Thursday, September 22, 2016

So, I left Facebook again, today. I'm thinking about just deleting it and being done with it all.

I keep getting sucked back in. Even with that post I wrote about trying to follow social media rules --I don't even follow my own rules! I become a horrible person. I don't like who I am. My filter is broken. I've tried not checking FB, deleting the app on my phone, making scheduled times when I can check it, etc. but like a bad addiction, I keep coming back to it. And then I genuinely offend and insult everyone I care about with my opinions and thoughts. So many people have distanced themselves from me because of what I write. It's a factual lose-lose situation. I'm not strong enough to stop myself from hurting people, and so I'm removing myself from it all so I won't hurt people, anymore.

Well, at least not as easily.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sharing Our Vulnerabilities or Why My Writing is Too Depressing

I've mentioned this before, but once, many years ago, someone told me they won't read my blog because I'm not uplifting. They said they would rather read things that are positive and inspiring --words that help them become a better person. Why waste time with something depressing?

It doesn't hurt nearly as much as it did when it was said, but I'm still confused because honestly? I can't read blogs and other social media that are only happy. Everyone wants to be inspired (I know I do!), but an over-saturation of good can be misleading. Overly cheerful, constantly positive, and super inspiring sounds perfect, and sometimes I think I should be grateful for words that are chosen to lift instead of put down --but the truth is, they don't sound real. They feel absolutely fake. 

Social media that only portrays the good paints a false picture of the reality of life. In fact --and here's some irony for you --I've read personal blogs and social media accounts (personal ones) that wax and wane about the goodness of Christ, but never, ever, ever share or admit that they even need Christ. So, I don't understand. If their lives are so perfect, why would they need Him? If they've figured it all out, what's the point of preaching about Someone who is there to save us from the bad and ugly when they have no bad or ugly in their lives? 

Don't get me wrong --testifying of Jesus Christ is very important and should be done regularly. And I'm not trying to encourage an onslaught of negativity. But there has to be a balance to things, and that is why, if you read what I write, I always have a good ending. Because I know what Eve said to be true --we pass through the pain of sin so we can know the good from the evil. We can't know the good unless we know the bad! Nobody is immune to the difficulties of life. Nobody. Which is why I'm confused so many good women refuse to admit or share that there is even a tiny element of bad in their lives. What are they afraid of? 

I remember, on several occasions, reading the positive blogs --women with a million kids, homeschooling them, doing a hundred activities, sewing, baking, exercising, working part-time, traveling, reading their scriptures daily, serving faithfully in the gospel, etc etc. etc. (and there are lots out there) --and thinking I must be absolutely horrible and broken. I believed that if I just tried harder, I could be like those women and their perfect husbands, perfect children, perfect homes, perfect bodies, and perfect lives. I still fall into that lie from time to time. I even share that lie from time to time! It took considerable amounts of self-reflection (and even research) before I realized I was falling into one of satan's most notorious and successful traps: shame.

I felt I was a horrible person because I just wasn't good enough. I would never be like those women because I was too broken. My mind was messed up. My body was too out of shape. My parenting methods were screwed up. My marriage was dull. My house was unworthy. My personality was stupid. The best discovery, however, was learning that these women were not even close to perfect. Even the ones that claimed they had found all the answers weren't as great as they pretended to be. They weren't outright lying about their lives, but they were omitting the very thing that could connect them to other women --their vulnerability and imperfections.

Image result for vulnerability connects us brene brown

The person who told me I was too depressing was just one person. Unfortunately, they were not alone (I've been told I write posts that are too long, I'm too sarcastic, I'm selfish, I hurt others, and I just want attention, etc). But I've also received dozens of messages, phone calls, and emails from women thanking me for keeping it real. They appreciate that even though I add goodness to the struggles I'm going through, I don't hide from the struggles and I don't pretend I'm immune to mortality.

I used to think my almost-humiliating honesty was weak, but they've shown me, through support, that I've simply been vulnerable. This whole time (for 10 years!), I have been sharing my vulnerabilities, opening myself up to the pain of shame, not even realizing that I was also opening myself up to courage, empathy, and connection. (Thank you, Brene Brown!)

Just last week I shared this on Instagram and Facebook: 
I make many mistakes. I'm loud, blunt, sensitive, and bold. I can give it but rarely take it. I am vulnerable. I over-share. I allow insensitive comments to dwell in my mind. I assume the best in others, but when I feel betrayed, I shut down trust too quickly. I unleash rage on any who threaten me and mine. My house and children will never be to the standards of others. My marriage is a passionate, beautiful work in progress. I eat too much and purge on electronic media. I am forgetful, talk over others, laugh loudly, and speak without thinking. I yell. I love minor-keyed music and cloudy, rainy days. I attempt the impossible and give up too often. Poetry moves me; music is life-blood. I desire friendship and tend to be the selfish side of it. I suffer inside the chaos of my mind. I'm a glorious mess, made with fire and ice, clumsily attempting to fulfill the measure of my divine creation. I've never claimed to be perfect, but I do try to be my best. I have faith in Christ, belief in redemption, and I'm learning to forgive freely. All the experiences of my past continue to teach me and shape the direction I go. I allow God to urge me, nudge me, and guide me. I am beautifully, powerfully, creatively imperfect. 
With this photo (nope, not a drop of makeup --I rarely wear makeup, anymore, anyway, so it's not that big of a deal. The lighting was weird, but I didn't filter it):

I'm sure there were many who thought it was stupid. In fact, I know it made people uncomfortable. I'm not sure why. But I also know that a lot of people appreciated my honesty; many admitted they felt exactly the same way about themselves.

The truth is, women need each other to be real. We need to uplift and inspire, yes, but we can't do that with sugar-coated caricatures of our lives. If we truly want to connect with each other, we have to be honest about what we deal with, what we experience, and how we make it through. We help each other by admitting we don't have all the answers. We urge each other on when we share how we got back up after we fell down. We give each other hope when we admit how the Atonement of Jesus Christ has healed our pain and forgiven our sins --when we admit that we do, in fact, sin.

