When ‘God’s plan’ hurts the most

Yesterday was a hard day. And so is today.

I didn’t want to write about it. I didn’t want to talk about it. I sat in the bath for over an hour watching the bubbles die and staring at a drippy faucet.

My eyes were puffy–like they are now–because just twenty minutes before that I had bawled into my pillow.

I was supposed to be pregnant this time.

It had been a week, and yesterday was the day I would take a test. It would OBVIOUSLY be a positive. I had all the signs and I was already prepping how I would tell my family.

I was supposed to be pregnant.

But, as if it were some kind of sick joke, the same thing happened. Within minutes, my answer came. No baby this month either.

You’d think that I’d get used to the (-) symbol. That I’d get used to piecing myself back together. But this time was different. I got angry. Why is God turning his back on something so simple??

It’s been almost three years now that I’ve been going through this endless cycle, waiting for two minutes while biting the heck out of my nails only to see the same symbol every month and like clockwork…explode into tears. I’ve been operated on, I’ve been cat-scanned, I’ve been medicated, I’ve been evaluated, I’ve been through boxes and boxes of ovulation kits. I’ve wasted pregnancy tests and I’ve chucked them across the room. I’ve said, “I’m done” more times than I can count but I still find myself tracking the calendar each month. I still dream about our baby.

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It’s the worst pain I’ve ever been through…physically and emotionally.

Not many people see this side of me, though. I walk out of my front door and tell people around me with a smile that we’re trying, that it’s been hard, but we’re excited for the day to come. It’ll just take more time, I say. Diplomatic. Very non-dramatic. Please don’t pity me I say in my head. And so no one sees it…they only see that I’m tough. That I have faith.

No one except for one: My husband.

And it’s like I didn’t notice it until yesterday. He’s always so joyful. Even yesterday, when he was about to burst with excitement at our pending “news”, he looked down at that horrible symbol and just grabbed me and pulled me toward him. I hit his chest and told him to let me go. He held me tighter. I told him not to pity me. He was silent. So I cried and he pet my hair and he covered me with a blanket and got me ice-cream. He told cheesy jokes as I laid there, and even managed to get me to smile. He danced like a weirdo (totally wrecking his ego, but it’s all for the laughs). Unaffected. Or so I thought.

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Later that night I came into the room after my bath and he was studying, a serious expression–a sad one–on his face as he stared forward. His face changed as soon as he saw me and he attempted to make me laugh. But I had caught it.

“Are you sad too?” I finally asked.

“This is the hardest thing ever,” he answered, and I believed him.

But you wouldn’t know it. His priority was to be strong for me. To be joyful. To stay put together so I would have somewhere to land when I fall apart.

He’s heartbroken every month too. He wonders what’s going on and he battles with the whole “why” of it. But he doesn’t give up hope for me. He never isn’t there. He never loses joy.

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And I realized–so it goes with Heavenly Father I bet. It hurts him too when we hurt. But his purpose is to give me hope. To give me strength. To be the voice that doesn’t say, “Wow this situation is dire” but to instead whisper to my heart, “It will be okay. Soon enough.” To be joy.

And still, that’s the person I tend to get angry at. The one I can blame and cry to and get utterly pissed at because he doesn’t talk back.

But he feels the pain. Every part of it. ALL of it. And he sees the pain of people all over the world who suffer far greater than I do– pains that I probably couldn’t even begin to comprehend.

Yet he still has–and gives–joy. And hope.

How amazing.

When the night got quiet and my husband fell asleep I flipped through my phone, blankly staring at Pinterest and photography ideas. I stumbled across this picture with the quote below it:

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“Because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice…He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do.” —David A. Bednar

And this is why we need him. It’s why I need him.

There are these moments in life–and I’m sure you’ve had your fair share–where I’m just DONE. I don’t want to move my feet. I don’t want to try again. I don’t feel like laughing or saying “It’ll be ok”. Especially when a righteous desire just isn’t coming to pass for what seems like no reason at all. Especially when I feel like it’s all coming against me.

And somehow, without even realizing it, He steps in quietly and sits with me awhile. He does everything I can’t and somehow gets me to do everything I thought I couldn’t do.

Somehow I have a husband who has faith enough to look ahead with hope and make me laugh. Somehow I have friends who text me at just the right time to tell me they love me. Somehow I get the courage to stand up, wipe the tears, and face another day, another round, another try.

