Why I want you to stay: A letter from a Mormon

I think the hardest business in the world is that of loving someone.

But it’s inevitable. From the moment we’re born we attach to someone like a plant’s roots wander for water, wrapping ourselves around laughter and friendship and similarities and bonds. People are everything to us.

And how ironic that because of that we experience the greatest joys–and the greatest pain.

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During the time that I’ve kept this blog I’ve seen stories that have changed me and I’ve made friends from worlds away who have uplifted me. And I’ve also seen my share of doubts, skepticism, even people struggling with their faith or the reason they’re even alive. I’ve loved people I don’t even know and I’ve teared up over those who have wandered away from a God they once loved. And that was the price of having this blog–of simply being human in general.

So you can say that this letter to you, whoever you are, is a long time coming. I’ve had the title scratched down for a while, almost scared to write it until some members of my own family began the back-stepping, the I-don’t-know-if-this-church-is-for-me journey.

All I want you to really know is that I want you to stay. Even if we don’t know each other at all, even if this is your first time reading my blog and even if you’ll never be back to it–I just want you to know that.

And it’s not for reasons you might think.

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While I was on my way to Denver a few weeks ago I was boarding my plane when I saw my stake president sitting a few rows ahead of my seat. We waved and smiled and the whole “Wow it’s a small world” conversation ensued for a minute or two. Then we landed, spent four days with family, and life went on. But as we were headed back to Seattle, lo and behold there he was again on our same plane. But this time, he was sitting right next to us.

I didn’t tell my husband this, but I knew exactly why he was there.

After a bit of small talk he turned more serious.

He asked what our opinions were on how to best convey the difference between the culture and the gospel for members. How do we tell them that the gospel is EVERYTHING–that the Savior lived and died for all of us–that the gospel was restored through Joseph Smith for those of us in THIS time who need that light to get back. How do we explain that?

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I was embarrassed to tell him I don’t know. That I’m struggling with seeing people I love doubt something they once believed. It hurts me to see the Savior fade away into some kind of illusion. And I have nothing to help them. I have no idea what to do!

That’s when he turned to Enos 1:9-10 and I realized that the struggle to have those we love remember God extended way back, long before Christ.

“Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.

And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments.”

“Don’t give up on them,” he finally told me before our plane landed. “They’re worth it, aren’t they?”

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And that’s why I write to you today.

It’s not about me being right or having all the answers for you. Because I don’t. It’s not even about you having all the answers in this life. Because you won’t. It’s about you being worth the reward.

You are worth the wrestle because you are worth Heaven.

I remember, almost seven years ago now, learning about the Book of Mormon for the first time, seeing the temple for the first time, feeling the waters of the baptismal font for the first time–and although I didn’t know it all, I knew one thing: It was all true. And that’s how most of us begin. But then over time people offend us. Lessons can hurt us. Things become familiar and the stories not as exciting. Sacrament meeting becomes routine rather than a sacred ordinance and suddenly we go a week, two weeks, three weeks, without getting on our knees. We go a month or two without church.

And we start to wonder if it’s true simply because we’ve stepped far enough away that everything begins to fade and blur in the distance we’ve created.

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That will happen to almost all of us. There will be a day when we have to be converted again. But you are worth walking back.

Turning away is a statement that will only hurt yourself. Forgetting where you’ve come from and the journey the Savior took to pick you up out of that place will only plunge your further into the world where almost everyone else lives nowadays, immersed in things that just won’t last.

Let’s talk real here.

You don’t like where you are. It’s confusing there. It’s sad. There are no real answers. But it usually feels safe. Safer than vulnerably putting your soul and heart on the line, safer than maybe not making it with the rest of your family. Safer than trying–only to fail. Right?

I get it.

But you are worth remembering why you came, no matter how long ago. You are worth the kingdom. You are the rightful heir.

I sometimes struggle with missionary work because I don’t want people to think that I just want to be right. I don’t want to seem “judgy” or pushy or God forbid, “holier than thou”. And I struggle because more than anything, I just want those I love and those I don’t even know to feel how it feels to have the comfort of the spirit when someone you love more than anything slips to the others side. I want you to feel how it feels to sincerely repent and feel entirely forgiven. I want you to know how it feels to see a prayer answered and to know exactly why it was. I want you to know how it feels to dress in white and see God in the faces of those who simply believe like you do with a faith that exceeds knowledge.

