Belief and the Color Blue

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Untangling the webs that weave together through your life is an interesting process. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? But, one of the most interesting questions that I have chewed on over the last few years is this one – “Is belief a choice?” There are dozens of talks and articles in Mormon vernacular that suggest that choosing to believe is synonymous with looking for the good in things. Doubters are painted as Negative Nellies. I have come to believe, however, that belief isn’t a choice at all.

Let me explain using an analogy (because we all know that I love them.) If you were to look at the photo that I chose today, what color would you say it is? Blue? What if I were to tell you that, historically, there is no word for blue in any ancient language? I’m not suggesting that blue did not exist. I think one would be hard pressed to prove that the sky has changed as history has progressed – it’s most likely exactly the same as it’s always been. Still, for hundreds of thousands of years, people did not distinguish blue. This is incredibly bizarre, I know. I have no idea what color people called the sky or ocean or blueberries. But, it wasn’t blue.

Imagine living in a world where blue wasn’t recognized. (For the sake of our analogy, let’s make the assertion that all other colors were known.) I suspect that some blues would get lumped in with green or purple while others might even lean grey or black. This would be the norm – the paradigm held by everyone in society. If you were to pick yourself and plop yourself down in 800-something in a community that didn’t know blue, could you cease to see it yourself? If you were persecuted for being someone who saw blue, could you make yourself fit into a paradigm that no longer saw it for the sake of conformity? (If you could, I don’t think it would be good for your mental health to be that disconnected from your actual reality.)

In my experience, belief is like the color blue. Either you do or you don’t. Either you interpret available information based upon what you know and see it one way, or you pull from other information that makes you distinguish it differently. Belief is based upon your background, the way you think, the way you see and interpret evidence and your life experience. If you don’t see blue, you don’t. If you see it, no amount of mental gymnastics can make it disappear.

I believe lots of things about lots of different subjects. Many of my beliefs have changed over time as I have learned new things or understood things differently. Some of my beliefs have not shifted much at all as my life has progressed. While I can certainly choose to not explore any new information on any particular subject and be more likely to keep my beliefs from altering, I can’t actually choose how I believe about something. My brain either sees it one way or sees it the other based upon what information I have available to me.

I’d like to take credit for this light-bulb moment like it was my own little glimmer of genius, but it turns out that this is a long-discussed question, and I’m not even particularly original in my conclusion that you can’t choose what you believe. When I did a quick search of “Is Belief a Choice” for this blog, there was a variety of perspectives that ranged from religious discussions to psychological approaches all of which are quite interesting and worth consideration.

I understand that the way we feel about belief is, well, a belief. I understand that it can be incredibly frustrating to have a loved one or friend believe differently than you about something fundamental (boy, do I ever!) In my experience, people don’t upset the apple cart on purpose, especially when they’re riding in it. If you find yourself in a situation where you just want to blow a fuse in frustration because you can’t get through to someone, I invite you to take a deep breath, look up at the sky and squint your eyes until it becomes green. Just kidding – do it until you remember that we’re all unique and understand the world differently based upon our own unique experiences, and then rejoin the conversation with fresh eyes (maybe even blue ones?)

 

We Can Break the Silence

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This week, a woman took her own life. I don’t know her, but she travels in some of the same circles I do, and it’s given me pause. While I didn’t ever talk to her, this event is incredibly heartbreaking to me. I can’t tell you all the details of her story because I don’t know them. I won’t even say her name or give any more information because this story isn’t mine to tell and there are real people affected by this. What I can say is that this woman had experienced a faith transition and was in an unexpected and unplanned for mixed-faith marriage. This cuts me to the core and hits so close to home because, you see, I am also in a mixed-faith marriage. My husband is still a believer (though quite nuanced) in the truth claims of Mormonism while I am not.

This is the first time I have really come out and said this in any open forum. I’ve hinted. I’ve danced around it. I’ve even been quite bold in some of the statements I’ve made. But, I’ve never been completely transparent about this. I don’t owe this information to anyone, really. Faith and how a person relates to it is quite private and personal. While I’m nervous to publish this, I find myself compelled to do so. For no other reason than the fact that I have come to believe that silence can be deadly. I know this woman’s battle. I know what she fought, can imagine how she felt and understand what would cause such a deep and cutting tragedy. Because I’ve been there.

There is a incredible shame in religious community associated with “losing one’s faith.” It is seen as an act that only happens to the lazy, the unmotivated, the weak. You haven’t tried hard enough. You didn’t study enough. You don’t know what you don’t know. This is a narrative that hurts people, and it is deeply unfair. Until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you really do not understand. (And, if you ever do, I’ll be the first one to step on that path with you because it’s incredibly lonely to walk alone.)