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Somehow He stays in the room, probably holding a hand over mine, even as I complain about His timing and His plan.

This very moment–this unbearable task–is teaching us to be more like that.

Brigham Young once said: “Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.”

And I believe that more than anything. Although challenging, everything that happens to us teaches us a little bit more about what we need to become and the areas we need to refine.

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I want to have children more than anything. My heart–my soul–yearns for it.

But more than that even–I wish to continue forward.

I wish to be more like my husband, who sings through the silence of misery. More like those of you who suffer through the unbearable and praise the eternal. More like the Saints who buried children and walked through deserts with wounded feet simply to see Zion.

More, Savior, like thee.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Why God sent a rainbow: Lessons from the Marysville school shooting

Some people have been wondering why I haven’t written about the shooting yet that occurred right in my backyard at Marysville Pilchuck High School. I’ve wondered that myself.

But something like that–well, it’s safe to say that it froze my hands on the keyboard.

What do you say about something like this?

The place I took swimming lessons for four years, the auditorium I danced in in two recitals, the bleachers I sat in during some away games, the place where handfuls of my friends passed through those halls over the years. Marysville. Right next door. Basically home.

I couldn’t write about it for some time because I didn’t know what needed to be written. The news stations were covering who was shot and where they were at. Twitter feeds and news feeds were doing their fair share of political commentary about guns. Bloggers were having a heyday as usual. And there I was, not knowing exactly what to say.

My fourth grade teacher’s daughter was one of the students who ran and cowered for shelter when the shots rang out in the cafeteria. The day after it happened she said that she saw a rainbow right over the school–this rainbow right here–and even a rainbow over the hospital where some of the victims were sent. Suddenly I knew what needed to be said that hasn’t been quite yet.

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(Both photos credited to KIRO TV, Seattle)

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God is near.

It’s a gutsy thing to write when children are crying and war is across the sea and parents are struggling now to see their kids get on a school bus. It’s a gutsy thing to say in a world that cries out, “What God would allow this?!”

Because, let’s face it. We’ve all thought it. So did I.

Evil exists. Sickness exists. And the news will continue to tell us that it’s just getting worse.

But the rainbow. It reminds us.

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It reminds us that in the midst of tragedy there is something to be found that brings light back into darkness. There are kids who suddenly learn early lessons about hate–and decide to do whatever it takes to show that instead they can love.

It reminds us that in our grief we aren’t alone. And that we won’t let others be alone in theirs.

It reminds us that we’re given a new day to rebuild, even if it’s the smallest of steps every day.

It reminds us we can forgive with time–and become all the better for it.

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(Tweets from hospitalized victim Nate Hatch)

It reminds us of so much–all of us something different I think, according to what we need.

The world isn’t getting better. And it won’t. That was never promised. And as much as people try we can never completely stop kids from killing kids or soldiers losing their limbs in war or villages in foreign countries going without water. We’ll try and we’ll cry for it and we’ll help as much as we can but in the end we’re going to face the brutality of mortality and we’re going to have to find joy and find love anyway.

We’re going to have to keep spotting the rainbows.

Students and community members attend a vigil at the Grove Church after a shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville

My heart hurts alongside those who heard the shots ring out and those who ran home to their children that day. My heart is in the ICU with those who still fight and with the family of the boy who decided there was no  other option. In one of the saddest scriptures of all time we hear the Lord speaking about tragedy such as this and how it even hurts his own heart.

“Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

“And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood” (Moses 7:32–33).

So where do we turn? What do we write about? Where do we go from here?

I fail to have the right words even though I wish I did. I fail to have a perfect outline to follow or some beautiful way of telling people we’ll get through even this. As a writer–that’s frustrating.

BUT when words fail we turn to the little things that remind us that there is still beauty. There is still good. There is still hope.

That’s why He sent the rainbow.

Kate Kelly was not kicked out of Heaven

I’m careful to write about this subject.

Partly because it is regarding another human life and partly because it has to do with something that I consider sacred, personal, and private.

But it’s a topic we can’t dance around, ignore, or wish away. Even though for every Latter-day Saint right now we wish we could wish it away some way or another. We wish it could be different for everyone–and I know I’m speaking on behalf of every side to this argument.