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I want you to get there with me.

And I will wrestle for you and plead for you and believe in you and cry for you. Jesus always tended to care for the 1 lost sheep out of the hundred, and that’s our burden to continue.

Because I love you, whoever you are. You are beautiful. You are SO needed. You are worth it.

And if you don’t hear it from anyone else, I want you to hear it from me.

I want you to stay.

The souls that stick

My heart is filled.

It’s not because everything is going right or because the work day is easy. It’s not because the sun is out *even though it should be seeing as how it’s Spring and all* or even because any prayer has been answered. No circumstance has changed. No miracle has taken place. But I’m still filled to the brim.

And it’s because the past couple of weeks have been filled with reminders of what helps to keep my world turning. And that’s simply the people Heavenly Father put in it.

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It’s a “no-duh” notion, really. These people have graced my life for years upon years, each one staggering into the picture at different stages of my life, some finding my life five or six years ago when I had those awful bangs, others entering in long enough ago to have seen me in ballet and the high school newspaper club. Some only a couple of short years, not even knowing me in college. Some live so far away that it’d take a plane and three layovers to visit, others are just down the street. I’ve always known they were important–each one of these pieces of my life, some who don’t even know each other, me as their only common link. I’ve always included them in my prayers and missed them over the miles and have drawn strength from them. But these past couple weeks I’ve realized more than ever the depth that I NEED them.

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Two of my best friends from college stayed with us for a few days last week and we all attended the wedding of another close friend of ours. While we were driving home the night of the reception we were talking about all the people we meet in life, the people who weave in and out of our lives, making up different chapters of the places we come from, the things we’ve done. Some come in and out very quickly, others disappear slowly, and some just stick. “I’m just really grateful you stuck,” I told her. And we both laughed into the dark windshield at my lack of eloquence.

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But it’s true. I’m grateful for the people who stick–the souls who somehow tie to yours and share this life and all of it’s revolutions and turns. The people who give you courage and kindness and beauty simply because they are courageous and kind and beautiful.

After my week with my friends I spent a few days in gorgeous *did I say gorgeous??* Colorado with my in-laws. I don’t like the word in-laws because it doesn’t seem suitable for how much I really love them. My father-in-law is a jokester who gave my husband his goofiness and my mother-in-law is a saint who gave my husband his tender heart. And I couldn’t live without them either.

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I took my mother-in-law to see the new Cinderella while we were there. You should see it if you ever get the time. Totally worth every penny. The theme throughout the movie was “Be kind and have courage”. And throughout this young Ella’s life, throughout the years of sheer loneliness and abuse, that’s how she lived her very difficult life. With kindness and courage. It was inspirational, but more than that I couldn’t help but think–how much harder would that be without surrounding yourself by those who are kind and courageous? How much harder would every single one of our trials be without that best friend who texts you at midnight, that college group who stuck together through finals and break-ups and now real life, that mom or dad or those in-laws who remind you of who you are, that sister or brother, that co-worker or neighbor who just seem to connect with your soul?

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This life wasn’t meant to be lived alone. In fact, that wouldn’t be much of a life at all. I think sometimes I forget that–that I’m not alone, even in the challenges that seem to only affect me and my little world. Heavenly Father deliberately scattered so many spirits who just align with mine in such a way that it would be impossible for any of it to be a matter of chance.

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My heart is filled because of those gentle souls that I call family. Those people who were just meant to be here, in my world, amongst the billions of people who ever walked the earth.

And I hope yours is filled too–with lots of courage and kindness and plenty of “sticky” souls.

Divorce is an option

I don’t think I’ll ever forget her eyes.

Or the way her face changed when she told me, matter-of-factly, that it was done. Her husband left her and he wasn’t coming back.

The last two—three?—weeks have been circled around this very decision. We’ve all been impacted—losing sleep and losing our minds. He was our close friend too. It was a complete betrayal that left us all shocked and hurt.

