Hope

Hope

It was a greatly-anticipated Saturday of early summer. I don’t normally like summer, mainly because I dislike the heat and the sun, especially with my pallor. The sun shines but it also burns. But I decided to make nice and give summer another chance.

I began my day by walking my brand-new Sperry’s on their maiden voyage to the Farmer’s Market. I was still on President Nelson’s challenge to avoid social media for a week and I was also opting out of Netflix so that meant listening to LOTS of music. So as I walked I explored Broadway’s Frozen soundtrack. Oh Caissie Levy, your voice is both glass and the force that shatters it.

I couldn’t help but appreciate the conspicuous loveliness around me. My neighborhood has a sort of relentless perfection: every lawn is trimmed, every potted plant in full bloom. I never know if I should savor the ideal or distrust it. I wonder if that would be my first reaction to heaven: suspicion.

Still though, the beauty was certainly inviting. A modest wind flowed through the trees, with the light bouncing from leaf to leaf. The sky was empty, and positively blue. I ambled past the homes, persistent construction, the polished lake, and arrived at the market. I was surrounded by colors and smells and young eager families. There was something about the combination of supple produce and the life of local entrepreneurship that I found extraordinarily satisfying. Nature and its products make me feel peaceful and seeing local members of the community sell their goods made me feel a vicarious excitement for them. After absorbing it all I left, lavender bushel in hand, and happily trotted back home.

The day wore on in the heat so I visited the local pool. As I sank in, the water was crisp and glassy, a fresh covering to my sticky skin. There’s something about swimming that makes me feel child-like again—like I’m imitating a mermaid. I was only submerged a few minutes, enough to get cold. As I climbed out, I felt delightfully frigid. I love moments when I can feel truly cold in the hottest season.

At this time, I was in yet another stage of uncertainty. My career future felt murky and I was still navigating my seemingly perpetual singleness. I’m used to not knowing my future even months ahead, but it still costs a degree of mental endurance. This summer day was an opportunity to live in the moment and bring the “eternal now” to the foreground of my mind.

I’ve spent years with a hope that was either reluctant or nearly absent, unsure that God and I had the same goals for what my life would look like. Repeated disappointment leaves a degree of trauma and choosing to hope again can feel like going back to an abusive relationship. And yet, I had spent a weekend encompassed by the sights and sounds of God’s love in the little ways he knew I would understand.

The next day I went to church and sat in our women’s meeting as we were taught how to receive answers to prayer. I brought my new and old notebooks, full of recorded thoughts, promises, and blessings between God and me. As I listened to the lesson I also reviewed the assurances I had recorded of some of my most memorable moments with God. I realized with striking poignancy that God has already promised me what I hoped to know, I just didn’t have the heart to believe Him. Or I believed that I would get the hand-me-down version of my dreams. And for the first time in what seemed like ages, I allowed myself to hope.

Believing that my future is bright allows me to wake up and enjoy the present. I can thus accept my current reality with gratitude knowing that God’s goal of my happiness applies to both my present and future. I can trust the blessings around me and look forward to great things ahead. I’ve pondered this question for years:

How is it that I can radically accept my life as it is, and at the same time, hope that it gets better?

By believing that now and forevermore, he is on my side. Nothing and no one can hurt me more than he can love and ultimately bless me.

The same is true for you.

 

 

Womanhood

Womanhood

It seems we’re living in a time when women are feeling a universal spotlight and we’re figuring out what to do with it. Our suffragette forbears fought for us to have an equal legal and governmental voice. For so long women have fought to have what the men already have as they’ve ruled the echelons of the world for ages. And there’s still so much work to do. Sexism is alive and well. The inequities abound, both passively and aggressively. Many countries are even blind to the evils of rape, the necessity of education or other essential rights.

Unmistakably, whether consciously or not, the subject of rights morphs into a discussion of identity. In the United States, where equality has arguably progressed a bit further, there seems to be this persistent crisis of identity. The definition of WOMANHOOD changes from country to country, minute to minute, and culture to culture. A woman living in Ethiopia in the 1970s is going to have a different definition than a woman in modern-day Nebraska. I wish I could say that we can just abandon definitions altogether. But the truth is, our brains are going to generate a definition regardless, so it’s wise that we give them a good one.

