Archive for the ‘life’ Category

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On this day of reflection, I think of my father, his father, my mother’s father, my son’s father, the fathers of my nephews and nieces, and the many men and women who have taken on fatherly roles in my life, my son’s life, and the lives of my friends and loved ones. It is an especially poignant Father’s Day for me, as it is the first Father’s Day in which I do not include a “Heavenly” father in my list. It is also the first Father’s Day in which the belief in traditional gender roles has unraveled before my eyes.

According to the religion of my birth and the traditional expectations in place for fathers, it is the purpose of a man to be a provider and a protector for his children. This tradition is a strong one that falls back on the natural physical strength provided men by their biology. Testosterone drives the sexual dimorphism, building physique and inciting aggression. Men were designed by nature to fulfill the roles of protector and provider, but Father’s Day is about far more than honoring the results of sexual selection.

Father’s Day is a time to honor those who go above and beyond. It is a time to recognize those who’ve provided guidance and direction to their children and the rising generation. It is a day for reminiscing on quality time, bonding moments, and fond memories. There are many men in the world who neglect their familial obligations and fail to make the selfless sacrifices that build lasting relationships with their children and pupils. There are many men who abuse the natural power granted them by their physical advantages over the weaker sex. As a result, many do not have quality time, bonding moments, or fond memories with their biological fathers on which to reminisce. Many have painful memories and lost opportunities that retract from the joy meant to be shared on this day of honor.

According to the religion of my birth, the ideal conditions for a child are to be raised in a home with a father and mother fulfilling their traditional, gender-specific roles. But there are many homes that break such tradition. There are homes in which the roles are swapped, dual income homes, single parent homes. There are children raised by multiple families due to divorce and remarriage, children raised by grandparents, children raised by adoptive or foster parents, by aunts, uncles, or older siblings, and countless children in orphan homes or marked as “wards of the state” who have nobody fulfilling a parental role. There are children with two mothers or two fathers, and there are children who’ve lost parents through death, divorce, abuse, or indifference.

Countless children are raised in conditions far from the “ideal”, and despite what religious leaders would have their followers believe, this is hardly a new trend. Non-traditional families have been a part of society for quite some time, and children raised in these non-ideal homes are still turning out okay. While not every child will have a traditional father to honor on this day, most have at least one person who has stepped in to fulfill the roles of provider, protector, teacher, and guide. Most have at least one person they can look up to and express gratitude to for their involvement and influence on their upbringing.

And so, why insist on maintaining tradition? Why insist on an “ideal”? This incessant need to provide a mold for the perfect father causes more harm than it does good. It hurts the self-image of men and women who DO step above and beyond expectations to fulfill fatherly roles for the children who fall under their wing, by birth or circumstance. It creates division between those who’ve been “blessed” with an ideal family and those who have not. It causes those children without good memories of a traditional father to feel left out and often fall into depression on what should be a happy occasion.

It is on this day that we honor the ROLE of father, and not necessarily the men who fit the “ideal”. Because, in reality, there is no ideal. There is no mold. There are those of good, strong, moral character whom we choose to honor for playing an important role in our lives. What matters is who has personally helped shape, guide, and direct YOUR path, whatever the circumstances. And so, on this day, I would like to honor all those who have provided for me and my son. I would like to honor all those who have protected me and my son. I reflect on all the memories I now cherish of those who have guided me, taught me, and helped shape me into the person I am today. You are ALL my “Father”, and you make this world a brighter place.

Baby Blues

Perspective is a fascinating concept. Something heavily reliant on the tangible and yet impossible to grasp. We collect information about our physical, mental, emotional, and social surroundings through the use of our senses, reason, and intuition. Then, this information is gathered together with the vast processing powers of our minds and interpreted. This interpretation provides us with our general sense of our selves, our understanding of our place in this world, and an indication of the direction we are going in relation to all that we have observed and with which we have interacted.

Because our perspective is so readily dependent on input, it can be easily guided through such things as censorship. In some cases, it may even be necessary to use a metaphorical set of blinders in order to block out unwanted information, so that an individual can remain focused on a desired goal without distraction. When we know our destination lay at the end of a “straight and narrow” path, and we know the surroundings to be filled with such sights, sounds, and smells that might deter us or cause us to veer off course, we will consciously choose to ignore those distractions, put on our blinders, and accept only that information which keeps us steadily plotting ahead, striving to reach the light at the end of our tunnel.

This self-censorship is very typical of the religious and is construed as having an “eternal perspective”. From birth to death, believers of all faiths are given the guidelines that will steer them clear of distractions and keep them plodding forward. In the Mormon faith, for example, believers are told that they must “hold to the iron rod” while walking through the fog of life, as this rod (the gospel) will lead them through their struggles until they reach their desired end – a tree bearing fruit more wonderful than anything they could ever taste; “the pure love of Christ”. Each step on the path is plotted and charted carefully: from nursery to primary, cub scouts to Aaronic Priesthood, Eagle Scout to Melchizedek Priesthood, mission to temple, wedding to family, genealogy to proxy work, church service and callings to enduring to the end…

No matter how tightly one adheres to this path, however, small smidgens of information find their way past the carefully placed blinders. A rock in the road, a branch in the path, a trip over a root… The ever dreaded distractions striving to convince believers to let go their rod, and take a look around. Tempting as these little appetizers may seem, when one is determined to maintain their “eternal perspective”, it becomes second nature to ignore.. and keep trudging forward. But to what end? What exactly are these believers striving for? What is it about this censored perspective that makes it “eternal”?

Those born into a believing home are taught early to follow in the footsteps of their parents. They are told of a life beyond this life, a life in which some great all-powerful being has prepared a heavenly reward. In Christian faiths, this deity created our world as a testing ground for us, the lucky conglomeration of atoms that happened to have been formed in His image, as it pleased Him, and given free-will to think and choose for ourselves. Mortality is only a temporary “fallen” state in which we are to exercise that ability as we see fit, and when we die we will face punishment for poor choices, mercy and forgiveness for repentance, and rewards for our good deeds. In this “eternal perspective”, the “blinders” keep us honest, true, faithful, and loyal so that we may capitalize on the potential blessings our creator has planned for His most faithful followers and worshipers.

