Sunday, May 14, 2017

You Are Enough

Happy Mother’s Day! Except it’s not always a happy day. I know many women who think Mother’s Day is awful. It’s a reminder of all we have lost, or all we need to feel guilty for, or all we never had. Some women have a wonderful mother who died too soon. Some do not have children of their own. Some feel completely and totally inadequate to be celebrated on Mother’s Day. And some people have a mother that they don’t want to celebrate. That’s the category I fall in.
I spent 30 years of my life trying to earn my mother’s love. It never worked. My seven younger siblings and I were emotionally manipulated, and when that didn’t work, physically abused by our mother until she received what she wanted.  If you want to know more of my story, scroll down to the previous post titled My Truth. As we grew older, we began to recognize her dysfunction and tried everything we could do to help her. She finally became so cruel that it began hurting my children, and I realized that I had to set boundaries to protect myself and my family.
Through the unconditional love of my husband throughout our marriage, the help of counselors over the past two years, unwavering friends who stood by my side, my Master's degree in Educational Psychology, and most importantly through the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ, I learned to stand up to my mother and say no to the abuse. The more I distanced myself from my mother, the more I learned that she is wrong about me. I am daughter of God. I am of great worth. He loves me. And that with Him by my side, I am enough.
I want to testify that God loves all of you. Every woman is a beloved and beautiful daughter of God. And you all deserve to be celebrated on Mother’s Day. Even if you don’t think you do. Because you are enough. In a talk titled Daughters of God, Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “While women live in homes under many different circumstances—married, single, widowed, or divorced, some with children and some without—all are beloved of God, and He has a plan for His righteous daughters to receive the highest blessings of eternity” (April 2008).    
Elder Ballard continues, “There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family … some may have to work part-or full-time; some may work at home; some may divide their lives into periods of home and family and work. What matters is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else.”
When Elder Ballard says to “prioritize them above all else”, he doesn’t mean to cut out Girls Nights, because heaven knows we all need some time to fill our buckets! In the same talk, he also said,
            “Sisters, find some time for yourself to cultivate your gifts and interests…Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children.” As we cultivate our interests, we can teach our children what we have learned too!
I know many mothers are worried about the mistakes they make. I know I make plenty of them. My mother never apologized for her actions or acknowledged her weaknesses. If you worry about your mothering mistakes, that alone shows humility. None of us are perfect mothers. We all wish we could do better. I’ve had a few people ask me if I ever yell at my kids, and I assure you that I do. But I apologize to them, and I pray for grace to do better, to be better. Because I am not my mother. My favorite definition of God’s grace is found in the Bible Dictionary: “It is through the grace of the Lord that individuals through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power” (p. 697). Grace is power straight from God! I cannot think of a calling that requires more enabling power to do good works than that of a mother. We need strength and assistance every day. As we learn in Ether 12:27, His grace is sufficient to make weak things become strong unto us.
With Christ as our companion, we are enough. We pray for His Holy Spirit to be in our home and to guide us as we teach our children. We learn from the examples of other wonderful women who are friends to us and mothers to our children! I am so grateful to all the women in my life who show me how to be a kind and loving mother. To those of who you are struggling this Mother’s Day, I acknowledge your feelings. Some days are just heartbreakingly hard. I pray that you feel peace. I pray that you feel hope. I pray that time passes quickly for you. I pray that you feel the loving arms of our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother circled around you. I pray that you feel good enough; with our Savior on your side, you are always enough.  

Friday, June 24, 2016

My Truth

My first scary memory of my mother was when I was in 4th grade. I asked her to bring me a Subway sandwich for school lunch. I told her other moms were bringing their kids Subway sandwiches. It was the cool thing to do. She responded by screaming, “So I’m not good enough for you? Why don’t you go get another mother then since you don’t want me!”  I sobbed and apologized for hurting her feelings. I felt so guilty. I didn’t ask her for lunch again.

I think it is so hard for us to understand situations we haven’t personally experienced. So many people grew up with mothers who loved their children unconditionally, encouraged their independence, and nurtured them. They cannot comprehend a mother like the one I had. This is a glimpse into thirty years of my life. This cannot come close to explaining everything I experienced, but it will give you an idea. One of my mother’s favorite phrases when attacking people is, “There are two sides to every story.” This is my side. They say the truth shall set you free. This is my truth. My dad and my siblings shared many of these experiences, but this is my perspective alone. They have their own nightmares that are not mine to share. Of course there are good memories with my mother too! When she was nice, she was so much fun. She bought us nice clothes and new toys. She planned family vacations. She took me to dance class. She knew how to throw great birthday parties and Christmas celebrations, but sadly those are tainted because she used them as proof that we were undeserving of her love.

So much emphasis is placed on being nice, but sometimes being nice means getting trampled on by others. In my case, I was trampled by my mother. Enough about being nice. Let’s talk about setting healthy boundaries and refusing to let people cross them. Only then can we take back our lives. I was her victim. I am not anymore.

My mother has always exhibited classic signs of Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorcer (sociopath) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The role of her husband and children has always been to serve her, to meet her needs, to worship her, to honor her, to respect her, to obey immediately, to not argue, to not disagree, to not question, and to apologize to her and take responsibility for her mistakes because somehow her mistakes were always our fault. Somehow she has always been the victim and we are the perpetrators. Even when faced with direct evidence of her lies, she still finds ways to justify and defend her behavior. She will do anything to protect her self-image.

When I hit puberty she told me I had fat arms. Years later I told her how much that hurt me. She started crying and said, “Are you trying to hurt my feelings? Why would you bring that up? Do you want to make me feel guilty?” When I was fourteen, she told me she would buy me new clothes for a vacation if I lost 10 pounds. When I was sixteen, she told me more boys would date me if I was skinnier. She watched my portion sizes at dinner and told me to put food back if I took too much. I used to sneak food behind her back after dinner because I was still hungry.

