Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Perspective and Priorities

{I wrote this on Sunday, 8/17 at 40 weeks +1 day pregnant. Baby details coming soon.}

{Pictures taken Sunday, 8/10--the day I thought I was in labor.}

You could say I've been going a bit crazy. My body feels foreign and unrecognizable. I have this almost irresistible urge to claw my way out of my skin and take off running and never stop.

A week ago, last Sunday, I was positive I was in labor. I experienced three hours of 1.5-3 minute long contractions that were four minutes apart. They were fairly intense and made my back ache. Jay and I packed hospital bags and did what we could to prepare ourselves for our baby's impending arrival.

After three hours, the contractions weakened and slowed. We were both disappointed but somewhat relieved that we would get a decent night's sleep.



Last week, I was desperate to have this baby--I'm sure it had something to do with Sunday's false-alarm labor. I couldn't handle the experience of pregnancy anymore. I was done. I prayed and worked as hard as I could to get things started. Nothing.

Then, yesterday, I discovered a large swath of red, angry-looking skin on Kate's lower back. It was crowded with painful blisters. In a matter of seconds I realized this was most definitely NOT a diaper rash as I'd thought the night before: Kate had hand foot and mouth disease.


{Packing hospital bags and trying in vain to get Jay excited about the adorableness of baby clothes.}

Sure enough, as the day progressed, she developed more red patches and more blisters. Today, they've popped up all over her little hands, and she has some on her tummy, her arms, and the soles of her feet. We also discovered last night, after I looked in Jay's mouth with a flashlight, that the sore throat he's had for the past several days is actually hand foot mouth, too (as evidenced by the blisters lining his pharynx and a few small pustules on his lower back). Adults aren't supposed to be susceptible to the virus. Just call us overachievers.

But you know what? I'm no longer in a rush to have this baby. My discomfort has been completely eclipsed by caring for my family. I figure if the baby stays in a few more days, Jay and Kate should be mostly better and we'll hopefully avoid a full-on quarantine.



I was in despair yesterday, riddled with anxiety, but I've been calmer today. Peaceful. Even laughing about our crazy situation. It helps that Kate is an absolute champion and that even though she winces when we apply salves to her raw and blistered back, she is still her bright and cheerful self.

All in all, overdue pregnancy and contagious illness aside, we are pretty blessed.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Multiplied

{Pictures from yesterday [39 weeks and 4 days pregnant]. Matching clothes are a coincidence. Matching smiles are not.}


Yesterday when I was putting Kate down for her nap, I swept her into my arms (a much less graceful event than those words convey) and held her for a few minutes. She snuggled into my embrace--a rare enough occurrence--and let her legs dangle awkwardly over my distended belly.


And I, in my 9-months pregnant emotional state, started to cry as I let the depth of how much I love her wash over the both of us. I mourned a little, too, for how much her life (our lives) will change in a matter of days. It broke my heart to think that she will not remember this time--this special two and a half years when it was just Kate and Mommy and Daddy and nearly everything has revolved around her. It made me sad to think that she alone won't be my focus anymore, and even though I know that giving her a sister is one of the best things I can do for her, I am so sad to see this halcyon season end.


Kate has a bright, sweet demeanor--her personality sparkles. I have often joked that her default setting is "cheerful"--even if we have to wake her in the middle of the night, her first words are "Hi, Mommy! Awake now!" said with a smile. I don't know where she came from, this chipper child, but I'm so grateful she's mine.


I am a bit sad for this new baby, too, that I won't be able to consecrate all of myself to her care like I could for Kate. But as I learned in grad school, differences aren't necessarily disorders, and so I pray that there will be some divine equation where being divided doesn't equal being lessened, but somehow multiplied through grace. If motherhood can be for me what feeding the 5,000 was for Jesus, I will see the miracle of it and be grateful.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Me and the Priesthood: On Being Open

A friend texted me from work a couple weeks ago. "Am I pregnant?" she asked.

"Um, no?" I responded.

"Just checking," she said. "I've had three people ask me today if I am, so it made me start to wonder."

*

I felt similarly after publishing my last blog post

I suppose I should start by saying that I consider myself to be an active, faithful, believing member of my church. It is a core part of my identity, and I love its unique doctrines, its rich heritage, and its quirky culture. 

One aspect of our culture is that, by and large, Mormons don't often openly express doubt or questions (in non "faith promoting" contexts, that is). We like to keep things conflict-free and black and white, we are most comfortable in homogenized congregations, and we tend to downplay cognitive dissonance and stickier aspects of our faith. Mormons are great at putting on happy faces, which I think, for the most part, is an admirable trait.

