Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Mormon Story

In light of my recent admission on Facebook that I am no longer a member of the Mormon/LDS church, I've decided to pop back onto my blog for a minute to share my story. My really, really, really long story. Hopefully you have nothing better to do on a cold November night, because it's a novel if you decide that you want to read it. But it comes from my heart. The bottom of my heart. I share it because I consider myself an honest person, and my friends and family deserve to know how I got to this place. I wrote this a little over a month ago with plans to work up the courage to share it by the end of the year. It didn't happen in quite the way I expected but I have now met that goal. Thank you for your patience with me as I navigate my new beliefs while holding on to what has made me who I am.

October 1, 2015

I have started writing this in my head so many times that it seems strange to finally be putting it on paper (virtually speaking). But I knew that at some point I would, because truth means everything to me, and I don’t want to hide my personal truth from the people I care about the most.

First, let me tell you what I loved about being raised a Mormon. There are so many happy moments when I look back at it now (sprinkled with a few very boring lessons and playing the piano when I didn’t want to of course!).  I loved the sense of inclusion. I loved the relationships I formed with teachers and strong role models. I loved many of the Primary songs (especially “We’ll Bring the World His Truth” and “I Love to See the Temple”). I loved the Young Women’s program and the responsibilities I had. I loved conference and hearing old guys talking about loving our families and being good people. I loved seminary. I loved having good, pure friends who supported each other and still do. I loved having a soft place to land and a system that guided me when my parents’ marriage ended and left me feeling very lost. I loved the order, the community, the service, the faith, and the people.

By the time I was engaged and preparing to go through the temple, I felt 100% ready. I had dedicated myself to the church early on in my teen years and had made it through high school and into college at BYU-Idaho without drinking, trying drugs, getting frisky with boys in the backseat, and, believe it or not, without using cuss words! I already had the habits of reading the scriptures and praying every day. I embraced everything about the church, the Book of Mormon, and the temple. I considered it a compliment when people called me a “Molly Mormon.” I was ready to go to the temple and make even greater commitments to my Heavenly Father. I was so excited throughout the endowment process, knowing I was making special promises to the church, God, and my soon-to-be husband. I soaked it all up, believing that this act of receiving such sacred ordinances and marrying there in the temple were the greatest, most life-altering decisions I would ever make.

I didn’t know that roughly seven years later, I would be making another decision that would surpass it all.

My husband Aaron has always been a well-rounded individual. He was always much more likely to try to see things from the perspectives of others than I was. A critical thinking lesson in a class at BYU-Idaho made him even more considerate and likely to sympathize when someone expressed a thought or feeling. So when he started to ask questions about the church and its doctrines, I knew it was because he was honestly trying to define his beliefs so that he could give sincere and truthful answers to others. He would ask me the questions, and I would give him the answers as they were taught to both of us growing up in the church. But in the end I would often find myself shrugging my shoulders and saying, “There are lots of things we don’t know. God will reveal more when people are ready for it.”

For a long time, that was enough for me. Whatever I didn’t understand was placed on my proverbial “shelf” and I continued with my church attending, homemaking, and stay-at-home mothering. But I could tell that Aaron was struggling. He slowly began asking questions that I couldn’t answer at all and it was causing a bit of a rift between us. He was thinking a lot, reading the scriptures a lot, and praying a lot, but his questions remained. I was confused. This was not the person I thought I had married. How could someone trying to prove his faith right be losing it instead? So I prayed for him too. I prayed for help to understand his questions, to find some answers for him, to know how to encourage him. I had faith that he would find satisfactory answers in his studies in time.

            One night, not long after Aaron’s intense search for answers had begun, I was fighting some anxiety over a health problem and I asked for a Priesthood blessing. He hesitated. I could tell he didn’t want to. After a while he could see that it was the only thing that was going to help me feel better and he obliged. This happened on a couple of other occasions and finally he told me, “I just don’t know if it really does anything.”

I was incredibly hurt by that statement. It opened my eyes to how much he was really beginning to doubt, and not just one or two things about church doctrine, but the entire religion. I was scared and I was beginning to wonder how someone so faithful could be struggling so much. It wasn’t happening the way I had always heard of it happening. Aaron was a good person. He wasn’t offended or prideful or lazy. He was spending huge amounts of time trying to connect with God and follow the guidance of the Spirit.

It just didn’t make sense.