I’m in a good place right now. We spent many months redefining our marriage, but I know this woman’s pain. My daughter had surgery in July and was given a too-generous dose of hydrocodone. I made her flush it as soon as her pain was manageable, partly because I was concerned about its addictive nature, and partly because I was having way too many days of despair to trust myself with it in my home. This is hard to say out loud. However, it is the reality of a faith transition. When the emotional bottom drops out of your life and your most trusted loved-one feels it as a personal affront, it is devastating. When you would do anything to just go back to the paradigm you had for so long, but you are unable to force yourself to see things in the way that you’re supposed to, and the person you trust the most to hear your innermost thoughts reacts to them with anger and defensiveness and hurt, the fear and loss and heartache are unimaginable.

I am one of the lucky ones. My husband has processed this in a pretty healthy way. We’re differentiating. We’re focusing on the health and well-being of our marriage and family. We’re doing our level best to work as a team and support each other. Many, many families are not this lucky. There is no current narrative in Mormonism that allows for people to step away from the faith with respect, dignity or honesty. (This recent devotional given by Elder and Sister Renlund is a perfect example of how this is still preached in such a harmful way.)

So, why am I talking about this now? I don’t need anyone to respond to this post with sad faces and worry that I’m lost forever. (If you think that and don’t want to have an honest and open conversation with me, please keep the random response to yourself.) I don’t want anyone to glance at my husband and feel sorry that he has to be stuck with me. (Even now, I think he’s happy to be married to me most days.) I don’t intend to start proselyting anyone with my thoughts or beliefs outside this blog (which any of you can choose not to read.) If we meet in person, I’ll talk about the same benign things I always have – my kids, schooling, what’s going on in your life, what we may have in common. However, what I do want is that this woman and others like her will not die in vain. I hope that what I have to say will strike a chord and that it might, in some small measure, change the way that you interact with the people like me in your life. If you hold callings and leadership positions, I hope that you will choose to support the families in your congregation wherever they may fall and not make them the punching bags of a dogma that is long due for reform. I hope that feeling crushed to death by abandonment, public punishment and shame becomes the exception in our communities rather than the rule. I believe that it’s what Jesus would want.

Finally, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I did not lose my faith because I couldn’t hack what we went through this last year. I experienced my faith transition due to extensive and intense study of church history via primary source records about two years ago – a good year before the details of our story became public. The two events weren’t really related in any significant way. I likely would have attended as a silent non-believer indefinitely had there not been extenuating circumstances, and none of you would have been the wiser. (I would put money on the fact that there’s people in your congregation right now that are doing so.) I’m not bitter. I’m not angry. I’m not out to drag anyone down. (I would actually prefer not to share the specific details of what I’ve studied because I have no desire to complicate other people’s lives.)

In life, one of the most consistent expectations we can have is that it will change. We can not always control how things change, as much as we try. There is a deep unfairness in putting people in a box where there is an intolerance for natural change. As the foundational building block of society, I believe that there should be no institution that should get a higher priority than the family and that its destruction ultimately undermines the strength of everything, including our churches. While it may not always be possible to be helpful in every situation, I think we can all make a commitment to be the change we wish to see in the world. To borrow a medical term, every one of us, in any faith, any community we may travel in, can first, do no harm. We do not have to continue to make this experience so painful that people choose to end their lives rather than walk through it. People are going to walk through it. Put down the stones and take their hands.

An Ode to My Daughter

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Tomorrow is my oldest daughter’s birthday. She is turning 20 which just blows me away. If you would have asked me as a young mom to guess which child would be the most difficult based on how they were as babies, she would have gotten number one billing. For the first two weeks of her life, she kind of just couldn’t decide if she wanted to be here. Once her breathing sorted itself out, she spent the next year of her life as the most colicky and sad little baby. I remember one particular morning we woke up and she refused to nurse. She was still very young – 2 to 3 months old? – so this was very concerning. She would just cry and arch her back and cry some more. I finally called my husband to come home, and we put her in the car and drove around until she was drowsy enough to forget to be mad and just eat.

My middle son was born when my daughter was 8 years old. I’m not sure what the trigger was with his birth, but she developed severe and acute anxiety right after he was born. Things that had normally been happy things in her life, like piano lessons, became battlegrounds as I tried to convince her that nothing horrible was going to happen. Some things I had to make her do, sometimes kicking and screaming and peeling her out of the car. But, I didn’t force her to participate in anything optional that she didn’t want to. The anxiety improved gradually over time as I both pushed and accommodated. She was well into her teens before she would sleep over to a friend’s house, however. While she is still a naturally cautious person that likes routine and predictability, you would never know that she struggled so much with this as a child.