When I was about fourteen, my mother was offended that my Young Woman leader did not ask her to teach a scrapbooking activity. My mother started crying and told me how much my leader had hurt her feelings. She demanded I go to the leader’s house and tell her how mean she had been to my mother. I didn’t want to, but she said if I really loved her I would defend her. So I went and brought my leader back to my house. She apologized to my mother. This is the first of many times I uncomfortably called out people for offending my mother.

Once we were standing on a balcony at a condo in Snowbird. She saw a woman get out of the car in the parking lot. My mother started talking about how disgusting and fat that woman was. I told her she shouldn’t say that. She replied, “You think you’re better than me? Who are you to criticize me? You are so judgmental, Emily!”

It was difficult for my siblings and I to recognize our mother’s dysfunction as we grew up because it was all we knew. My father defended her because that is what he had been taught to do. He made us apologize to her when we had done nothing wrong. We grew up with her attempting to control us through tears, lies, manipulation, the silent treatment, and when that didn’t work, physical abuse was her tool. She mostly slapped us girls, but used a belt on the boys too. My brother Zachary had ADHD. She was hardest on him. I’ve always been a writer. I kept a journal growing up. I wrote in my journal the times she whipped him. I don’t want to include those here though. It’s too difficult.

Journal Entry from April 27, 1999. I was 13 years old.
We had an emergency meeting downstairs in the basement with Dad, Chelsea, Zach, and me. Mom is very stressed out. She is tired, Ashlee and Jessica are at a very hard age, we expect too much of her. We’re leaving her alone. We can’t expect her to do anything for us, unless it’s nearly impossible to do without her. We can’t ask her for anything and we have to leave her alone for at least the next 30 days so she can get back to feeling sane again. It sounds pretty simple, huh? But it doesn’t feel simple. I feel like I’m losing my mom. I can’t tell her my problems and expect help, or ask her for anything. It seems like there will be no one to talk to besides my dad. I can always write in here though. I’m a teenage girl and I need my mom, and I can’t expect her for anything. If I have a problem, I go to her as my last resource…I’m crying. I’m not exactly sure why. It’s really not too big of a deal. I’ll cool down. I’ve already started appreciating her more though. I washed a white shirt, and a dirt stain stayed on. I was going to tell Mom I need to bleach my shirt and ask her how, but I realized I can’t. Dad can bleach though, he told me how. 

My brother Zachary died in 2002. He was 15 years old. It was my senior year of high school. Obviously, I was devastated. We all were. I tried to trust my mother with my grief, but that was a mistake.

I walked into my mother's room a few months after Zach died. I told her how much I missed Zach. She said, “Losing a brother is nothing compared to losing a son. My pain is worse than yours and you will never understand.” Then years later she cried to me, multiple times, about how I never opened up to her or talked about Zach with her.

My mother lived in her room after Zach died. I left for college and Chelsea took over raising the kids. We’ve all taken turns raising each other and my dad raised us. We brought food to her room, filled up her ice water, folded the laundry, took the kids to school, mopped the floors, weeded the yard…desperately trying to cover her role. We thought it was helping. It was enabling. It is also when she started using multiple prescription drugs. I began to recognize that my mother was not normal after I married Landon in June 2005. But I still justified her behavior and defended her to people who pointed out her flaws because Zach had died just three years earlier. Obviously my mother still needed time to grieve.

When Landon and I were first married, my mother called consistently for two months trying to convince Landon to drop out of school. She said a neighbor was looking to hire someone at his business. She was sure Landon should take that job and his future would be secure. Landon didn’t want to do that. She said she would be happier if we just moved back to St. George.

Journal Entry from November 30, 2005
I was with Landon’s family for Thanksgiving. It was different, but it was good. I’ve never had Thanksgiving away from my family before. My mom was crying about it earlier in the week over the phone. We’re going to my house for Christmas though. We’re driving down December 21st and coming back on the 26th because Landon works on the 27th. When I told my mom we were having a party on the night of the 26th with Landon’s family she was angry. She’s very jealous. She said, “They got you for Thanksgiving and now they get to have you for Christmas. It’s not fair they get both!” She began to cry. I tried to explain we were planning on coming back the 26th already before the party was planned, and that we’d be home for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it did not help. I do wish we could stay longer. I’m not sure who’s having a harder time adjusting to the blending of families from this marriage – me or my mom?

After Landon and I graduated, we moved back into the basement of my parent’s home for almost two years. Mylee was born and I took over taking care of my family. This included five siblings still living at home. My mother has lived in her room for most of the past 14 years. She held a few jobs and was fired from them. She came out of her room for special appearances when other people would question her absence – my wedding, my babies’ blessings and birthdays, Levi’s mission farewell and homecoming, Chelsea’s wedding – but just long enough to dictate exactly how it should all be done, blame us if something went wrong, take credit for what went right, and then retreat to her room again. When we begged and pleaded her to join the family, she cried and said we could never understand. We were heartless. Who are we to judge her? We don’t know what it is like to lose a son. She "demands respect" from us. She "deserves unconditional love." So we apologized and kept working.

Journal Entry February 25, 2008
My mom started a new job. It’s taken over her life. When she is home she sleeps a lot, but I know she’s doing her best. It’s just that it seems her family comes second, and I put pressure on myself to pick up her slack. Make dinner, babysit Chloe, etc… I’m angry that she is working when it takes her away so often…I need to not judge, I know. I need to respect her because she’s my mom. I just have a hard time doing that. It’s an ongoing battle for me not to have hard feelings towards her…I pray for help to not judge. I need help every day.

