rock my whole life?   I never even heard the word before last year when my world exploded.  But it turns out that a lack of boundaries can make your world explode.  Haha!  So I'm learning now.  It's uphill work: imposing boundaries typically makes me feel un-Christlike because I've internalized some ideas about the Savior that aren't quite right.   The best antidote I have found to this unhealthy sense of shame is a study of Christ's life and teachings.


What are Boundaries?
Simply stated, my boundaries define my own knowledge of who I am and what kind of treatment I will accept within a relationship.  Boundaries do not dictate others' actions, but guide my own in providing safety for myself when others fail to show respect.

Within a relationship we issue invitations to interact in ways that work for us.  When our loved ones can respect our boundaries and help us feel healthy and safe within the relationship, those boundaries can move in a little.  When they refuse to respect those boundaries, the boundary moves out to provide protection.

Boundaries often get the bad rap of killing intimacy, while really it is the fertilizer that grows closeness.  For example, say my best friend knows that trust is a basic principle for me within a relationship.  I let her know that it's important she doesn't share anything confidential with others.  If she honors that need and can keep a secret, I feel safe letting her see more and more of me, hence the boundary moves in toward greater closeness.  If she chooses not to honor that boundary, it moves out and I no longer feel safe sharing personal things with her.  I find a safe place in the relationship either way.  The quality of the relationship, the closeness and intimacy are determined by both members knowing and respecting each other's boundaries.  

Does Christ Have Boundaries?
In Christ's mortal ministry, he demonstrated boundaries in his daily life and taught them in precept. Christ knew who he was and did not allow others to define him.  Christ knew his personal mission on the earth did not extend in every direction, and so focused his efforts where he knew they should be.
Christ took time to rest physically, ate when he was hungry, and took time to be alone when he was tired or heartsick.  Christ didn't comply with unreasonable demands.

Christ's teachings are replete with these principles, too.  I would copy Matthew 18 word for word here, but for the sake of brevity, consider these (and read the rest as soon as you can!)

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
Wherefore if they hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.
My translation?  Relationships are important, but only insofar as they promote our health, happiness, and progression back to Heavenly Father's presence.  

The ultimate example of Christ's boundaries is that he has decreed only those who love him will enter into his presence.  This very simple concept is the basis for a healthy life for us as well.

Boundaries=Love
There is a little devil on every covenant woman's shoulder, telling her to be "Christlike" whenever she starts to establish boundaries.  Search the scriptures carefully and see Christ for who he really is, not who he is painted to be.  True disciples of Christ must emulate his example in kindness towards themselves before they can ever minister to anyone else.

If you desire to be a blessing in the lives of those around you, start by becoming the happy, loved woman God created you to be.  Only from a full heart can flow those acts of genuine kindness and those principles of truth that will lift the world each day.  Only from healthy relationships founded on Christ's teachings can come the light we are commanded to shine.

I had a very tender experience recently as the Lord set about to teach me what boundaries are about. I had felt some pressure to let down a boundary in order to see family members who have recently hurt me very much, had held firm to protect myself (yay!) and had felt immediately guilty about it (boo!) I took my problem to the Lord and he asked me if I would ever force my 10-year-old self to participate in a family gathering with people who had been mean to her and most likely would do so again.  My mind recoiled at the thought of forcing a child to be with people who make her uncomfortable, and the Lord told me, "that's how I feel about you."  I felt a flood of peace and love from the Savior, and perhaps just as important, for myself.

That honest, kind, nurturing love toward myself has been a lifetime in coming.  It swells when I listen carefully to my own feelings and honor them as I would a tender child.  Because I am safe and loved, I have a lot more love and tenderness to share with those around me.  But I must resist the impulse to say that is the whole point--that kind of martyr attitude hurts after awhile.  While the ability to minister to others certainly increases with a true sense of self, the point for me is that I can feel the love of my Heavenly Father.