Seeing this, I too, began to question certain aspects of my faith. I couldn’t find a balance between the love and understanding I wanted to show my husband and the love I was supposed to have for a god I could not see or hear. I couldn’t understand why God did not seem to be giving me any sort of direction despite my frequent, fervent prayers. I continued to beg for His help. I attended church with our children. I committed myself to extra scripture study. I visited the temple. I fasted. I talked to my parents and Aaron’s, all of whom encouraged me to be strong. I kept doing what I was supposed to do and I continued to hope that everything would be set right eventually. I just had to keep the faith.

In 2013 after a summer of working a job that often required him to miss church, Aaron asked if it would be okay if he didn’t attend anymore. He told me that our relationship was the most important thing to him and that if I wanted, he would keep going. But it was obvious that he was not happy there anymore. I wanted to support him in whatever way I could but at the same time I was crushed. I could no longer follow the storyline I’d created as a little girl of a perfect, righteous marriage with Aaron. I was praying harder than I had ever prayed before to make this work. I was pouring my heart out to Heavenly Father all day long. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I imagined many scenarios, and all of them ended with one or both of us being completely dissatisfied in our marriage. I wondered if it would end in divorce because it didn’t seem possible that we would ever be able to agree on how to approach life and raise our family if we didn’t hold the same beliefs.

It felt as though my worst nightmares were coming true. My life seemed to be falling apart in a way I had never expected.

But there was one truth that seemed to pull at me, to keep me engaged in the struggle: I loved Aaron. I loved him so much I couldn’t stand the thought of being without him. I could feel it inside, deeper even than my faith. He was everything to me. And he was so good. A good husband, a good father, a good person. Whatever ideas I had about “apostate” Mormons, he was the exact opposite. If he was so “tricked” by Satan, was it wrong that I still felt so good about him? If he was so good, was it right to be questioning my relationship with him? Did our entire history together come down to this one issue and end because we could not agree?

No. Not for me.

I knew who he was. He was not the kind of man who would casually walk away from his beliefs, his family, or the god he had served. I knew that the things he had been telling me, the questions he had asked and the answers he was finding, must have some truth to them.

So I started to ask him questions. I asked him how he had come to his conclusions, what he had read, whom he had talked to. I began to realize that the resources he had found were not “anti-Mormon” as I had feared, but simply historians, educators, and good, honest people who were just telling their own stories. And I was finally ready to listen.

I’m going to pause here and say one thing – I am not here to tell you everything I have learned about the history and origins of the LDS church. I am not here to change your mind or alter your faith. I’m just telling my story. But I will tell you that despite what you may have been told, not everything outside of the Sunday school manuals is false or anti-Mormon information. There are a lot of things – a whole lot – that are just facts. Honest to goodness facts. There are books, letters, journals, and a hundred other resources that back them up. The church itself has even become more candid about its past. If you haven’t read the church essays on regarding black members and the Priesthood, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, and the seer stone, you should. The church is making an effort to be more open and it is in the interest of every member to know these things.

But back to the story.

I felt that I had doubted my doubts for a very long time. It didn’t seem to be working. I would latch onto a story, a scripture, an experience, or a feeling, only to have it overshadowed by the lack of communication I felt from Heavenly Father. I was still struggling with why He seemed to be unavailable to me when I needed Him the most, especially if He really expected me to remain faithful at this critical, pivotal moment. I had been through the oft-quoted Mormon method of pray, read scriptures, fast, visit the temple, go to church, be faithful, and on and on and on, with absolutely nothing to show for it. My faith was taking a hit and I felt a strong urge to start figuring things out. Really figuring them out.

I started by watching part of a historical documentary that discussed the origins of the Book of Abraham. When it was over, I was dumbfounded. I was sure there must be some mistake. I simply couldn’t believe that the Book of Abraham was God-given scripture if I was to accept the evidence presented in the documentary, and it seemed incredibly solid and unbiased. And if I couldn’t believe the Book of Abraham was what Joseph Smith had claimed, I had to wonder what else might be amiss during his time as prophet. I immediately wanted to know more about Joseph Smith.

I turned to a man who had been an early morning seminary teacher and had put some videos online to try to help Mormons who had doctrinal questions. He talked about Joseph Smith’s process in writing the Book of Abraham and confirmed what the documentary had said. He also mentioned that Joseph Smith had been married to many more women than just his first wife, Emma (again, please read the church’s essays on this topic). I was so confused. I, a lifelong Mormon, didn’t even know that. I thought that polygamy had started with Brigham Young. It certainly had never come up in any Sunday school lesson that I could remember. So what else was there that I didn’t know?

A lot of things, as it turned out.