The eternal perspective is described as one of progress. It is a perspective which encourages individuals to “keep on keeping on” when times become difficult. It is a perspective which requires individuals to think of every action, every thought, every word, every deed or misdeed in relation to eternity. It is a perspective which makes light of physical pain, turmoil and suffering, because it is only a temporary ordeal that (if endured well) will strengthen individual spirits and prove their worth in the eyes of their divine creator.

But it is a faulty perspective.

What is so interesting about perspective, is that it can not only be easily guided and directed, but easily changed. When the self-imposed blinders are removed, a whole world of information comes flooding in. As promised, it can be distracting and overwhelming. Even terrifying. Someone brought up to willfully put up blinders and ignore anything that doesn’t steer them down their predetermined path will be ill prepared for processing the wealth of sensory input available. Given time though, it is possible to adjust. Given guidance, it is possible to learn strategies for filtering through the information – determining what is useful, what is faulty, what is important, what is unimportant, what is reliable, what is applicable… what is TRUE.

Following a narrow perspective with a singular focus is dangerous. It is dangerous because it can be so easily disturbed, so easily spun on it’s axis, so easily turned upside down. When an individual spends their entire life focused on a narrow path with a narrow goal, when something comes along from the “blind zone” and forces an altered view, that individual is not prepared to deal with the shock. They may utterly reject the altered perspective because it is too overwhelming, readjust their course, and continue on, choosing to ignore the resultant trauma and pretend it never happened. But this still leaves them unprepared for any future interruptions, and now their foundation is shaky, leaving them vulnerable.

The eternal perspective, supposedly, provides followers with “the big picture”. It takes all the many ordeals of life, all its challenges, all its struggles, and gives it structure. A story. A plot. A purpose. It is supposed to be a wide and all-encompassing view that takes all that we see and feel and interpret, and places it on a grand canvas in a glorious scheme designed for our benefit. But in practice, all this perspective does is force followers onto a predetermined course, funnel them down a predestined chute, and force them through a prefixed set of standard motions. It is faulty because it fails in providing a “true” interpretation of the vast wealth of information available to our senses.

It is utterly impossible to see and understand the promised “big picture” while wearing blinders that keep you trudging down a narrow tunnel, just waiting to reach the light at the “end”. Those determined to defend their narrow perspective have even gone so far as to claim that it is impossible for us “mere mortals” to comprehend the “big picture” at all, because our mortality necessitates this narrow view, and we will never in this life be capable of perceiving all that “God” perceives. When encouraged to remove their blinders and consider those evidences which would provide great insights into the questions they claim unanswerable, they thrust any and all such confounding information aside under the premise that it will all make sense “in the end”, when the “veil” is removed and we see the world as God sees it.

But it is possible to experience life without blinders. WITHOUT a “veil”. WITHOUT following a narrow course. It is possible to engage with all our senses, to explore all the sights, sounds, smells, textures… and learn to filter and process the wealth of information at our fingertips WITHOUT insisting on maintaining tunnel vision. And it is only in this manner that our perspective truly becomes “eternal”.

We need to start as babes. We need to teach our children that instead of curbing passions and conforming to a rigid standard, they should be sating their curiosity and exploring to their heart’s content. They should be learning how to “perceive” their world from MULTIPLE angles. Expand on their creativity. Encourage their inquisitive minds. Expound on their sensory play. When our children are given opportunity to question and inquire, they will be better prepared to process all the many experiences life will toss their way.

Those things which were supposed distractions will become mere pieces in the puzzle of life. Those things previously perceived as stumbling blocks on the path toward “eternal life” will become mere curiosities to be unraveled with rigorous inquiry. Those “appetizers” of information will become building blocks of discovery. Rather than assuming we know all we “need” to know and that all further answers to life’s questions will be provided at some undisclosed “hereafter”, we can be inspired to dig, expound, and improve on that which we can perceive and thus understand.

There is little progress in a perspective that remains rigid and unchanging, for such is the perspective of one who fails to explore. We are expanded – mind, body, and soul – when we seize the opportunities to alter our perspective. When we seek to alter our perceptions. When we change up the pace. When we strive to obtain the as-yet unobtained input. Every time we take a moment to change our perspective, we learn something new, and THAT is progress.

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The sound of passing cars roared in her ears, drowned out all other sounds, leaving her with nothing but her thoughts. Thoughts that left her shaking in a jumble of confused and muddled emotions. Fear, guilt, depression, exhilaration, anger, concern, nervousness. Her body felt like a bundle of quaking branches in a heavy wind. She was running on nothing but adrenaline.

The woman sat there, open and exposed to anyone passing on the street, wearing a grungy, dirty, stinky pair of jeans and shirt. She waited on the bench, ignoring everyone that passed, shoulders hunched, eyes averted, attention only on the sleeping baby in the stroller in front of her. She appeared to be on the verge of tears, but the determined set of her jaw prevented such weakness.

She had taken the largest step of her life when she walked out that door. Her husband sat inside, unaware of the plans spinning in her head. She was just leaving on a quick errand. She’d be back in a few minutes… The minutes lengthened, and lengthened, and she knew by now he would be worried. She clasped and unclasped her hands, looking down at her feet, up at the traffic, and back to her son. By now he’d be wondering what was taking her so long. He’d know something was going on. Then the sharp squeal of worn brakes sounded in her ears, the hiss of air, as a bus came to stop by the bench. Palms sweaty, she gripped the handle of the stroller and rolled it onto the bus.

He’s probably calling the police, thinking she’d run into some kind of accident. He’s probably panicking, searching the house. Maybe, by now, he’d gone in the bedroom and seen the pile she’d left behind digging for the items she was going to take with her. Was he angry? Was he sad? Was he distraught? In tears? She felt horrible. Terrible. How could she follow through and do something so awful? There’s was still time. She could go back. Apologize. She could comfort him and let him know everything was going to be okay. She could avoid the worst of his reaction to her betrayal, if she quickly returned.

No. She’d already made her decision. It was too late to turn back now. If she ever set another foot inside that door again, she wouldn’t make it back out. She was on that bus, with her son, on her way to safety and freedom. She had to stay strong. If for no other reason than for her son. She couldn’t go back. She couldn’t stay with him any longer. She couldn’t wait for him to hurt their son.