Christ did and does have boundaries.  He provided them for us not to keep us out, but to draw us ever farther in toward the center of his love by making us more like him.  As we allow his love to refine us and feel it burn more brightly, we will guard that light from the winds around us so that those who want to, can draw closer and feel it, too.

PS:  After you've read Matthew 18 (for real), you should really take a look at this article, which details many instances of the Lord showing a healthy sense of his boundaries.  It greatly influenced my progress and helped me to write this post!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Choosing to See

What I Had to do Before I Could See Christ in My Troubled Past   


Since the family pictures have fled with all their cheer and beauty to Instagram lately, this blog has experienced a bit of an existential crisis.  Why did I write here and why did you read here?  Do I continue my ruminations on what pain means to a woman of faith?  I guess part of the reason I've been silent lately is because my story has expanded from the lonely battle of depression to the wider war of family dysfunction--and I don't know how much of that you need or even want to know.

But I'm still here and the major theme of pain through the lense of faith persists in my life.  I assume it persists in yours as well, or you would not be brave enough to keep coming back.

And so as long as this soapbox of mine continues to bear my weight, you will still see me here, whining just as little as I can, but mostly sharing my hope of a better world to come.  This blog is a love song to my perfect Savior, and so...I write.

.     .     .

If you've missed the basic outline of my last eighteen months, and just so you can have some context, here it is.  My brother admitted to a major pornography addiction, left his wife, and left the church. My parents separated, then divorced.  My dysfunctional relationship with Dad has painfully exploded into complete rupture.  The counseling I've resorted to in order to help me cope has sometimes been a cocoon of validation and support, but more frequently a brutally painful opening and scrubbing of old wounds so that they can heal properly.  And the past year has been very physically painful as I've battled chronic pain and tension in my neck and shoulders, which no amount of medication, yoga, exercise, massage, chiropractic care, or physical therapy seems able to touch.

There is a lot of good news, though.  I've won a lot of battles with anxiety and depression this year because of all the great therapy, medication, and especially love and support from family and friends. My kids have thrived in their new Montessori School, alleviating my responsibility to home school them and also the guilt that I would have struggled with if they didn't love their school.  My relationships with TJ, the kids, my mom and my siblings have grown in intimacy and joy--more, I think, than they ever could have without these struggles to pull us together.  I spend hours and hours every week connecting with my loved ones as we do everything from Muppet movies to serious discussions about our feelings and our lives.  The adults in my family have given me the most important validation, counsel, feedback, and support, despite my excellent professional counselor.  And I'm learning to make friends for the first time since college, fighting my way out of the self-imposed isolation and loneliness depression often brings.  Girl friends!  Thanks for loving me even though I have no social skills.

.     .     .

I suppose the best news of all is what you hoped it would be.  My testimony of Jesus Christ becomes brighter and more hopeful as time passes and I learn more fully what he has done and continues to do for me.

As I said, I've had to revisit some very painful facts about my childhood, and there have been some very dark times when I've wondered where God was when I was suffering so much.  Those who enjoyed relatively healthy childhoods will struggle to understand this, but examining my past has brought home the painful reality that I'm not sure God loves me--and the closer my therapist has helped/forced me to look at the painful circumstances of my childhood, the more this wound has hurt. It's not the age-old philosophic debate, if God existed he would not allow so much pain in this world. It's worse than that: He does exist and He is full of love, but he doesn't love me--or I would have felt his love during that dark time.  

One of the most painful and lingering effects of childhood abuse is that it can be difficult and even impossible to believe in a loving Heavenly Father.  Feeling unloved and unlovable is also a classic symptom of depression.  And this can rec havoc on our faith.  It's a pretty awful irony--those of us who feel unloved by parents will also struggle to feel God's love.

I listened to a podcast recently featuring Deborah Pegues, who wrote "Forgive, Let Go, and Live," and identified so much with her story.  My heart especially resonated with what she said about facing the fact that God has allowed our suffering.