I make no apology for the things I write here or on other social media outlets. I do apologize when I've been mean to people (on purpose or inadvertently), and I am truly sorry if I've hurt you and not apologized for it. But I can't stop writing things that are depressing. I have to write my truth, and the truth is that life is a big ol' mess of happy and sad. You cannot have one without the other. Give and take, yin, and yang, black and white, light and dark, big and small --opposition is important.

Image result for opposition in all things scripture lds

You don't need to share every detail to be vulnerable. You don't even have to share half of it, dear reader, but share some it. Share your truth. Share the realities and the vulnerabilities and the pain and the horror. Then tell us how you overcame. Tell us about God and light, hope and love. Don't paint a false picture in an effort to inspire, because, dear reader, it may alienate the very people you're hoping to help. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Effective Social Media Communication or How to Stop Losing All My Friends on Facebook

Ugh. Social media can be the worst!

I've been thinking a lot about it and how I keep falling back into old habits --arguing with people, reacting too quickly, and eventually being a part of ruined trust. I write my opinions and then get upset when people don't like my opinions, as if everyone is supposed to agree with me. *shaking head*

I've decided to share some rules that can help navigate the ins and outs of effective communication online and hopefully help show why people (ahem, me?!) get upset when trying to communicate with others (I'll be taking notes because I need to work on these things, myself. Like, a lot, oh, and FYI --this is not directed towards any individual. I promise. These are simply a culmination of experiences I've had over the last decade, and more than one recent experience has prompted me to write this):

*Don't shame people for their choices. Everyone is different. Vastly. Even when some things are similar, there's no possible way it will be exactly the same.

*Use intentional language. If you didn't intend for something to come across in a certain way, then re-word it until it represents your intentions.

*If you apologize, do it sincerely --saying, "I'm sorry you got offended" is not an apology, it's passive aggression. A good example of an apology would be: "I'm sorry I got so upset. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

*Speaking of passive aggression, please use concrete communication. Write what you mean and mean what you write. Being vague, dropping hints, asking rhetorical questions, etc. don't work very well.

*Do not give out advice unless it was asked for, or if you really feel you want to share, please begin your advice by saying, "this may not work in your situation, but here's what helped me in mine."

*If you are not close to the person in question, don't make assumptions. Even if you are close to the person, still don't make assumptions. Never assume anything.

*Forgive easily. Even when someone chooses to use shaming language, passive aggression, horrible apologies, and self-righteous advice, let it go. Move on. Dwelling on it makes your life miserable, not theirs.

*If you are choosing to be vulnerable online in a public way (like sharing blog posts), you are choosing to have people comment upon your vulnerabilities. Don't be surprised when people don't like what you have to say, nor when they feel compelled to comment upon it. Don't be upset when people disagree with you.

One thing that social media has taught me is that people are not always who they are online, and that can be a good thing or a very bad thing. It has also taught me what true friendship looks like. I'm also learning who cares about me as a person and who cares about their own ideas. Even the best intentions can be laced with self-aggrandizement --and I know this, because I'm guilty of it.

So, so guilty of it, dear reader.

But luckily, I'm also learning about forgiveness and how essential it is --because we all mess up during communication. In fact, I think communication may be the one area where we are all generally lacking. We, none of us, are perfect, and so even though learning to communicate kindly and effectively is important, we still need to cut each other a bit of slack from time to time.

So, there you go! Maybe my bad habits will start to disappear if I read this several times a day.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sleep Deprivation is Brutal

I have been sleep deprived for many years. I have had periods of good sleep, but every time a new baby comes, I enter the hazy world of sleep-deprivation, again. It's been the worst it's ever been the last 18 months. #7 has never been a good sleeper and she's gotten worse. Last night, she went down at 8PM. This is rare for us (although it would be the perfect bedtime for her age). She then proceeded to get up every 1-2 hours and awoke fully at 4AM. This wouldn't be excruciatingly bad if #6 hadn't been up twice in the night because he's not feeling well.

As I type this (at 8AM), #7 has finally fallen back to sleep. #6 is up, though, and because he's not feeling well, and I'm the mom, I don't get to nap right now. I have laundry going, a kitchen to clean, and a million other things on my list. I may try to nap after I write this, but I'm not sure it will work. My body is so used to very little sleep. I just wish my mind was. 

Did you know, dear reader, that sleep deprivation has been proven to be one of the biggest causes of mental illness and physical damage? Even maybe being a causation of fibromyalgia? And did you know that the people who tend to have the worst cases of sleep deprivation are mothers? And it's pure torture to our minds. Literally. 

No wonder I'm psychologically damaged.

If you are a mother and live in the United States (because I can't speak for other countries), not only are you supposed to suck it up and act normal, but you're also supposed to be super mom --you have to work part time (or from home, or full time), clean your own house, be the PTA president, serve in the community, volunteer in your church, be thin (exercise, cook healthy meals, do the grocery shopping), dress beautifully, and have a smile. We are also expected to live apart from our families (different house, definitely, but sometimes different cities and states), not put any undue pressure or burden upon them with our complaints, and never, ever, ever expect grandma, auntie, sister, or cousin to help us watch our children, clean our house, or do our laundry. Nor our neighbors and church members. Expect nothing, never ask for help, and be cheerful about it. You decided to have all these dang children, didn't you? Then why would you need help? Independence in a well-run home is Queen! 

In some ways, it's gotten better, but not really. Women who choose not to shower every day, who choose to nap when their kids nap, who hire a house cleaning service, or who say no to volunteering opportunities are left alone in their homes, whispered about at church/school, and are made fun of by the media. 

And sadly, when mothers finally start getting sleep (when their children are older), they're expected to go to work full time, because staying at home is lazy. 

We just. can't. win. 

Here's what mothers really need in our society: 

They need to be supported in whatever it is they're doing without these ridiculous expectations that only create shame and lead to breakdowns, divorce, suicide, and smaller families (or abortion or sterilizing). 