Yesterday the decision was made. Kate Kelly was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And my heart sunk.

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If you’ve been following my blog even in the slightest that last part might surprise you. I haven’t agreed with Ordain Women’s agenda or mission statement since the launch of their website in 2013 and Kate and I have very different ideas and theologies. BUT my heart still sank. Kate served a mission—dedicating 18 months of her life to the gospel and to those who need it. She married in the temple, making covenants with God that sealed their love forever. She most likely served in many callings, leading others with her natural knack for speaking, encouraging, and teaching. She’s intelligent and well-spoken. She was a member we needed. That’s something to be sad over.

But then my heart sank for something else. Something that hurt a little worse.

In the darkness of a cramped car as we drove back from a day trip I read by the light of my phone an interview with Kate shortly after her excommunication. And it stunned me. *You can read the whole interview here.*

“Essentially what they’ve done is, they’ve not only kicked me out of church, they’ve also kicked me out of Heaven,” Kate said in the interview. She continued on, “…I do not acknowledge that God recognizes the decision…I don’t think these men have control over that.”

These men. Kicked out of Heaven. God doesn’t recognize the decision.

Ouch.

My only question for Kate would be why she’s so saddened over leaving the church if it’s only full of men who have no authority from God, if decisions made in the church don’t really matter, and if temple covenants are nothing other than whispered, thoughtless words that carry no further than the ceiling?

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It was a punch to my gut—and maybe even to yours right now—that anyone would think that our church is made up of thoughtless men who kick people out of Heaven. That temple covenants don’t mean much because we’ll all just get there somehow.

It stunned me, because truth is–no one kicks anyone out of Heaven. No one has the authority to take you by the shoulders and steer you away from the pearly gates. You alone hold that power. You alone choose to walk in–or out– of Heaven.

Am I damning Kelly to a place other than Heaven? Absolutely not. I’m just restating what my religion–and the majority of other religions–believe, and that is that every individual dictates their own salvation. Your choices, your love for God and for the doctrine you follow, ultimately steer the course of your life and point you toward where you’ll stand when all is said and done and you see the Savior face to face.

These men Kate speaks of happen to be her brothers. Her friends. Her husband. Her counselors and teachers and prophets who spend time on their knees for her–and for all of us–to be comforted and to be faithful and to endure. These men love Kate. Just as the women in the church do. Just as the head of the church does–Jesus Christ himself. Their decision wasn’t a casual one. It wasn’t a meeting of egos that decided to kick a soul out of Heaven. It came after multiple conversations, dealings with Kate, prayers, tears shed from people of all sides of the debate, and genuine pleadings with the Lord. It came after letters that told Kate questions aren’t bad. Neither are opinions. It’s when questions turn to stumbling blocks and hindrances for others that it suddenly takes eyes off of Jesus Christ and eternity and puts eyes instead on worldly agendas, trending groups, and followings meant for personal gain.

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The “Church of Latter-day saints” Kate refers to in the interview is the Church of Jesus Christ–a church that is led by a Savior who should continue to be the only focus for its members–and for the world. In THAT church, the one with Christ within the name, our Savior teaches and counsels, edifies, encourages growth, and welcomes. It’s us alone that back away.

It’s us alone that has any kind of potential of kicking ourselves out or taking away promises we’ve made.

We, as a church, need to learn something from this event. We need to learn that the fight that really needs to be fought is the fight to win souls to Christ. No other agenda. No other reason to gain followers. No other reason to be involved. It’s to rise up as women and men in the gospel–together–to reach others and to stand for what’s not necessarily popular, but what is true. It’s to use our talents and our time and our enthusiasm to better the world, to heed God’s word, and to always succumb to humility before pride. It’s to practice our faith in our covenants and to remember the validity of the promises we make. It’s to remember that sometimes the good fight lies in what’s least popular in society.

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Elder Hales once said, “If you judge your actions and the standards of the Church on the basis of where the world is and where it’s going, you will find that you are not where you should be.”

While I hurt for the damage the heated debate has done to so many, I also hurt for Kate. And we should. Because simply put–there’s room here.

From the moment she commented on my blog months ago in response to my first opinion article I have had respect for her leadership skills, her zeal, her drive. I know for a fact that she’s someone who could lead in so many capacities that are offered in this gigantic church and someone who could easily lead others to Christ. I know for a fact she still has that chance.