But even though I know this, I was still surprised when my series of what I thought were pretty benign vignettes elicited a fair bit of concern for my soul from immediate and extended family, church leaders, friends, and acquaintances. 

After being asked, both directly and indirectly, if I was "okay" by multiple parties, and hearing second-hand about concerned conversations regarding my spiritual welfare, my confident response of "yes, I'm fine" started to fray a bit. Maybe everyone knew something I didn't. Maybe I really wasn't okay.

But the thing that really baffled me is that this is who I've always been. I have always been a boundary tester, an asker of difficult questions, a critical thinker, a crusader. I often get down on the mat and wrestle with my faith. It is a beautiful and dynamic journey, a spiral through darkness and light, a testing of the opposition in all things.

I admire and appreciate those who see the world in black and white, those who are content with the status quo, those who accept without resistance. But I know there are also those like me, those for whom faith does not come freely, those who wrestle.

*

"While there are risks—big ones—in being open with each other, there are greater risks that come with wearing our church face. Even at church. Especially at church. When we insist on being fake-happy, fake-confident, fake-righteous, we create and maintain distance between ourselves and others, distance that prevents us from truly knowing and loving each other.

"That doesn’t mean that we should engage in an emotional free-for-all during every church gathering, or that we should constantly spill our guts on our Visiting Teachers’ laps. [...] But I think that most of the time, we are capable of being more real with each other than we usually are. And typically, we err by sharing too little, not too much. I am convinced that, for the most part, incredible things happen when we’re willing to be open about our ourselves: our dreams and fears, our successes and failures, our questions and our faith, our struggles and our joys. I believe that inviting a sister into our inner sphere is one of the greatest gifts we can give another." - Kathryn Soper

*

Last Sunday, a friend of mine taught the lesson in her ward's Relief Society. She asked a few women to share an experience of a time they had either provided or received inspired help from another person. One of the women was young and new to the ward, but she bravely stood and shared that when she was 20 and single, she found out she was pregnant. She was terrified and didn't know what to do. Later that same day, her mother showed up at her door because she felt her daughter needed her. This young woman received the help and counsel she desperately needed and ultimately moved home, had the baby, and placed it for adoption. The Spirit filled the room as she spoke of how transformative this experience was in her life and how grateful she was that her mom had responded to the prompting to come see her. 

*

"It is easy to make assumptions about each other too quickly. We are all complex and beautiful women, and the depth of our personalities and experiences encompasses far more than what is visible on the surface. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give each other is openness. In sharing some of those less obvious aspects of ourselves, we give those around us permission to be fully themselves, and we allow God to more fully use each of us for His purposes. I have found that our combined goodness, despite the occasional insecurities that may prompt, also makes the women of this church wise, kind, and tolerant. I believe that we have a tremendous capacity to accept and love the uniqueness in each other." - Angela W. Schultz

*

Shortly after I published my last blog post, I was approached by a man I didn't know but recognized as an intelligent and respected member of the church. He told me he had read my post and that he appreciated what I'd said. He mentioned that he felt many members of his congregation would be surprised to know some of his true thoughts and opinions about things, but he didn't feel comfortable sharing them openly. He seemed a little sad and resigned as he said, "It makes church less... enjoyable."

*

"I submit that a variety of points of view in any organization is the norm and nothing to fret over, whether or not the press notices. On the other hand, a Church which teaches the love of Christ, but whose members cannot manage it one for another, simply because they differ, is a much greater worry."  - Lisa Torcasso Downing

*

I knew last month, when I shared something so personal on such a controversial topic, that I was risking rejection and opening myself up to judgment and criticism. The vast majority of the feedback I received, both in public and in private, was supportive and compassionate (thank you. No, really, Thank You.), even (and especially) from many with different views and experiences than mine. But there were a few who felt hurt or defensive. Some were judgmental. A couple were even mean. And that was to be expected.