And that was the problem. It was not just one thing. I could have gotten over it if it was. The problem was that one thing led to another, led to another, led to another. Over the course of a few weeks I learned more. Despite starting out with a real desire to prove everything about the LDS church right, I found that the evidence was stacking against me. And much of the evidence could be found in the church’s own records, like the Journal of Discourses, old conference addresses, and books sold in the church’s own store, Deseret Book. I watched the PBS documentary about Mormons and although I had watched it when it first aired I couldn’t believe all the things I had glossed over. The sketchy translation process of the Book of Mormon. Historical issues with the Book of Mormon and its writers. The Mountain Meadows Massacre. Brigham Young’s radical ideas. There was so much to take in and it just kept coming. I was seeing everything in a new light and the fog of my denial was rapidly disappearing.

Aaron helped me through it all. He had already been through this. Sometimes I felt like everything I had known was crumbling before me. My entire brain was being reorganized and my thoughts redefined. I couldn’t sleep because I was thinking so much. And praying! So much praying. Day and night and in-between diaper changes and mealtimes. Father, please help me to make sense of all this! Point me in the right direction! I need you now more than ever before!

            It didn’t take long before I realized that I would never be the same again. My entire worldview had shifted. I no longer felt that I could choose belief. There was no light that was leading me to discover the church’s truth. I was finding no peace there. I continued to attend church, but I could no longer look at the lessons and teachings with the same eyes. Everything that was said became a question for me. Is that really true? And, of course, there were things that were true. The good people of the church teach love, kindness, family, perseverance, and many more wonderful values. I could not fault those things. But it was the reliance on the Book of Mormon, the hero-like status of Joseph Smith, and several other topics that eventually caused me to avoid Sunday School altogether. It was too much. It felt wrong to sit and listen to members testify of all these things when I knew they didn’t have all of the information.

            Several things happened in the year of 2014 that led up to my leaving the church entirely. On Sundays I taught a class of seven and eight-year olds and I loved it. I loved them. But I could not testify of everything that was written in the manual. When it asked for the teacher to bear testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon or the prophet, I skipped over it. And even as I attended the baptisms of each of those children I had grown to care about so much, I knew, at some point, that I would have to let it all go.

            It wasn’t easy. I was going to church in the same building I’d grown up in, with many of the same people. People I had known my entire life were there. Many of them knew my husband was no longer active and I felt like they had me on some kind of spiritual suicide watch that made them extra nice. The missionaries and members of the Elder’s Quorum had been making occasional visits to our home and were trying to keep us going. I knew they were doing it because in some ways they really did care. And I appreciated that. But in the end I could no longer convince myself that the positive things about staying in the church outweighed the negative. And that was when I could no longer look them in the eyes and tell them I still wanted it to be true.

I had a baby at the end of the year and I planned my exit around it. After the typical amount of maternity leave from church, I simply didn’t return.

            It wasn’t as cut and dry as it sounds. People visited us in our home, I went back to be released from my calling, and a few people asked if we would be blessing our baby. The answer, without question, was no. It had taken me a long time to come to these conclusions but I knew I didn’t want anyone “sympathy blessing” our baby because they knew Aaron wasn’t going to. And when you no longer believe in the Priesthood authority, it doesn’t make much sense anyway.
            Since then I have not gone back to church. Two of my children still ask to attend on occasion (who doesn’t love nursery?), so I take them. But I don’t stay. I happily attend baby blessings and missionary farewells because I love and support the people involved, but not because it touches my heart to be there. I still love the people of the church. I still love some of the things it teaches. I still read the Ensign and listen to Conference talks because those things have been a huge part of my life and I always hope to find little nuggets of wisdom that I can hold onto. But because I cannot believe that the church is “true,” I have found it too dishonest to continue participating in its customs.

            I have a feeling that after reading this far you are very likely saying to yourself, “She just didn’t do enough. She should have prayed more. Waited longer for an answer from God. Gone to the temple more. Read her scriptures longer and paid more tithing! Was she serving others? Was she listening to the Spirit?” I imagine you are trying to find the one thing I did or didn’t do that got me to where I am now. I suppose you think Satan must have wormed his way in with one tiny doubt and made it grow bigger and bigger. You might even think, when you look at me, that “the light is gone from my eyes.” I have a feeling you are thinking those things because those are the same things I used to think about people who left the church. I have a feeling you are thinking those things because they are all things people have said about me, sometimes to me. And they are painful. They hurt. They hurt because people who know me, people who love me and have trusted me their entire lives and know what kind of person I have been, are saying them. They say unkind things about my husband, whom they often blame for starting me on this path, and I feel like the church continues giving them fuel to be insensitive toward us both. Somehow they seem to think that this change has made us entirely different people and that makes it okay to say those things. Obviously we are now lacking godliness, guidance, blessings, and perhaps lacking some sanity.