A day will come, I hope, where she–and others in her shoes–will realize that there is no grand jury forcing members to leave. There is no group of meaningless, hard-hearted men who insist on forcing out the women. No. instead there are closed eyes and bent knees and clasped hands praying…praying…praying for a safe return from a thwarted course.

I am one of those praying.

 

The Mormon Controversy: And why it’s hurting more than feminists

The headlines are everywhere. You seriously can’t miss it, even if you deliberately set out to NOT find it.

It’s a Mormon feminist controversy that’s triggering debates, memes, articles, furiously-written status updates, and doubts. It all started with a movement called Ordain Women, and since then it’s transformed and morphed into conversations about possible pending excommunications, human rights, sexism, and faults within the way the Mormon church is run.

I’ve sat back since writing my first article regarding Mormon feminists and have simply watched it happen, realizing that if I stay on board this train it might negatively impact my readers. And from the looks of other blogs, other Mormon writers, and even other friends who simply continue to voice opinions on how the church needs to change, I can see that I was right. This conversation is not just a church conversation now. It’s a world conversation. And it’s hurting more than Mormon feminists.

On what started out as a cry for understanding among church leaders has now taken a turn to be a cry into the world, prompting non-members and those of different faiths to feel sorry for us, fight harder against our teachings, and look toward the Mormon church with distaste. Friends of mine who at one point took genuine interest in learning about my church now see the articles and the heatwave from this controversy and say beneath their breath, “Looks like I was right all along. It’s a man’s church.”

And it’s not. We’re spreading lies–most of the time unintentionally.

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Now I’m an advocate for questions. As a journalist it’s in my nature to be quizzical *and often skeptical* and to always ask “Well, why’s that?”. But I also firmly believe that you need to pay attention to who you’re asking the questions to, and what your motive behind the question is. Your question might be someone else’s stumbling block.

The group of women who first rose up with this question had every right to ask the questions within their church community, to their bishops, counselors, home teachers, or spouses. They had every right to pray and ask of God and to do scripture searching and soul searching to identify their pains, seek answers, and find peace. But the opportunity left as soon as packs of people demanded to be let in to priesthood session, held signs in public that non-members in passing could read and shake their heads at, spoke to newspaper reporters about the oppression of the church, and spoke negatively about a church they often say they love. Questions turned into protests and backlash and anger that were soon fanning the flames of contempt against an already misunderstood gospel.

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And it breaks my heart.

I’ve seen bloggers and columnists say that it breaks their hearts that these feminists are hurting. I understand that.

But it breaks my heart even more that these personal struggles are thwarting God’s work. What should have been a personal journey for answers has turned into a hiccup for my friend who had one foot in the door and now hesitates to believe me when I say that I’m an equal with my husband. It has turned into debates about equality instead of conversations about a loving Heavenly Father who values his daughters and sons equally and gives them such significant roles in life. It has turned missionaries away from doors because of misconceptions, and it has turned active members into bitter, saddened skeptics who listen to the voices screaming from the internet rather than the gentle, truthful voice of the spirit.

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When Christ walked the earth, not once did he sit before his disciples and spark doubt by asking one of them why something had to be. In fact, in the darkest of times, even the times when he felt betrayed by God, he went on his knees before anything–privately communing with the One who gives answers to all questions. It’s okay, obviously, to discuss issues among those whom you trust or who might have advice or an answer to help you, but why discuss things among those whom you’re trying to uplift, strengthen, or teach? Especially on social media, when countless eyes are watching you and learning about your religion through what you say?

We’re forgetting who we are.

We’re forgetting why we’re here.

And worst of all–we’re hurting those we’ve been sent to help. And that’s the biggest shame of all.

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I can do without: Lessons from a one-legged crow

Mother nature can be a funny thing.

I don’t think it means to be smart or inspiring, even though it often is.

I mean, think about it.

The sun doesn’t set out each day to look absolutely breathtaking and I don’t think the mountains realize they’re being painted and hung in living rooms. Rivers don’t mean to be calming and the clouds don’t mean to form shapes. They simply obey the commands of time and of motion and of the hand of God, not pausing for a second or considering what it means.

And it’s inspiring somehow.