I grew up in the 90s, and it’s overwhelming to think of all that has transpired in the discussion of gender, equality, etc. Everyone is affected by it and eventually comes to terms with it in their own way, and I am no exception.

As a young girl I was very drawn to the martial arts. I can’t explain this as neither of my parents went out of their way to promote this idea. I just remember admiring it, longing to learn more, and pouring into a book on martial arts. I loved the physicality and the inherent strength. I don’t remember being a particularly aggressive kid—to this day I’ve never been in any kind of fist-fight, I just found martial arts fascinating. (Side note, as I’m writing this, I’m watching Mulan on Netflix and remembering that this was the first Disney-princess movie I saw in the theater. Maybe Mulan’s epic character piqued my interest).

I BEGGED my mom to enroll me in Karate. She had originally signed me up for ballet, but it was evident early on that I was not patient enough to hold my arms and feet in rigid, suspended positions. So she let me quit. She finally compromised that I could do Tae Kwon Do, because it was cheaper than the Karate place in town. I threw myself into it as an 8-year-old and earned a black belt in two years. I broke boards with my hands and feet, sparred with kids older and bigger than me, took my first punch to the gut, did the splits, and learned about perseverance.

To my parents’ credit, there was NEVER a moment where they took me aside and said “this is not a girl activity; it’s not feminine and you need to do something else”.  They understood, consciously or not, that a woman is capable of sensitivity AND strength, and that my desire to do martial arts was no indication that there was something wrong with me.

Now here I am 16 years later, punching in the clock day in and day out with the persistent nagging thoughts of “Am I really living up to my potential?” “Is this really what I want?” One of my best friends recently asked me: “Do you think long-term you want to be a career woman with kids or be a stay-at-home mom?”   I don’t know. I want to end my work-day feeling like I’ve helped someone, made a difference, acted creatively, and solved problems. And a little appreciation would be nice too. Isn’t that what everyone wants? I think you could find that satisfaction (or the lack thereof) within a career or staying at home. Neither scenario is going to be fulfilling all the time or without sacrifice.

Back to the spotlight. What do we want? Who are we? What does it mean to be a woman?

Our society thrives on definitions. Our brains need it to make sense of the world. We observe countless details and analyze what makes a “man” and what makes a “woman”. And if someone or something doesn’t meet that constructed definition (i.e. women can’t be aggressive, men can’t be sensitive, etc.) then we ostracize them at least a little. I believe as a society we’re finally starting to validate the idea that HEY, WE’RE HUMANS AND WE’RE A BIT MORE COMPLICATED THAN THE SIMPLE BINARY OF MASCULINE VS. FEMININE, as if they’re mutually exclusive. As a side note: I personally feel like we’ve since accepted that women CAN be tenacious and physical, BUT it’s still hard for us to stomach a man being truly vulnerable. We’ve got to fix that and teach our sons to be emotionally intelligent, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Maybe our identity crisis is driven by a heartache to understand ourselves and to be understood. We’re still figuring out who we are. Maybe we don’t fully comprehend our power.

If we go back to the Christian beginning, Eve was the “mother of all living”. A definition like that makes me think that a woman can be universally described as a creator of infinite capacity. But does that mean men can’t be creators? Does a definition of womanhood have to be something that DOES NOT apply to men?

Maybe it’s deeper and more eternal than that. Maybe our finite minds keep trying to attach a worldly status to something that may be less finitely tangible. It’s hard to pin down something so nebulous. All I’ve got is my faith.

My dream is to have a man and a woman stand side by side fully respecting each other’s abilities and gifts and having an equal voice in all things. Men shouldn’t tyrannize or patronize. Women shouldn’t have to claw their way to dignity and respect. Neither should they speak degradation against men as a sort of passive-aggressive revenge. Neither gender should apologize for their greatness. Men and women need to accept their inherent gifts and equality, step it up, and be who they were born to be for each other.

I make sense of the world with my religion, in which motherhood is revered as the holiest calling. Yet, is motherhood synonymous with womanhood? Yes and no. Sharon Eubank, my personal hero, and a woman currently with no children, defined motherhood in this way:

“Charity, or the pure love of Christ, is motherhood in a very practical and real way—sacrificing so that others might thrive and seeing beyond present circumstances to the way things really are. This motherhood is part of my covenantal identity. My mother-work will come directly through the whispers of the Holy Spirit. And it is no less real for being unrelated by blood and bone.” (Reference below).