They need to know that it's okay to say no to everything while they're saying yes to raising their children. 

They need to understand that the markings of a great mother aren't found outside of her home and definitely not on her body. 

They need to know they are loved and thought about in positive ways. 

They need socialization outside of social media. 

They need friends and family members who aren't afraid to visit, to do some chores, to cook some meals, and to help them rest without feelings of guilt or shame. 

They need a society that sees motherhood as an incredible miracle --to see that those who raise the next generation of our species are strong, sacred, and, because of their work, our greatest asset. 

[And I have to say this, too --single mothers need even more help and support because they are running more ragged than the rest of us as they juggle everything (work, raising kids, bills, house, yard, etc).] 

But I don't even know how to go about solving it because I can't seem to even solve it in my own home. I get the least amount of sleep and yet I'm expected to do the most amount of work. I'm not negating the work my husband does to earn an income to support us --his work ethic is not in question. But nobody expects him to get up with the kids in the night (including myself), nobody bats an eye when he naps on a weekend afternoon (he never asks permission! How come I feel I have to ask permission?!), and nobody looks at his job or his side of the closet and judges his entire character as lacking. The way my kids behave, the way my home looks, the way I interact with other people, the way I look --that is judged all day long. (Well, and to be fair, women are judged no matter what they do. Or how they do it. A woman could just be standing there and the media would have something to say about every part of her. It's quite disgusting, really.)

And can I just say how tired (haha!) I am of hearing the words, "You look so tired." It's so rude, dear reader. It's rude, it's not helpful, and it just means I look gross. I know I look tired. I am tired! Of course I'm tired! How could I not be tired? Is that such a bad thing? Is it bad to look tired? Is it wrong to look tired? You know what would be helpful is:
"You look beautiful, today!" 
"Can I come hang out with you?" 
"I know this sounds so silly, but wouldn't it be fun to have a laundry folding party? Let's do your house tomorrow and mine the next day. We'll watch some Jane Austen or something while we fold and let the kids run amok." 

Maybe we could also solve this shaming, sleep-deprivation problem by implementing one of the following: 
1. Reinstate polygamy. Sister wives to share the burden of childcare, cleaning, and cooking! (Yeah, maybe not.)
2. Communal homes/neighborhoods where women live nearer to each other and could support one another (this is found very beautifully already in Amish communities).
3. Low standards of living (dust is our friend!). 
4. Free house cleaning for all moms! Paid for by all celebrities who make millions a year, anyway!

Anyway, sleep deprivation is brutal. This is why, dear reader, when new moms are told "sleep when your baby sleeps" by veteran mothers, it's not just a good idea. It's essential. Life-saving. So, listen up, brand new mothers! Follow that advice as closely as you can. 

And now I'm going to try to get a nap. Zzzzzzzzzz..... 

Friday, September 09, 2016

Layers and Hiking

The annoying and exasperating truth about mental illness is that like any other chronic illness (my asthma is a good example), I have to constantly be taking care of it. Sometimes I have to adjust the care I use, sometimes what worked in the past doesn't work anymore. It's relentless and feels, at times (all-the-times?), like I'm actually going backward when I really know I'm going forward.

In a therapy session, yesterday, my therapist described it using a layers metaphor. Once we get the outer layer taken care of, it opens up to the more difficult layers --usually the causation of the mental illness, or in my case, the depression. My outer layer was apathy; it was stillness and deep self-pity. Once this layer was removed, we moved onto causation layers, and it has been, dear reader, incredibly painful. I'm finding out truths that have remained buried my entire life. I'm discovering how relationships in my life have been some of the root causes to my self-destruction. I'm working through these emotions and revelations, attempting to let go of the past and build a future. And it's so hard. So very, very hard.

For years and years, motivation to just get up and clean the house, to do visiting teaching, to put on a brave face, and take a shower so I could run errands or attend functions was the most difficult part of living. It's no longer like that for me. I can choose to let the house be dirty or choose to clean it and I don't feel despair facing that decision. I don't hide out in my house (as much) and I don't panic over the idea of doing something difficult. In fact, I'm pretty confident in my ability to choose what's the best decision in the moment.

But in some ways, what I'm working through is even harder. I'm re-wiring my brain and attempting to be who I am in the midst of memories and relationships that don't want the real me. Broken Cheryl is so much easier to deal with than Fixed Cheryl. And before you jump to conclusions --yes, it does affect my marriage. A lot more than I thought it would. That doesn't mean my marriage is in trouble, but it does mean we have a lot of work to do. The truth is, my marriage isn't the only relationship being affected. It's affecting ALL of my relationships. Every one.

I didn't think it would be as hard as it is. I figured that once I got to this part, once I got to an emotionally and mentally healthy sphere of living, that I would be better. Fixed. Immune. But I'm not. In some cases, things can be worse.

I hoped yelling at the kids would go away. It hasn't. I hoped I wouldn't cry as much as I used to. I sometimes cry more. I hoped, basically, that I would have been healed. Meds, therapy, changes, Atonement --healed! Done! But it's not nearly that simple.

The simple part is, however, that I'm better. I am much better. I am! Better is good. Better means progression instead of stagnation or decline. Better means I'm trying and I'm doing the right things and headed in the right direction. It also means that although things are painful and the nitty-gritty of my psyche is creating difficult situations, I'm going in the right direction.

It's like this: When I first started on the path to healing, I began hiking along a wide and well used trail. I had a heavy backpack full of random supplies, I was scared, and my new shoes hurt a bit. But after a while I got used to the trail, I used my supplies carefully, and the shoes got comfortable. I began to enjoy the views and my endurance increased. I found that I didn't need the backpack of supplies, anymore, so I was able to set it down and just took the water bottle. Once I got to a very comfortable place, the trail changed. Slowly, before I realized it, the trail was narrowing. It was getting rockier. It was starting to climb in elevation. Tree branches were lower, and I started seeing boulders in the way. Grateful I had shed the backpack, grateful I had brought the water, and grateful I had broken in my shoes, I kept going, even though I slowed down a little --sometimes I slowed down a lot. I had more endurance, but I was slower because this was all new. It was much harder. But if I hadn't started where I had, there's no way I could have kept going or even approached the new part of the trail.