He came home one day, packed a bag, and said the “D” word that means all the things that our worst fears and nightmares are made out of. He walked past their wedding album, grabbed a shirt she had bought him on vacation a couple months before, and that was that.

And it was nearly midnight when I got the call and came to—not pick up the pieces—but sit with her in the mess of pieces he left behind. There was no explanation. Now, three weeks later, there still isn’t. But it doesn’t matter because he’s gone.

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I watched her go from helpless to sad to angry to sad again to strong to weak all in the matter of hours and days. But there was no other choice. I helped her pack. I helped her cut up credit cards. I distracted her with Slurpees and potato chips and episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. I stayed up with her until she fell asleep and then I cried myself to sleep because I hadn’t had a chance to yet.

I watched her make the decision to get out of bed each day and the decision to quit her job and move out of state and the decision to start over. I watched her confront her mom and dad with eyes full of tears and I carried her hope chest into a waiting car, my arms carrying the weight of memories. I watched her wrestle with feelings of self doubt and grief and pain and anger with Heavenly Father. I watched her question whether she was pretty enough. Strong enough. Good enough. She never thought she’d be “that” girl.

But who does?

“Divorce isn’t an option,” she said to me a million times, once when I was half asleep one night. “Doesn’t he know that?”

And that’s when I realized: It is.

Of course divorce is an option. When we forget that, we judge incorrectly. We have a stigma within our churches and even within society that says, “Divorce isn’t an option” and instead of it being meant as, “Divorce shouldn’t ever be the first option and it shouldn’t be the convenient escape route” it casts a bad light on those who are left, who have to leave because of abuse or addiction, or for those who found themselves oppressed or abandoned in some other way.

We were sent to this earth with options. We have an option to get married—and we have the option to leave it, too. We have the option to abuse and hate and live for ourselves–and we have the option to choose God. Do we always choose the right options? No. Watching my friend curl up on the ground, watching her withdraw her paycheck and cancel her phone and leave her life behind for good to start all over—I know for a fact it wasn’t the right option he chose. But he made that decision. And she shouldn’t be left with the red letter A on her forehead. Because out of the terrible choices of others will always come remarkable blessings anyway.

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The simple truth found in Isaiah 41:10 speaks plainly: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” 

No matter which choices we make–no matter what choices those around us make–we are in the palm of his hand. We are his children. Divorced, abused, heartbroken, lost, angry or abandoned–we’re his children. And we’ll make it.

I’m not writing this because I take marriage lightly or because I am an advocate for slipping the ring on and off without a second thought. I’m writing this because I watched someone I love break apart into a million pieces as soon as the door shut one Friday night—and I watched her keep breathing.

If divorce wasn’t an option—if we didn’t have the choice to move on from a terrible abuser or rise above the ashes of insecurity and self-hatred; if we didn’t have the agency to not only make a horrendous choice, but a choice to move forward with strength and choose well, then what kind of life would this be? And how would it ever lead to eternal life?

She is already branded. Stigmatized. Walking around with “young and divorced” as a banner isn’t a light load to lift. And especially within the church and Christianity and our own little social circles she will continue to be…all because “divorce isn’t an option”.

“He has his agency,” I remember telling her one night, staring toward an empty wall. “And he chose.”

And now she has to choose.

I’m inspired by her. Before we said our goodbyes she smiled and she said she knew she’d be okay. And I know she cried after she got in the car. Just like I did. But she moved her feet and kept going. She decided it wasn’t the end. That was her choice.

I learned a lot from her. Divorce is an option.

But so is love. So is strength. So is understanding.

And I’m grateful for that.

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**Picture and story used with permission**

The REAL killer of your marriage: And why no one mentions it

I have always had a thing for once-in-a-lifetime romance.

I think it started as a teenager when I decided that my favorite kind of books to write were the ones where the two characters fall in love in the end, despite the whole world coming against them. And then it all just steered me on the course– I discovered things like Nicholas Sparks and The Thorn Birds (a 1980’s miniseries you should totally check out) and Wuthering Heights and I listened to Air Supply. Love, love, love— undying, sickly sweet love wrapped in more rose petals and love.

