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


{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.}