And that's where I am. On the narrower, rockier, harder trail.

It doesn't surprise me that Jesus said:
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. (2 Nephi 28:30) 
That truth is found in all we do. You can't play a concerto if you've never played a C major scale. You can't pass AP calculus if you haven't learned basic algebra. You can't compete in a marathon if you've never run more than 100 yards. We all learn line upon line --that's just how life is. [Sidenote: Taking it even further, if you don't practice or study or run for a long time, you lose what you've already learned/accomplished. You can't stop going, or what you had is taken from you. Interesting, eh?] So, why does it surprise me that when I get to the hard parts, it's hard? Why would I expect to be fully cured before I have gone through the whole process? 

I have faith in Jesus Christ. I know that if it was His will, His Atonement could cleanse and cure me in an instant. But I also have faith in Jesus Christ as a teacher and a guide. As a parent, I understand why I can't do everything for my children and why they need to learn to do things for themselves. If I bailed them out of every difficult task or lesson, they would not be prepared for the narrow and rocky trails ahead of them. In fact, it would hurt them even more in the long run. But! I can hold their hands. I can listen to them and help them along. I believe that my Savior and my Heavenly Father know this in a perfect way --They know that I need to be guided towards the solutions, not handed all the solutions. How else could my faith grow? How else could I learn compassion? How else could I be able to understand what it is I need to understand for all that is still ahead of me? 

I may be on a narrow, rocky trail, now, but what is coming? When will it turn into the steep ascent of rock climbing? 

I understand this; I know this. I embrace this. In fact, I want this. But it's still really hard, sometimes. 

I think that's the point.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dear Young Mothers, Please Love Your Bodies

I don't even remember the first time I heard the phrase, "lose the baby weight." It was surrounded by other like phrases, such as:
"I gained so much weight while pregnant."
"I just hate that I'm getting so fat."
"It's taking so long to get my body back!"
"My kids have ruined my body."
"I used to be so beautiful."
"I just don't want to be one of those women that lets themselves go."

I heard these phrases everywhere. Playgroup, preschool, church, group dates, family reunions, and in front of the mirror. That's right -- I was one of those women repeating these phrases, trying to grasp for some kind of sense about what had happened to my body. And I wasn't alone. I've seen a myriad of women and their experiences with their bodies, all levels of body shaming, and I've seen the damage it can cause to not only their minds and hearts, but the very bodies they keep obsessing about.

I understand it on a very personal level. In my efforts to justify my weight (gain and loss), I found myself in total depression. Choosing to hate my body hurt my spirit. Badly. I still struggle with it.

It's so very easy to fall victim to the cycle of body shaming, hating, resenting, etc. because we are surrounded by a bunch of lies. For example, the beauty industry says:

You are not good enough. 
If you were, you would look like this. 
Since you don't look like this, you will never be good enough. 
But wait! Try this product, pill, herb, surgery, food and you will be good enough. 
Probably not, because this "good enough" doesn't exist --it's something we've made up. 
Why have we made it up? 
So you will feel shame and buy our products. 
If you buy our products, you'll think you've made it and when you realize you have not, you'll buy more. 
There's a reason we're worth more than 20 BILLION DOLLARS. 
And you just keep coming back for more. 
We will always win. 
And you will always lose. 

Honestly, why do we keep buying into it? This isn't about boycotting all make-up or pretty clothing, dear reader. This is about believing the lies about what makes a woman worthy and what makes a woman beautiful. And mothers are some of the hardest hit with this arsenal because their bodies change so much when they give birth.

I cringe every single time I read about a new mother who is desperate to erase all the evidence that her body ever created life. It makes me angry at the culture and sad at the generational perpetuation of it. How many daughters hate their bodies because their mothers hate theirs? How many of us, even after years of therapy, cognitive feedback, education, and truth-seeking still struggle with this?

I read a powerful essay about how women are not supposed to go back to who they were before becoming mothers. Not physically (an impossibility, down to our DNA, anyway), not emotionally (how could we??), not mentally (we know more, now, why would we go back?), and not spiritually (we have shared in creation with the Divine!).

Here's a good quote from the essay. Read it slowly. Mull it over in your mind. Really think about this for a minute. Because you won't find this truth in very many places:
We’re not meant to “bounce back” after babies. Not physically, not emotionally, and definitely not spiritually. We’re meant to step forward into more awakened, more attuned, and more powerful versions of ourselves. Motherhood is a sacred, beautiful, honorable evolution, not the shameful shift into a lesser-than state of being that our society makes it seem. The very notion that we are meant to change as little as possible, and even revert back to the women we were before we became mothers is not only unrealistic, but it’s an insult to women of all ages, demographics, shapes, and sizes. It makes a mockery of the powerful passage into one of the most essential roles a human can live into, and it keeps women disempowered through an endless journey of striving for unattainable goals that wouldn’t necessarily serve us even if we could reach them.
Read that again, dear reader. Read it a dozen times.

Can you imagine a world where women were just loved for who they are? Where mothers, who have changed for the better, are glorified and held up as good? Can you imagine a society that sees the evolution of the human body as a beautiful, wonderful thing?

Society tells us:
Don't age. 
Aging is bad. 
If you get old, wrinkly, gray, or slow, you're just not beautiful anymore. 
Also, you can have babies, but don't let that change your body. 
We don't want to know about your changing body. 
Change it back. Pregnant women and new moms are gross. 
Seriously, change it back! Gross!

The beauty industry tells us:
Buy this product and you won't look old and gray. 
That means you'll be beautiful and worthy of love. 
And you'll have to keep buying and applying because, well, we can't stop biology, so you'll keep getting older. 
Also, here's a product to erase signs of stretch marks. 
Have some surgery to erase any sign of a stretched stomach, nursing breasts, or even a uterus. 
Your body may change, but here's the products you can use to pretend it didn't. 
Keep buying more. 
You'll have to buy until you die. 