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And it only grew. Not just for me, but for the rest of us. Movies, music, novels, sitcoms with devilishly adorable characters and even cuter plot lines that lead up to that anticipated first kiss. *Let’s be honest, Jim and Pam in The Office made us gush*. And it bred in me the sense of expectation.

I wanted that kind of romance. I wanted to be that leading actress in my life.

But here’s the unfortunate thing–the expectation is not a positive thing to have. And it’s still something I wrestle with.

Unrealistic expectations that stem from watching Ryan Gosling in a boat surrounded by swans kills a marriage.

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Now, before you get all huffy on me, I’m not saying that marriage shouldn’t be exciting or playful or romantic. On the contrary. And I’m sure you have a love story that I’d love to hear about and knowing me, I’d think it’s the cutest thing ever.

But we have this deadly habit of being so engrossed in fake worlds and fake scenarios and airbrushed magazine covers that we forget what real life is like. We forget that people mess up. That forbidden romance is actually just a sexy term for a dark, unhealthy accident waiting to happen. That men can’t read our minds. That fights don’t always end in a dramatic romp to the bedroom and rosy cheeks. That romance doesn’t just happen all recklessly and unknowingly without us putting in effort, planning things and trying. That cheating on your husband to rendezvous with your childhood sweetheart is actually a very bad idea that never ends well. That the “bad boy” is usually just that. Bad.

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We crave what we will literally never have and should by no means ever do either.

And it’s killing everything God has planned for you.

On my newsfeed every day I see countless articles that state “Top ten reasons your marriage is failing” or “How you are destroying your husband” or “The top five ways you’re headed toward divorce”.

The reasons always make sense. Lack of communication, built-up resentment, financial difficulties, unfaithfulness…

I’ve read it all.

But I’ve yet to come across anything (and I could be wrong) that simply states what is obvious. We’re holding our partners to the standards of unreal people, fake scenarios, and an ingrained desire to have the romance that EVERYONE else has, just because we see it or hear it or read about it. That’s the thing that’s becoming real to us, while our own lives and our own relationships are becoming sub-par or broken.

I couldn’t believe the number of blogs and articles I read when Nicholas Sparks, one of the nation’s most successful romance authors who made us all choke on tears at one time or another, announced he was getting a divorce.

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WHAT?! Women across the country screamed. How could that be? The man who INVENTED what romance should be like can’t keep up his own marriage?! It appalled me the way so many women reacted to the news, calling him a hypocrite and a fake and howling about the devastation this brings and even how could we read another one of his books again??

Along the line somewhere we forgot that Nicholas Sparks leads a life separate from fantasy as well. He says the wrong things and messes up and can’t read his wife’s mind. They pay bills and don’t wake up in the morning with mascara freshly applied and don’t dangle from ferris wheels to get one another’s attention. Why would we hold that marriage to the standard of his writing when his writing is merely fiction? But we do that with ourselves too, and we’re not even the ones writing it.

I met my husband in a whirlwind kind of way and you might even say the love story is a book-worthy one. And believe me, it was thrilling and sweet and I love us. But let’s be honest. Marriage takes work. Sacrifice. Boredom. Stress. Imperfections. Marriage isn’t meant to be anything like the things we see on TV. It isn’t romanticized, photoshopped and edited. It’s raw, real, and filled with layers of mistakes and unedited material.

And that’s what makes us built to last.

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We don’t talk about love stories in Hollywood or books being unrealistic because we don’t want them to be. We enjoy those stories–and that’s ok for entertainment’s sake. But it’s not ok when it blinds us to reality and makes scenarios that are unhealthy or inaccurate in real life look golden on screen. It’s not ok when we lose someone we love because they didn’t match the mold that our minds created.

I still love romance. I love Nicholas Sparks. I’m obsessed with Gone With the Wind and Phantom of the Opera and all the old, timeless love stories that made me adore literature more than anything. But I live here, and I’m writing my own real-life story and it’s not even comparable to what I’ve seen.

But I’ve learned to love that more, simply because it’s real.

And it’s mine.