"First of all, you understand that everything that has happened in your life--this is a hard one--God saw it before it happened.  He saw it before it happened and He saw it while it was happening.  And He could've stopped it.  That has been a big pill to swallow.  God saw that.  He could've stopped it.  So it must gonna be something that's gonna work together for my good ultimately...I'm gonna grow.  Something good is gonna happen.  If you don't take a divine perspective towards that kind of pain, you're gonna get stuck in it. You're gonna say, "It shouldn't have happened."  And it probably "shouldn't have happened," but in His divine providence, God knows..."All the days ordained for me were already written in His book."  Not the good days, the bad days, too.  And so, yes, I can relax.  So I'm gonna choose how I remember this...When you walk by faith, at some point, you gotta start abandoning the "why" and just say, "it did and that I'm gonna trust God."
I like what Joseph said when his brothers came to him.  And you know the story, how he was sold into slavery and they came and they knew they were mean to him and they said, "Forgive us, we're sorry."  And he said, "Listen, you meant it for bad, but God meant it for good."  
I've been grieving this year, hard.  I have been shedding a lifetime of bottled up tears.  I have been kneading and beating on my grief like a big wad of bread dough, trying to pound out my anger and expel my pain.  It's been necessary, completely awful emotional work to say goodbye to the blessings denied me over all these years of  life.  And even through this latest installment of pain, I've asked Him, "where were you all those years?  and where are you now?"

I planned on wearing this t-shirt for a picture in a canyon
just for you guys.  I didn't plan on waking up feeling alone
and unloved on the day of the trip--and I almost didn't go.
Yet the combination of a favorite t-shirt and God's glorious
creation tuned me right in to his love.  Not always that simple,
sadly.  But sometimes it is.  
So this painful, painful year has been very much about forcing me to face The Big Question: does my painful past prove that He doesn't love me, or is it just the opposite? Emotionally this year would look like a V on a bar graph, with my grieving over all I've lost, feeling abandoned and forgotten, and generally unloading a lifetime of repressed sorrow.  Down toward the bottom of the V, I was still hanging on to some kind of hope that Heavenly Father loved me, but it was very academic at that point.  My whole life is based on the assumption, the trust, that it's true, but I needed to know.  And so God has been teaching me in real time that the hardest trials are proof of his love, because this, the hardest of years, has taken me to the nadir that I needed to reach in order to be ready to believe.  I had to climb to the bottom of the canyon before I could ascend the mountain on the other side.  And God let me do it, because it was part of his plan for me to feel the joy that can only come when we're willing to face our fears down.

I reached the bottom of that canyon, and I'm climbing up the other side now.  The height of the mountain will crown me with sure knowledge of my Father in Heaven's love, but for now it's just wonderful to take step after step up into the sunshine.

My sense of how much Heavenly Father loves me has deepened as I have looked back over my troubled past and have seen the multitude of tender mercies He gave to me.  My vision has cleared , and now when I look back on the pain of my past, I see that Father in Heaven tempered my troubles. He cleared dangerous obstacles out of my path and saved me from many snares.  He sent care packages, always at the right time: teachers, friends, mentors, siblings, great books and beautiful music--to inspire me, give me hope and joy, and to teach me about a beautiful life just out of reach but worth hoping for.

But the most important thing he did was to provide a Savior.  My Savior redeemed me from my many follies and mistakes, making me worthy through his grace of the Comforter.  He gave me hope for a bright future in the company of the most loving Father a girl could have.  And at great personal cost, Heavenly Father allowed his precious son to suffer with me.  

I have come to know that I never cried alone.  That sad little girl who has always lived in my memory as very alone and unloved--had her Savior beside her, helping her bear her burden, comforting her, protecting her from trauma that would have undone her, and this is the most important part, crying with her.