Taking care of our bodies is so very different from hurting our bodies to attain a specific shape, size, or look. When we eat good food, keep ourselves clean, and move around, we are doing enough. I'm not saying exercise as a hobby is a bad thing --it's not --but ask yourself this (and I would say this to anyone who has a significant beauty regimen or is dieting significantly): Why am I doing this? Is it to give into the lies of perfection, or is it because I like it? Am I doing this to be stronger or thinner? Am I doing this because I hate my body or because I love my body? The answer, dear reader, will make all the difference. And yes, it matters. It matters so much it's not even funny.

Once upon a time, I was thin. Very thin. I had four children behind me and, unbeknownst to me, three in front of me. I ate hardly anything. I exercised hard. I was, according to society, gorgeous.

And I was absolutely miserable.

Would I like to be thin like that again? Maybe, someday. But not at the cost. I can honestly say that even though I still struggle with the body shaming now and again, I love my body more than I did when I was that thin. I love what my body has given to me and I am so grateful for the one I have!

I wrote a few essays before about my body, but I feel prompted to share those links again. I feel like I need to write about this again and again until every single mother loves their bodies and thanks their bodies for giving them such amazing gifts. Here and Here.

I want to mention one last thing, though. I spoke about it at the end of a previous post, but I want to go deeper.

Your body is a glorious, beautiful, amazing gift. It's not perfect because we live in mortality. But your body houses your spirit and together they are a soul! An incredible soul that work together to do amazing things. Satan doesn't have a body. Nor do those who followed him. The evil spirits who tempt us to do things to hurt our bodies are enraged with jealousy because they will never have the chance to be given a body. They want you to hurt yours, and it doesn't matter to them how you hurt them, just that you do (from addictions to drastic altering to just plain ol' body shaming/hating). Every time you are grateful for your body, every time you love your body, you are allowing more light to enter into your soul and more darkness to leave. Every time you give your body the chance to do amazing things without succumbing to the lies of the world, you are fulfilling a divine purpose of learning how to connect your spirit and body together.

Young mothers, I want to remind you that the act of giving birth is miraculous. Not only are you allowing a body to grow inside of you, you are allowing a spirit to join with a body inside of you. You are the vessel that God uses to send His children to the Earth! Be grateful for those stretch marks, hips, veins, sagging breasts, and all the other changes that come from giving birth. Be grateful such a miracle has occurred inside of you. Don't wish for your previous body --it will only bring you heartache and frustration. Love the body you have. Take care of it. Honor it. Thank your Heavenly Father for it. I promise if you do, you will have real happiness and true joy!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Home Sweet Philadelphia

We just spent four glorious days in Philadelphia!

The purpose was to go see the new LDS temple in downtown Philly (go here to see pictures!), and the trip went better than I could have anticipated!

We stayed with beautiful, wonderful, gracious friends. Oh, how we love them!

Elegant, ethereal, compassionate Clairon! 

And her photobombing husband, Matt

They have five kids! Our kids adore them and vice versa.

Silly photos while waiting for some of the kids

We stayed in the attic! Well, it's mostly just an adorable third story. Their entire house is straight out of my dreams-- centuries old, quirky, beautiful, and not perfect. Love!

Brandon playing Mozart

Their oldest is a cellist and pianist. His back is to the camera... 

View from the attic window

We spent one day at the shore! We were in Cape May, NJ, and we were privileged to have our hosts, as well as two other families, join us. What is it about sand, wind, sun, and salt water? We all got sunburned (I'm so bad at the reapplying of sunscreen), the ocean was a bit too rough (I went body surfing! On accident! It was kind of scary and hilarious at the same time!), and the seagulls were annoying (as always), but it was such a good day. We have zero oceans in Kansas, you know. Ha!

We took non-LDS friends through the temple tour with us and it was such an honor to show them a place that means everything to us. One of the best parts was that the night we toured, the volunteers were all from our former stake (Valley Forge Stake) and there were several people from our former ward volunteering! It was so fun to see their faces when they recognized us. It's only been five months since we've moved, but it felt both shorter and longer, somehow.

The temple, itself, is glorious. Surreal, really, and as we walked through the rooms as a family, it just felt so good to be there. The architecture is Georgian/Colonial and fits Philly so perfectly! The parking garage under the temple is convenient AND it fits large vans like ours! That was an amazing surprise! The church across the street is beautiful and the copper toppings will turn green in time (like the Statue of Liberty did). The location of the temple is brilliant --it's right in downtown, near the library, Franklin Institute, and the Basilica (Catholic).

Interesting sidenote: this is the only temple were there is a mural/painting in the baptisimal font room. It's of Joseph and Oliver baptizing each other in the Susquehanna River. And how could they not include this?! The first baptisms of this dispensation happened in Pennsylvania! It was perfect.

After the tour on Friday, our friends (a Jewish family from Villanova and an Episcopalian couple from Princeton, NJ) took us to dinner to Tacconelli's, a tiny, hole-in-the wall pizza join in north Philly. It was amazing. Like, the best pizza of all time! We had such a great time and the kids were such troopers, even though we didn't finish until almost 11PM. My only regret? No photos with our friends! So sad.

See the temple??

Basilica view

LDS chapel across the street and behind it is the construction of an apartment/office building the church is constructing. 

Families are Forever!

We spent a day in the village where we had lived (and Brandon went back to the temple to tour with some friends who had driven to it from Lancaster!), saw neighbors and friends, and enjoyed a wonderful time at church on Sunday (it truly felt like we had come home). The only weird part was that Brandon was sitting with us in the congregation and not up on the stand with the Bishopric. In fact, the counselor that "took his place" was not there (their family has been in Africa, much to our sadness, because we missed seeing them!), and so it felt odd that Brandon wasn't sitting up there with them. I swear, we hugged the whole ward! It was such a nice visit. The kids ran off to Primary without a second thought, so excited to see their friends...

