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Me Too, don’t shoot the messenger

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We’ve been here before as women. Remember #YesAllWomen?

I wasn’t in a place to own my story then and shared details only privately. This weekend, I was much more bold. If I needed a sign that I was healing, there it was.

Yet, in speaking out, we’ve been accused of perpetuating the victimhood complex. I won’t speak for others, but let me be clear for myself: I’m not a victim. Not even a little bit. And, yes, I have been hurt and violated. Yes, there is even damage I’m still working through.

I can speak that without being a victim. I can acknowledge and own that those thing are part of my story without being at their mercy.

I am not a victim and sharing my story does not make me so, no matter how others read it.

Truthfully, I am a little shocked by how many of the women (and some men) I know have spoken up. A little shocked at just how many people who have been violated. And I know many are hurt and disgusted by what they’re reading this weekend. Many people owning this part of their story are also still working through it. Many of them have been violated much more recently or much more profoundly than I have been.

But you know, I’m not just shocked. I’m not just hurt to see my friends hurt and not just disgusted to see the carnage of rape culture.

I’m empowered.

NOT because I feel kinship with others. Not because it makes me happy or relieved to see that others admit they’ve been violated. Not because it helps me feel more normal. Not even because it’s been well received and believed. It hasn’t. We continue to be disbelieved, minimized, and criticized for speaking up.

But you know what? We are doing it anyway. And it matters.

There are a billion causes for our energy, a billion places for us to get angry and speak up, a billion windmills to tilt at (believe me, I find them).

This is no less important. It impacts how we approach the world. It teaches us who we can trust and how far we can trust them. It tells us who has a right to our bodies, our souls. It hurts men and women who were violated and it hurts men and women who were the perpetrators. When it’s silenced, it breeds shame and shame allows illness to grow into cancer.

I’m empowered by seeing so many people speak because I believe that speaking it helps us heal it.

Healthy people build healthy communities where we respect one another and care for each other’s needs. Healthy people build societies free of -isms. Healthy people build cultures where governments aren’t needed.

And maybe that connection has taken a turn that feels like it doesn’t follow, but (for me) this topic ends where all topics of morality end: at my two foundational values – the intrinsic worth of each person and the inherent right that each person has to control themselves.

At its core, this is an issue of personal value and self-ownership. This is an issue of who is allowed to cross your boundaries and where you have a right to limit that ingress. Only you get to decide that for you.

I hope my daughters and my friends’ daughters and sons will never have a reason to say me too. Speaking up helps make that hope more realistic.

So to everyone who has spoken, who has said “Me too”: thank you. Thank you for empowering me to own my story too. Thank you for making space for all of us to be more than victims. Thank you for helping us heal.

And a note directed squarely at my anarchist people: this is not a distraction. This is a branch not far removed from the root of freedom. We have to heal before we can be the kind of people who can maintain voluntary communities. We will never get that sort of society until we deserve it.

This is not a celebration of victimhood. See above.

This is not an exaggeration or something that “means nothing” because harassment and assault are a spectrum. No point on that spectrum is ok.

This is not an attack on you as a person or as a man. Nobody’s leaving you out. If you have a story, share it. Seriously.

And just because you don’t believe it’s an issue doesn’t mean that it’s not.

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I’d rather err towards love

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Last weekend was the Utah Pride festival and parade. In fact, all of June is national Pride month here in the U.S. There is no secret that my LDS faith community has a rocky relationship with the LGBTQIA community. Frankly, there are some ungodly policies within Mormonism focused specifically on LGBTQIA members which are harmful to them and their families. These institutionalized biases allow some members to feel justified in their really ugly beliefs about some of their brothers and sisters.

The rhetoric always amps up in June, but there’s still a fair amount of it that persists throughout Mormonism on a regular basis. To be honest, it is a problem and one which causes genuine harm, measurable and unmeasurable, to families within the church (as well as others who are connected to Mormonism in some way).

I wish it would stop. I do not understand why we as a church body feel that we have the right or knowledge to make the kinds of judgements that we do, ones which create a lot of pain. I may be painting with a broad brush here, but as I see it, the entire LDS opposition to gay marriage rests on the idea that we have an understanding of the makeup of “eternal families” in the afterlife. It’s based on polygamy culture wherein perpetual procreation happens with one or more Heavenly Mothers married to a Heavenly Father who procreate the same way that we do in mortality.

Which is utter nonsense.