*

"I’ve haemorrhaged emotionally and spiritually in the dark. It’s not a situation I’d recommend, or ever want to find myself in again. The thought of people I care for feeling that such a place is their only recourse or refuge chills and fevers me. I don’t want to become a toughened, emotionally void bit of gristle believing that anyone who lives or believes or struggles differently than I do isn’t worth my time, my listening, my consideration and conversation. I don’t want to wrap my heart in a box; I want to wrap it around people. If a friend is worried about a sickly, injured, scared or fevered part of their world, I want to know about it, to be a safe place for them to share their aching hearts. I think being honest, being vulnerable with pieces of ourselves, is like cuddling your own newborn self and then letting someone else have a hold. Newborns are delicate, sensitive, messy and precious, no matter what they look like, or what led to their birth. Just like our vulnerabilities, we need love, gentleness and consideration – even when we’re screaming." - Kellie

*

There is risk inherent in openness. The desire to be known must be carefully weighed against the desire to be safe and accepted. Unapologetic authenticity gives birth to gaping vulnerability, and the world at large is free to dispassionately poke, judge, celebrate, or reject these shared pieces of your soul in about as much time as it takes to back out of a driveway.

It's easier to be safe: to smile and nod, to be who people expect you to be, to not rock the boat. I don't judge anyone who wraps themselves in that cozy identity. But for me, it itches.

From me, integrity demands vulnerability. And so I am honest about who I am, hoping (and seeing) that my openness gives others permission to likewise be their authentic selves. I own the risk of being misunderstood. 


I choose to be known.


{England, 2007}

{The quotes in this post were taken from blog posts or articles that have touched me deeply in the past month. I encourage you to click on the links and read them all--they contain beautiful insights from strong women.}

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Me and the Priesthood: A Series of Vignettes



Some of my earliest memories include receiving priesthood blessings from my father. I remember a blessing when I was constipated at the age of three, blessings at the start of every school year, a blessing when I was 11 and woke up in the night nauseous and anxious and shaking uncontrollably, a blessing when I was trying to decide whether to serve a mission or get married, a blessing before my wedding day. After each blessing, I felt loved, comforted, and known.

*

Most of the boys in my church age group turned twelve before I did. I remember each of them being called to the stand as the months paraded on and raising my hand to sustain them in their new callings as Deacons and priesthood holders. I watched them in ensuing weeks as they trooped white-shirted through the chapel aisles, wielding trays of bread and water, serving silently but visibly. I felt an increasing internal agitation, a painful little itch somewhere in my thorax, as my birthday approached. And on that sunny September day, I was handed my Primary graduation certificate with a handshake from my bishop on the podium. There was no sustaining vote for me, no encircling rite of ordination after the meeting, no subsequent increase of responsibility or service.

I knew women weren't eligible to receive the priesthood, but I was angry. My pride was wounded. I knew myself to be just as capable, just as responsible, just as righteous as my male peers. Let's be honest: I also thought I was more mature, more knowledgeable in the gospel, more prepared for such a privilege than they were. It rankled inside me for a long time that these boys I saw at school who said such crude things were entrusted to serve in the church in a way that I wasn't. 

It was the first time I really understood that being a girl in the church was different than being a boy, that regardless of my efforts and my worthiness, there were many opportunities to serve that were closed to me.

*

I always knew I wanted to serve a mission. It was not a commandment for me like it was for my male friends, but I was excited to go. I was in high school when our prophet, Pres. Hinckley, made a statement about sister missionaries (in Priesthood session of all places) where he, in essence, said that missions were primarily a priesthood (male) responsibility and that the reason women couldn't go until they were older (21 vs 19 for men) was because the church was trying to keep the number of women serving "relatively small." I was bewildered and hurt that this statement on a subject so near to my heart had been made in a meeting I wasn't allowed to attend, and I felt that the church I so desperately wanted to serve didn't honor or value my desire simply because I was a woman.

*

I was 20 when I sat in the office of my singles' ward bishop at BYU. I nervously laid out each of my reasons for wanting to be a missionary like pearls between us and asked if my motivations were worthy. He reluctantly handed me a packet of mission papers, but he informed me that women were not encouraged to serve, that my number one priority should be thinking about marriage and family. He knew I was seriously dating a wonderful man in our ward, but I wasn't sure I was ready to get married. I left the interview clutching the papers with a heavy heart and feeling like my offering wasn't enough.

*

I worked up the courage to consult with the bishop of my home singles' ward over the summer. When I nervously asked if he thought it would be okay if I served a mission, his smile and exuberant affirmation warmed me.

*

I loved my missionary service. It was brutally difficult, but I wanted to be there. I served alongside mostly young men, and I came to love and respect many of them deeply. It rankled sometimes that I wasn't eligible for leadership service positions, but for the most part I enjoyed working with my district and zone leaders. Once, as a formality, I asked a zone leader for permission to leave my ward boundaries to say goodbye to and introduce a struggling investigator who'd moved unexpectedly to the Elders in his area (the investigator lived about 15 minutes away but was in our singles' ward boundary, just not in our family ward's boundary). The zone leader left a message on our answering machine telling us that we could not go. I called him back and said that we knew what was right for our investigator and we were going anyway and who was he to tell us no when most missionaries wouldn't have even asked and we were just trying to be obedient. My tirade wasn't exactly Christlike, but he gave us permission to go (with qualifications). I chafed, knowing my anger had less to do with this Elder and more to do with the knowledge that I would always be the one asking permission, never the one granting it.