We moved out of the basement in May 2009. I was worried. Who would take care of my family? But I was relieved. I was eight months pregnant with Allie and emotionally and physically exhausted. So many conflicting emotions.

November 2009. Landon and I went to a concert in Vegas. We asked some family friends to watch our girls for us. My mother was very upset with me. She said she gets jealous whenever anyone else watches her grandkids because no one loves them as much as she does. She accused me of not trusting her with her own grandchildren. After that, I stopped telling her when friends watched our kids because I was tired of being chastised by her.

We lived in fear that climaxed in June 2010. It was the night of Allie’s first birthday. My father was at a scout camp when my mother exploded. She took out her anger on my siblings with threats of suicide, reckless driving, screaming, and physical assault. We took the kids to a neighbor’s house and didn’t tell my mother where they were until my dad returned home. That was the first of many family interventions we held to try and help her. I read a letter to her that I had written. We begged her to change. We told her we loved her and needed her to be a mother. We felt her cold hate as she took turns condemning each of us. She blamed all of us. She has never admitted that she did anything wrong that night.

Yet we did not want to accept that our mother was crazy! Denial is powerful. We kept trying and trying to meet her demands no matter how much it hurt us. She was going to counseling. And we were an eternal family! She loves to use gospel principles to guilt us and they worked for a long, long time. “Honor your mother is a commandment so you must do what I say” and “Christ forgives, so you should forgive me too, even though I don’t know what I’ve done wrong. Are you greater than him?”

September 5, 2012. My Zachary was born. What an amazing experience. My mother stayed with me for five days because she said she wanted to help me. For most of that time, she sat on an air mattress on the floor and watched movies while holding Zach. I was relieved when she finally left.

June 2014. We went to my parent’s house for Sunday dinner, which I usually made. My mother came to me and said, “Ashlee accused me of loving my grandkids more than I love my kids. Can you believe that?” I told her I do believe that! I explained that she never gives me hugs or tells me she loves me. She cried and said she is so sorry. She explained, “I don’t know how to show love! I wasn’t raised to show love!” She said she thought I didn’t need her because I have friends. I told her, “I still need my Mom!” She hugged me and said she was so sorry! I cried happy tears as we hugged in the kitchen and I said, “I got my Mom back!” I completely fell for her act because I wanted a mother so badly. I wanted to believe her, but nothing changed. She still called me constantly to complain about her life and criticize me and my dad and my siblings, but rarely to ask me how I was. I was criticized for going to lunch with friends and not inviting her, for buying dresses at Old Navy for my daughters and not telling her about the sale, for selling things on online yard sales that she gave me years ago, for watching a movie with my sister and not asking her watch with us, for asking her to leave her room and join us for dinner, for not trusting her to drive with my kids in the car…the list is endless.

 November 2014. I posted this on Facebook: “Tonight I attended an LDS Addiction Recovery meeting to complete an assignment for the substance abuse counseling class I am taking this semester. I thought I would feel out of place because I do not have a drug or alcohol addiction. I was wrong. I felt love, strength, grace, and peace. I was surrounded by incredible people from all walks of life who are doing their absolute best to conquer their addictions by giving their lives to the Lord. We all have addictions. It could be an addiction to negative self-talk, always needing to be right, constantly wishing for more, or trying to be a perfectionist. Our addictions are anything that distract us from serving our God, our families, and each other. I know that no matter how strong our addictions are, the grace of Jesus Christ is stronger. He loves us and is always here for us.” The next morning, I saw a text my mother had sent around 2 a.m. It said, “So I’m a drug addict, huh? Thanks for posting an addiction recovery link to my wall. Now everyone will think I’m like those crazies.” I called her and said I hadn’t posted anything to her wall. I asked her if she had read what I did post. She hadn’t. She insisted that I posted it and was very angry with me. She assured me over and over again that she did not have a prescription drug problem and she didn’t even use most of the medications in her drug bag.

Somehow, I had done something wrong. Again. Still I kept trying to have a healthy relationship with her because she was my mother. I tried helping her with psychology techniques I was learning in graduate school. I thought that if I said just the right thing, somehow I could open her eyes. I underestimated the depth of her crazy. She is such a skilled manipulator. An effective liar. She twists situations so that you think you are crazy. She preys on your pity. If manipulation was an Olympic category, she’d take gold every time. By this point, I had anxiety each time a text message or phone call appeared on my phone from her. I panicked each time I returned her call. If I didn’t, she would keep calling and calling, texting and texting, and Facebook messaging me until I talked to her.

March 2015. She said she had a change of heart. She promised to be a “New Marcie”. I was hesitant to believe her this time. I was finally learning not to trust her again. She sent me a message a few weeks later telling me she could tell I STILL didn’t trust her and that was hurting her. I didn’t really love her unconditionally.

July 2015. Another year at our annual Snowbird condo where I cook and clean for everyone while my mother stays in bed. She insisted we hold a family meeting so we could tell her how she can improve as a mother. I didn’t want to, but I gave in. Then we learned from a family member at Snowbird that my mother had cried to her that her children had demanded a meeting so we could “nail her to the wall.” This was the beginning of the end and when we first urged my dad to consider divorce. We told him that his future with us would be limited as long as it was tied with hers. We couldn’t handle her anymore. We held our final intervention with her. We told her to do 4 Things: 1) Establish a regular sleep schedule, 2) Eat three healthy meals a day, 3) Exercise every day, and 4) Go to Behavioral Med or another drug detox. She was very angry. She sent multiple cruel and hateful texts and Facebook messages to me over the next few weeks. If only we had just listened to her, who are we to judge her, she gave us a great childhood, she doesn’t know what the abuse allegations are all about, we really hurt her, we don’t love unconditionally, and so on. She did get admitted to Behavioral Med a few weeks later. We visited her once and I was anxious and panicked the entire time. She pretended like everything was fine and that she loved and adored me. Afterward, I went into the waiting room and sobbed. She later claimed that no one visited her in the hospital.