            It’s not true.

            Parts of me have had to change with the awareness I’ve gained, definitely. When you no longer see certain things as absolute sin, no longer think of the prophet’s words as indisputable, no longer believe that the world is getting worse and worse until it spontaneously combusts and Jesus comes to save the good kids… you change. Your opinions change.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you have seen some of my opinions change. I speak out more about women’s equality, gay rights, and I will absolutely point out something intolerant, insensitive, bigoted, or racist. I see the world through new eyes. But where you might consider that a bad thing, to me it feels so right. I feel good. I feel good when I say that gay marriage doesn’t bother me. I feel good when I say that women can and should do anything a man can do. I feel good when I say that it doesn’t bother me at all if someone has tattoos, drinks coffee, goes shopping on Sundays, or even has sex outside of marriage. I feel good being able to look at those people with absolute acceptance.

I feel good.

And I guess that’s what has been the most perplexing part of my transition out of Mormonism. Practically nothing they told me about being “apostate” has proven true. I don’t feel darkness around me. I don’t feel Satan’s influence washing over me or demons leading me further and further away from the iron rod. I don’t feel lost. It’s to the contrary, really.

Now, I can picture some of you saying something like this: “She just doesn’t recognize it. It’s there but she’s blind to it because she’s so far gone.” I used to say things like that about people who left the church. I would never say that now. When a person tells me how she (or he) feels, I believe her, because I know that she is the only one who truly knows. Anything else is my projection, the way I think they should feel based on my own paradigms. And that doesn’t do much to make someone feel loved or understood.  

Please believe me when I tell you how I feel.

Ironically, I feel more Christ-like than I have ever felt in my entire life. I honestly feel at peace. I have a positive outlook on the world. I am open to serving and loving all kinds of people. I feel more understanding, more kind, more willing to forgive. I am far less judgmental. I also feel very confident in who I am as a person, a mother, and a wife. I feel like I can listen to various opinions, study topics, and make my good choices based on facts rather than what someone else tells me I should do. I am open to anything and anyone so long as I can draw my own conclusions from the facts. None of those nagging questions or fears I used to have about life and church are bothering me anymore. The pressure I used to feel to be a certain kind of mother and a certain kind of woman are gone. I can be myself and I have many great plans for my life. I can make it whatever I want it to be without worrying that I am following the right formula. I believe in the goodness of others. I am dedicated to my husband and my family and I love them completely. I have gratitude. I have joy. I am content.

I know that there will be hardship in my life. I know that there will be happiness. I know that I will have ups and downs. But the beautiful thing about it all is that that is life. I don’t have to try to explain why some people get cancer and some people win the lottery. That is life. And it is wonderful, and terrible, and exciting and sad and so many other things. And I accept that. I accept it, and I love it. It is extraordinarily simple.

If you get nothing else out of my story, please remember this: The ideas you may have about “apostate” Mormons, ex-Mormons, and Mormons with doubts are very often wrong. Really, truly wrong. There are a few people who left because someone said something that offended them, people who left because they never felt included, people who left because the Word of Wisdom was too much for them to follow, people who left because it was a lot of work and they are lazy, or whatever other reasons people come up with. Yes, there are those people. But I am not one of them. I have never even encountered one of them. I have met with and heard the stories of dozens and dozens of former Mormons and they are all the same kinds of wonderful, sincere, thoughtful, loving people you sit next to in church every week. You know why that is? It’s because they are those people. They no longer have the same beliefs, but they are still the same good people.

Leaving the church has not changed who I am. I am the same person, with the same love for my family and friends and community. My opinions have changed but my core is the same. I don’t believe the church is true anymore. But it hasn’t turned me into a Satan-worshiping lunatic and it never will. I think for myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to only make stupid decisions. It doesn’t mean my life will be any harder or that my kids will grow up to be murderers. I am a decent person with a decent head on my shoulders and I will stand up for myself because I believe that I have made a good choice for me, for my family, and for my life.

I hope you can see that.

I hope that you will still be my friend. I hope that you will focus on what we have always had rather than on what I lack now. I hope that you won’t be afraid to share your stories, your experiences, and your successes in the church with me. Because even though I don’t believe in the church, I love you. And the church is a part of you. And it’s a part of me. And I embrace that about us both. I am not “anti-Mormon.” I will never deny the good things the church has brought to my life, including my good friends, moral courage, strong family values, and much, much more. I will not try to lead you astray. I will not weigh you down with information about the church or force my beliefs on you. I know it’s hard for you to understand now and I know you may never fully understand why I left. But remember that I have been in your shoes and I used to think the same things you think about people like me. I understand you. It’s okay if we don’t agree. It doesn’t hurt me if you don’t share my opinions. What hurts me is if you don’t feel we can still be friends, because despite our differences, that’s not how I feel at all.