Elder Merrill J. Bateman's words on the Atonement have helped me come to this new understanding of my painful past.  He said,

For many years I thought of the Savior's experience in the garden and on the cross as places where a large mass of sin was heaped upon Him.  Through the words of Alma, Abinidi, Isaiah, and other prophets, however, my view has changed.  Instead of an impersonal mass of sin, there was a long line of people, as Jesus felt "our infirmities" (Heb. 4:15), "[bore] our griefs,...carried our sorrows,,,[and] was bruised for our iniquities."  (Isa. 53:4-5).
The memories have gone from bitter to semi-sweet, because that image has changed.  I wasn't alone. He literally shared my pain, felt it in its entirety for as long as I was feeling it.  He experienced the full magnitude of it not only so he could help me heal, but really for the same reason my earthly angels do--because He loves me.  He loves me enough to suffer with me.

My trials will continue to refine me, and I will still struggle to feel loved sometimes, but I'm climbing up into a safer and surer knowledge that feeling alone is not the same as being alone.  My Heavenly Father and my Savior lavish me with more love every day than I can even conceive.  Especially when I'm in pain.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

There comes a time in your grieving when you're ready to say goodbye to what you had and move forward into a new life, and I think I might be getting there.

Isaiah provided the perfect illustration for me this week.  He has been faking sick lately to stay home from school, and sometimes even if I can get him to go, I get a call from the office asking me to come pick him up.  (Ain't nobody going to face the shame of making her child sit in the office all day because she doesn't believe he's really sick.  He's totally got my number there.)  He even asked recently if I would home school him again, which despite the boost it gave me, also was sad because the answer is almost certainly no.  It's strange because he has enjoyed kindergarten soooo much, and while I know all kids start to burn out in April, this has seemed more serious to me.  Finally I got him talking about school friends, and he started crying and telling me that they're mean to him.

So first you should know that Isaiah is your classic type four child, and I can identify, because I was and am exactly the same.  We type fours can be very intuitive, sensitive, visionary, smart, and honest, but we are also sometimes guilty of dwelling on things that bother us.  We can be so inward focused, too, that we even imagine slights and insults where there are none.  So in an effort to draw him out and honor his feelings, I was careful not to give too much credit to the idea that "no one" at school likes my very likable boy.  I will be talking to his amazing teacher about her observations and making sure she's aware, but I am certain that Isaiah is experiencing normal inconsiderate behavior from kids, and not bullying.

I was a little stuck on what to do.  TJ promised Isaiah a super soaker if he would attend every day of school for the rest of the year, but I didn't know how to address the more serious issue of how he was feeling so insecure socially.  God's grace gave me the answer as I drove Isaiah to school the next day. It was very simple, but very profound--which is how I know it came from the Spirit.  I told Isaiah to keep his eyes open for instances of kindness each day, and tell me about them.  And it's working! Isaiah is learning that we see what we're looking for, and he's looking for evidence that he's loved and respected.

I'm in a similar place with God right now.  Satan has been trying very hard to turn my challenges into evidence that God doesn't care about me, and too often I have fallen into the trap of feeling abandoned and unloved.  But recently I have made the simple but profound decision to believe that the good things in my life truly are evidence of God's love for me, and not the result of chance or circumstance. I'm choosing to believe that He knows and cares about the tiny details that make up my life.  And I'm choosing to believe that my trials are even proof of God's love.  And so, instead of yelling at God for not being kind, I am looking for (and finding!) his kindness.

It's amazing how such a simple thing can be so hard.  I am tempted to doubt God's love.  I am tempted to reserve a corner of my mind for the possibility that my faith is an illusion.  Truthfully, I am afraid of being made a fool and so I keep up a constant Socratic debate in my mind about God's word.  But enough.  I don't want to be smart anymore, I want to be happy.  I want to feel my Savior's love. I want to see clearly the plan He is carrying out in my life.

Too much I have been guilty of focusing on Satan's work instead of Christ's, by sorrowing over the sins of the world.  My Savior has overcome this world, and from now on I will lift my eyes to Him.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

3 Media Lies About Intimacy You Didn't Know You Believed

How many times can we watch women being sold before we start to feel exploited ourselves?