The day I left my abuser will always remain a vivid memory. I remember the fervent panic. I remember feeling like everyone was watching me – feeling like everyone could somehow see through my bedraggled appearance and that they knew I’d just walked out on him. I remember expecting to see him coming after me at any moment, around any corner… years after that day, I was plagued with nightmares of his presence just around the next bend.

I remember, despite everything, feeling like I was the one in the wrong. I remember feeling like I was making the worst mistake of my life. I remember being flooded with concern for HIM and HIS well-being. I remember thinking his discovery of my departure would drive him to suicide, and feeling like his death would be on MY conscience. That thought almost sent me running back. I started contemplating excuses for my delayed return that he might find convincing, thinking I could just turn back and act like I’d never even made this foolish endeavor.

I was sleep deprived. I was hyped on adrenaline. I was probably even hallucinatory. I’d spent at least the last week walking on egg shells, having been broken beyond my ability to truly care about my marriage, but terrified of him reading my lack of commitment in my body language, my tone of voice, my solemnity… I continued to exchange “I love you”s, kisses, snuggles.. but my heart wasn’t in it. I loathed his touch. His hand on my cheek made my body rigid with the desire to flinch and turn away. Eye contact brought a lump to my throat as his gaze filled me with terror I hoped he could not see. Every breath, every step, every second was an effort of sheer will-power and determination to survive, to find and seize my opportunity for escape, because the only other feasible end I could see now was my own death.

And the only reason I did not take that end for myself was to save the life of my infant. See, what had finally broken me, the moment that shattered my gilded cage, was witnessing my husband hold our five month old crying son mere inches from his face and spouting such venomous, snarling fury that his eyes seemed red with rage and spittle flew from his mouth. That look had been directed at me on several occasions, and it had always resulted in a beating. I saw my son’s entire body go rigid with fear, temporarily frozen, eyes wide in shock, and then a scream of absolute abject terror, and I snapped. In a flash, the baby was safe in my arms, I was scolding my husband and soothing my child, and everything had changed.

After that ordeal, my husband tried to guilt me for pulling the baby away from him. He tried to guilt me for scolding him. He withdrew, acting very solemn and depressed, and he insisted that *I* had wronged *him*. I offered an insincere apology, soothing the waters and saying what I knew he wanted to hear in order to prevent an explosion, but I was done. He’d done the unforgivable. He’d proven himself uncontrollable. He’d threatened an innocent, harmless, babe and STILL insisted that HE was the one who’d been harmed by the encounter. All the carefully threaded webs of deceit, chains of manipulation, and chords of control started to unravel as the excuses he’d used in fights with me failed to take root when the victim onto whom he was attempting to throw blame was a BABY. There was NO excuse. NONE.

From that moment on, the one thing that kept me going was my desire to protect my child from harm. In a state of pure hyper-vigilance, there was little room for concrete thought. I was driven by instinct, and instinct saw me through the minefield until I was able to secure an opportunity to flee.

It is difficult now to imagine myself pursuing the life I then thought I was meant to lead. My life’s journey has led me down a vastly different road than anything I could have ever imagined as a child, a teen, a wife, a young mother… I am a different person now, and yet the same. These experiences helped shape me and have become ingrained in my memories, but the result could never have been predicted through evaluation of those very experiences.

There have been other critical moments, like the day I left my abuser, in which I’ve had an opportunity to look back. I believe we all have such moments in our lives. They are pivots in our individual journeys. They are fulcrums for change. Had I given in to my fears that day and turned back, my life story would be vastly different. Of course, not all life’s pivots are so extreme, but there are certainly those moments in which we must fully commit ourselves to our chosen direction and plot the charted course. Because we do not know where the road of change will lead, often we may choose the “safer” course simply because we know what to expect.

But life would be short-lived and barren indeed if we did not take our leaps. We all have our moments where we must look upon our current lot in life and come to a decision. 1. Continue on this path, or 2. Make a change. Change is terrifying. Change is “unknown”. Change is unpredictable… but when that which IS “predictable” and “known” can lead one only down a path lacking in love, joy, happiness, or fulfillment.. it becomes time to embrace the change.

Do not allow your life to be held hostage by manipulated fears and imagined concerns. Do not allow your life to become stagnant, simply because you can see no other feasible alternative. While this memory was once haunting, it is now an inspiration. I realize now that hope is found in our own courage and resolve – to embrace those changes which open the doors of opportunity and growth. When you find yourself facing one of those pivotal moments, when you must decide whether to leap forward into the unknown or continue in the relative safety of your current course – I urge you to take that leap! And don’t look back.

It’s hard to look upon a carefree child and not feel a sense of awe and inspiration. Every babe born into this world is a clean slate of trust, hope, and optimism. To look upon a baby’s smile, to hear a child laugh… it strikes a chord deep in the soul, and I don’t think there’s ever been a single person who did not wish they could somehow preserve such pure innocence. Perhaps the knowledge that it is only temporary is what makes it so beautiful, for that which is fleeting has value beyond measure.

As parents, while we certainly hope to prepare our offspring for the hardships of the world, I think we each hold tightly to a secret fantasy. A fantasy in which our children need no preparation, no protection, no preservation. A fantasy in which the pure joy of innocent laughter and untainted smiles lives on forever, never to be tainted or damaged by the toils and turmoil of struggle and suffering. In our subconscious efforts to make this fantasy a reality, we spin tales of wonder and excitement, and we revel in the sweet trust our children place in the hopeful stories of our youth.

Magical kingdoms of fairies. Hidden societies of gnomes, leprechauns, or “little people”. Mystical unicorns. Myths and fables which light up the imagination and bring a sparkle of joy to eyes so full of wonder and curiosity. Eventually though, the fairy tales always fall apart. Innocence is lost as children gain experience and come to face reality. Their brains develop with astounding intelligence, and with critical thinking skills honed for discovery, they begin to find the faults in the stories. Probably one of the most memorable and cherished stories to which nearly every child clings is that of Santa Claus, jolly ole Saint Nick, the loving, caring and affable man in the big red suit.

Our children start noticing inconsistencies and asking questions. Parents, often, cannot stand the thought of losing the joy and wonder that blessed previous Christmas celebrations, as their child lit up with excitement to discover the presents delivered magically under their tree on Christmas morning. Instead of encouraging this critical development and taking the opportunity to teach their children how to employ those thinking skills, parents lie and continue to fabricate the fairy tale, now spinning a web of deceit and even mistrust.