God doesn’t need your prayers

I was a junior in college when a friend of mine and I set off to find the haunted house that everyone had been raving about for Halloween. We had forgotten our phones but we had a pretty good idea where it was. Now, let me set the scene.

I went to college in Idaho. It’s not exactly the state where you should set out without a GPS. We were literally a speck in the middle of wheat, potatoes, old gas stations, and dark unkempt roads. There are side roads that lead to nothing and main interstates that lead you to towns smaller than shoeboxes. But we had been there three years and were confident we’d find the place.

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An hour went by and we were still on a dark road. My friend shifted in the passenger seat uncomfortably and we both exchanged nervous glances.

“I thought it was just a half hour away?” she said rhetorically. I shook my head and turned the wipers on. It had started to snow. Maybe it was further than we thought, I rationalized. But with each mile marker the streets became darker and suddenly the names of the towns didn’t look very familiar. No map, no GPS, no phone to call my room mates and double check where this thing was at. Needless to say, we meandered the dark streets until the haunted house was well past closed and we decided to just turn around so we didn’t get stuck without gas on top of it all.

We laughed until we cried that night and chalked it up as a crazy college memory. But looking back, sometimes I feel like that scenario is all too familiar in my life. Forgetting the map. Being completely in the dark with no direction.

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How many times in my life do the roads get dark and I’m utterly confused and taking all the wrong turns, and I still don’t ask the guide for help? How many times do I not use the tools given to me? How many times, I wonder now, do I not pray?

I struggle with pride sometimes because I like to feel like I have a good grasp on my life–that I can literally handle it ALL. I can balance 11-hour work days, house upkeep, my small business, my pets, my husband, my friends, my family, my scripture study, my insane LIFE because I just CAN. And then two days will go by and I’ll realize with shame that it could have been so much easier if I had just asked and taken the time to get on my knees. In shame I realize that “taking it all on” and “knowing” all the turns and all the steps forced me to not communicate with my guide, my built-in GPS–my Father.

So many of us I think have prayer on a checklist. Scripture study? Check. Visiting teaching? Check. Prayer? Check check.

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And we treat it as one of the duties we have to be right with Heavenly Father. We say our prayers and we thank Him for the food and suddenly–BAM–we feel good about ourselves for getting it all done and still managing to be a saint.

I’m guilty as charged. But it has to change. Yes, even for you.

To put it simply, God doesn’t need your prayers. He has always existed and will continue to always exist without you. He loves you and hurts when you don’t talk to Him, but He doesn’t wilt. He doesn’t cease to be working and creating and blessing lives. He is there whether you turn to Him or not. So prayer on a checklist doesn’t satisfy Him for the day or open the gates of Heaven. No, prayer is all for you. It’s for me.

Prayer is the only way we can get the guidance we need when our lives are void of streetlights and we’re running out of gas. We need to nurture our relationship with Heavenly Father just as much as we need the air we breathe.

I went back to Idaho this past Christmas to spend the week with my best friend and her family and to also surprise my sister who I rarely get to see. I hadn’t been back to that part of Idaho in two years and I felt my heart warm at the view of the endless fields, the snowflakes big enough to fill the palm of my hand, and the sky uninterrupted by cityscape.

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It occurred to me while I was there that life kept going on without me, of course. My best friend existed just fine, had a baby, and looked just as beautiful and talkative. My sister still worked every day,  my nieces getting so tall, going through life without me. Nothing needs me to exist. But boy, do I need them to live.

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It takes effort to nurture relationships, to be part of lives, to glean joy and strength from the people you just can’t handle living without. Could we exist without each other? Sure. Do we want to? Never.

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The same goes for God. Sometimes, I think, that goes unnoticed. Life propels forward, and we forget to ask Him questions, tell Him we love him, or thank Him for the strength to keep moving. We forget to ask for directions.

The road is dark. It’s endless. There are turns we shouldn’t take and turns that we miss. But we have the map.

He doesn’t need my prayers, I realize now. He doesn’t need anything.

But boy, do I ever need Him.

Why ‘God will give you more than you can handle’ changed my life: And how it fixed Christmastime

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote God will give you more than you can handle.

A whole year.