Today it wasn’t anything very beautiful that got me thinking–actually, it could be considered anything but. It was a one-legged crow.

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I was sitting at a traffic light on my way to work this morning with my window rolled down, thankful that the mornings are beginning to grow warmer. My thoughts were wandering when I spotted a crow, smaller than the rest of the pack on the other side of the street, who hopped across two lanes of traffic toward where my car sat. From a distance I noticed he was slower, and one of his wings worked unusually hard to somehow give him the balance he needed to make the short little jaunt. It wasn’t until he was an arm’s length away from my arm that was draped out my window that I realized he only had one leg.

So, something to know about me: I’m an animal lover. Sometimes to a fault. I make my husband brake for packs of pigeons that are a little slow to fly out of the way and if I had the space to house them all, I’d probably become a puppy hoarder or keep adorable rodents in my cupboards, each with personalized little beds. But alas, I am realistic–even when it comes to simply watching a one-legged crow struggle to eat his half-eaten carton of fries in the median and restraining myself from scooping him up and making him a crutch. I watched him, saddened a little, until I saw another crow *with both legs, might I add* swoop down beside him to share the treat. But the one-legged crow wouldn’t have it. He snatched up the box and hobbled away, finally breaking into flight after a few failed and clumsy attempts.

I can do without, I almost heard him whisper to me.

Touche, little crow, I almost said back.

We can all do without.

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How many times do we sit back and feel sorry for ourselves when our car breaks down and public transit is the only option for a few weeks? How many times do we complain when our friends always seem to have the bigger house, the better job, the more picture-perfect life? How often do we struggle with being the “less-attractive” one, the one with the speech impediment, the one without the college education, the one without the leg? And to each of us, there’s a whispered lesson from the spirit simply saying: You can do without.

I’m often inspired by stories of triumph by those who have lost a limb in a war and then go on to compete in the Olympics or by those who are entirely burned and stripped of their physical beauty, only to find love again and go on to be a motivational speaker and inspiration. But then, when it comes to the little, unfair disadvantages we sometimes freeze in place.

You have a learning disability. You’re diabetic. You grew up with just one parent. You’re twice divorced. You’re living paycheck to paycheck. There’s that one something that threatens to make you hobble and complain and slow down.

We’re all a one-legged crow.

Moses–one of the greatest prophets of all time–complained to God about a speech problem he had.

“O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” Moses said in Exodus 4:10. But Heavenly Father assured Moses, and he’s assuring us every day, that despite a speech problem–despite any problem or hindrance or setback– “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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I’m grateful for little reminders in nature and in life that testify to God’s law. I’m grateful for one-legged crows whose wings grow stronger and whose one remaining leg takes compensates for the lack of the other, lifting off in flight, proving that it simply takes determination.

And it only takes His strength.

I’m grateful that his grace is sufficient–and because of that, I can do without a lot.

You’re trying way too hard to get to Heaven

My life—as of late—has done a complete 180.

As I write this there’s a million other to-do’s on my mind, one of which includes the pile of laundry sneering at me from across the room. Oh and I can’t forget the bunny cages. *Sigh* It’s becoming a lot to handle.

A different job. Different schedule. Different faces that I see every day. Different church calling. You name it, and it’s most likely different now. I’m not trying to complain, since we all carry a load, but it’s a good way to preface something that’s been on my mind.

So here I sit–dirty laundry and all.

All my life I’ve worked in journalism, whether it be for the local paper or a news station, so my recent switch to sales and eventually marketing has been a culture shock to say the very least. Especially commission. Good ol’ commission that can make the greatest of people turn into vicious blood-thirsty wolverines. *Not saying that my co-workers are like that, of course.*

When I first began the job after all my training, I couldn’t help but feel anxiety about my commission. How much I get each day depends strictly upon how well I do with a customer and how much they fork over. I dictate grocery money, whether or not my husband can afford his batch of school books, or if my rent gets paid on time. Simply showing up for work doesn’t cut it here. I’ve found myself dwelling on it quite a bit since my first day—and at times I’ve worked myself into a panic. What if I don’t do enough? What if the customer just walks out on me? What if I mess up on a presentation of one of the products and the sale goes south from there? Worries, worries, worries. It never ends.

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But then, it happened. As usual, the Lord decided to step in.