The drive there was uneventful (we stayed in Indianapolis halfway). I drove there and back so Brandon could do work (on his laptop). On the way home, we left later than we had planned (we couldn't break away because we were sad to leave!), and we hit a wicked storm in West Virginia/Ohio that lasted about 60 miles (flooding, lightening, thunder --we were going about 45mph!). We stayed the night in Colombus, Ohio, and it was a quick stop (to bed around 11:30PM and then up by 6:30AM). The long days of driving, plus my poor eating habits also meant I developed horrible edema in my legs and feet. I've never had such swollen feet! When we got home, I immediately downed 1/2 gallon of water and put my feet up. I now know, dear reader, what women are talking about when they get swollen feet while pregnant. I've had seven babies, but I've never had swollen feet, before (I know, I know, I'm so lucky, etc.). Holy cow, it's nutso! And painful. I'm so sorry for those who endure this often! They're better this morning, but not back to normal, yet.

Indianapolis Temple! We drove by it on our way out of the city.

She's a horrible sleeper and never goes to bed. Like, ever. Sigh... 

View of Ohio sunrise in Columbus.

Crazy van!

Home again!

Dear reader, I wish I could convey to you the overwhelming feelings I had about this trip. I won't be able to do it justice, but I'll try.

I know we are supposed to be here in Kansas. I have no doubt. The people here are outstanding and I adore our house. I love our ward, the schools, and the entire city of Manhattan. It's wonderful! But I truly left a part of myself in Pennsylvania, and my heart is there with so many people and places.

It's odd to me, and Brandon put it well, that our time in PA has left such an imprint upon us and our children. We have lived in four different states, now. San Francisco was just over a year, and although we have life-long friends from that experience and consider SF one of our most favorite places, our children have very few memories of our time there. We lived in Utah for more than a decade, though. We lived in one of the best neighborhood and greatest wards. We also have life-long friends from that time, and we love visiting Provo. But...  going back to Utah has never felt the way going back to PA felt. Our kids really felt like they had come home, again --especially our teenagers. I admit, too, that I felt very much the same way.

Is this because it's only been 5 months? Will it still feel this way in a year? Is it because the ward really was family? I honestly wonder if it's because of how different the culture and dynamics play out. It was easier to raise my family in a Mormon-saturated community because I never had to have uncomfortable conversations. I knew what to expect from everyone, even in the secular part of living. It was so different in Thornton, PA! It was difficult to navigate a new place where Mormons were so very few, where my religion and values were a bit foreign to everyone I met. Even our family size was a bit odd --but unlike San Francisco, and even sometimes in Utah, nobody in PA ever said anything negative about our family size. Ever! I do admit that it was a real sacrifice to practice our religion because our commitment meant a lot of time, distance, and effort. The friends my kids made weren't necessarily based on a shared religion or neighborhood --they chose each other outside of those things. I had to have uncomfortable conversations and I had to learn and grow. I found a way to truly see everyone as children of God in a way I never understood before. I'm not trying to negate the wonderful life we had in Utah (I adore Utah, I really do), but there was just something about being somewhere different; somewhere far from a Mormon culture where the choice to live our religion was internal, with no pressure from anyone.

Maybe an even bigger part, at least to me, is this: Pennsylvania represents many of the things I love about life and about myself because of how difficult it was to live there at times. I spent some of the darkest moments of my life there, and I found the greatest moments of light. In those 2 1/2 years, I discovered a strength in me and a strength in my Savior that I hadn't realized existed. I learned how to deal with the unexpected, to appreciate the simple parts of our lives, to instantly feel charity toward other people, and to love myself, again. I was in the midst of a rich, beautiful history. I was literally surrounded by towering, bursting-with-life foliage. I learned to love nature all over again, and a found a new respect for wildlife. I gave birth to our seventh child. I made some of the greatest friends I've ever had the the privilege to make. I learned how to cope and manage while my husband served in the Bishopric and traveled for work the majority of our time, there. (He also had to learn and grow amidst our unexpected challenges!)

So, it doesn't really surprise me that we love and will always miss Pennsylvania. It will always be "home" to us, no matter if we never live there again. Kansas will be our home, too, and I already have a deep feeling that in many years from now, we will feel the same way about Manhattan as we feel about Philadelphia. That is a good, good feeling, dear reader.

Have you ever lived somewhere that changed you so much that you will forever love that place? 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Things I Learn During Energy Healing Sessions

During some remarkable energy healing sessions (with Courtney!), I have learned (was reminded of) many truths, some I would like to share with you:

1. You can change your script.
2. Your weaknesses can be your strengths.
3. Comparison is the thief of joy.
4. Our body/spirit connection is essential.

You can change your script.

What does this mean? Briefly, it simply means that you can change your own dynamics, your own family dynamics, etc. to be different from how you were raised. It's okay not to have a home exactly like your tribe --meaning the home you were raised in. It's okay to divert your path from your siblings' paths or your parents. It's okay to be yourself and it's okay to re-write what you want to become and who you want to be.

An example from my life would be this: I was raised by very organized and clean people. My tribe is full of planners, rule-followers, and organizers (in life and in home maintenance). Is this a good thing? For sure! I found, upon adulthood, that although I like a clean house as much as the next person, that I am very inconsistent. I don't like budgets, I don't like scheduled chore days, I don't like chore charts. I don't like unrealistic expectations, and I don't like to be forced to follow rules that don't make sense to me. I will keep a clean and organized home for months and then the next several months may be chaos. I procrastinate paperwork, I spend too much time online, and I would rather visit with people than organize anything.

For years and years, this inconsistency of mine has plagued me to death. I thought I was broken. I kept trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be, and so I made myself miserable (and my family miserable). I put so much focus into trying to be the organized and on-top-of-all-the-cleaning-and-chores because I thought I was supposed to. I have a sister that I adore who is actually like this. She is the most organized and clean person I know, and she likes it. She's good at it! I'm just... not. But I thought I was supposed to be. "This is how I was raised!" And trying to be somebody I'm not was contributing to my depression, big-time.