I can hardly believe it. It still surfaces as one of my most-read blogs of all time and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s because out of everything we could ever go through as human beings, that is the one thing that connects us all. The struggle–and the triumph over it.

I read it again this morning, throwing myself back to the time when the Christmas lights were strung, the tree decorated, the little manger on the dresser paused in time with Mary’s eyes on the baby Savior’s face. Nothing had changed from just an hour before and I’m certain that even our cat was undisturbed from his sleep. Nothing had changed except our hearts. Because my dad, laying within the glow of Christmas lights, had breathed his last. This morning as I read it again it was so hard to wrap my mind around how time had continued to propel us forward, not even taking a moment to help us stand on our own. The night turned into day and the snow came and went and the needles on the tree began to dry and fall in a heap on the carpet. We were stuck in time, unable to breathe without pain, but time didn’t care.

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It brought me to here. Another Christmas. Another tree. And time to sit and reflect on that Christmas that changed everything.

I’ve been astonished–more so this year than any other year–how broken Christmas is for so many. And no, I’m not saying that because I lost my Dad at Christmastime.

This year more than ever I’ve noticed how superficial the holiday has become to so many. It’s the most stressful time of year for holiday shoppers who scurry around with holiday lists and rack up credit card debt. People compete to have the prettiest lights on the block and stores fight to have the best sales. The gifts, the traveling, the way we get so entangled in things.

And somehow we forget the things that were illuminated to me just one Christmas ago.

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The gift of breathing. The amazing, indescribable gift of having family by your side, even next to an empty tree. The wonderful warmth of hot chocolate and candles and twinkle lights as you simply share the company of a friend. The carols that remind us of the sleeping baby who came to save us all. The wonderment of a child waiting anxiously for Santa to come.

None of these experiences are things. And we know it. Deep inside, we all know it. But we forget over the years and become calloused to what is expected and to the status quo.

Time didn’t pause at the stable over 2,000 years ago. It kept going, and the child grew and he ministered and suffered and died and made his way in and out of our hearts through the years. We turned away from the cross and faced in all the other directions that promised fulfillment and peace and just left voids. And we continue to struggle to face the right way. Through the generations we’ve struggled to remember, we’ve struggled to fill the voids with material things and importance, and all along we’ve been breaking Christmas apart. We’ve been breaking our lives apart.

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I still believe that God will give you more than you can handle. This year–starting at last Christmas time–has been the hardest year of my life. Even now, as I write these words, I find tears streaming down my face. It’s not that it’s gotten easier, because it hasn’t. But I’ve learned something that takes me through.

God will empower you to fight the impossible.

God will send something to make you smile when all you want to do is melt into tears.

God will send friends–so many friends–who paint your life with sunshine and share the shadows.

God will remind you of the laughter and not just the pain within your memories.

God will fight for you to be okay and carry you when you’re weak.

God is for you.

This Christmas I choose to step away from the brokenness and the rubble of forgetfulness. I choose to remember the way my Dad’s face lit up when I hung the lights near his bed and the way he fought to stay with us. I choose to remember the way he didn’t grab for things when he got ready to step into Heaven–but he grabbed for our hands. Christmas is our reminder of the things that keep our feet on solid ground and the One who handles what we simply cannot. Christmas is our time to remember the way the Savior came to a broken world full of grief and pain and impossibility all in order to bring life, and relief and hope.

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Because of Him, you make it through the days you otherwise could not. And I believe more than ever, a year later, that we can’t handle everything–not a single day. But He can.

And that’s the reason to celebrate.

Not only Christmas–but every single breath.

Dying naturally is NOT undignified: What we can learn from Brittany Maynard

This is one of those blog posts where I’ve written the first sentence about thirteen different times and I’ve deleted it just as many times. Here goes sentence number fourteen.

I think it’s because deep down inside I dread talking about something that bothers me, even when the rest of the country stands as advocates. I sometimes worry about hurting families or saying something that will be misconstrued as, “Well, that blogger is insensitive.”