The help came in the form of my new manager. As if my manager Mike sensed my tension, he sat down with me just a day or so ago and simply stated that if you come in and just think about commission or how high your stats are, you’ll never find success. Commission takes care of itself when you decide to take care of the people. “Make a friend, make a sale,” he said to me with an easy shrug.

Simple as that.

I stewed on what Mike said all day, turning it over and over in my head until I got home that night.

My husband came to me with a scripture he had in his hand while I made dinner. “The love of many will wax cold”, he read in one verse. “Men’s hearts shall fail them” he read in another. What do you think those verses mean? he asked me.

And that’s when it struck me. Call it a lightning bolt, if you will, or an “Aha” moment. But it was one of those times where everything gelled together, and I was reminded of something I had forgotten.

In every area of my life I’ve been worrying and stressing and focusing inward–and I know I’m not alone in that.

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We go through our weeks stressed to the max while trying to earn the most money, have the most crafty and color-coordinated and clean house on the block, trying to get all the ironing and laundry AND dishes done on the same day. Trying to be the one to have the perfect church lessons written out and prepared each sunday. Trying to check off all the to-do’s and then some. Trying to do our visiting teaching each month and attend every activity so we can cross it out on the list.

We’re trying too hard to get to Heaven.

And in turn, our hearts are failing us. Even more so, we’re failing each other.

It’s hard to express how profound this was to me. It was so simple to Mike to toss out the fact that selfless sales are the successful sales. It wasn’t a huge revelation for Matt to read that our hearts are failing us. But for me, the reminders changed everything.

The Savior is a perfect example of it. Not once during Jesus’ ministry on earth did He do anything simply to “check it off” the list. He didn’t heal the blind because it was scheduled for that day. He didn’t tell Peter to give up fishing and follow Him because He assumed it would further his success as a prophet. He didn’t forgive the prostitute because He wanted others to praise Him for His kindness or mercy. He didn’t scream through forty-something lashings to prove his strength to the world.

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He did everything because of love. Simple as that.

His concerns were never with where he was going because He knew that would take care of itself. His concern was with us.

 “But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, … whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45.)

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It’s a reminder I think we all need, whether we’re juggling two jobs or juggling two babies on the hip; whether we’re the head of cub scouts or the head of a company; whether we sit in the same pew every sunday and know all the answers to all the doctrinal questions or struggle to wake up on time. We need to remember that the Lord never called us to be perfect. But He did call us to love.

With recognition of the things that need to change in our lives and the perspectives that need to be adjusted, we can start out on the road to recovery from selfishness.

I hope to be more like that–in every area of my life, really. I strive to be more like Mike, who shrugs at the worry of commission and worries more about the guest who is struggling with a payment plan. I strive to be more like my Dad, who always taught me to “listen more” to others and talk less. I strive to be more like the Savior, who never thought a second about his own entry into Heaven, simply because he wanted to lead us to the gates first. I strive to be more like the sparrow, who depends on the rain and the seeds and the air under its small wings so fully that it doesn’t even give it a second thought that it might not be there tomorrow.

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Only then–when we stop worrying about conquering the world–will we find peace. Only then–when our hearts turn outward–will we revive our failing, worried, stressed, self-centered, aching hearts.

It’s time to stop trying so hard that we grow cold to what matters.

 

I don’t know about you, but I want to live the kind of life so that when I do finally show up to those pearly gates– I won’t be standing there alone.

 

The four simple truths that matter most: And why we often forget them

My favorite teachers are three and a half feet tall.

They snort when they laugh, they get sticky hands when they eat suckers, and they hoard the crayons when they draw pictures.

My favorite teachers have barely filled in their school shoes, they still wear bows in their braids, and they dream of being astronauts, doctors, and missionaries in different countries.

They come in the shape of my nieces and nephews–and also my primary kids.

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Primary is a class we teach every sunday at church–and for the past year I’ve seen the same group of kids go from pre-school to Kindergarten. And from barely talking *because they’re playing the shy card* to barely letting me get a word in edgewise.

They’ve been my pseudo-children in a sense–and they’ve been some of my greatest teachers.

It really hit me yesterday how much they’ve grown in front of my very eyes, reminding me every week of why we’re here on earth, what we’re meant to do, and who we’re called to be like. Back to the basics, they teach me. Keep life simple.