Since that intervention last July, we have uncovered so many lies she told us growing up. Lies about her childhood, lies about her parents, lies about her siblings, lies about the way my brother died. She raised me to hate so many members of her family, but the reasons were her twisted versions of reality. The farther I drew from her, the closer I became to other relatives. I think people were waiting for us to take a stand. Once we did, they felt safe enough to tell us their side of the story. Stories came out like crazy from former coworkers, family friends, neighbors, and so on.

I have so many supportive friends and licensed counselors who helped me establish healthy boundaries. They gave me strength. I remember looking around at my friends one night and thinking, “I can’t be as bad as my mother says I am if I have friends like this!” My aunt, who I had been estranged with because of my mother’s jealousy, became a mother figure to me. I also looked to my sister, Chelsea, as an example. She recognized our mother’s dysfunction years before the rest of us and was strong enough to set boundaries. I realized I had to set boundaries because it was affecting my husband and children. As I established more and more boundaries and became brave enough to tell my mother when I felt uncomfortable with something, she lashed out even more.

August 8, 2015. Mylee was baptized on her golden birthday! I was extremely uncomfortable with my mom being there, but I did my best to be nice and talk to her a few times during the evening. Landon’s family and a few other people at the baptism and party talked with her too. The day was wonderful! We went to my parent’s house the next day for Sunday dinner. My mother asked me to put pictures of my kids from my memory card onto her computer. She gave me her computer. I opened it up and saw a message she had typed to her friend. It said that everyone ignored her at Mylee’s baptism and it was bullshit. I confronted her with the message. I asked, "How could you say this?" She said, "You shouldn't have gotten on my computer!" I told her, “You gave it to me!” She said, “You should have just x’d out of it instead of reading it!” I said, “It was on the screen!” She said, “You are taking it the wrong way! There are two sides to every story!” I screamed at her through my tears, “You are not nice! I will never be enough for you!” I sobbed the entire way home. I told my kids, “If I ever hurt you, just tell me ‘Mom, I felt bad when you did that’ and I will hug you and kiss you and say I am sorry because my mom never did that for me.”

 December 19, 2015. She wanted to stop by my house to give Allie some dresses. My dad texted this for her because I had blocked her on my phone. I told my dad that I was not ready to see her. She insisted that I let her come. I told my dad to stop pestering me for her and that she needed to respect my boundaries. He told her that, and then texted that she was angry and called me a bad name he wouldn’t repeat over text. Later I asked what it was. He told me that she had called me a bitch.
The divorce papers were served in January 2016. I was sad, but so relieved! The divorce is now final and my dad has full custody of my 12-year-old sister.  So many people have asked me if I still have a relationship with my mother. They express hope that she will change and that one day we will be reconciled again. As of now, we do not have a relationship at all. She has attempted to annihilate every boundary I have set. She will tell you she has changed, but her actions since the divorce have proven she has not. She will never change because she refuses to take responsibility for any of the abuse she heaped on her family. In her mind, it is all our fault. It is all my dad’s fault. She used the words despicable, toxic, and poison to describe us. And then she tells everyone that she loves us unconditionally and doesn’t know why we’ve abandoned her!

“Unconditional love” is a favorite phrase of hers. She uses it to guilt her family. “If you really loved me unconditionally, you would let me…” She thinks it means that you give her complete control. It’s why she is obsessed with babies. Once she had grandbabies, she put all her focus on them because, as she has told us numerous time, they “love her unconditionally while her children do not.” The problem is that she has hurt my children before. I still didn’t have enough backbone to stand up to her. I have a backbone now. I protect my children from her because I really do love my children unconditionally.

My dad made our lunches every morning. He took us on bike rides. He jumped on the trampoline with us. He took us to church every Sunday. He woke us up at 6 a.m. for family scripture study. He went - and continues to go - to the temple faithfully every Wednesday. Looking back, I know God gave me specific spiritual gifts and put people in my life to help counteract the effects of my mother. In counseling, these are called protective factors. My mother was my risk factor, but my life has been filled with protective factors - Landon, my children, friends, siblings, coworkers. Most of all, my Savior Jesus Christ. 

I’m still damaged in some ways, but I know that through the power of the Savior’s atonement I will continue to heal. I am working on forgiveness. I am working on communication. I am working on self-acceptance. I am working to feel worthy. I am working on perfectionism and accepting that it is okay to make mistakes. I am working to feel pity for my mother’s lonely life of lies. I am working to let go of my anger. She may have raised me with negativity and hate, but I know better than to keep them. I choose joy and love. The cycle of abuse ends with me. 

Photo credit: Lawson (2004). Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship. Rowman & Littlefield: Lanham, MD.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

He's Got it Covered

     While on a family vacation last month, I attended sacrament meeting in a building cradled in a canyon.  The view from the windows was of towering pine trees meeting blue skies and I wondered at this beautiful world God has given us. That gratitude for this majestic mountain was a moment I sorely needed because I had been tangled in a net of worry. You see, I am a Fixer. Both of people, situations, and things. I like to inspire, motivate, and create change. When I see something that could be better, I want to improve it. When I see someone who needs help, I am ready to give it. I am constantly critiquing myself to be better and working to achieve multiple goals. This is great...sometimes. It can also be exhausting to carry so much responsibility. It creates high expectations for me and everyone around me. These can be hard to meet. When my expectations are not met, I become judgmental and frustrated. So I try harder. I think of new plans (because Fixers are Planners) that involve me saying or doing just the "right thing" that would finally initiate improvement!