We have no actual revelation about the family structure of heaven (don’t reference the Proc on the Family; that’s not revelation and even if it was there’s plenty to support a different interpretation of heaven).

Heck, we barely know anything about Heavenly Mother or Her role. Without that, we certainly can’t maintain our intellectual integrity AND a belief that we have perfect understanding about the family structure of Heaven.

Our current cultural beliefs are assumptions based on mortality and founded in polygamy, pure and simple. Polygamy culture infuses our church and I don’t have space or will do dive deep into it right here, right now, but I would suggest the Year of Polygamy podcast series and researching the temple origins and their relationship to polygamy if you’re unaware of how pervasive it is.

So, I guess if you want to embrace the idea that to get to heaven you have to practice polygamy, then go ahead and also embrace homophobia. (Full disclosure, I’m still going to call you out on it; see two paragraphs below. However, you can’t reject the LGBTQIA community as sinful, within the Mormon paradigm, without also embracing polygamy.)

BUT! If you (men) do not want to risk your wife being taken from you and given to another man (gag me; we aren’t property) while you are cast out for unfaithfulness to a god who would do that, or if you don’t want to risk being required to be married to multiple other women to achieve Godhood, then you might want to also rethink your certainty that there is no room for non-hetero families in Heaven. If you (woman) do not want to be forced into being a second or third or fourth wife or your husband being sealed to four or five or more other women and all of you being eternally pregnant, then you might want to also rethink your certainty that there is no room for non-hetero families in Heaven.

Without revelation on the family structure of heaven, Mormonism has plenty of room (and a historical track record) to believe the current LDS bias against the LGBTQ community is culture, not doctrinal (aka the revealed Truth or will of God). And, frankly, there’s enough difficulty determining what’s doctrine and what’s culture that Mormonism leaves you free to believe that what I see as cultural error, you, my traditional LDS friends, can see as doctrine from God (but, remember, polygamy).

Whether you do or not, whether you believe Jesus declared marriage between a man and woman only (in which case, let’s address the “sin” of being single with equal vigor), we all can acknowledge that that yes, Jesus did in fact cast judgements. After all, doesn’t the Book of Mormon teach that the only gatekeeper is Jesus (see 2 Nephi 9)? How can a person decide who comes and goes through a gate without some kind of judgement.

But… he’s Jesus. Perfect. Flawless. Capable of loving beyond imagination and understanding without any confusion and making judgements without errors. Are you? If not, then maybe you should direct your energy towards developing and perfecting THOSE Christlike attributes before you get really good at the Christlike attribute of passing judgement.

If you’re not capable of seeing the whole of a person, capable of perfect knowledge of what is and isn’t sin, capable of perfect love, then maybe you shouldn’t be setting yourself up as God in anyone’s life. The Book of Mormon also has a term for that: antichrist.

I have no doubt that many of the people who disagree with me on this are trying their very best to follow God. Just so we’re clear, I am too. I am hopeful that by sharing my thoughts there will be room for you to take this to our Heavenly Parents with an open heart and not with one bound up by a cultural bias founded on a (semi)discarded belief system both of which that causes immense damage.

As for me and my house, we will choose love. We will choose to develop relationships and let Jesus worry about sin. We will choose to teach our children to wait for further light and knowledge from our Heavenly Parents. We will choose to acknowledge that even our prophets are subject to cultural biases and we will not expect perfection out of even them. We will never, ever subjugate our moral compass to someone else’s control, even if they are an authority. If at the end of my life I meet God and They tell me I was wrong in this, I will own it, but do it with a clear conscience that my error was loving my fellow humans too much. I would rather be guilty of that than of condemning them too much. I would rather help bear burdens too much than add burdens too easily.

I’m not afraid to say I don’t know. I might be wrong. But I’d rather be wrong being with kindness than being wrong with judgement.

Dear everyone 

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The last couple of years have been filled with tremendous growth. By which I mean I completely came undone and shattered and had to figure out which bits of me I wanted to keep and which ones were no longer serving me. Eight-years-ago Me doesn’t recognize Today Me, probably doesn’t like Today Me. That’s ok.

I’m still probably getting a lot of the being a decent (Christian) person wrong. That’s a topic for another post, however.

One of the things I like most about Today Me is my greater capacity for genuine compassion. I’m more likely to give “people” the befenit of the doubt and assign to them the most charitable motives I can believe.