And simplicity can be so hard.

Yesterday was one of those *Wow, I’m learning more from these kids than they are from me* days. I have those days a lot. But yesterday was something out of the ordinary, really.

 

I came to church straight from a work meeting, and I was frazzled beyond belief. Is there even enough hours in the day? I’m not convinced quite yet that 24 are enough. My mind was nowhere where it should have been, but I quickly rushed to class and tried to get in the mindset of the lesson.

We were teaching about the holy spirit. As we talked, the kids, one by one, all wanted to share stories. That’s not an uncommon thing really–but these stories seemed uncommon. Uncommonly simple and profound all at the same time. With these stories I was reminded of four simple things that I think we ALL tend to forget as soon as we grow out of our size four shoes, stop coloring out of the lines and no longer consider Spider Man our greatest hero.

It was good to get a reminder.

Kindness matters. 

David–one of the boys in my class– reminded me of a motto that I’ve always tried to live by. He told a story of a little boy in his kindergarten class who isn’t very nice. He says rude things to people and kind of likes to be alone. One day at recess the boy was coloring outside and the breeze whisked away a couple of his pages. Without even thinking David scrambled after them and retrieved the papers, bringing them back to the boy and letting him know that a good trick is to keep the loose papers under his foot while he’s drawing so they won’t blow away. I asked David why he helped the little boy out when he’s been nothing but mean to him. “Because it doesn’t matter how he is,” he responded matter-of-factly. “I’m supposed to be kind.”

How often do we forget kindness? We live in a society and a world where many believe that kindness is something to be earned, deserved, or given if the mood is right. But kindness–in its simplest and truest form–is actually running after those runaway papers in the wind simply because that’s what Christ would do.

Prayer works.

After David’s story, Kali’s hand shot up. It wasn’t about kindness, she prefaced, but prayer. Her dad had recently traveled to Mexico and when he came back from the trip he had given her a charm bracelet with beautiful stones. Well one day, she explained, the bracelet went missing and she couldn’t find it anywhere. She searched and searched and searched and finally she fell on her knees and prayed that she would PLEASE find that pretty bracelet from her Dad. After saying amen she had a feeling to check under the stairs. And there it was. Does Heavenly Father care about your bracelet? I asked. “Probably not,” she shrugged. “But he cares about me.”

Did you think to pray?

Count your blessings–then share them.

I sometimes forget this one and I bet you do too. Count your blessings, we hear. Count your blessing, Name them one by one, we sing. But what good is hoarding the blessings and not sharing them? As I watch these kids I’m reminded of the importance of sharing every piece of everything. They don’t hesitate to tell the new kid in class about Jesus. They don’t hesitate to share their jelly beans or share how to spell the word Heaven on the chalk board. They go to school each day and share with their teachers what they did at church, not even giving a second thought about how it may be perceived. They share the good news of everything that comes their way. Why don’t we?

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” is one of my favorite quotes. And as I observe my class I often see a class full of blazing candles–all flaming like torches as they seek out wicks that have dried out.

Follow where others try to lead.

We’re a society aimed toward being revolutionary. Changing the world. Discovering new planets, changing the way politics operate, or being top in sales at our firm. And that’s perfectly okay to aim high. But whatever happened to the virtue of following? In the attempts to forge a new path I think it can be easy to forget that we’ve had many saints, prophets–even the Savior himself– pave the way already. We’ve had pioneers walk miles to reach a common place of rest, hearts all turned toward the same Zion. We’ve had prophets teach the same stories and generations of family members instill the same traditions and morals. We have so many heroes to emulate. “She wants to be just like you,” I’ve had mothers say to me when talking about their kids in my class. They never say, “She hopes to be way better than you”.

There’s so much fear nowadays in mediocrity and not enough desire to uphold the things that generations before us fought for.

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I could honestly go on and on about the things I’ve learned from these kids. But the simple things are my favorite. And the older I get the more I need to be reminded of the basics. The simple things that keep families together and the beggars with change in their pockets. It’s the simple things that were once preached on mountain tops and etched in stone and written by hand on parchment only to be passed down to us. It’s the simple things that turn us from a hardened, bustling, distracted adult into a child again– fresh from Heaven, and at the Savior’s feet. The beauty in the gospel–and in life– lies in its simplicity.