How does Santa get into the homes of children with no chimney? How does Santa reach all the children in the world in one night? How does Santa know who’s been naughty or nice? How does Santa know what toy every little girl and boy wants? How does Santa get into and out of the house unseen? How does Santa make all the toys? Why do all the Santa’s we see at parties or malls or supermarkets look different? Why does Santa’s handwriting on my present look like my mothers? Why were the presents from Santa hidden in my parent’s bedroom closet a week before Christmas? Why did I see my father putting presents under the tree, and not Santa? Has anyone ever seen the “real” Santa?

The questions build and build without end, as the puzzle becomes harder and harder for those amazingly intelligent children to piece together. Some children realize the problem quickly and give up the hope, give up the magic. Others have a much harder time letting go. They put their imaginations to use, thinking up more and more convoluted scenarios that explain away all the inconsistencies and allow them to cling to their belief. Some even go so far as to declare that while it may be impossible to understand, while there may be glaringly obvious evidences to the contrary, as long as they believed … Santa would still be real. There would still be hope. There would still be magic. There would still be that impossibly loving and mystical man who brought presents to all the good little girls and boys every year. As long as they believed…

It is my thought that all of us; man, woman, and child; cling to our beliefs in the unknown, the immeasurable, the fantastical, because we are in denial. We do not want to face the hardships of reality, because we do not feel ourselves capable of bearing the pain. Reality is often cruel and unkind. Reality contains stories of horror, sorrow, and incomprehensible suffering. Reality contains illness and disease, handicaps and imperfections, accidents and miscalculations, murders and war, loss and death. We cling to the magic, to the hope, to the belief, because the pain of life is so often unbearable.

But we do ourselves a disservice in thinking so. For while reality is often a struggle, it also brings with it great joys, and those joys often cannot be fully realized without letting go of the delusions of the heart. We waste effort and energy in clinging to fantasies that provide a sort of protective barrier from the physical and mental turmoils of life, because it is only when we embrace reality that we can begin to solve the very problems that plague our existence. When we allow ourselves to accept the logical conclusions, to trust our own minds, to follow the evidences provided by our senses, experiences, intuition, and critical intelligence, we prepare ourselves not only to face reality, but to CHANGE it.

When we waste time and energy believing in a higher power that will somehow solve all our problems for us, we fail to take that power into our own hands. Those brains so capable of spinning fantasies and fairy tales are capable of immense creativity and innovation, and it is because of that amazing capacity for critical thought, for problem solving, and for imagination that we as a species have been able to go from localized hunting and gathering communities struggling for each meal to living and breathing societies connected around the globe and improving the QUALITY of life for countless individuals.

When we see and accept the problems we face instead of hiding from them, we can begin creating solutions. While innocence may not last forever, ingenuity is a gift for the future. While the pure gaze from the untainted eyes of a newborn babe may be fleeting, his potential is ever lasting and even exponentially increasing into the infinite expanses of possibility. In a very short time, our species has evolved the ability to conquer lands, oceans, and stars. Our creativity knows no bounds, and we can be always believing in a brighter and more glorious tomorrow.

Look at me
I will never pass for a perfect bride
Or a perfect daughter
Can it be
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my fam’ly’s heart

Who is that girl I see
Staring straight
Back at me?
Why is my reflection someone
I don’t know?
Somehow I cannot hide
Who I am
Though I’ve tried
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

(Songwriter: James Merrill Brickman)

When I first saw Mulan, I felt as though I’d finally found a Disney “princess” with whom I could identify. Though my family and the Mormon culture did not take things to quite the same extreme as that of ancient China, I felt her plight in trying to fit into a role for which she felt unsuited. My entire childhood was bombarded with efforts to curb and shape me into the person my parents and my church felt I was meant to be. Meanwhile, I felt as though I was being forced to give up pieces of myself, and especially, as if my mother would never truly love me.. for just being me.

My father did not seem to mind that I was a “tom-boy”. He was glad I wanted to learn how to maintain a vehicle. He was happy to take me camping and fishing and teach me how to build a fire. He gave me a venomous snake identification book so that I could be safe while out catching snakes, frogs, and lizards. He helped me build a tree house. He supported me in my love of dirtbiking. He even seemed flattered by my desire to customize his old army bdu’s so I could wear them myself. I was permitted to dress up as whatever I chose for Halloween, and those costumes included Simba, a ninja turtle, a ghostbuster, a jedi, a ninja, and Robin Hood. I never went as a princess or a witch or anything even remotely feminine.

My mother, however, was always trying to work things in. She wanted me to wear bows in my hair. To wear dresses. To be in ballet and wear a pink tutu. To learn how to french braid. To learn how to cook and sew. Upon hitting puberty, she’d take me shopping in the girls section and insisted on buying me a few outfits that weren’t my older brother’s hand-me-downs. She made fun of me in front of my friends for not wanting to shave my legs or armpits. She tried to convince me to try on some makeup. She wanted to make a dress for me for prom, which I had no desire to attend. Even now, she often tries to get me to go shopping with her, and she’ll pick out pink lacy bras and underwear for me to try on. And she constantly tries to play matchmaker and set me up with guys I have no interest in dating.

While it was generally acceptable for me to enjoy doing “boy things”, it was apparently unacceptable for me to look like a boy while doing it, and it was equally unacceptable for me to NOT enjoy doing “girl things”. At church, I found comfort in songs like “Every Star is Different, and So is Every Child”, while I also had a message jammed down my throat that my gender was “an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” (The Family Proclamation). From 12 to 18, I participated in the Young Women’s program, designed to prepare the young women of the church for their divine roles as women and mothers. I found many of the activities dull, and pointless, and boring, and I wished I could be part of the boy scouts and join them in their pinewood derby, camping, and other more interesting activities.

Since that was not an option, I attempted to influence the activities we did as young women, participating in planning and brainstorming in the hopes that the other girls shared my desire to have activities on vehicle maintenance, edible plant identification, self defense, carpentry, etc. I reveled in the yearly “girls camp” as an opportunity to finally get out and “rough it”, enjoying two weeks of bliss out in the woods. It was not, however, quite what I’d expected. A couple years had us sleeping in cabins instead of tents. And we spent more time on arts and crafts than we did archery or hiking. Snipe hunting was noticeably absent, as was zip-lining, carving, trail blazing, orienteering, herping, and repelling.