I’m a pretty traditional mom. I haven’t spent too much time at all when raising my children worrying about whether they like me or whether we’re “friends.” I’ve just tried to parent them responsibly and raise them to be good and decent people. As my oldest ones have morphed into adults, however, I’ve found that the time, effort and headaches I’ve poured into them have naturally transitioned into a mutual like for who they are, and I think they feel the same about me. (I’m an unbelievably pleasant person when I don’t have to be in charge of you, apparently.) Outside of having grandchildren (which I’m eagerly anticipating!), I think this is the greatest bonus of being a parent – the silver lining that makes every sleepless night oh, so worth it.

I love all my children for their unique place in our family and the world, but it’s probably no secret that I find my girls easier. My oldest daughter is no exception to this statement. She is my right-hand girl. My mini-me. My reliable and responsible sidekick. We have the same taste in clothing and colors and decor. (She is the easiest person to shop for because I literally can just buy her what I would want in her size. Ha ha ha! It’s only the fact that she’s tiny that ensures that my closet is safe from plundering.) She’s smart and pretty and funny and, most importantly, kind. She has become a valuable employee at both offices she works at, quickly filling a gap that was desperately needed and becoming a reliable drafter for her bosses.

So, today is my reminisce day. My day to look back over the years. My day to feel deep and intense gratitude that this girl is mine. I know that she’s right on the cusp of being up and out and flying the nest for good (she technically could already, but she’s willing to put up with me complaining about her not helping enough in exchange for ridiculously cheap rent,) but I’m sure she’ll be back a lot. For now, we’ll buy her a cake and sing to her like we have since she was a baby. Except she’s not. She’s a woman, and I’m so proud of her! Happy Birthday, beautiful girl! I’m so glad I’m your mama!

 

Just Rip the Bandaid Off

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I’m late writing my blog this week (story of my life anymore) because we went to the local high school last night to catch the encore performance of their production of Disney’s Newsies. It was a great show, and we got to see the best of what the public school environment has to offer kids. I’ll be going back to the high school today to enroll my almost 16-year-old son as a full-time student. If he has half as positive of an experience, I will feel very lucky indeed.

This decision was a long time coming. While I think it’s the best one for all of us, I’m still¬† nervous about it. My oldest son went to public school for his entire high school experience, and he did totally fine. He struggled with motivation and expectations which resulted in a few failed classes that put his ability to graduate in question, but he finally pulled it out in the end. He was completely oblivious to the social pressures. I’m not so sure that will be the case with my younger son. He’ll probably do fine academically and struggle with social skills. We’re taking that chance, though, because something has to change.

I’m not looking forward to enrolling him. The local principal isn’t exactly homeschool friendly, and the last thing you want to deal with when making a pretty dramatic shift like this in your schooling relationship with your child is someone looking down their nose and voicing the fact that you are failing in some way with your kid. I already feel it, thanks. Please just take his paperwork and do your job. Maybe she will, and maybe I’m just projecting. It’s possible. As a parent, you’re supposed to be able to be everything that your child needs, and we’re clearly not. He needs more structure, more expectations and more accountability than what we’ve given him. I hope they have it, and I hope it’s enough to wake him up, but at least we’ll all get a break if nothing else.

That sounds awful. I know it does. I told my husband the other day that it’s only been the last hundred years of history that mothers have been expected to manage what is essentially an adult male with raging hormones and zero impulse control. (Seriously, he’s like 6′ 2″.) It’s not fun for me. I don’t feel like I’m any good at it or that I have what it takes. I also feel like I’ve honestly and truly put 110% of my effort into directing and correcting him, and I need help at this point. He’s not my only child, and I have to have something left at the end of the day to parent them.

So, today I will put on my most professional and pulled-together face, gather our papers and go enroll my son is public high school. I’ll let whatever is said that could make me feel worse about it roll off my back, and we’ll get the job done. He needs a change. I need a change. We all need a change. There are resources available, and I’m taking them. I hope that it is just the medicine we all need at the end of the day. I know that it will at least give me enough respite to fight another day for both him and my other kids. Wish us luck.

How to Get Banned From A & E’s Facebook Page

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For many years, I was very secretive about the actual details of my background. I lost a friend when I was in middle school because her parents banned her from hanging out with the “polyg kid,” so I learned very young that it was not okay to come from a fundamentalist background. (This was probably one of the most traumatizing events of my childhood.) A few years ago, however, I went public on my Facebook page, mostly by accident, really, with the fact that I was raised in a fundamentalist Mormon church. I also got banned from A & E’s Facebook page in the process. See, a few years ago, my neighbor went on the A & E show Escaping Polygamy. And, he lied. About my family.

I really don’t even know where to start with telling this story. (Maybe I can do a Q&A in a later post that separates the facts from the fiction in this particular show because I just won’t have room for it all here.) I should first offer a disclaimer with my take on the Escaping Polygamy show. I can’t comment on the details of all the stories they cover. There may be some situations where they are actually pulling people from dire straits. While many people equate fundamentalist culture with the highly-visible FLDS sect, the truth is that there is a huge spectrum between the different groups with some being very restrictive and controlling and some being quite liberal. I was raised in the AUB which is a more liberal fundamentalist church. (Think Sisterwives. And, yes, I know their family.) You don’t have to secret away from the AUB. You just move. Or stop attending. We still live right in the middle of a subdivision that is largely members of the AUB. (And, it’s a normal subdivision that has a public road running right through it.)