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “…Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is simple. It really, really is.
And I’m grateful to all my three-foot something giants for showing me that.
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Endings are the saddest part: But they often don’t exist

I bet everyone can agree that there’s always beauty in beginnings.

Driving to the hospital to meet my newborn nephew the other day, getting the keys to that first apartment or the brand new cherry-red car on my 16th birthday. Putting a veil on and carefully tying the back of a brand new wedding dress, accepting that much-prayed-for job offer, the first day on a brand new campus that’d be home to my lifelong memories. Beginnings always carry a sweet smelling perfume of a memory to me. But endings? No. Normally, *unless it’s a boring movie or a canker sore* endings are the stuff that tragedy is made up of.

At least it seems like it.

Recently I got the news that my sister-in-law’s best friend Logann was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. But this time, it’s in its final stages. My sister-in-law had cancer too and died just two years ago. Logann’s sister, Lauren, reached out to me with pictures and memories, and before long I was scrolling through her facebook page, blinking back tears and reading statuses that hint at worsening symptoms. I don’t know Logann much, but I know how it feels to face an ending.

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I carefully clicked through the photos of the young faces of the kids she’ll soon leave behind. The ending for their family is coming, just as it had for Natalie, who didn’t even make it to that last trip to DisneyLand with her kids. Just as it had for my Dad who hadn’t even had the time to acquire wrinkles. Just as it had for countless faces and names from my readers who share pictures and stories throughout my inbox–people who share the general ache of having been through an ending of some sort.

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For some, it’s the ending that comes with seeing a child move across the country with a new husband and a U-Haul. For some, it’s the loss of a career or a divorce that leaves empty drawers, empty halls, and an empty heart. For some, it’s the ending that comes with a severed friendship or a miscarriage that leaves you with empty arms and a few loose ultrasound pictures to prove that a child ever even existed.

Time can seem like a relentless, cruel train that moves fast and uninterrupted. Time stops for no one and quickly reminds us that every day we’re dying or nearing an end of something. Some of us just know when that time will be, others of us have no idea.

It all just ends in an ending, we think.. And the only beauty we can possibly hope for is that there will be a beginning soon after.

But what if we decided to find the beauty before that eventual beginning? Is it possible? Well, today–I learned it is.

Today was General Conference in my church. General Conference is a time when leaders of my church come together to talk about a wide variety of things that they’ve prayed about or felt inspiration to teach. No matter where you are in the world you can listen in by internet or television or broadcasts in meetinghouses. One talk in particular today reached me in a way that made me wonder if Heaven itself wrote that message just for Kayla. But of course not–we all needed to hear it.

The talk was by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. He spoke about gratitude throughout the pains of life, understanding in all things, and before ending his talk he simply stated,”There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings. Why is this? Because we’re made out of the stuff of eternity. Endings are not our destiny.”

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Endings don’t sit well with us because there’s often no such thing. We feel the need to keep existing–to keep connected with those we love and to always have another sunrise. We often forget, I learned today, that we’re not dying every day. We’re just continuing.

And if we believe in eternity, then that means we believe that nothing–not even death–can be considered an end.

As children of the creator of a universe dotted with galaxies and stars and life still undiscovered that goes on and on and never hits a wall, we also follow the pattern of creation. We don’t end either.

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Sometimes it’s hard to see simply because we don’t comprehend the magnitude of it, just as we can’t wrap our minds around the nonexistent walls of universe that stretch on forever. But every now and then, like those words that hit me today, the spirit will whisper a reminder.

Lauren sent me a note recently tagged along with the photos of her and her sweet sister that states she’s grateful for time that she has left with Logann–the gift that reminds her this isn’t where it ends. It’s simply a pause. She said Logann spends her days talking about eternity with the kids–a concept that is almost impossible to understand now, but something that will be the only comfort someday and the only truth.

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There’s a beauty in knowing that we’re more constant than the sun–that our eternal value is more dependable than the tides. There’s a beauty in being reminded that what we call endings are nothing more than a flicker of pause in a seamless fabric of eternity–the same fabric that makes up an ever-stretching universe. The same fabric made from our Father’s hands.

When we look at it that way–at least for me–it’s not just the beginnings that seem beautiful. It’s the continuing.

Click here to donate to Logann and her sweet family.