Never once did I consider the possibility that this “system” was what was wrong. I assumed it was me. I assumed I was doing something wrong. That I was somehow missing something that would make me fit better into this feminine role everyone seemed to think was required of me because I had breasts and a uterus. I tolerated those things I really disliked, hoping that such tolerance would shape me into the person I was apparently meant to be. Because I made every effort to fit into the role that was expected of me, I entered a relationship that thrust me into the gender role for which I’d been prepared.

I did not like being called beautiful. I did not like being coddled or babied. I did not like being treated like I was some kind of fragile flower. And I especially did not like it when the “endearing” commentary turned abusive. I did not like it when my husband called me a slut. I did not like it when he claimed my attire meant I was “asking to be raped” (sweatpants? really??). I did not like being expected to passively submit. I did not like “servicing” his sexual needs and desires.

When I entered that relationship, I felt generally good about myself. I was pursuing my “tom-boy” interests, dressing comfortably, and not giving a hoot who felt offended by my lack of femininity. When I left that relationship, I felt awful, and it wasn’t just the emotional turmoil and distress of having been abused. It was the ever present feeling that I somehow did not belong in my own body. I looked in the mirror and I felt ashamed. I avoided pictures. I tried to satisfy my depression by trying to make myself feel beautiful – trying to find clothing that accentuated my curves. I tried diet and exercise in an effort to get my stress weight under control and feel lean, and toned, and fit again. But every effort I made only seemed to make me feel worse.

Trying to just be yourself in a world that doesn’t accept you the way you are is an emotional roller coaster. I had no words to explain my plight until recently. I did not even understand what was wrong. I did not understand why I was struggling so much to feel happy and complete. While I was warring with my own inner turmoil, I was becoming educated about homosexuality and gender identity in an effort to be supportive of my friends in the LGBTQ community. I supported them as an ally, but I had no idea that their battle was my own.

Deep down, I understood what it felt like to be uncomfortable in your own skin, to being forced into conformity, but I still considered myself a straight woman. I was supportive, because what decent human being wouldn’t be supportive of individuals striving to overcome a social stigma that drives them to suicide?lgbtq_awareness001

I read stories like Leelah’s, and I was heartbroken. I came to realize that my own church was creating an environment that was hostile to people just trying to feel comfortable in their own skin. I realized that my tithes were funding an organization that was politicking for discrimination against their own children who were attempting and committing suicide at record rates in Utah, because of the teachings and doctrine of the church that told them their very existence was sinful and evil. I realized that countless parents have disowned their children and tossed them on the street for coming out queer, or bisexual, or transgender… or anything different from what the world expected them to be.

 As I started to educate myself on the biology of sexual and gender development (among other things), I found myself finally able to let go of the teachings I had long considered “true” but which had cause me and so many others distress. I accepted that my church leaders and teachers were WRONG about gender. It is not “divine”, and it does not always “match”. Sex and gender are two different things. While most people are either male identifying men or female identifying women, there are some who are male identifying women and female identifying men. Exactly how this gets “flipped” is still being studied, but it is clearly influenced by a combination of genetics, hormonal exposure, and environmental and cultural factors. Development isn’t “perfect”, and it does not always result in what would be considered normal and acceptable by the general populace.

In studying and accepting the facts, instead of assuming the teachings I grew up with were correct and trumped scientific evidences, I was finally able to evaluate my own experiences, feelings, and disparities and come to a conclusion that didn’t leave me wondering what was “wrong” with me. When I finally accepted that there was nothing wrong with me, and I do not need to force myself to fit into any stereotypical roles, everything fell into place.

Admitting that I was sexually attracted to women felt liberating. (For more information on that, you can read my post “Coming Out”.) For some reason though, admitting I was also transgender was terrifying. I think it was because, more than admitting being attracted to women, admitting this meant absolutely rejecting everything I was taught and brought up to be. It meant completely throwing away the stereotypes. It meant changing the way I try to present myself. And it meant facing a world-wide society that considers my deviation from the norm abhorrent.

However, despite the fear, it also meant I could let go of so many psychological chains that had been holding me back and pinning me down. I didn’t HAVE to be “beautiful”. I didn’t HAVE to feel “feminine”. I didn’t HAVE to even present myself as a woman! And I could also choose how far I was willing to take the transition. I don’t have to go through hormone replacement therapy or seek out a sex change if I don’t feel ready for or even desire such a huge change. I can just let go of everything society has always expected of me and just be the person I’m comfortable being.

I can accept myself and feel comfortable in my own skin, and it is amazing how just a few simple changes can make such a huge difference in how I feel about myself. I purchased men’s underwear, men’s hygiene products, stopped wearing a bra, bound my chest, and put on men’s attire, and I finally feel like I can look in the mirror and see ME. I finally feel comfortable taking pictures of myself. It doesn’t matter that the world will see me as an oddity. I’m accepting myself for who I am, and I don’t feel forced any more. I feel free.

the-power-of-prayer

Prayer is an essential part of the life of a Christian. It is seen as an opportunity to communicate with our maker, our creator God, our Heavenly Father. For some, prayer comes easy. My younger brother, for example, always has words that flow freely when he bows his head in prayer, and he is always so selfless. Always thinking of others. Always asking for blessings for the sick, the elderly, the missionaries… He thinks of everyone who’s crossed his path and asks for blessings for them by name. His prayers are wonderful and heartfelt.

For me, prayer was more difficult. While I had a wonderful imagination, it was difficult to “talk” to someone I couldn’t see, and it was even more difficult to think of what to talk to him about. He was God. Which meant He watched over me everyday. He knew my struggles, he knew my accomplishments. He knew my sorrows and pains, and he knew my joys and goals. He knew my thoughts and dreams. He knew me better than I knew myself… So what was the point?

I struggled so much with prayer, and when I struggle with something it becomes a puzzle. A challenge to be overcome. So studying and understanding the purpose of prayer, how best to pray, etc became a kind of obsession. I came to understand that prayer was more for our own benefit than it was for God’s. While he already knew what we went through every day, he wanted to hear from us, and sharing with him would give us an opportunity to express gratitude and look upon our day with introspection. Essentially, it was a form of meditation.