Happy Valentine's Day, my dear friends.  I hope that you come to this post with your heart full of the validation we all hope for on this day, and especially that you can feel the warmth and the truth of your worth independent of any circumstance.  In short, I hope you come to this post feeling loved.

As I've mentioned once (or five hundred times), it's been a tough year.  One of the big struggles has been grieving my naivete about the goodness of humanity, and this partly because I've discovered that pornography use is rampant, even among those we cherish and look up to.  If you and your mate are fighting this battle against the destroyer, my love and prayers go out to you.  There is some pain too great to imagine, and since most couples are not able to share the struggle, they bravely face it alone. I wish I could sit and cry with you.  It is hard, so so hard.

This is not to say that all struggle with pornography addiction.  In fact I think it right to clarify that I am lucky enough to be married to a man who doesn't.

But everyone in this fallen world suffers from the effects of porn.  It exists on a spectrum: on one end are the most horrifying images and ideas one could imagine--on the other something as seemingly innocuous as a child's toy.  Each of us has a line we prefer to stay on the right side of, and while I'm not here to get you to move yours, I hope you can bravely examine how some of what we consider innocent could be harmful. Because we as women are being bought and sold like cattle every day.

And the men aren't the only ones buying in.

Lie #1  Your worth is based on your sexuality.

You think you can spot this one a mile away, but stay with me.

Of course we can all see the subtle messages aimed even at children.  Let's pass over the obvious fact that every Disney princess since 1989 (with the exception of Mulan) is portrayed with fantastic proportions and revealing clothing.

Let's even ignore the standard story line, used in everything from cartoons to reality TV to commercials, that has a guy ignoring a girl until she gets her dream makeover and is dressed to kill.
Blatantly, the message is immodesty=attention-from-the-guy-you-like.

Usually the media tears women down in far subtler ways.

Consider the storyline that has the woman using sex to get what she wants.  She lures, teases, maybe seduces the ape of the man who can give her a promotion, entrance to the top-secret lab, or tickets to a sold-out show.  It's often portrayed humorously, but the message is clear: sex is a commodity; you are a commodity.

Most of the time it manifests as the constant objectification of women in every form of media. Commercially, but also artistically, women are manipulated like props on a set for maximum sex appeal.  Take a woman, vamp her up, airbrush her, and make sure there are lots of revealing shots of her body to produce eye candy so you can sell everything from chewing gum to blockbuster action movies.  Women's bodies are no longer sacred, they're a commodity to be bought and sold.  And just to be extremely clear, when we see sisters used like that, something changes in us whether we know it or not.

Lie #2  Sex is selfish and sinful

Some TV shows and movies are so steeped in pre-marital sex from the first frame, that while there may be many hookups in your 120 minutes, the heroine may never get real love or respect by the end of the film. Let me translate: give sex first, and maybe, just maybe, you'll be valued and loved. Probably not, though, because there's lots of sex but not lots of love to go around.  

We consider the sex in these movies as inappropriate, the worst part of the movie, the part we fast forward through or wish we had.  How can all of this not train us to feel negatively or at least conflicted about sex?

And we're not even going to go near 50 Shades, because I hope with all my heart you know as little as I do about it.  

Lie #3 Married Sex is Boring

You would just assume that this is true if you take your ideas straight from Hollywood, which represents married sex only 15% of the time versus extramarital sex 85% of the time.  But even if you chalk that up to unimaginative writers who can't find a way to build tension within a married relationship, what gives?  The statistics don't lie: married people have more sex, and more varied sex, and report higher levels of sexual satisfaction than those who aren't married.  Add to that your own experience.  If you don't know how hot married sex can be, find out.  Today is Valentine's Day, after all.

Could it be that even within sexually fulfilling relationships we could still be buying the "grass is always greener" garbage the media is selling?  And if we are, how does that show up?  Well, I don't want to cross any lines here, but maybe if we're told married sex is boring, that's what we expect and that's what we get?

Ahem.  Enough said.

It's not just the men.