My neighbor is the family that “escaped” with two wives and the family stayed together. (So, he escaped polygamy to remain a polygamist. So much irony.) There were reasons they decided to go on the show but I guess I can sum it all up by saying that his personal and business dealings were not above board, and he had alienated himself from his friends, family and community by his lack of integrity – he’d made a very uncomfortable bed for himself. We started hearing rumors months before that they were going on Escaping Polygamy, and I kind of couldn’t wait to see how it all played out. I watched it as soon as it released. (I’m weird that way, I guess. It’s bizarre seeing what used to be such a secretive lifestyle on TV, especially when it’s people you know. My husband’s cousin was on One Husband, Three Wives, and I watched that, too.)

Imagine my surprise and anger when I realized that my son appeared on their show. My son was 13 at the time of filming. At almost 16, he now towers over almost everyone in our house and is well over 6 feet tall. A few years ago, he was getting pretty close to that. He is also, um, quirky? He’s my difficult one, and I often wonder if he’s not somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum. If his brain isn’t engaged in something specific, he’s pacing. And, because we’re super on the ball that way, none of our upstairs windows have blinds. Anyway, I’m watching the whole story unfold, one that is filled with a little truth, a lot of half truth and a good dose of flat out lies, and they start freaking out because they “think a gun is pointed at their house.” The camera pans to the source, and they’re filming my son’s bedroom window with a light shining out of it! A light that I immediately recognize as the camping headlamp thingy that my boys have been playing with for months. The Escaping Polygamy show just filmed my child and my house and implied that we were pointing a gun at this family with a dozen young children! (Seriously, if you think someone is in imminent danger and THERE IS A GUN, call the freaking police, don’t zoom in and wax eloquent about the danger!) I. Was. Livid. Livid at our used-to-be-friends for implicating us in such a horrible way and livid at the production team for knowingly fabricating this scenario. (I actually think they got the footage of my son and the headlamp on a different night than when they filmed the “escape.”)

So, I went to their Facebook page and said so. And, so did dozens of other people who were familiar with the situation. People that were both still in the group and people who had left many years before. It took all of 6 hours for me to be banned from the A&E Facebook page. After a few days of heavy censoring, they stopped doing it and allowed comments that were calling out this family for their deception to stay. They had to hire extra staff to moderate the Facebook page and were really entirely unprepared for the backlash created from this episode. At one point, they gave me a contact to discuss the situation with someone on their PR team. I went back and forth via email with them for a bit but just walked away when I realized that they really had no intention of trying to make any of it right. Because they hadn’t shown my son’s face distinctly, I had no legal recourse.

I’m not entirely sure why I’m discussing something that happened two years ago now. I guess because, while my feelings about my culture and community are complicated, I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Regardless of what I may or may not believe, these are still my friends, family and community, and I hate to see such misinformation perpetuated about decent people. I think it’s unfortunate to see good people lumped into stereotypes and boxes that they don’t deserve. (This is also why I chose not to do a story for the Tribune about the situation with my step-dad.) Like most high-demand religions, Mormon fundamentalism is largely populated by good people who are truly committed to their beliefs and lifestyle. There is good reason to honestly argue the merits of a belief system (this and others), but there’s no reason to lie about it to get the upper hand. Truth is like a lion; set it free, and it will defend itself. Which, apparently, is how you get banned from A & E’s Facebook page.

P.S. Escaping Polygamy is no longer affiliated with A & E. They switched networks a bit ago, so please don’t take this as a commentary on A & E specifically. That’s just who it happened to be when this situation happened.

P.P.S. If you have specific questions about this episode, please leave them here or in a comment on Facebook, and I’ll see if I can address them at a later date.

What’s Your Homeschooling Philosophy?

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Today, I worked on long division with my 11-year-old son. That was good times, right there. (If you aren’t picking up on the sarcasm, you definitely are NOT a homeschool mom.) When I had a Facebook friend suggest that she’d like to hear more about my take on homeschooling, I laughed inside. My short answer to her was, “Uh, I suck at it. But, we muddle through anyhow.” Still, I promised that I would think about it and share more with the, ahem, class. (See what I did there??)

I am not a born teacher. I hate planning ahead, and my attention span isn’t super high when I’m not actually interested in something. I’m not actually interested in long division. I am, however, interested in my kids, their futures and their lives. I suppose that is the biggest reason that I’ve walked this walk with them for so long, despite the fact that it’s really not my jam at all. I want to know where they are, what they’re doing and what’s going on with them.