I came to understand the benefit of taking time out of a busy life to turn inward. To reflect on my *self*. To dialogue my experiences, my challenges, and my plans. To visualize my success. To verbally acknowledge my mistakes. And yet… I still struggled with the concept of telling all this to “God”. I had trouble framing my meditation into the form of a prayer, picturing myself speaking with someone and sharing my innermost thoughts (even though God already knew them). So my journey of understanding continued as I strove to piece together the puzzle.

The next piece was one I really struggled to wrap my head around. Prayer is seen as an opportunity to ask for blessings. While God delights to bless His children, some blessings have specific requirements we must meet before He can dish them out to us, and one of those basic requirements is to ask Him. Of course, getting any kind of divine intervention isn’t easy. It needs to be a humble request. A righteous request. It has to be something God already desires to give us and is just waiting for us to ask Him. It needs to be something that will be for our greater benefit. It needs to be something we’ve struggled to obtain on our own and we just need a little something “more” to get it.

The story of “Where the Red Fern Grows” provided a wonderful example I really related to as a child. The protagonist in the story was a young boy who wanted a pair of hounds. His family did not have much and could not afford to get him a dog. He prayed and prayed and prayed, and felt like his prayers weren’t being answered. He spoke with his grandfather about his disappointment, and his grandfather told him that he needed to do his part to meet God halfway if he really wanted his prayer to be answered. After thinking about it, the boy determined that his part in meeting God halfway was to earn the money that would pay for the hounds, and God’s part was to provide the dogs.

So, this boy set to work. He took every job a boy his age could work and he ran himself ragged, until one day an add for a pair of red bone pups came up in the paper, and he asked his grandfather to take his money to order them. He got his dogs. I saw this story as an inspiration and felt that I should treat prayer likewise. When there was something I desired so badly that I would do anything to obtain it, I had to push and work and struggle to do everything in my power to earn it, pray, and God would do his part to see it was provided.

There weren’t many things in life I really wanted that badly. I can think of only three specific examples in my life where prayer like this came into play. The first was while I was rather young. I’d constructed a diorama for a school project and spent an enormous amount of time into seeing that it was the best I could make it. When it came time to bring it to school, it was pouring down rain and that rain would ruin my project if I stepped out of the car to bring it into the school. On the ride there, I prayed my heart out for the Lord to see to it that the rain would stop, at least long enough for me to get my project into the building, because I’d done everything I could do and the only way my project would remain intact was if that rain stopped. Well, that rain stopped when we pulled up, and I ran inside, and when the school door shut, it started pouring down rain again.

In example number two, I wanted nothing more than to attend my college of choice and pursue a degree in veterinary medicine. I knew my parents could not afford to pay for my schooling, and I knew I did not have any particular sporting or other extracurricular talents that would get me scholarships. What I did have was book smarts. So I worked my butt off to get straight A’s in high school completing higher level courses and AP classes so that I would have an excellent academic record. I then applied for every scholarship I could find. I wrote essay after essay. Filled out survey after survey. And I prayed and prayed. I received a full-ride scholarship to my college of choice.

The final example did not have a happy ending. During my third year of college, I met and fell in love with who I thought was “the one”. He reeled me in, however, with manipulation until I was wrapped around his finger, and he started becoming very physically abusive. Completely submissive to his control, we married and I became pregnant. When I was approximately five months along in the pregnancy, he had a severe tooth infection that woke him in the middle of the night in screaming pain and agony. He asked me to pray with him for God to take his pain away so that he could get some sleep before we saw the dentist in the morning.

I felt that we’d done everything in our power to relieve his pain. We’d already been to a doctor, been given an antibiotic and pain medication. Certainly God would answer our prayer and take the pain away. So, we prayed together and nothing happened. My husband became irate and insisted that either God was not there or He did not love him. I insisted that that was not true, that sometimes the answer to a prayer is “no”, and that if He wasn’t taking away the pain it was for a good reason. I defended God and refused to deny Him, and in return my husband became furious for disagreeing with him. He beat me, bit me, punched me, slapped me, and choked me in his fury.

For a long time, I held on to that experience as a testimony building experience. I clung to my faith and the fact that I’d defended God in the midst of adversity as a kind of badge of honor. I felt that despite what I’d suffered, I’d felt His spirit comforting me. Little did I know that my experiences with prayer could all be easily explained.. without God.

The first was mere coincidence. It happens. It really does. Must we attribute a superstitious explanation to every coincidence in our lives? The second was the result of my own hard work and determination, no divine intervention necessary. And the third – well the third was nothing. I suffered a beating because there was no loving God there to hear my plea.

As I started thinking about the claims of prayer more critically, I realized that there are far more unanswered prayers than answered. And many of the “answered” prayers are over trivial nonsense.

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I was thanking God for stopping the rain to save my diorama. And I was thanking God for helping me get a full-ride scholarship to college. Meanwhile, millions of children around the world were dying from starvation. Thousands of women were being beaten by their husbands. Hundreds of transgender and homosexual teens were being disowned by their families and left on the streets. What about their prayers? Was a desire to eat not more righteous than my desire to keep my school project intact? Was a desire for the violence to stop not more righteous than my desire for a free education? Was a desire to be loved for who you are and accepted by your family not more righteous than my husbands desire for a night’s rest without pain?

Why does God pick and choose so haphazardly who he answers? Why are His blessings so random? Why isn’t the influence of his intervention greater than that of scientific advancements in medicine and technology? Why can’t he heal amputees? Why doesn’t he stop rape? Why doesn’t he stop murder? Why doesn’t he intervene when a helpless child is sold into sexual slavery? Why?

I dug deep looking for answers to these questions after suffering the turmoil of an abusive marriage. Surely, somehow, someway, something would make it all make sense. Surely the loving image of a Father in Heaven desiring to bless his children wasn’t a lie. In scripture, I found claims that God permits evil and suffering to exist for a “greater purpose”. I found that His desire for us to have and exercise our free will trumped his desire to intervene when one of his children was suffering. I found that all of the pain we endure is supposedly “nothing” compared to the pain Christ endured in our stead. And I found that all our experiences are meant to make us stronger, more loving, more compassionate, and will be “for our good”. I found comfort in these answers… until I really took the time to analyze them with an example.