            Please feel free to contact me personally if you have questions. I’m happy to answer Facebook messages, emails, texts, and phone calls. Please share your thoughts and feelings and Ensign articles and spiritual experiences and anything else you have to offer. I will never reject you when you are being kind and sincere. And if you have your own questions or doubts I am here to support you in every way I can. I know what it’s like to feel very alone in all this, and I don’t want you to feel that way. You’re not crazy. You’re not less. You are normal. You are brave. You are going to be okay.

            Thank you for reading. Thank you for your love and kindness and support, especially those of you who have not or will not let this affect our relationship. It means more to me than you know. You are exactly the kind of people I need in my life.

Seriously – thank you.

Dressing up as Katniss for Halloween, smiling, and loving life. Still Kayla.

Addendum: A few people have expressed their concerns that although I have left the church, I continue to speak against it at times (and why do I care if I don't believe?). The church has been my life. My family, friends, and most of the people I know are still a part of the church. I know many people who are like me, but who are still trying to be a part of the church. I know that there are people in the church who have questions, but are scared of what will happen if they ask them. I will advocate for those people indefinitely. I will advocate for the people in the church who struggle to raise their own voices. I will ask questions of the believers that will make them reconsider their treatment and thoughts about minorities in the church and about people, like me, who have made the choice to leave. My experience in the church and leaving the church have made me more aware of how many people need more love, more answers, and more support. I'm here to do that for them when they need it most.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Coffee is Just a Beverage -- Raising Open-Minded Children

Since having children, I have learned a great many things. I’ve talked about a few of them here as I have tried to make sense of myfailures as a parent, my moments of complete exasperation, and the times when nothing seems to make sense.

But there is one thing I feel I might be doing right.

I don’t want to sit here and toot my own horn. Mostly, I write this for myself so that I can put my thoughts down and keep examining things in order to choose a path I feel is best for me and for my kids, and I sort of just hope that someone else out there finds some of my thoughts useful too.

And I could be totally wrong. 

But that’s kind of the beauty of parenting, I suppose – screw it all up one day, start over the next.

So… I mentioned coffee.

Growing up, I was convinced that coffee was “bad.” Bad to drink, bad to taste, bad to smell, bad for your body, bad to enjoy, bad to think about enjoying – just bad. And drinking coffee, well, that made someone a bad person.

What I didn’t realize was that a lot of people drink coffee. And – newsflash – they are not all bad.

And, guess what? Come to find out, coffee itself isn’t “bad”either, unless you want to drink excessive amounts of it – but then, an excessive amount of anything isn't usually good for you, even broccoli.

But my paradigm for so long was “coffee is bad, therefore coffee drinkers are bad.” I would stare at people in restaurants because they let the waitress pour coffee into their cups and in my heart I was just embarrassed for them. And my friends who tested out cappuccinos and mocha ice cream and even (for a very na├»ve year or two of my life) my friends who put coffee creamers in their hot chocolate? HOLY COW they were off the rails.

Judgy judgy judgment.

But as things tend to happen, I grew up. I found out that everyone in this world has more worth than I had given them credit for. My ideas shifted. I now value the ability we all have to collect new knowledge and make decisions based on our discoveries. I find a tremendous amount of peace in being able to decide what’s right for me through my own study of the world.

And that’s why I don’t tell my kids that coffee is bad.

And I don’t let them find fault with people who drink it.

And I don’t tell them not to drink it.

I give them the facts, the ideas, the beliefs, and I will show them the way I have found to be best… but they get to choose.

And I find them to be far more accepting, empathetic, and non-judgmental little people than I have ever been.

And when they see someone’s coffee cup filled in a restaurant, they don’t stare. They don’t think that person is bad. They don’t feel sorry that that person is ruining their life by drinking the coffee.

Because coffee is just a beverage.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Your Parents and You -- 5 Stages of Utter Nonsense

I'm getting older my friends. And I’m noticing something.

Something besides the darkening of the hair on my upper lip and the way I can no longer sleep on the ground while camping and still wake up refreshed.

I’m noticing that I am both mesmerized and befuddled by one thing. Well, two things. Er, people. 

 My parents.

They know so many things.