*

In one ward I served in, the bishop had previously excluded sister missionaries from PEC meetings because they were not men. We held the same calling and authority as the Elders, but because we were women, we were not welcome. He thankfully reconsidered his position around the time I got there, but I always felt like an intruder in PEC after that and had a burst of anxiety that my voice was not welcome any time I needed to speak.

*

There were a few times over the years where I met with various bishops to discuss matters that were very sensitive and personal. I felt so awkward and ashamed to talk about such issues with a man, especially one so much older than myself. I remember desperately wishing I could talk to a woman who might be better able to understand me, might better know how to comfort and counsel me. 

*

Jay and I were asked to speak in church in a previous ward. The bishopric member asked Jay to speak for 15 minutes and me to speak for 10. Jay was asked to speak last. I'm sure the bishopric member didn't mean anything by it, but I was hurt and angry. I felt like my voice, as a woman, was considered less important. I worry that, in our culture, we unwittingly pass on the message that what women have to say is only important for women (and children) to hear, while what men have to say is important for everyone. We are slowly improving in this regard, but I still yearn for more strong women who are treated as spiritual leaders for the membership as a whole, and not just for women.

*

I held a calling in a stake capacity several years ago. My stewardship was minimal, but I was able to observe the workings of the authority hierarchy in the stake. I was stunned and frustrated when, multiple times, my committee's decisions were overturned and our needs were not met. Despite logic and appeals, our various requests were denied by a leader who, while a wonderful man I very much respect, was a stubborn micro manager. There was no recourse for us; we yielded to his directives (some of us with more grace than others). 

*

I handed over my sweet baby, swathed in yards of gauzy white, to my husband, who joined a group of other men at the front of the chapel to give her a name and a blessing. I was so proud and so pleased, but a small part of me wished that I could be part of that sacred circle, too.




*

I am currently serving in the Young Women organization in my ward. I love the girls I work with: they are bright, beautiful, and capable. Young men in our church have the opportunity from the age of twelve to serve the general ward membership in very visible ways (performing sacrament ordinances, home teaching, collecting fast offerings), which is wonderful. I have been looking for ways that the young women can likewise serve and support the members of the ward. I have suggested a few things, but coming up with ideas takes a lot of creativity and implementing ideas/seeking permission takes a lot of work. With the way the church is so efficiently run under the structure of the priesthood, it can be difficult to carve out places for women (and young women) to serve and minister to the general membership and not just children and other women.

*

I first heard about the group Ordain Women a year ago. I never joined it since part of their platform and many of their methods were not in line with my beliefs, but I marveled that there were other women like me who felt unheard and underutilized, who had love for the gospel but pain from their experiences in the church. I respected their courage and grace, especially in the face of a vitriolic backlash that horrified me. I did not feel I could join them, but I understood them. I have compassion for them. 

I join with them now in mourning during this difficult time while simultaneously trying to withhold judgment on whether Kate Kelly's excommunication was right or wrong. It is not my place to judge or condemn, but to love, to acknowledge all pain and experiences as valid, to mourn with those that mourn. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

On Motherhood: Conduit

I wrote this over a year ago, and it came to mind on this mother's day evening as the erratic movements of this new woman-child inside me erupt like fireworks across my distended belly.

{2012; photo by Katie}

My daughter has transformed my body into something useful, sustaining. In utero, she stretched and grew, and my body made room for her as she displaced organs and created a conduit for her entrance into the world. Even now, a year later, my body bears her mark: widened hips, thinning hair, puckered stretch marks, loose and dimpled flesh, soft and drooping breasts. 



I no longer have the body of my lean, lithe, 20 year old self. Those days are gone. But I have the body of a mother, a figure shaped by pregnancy and nursing, arms strong from lifting and carrying, a face marked by laughter and tears. It has taken some time, but I love this body more now than I did ten years ago.




I feel God reforming my character sometimes, molding me as deftly as my daughter has--wider here, softer there--fashioning me into something different and beautiful, something useful, a conduit to bring more of Him into the world.


{Taken today, Mother's day 2014}