If we go back to the beginning, we see the divine progenitors of our current, human roles. I love that my religion purports the concept of a reigning Heavenly Mother; I just wish I could see what that looks like. How does she communicate? How does she lead? How does she create? What are her responsibilities? What’s her superpower? Part of me feels that if I could just see Her, up close, I could come home to myself in the way I’ve always yearned.

I’ve never heard it better articulated than this:

“Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”
– Glenn L. Pace (Reference Below)

Until that moment, I’ll keep trying to find echoes of my Parents in all the noise. This post is a bit scattered. I don’t have all the answers. I won’t stop trying to figure it out. I believe men and women need each other and always will. I believe we were always supposed to be a team. And I think my Heavenly Parents feel the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936.

Eubank, S. (2018, May 11). The Idea of ‘Mothers in Zion’ Made Me Mad—Until I Learned What it Meant. Retrieved from https://www.lds.org/blog/the-idea-of-mothers-in-zion-made-me-maduntil-i-learned-what-it-meant?lang=eng

Pace, G. (2010, March 6). The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women. Retrieved from https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/glenn-l-pace_divine-nature-destiny-women/

Happiness in Singleness

Happiness in Singleness

I remember talking into the night with my cousin, a few years younger than me and wading through the jungle of dating in college with intermittent singleness. We discussed the disappointments, the disparity, and the dangers of misjudging one’s self-worth. I’ve learned that I have to have immense psychological stamina to believe in myself, because I will never run out of societal evidence that my “lovability score” is wanting. I believe that human beings are most fulfilled when we have a committed life partner with whom we can give our whole selves, but what if that isn’t our reality? I’ve navigated the ups and downs of dating, singleness, and self-discovery and I’m still learning. But I can honestly say that I have gained a real happiness in this stage. Loneliness is real but it can be overcome. Here is what I’ve learned:

  1.       Establish a support system

Historically, I have occasionally taken my introverted independence a little too far, to the point that I somehow believe I can take on life totally on my own. THIS IS NOT TRUE OR HEALTHY. I’ve had good friends come and go for jobs, school, marriage, etc. and I’ve learned that I often have to rely on myself for my own happiness.

Last year, within a couple months of each other, I had two close friends become engaged. Suddenly their world was consumed with matrimonial minutia and I reflexively surrendered my spot on their list of priorities, figuring I should play along with what I then believed to be inevitable. By now I had become familiar with this pattern. I filled my world with lots of distraction but eventually fell into a funk. I eventually approached my best friend and admitted “I’m a hot mess, I need to talk”. I then went to her newlywed apartment, sat on her couch, and unloaded for a solid 3+ hours. I don’t think I’ve ever singlehandedly talked that much in my life, and the weight I had carried left my body and mind. She proved to me that connection is not a luxury, it is my food and drink. I learned that I don’t have to do this alone and some people will always be there if you ask for it.

I have to have at least a couple of people in my life with whom I can be completely authentic. No façade, no filter, just me. For a long time, I believed I wouldn’t truly have that kind of emotional intimacy until I had a ring on my finger. But guess what? I need to be truly loved now. That’s not something one can postpone–at least not without serious consequences. Life is meant to be lived together and my life will be more full if I can better serve and connect with others.

  1.       Self-care

This involves eating well and exercising regularly. Yeah… I’m still figuring this one out. There are already countless articles pretentiously clamoring to be the sexiest diet/workout, so I’ll try not to add to that discussion. Just treat your body well. When I picture my ideal healthy self, I see someone who moves, experiences nature, enjoys colorful, fresh foods, and is temperate. I don’t believe in wearing my exhausted body as a badge of productivity. I believe in resting when I’m tired, eating when I’m hungry, and moving forward.