They don’t know much.

They are so experienced.

They are so inexperienced.

They are full of advice.

They need advice.

They do things right.

They do things wrong.

Do you get the picture? Do you know what I’m talking about?

As a kid I had seen my parents as heroes who could beat down robbers in the night, lift cars off of my mangled body in the event that I was struck down in the street, and surely knew everything about everything. Stage 1 – Ignorant Adoration.

When I was a teenager, I experienced a sudden shift in the way I saw my parents, a shift into Stage 2 – Exaggerated Realization. You know the one. The one where you suddenly realize your parents don’t know everything and logically conclude that they must therefore know nothing?

I couldn’t believe I had never noticed how ridiculous my parents were.

How dare they impose such trite laws upon me as curfew? It’s not like I was going to get into any trouble after 10pm on a school night. And sitting me down with my boyfriend to discuss the idea that we ought to be wary of pettin’ and sofa settin’ while trying not to actually say words like petting? Big, obnoxious eye roll.

And then I found my true love, got married, and decided to start a family. Enter Stage 3 – Ignorant Expectation.

I am going to do everything so much better than they did.

I am going to spend all my days singing nursery rhymes and jumping on trampolines with my adoring angel children.

My kids are going to be so well-behaved and so smart and it will all be because of me.

But somewhere along the line, probably around the time my oldest son turned two, I suddenly realized something.

I know nothing.

My parents know so much.

I am so dumb.

My parents are so smart.

I cannot raise this psychotic child.

Maybe I will give him to my parents.

Stage 4 – Ego Crushing Disbelief.

And now, four years and two more kids later, I am in Stage 5.

What’s Stage 5? I’m not really sure what to call it.

Live and Learn? Acceptance? Enlightenment?

All I know is that I am now seeing things a bit more clearly (hopefully). I don’t think my parents have all the answers, but I’m glad for their advice. I see some flaws, but I adore their strengths. I realize that I can still come to them when I have a problem. I can still talk to them and ask questions and dump my kids on their doorstep when I just can’t take it anymore.

I can appreciate that we are different from each other.

I can appreciate them as individuals, as real people…

And yes, as my parents.

And I can appreciate that they are still pretty darn forgiving of my awkwardness.

Like that moment in a conversation with a parent when I use a word like vagina or masturbation, and they duck their heads, their eyes get wide, and they look at me like, “You know what that is????”

I love you Mom and Dad.

My parents -- tolerating the surprisingly radiant glow of my awkwardness since 1987.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How's Your Body Image Today? Wait, Don't Answer That.

I have spent 26 years in my body. Aside from the first nine and very confident years of my life, do you want to know how much time I’ve spent actually liking that body?

Maybe 400 days all together.

At the age of 9 or 10 I hit a chubby phase and I just didn’t know how to get out of it. When other girls my age were losing their baby fat and looked like little string-beans, I was gaining. My confidence quickly declined.

To console myself, I ate.

I remember eating handfuls of sugar from the baking cupboard, just because there were no other sweets in the house. I envied my younger brother, who seemed to be able to do the same thing and not gain an ounce.

To console myself, I stayed in my room and read books while he went out and played basketball.

My weight went down in high school because I was going out with friends all the time instead of staying at home where the cookies were, but after that it was once again a struggle. Being a stay-at-home-mom and getting through three pregnancies have made it even more so.

And I can’t pin all of the poor self-image on weight issues. I always knew I’d have those because, well, there just aren’t a lot of Skinny Minnies in my family tree. On days when weight isn’t a concern, it’s other things. Stretch marks. The way my eyes kind of go down on the ends instead of up. My “man hands.” My nose. The mole on my neck that my kids sometimes find and pinch. Saggy boobs. Thighs that touch. My sometimes painfully-obvious mustache.

There are so many nit-picky little things I see when I look in the mirror.

I’m sure you can probably relate. You may even be thinking, I don’t know why she thinks she’s got so much to complain about, look at ME.

I know what you mean. Because I look at other people, maybe even you, and think the exact same thing.

But something in me has changed. It is growing slowly and I hope it continues. It started the day I learned that I would be bringing a little girl into the world.

In the time since then, I have been thinking more about what I tell myself about my body. Because I want things to be different for her. I don’t want her to struggle with her body image the way I have struggled with mine. I want her to look in the mirror and see those sparkly blue eyes, sassy curls, and perfect pearly skin and know she is beautiful. Even more than that, I want her to look in the mirror and see past the outside. I want her to smile at her reflection because she has laughter and confidence and peace inside. I want her to believe me when I say to her the same thing she always says to me –

“I love your heart.”