     Can you see the problem in this? My pride in this? Thinking that I have the power to make everything better and then becoming upset when (obviously) I can’t? I finally achieved clarity when the Holy Ghost spoke to me during that sacrament meeting in the canyon. As I took the bread and water and tried to concentrate on Jesus, I felt the Spirit whisper to me, “Don’t worry. He’s got it covered.” I remembered reading that another explanation for the word atonement is a covering, meaning that Christ has covered our sins and sorrows. And then my eyes teared up and I felt warm and fuzzy and like I was being lifted off the ground. A wave of relief, humility, and gratitude washed over me. I accepted that I alone do not have the power to produce change. Jesus Christ does. I have always believed that, but had forgotten to live it. We do not have to worry about everything in life beyond our control – or even things in our control –because He has got it covered. The basic word for atonement is kafar, which means “to cover” in both Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic (The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 1, Hugh Nibley, Ensign, July 1990). When we give ourselves to Jesus Christ, we find joy in knowing that we don’t have to do it all because He already did. We can let go of all the stress, anxiety, and worry that weighs us down. Of course we should keep trying to motivate and help ourselves and others, but if we succeed, it is because of the enabling power we are given through Christ’s atonement. Our successes are signs of His grace.

     “Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12).

     I am not responsible for or capable of saving the world. Only Jesus Christ has that power. He wants our help and is waiting for us to willingly give it to Him. He is the ultimate Fixer. He does not want us to fear and worry. He wants us to trust Him. Have faith in Him and his power to save. And then feel His peace.

     Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught, “Consider, for example, the Savior’s benediction upon his disciples even as he moved toward the pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary. On the very night of the greatest suffering the world will ever know, he said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). That may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart” (Come And See, New Era, March 1997).

     The Lord is so patient, so merciful, so kind; even when He is grieving because our hearts are troubled and afraid. Even when we can’t seem to just let go and let God. His ‘arm is stretched out’ begging and pleading for us to trust Him! He will fix everything. He loves us. From now on, the change I vow to make is a change of heart. I trust my Savior completely with all He has given me in this life and the next because I know He’s got it covered.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Goodbye to Body Loathing, Hello to Body Loving

I am too critical of my body. My body insecurities come from feeling too fat, but I know women who feel too skinny.  I fear too many of us are unhappy with our bodies, whatever the reason. My body insecurities began when I was in fourth grade. I was only 8 years old! But it was old enough to question whether I was pretty.  It was far worse once I reached high school. Even though I had many friends and was involved in a variety of activities and leadership positions, I was not asked on many dates or to dances and I was sure it was because I was fat and ugly. I tried to take up running but never stuck with it. Then my brother died my senior year and I began emotionally eating. That is when my body began looking how I had previously imagined it looked. My weight and insecurities stayed with me through college. I took a running class, but my running stopped when the class did. I was overweight when I met and married my husband. Unfortunately, I brought my body loathing into our marriage. I never believed my husband when he told me I was beautiful.

After our first child was born, I’d had enough with the weight rollercoaster.  I never wanted my daughter to obsess over her body size or let it affect her self-worth, so I knew I needed to set the example of a healthy, happy mom for her. I began exercising regularly and eating well-balanced meals.  I lost 50 pounds and ran my first 5k! I thought I had conquered the weight loss battle. I was wrong. I went through the entire process again after my second baby. And now I am battling my weight once again after having my third baby.  And it really is a battle. I see other women whose stomachs are flat. Then I look at my own flabby stomach and cry. I have been trying to lose the extra weight from my third baby for 16 months.  I have lost 50 pounds. It was enough the last two times, but I gained more weight during my last pregnancy.  I need to lose at least 35 more pounds to fit into my old jeans. Ugh. And I injured my knee four months ago and had knee surgery just three weeks ago so I haven’t been able to run at all. Double ugh. Sometimes I wonder if I should just give up…but then I remember how exhilarating it felt to run a half marathon after I had my second child.  I remember that I could not stop smiling after I crossed the finish line of a triathlon. And I crave the feeling of accomplishment that comes from achieving an impossible goal. So I will keep trying to be fit once again. And I will share with you some lessons I am learning along the way.

Lesson 1 – Our Worth is Not Connected to Our Weight. This has been a hard lesson to internalize.  I let the number on the scale control my confidence for too many years. Our worth is found in the fact that we are children of a perfect God and He loves us.  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught us, “The most powerful Being in the universe is the Father of your spirit. He knows you. He loves you with a perfect love… He wants you to know that you matter to Him…This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God” (You Matter to Him, October 2011 General Conference). 

God’s love for us does not fluctuate as our weight does; His love is constant. As the apostle Paul stated, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8: 39). He loves us so much that he sent His son Jesus Christ to atone for our sins, strengthen us in our trials, and comfort us in times of need.  Our Savior’s sacrifice is not reserved for people who are pretty enough, wealthy enough, or smart enough – it is for ALL of us.  President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “Never forget, my dear young friends, that you really are a child of God who has inherited something of His divine nature, one whom He loves and desires to help and bless…May life be kind to you, for you are indeed a child of God, worthy and deserving of His love and blessing” (You Are a Child of God, General Conference April 2003). The world has a very narrow definition of beauty. But it does not matter if we do not fit (literally) that definition.  To God, we are beautiful because we are His. And His opinion matters far more than the world’s.