People occasionally come to me and ask for my opinion on curriculum or teaching, and it’s a bit of a conundrum for me. I get why they do. I’ve been, in one way or another, directly keeping an eye on my kids’ education for, oh, 18 years? I’m still not that great at it, and I still don’t think I have much to offer by way of deep insights and experience. We have a basic system, I rely very heavily on my tools, and I encourage my kids to own their own education as soon as they’re able because I’m dropping balls all. the. time. Still, my kids have done okay with a very basic homeschooling philosophy.

  1. All kids have holes in their education. All. Of. Them. Public school kids muddle through and fall through the cracks all the time. Like my husband likes to say, “Don’t judge yourself from the bottom of the barrel!” Still, understanding that I’m meeting at least a basic standard takes the pressure off.
  2. A child can learn anything if they have a basic foundation and know how to learn. It’s hard to survive in a modern world without understanding the basics of reading and math, but you can literally learn anything you could ever want with those as tools, plus the Internet and YouTube. If you can’t do it all, focus on reading and math.
  3. I’ve made it a point to surround myself with a support team that is strong where I am weak. My sister has patiently taught all my teens to write. (She IS a born teacher!) I have two sisters-in-law that have been instrumental in helping almost every one of my kids learn to read. Working with co-ops has been a lifesaver for us through the years. It also serves as an accountability partner, keeping me more consistent.
  4. We keep what we need. (This is somewhat connected to point 2.) I was a straight A student in school, taking AP classes and higher math. I don’t use most of that. For the most part, I use middle school math on a regular basis, and that’s about what I remember. (Sorry, Trigonometry teacher!) My husband, on the other hand, was a C student on days he tried hard, and he knows way more math than me because, as a contractor, he uses it in his everyday life. We remember what we use, and we fill in the gaps when it becomes necessary for our work and life.
  5. I don’t have to know everything they need to learn. Use tools – they’re so readily available at this point. I use both a math and a language program that are mostly self-directing. (McRuffy Press and Teaching Textbooks, in case you’re wondering. We’ve been through a dozen over the years to find these.) If my kids need help with something that I don’t understand or remember myself, I find them resources.
  6. Your kids will always be better behaved for other people than they are for you. I have never seen my kids whine and complain for an outside teacher the way they do for me. You’re not failing when this happens. It is entirely normal. I am still not the most patient homeschool mom, but I’m a whole heck of a lot more patient after decades of dancing this dance with my kids than I otherwise would have been. And, I still lose it and say swear words some days. You probably will, too.
  7. Homeschooling is a part of our life – it’s something that we have to check off during the day – but, it isn’t my entire life. Allowing myself to spend time and mental energy outside of this commitment keeps it doable for me. I directly supervise kids that still need hands-on help and keep a loose eye of my kids that self-direct, and then I move on with the rest of my day without stress or guilt.

I’m a firm believer that there isn’t one way that is best for every family and every kid. I can’t say whether I’m doing a better or a worse job than if my kids were in public school. I can say that my (almost) 3 kids that have graduated or are near graduation are pretty well rounded. My oldest son is about halfway to earning a degree in software engineering while my oldest daughter works for a construction company and engineer doing drafting. I don’t have it all together by any means, but my kids really have turned out okay. I suppose that probably is the best way to sum up my philosophy around homeschooling – kids are resilient. They are born to learn. If we keep those doors open for them, they will. With or without us. At the end of the day, I just try not to get in the way of that too much.

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Lifting Your Hands Toward Holiness

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It’s 8:30 at night, and this blog is due for publication in the morning. Some days I have been chewing on something and just need to gather it up and lay it in print. Days like today ebb and flow and nothing is settling. (I’ve been sewing all day and, dangit, I’m proud of what I produced today! Follow me on Instagram @rosazerkle if you want to see my crafty side.) I’m sitting on my bed listening to my husband listen to a Christian band on YouTube. Contemporary Christian music is my husband’s absolute favorite genre, and he listens to it a lot as he works. He found a new band today, and it’s really good. I feel emotion in it.

In many ways, I am religiously homeless. I live in a space right now where I don’t know where I want to settle. When you’ve been chewed up and spit out by what used to feel natural and comfortable and yours, you become very wary of anybody and anything that makes promises that you can’t verify. I’m not someone who can’t take direction or change an opinion, but I’ll be damned if I hand my life over to anyone else’s authority again that isn’t worthy of that faith. I don’t know what this means. It’s equal parts liberating and disconcerting. I had a friend ask me the other day if I was looking to visit a new church. I had to tell her that I didn’t know. I don’t know if it’s the right time for that.