We think we're above these messages.  We think that guys shouldn't watch movies that objectify women, but that it's okay for us.

How many times can we watch women being used as sex objects before we become jaded and cynical? How many stories can we ingest where sex is inappropriate in every form--manifesting as lust, selfishness, and filth--before the pure and beautiful sex in our own lives starts feeling wrong?  How many times can we equate airbrushed, perfect women with desirability before we stop feeling desirable?  How many times can we see men portrayed as unfeeling sex maniacs before we stop trusting our husbands?

Again, you're thinking that you know sex is a good thing within marriage, but ask yourself this: how many times do you think you've misinterpreted your husband's desire for you as selfish?  How many times have you resisted him because you were afraid it didn't mean real love--that if he loved you, he'd have (fill in the blank.)  How many times have you struggled to enjoy yourself in bed because you are so hung up on what you think your husband wants you to look like?

It is time for thinking, feeling women and men alike to identify, reject, and fight these slanders against the human race.  We need to open our eyes to what messages are coming across, whether blatantly or subtly.  Spotting these lies is really half the battle.  Are we talking to our daughters about how unfair the media is to women?  Do we talk to friends about how objectifying women in public leads to distrust and insecurity in our own hearts?  And (you knew I was going there) are we turning off YouTube when one of our sisters is on-screen selling out?  Money talks, friends, and if we keep sending it to Hollywood, they'll assume we like the product.

The most important battleground, though, is in our hearts.  Think seriously about how a lifetime of media lies has influenced your feelings about yourself and about the men in your life.  Where you've been mistaken or mislead, start mending and rebuilding.  You may find yourself speaking a different language from the people around you, and that's okay--this is a conversation worth having.  We've only been getting one side of it for a very long time.  

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Humble Pie, Part 3

For those of you who were not with me back in July, I wrote a big post about my decision to try an anti-depressant after wearing out every other option.  In that post and in a subsequent post, I unpacked the reasons that had held me back from taking medication for so long.  And I'm glad I documented that for posterity, because I'm already beginning to forget what it's like to be chronically depressed and to have my thinking messed up all the time.

This is not to say that medication is right for everyone, but it is to give hope to those who've been struggling with the decision.  And to give you an update on my life.

The good news is, that I'm truly better.  I feel like myself again, not just that I'm acting the part of a happy woman.  It doesn't take a great deal of effort to get through the day anymore.  Looking back I can't believe that I was able to function so well and for so long without this life-changing treatment. I've struggled since my mid-teens, and feeling balanced and normal on a consistent basis is amazing. Honestly, and I hope this doesn't scare you, I don't care if I'm taking medicine for my depression for the rest of my life.    I wish I had started a lot sooner, and so do all of my loved ones who've had to hold my hand through thick and thin.

And because you're my friends and I've felt like I've been holding out on you for quite some time, here is the rest of the story.  While my brain chemicals are finally balanced and I feel like a normal person again, I'm still going through the hardest time of my life.  I'm still in counseling, plowing through a bunch of garbage from my childhood.  I'm still grieving for my dear, dear brother whose life went off the tracks last year.  I'm witnessing my parents' divorce after 37 years of marriage, and I have front row seats because my Mom and little brothers are living with me.  

And in case you've ever wondered, there is a huge difference between grief and depression.  I would rather grieve, because grief comes in waves and is something that ends eventually, where depression is a constant, unremitting weight that you may have to carry forever.  

I feel like I've turned a corner.  A bunch of secrets came out last year in our family, and while they hurt and while they were a terrible shock, now I know the truth.  Some of the painful changes were actually very good things, and I look forward to positive changes in my extended family.  I don't have to go what I've just gone through ever again.  And by the grace of God, all is well within my own little family circle.  My kids are healthy and safe, my husband is faithful and kind, and we never go hungry or cold.  I have a great deal to be thankful for.  

And because I had Veyo pie for breakfast this morning, here's a picture.  Like I said, I have a lot to be thankful for!