Lesson 2 – You Can Let Yourself Be Happy Now. It is possible to accept yourself and your life the way it is, while still working to achieve your goals. At times I thought I could not be happy until I was thinner.  I thought I did not deserve to respect myself, because that meant accepting my body the way it was and it was disgusting.  How sad that I thought my body – a wonderful gift from God that allows me to move and breathe and serve and love – was disgusting!  We must find the balance between bettering ourselves and being happy with who we are in the process.  I am happy with who I am right now, while still working to be thinner and stronger, precisely because I am trying.  It is when I stop trying that I feel unhappy with myself. This is true for any goal I set.

We are bombarded by television, magazines, advertisements, and music that try to convince us that we cannot be happy unless we are thinner, curvier, sexier, trendier, richer, and younger. It is a monstrous lie. If we buy into this lie, we will never be content because we will always want more.  How can we find joy if we are not grateful for the blessings we currently have?  We can be enough just the way we are.  I think of all I have accomplished over the past decade, most of it while being unhappy with my body, and I realize that I did not need to worry about my weight so much! Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated, “I plead with you…to please be more accepting of yourselves, including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else. We are all different. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are round, and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or other wants to be something they are not! But as one adviser to teenage girls said: ‘You can’t live your life worrying that the world is staring at you. When you let people’s opinions make you self-conscious you give away your power. … The key to feeling [confident] is to always listen to your inner self—[the real you.]’ And in the kingdom of God, the real you is ‘more precious than rubies’” (To Young Women, General Conference October 2005).

I am so grateful for all the times I did not let my body insecurities hold me back! For all the times I refused to allow my other talents to be hidden by my body loathing. For the times I thought I was too fat to make new friends who were more beautiful than I was, but I introduced myself anyway believing that I had more to offer than extra cellulite! My family and friends do not love me any less because I carry extra weight. And they would not love me any more if I was a walking Photoshopped image from a magazine cover! One of my biggest obstacles this past year was attending and speaking at my ten-year high school reunion.  I did not want to go because I was embarrassed by my weight.  I especially did not want to stand in front of everyone and give a speech! But I did it anyway because I needed to prove to myself that my weight did not define who I was.  I had a fantastic time catching up with old friends and did not feel judged by my weight at all. I had been my own worst critic the entire time.

Lesson 3 – Talk Positively About Yourself. You are a child of God, therefore you are seriously amazing. So tell yourself that! Stop insulting your body. Remind yourself that you are beautiful. You are enough. My friend Kristin winks at herself when she looks into a mirror. She explained, “A wink is like my version of a pat on the back or a hug. It's a reassurance of sorts that tells me I know I'm pretty awesome.” I love that! Think of all the wonderful talents you have and the ways you use them to uplift others. I may not like my sagging stomach, but I like my smile and am quick to let it shine. 

When a critical thought enters your mind, stop and replace it with a positive one.  This will not only help you, but also help those who look to you as an example. This quote by Elder Holland is forever branded in my mind, “Every young woman is a child of destiny and every adult woman a powerful force for good. I mention adult women because, sisters, you are our greatest examples and resource for these young women. And if you are obsessing over being a size 2, you won’t be very surprised when your daughter or the Mia Maid in your class does the same and makes herself physically ill trying to accomplish it. We should all be as fit as we can be—that’s good Word of Wisdom doctrine. That means eating right and exercising and helping our bodies function at their optimum strength. We could probably all do better in that regard. But I speak here of optimum health; there is no universal optimum size” (To Young Women, General Conference October 2005).

I never want to pass negative self-talk on to my children, but if they hear me talking about how much I dislike my body, they will do it too. And I NEVER want my beautiful daughters or my son to think they are less of a person because their bodies do not meet society’s superficial standards!  My kids know we eat whole grains and fruits and vegetables because we want to be healthy. They know we exercise because we want to be strong. I cringe when I hear my teenage sisters talk about how fat and ugly they are.  They are nowhere near fat, and even if they were, they would still be beautiful. 

Our bodies are amazing, no matter their size. We know we are of great worth because we are children of God and we will not less society tell us otherwise! We will strive to accomplish our goals while still being content with our current state. We will not allow a negative self-image to hold us back from living a joyful life! We will talk positively about ourselves even when we are blinded by our insecurities. And we will be strong and confident for future generations. It is time to say goodbye to body loathing and say hello to body loving. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Learning to Love the Temple through Family History

I have a One Year Movie Rule.  I do not watch the same movie twice in one year because I get bored! One year is long enough for me to forget a few parts, making the movie almost new again.  I guess I have a short attention span. This makes attending a temple session a challenge for me.  As soon as the movie portion of a session comes on, my mind turns off.  It was worse when I became a mother. I was so tired all the time that when the lights went out I started to fall asleep!  A friend suggested that instead of performing an endowment session each time, Landon and I could alternate performing baptisms, initiatories, and sealings too.  That definitely helped increase the time between endowment sessions, but I still felt bad because I looked at temple work as more of a boring burden than a blessing.  I needed to learn to love the temple.

I learned how last month. The change in my heart came from being able to perform ordinances for my own ancestors. It began with a Sunday school lesson about family history. I have heard the admonition to do family history many times before and felt inspired, but guilty too. I knew stories about my ancestors, but never discovered temple ordinances that needed to be completed.  When I came to the end of a pedigree line, I quit looking.  I figured I would tackle family history someday.  Well... someday came with this statement by Elder Eyring that was quoted in the lesson; it pierced my heart and lingered with me the rest of the day:

"When you were baptized, your ancestors looked down on you with hope.  Perhaps after centuries, they rejoiced to see one of their descendants make a covenant to find them and to offer them freedom.  In your reunion, you will see in their eyes either gratitude or terrible disappointment.  Their hearts are bound to you.  Their hope is in your hands.  You will have more than your own strength as you choose to labor on to find them" (Elder Henry B. Eyring, Hearts Bound Together, Liahona, May 2005).