Of course, it’s always hardest with the people closest to us and I’m still learning. Isn’t it strange that the people we hope give the most leeway for our choices are the often the ones we are least able to do the same with. Of course, we always want to believe the best in each other, but practicing that is a lot harder than wishing it. I’m no exception.

When I look around me, I find myself more and more and more believing in the idealism of voluntaryism because at its core, voluntaryism requires us to be the best versions of ourselves and to expect the same from others. When we expect to see good, I think we tend to, even if we “disagree” with people’s choices or opinions.

It is in that spirit that I offer this:

Dear everyone,

I believe you are doing your best. Aren’t we all? Don’t we all just take the bits of ourselves that we feel good about and the bits that aren’t ourselves but we wish were and put them out for the world to see?

Here’s the thing: authenticity is messy and it’s all we make it out to be. It’s ok to save face and honor the space you’re in and to have to learn how to balance being all you and not scaring people off. We’re all trying to figure it out.

I believe that when you leave the cart in the middle of a parking spot, instead of putting it in the cart return, you’re doing your best. Maybe that seems silly, but I used to judge people like you. Then I had two kids and dealt with chronic pain. Funny how perspective changes things.

I believe that when you cut me off in traffic, without a signal, putting your life and mine at risk, you’re doing your best. Maybe you’ve succumb to the lie of urgency and you’re texting while driving. That’s dumb and dangerous but that ones a hard lie to ignore.

Please know that when I’m less than gracious, when I flip you off and lean on my horn, it’s because my mommy instincts immediately think of my kids growing up without me and I haven’t yet learned to trust that they’ll be ok. I’m doing my best too.

When you talk loudly on your cell phone on the back of the bus and annoy everyone around me, I get it. This is maybe the only time you’ve got to talk to your sister who lives across the country and who is impossible to get a hold of. Sometimes I feel like that about my own family and I love 4 hours tops from any of them.

When you yell at my family at the restaurant because we’re ready to order and you just want to bring us drinks, I’m going to look around the restaurant and see how busy it is. You have no way of knowing how much hurry we’re in. I’ve been there. I’ve never yelled at a customer, but I’ve yelled at coworkers, supervisors, and employees. We’re all human and we don’t always manage to keep our big feelings inside. It’s a huge bummer when an outburst hurts another or ourselves.

When you insist for the 40 billionth time that I have to be Izzy and call you Jake and play the game your way, I’m going to take a huge, deep breath and decide if I’m going to play with you or teach you, in the gentlest way possible, that you don’t get to just demand everyone plays the way you want them to. Isn’t it amazing how we expect so much out of our littlest people? When we take a step back and remember they are always doing their best, it makes us expect better of ourselves in dealing with them.

When you say “yeah, I just couldn’t get it together to get that done,” I’m trying really hard to remember that you are doing your best. You’re not intentionally making my life difficult. What I’m expecting from you is hard.

When you tell me you’re not paid enough to do the job I expect you to do, I get it. When you’re rude to me at the store, I get it. When you talk down to me, I get it.

When you say I’d better vote for your candidate because the other guy is worse, I get it. When you tell me how dangerous refugees are, I get it. When you tell me how awful women are who get abortions are, I get it.

Every last one of us are living the stories we’ve been given. We’re not all ready or able to move beyond them, to be better and do differently. Even when we don’t buy the story we’re living, it still takes work, and a heckuva lot of it, to make our best today be less than our best tomorrow.

By responding with grace, instead of reminding you how much your “failures” make my life hard, I’m helping set you up for future success. By seeing the most charitable interpretations of you, I also feel like I’m setting me up for more success. It’s easier to be kinder to me when I’m not in the practice of passing judgement.

Dear everyone, I’ve got your back. Keep working on your best self.

Much love,

Today Me

An insatiable desire to learn

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If you get to know me very well, you will learn two things about me: first, I am completely and entirely incapable of settling and, second, my favorite question – perhaps even my favorite word – is “Why?”

While these two character traits lead me to a life of constant discontentment (which can be a source of frustration and disappointment), they also drive in me an insatiable desire to learn.

When I begin to count up the things I have actively sought out to learn in the last year, the list grows dizzyingly long. My knowledge base has expanded significantly in the last year. Every time I come across something new, I find myself digging in to research more.