  1.       Self-discovery

As cheesy as it sounds, I have found a tremendous value in taking personality tests. I’ve used enneagram and Meyer-Briggs and the latter in particular was REVOLUTIONARY in my self-awareness. There were so many things I now understand about myself that were previously a frustrating mystery. I’ve learned that I’m happiest when I can participate in meaningful connections and make a difference. I’ve learned how important it is for me to recharge when I’m overstimulated, and many other insights. When you don’t understand yourself, you tend to judge yourself and others much more harshly. I’ve learned that sometimes, just by virtue of how my mind is wired, my gut response is healthy in some situations and unhealthy in others. I can now pick up on my red flags and take a step back to course-correct. The study has also allowed me to peek into other personality types to get an appreciation for their outlooks as well.

  1.       Conquer something hard

It’s very important to know that you’ll not just survive in the singleness wilderness, but thrive.

I have a huge love for performing arts, i.e. music, theatre, film, etc. I’m mostly a choir nerd with very limited acting experience—just some provincial community theatre as a kid. I’ve always been annoyed by people who are desperate for the spotlight, but also simultaneously jealous of their self-confidence, of which I had little. I think it is one of the scariest experiences to screw up on stage or in an audition. I decided to practice. I printed headshots and a crappy resume and auditioned for a musical, a video series, and a film. If I had to guess, I would say the auditions ranged from terrible to okay. But guess what? I DID IT. I was brave and I’m very proud of myself for it.

My point is, when you’re single, it is easy to be stagnant and wait for your life to happen: “I’ll be happy and lovable when _____”. I’ve learned that if I want to be the happiest, healthiest version of myself, then I need to majorly step out of my comfort zone. In this practice, I’ve noticed a change in my self-confidence. I no longer inwardly cringe at the idea of trying new things and failing. I’m much more mentally resilient to handle difficulties. I’ve learned that I’m capable of greatness and that I can conquer enormous challenges.

  1.       Be open to new things

When life happens and my “plan” isn’t realized, it helps to be open to new things, or try something different. Apparently if one wants to have a life partner one must date. After a dearth of good dates, I decided to try online dating, with which I have a tolerate-hate relationship. I think of it as one of life’s necessary pains, like taxes or mammograms. But guess what? It’s probably the most efficient way to break the ice and meet people. At the very least it’s something I can actively do to increase my chances, and there’s nothing like the illusion of control over one’s life. 😉

  1.       Exercise your independence

There was a point where my best friends were getting engaged and three different people at my job announced they were pregnant and I just thought: “I have to get out of here”.

So I went to New York. I took a long weekend and ran away to Manhattan all by myself. It had been my third time visiting NYC and I felt very safe and comfortable going alone. I ate cupcakes, French food, and saw some shows. I burrowed in a tiny hostel, strolled the crowded streets, and did a lot of thinking. I ran in Central Park and breathed the muggy August air of independence. In that urban, congested city, I felt wide and open. And then when the constant stimulation became too intense, I could retreat and recharge at will. When I find myself resenting my stage of life, it helps to relish the unique pros of my situation.

  1.       Prayer

Prayer should be a therapy session—a sacred occasion but still honest and authentic. I’m still “practicing” the art of prayer. Sometimes I’m great at it and sometimes I’m bland or distracted. I would make the case that it is VITAL to have a rich spiritual life and connection with God. I’ve learned that even when I have no one, I have God. I could put it like this: if I was stranded on an island, all alone with no help or resources, I could turn to God for help, and go on. I am NEVER truly alone.

  1.   Creativity

There’s something magical and divine about crafting raw materials into a whole. This can be practiced in endless ways. I personally like to play piano and sing. I love to interpret and musically relate others’ stories. I also enjoy writing, doing puzzles, and trying not to kill plants. Over the last 2 years, I’ve participated in an Interfaith Choir, Lux Singers, dedicated to creating musical art to share light and healing. When I’m busy with a creative challenge, I feel more human, more present, and like I’m truly living.

  1.   Serve

Because I have no dependents, it’s SO easy to only think about MYself and MY happiness. While I believe that achieving happiness requires taking personal inventory to make changes, I know I’ll never be truly happy unless I look outside myself. To not serve others is to live an empty life. When I consciously try to be kind, observant, complimentary, and regularly do nice things others, I feel better about my progress as a human being and I’m less whiny about my singleness.

I believe in joy no matter where you are in life. Life is meant to be extraordinary, no matter what.