The name of an ancestor, Increase Pettit, from my Grandma Ogilvie's side came into my mind. The next day, I logged onto Family Search and looked into his line to see what I could discover.  I noticed my 10th great grandmother was missing.  I began to do some research online and to my complete amazement, I found her! Her name is Alice and she was born in London in 1599. I could now perform her ordinances and seal her to her husband! That's all it took to catch the spirit of Elijah. I began working on my Grandpa Ogilvie’s Scottish line and 1 person turned into 162 people that needed temple work done! Through Family Search, I was able to request their ordinances and print off their ordinance requests at home. Then I took the request paper to the Ordinance Desk at the temple and they printed the individual cards I needed. The process was much easier than I thought it would be.

I have not been that excited to go to the temple since I went through the first time for myself! I cried as my father baptized me in behalf of my ancestors. Taking their names to the temple changed my perspective of temple work.  I realized that going to the temple is not about ME.  The temple is not there to entertain ME.  The temple is there so we can seal families together for eternity.  It is there so we can all, living and dead, partake of eternal life and exaltation.  My ancestors became more than just a name on a slip of paper; they became real people who were counting on me to help them.  When I went through the temple for Alice’s endowment, I watched the movie through Alice’s eyes, not mine.  I noticed things that I had not before. I did not fall asleep! Taking a family name made more out of the entire experience.  More gratitude, more excitment, more fulfillment. Finding my ancestors and performing their work is a blessing I am grateful to be a part of.

If you have caught the family history bug, then you know what I am talking about! The spirit of Elijah is strong. If you have not, go to Family Search. You can sign in with your LDS account if you have one. If not, you can make one.  You do not have to be a member of the church to access Family Search either.  Once into Family Search, you will find access to millions of people from census, birth, death, military, and other records from around the world.  If you are a member of the church or you have family who has done some family history, your family tree will already be created for you. Find how far back it goes! And when it ends, or when you notice a missing person, you can begin to extend your family chain as far as you can. Even if you do not find ancestors who need their temple work done, it is still neat to learn about them! Family Search now includes places for stories and photos of ancestors.  My friend Trisha told me, “I've been sitting here…reading stories about and seeing pictures of my grandparents and great grandparents. I've been crying my eyes out, but in a very good way!”  

Every name we perform work for at the temple is important.  Each and every person on that paper is someone’s ancestor and deserves our respect.  But for me, taking a personal family name has added so much more significance to the ordinances I perform for that person. Their sacrifices are the reason I am here today. I am grateful I have a lifetime ahead of me to do more family history because I have discovered it never ends. One family links to another, creating a chain of families to be bound together. I recognize how thin the veil between heaven and earth is.  Our ancestors are all around us, acting as guardian angels and guiding us down the right paths. My eternal perspective has also been expanded. It is easier to recognize what is important – my testimony and my family – and what will fade when this life ends.  I see that I am a link in this great family chain. I want to be more than just a name to my great-great grandchildren; I want them to know who I was and what I stood for. I want to be an ancestor my children and grandchildren will be proud of. I like to think my ancestors are proud of me too. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

How Many Children?

How many children are good Mormon women "supposed" to have?  I never planned to address this issue on my blog because it is so sensitive, but my dear friend recently told me she feels guilty for not wanting more kids.  She said, "I feel like it's my obligation as a Mormon to have more kids. But my heart isn't in it." I wonder if anyone else is struggling with these same feelings. Even though I feel uneasy putting my story into this post because I discuss a very personal decision, I feel prompted to share it. I ache for those mothers who are struggling to know when their family is complete. I pray for you to find peace, whatever your decision is.

When I was pregnant with Zachary, our third child, I knew I wanted to be done having kids. About two months after Zach was born, I became overwhelmed with guilt because I only wanted 3 kids. I have postpartum depression with every baby. I hate it. Really, really hate it. It's a bottomless dark pit and every time I fall in I wonder if I will ever come out again. Just thinking about going through it even one more time makes me panic and shake. I don't remember much of the first year of my children's lives –just bits and pieces from when I wasn't drowning. But the panic does not end one year after birth. I have anxiety attacks too, which began when my brother died in high school. They have worsened with each child.  I take some days minute by minute as I struggle to stay calm. I am so afraid that the more children I have, the less and less I will recognize myself. I am afraid I will disappear. And that would be really sad, because I am a super awesome mom to the three children I have. I'd like to keep it that way! I gained over 50 pounds with each pregnancy and lost my confidence. Right now I am still 40 pounds away from my normal weight, and that's after losing 45 pounds this last year. My right foot is still damaged to the point that I cannot walk on it barefoot without pain because it swelled so badly in each pregnancy. 

Despite all of these personal barriers to more children, I still felt selfish for wanting to be done. Isn't it normal to lose yourself to your children? Wasn't it my responsibility to "multiply and replenish the earth" until I was at least 35? I was only 27! My parents had 8 kids and I knew they wanted me to have more than 3. What if there was another child in heaven calling down, "Mom! Don't leave me here!" I would brave the storm and try to have more if the Lord asked me to. 

Thus began the heartfelt search for guidance. I fasted and prayed, discussed the issue with close friends, studied the scriptures, and read official church doctrine regarding the number of children families should have. Landon gave me a blessing with counsel straight from heaven that brought great comfort. By the time Zach was six months, I had my answer. Our family was complete. I had given all I could to bring my children to earth and it was enough. My eyes water even as I type this because I feel the Spirit confirm my decision once again.