One of the challenges of my marriage right now is finding our touch-points and rediscovering what the roots of our relationship are. I think every couple does that, but we’ve become so mindful about it. We had the most beautiful Christmas this year. (I’m not even going to be modest – I killed it!) Months before, I was talking to my teaching partner (she teaches; I take notes.) and mentioned that I had never been to a concert and that my husband loves Christian music. She sent me info on an artist that was going to be playing this year about an hour from us. On Christmas morning, my husband opened a calendar that I had lifted from his own desk and wrapped up with the tickets to see Mercy Me, his second favorite Christian artist. There were tears – something that I haven’t accomplished very many times with very many gifts in our marriage. (I filmed it and begged him to let me put it on Facebook. He was such a good sport!) I felt like a million bucks to give him such an amazing surprise, and I can’t wait to share this experience with him.

For our anniversary this last year, my husband took me to a “hand-raising church.” It was the first church I had ever been to in my entire life that wasn’t some flavor of Mormon. I’m 41 years old. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t feel like home. The live band was new and different, but a little too much to feel like a church to a multi-generational Mormon girl.

What does it mean to “feel like church?” What is that magic ingredient that makes you feel spiritually fed, full of gratitude, with an eye looking toward something greater? I’m softly and quietly watching and waiting for it. But, this music flows around me, and it feels like church to me. Sitting here on my bed with my drowsy 5-year-old boy pulling on my arm and making me type one-handed feels like beauty. Having my 7-year-old daughter sandwiched on the other side breathing holiness in my ear is a voice that I recognize. Feeling my husband inches away from me finding the home church of this band on Google Earth is comfort and peace and love. I hope that God authors all these things. I think He does. After being born and bred in a system that makes it their literal business to provide explanations and answers, one of my most profound realizations has been that the beauty is in this mystery. There is so much that I admit I don’t know, but I find that the more I see that, the less I feel like the knowing is the point at all. Maybe, the gift is in the journey, and I’m right where I need to be after all.

What Do You Do All Day?

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Last week I posted on my Facebook page asking people what they would like me to feature on the blog. I was surprised how curious people were about mundane, everyday things. Like what I do during my day. I think people have an idea that I have this very structured and disciplined life. I don’t. In fact, I hate that kind of thing. I tried to do Fly Lady when I was a young mom, and I hated its guts. (Go scrub the shower because the paper says to scrub the shower. No thanks.) Probably the number one priority for any “schedule” that I have is flexibility. I hate being tied into any particular strict timeline. On the flip side of that, I’m externally motivated, so I like to be accountable to other people. It’s weird, I guess, but it mostly works for me. While I don’t have a planner or an app or anything that locks me into anything particular, I guess my days have a general structure that is mostly consistent?

7-8:00- I don’t wake up at any particular time, but I’m usually stirring sometime between 7:00 and 8:00. My youngest kids come for snuggles, and I might hang out for a bit if we don’t have anywhere to go.

8:00-9:00- Shower, breakfast and coffee. Showering every day is a luxury that I have now that all my kids are moderately self sufficient, and I relish it. When I skip it, I feel draggy all day. If I’m in a hurry or he’s willing, my 11-year-old will make breakfast. He’s great at french toast, waffles and any kind of eggs. He loves to follow recipes and has become my best kitchen helper. (He’s also a bomb snow shoveler!)

9:00- On Tuesday, I help with a class in our homeschool co-op. (As in, I take notes and hand out tickets and shush the kids when they are noisy. I don’t actually teach anything.) I have to be out the door on Tuesday-Thursday by 9:00, either to make it to my class or to drop off kids at their classes. If it’s not a class day, I’ll often have my kids grab their books and finish them while I’m still in bed. If we get books done early, it usually only takes about an hour for the stuff that I have to supervise directly. Otherwise, I find myself nagging all day, and it drives me nuts. (Probably them, too, but it’s their own dang fault.)

Morning – I have pretty lazy and quiet mornings, usually. If I’m not spending all morning nagging my kids, I’m probably sewing or tracing a pattern or just wasting my time on Facebook. (Truth. LOL) If it’s driving me batty, I might wash the dishes. If I’m lucky, my kids might actually do their chores without too much trouble, but there’s lots of chores and lots of kids, so I’m usually reminding someone to do something throughout the day. If it’s not a school day, I’ll schedule appointments during the morning as needed, but that’s an occasional thing.

Afternoon – Regardless of the day, everyone is home from their classes by noon. Some days I have to ride my kids to finish their school books during this time of the day, and it’s always more of a battle than to get it out of the way first thing in the morning. Lunch happens somewhere in here. I usually do something simple for my 5- and 7-year-old like a sandwich or mac and cheese or leftovers, and my other kids make themselves whatever they want.

Generally, if my kids have chores and school done, we just have free time. I do projects or waste the whole afternoon on social media. They play with their friends or (gasp!) watch TV, and it’s pretty relaxed. My kids don’t have extracurricular classes, clubs, etc, really, until they are old enough to manage the commitments themselves. I did that for a while when my oldest kids were little, and I like my freedom better than running all the time. If I have errands to run or groceries to buy, I’ll usually plan them during the afternoon.