That’s one of the major joys about my childhood upbringing: I not only learned, I learned how to learn and I learned to love to learn. More than that, because I wasn’t forced into learning particular subjects (most the time), that love of learning was neither tarnished nor curtailed. It was allowed to expand to become insatiable.

This point was driven home to me in a really unexpected way recently. In a Facebook group I’m in, a mom posted, looking for recommendations for memorization aids for her kindergartner who was struggling with memorization. To “pass” kindergarten, the children (keep in mind these are 5 and 6 year olds) have to be able to read and to count to 100.

I wanted to scream. WHY are we attempting to force our children to memorize and WHY are we guilting parents into trying to force their children to meet these ridiculous standards?

We are killing the joy in learning. We are utterly destroying the fun, the drive and the desire in both children and their parents.

Children are born to learn. Humans are born to learn. We can’t improve on that desire by force nor harness and guide it through ridiculous, overreaching expectations. While there are exceptions (particularly in cases of learning disability), most children learn at a completely acceptable pace for them.

Of course, the methodology of allowing children to learn at their own pace doesn’t work in the factory system through which we put our children and it doesn’t work in a society in which control is the end-goal of education.

An insatiable desire to learn is dangerous for the people in power because well-educated citizens, especially those who won’t take the pat political answers, cannot become slaves. They are the ones who lead the rebellion.

I wish we could get rid of our modern public education system completely. Throw it out the window like the Prussian relic it is. In it’s place I wish that we would implement a system that would take advantage of the natural inclination of all humans to learn and craft it, guide it and grow it into an insatiable desire to learn.

Happy birthday, Little Monkey

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Today my Little Miss Monkey turns two. Holy smokes, where has the time gone?

Since this blog has officially crossed into “mommy blog” territory a time or two, I’m going to share a little bit about my little girl before sharing her birth story (which I have promised to a number of people for today’s post).

At two years old Monkey can identify the letter “O” and sometimes the letter “A”, can climb stairs – up and down – by herself, throws and catches a ball, tries to “play baseball” but can’t usually connect with a ball (her favorite “bat” is whatever’s handy but she connects most frequently with a spatula), draws tiny circles, identifies animals and their “sounds”, speaks short sentences, asks to sing favorite songs, dances adorably and gives the sweetest hugs and kisses ever. She loves her monkeys (a yellow monkey called Reeses and a sockmonkey called Sox… I know, we’re so creative), reading books with us, watching Daniel Tiger and Super Why!, recently discovered Teletubbies (oh no!), asks to call YiaYia, Bumpa and Mya and Granny and Papa and pretends to talk to them on the “phone”. She says “sheehar” (sweetheart) and “Aw, Honey”, “No thank you” and “Yes please”, talks to herself in the mirror and puts her “babies”, our cell phones and my purse down for naps (“Shhhh… is sleeping”).

Today, and for a while now, she is no longer a baby but a little girl.

Two years ago, she was a six pound, two ounce beautiful October 1st surprise.

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Pioneers and Patriots

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July is kind of a special month for me. It’s the home of my favorite holiday, Independence Day, and a month when I spend a lot of time thinking about my ancestors. In the LDS church, July 24 is Pioneer Day, when we celebrate the Mormon pioneers first entering the Salt Lake valley. In many ways, we see this coming to Utah as a last fresh start, a place to finally be able to freely practice our faith and a fulfillment of God’s promises to us. Pioneer day is a chance to remember our forefathers and foremothers who gave up so much to follow their faith and who gave us a legacy of fidelity, strength and courage.

As the church expands and we gain new converts who don’t have this genetic heritage (but who we maintain share this spiritual heritage), we also have an opportunity to recognize that they are pioneers as well.

Because of my unique situation – as the daughter of a convert and a lifelong Mormon with a long family history in the church – I get the best of both: a genetic heritage of strong faith within Mormonism and a chance to be a pioneer in my own right. However, the “lack” of traditional Mormon pioneers on my dad’s side doesn’t rob me from a legacy of faith. I have amazing ancestors who were incredibly faithful – ministers and “ordinary” members of various congregations who loved Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

I’m also blessed with another heritage, one of patriotism. I have family members who fought in the American Revolution, Civil War and both World Wars. My dad spent several years in the Navy. There is a long history of voting, advocacy on civic matters and causes and supporting and advancing freedom. Liberty is part of my DNA.

With these two holidays and two corresponding heritages, July always leaves me incredibly thankful for the inheritance I’ve been given and the abundance I have been blessed with. It’s also a really critical reminder to me that there is an expectation to “not drop the ball” and to preserve the family legacy.

