I've decided something. It's the product of ruminating over the various reactions to what I share on social media, but it's also in response to new people I meet in real life. And it's this: I want people to look at my life, see the things I've done, and realize that by practicing what I preach, I've found lasting happiness.
Maybe it's not the kind of happiness you think you want, maybe it's not even what you would call happiness, but what I'm shooting for is long term. I want things that last. I'm not interested in the things that promise nothing outside of an immediate high and soon-thereafter crash-and-burn.
I don't want to belly laugh at crude jokes and have a hilarious evening of raucous behavior that ends when the sun comes up and replaced with feelings of shame or guilt. I'm not interested in "finding myself" if that means I give up on my good marriage (that isn't abusive). I don't think finding my "inner-child" should mean spending money I don't have to do things that I will regret almost immediately. I don't want to worry about losing my agency by using substances that might impair my judgment. I want to have a clear mind that can focus not just on short-term consequences, but long-term consequences as well.
I want joy in my life. Real, unfettered, radiating joy. That doesn't come quickly, and it doesn't come in the way society tells us it will come. It comes through very simple, easy, "old-fashioned" ways. Morals, values, principles of faith, religion, chastity, love, service, self-sacrifice, etc. It comes through following Jesus Christ. That is where I've found true joy, dear reader. I've found it there, even in the ashes of mental illness. Because only through Christ and emulating His kind of behavior, thought-process, and idealism can joy be created, attained, and shared.
I wanted joy from a young age. On my pathway to find it, I observed the actions and decisions of others very, very carefully. When I was 12 years old, I realized that older teens and adults didn't have it all figured out. So, I tried to find those that did. I didn't realize it at the time, but I have always been observant. And when I watched the choices my friends (and extended family members) made that were contrary to what they were taught, I found myself digging deep and asking God, my parents, and even myself if I had it wrong. Well, dear reader, I have seen, 20 plus years later, what those choices my friends (and extended family) have yielded in their lives. For some, repentance and forgiveness was their path and they came back stronger. For others... well...
Are they happy? I'm sure they feel they are very happy. I'm sure they might even claim that my assuming they are not happy is incredibly offensive. And that's okay. But I saw what they chose, I saw what they picked, and I didn't want that path.
I picked the path many people thought (still think?) was naive. They thought I was too innocent, too hopeful, and much too young to understand real life.
And I heard about it. I heard it all. I still hear it. I know what have said (or thought) about me:
I was a failure because I chose the Mormon university where I couldn't get the degree I had wanted (I auditioned twice and never got in). I was washed-up by 22 because I chose motherhood over a career. I'm a prude and a Molly Mormon because I wouldn't let blind dates kiss me and I even turned down an offer of kissing from a quite-possibly-nice new boyfriend. I saw holding hands as something important. I saw kissing as intimate and exclusive. I've wasted my life because I chose to keep having children past the acceptable number. My body is a joke because I've used it up making and feeding babies. I'm boring because my husband was the second man I kissed and the only man I've been intimate with. I'm wasting my mind because I'm a SAHM. And one that still hurts after all these years: I'm a loser because my talents are wasted at church.
Even more: I'm blind, because I follow prophets of God. I'm a bigot, because I believe in the doctrines of the gospel of Christ. I'm naive, because I still think the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and STD's is an education in morality, chastity, and the realities of what sex outside of marriage might produce on an emotional, spiritual, and mental level, not just physical.
The truth is this: I'm 38 years old with many decades of life still before me. Because of my choices, that life will have a large family around me, supporting me. Chances are very high that I will be a grandmother. I won't have any tattoos I'll regret. I won't have any drunken nights I can't remember. I won't have any infected piercings. I won't have to worry about STD flare-ups. I will never have to worry about regretting an abortion or wondering if I should get one. I have plans for my future that include a Master's degree, continuing to teach music, writing a book, serving a mission (or more!) with my husband, continued church service, serving in the temple, being a grandmother, and hopefully living until I'm ridiculously old, where they'll wheel in the birthday cake to my bed in the nursing home, with dozens of people around me, lighting up the 100 candles and turning on the fire alarm and sprinklers...
Look, before you start to comment, I get it. I know that life isn't always roses and it doesn't always mean my choices will yield the results I want. I know that, because I understand that the agency of others can influence us and even change our goals/plans, etc. I know that's why rape, murder, assault, theft, and abuse happens. I know that I don't have control over my husband and his habits, I know addictions occur, and I know that not every man is faithful.
In fact, I'm very aware that my kids may leave the church. One of them might be gay (which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but difficult in my church), end up addicted to something, or go to jail. I know we may have death, disease, pain, and misunderstanding. (Most of which we've already dealt with. Doesn't every family have death, disease, pain, and misunderstanding?). I know life will not always be easy (is it ever "easy?"). That's the point of mortality, dear reader.
I know this. I do. I'm not stupid.
But I'm also not blind. I cannot, in good conscience, pretend, even for a second, that my choices are somehow out of my hands. I have to teach my children that their choices matter!
And sure, now that I'm thinking about it, if I'd had sex in high school (once, twice, dozens of times), I might not have contracted an STD. I might not have been emotionally harmed for life (and emotionally scarred). I might not have gotten pregnant and had an abortion. But guess what? By choosing not to engage in sex before I was married, I took the power out of "might nots" and "what ifs." Making that choice gave me a lot more choices, and I've tried, as best as I know how, to make good ones.
I made these choices, even when it was becoming increasingly popular amongst my church friends not to make these choices. I chose to stick with the church, even when social media was making sure dissent was the topic for a few decades. I chose to strengthen my testimony, even when people I loved were leaving because of things they read online. I chose my education, my husband, my eternal marriage (something I'm always choosing every day), my children, and my life.
I made these choices, and I have been blessed beyond belief for them.
Have I always made the right ones? No. I've hurt people, I've said stupid things, and I've made bad health choices (exercise and diet). But with the stuff that matters long term? I think I did pretty good.
BEFORE I FINISH, I want to address something incredibly important, more important than the fact that Cheryl has made good choices (big whoop for Cheryl).
I don't want anyone to think that I feel I'm above anyone else, that I think I'm better than anyone else, or that I think I'm somehow superior because of the choices I've made, let alone the consequences of them. I understand that we all make mistakes and sometimes we make big ones. Sin is something we all partake of because we are mortal. And sometimes, we find that the choices we make, no matter how difficult, are the best with what we're working with.
Sometimes, we choose to rebel against what we've been taught because we are curious, scared, or persuaded.
Sometimes, we struggle with faith and want to learn things on our own.
Sometimes, we are the victims of others' abuse and then are shamed for it.
Sometimes, we are are surrounded by a culture of abuse, addiction, and pain, and we aren't sure how to get out of it.
Dear reader, it doesn't matter what choices you've made in the past, are making now, or are planning to make in the future. It is never too late to change. It is never too late to try again. It is never, ever, ever too late to find joy.
Yes, life is easier when we follow Christ from the beginning! We do avoid more pain and anguish. But I also know that choosing to follow Christ supersedes every single choice we've ever made. EVERY SINGLE ONE. It doesn't matter when we choose to follow Him, all that matters is that we do.
The best choice you can ever make is to choose Christ. With Him, we can repent of every mistake and sin.
We can be forgiven for every mistake and sin. We can change and become what He knows we can be, because He has made it possible.
I once heard the following in a talk in church (my ward). I can't remember who said it, but it was pretty recent! I loved what they said and it has stuck with me. I think it might help you, too, dear reader:
Repentance wasn't God's second choice. Repentance has always been Plan A.