Pretend for a moment that you are God. You have more power than can possibly be imagined. You are omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. YOUR daughter’s boyfriend has just forced himself on her. She refused his advances and asked him to go home. In response, he slapped her, grabbed her by the hair and thrust her onto the bed. When she moved to rise, he slapped her again grabbed her wrists to pin her to the bed and started to remove her clothing. When she screamed, he covered her mouth and nose so that her eyes went wide with the effort to gasp in air and he cursed her out for wearing such suggestive clothing, for getting him all worked up and then telling him “no”. He then proceeds to undress and rape her.

As he does so, your terrified daughter is praying for someone to hear what is happening, to open her bedroom door and come in and save her. You could intervene. You’re all powerful. You helped one of your other children find their car keys that morning. You saved little Billy from getting hit by a car that afternoon. You helped another child remember all she’d studied so she could do well on her test. But not this time… This time you watch, and you cry. Because you won’t interfere with free will. Even though you “could”. You won’t.

Now tell me. What “purpose” could this rape possibly serve? Don’t you DARE belittle this girl’s pain and call it “nothing”. Don’t you DARE suggest it will “make her stronger”. Don’t you DARE…

Any sane, loving human witnessing a rape would tear that man off that girl and kick his ass. So why doesn’t God? There are countless, COUNTLESS atrocities that are transpired by evil men, and God sits back and does NOTHING. That is NOT a loving God. If he can help find car keys, he can stop a rape. But he chooses not to. The only plausible explanation is that He simply does not exist. And that makes it so much easier to explain –

No need to excuse these atrocities as part of some higher purpose, as part of some greater plan. No need to suggest that somehow it will all be made right “in the end”. No need to imply that the very real and horrible pain and suffering people endure is minute and unimportant. When you remove God from the equation, it becomes far easier to take a stand and say these deeds are WRONG. The pain is REAL. And we will do everything in our power to right those wrongs, to lift up those who suffer, and make the world a better place.

As a little girl, I was seen as a tom-boy. I hated wearing pink. Didn’t like anything frilly or lacy. Couldn’t stand being called by nicknames that sounded girly or “prissy”. And I loved doing “boy” things. I had a brother just two years older than me and a sister one year younger than me, and rather than play house or dolls with my sister, I preferred laser tag in the woods or cops and robbers around the house.

Watching childhood videos and cartoons, I never once saw myself in the role of a princess or damsel in distress. I was always the “hero”. When playing make-believe with my kindergarten friends, I’d want to play the part of Dar’tangan from the Three Musketeers, or the green ranger from Power Rangers, or Leonardo from Ninja Turtles, or my favorite – Spiderman. Never Spiderwoman – I didn’t like her. It had to be Spiderman.

When I started hitting puberty, I had absolutely no interest in wearing makeup, no interest in fiddling with my hair, no interest in dresses. I preferred wearing my older brother’s hand-me-downs and shopping in the boys section for cargo pants to trying on dresses or skirts or tank tops from the girls section. By now, I was “one of the guys”, and I seemed to understand boys far better than I did my own gender.

With all this build-up, you’d think it’d be obvious I’d develop an attraction for women, but when my fellow pubescent teens started experimenting and showing interest in boyfriends and girlfriends… I just wasn’t interested in anyone. At that point in time, dating just wasn’t even a consideration in my mind. I had other interests to pursue. So, to add to my “tom-boyish” oddity, I became the bookish “know-it-all”. I didn’t really fit in anywhere socially, but I didn’t care. I did have friends, but there was always this sense that I was on the edge of the crowd. Aloof. Apart.

I attributed my lack of interest to faith and spirituality. See, I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church), and in that church they had some very rigid teachings about sex and relationships. As little children, our understanding of love and family was indoctrinated with songs like “I Love to See the Temple” in which we’d sing about “going there some day” to wed for all eternity. In the Young Women’s program (age 12-18) we prepared for “womanhood and motherhood” and made temple time capsules in which we’d write our plans for our temple weddings to a worthy Priesthood holder and write a letter to the man we were saving ourselves for.

I was taught that ANYTHING sexual outside marriage was sinful. To have even feelings of lust or attraction toward another was to be suppressed, because such feelings were to be saved and only experienced with “the one”. So naturally, I thought the fact that I seemed to feel nothing was merely a sign that I was living a strongly spiritual life guarded against temptations and that I had not yet met the man I was destined to marry in the temple.

My parents whole-heartedly believed (and still believe) these teachings, and they would often share their own story as an example. My mother did not grow up in the church and she had a troubled childhood filled with abuse, but she came to church on her own as a teen for a respite from her traumatic home and wanted badly to believe in the kind of love they promised – a love that would last for eternity. My father did grow up in the church, and he believed he’d promised himself to his soul mate in heaven before coming to earth. He treated dating like a mission to find this person he’d promised himself to. He would take a girl out on a single date, and then pray to the Lord to ask if she was “the one”. With each date, he felt he kept receiving a “no” in answer, so he’d move on and keep looking.

Eventually, my father met my mother (of course). He didn’t expect her to be “the one”. He didn’t even ask her out – a friend set them up on a date. But when he prayed about her, he felt like he received his “yes”. My mother had also prayed and felt like she’d received a “yes” concerning my father. So, when they went on their second date, my father popped the question and my mother said yes. Crazy, right? Well, they’ve been married for 29 years now and while their marriage certainly isn’t perfect, they are genuinely in love and relatively happy. As a child growing up in a home like that, with parents sporting a love story like that, what was to be expected other than believing in “happily ever after” romance and the obvious connection of a “one true love”?