5:00 – I try to be sorting out dinner by now, especially this time of the year. I’ll make anything from pot roast to a casserole to soup.

Evening – My husband watches TV to decompress. I might hang out with him or continue a project if I left it halfway complete. And, though this will probably drive some of you in the crowd bonkers, I don’t clean my kitchen at night. While we’re overall pretty tidy, I leave it overnight and do it in the morning.

8:30 – I put my kids to bed around 8:30. I have a much thinner string of patience in the evenings, so we have a very quick and dirty “bedtime routine.” The only thing that’s an absolute given is that they have to brush their teeth because (and my kids can chant this with me at this point) “toothpaste is cheap, and dentists are expensive!” My kids have pajamas, but they usually sleep in their clothes because we’re that awesome. (If I tell my 5-year-old to put on pajamas, he’ll just put on a clean pair of clothes. Ha ha!) I do tuck them in every night, and they all sleep in their own rooms in their own beds for my own sanity. After decades of co-sleeping, I relish my space at night.

Honestly, there’s a ton more variation than it looks typed out on paper, but there’s a good chance that most days look something like this? This seems like the world’s most boring blog post to me because, well, my life is pretty boring. But, there you go. Now you know.

 

 

 

What’s Wrong With the Modesty Message?

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When you’re raised in Mormon culture, you hear a lot of messages about modesty. Modest is hottest!! Just say no to porn shoulders!! This subject has been ruminating on my mind quite a bit and more especially lately because it was brought up in the marriage group I participate in. There are some issues that break on faith lines, but I don’t think this is one of them. I think women tend to be more bothered by this regardless of their level of orthodoxy, but that is most likely merely because they are more aware of it. My own opinions about how modesty is promoted in religious contexts have evolved a lot since I was a teen myself and as my own daughters have grown toward the autonomy of adulthood. So, what IS wrong with the modesty message?

  1. Shouldn’t it be their body, their choice? Although this hasn’t been something that’s been a part of my parenting for the duration, it has evolved over time to become a message that even my youngest children are very familiar with now. Simply put, I don’t own my children. I teach them my values and dialogue with them about pros and cons of potential choices. But, at the end of the day, it IS their body, and it IS their choice. (Seriously, if people ask their name and they don’t want to share it, I don’t. If you try to coerce them to hug you, Mama Bear comes right out.) The modesty message reinforces the idea that body choices don’t belong to the individual, and that’s a problem for me. My kids don’t need to think about who might be looking at and assessing them whether it be me, my husband or their church leaders, friends or neighbors. You can’t be comfortable in your own skin if you’re not sure who’s in charge of it.
  2. It puts all the pressure on girls. I have sat through countless young women’s lessons about dress, decorum and standards. (And, based on what I’ve observed, the boys don’t focus on this. Statistics show that teen girls receive six times as many modesty messages as teen boys.) I’ve seen people sit in front of a classroom and hold up specific people as examples of either what to wear or what not to wear. (Seriously, ewwww.) Modesty is promoted as the idea that we are worth more than an objectified standard (which we are.) However, objectification cuts both ways. When girls hear over and over that they are better without their shoulders showing, that is pretty objectifying. I know girls that have stopped participating in church activity because they’re so tired/bored/annoyed by the one-dimensional nature of this message. In addition, the modesty message suggests that girls need to worry about what boys think, and that if they aren’t careful, they could be responsible for someone else’s poor decision. This is pretty gross to both men and women, frankly. Men are better than that and, if they’re not, the absence of a tank top is certainly not going to inspire them to be decent because it’s a much bigger problem than anyone’s clothing choices.
  3. There is no cultural context. Simply put, modesty means different things to different people in different environments. It is the cultural norm in some countries, for example, for women to be topless to promote bonding and easier access to breastfeeding for their babies. In sharp contrast, Victorian cultures found ankles to be titillating which seems downright ridiculous in our modern era. The only difference is context. I think it is pretty shortsighted to preach modesty as if this context isn’t fluid. It is. (Did you know that the 1964 BYU Homecoming queen wore a sleeveless dress? Yep. It was pretty common in that cultural context and not considered taboo at all.) Our children, both boys and girls, would be much better served to learn self-respect, responsibility and accountability than to focus on a checklist of dress standards.
  4. It interferes with the development of healthy sexuality. This is an issue that I don’t think most young women really understand because, sadly, it only begins to rear its ugly head when they are adults. The standard modesty message does not promote healthy sexuality. It promotes the idea that “good girls” stick to a narrative that is prescribed, and they are broken and used if they don’t. Except, once a girl is married, then the narrative changes. The problem is that girls can’t flip that switch overnight, and many, many religious women find themselves mired in shame, heartache and misunderstanding with their partner because they literally do not know how to be comfortable as sexual beings. This is so, so sad to me. (How I escaped this attitude myself with my background is a miracle to me.) And, again, young men don’t get this same message. The modesty message gives a wink and a nod to the idea that boys will be boys, leaving the majority of the long-term burden of this consequence to women.