As this month wraps up, I’ll soon be swept up again in life, but I carry with me the stories and strength of my foreparents. July is a chance to bring those stories forward so I can remember them and allow them to buoy me up for the rest of the year.

I walk within their footsteps and stand upon their shoulders – men and women who weren’t afraid of taking chances, fighting for dreams and chasing the wild frontiers. Their message echoes clearly to me: Be a patriot; be a pioneer; never give up; trust in God; don’t drop the ball. And so, as I do every year, I take their stories and I hold them in my heart and try to add to the legacy I received, hoping that in doing so I will pass on their strength to my children and also strengthen my ancestors who are waiting for me in the spirit world and who, though I cannot see them, are with me every day.

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What is a “Mother”?

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I’ve been thinking about this subject for a really long time. This topic has been more and more heavily on my mind in the last year or so and as I’ve studied and prayed and meditated on it I’ve found some clarity and I have recently felt prompted to share some of what I learned.

I hope that as I share these thoughts they will not cause anyone pain as the topic of motherhood and mothers can be a very sensitive one, especially for those who are not blessed in this life with children of their own. Knowing that “motherhood” is more than a mortal blessing or that a “mother” is more than having and rearing children can be hollow and even insulting truths to a woman whose heart and womb aches for a “family of their own.”

To understand the message, you have to understand the journey because it started long before I had children, when I was a child myself.

When I was young, I was deeply in love with Christmas (I suppose I still am). Part of what I loved so much was the Forgotten Carols by Michael McLean. At some point, the words of one of the songs planted a seed in me that has grown for many years.

The song Mary Let Me Hold Her Baby tells of a fictional woman who holds baby Jesus after He is born while Mary rests. Today, we might call this woman a doula or a midwife, and it was very likely that Mary was attended by these sorts of women. Part of the lyrics include the following refrain:

Those like me who can’t have children
Still can be mothers
Something in His eyes convinced me
I could serve so many others

Those words pierced my little girl heart, as I was taught a truth that resonated with my soul.

As I grew, I felt the pull to “mother” others. My own mother frequently told me to “quit trying to be the mother” to my siblings. Generally, this was in response to me telling them what to do or “being bossy” but I struggled to comprehend this statement in the big picture.

I have stepped in to be the “sister” to those who needed a sister, a counselor to those who sought me for advice, a nurturer, a comforter, a fighter, a protector, a lover, and a healer to those who needed these things. I have acted, in many ways, in the same capacity that a mortal mother acts in relation to her own children.

When my Little Miss Monkey was born, I realized that I had been waiting for forever for her. However, giving birth and mothering this baby did not in any way “complete” me. It was a simple reaffirmation of an eternal role, one that I have held for an eternity and that is promised to be mine for an eternity more, if I want it.

Because of these experiences, I have tried to understand just what it means to be a mother. After all, Eve was called The Mother of All Living before she left the Garden of Eden. In other words: she was called a mother before she had a baby.

With the absence of official doctrine on either Eve or Heavenly Mother, I have sought out whatever I can find on these women. I have also tried to learn more about Mary, the mother of Jesus. It has been a challenge as the references are scattered throughout a wide spread of material but there is very little that is definitive on these women. I have, and continue to, read books from LDS authors and from others on both Eve and Mary, though very little exists on our Heavenly Mother. I have prayed to understand more.

I believe strongly that understanding these three women – and particularly Eve – holds the key to understanding the female mortal experience. While we teach that gender is divine, we have very little that helps us understand eternal gender roles (if such a thing exists).

I believe strongly that it is no accident that Eve has been demonized and vilified throughout history, even within churches. Even in the LDS faith where we are taught that Eve’s choice was a necessary and honorable one, I still hear statements that diminish her, make her choice into a sin and the fall an error. Understanding Eve and her role as Mother of All Living opens up a vast and deep pool of knowledge which strengthens everything that womanhood is – the typical, the stereotypical and the rare.

After much pondering, I have composed my own list of attributes that I believe make a mother. However, I want space to explain and describe these traits in detail and that would make this post overlong. So… I’ll share those thoughts in more detail elsewhere.

Being a mother is so, so much more than being a parent (which isn’t to diminish parenthood but to broaden motherhood). It is a calling and a mission, a privilege and a promise extended to any woman who reaches out to claim it.