Because, in all honesty, this is a sensitive subject. In all honesty, it broke my heart just as much as those who agreed with her decision. Brittany Maynard has been the topic of debate for some time, and just last weekend she decided to go through with her decision to take her own life after she was given the grim diagnosis of a rare form of brain cancer. Death would be slow and painful, doctors said, so she packed up and moved to Oregon and decided to use the “Death with Dignity” law.

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Her story is a painful one. And it brings me back to just last year. Around this time last year my Dad had just begun hospice. His diagnosis was just as grim as Brittany’s. I will never EVER forget the sound of his voice. The way it had changed. The coolness of his veiny hands and the sunken dips of his eyes. I won’t forget the doctors telling us it would be slow and painful. And I won’t forget dad nodding as they said it, telling us with confidence that’d it all be ok.

Towards the end, just like Brittany feared with her own death, my Dad lost touch of the world. The things we saw and the way we’d muffle our tears as we assured him we were close was anything BUT the character of my Dad. But even then–my Dad was never undignified.

And that’s what brings me to the point of why I’m writing. “Death with Dignity” implies that dying by the hand of cancer or another fatal disease lacks honor. It implies that people like my dad–who get to the point where clothes bother them and memories of fishing when they were twelve become “reality” and their children do what they can to clean up the mess in the bed sheets–suddenly rid themselves of the dignity they once had. And that infuriates me. Death is not undignified. And neither is suffering.

hospital bed with dad

I sometimes lay awake at night thinking of the fear that my Dad must have had during those moments when we were asleep around his bed but he just watched the hands of a dying clock. I can’t imagine the finality he must’ve felt. The terror of what it might feel like when his heart decides to stop. And with Brittany, I can’t imagine it either. It’s a subject that I’ll never grasp unless it’s my turn.

But even still. There are thousands–millions–of people who live out each second every day. Millions of people who suffer and still thank God for every day that they wake up and see the faces of their children. There are countless souls who get handed a fate that would make anyone’s heart weak, but they face it with dignity and grace. Not one of them is undignified. Not for a second.

kissy

I feel uncomfortable saying that Brittany chose wrong. Even though my religious background and my discomfort with “suicide worship” makes me want to say that, I sift through the pictures of this beautiful girl and can’t help but swallow my blunt opinion because I realize that it wasn’t an easy decision. And I realize that her family is hurting. Her husband is a widower. Her travel plans are no more. And that is enough to keep me quiet about her particular case and whether she chose right or wrong, regardless of everything.

But within a country that cries out for everything to be on our own terms, I can’t help but stand apart. It’s my body we hear during abortion debates …it’s my own life to take we hear with Death with Dignity…it’s my life to live and my choice who I love we hear with civil rights cases. And despite my opinions on any of these things, I can’t help but notice a common thread. We want to take the reins. We’re tired of life–or God for that matter–dictating what happens to us or what turns in the road will be up ahead. We want to set the terms. We want our dignity.

death with dignity

And I feel like we’re forgetting where true dignity comes from. Dignity isn’t maintaining a beautiful face and living a life free of pain and free of shame. Dignity is trudging through the muck of life, dirt smeared on your face and sins heaped like piles at your feet, and still carrying on and looking up. Dignity is facing it all head on and deciding it’s still a beautiful life. It’s still worth living. Dignity is having the respect for yourself, and for others, that it takes to carry on despite the fear or the embarrassment or the lack of control.

And looking back, seeing my Dad’s blue eyes shoot up to the corner of the ceiling as he took his final breath, I can say without a doubt that I’ve never seen a man with more dignity.

Life is hard. Cancer sucks. Mourning is—well, there might not be a word to describe it. But we face it every day because that’s what we’re here to do. The Savior never said it’d be easy. In fact, he felt it all for us long before we were here and he bled and cried and begged for relief. We are not exempt.

I pray for Brittany’s family and I have cried over her story. Such a beautiful girl with a trial that would overwhelm anyone. I pray for comfort and love and peace in that home.

brittanymaynard3

But I also pray for our country–and for our world even–to reevaluate.

In the moments beyond our control we learn about endurance. Love. Bravery in the face of fear. And faith. We learn that death is a moment beyond our choosing, but the eternity afterwards has everything to do with what we choose while we’re here.

That choice is a life well lived.

That choice is dignified.