So, while I didn’t feel attracted to anyone, and while I was an obvious tom-boy, and while I clearly felt disconnected socially from my peers, I never suspected anything amiss, and I had my hopes that I would one day find the man I was attracted to and have my own “happily ever after” story. Enter high school and my first exposure to individuals identifying as gay or lesbian or bisexual:

“Same-sex attraction”, as the church called it, was a “temptation” some individuals faced in their lives. It was, of course, to be repressed and not acted upon, just like every other sexual feelings or attractions a person might feel toward someone they did not plan to marry in the temple. Many people felt rather uncomfortable associating with those who identified as “queer”, so in a cliquish high school these teens had little recourse but to band together with the other “outcasts” and “misfits”. I fit right in…

I am sad to say, I was not a true friend to these people. I saw their plight as a perfect missionary opportunity. Oh, I was kind to them, friendly, not judgmental… but I was constantly looking for plugs to share with them a scripture and invite them to come with me to a church activity. So it was that one of these girls (a lesbian with some serious anger-management problems due to post-traumatic stress after having been molested by a family member) came to church with me. I thought I was doing her a favor. Little did I know the leaders in my church were just as uncomfortable associating with “gender-queer” individuals as most of my high school classmates.

She attended numerous Young Women’s activities with me, but she would often go wandering when the topics did not interest her, and a few of the girls who also lacked interest started wandering off with her. It was harmless. They played basketball in the gym or walked around just outside the building, talking, but the Young Women’s president acted as if her “flock” was under attack. She spoke with our bishop, and he pulled my friend aside to tell her that if she wanted to continue attending our church activities, she needed to “dress accordingly”, remove her ring accessories, and participate in the actual planned activities. After that, my friend told me she wasn’t interested in a church that wouldn’t accept her for who she was, and she never came back. I was crushed.

That experience stuck with me, and I started to wonder about my own gender identity. Was I a “tom-boy” because deep down, I was really a lesbian? Was I really not attracted to *anyone*, or deep down, was I really attracted to other women? Did this incident bother me so deeply, for years on end, because it actually struck a very personal cord I didn’t have the guts to recognize in myself? I examined these thoughts over and over again. I stared at men and women in passing and at pictures of men and women and constantly asked myself – do I find that attractive? Does anything about this person arouse me? Over and over, my answers kept coming up “no”, and I started wondering if maybe I was some other kind of broken. Maybe I wouldn’t ever feel attracted to anyone…

To reconcile my turmoil, I turned deeper into the teachings of my church and reassured myself that *someday* I would find “the one” and we’d be married in the temple for all eternity like my parents. I told myself that I was just a late bloomer…

College years came, and I started socializing more. I found a great group of friends, but once again found myself feeling a bit odd and aloof, especially when all the girls would ooh and aah over muscular men. One of my friends had a particular fascination with Vin Diesel, and while I loved his films it was really because I loved the action and kinda wanted to BE Vin Diesel. To reconcile, I just played along. I started oohing and aahing with my friends and pretended I also had a Vin Diesel crush.

More questions about my own sexuality and feelings started cropping up though when my hormones finally started to kick in and all my friends started finding boyfriends. There still wasn’t really anyone I was interested in, but I was definitely starting to have odd feelings I couldn’t quite explain. I tried exploring it as an academic interest and to let out my pent up frustrations started participating in online text-based erotic role-plays. Only… I always cast myself in the role of the man. This led to exploration with pornography, and no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise, looking at the women was what got me going.

Being the “goody-two-shoes” Christian I was, I felt wracked with guilt. My self-esteem plummeted as I saw my struggles to control my hormones as a vile temptation, my viewing of pornography as an addiction, and my eventual experimentation with masturbation as a sin. So it was that when a man FINALLY seemed to show a romantic interest in me, I leaped on the opportunity. My “tom-boy” ways weren’t a problem for him. We had a shared interest in martial arts and wrestling, and he considered it immensely attractive that I wanted to practice my judo throws and pins with him.

There were certainly qualities about his masculinity that attracted me. He was very large, about twice my size at least (I’m a small person – I was 5’0″ and weighed 125lbs when we met), and it felt great to lean into his embrace with his bulk against my back. Like a giant bear hug. And I liked his beard. If there’s anything about men I DO find attractive, it’s a nicely kept beard. Mmm.. But everything else, honestly, could be attributed to nothing more than the emotional rush of a first relationship and the joy of finally having “someone”.

I convinced myself he was “the one” and allowed myself to become vulnerable. For those who’d like more details on what transpired with him, you can check out my previous blog posts “Broken Trust” and “The Abuse We Teach”. For this post, all that really matters here is that the relationship was terribly unhealthy and abusive. It ended with many scars from which I’m still healing.

Now many Christians (and especially Mormons) will say this bad relationship warped my perceptions of men. That it is because I lost trust in men that I no longer find them attractive, and that I need to open myself up to the healing offered through Christ’s atonement. To that, I say BULLSHIT. I still trust my father. I still trust my brothers. I still trust my many, many male friends. And I have no problem getting along with men in the platonic sense. Look at all the evidences that have been piled up throughout this story and you will realize that entering that relationship was a mistake not just because the man was abusive, but because I did not even understand my own feelings and attractions.

Because of the teachings of my church, I did not even consider the possibility that I might be attracted to women. Dating women wasn’t an option. If I DID feel attracted to women, such was a temptation to be repressed, suppressed, ignored, and avoided at all costs. My ONLY option was to find a MAN who could take me to the temple, because that was the only righteous way to allow sexual feelings to find release – between a man and a women lawfully wed under God.

Even when I let go of religious indoctrinations and came to the conclusion that God and Jesus were little more than imaginary friends people rely on to comfort them from the unknown, I still had a hard time entertaining the thought that I might be attracted to women. When I came out atheist, I asserted that I *might* be bisexual, but I wasn’t certain, and after a couple months of contemplation I determined that I was not. HOWEVER:

I am NOW coming out. While I may have felt some minute attraction toward men before my failed relationship, such attractions would have marked me bisexual, because I most definitely *am* attracted to women. I’ve only recently come to admit to myself that when I walk through my college campus I’ll quickly glance over the men without giving them much of a thought while I find myself staring at a woman’s ass. I love breasts. I love curves. I love the way women look when they dress up and do crazy things with their hair and makeup, and I love the way heels just do amazing things to the curve of their legs.

I love looking at women, and I often find myself wondering what it would be like to kiss them, or yes, grope them. While I do miss the feeling of security brought on by the bulk of a man’s body behind my back as he wraps his arms around me in a reassuring hug, and while I do still like beards, I cannot hide from the obvious feelings that have been warring within me for release for so long. I like women. I’m ATTRACTED to women. And that’s okay.

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