I need to make it perfectly clear that this is not a treatise on what anyone should or shouldn’t wear. In fact, it is just the opposite. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who follows a strong internal compass. I just happen to think that every person should feel free to choose these priorities themselves. I don’t always approve of everything that my kids wear out my door. I hope that my children will choose to invest intimacy in a long-term, committed partnership that includes marriage because I think there’s pretty practical benefits to doing so. We talk about these things, and I give my kids my opinion. But, I am pretty dang defensive about anyone who tries to leverage cultural messages in a way that is unhealthy to them. I haven’t always recognized the modesty message as harmful, and I internalized an awful lot of it myself as a teen and young adult woman.¬† But, when you know better, you do better, and I hope to give my kids better than what I got in this department. For the rest of my readers, maybe it will, at the very least, provide a different perspective that will give you something to think about. Could we do better? Is there a healthier way? I think so.

Marking The Year That Changed My Life

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I’ve been mulling this post over for at least a week. How do I address the year that changed everything? What can I say to even begin to do it justice? I probably won’t, but I will try. There are some things in life that are so earth-shattering, so groundbreaking, that you mark them by before the thing and after the thing. You can remember your life before them. You can even look back with fondness, but you can never, never go back to the way it was. This year was that year in my life. 2018 will forever mark that before and after.

I have been called brave for standing up to someone who took advantage of me. I have had women open up and share their own “me too” stories that they do not feel able to expose publicly. I don’t know how I feel about that honor. The truth is that I didn’t feel brave; I felt desperate. My life had become riddled with minefields that were no longer avoidable, and they were tripping in our marriage and home life every time we turned around. I needed out of the almost constant adrenaline fest of fear and insecurity. Going public was the only way I saw, and we took it.

There have been many times over this year that I have wondered if it was worth it. I vividly remember falling apart in the arms of my daughter’s future other-mother-in-law when she came to look at my girl’s foot that was hurting yet again. See, she had chronic sprains, and we were afraid that she had maybe broken it this time. Except, my life had been utter chaos for six months at that point, and things like renewing our insurance had fallen through the cracks. Which meant that I didn’t even have the resources that particular day to take my girl to the doctor. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I did take her, I did sort out the insurance, and she did get the care she needed, but I was so deeply aware in that moment how much of a price we had all paid, and I felt completely and utterly broken by that fact.

I have seven kids, and I truly hope that they either do look up to me or will come to as they become adults. But, having other people see me as representative of something bigger than myself is new, different, humbling. The truth is that my life is largely quite boring. I’m a homebody – a private person, even. I sew. I make soap. I raise my kids. I try to be a good neighbor and friend and not put my foot in my mouth too terribly often. (I don’t always succeed – ask my friends and family.) I write because it’s good therapy and people seem to think I have words worth reading.

I am not a perfect person. I yell at my kids way too often. (The other day my 5-year-old told my 7-year-old that she better do what I asked before I was “tired of this sh*t.” Yep, that happened. Oy. For the record, I don’t speak that way to young children, but I have teen boys and adults that push my buttons like you can only understand if you have them as well. :/ ) I have stolen zippers and laundry soap before (on accident) and been too frazzled to run back in and pay like a proper citizen should. I can be ridiculously self centered and me-focused. We all have a baser nature – inner selves that aren’t pretty or polished. But, I really and truly try to live by a set of values that lead me to be better. All this was true before January 2018, and it will be just as true as the calendar turns again.

Things are different for me. My relationship with religion is different – everything has shifted and adjusted. It’s quieter. There’s less expectations and more uncertainty. It’s more honest. I don’t know how it will look going forward, but I do know that it will be mine. My marriage is different. There’s less fear and insecurity. There’s more mutual respect and room for our own individual expressions.We’ve both had to face the prospect of losing our relationship and found reasons to remain and thrive.

It’s the end of this year. It’s almost officially the after the thing mark. This makes me understandably introspective. How do you process what could arguably be considered the biggest event in your life? What is the debriefing process? I don’t even know. I’ve dealt with it like I think anyone else does: you take it one day at a time and do your very best to cope and learn and grow and survive. It feels more like learning and growing as the year wraps up and less like coping and surviving. And, I guess that is the most important thing to communicate about this year – I made it THROUGH. I’m not really special – truly. My journey may be different than yours, but I would put good money on the table that you have what it takes to get through hard things, too. It may be that you haven’t walked through a year that changed your life. It may be that you have. Either way, when you find yourself faced with your own giant, take it one day at a time. Do your very best to cope and learn and grow and survive. You will. You have what it takes to fight the battles put in front of you. I promise.