So, how did/do I change my script? By following the next thing I learned...

Your weaknesses can be your strengths.

An exercise I was asked to do was to look at inconsistency in a different light. How can it be a strength? I had assumed for so long that it was a vile weakness to be shunned and eradicated. Even in church I had learned that to be inconsistent meant I wasn't doing enough. Consistent FHE, scripture study, prayer, etc --are not all those things important? Doesn't the Spirit come because we are consistent? Don't we escape temptation, and thereby sin, when we are consistent? How could my inconsistent behavior be a strength.

So, she told me these words, instead: Flexible. Adaptable. Fun. Spontaneous. Those words don't sound so bad, do they? Maybe instead of constantly seeing myself as inconsistent, I could use the word, "flexible." It's okay that I don't have organization down perfectly, because I have a large family. Every time we add another person to our family, we have to readjust everything! We have all stages of childhood in our home (teen, tween, child, toddler --okay, maybe not infant right now) and that takes a lot of flexibility! We have four schools to juggle. We have a lot of laundry, a lot of dishes, and a lot of paperwork. Little children are demanding and so instead of doing chores, I'm reading books or running kids to the park or library. Some days I choose to clean the house and some days I want to organize. But some days, I just don't. (Like today, ha!). And it's okay. I'm adaptable. I roll with the punches.

Once I saw my weakness as a strength, I realized it was okay being the way I am! My house is mostly clean, and our lives are mostly organized, but it's different from my husband's childhood home, and it's different from mine. It's our own, and it's great!

Comparison is the thief of joy.

I had always been taught that comparing myself to those who had more than me was fruitless. "Keeping up with the Jones's" was the coined phrase, was it not? Don't compare with the rich people because you'll just feel badly about yourself. But Courtney taught me that comparing either way --in any way --does little to help bring joy.

For example, it's easy for me to lament our financial situation because we are not wealthy people. But people assume we are wealthy because of how we choose to spend our money. We have a nice home, we like to travel, and we enjoy eating good food. But because of our true financial state, and because I never want to make people feel badly about themselves, I've always added caveats to everything we have:

"We have this home we love because the seller's asking price was $80K less than she should have asked."

"We have the opportunity to travel because of Brandon's flight miles and hotel points, as well as opportunities because of his work schedule," or "We travel because work pays for it," or "We worked out a way to do it by staying in KOA's and not eating fast food."

"We have a large family, so our food budget is higher," or "Eating healthy costs more because processed food is cheap."

I've always had an excuse for our blessings. I always try to downplay them on the off-chance that somebody might be offended by our good fortune or our financial choices. When I think about it like that, it makes me very sad. I don't need to apologize for blessings, nor do I need to apologize for our choices. Not everyone will have the same priorities and nor can we! We're all different. So, instead of apologizing, I need to be grateful:

"We are so grateful for this beautiful house! "It fits our personality and we have room to spread out."

"We are so grateful for the opportunities we have to travel and see new places! We love to travel."

"We are so grateful we can feed our large family."

Our body/spirit connection is essential. 

We were spirits and we came to earth to receive bodies. Together, they make a soul. Our job on Earth is to learn, grow, experience, make choices, and learn to know the good from the evil. We are to learn how to take care of our bodies. We are to learn how to connect our spirit with our body so they can function together in good ways.

Satan hates our bodies because he will never have one. He and his minions/angels/followers tempt us and try to get us to abuse our bodies, to disconnect our spirits from our bodies, and to ignore either our spirituality or our physicality because they're jealous, they hate us, and they want us to be separated from God like they are.

God loves our bodies because He wants us to succeed! We are His literal spirit children and He wants us to become like Him. The Holy Ghost whispers encouragement and teaches us how to individually take care of our own unique bodies. When we listen to Him and do our best to have Him with us (Sacrament prayer comes to mind), then we can have our body and spirit connected. That leaves open a channel to heaven and also gives respect and kindness to the physical body we have been given.

When my spirit and body are disconnected, there is anger, darkness, frustration, loss, bewilderment, abandonment, loneliness, and depression. Satan loves that.

When my spirit and body are connected, I am happy! Joyful, even! I am at peace. When my spirit loves my body and accepts my body, I take better care of my body. When my physical body accepts and loves my spirit, I am open to receiving promptings from Heaven and can make good choices. The connection brings light and love into our home. God loves that.

There is a reason why we work so hard to keep the Holy Ghost with us. We want that connection to Heaven, we want that reminder of where we came from. 

When I hated my body, I couldn't connect fully with my spirit. As long as I couldn't appreciate the incredible blessing of a body (I can feel! Learn! Grow! Make babies! Connect with others! Climb! Swim! Laugh!), I couldn't work on what was really bothering my spirit. Once I learned to love my body for it's capabilities, I found my ability to connect with my spirit and The Spirit was much greater. Loving our bodies doesn't mean we have to exercise all the time or accept obesity; it doesn't mean we have to necessarily change our bodies. Loving our bodies just means that we appreciate what a beautiful gift we've been given. 

So, there you go! Amazing things I've learned during energy healing sessions. People think energy healing is wonky, but dear reader, they don't know of what they speak. Adding energy healing to my therapy and medication has been amazing! One of the best decisions I've ever made. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Nauvoo and School Begins

We went to Nauvoo for three days! Well, more like 1 1/2 days by the time we got there, etc. It was a great experience for all of us. #2 was sick for part of the first night/day, though, so she missed going to Carthage Jail with us. But she was able to join us for the rest of the day. My favorite part was when I got to go with my girls (Brandon came, too) to the Nauvoo Temple --can you believe I've never had the chance to go with them to do Baptisms?? A combination of far-away temples and nursing babies have always prohibited me from going. So after the adults (my parents, Brandon's dad, Brandon, and I) did an endowment session, Brandon and I went and got the girls, leaving the younger kids with the grandparents, and took them back. It was such a wonderful experience. I love the Temple! (See random photos below with the kids' updates.)