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that my “issues” magically disappeared overnight because I wanted to change things for my daughter. I have good days and bad days. I still want to cry every time I see numbers on the scale going up instead of down. But now, when I take a moment to reconsider, I am able to see how screwed up that is, and at least that’s a start.

I guess something we should be asking ourselves is, “Who is telling me I’m not good enough?” Is it “the media?” Men? Celebrities? Models? Society? No. I’ll tell you who it is.

It’s you.

We are all stuck in this horrible habit of telling ourselves we’re not good enough. And until we can start to look past all that, there is little hope for future generations of women. For our daughters and granddaughters. For their daughters and granddaughters. The cycle will continue until we stop expecting so much from each other, but more importantly, stop expecting so much from ourselves.

And it’s hard.

But here’s what I think – if we start doing more to be honest and loving to our own bodies and the bodies of those around us, no matter what they look like, we can do it.

We can do it, because it matters.

It matters because we will never learn to live with love and happiness if we can’t accept and appreciate our differences, no matter how big or small they seem. 

From the smartest woman I know.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I Know Why You Pinch Your Kid in the Grocery Store

Mothering, I have found, is one of the broadest and most difficult areas of study a woman can take up.

In the moment you think you have found a solution for one “mommy-problem,” another one arises. What works for one child doesn’t work for another. What works for another child may only work for a single day. Or a single hour. Or thirty seconds.

The role of a mother has to be so flexible that it can bend over backwards, touch its toes to its shoulders, change a diaper with one hand and simultaneously prepare dinner with the other.

Honestly, I sometimes feel like I will break.

And I know this is nothing new. The internet is chock full of the sarcastic rants, emotional stories, and heartfelt suggestions of mothers in all walks of life these days. I am a quiet voice in a noisy crowd when it comes to this blog. But I am a voice that wants to reiterate something to you:

I hear you.

I know how you feel.

I understand that in the moment you pinched your child in the grocery store you were feeling angry, tired, and a little out of control (or a lot). But, for just a moment, you didn’t really care.

And guess what? I think that’s okay.

I’ve been there. Soooooo many times. And it is hard to admit how imperfect I really am.

Because we are so overloaded by pictures of perfection on social media that we feel that there must be something we aren’t doing right. And we contribute to that dishonest media flood, hoping, perhaps, that we will “fake it until we make it,” all the while wondering: Why are all those other moms playing and cooking and crafting with their children when I can hardly manage to serve mine breakfast without feeling overwhelmed? Why does this mom or that mom seem to be able to juggle homeschooling, sewing little dresses, running twenty miles, and making a fabulous meal all in one day when all I want to do is lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling?

I’m going to make a little bit of a suggestion here, mostly to myself, but also kind of for you if you’re nodding your head as you read this.

Stop checking your Facebook feed every few hours.

Stop scrolling through Instagram every night before bed.

Stop searching Pinterest for crafts you can do with your kids and following links only to find yourself sucked in by another “perfect mom” blog.

Stop reading the blogs of relentlessly optimistic people who turn every misery into a “there’s a reason for this.” Sometimes maybe there really isn’t a reason. And it is 100% okay if you want to wallow in your pain, your sadness, your misfortune.

Stop trying to be something you’re not.

Because you may not be the mom who has the patience to homeschool.

And you may not be the mom who has the skill to sew little dresses.

And you’re certainly not the mom who likes to run twenty miles per day.

And fabulous meals only happen maybe once a month. Maybe.

Smiling through chaos since 2008.

But you are a mother. A mother who loves her children. A mother who loves to read and do all the voices. A mother who loves to dance in the living room and sing really loud. A mother who tries to listen, answer questions, and give honest explanations. A mother who snuggles, kisses, hugs, laughs, cries, and strives to understand.

Fill in your own blanks.

You are your own kind of mother. Perfectly imperfect.

And you’re so good at it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

How I Became a Feminist

There was a time in my life when I thought that “feminists” were nothing but hedonistic, troubled man-haters who were so absorbed in their womanhood they couldn’t imagine handing over even the tiniest bit of control to the opposite sex.

There was also a time in my life when I thought buying Girl Scout cookies and showing support for Girl Scouts was “inappropriate” for someone of my faith.

It’s not.

I guess what I’m trying to get at here is that I was wrong. Really wrong.

Granted, there are extremists in every group, and I’m not saying I support the opinions and behaviors of all feminists.


I have gradually come to find myself listening to, understanding, and often agreeing with many of the people I once called “feminist” with a bit of disdain on my lips.