So how many children are LDS families supposed to have?  To answer that, I went straight to the primary source: The General Handbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have a great responsibility not only for bearing children but also for caring for them through childhood...Church members are taught to study the question of family planning, including such important aspects as the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life.  If, for personal reasons, a couple prayerfully decides that having another child immediately is unwise, birth control may be appropriate...Decisions regarding the number and spacing of children are to be made by husband and wife together, in righteousness, and through empathetic communication, and with prayer for the Lord's inspiration. Latter-day Saints believe that persons are accountable not only for what they do but for why they do it.  Thus regarding family size and attendant questions, members should desire to multiply and replenish the earth as the Lord has commanded.  In that process, God intends that his children use the agency he has given them in charting a wise course for themselves and their families" (The General Handbook of Instructions, 11-4. Salt Lake City, 1989).

There is no set number of children required to be a good Mormon. None of us should feel guilty, compare, or judge one another concerning the size of our families. It is a private matter between husband, wife, and the Lord to chart a wise course for their family. It is different for every family. There are so many, many variables to consider: physical, emotional, financial, mental, etc.  Some of the best women I know are not able to bear children and it breaks their heart.  They are no less righteous than women who have children.  And some of the best women I know have eight children. Isn't it wonderful that they can handle that many? God loves you whether you have no children or ten children or anywhere in between.  Don't ever forget that.

Where does the guilt to have more and more children come from anyway? It is not based in church doctrine. I blame it on the Utah culture I grew up in. My friend grew up in Colorado and told me that three children would be considered many outside of Utah! Apparently, green Jell-O is not the only cultural difference around here. The definition of a "big family" differs from family to family. So let's ease off ourselves if the Lord has told us we are done having kids. Guilt is not a good reason to have more babies. A spiritual prompting from the Lord is a good reason.

I don’t know why some families are big and some are little. I don't know why some people can't have babies when they want them so badly.  I don't know why some women who don't want more babies keep getting pregnant. But Heavenly Father does. Someday we will learn why everything happened the way it did. It will all make sense. Until then, we trust in the Lord, follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and have faith that God is guiding our family, no matter how big or small it is.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Never Hang Up

Have you heard the admonition to "always have a prayer in your heart?" I never understood that when I was growing up. How could I always pray? I had school to attend and friends to play with! I couldn't pray then! I learned how to have a prayer in my heart during the summer of 2004 when I taught English at the Xia Xi School of English in Dalian, China.  I entered the country alone and afraid. I will be forever grateful for the Holy Ghost, my constant companion. I prayed before I walked from my apartment to school. My blonde hair and blue eyes drew stares from everyone in the black-haired, almond-eyed sea of Chinese people.  Most stares were friendly and curious, but some in the shady neighborhood I walked through frightened me.  I prayed before I stood to teach a room full of eager teenagers and students.  I didn’t want to let them down.  I prayed before I ate delicious dumplings and hot pot; I prayed even harder over the cockroach shrimp, boiled just until they were dead. Ugh. I attended an LDS sacrament meeting one Sunday in Beijing.  It was held in the room of a high rise office building. I cried when I walked in because it felt so good to be surrounded by Mormons again! I cried when I walked out because China is dark and I hated to leave the light of that sacrament meeting.  China needs the gospel.  I eagerly await the day when their corrupt government will allow missionaries to proselyte.  Many good people are ready to accept the gospel. I know because I met them.

The scripture story that sustained me during that time of teaching is found in the Book of Mormon. When Alma and his people were in bondage to the wicked high priest Amulon and the Lamanites, their afflictions were so great that "they began to cry mightily unto God" (Mosiah 24: 10). Amulon threatened to kill every person found praying.  So Alma and his people "did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts."  God answered their prayers, made their burdens light, and eventually freed them from the Lamanites.  This is what it means to always have a prayer in your heart – to pray to God often throughout the day.

Praying to Heavenly Father is like making a phone call to a dear friend, except my speech is elevated with "thee" and thou" and "thine". He always answers on the first ring. I never get a busy signal. I can talk as long as I need to and He will listen intently the entire time. I could never call at a bad time because time is an earthly, not heavenly, concept. Heavenly Father is always available.  He is always happy to hear from me, even when I have made poor choices, because He is forgiving.  He loves me. He misses me. He communicates back to me too. Not by talking (wouldn't that be cool if He did!) but by giving me promptings and impressions from the Holy Ghost.  I close my prayers, but I never hang up the phone. I talk to Him many times throughout the day. In this way, my heart is continually drawn out in prayer.

We can call Him when the kids are jumping on the bed and ignoring our plea to get dressed!  He will grant us patience.  We can call Him when we leave for work and school.  He will grant us protection. We can call Him when we don't know what to make for dinner.  He will remind us of a forgotten recipe.  We can call Him when we learn that our friend is battling cancer.  He will bless her with strength and us with inspiration to help her. We can call Him just to say thank you while we are laughing on the couch with good friends. There is always a reason to send a prayer, either long or short, to heaven. We can always say thank you for our blessings or ask for help, whether for ourselves or someone else.  Whenever I hear an ambulance siren, I send a prayer to heaven.  Ambulances always remind me of the night my brother died. I have flashbacks of the terror I felt.  I pray that God will bless the person who needs medical help, the person's family, and the driver and paramedics in the ambulance.

The prophet Alma also taught us never to hang up the phone:
"Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto Him.  Cry when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto Him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.  Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.  Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.  Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.  But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you" (Book of Mormon, Alma 34: 19-27).

Is there ever a time NOT to pray? Nope. As Alma said, we should always pray for help for ourselves and for those around us.  We could spend our whole day on our knees thanking Him for all His blessings! But then we could not take care of our families or fulfill our responsibilities. But if we always have a prayer in our heart, we do not have to be on our knees to pray. Our prayers reach heaven in the midst of whatever we are doing. No matter where in the world we are, from China to America, we never have to hang up.