Yesterday, the kids started school. Usually, I'm totally chomping at the bit to get them in school, but not this year! It came way too fast! Here's an update on all of them:

She is a sophomore! 10th grade! Only 3 years left of high school and I'm in denial that she will eventually leave us all for bigger and better things. She's taking chemistry, Advanced Algebra II, drawing/painting (she thinks she might be the youngest in the class), Spanish 3, and driver's ed (next semester, although she's still driving with Brandon whenever she can). She applied for a job at DQ and has an interview tonight! She's amazing through and through. I hate that she's so busy because I really enjoy her company. I try not to take advantage of her help with the little kids, but I will admit it's nice having some extra hands during the day!

8th grade! Next year she'll be in early morning seminary with #1 and it's weird to think of my little girls as teenagers. She was accepted to the gifted program at the middle school (like anyone was surprised) and is also taking advanced Algebra II --except there are only 3 kids who are taking it, and because they can't bus them to the high school (the high school just started a block schedule and the middle school is still on traditional), they'll be taking the class online with a supervisor. She's not thrilled about her school, but she's open to give it a chance. She's writing her own novel and I'm so proud of her! She's starting piano lessons again, soon, and has recently become obsessed with Hamilton. (So has #1. And Brandon. And me, for that matter! Lin-Manuel Miranda is brilliant, people! Brilliant!)

7th grade! He was ordained a Deacon two days before school started! How did he grow up so fast? He joined the 7th grade football team and they have practice after school for 2.5 hours every day. He's still mowing our lawn and his friends convinced him to ride his bike with them to the middle school the day before school started --turns out #3's brakes weren't working and he has no gears (I don't know much about bikes, obviously, nor do I pay attention to what's going on with them), so he had to work really hard to get there! It's an hour one way! So, that day, he rode his bike to school, then he mowed our lawn in the hot humidity, and then he had his first football practice for over 2 hours. He was exhausted when he got home, but he was happy. Physical exercise is good for him! His Misophonia is the same as ever, but as he matures, he is getting better at working through it instead of giving into it. He's a great kid! He will also start piano lessons again, soon. I hope he can juggle everything and stay on top of his schooling.

4th grade! He loves school and is excited to be back. His BFF from church is not in his class, though. He makes friends so easily, so I'm sure he'll have a lot of new buddies, soon. #4 still loves to create and build things (future engineer?), and he's been drawing a lot, too. I'm trying to get him to read a bit more, but he's mostly interested in graphic novels (those comic-like ones?). He used to read chapter books eagerly; maybe school will get him back into the groove. He and I still struggle from time to time with control and emotions, but we both apologize and forgive easily, so we're making it work. I sure love that kid. He got his braces off in July just before our trip and his teeth are great! Round one is complete and round two will begin in a few years. He starts cello lessons in a few weeks and he's really excited to keep playing!

2nd grade! He's such a silly kid and we're working through some dishonesty. Nothing major --just pushing his limits to see how far he can go. He's reading really well and I'm excited to see how far he can go this year. He had to have some oral surgery (just pulled two baby molars and then put spacers in to make room for the adult molars) and he's pulled through like a champ. He's a great brother and still makes us laugh. He's a strong kid and I may have to put him in gymnastics! He really wants to play the violin, but I told him he has to prove to me that he can do a year of piano lessons faithfully before I rent another instrument. We'll see how it goes! He's eager to learn new things. I love that about him. (Notice baby girl photobombing his picture! Ha!)

Preschool! I can't believe it! He starts preschool in a few weeks at a Methodist church in our city and he's really excited. He loves to play Memory, "find stuff" (hidden pictures), and put stickers on every surface in the house. He loves to pal around with his big brothers and he is a little sad when they leave for the day. He's a great help with baby girl, though, and I'm glad he'll only be gone three afternoons a week. He's still pretty shy, though, so we'll have to see how he takes to preschool. Crossing fingers he adjusts quickly! I sure love my squishy boy.

Home! Obviously, she won't be going anywhere, since she's just about 18 months old. She decided she needed co-sleeping/nursing to sleep at night (again), so we're back to square one. Sort of. I say sort of because she doesn't want to sleep in my arms and she'll even get out of our bed and lay down on the cold wood floor and sleep for a while. She doesn't want to be in her crib near our bed, just on the floor...?? How weird is that?! Anyway, she's funny. She's got a mouthful of teeth and is starting to say a lot of words. She's super cute and we all adore her.

Working hard, like always, and he starts teaching a business ethics class at the business school at KState next week! He's still teaching primary with me and is also in cub scouts. On our trip this summer, he was able to join us for almost a week, and we got him for all of Nauvoo! He's been watching the Olympics a lot and he's way more giddy/excited that #3 has started football then he lets on. His homemade pizza and Sunday morning breakfasts are still exceptional and I love his hugs.

I'm being mom. My parents being here for a few days was amazing because every time they visit, they jump start my cleaning routine again. I've been stressed to the max with school prep and two vacations back-to-back, so the house has suffered greatly. But with their help, I'm back on track and hopefully I can get back into the routine I enjoy! I'm looking forward to this school year. I'm extremely busy and it's hard work taking care of all these crazies and their different needs and schedules, but I feel grateful I have the privilege to work this hard.

P.S. I reactivated my Facebook because 1. the kids started school, and 2. we're going back to Philly next week and I needed to communicate with people about it. Let me tell you something, dear reader, I did not miss it. Not really. I missed two things: the ability to get in touch with people I don't have contact info for and my large family group (didn't I mention that in my last post?). That's it. The deluge of random information that flooded my eyes and brain as soon as I logged on was pure insanity. How can anyone think for themselves when they're trapped in the dousing of videos and articles at a constant rate? I think I'm going to have to limit myself so I won't get sucked back into the addiction of checking FB constantly. I have friends who are really good at scheduling their FB time --I will need to do the same.