And… gasp… I now often count myself among them.

Let me pause for a moment and talk about tradition.

I love tradition. Tradition is Christmas presents and Easter egg hunts and family reunions and watching people smile awkwardly and stare at their cake while everyone sings “Happy Birthday” to them.


But what else is tradition?

From a woman’s perspective – it has meant a lot of submission, surrender, and producing heirs.

Thank goodness this country has changed so much in the past century. Women have gone from being purely homemakers with little voice to holding government office and becoming CEOs of top corporations. That is incredible, America. Good job.

But if we dig a little deeper, it’s sad to see the inequalities that still exist.

I used to justify those inequalities. I would say things like: “Men are physically capable of more. We trust them to do what we can’t,” and “We’re still equals, we just have different roles in life,” and “Men are more rational. If we had a Presidential Cabinet full of women, our country would be an emotional wreck.” Yeah, I said that.

I was raised in a very conservative, traditional home in a very conservative, traditional community, as a part of a very conservative, traditional religion. Maybe you can see where those things I used to say might have come from.

But I guess the big question here is this: Is tradition right?

It is true that in general, men are physically stronger. It is true that in general men and women often lean toward specific roles based on biological makeup. It is true that in general, they often think rationally and have fewer “emotional” moments (as long as we’re talking about sadness and not anger, that is).

But why does that mean that women should take the backseat?

Women are biologically capable of bearing children, but does that mean they have to? Women are generally more sensitive to the feelings of others, but does that mean they are incapable of making rational decisions? Women have become very good at doing laundry and making sandwiches and bringing cold beverages to men who sit in front of televisions watching sports, but does that mean they should spend their lives doing nothing else?

Proudly raising the next generation of girls who stand up for themselves.

Yes, I was certainly wrong about feminists.

And this cookie season, I proudly bought Samoas and Tagalongs from the Girl Scouts in order to celebrate the liberation from my confusion.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The What Ifs and the Why Nots

So... I hope I didn’t scare you away with my last blog post. The sentimental, ponderous, self-improvement obsessed side of me sometimes takes over and things can get oh so serious. Of course, after putting myself out there, I immediately wondered if it was the right thing to do.

Admitting that you don’t always love the life you’ve chosen is… revealing, to say the least. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, either. I love my husband, I love my kids, I love photography and being at home and sometimes I even like to clean things. I would not trade the life I have now for a different one. What I guess I’m really trying to say is that I sometimes find myself wondering what things might have been like if I’d taken things a bit slower.

I was so excited to get married and start a family. That’s kind of your basic pre-teen LDS female fantasy, really. Most of us grew up with Mom at home, cooking and cleaning and crafting and raising the small people – and from what I’ve experienced with friends and family, most of us wanted to be just like that. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

I believe motherhood is a wonderful, complex, and worthwhile piece in my puzzle. I will always be proud to have been a mother in this life and raised children who [hopefully] lived their best lives as well. But after several years of struggling to find and be the “perfect mother,” I’ve realized something – I’m not just a mother. Mothering is not the only thing I was born to do. I am still an individual with interests, hobbies, thoughts, opinions, and “issues.” Being a mother is part of me—it has changed things about me—but it isn’t all of me. And it’s okay if I sometimes scale back on the mothering stuff and spend more time on photography stuff, or writing stuff, or lunch with friends stuff, or going on rollercoasters with my husband stuff. It’s okay.

In trying to accept and make time for my individuality, I have thought a lot about what this life would mean if we all believed it were the only life we would have. Most, or many, religions believe in an after-life. Some, like Mormonism, believe in eternal life and eternal progress. And it’s a beautiful concept. We do all the things in this world that we believe will get us to Heaven and eternal happiness will be ours, right?

But WHAT IF this is it?

Just consider it for a moment… what would we do differently if we believed that this life was our only life?

Aside from sky-diving and climbing Mt. Everest, is there something we would really like to do to truly live? Would we see the world? Would we write books? Become actresses on Broadway? Have a passel of kids akin to that of the Duggars? Eat cheesecake for dinner?

So what’s really stopping us?

Is it that belief that this life only leads to another so we might as well just live quietly and wait for whatever wonderful thing is next? Is it a lack of funds? Heaps of responsibility? The horrifying thought of wider hips?

Or is it just… us?

Cozumel, just after sunrise. Awesome.

Why not climb mountains and eat cheesecake and write books? Why not follow our more spectacular dreams? Why not become the people we wanted to be at age six? Why not enjoy and celebrate every moment with loud voices and exuberant hearts?

Why not live this life as if it were the only one?