Sep 3, 2015


Anyone ever seen that hilarious Madonna/Angelina Jolie SNL skit about Babies? I wanted to embed that here, but couldn't find a link. Just look it up. Madonna. Angelina Jolie. Babies. You won't be sorry.

Some people might call Skywalker and I baby hoarders. We adopted two and a half, and had our own 5 and a half. That makes 8 babiez total. We've completely used up our Standard American Quota, like... thrice. Maybe Four times. Some would argue, eight times.

Well, make that nine times, world. We Dunsters are welcoming our next and last family member into our ranks. That's right, baby number 9. Due at the end of January. And we found out this week that it's.....

A girl.

I hesitated to say anything for a while this time. I feel a bit protective of my business lately because of Stuff. I'm telling people this now because my body is going to start announcing it for me pretty soon and I kinda seriously need to start wearing maternity clothes, and I would rather announce it once than announce it over and over and over again to individuals.
I'd also rather have control over this kind of personal, special news than having people gossip and/or speculate. So.... yeah.

We are so excited to bookend our family with another strong and lovely and sweet little sister. I've had wonderful boys, but I think we've all been missing the sweetness of baby girls. The kids are excited to have a baby sister and I've already got the feeling this one will be spoiled to within an inch of her life... or at least, parented to within an inch of her life.

I'm feeling really tempted to buy some very cute/fancy/girly stuff this time. In the past, I've avoided the baby-clothes buying binges and this is my last chance. I might go ahead and start what will inevitably happen and give this one all sorts of adorable clothing and accessories so that we can get going on the whole, "What! You never did that for me, mom!" thing.

I'm pretty excited, for so many reasons. But I'm also counting "lasts." And that's both happy and sad. I've been reading a lot of posts lately from friends who are starting to send their kids off to college or on missions... that will be me in 4 years. I can't quite believe it. Lasts, and firsts, and lasts. I guess we just enjoy the time as it goes by, and that way we don't feel we've missed anything. Today, I spent a couple hours holding my last little boy. My children are very sweet and beautiful. I'm glad there are several of them kicking around here. I'll be sad when they leave. I guess the only way to make up for it will be having passels and pecks of blond-headed and brown-curly-haired grandbabies one day. One day in the faaaaaar distant future, of course.

Anyway. It's out now... so I can break out all those obviously-maternity shirts and pants I've been avoiding in the name of anonymity :)

Aug 14, 2015

Greenhouse update: Bleaching, staining, siding, interruptions and more foundation

We had to take a hiatus on the greenhouse for a month or so as our involvement in the community play (Skywalker and I played one of the couples in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) ramped up. The play was an amazing experience. We made some good friends :) I'm so glad. Friends are the best. Also I got to spend a lot of time with a sweet person who is an almost-sister who has been on her mission and busy with college for a while. It was a great experience, and I feel no regrets about the projects that needed to be put off (writing, greenhouse, school prep etc).

Skywalker has been bemoaning his lack of tools. But tools are an investment that we have to save up for. Finally, this past weekend, he bought a used radial arm-saw on craigslist. He got it for a pretty good price. It was missing a table, so he very carefully measured and fitted a table to it, using materials from an old treadmill he'd acquired (ironically, from the last play... two treadmills were used for one of the scenes and they were going to be thrown away, and we all know Skywalker and his thriftiness.)

He now has the tool he needs to do a lot of the work. It can now be done quickly and much less tediously. And in the past few evenings after work he has sided an entire panel. He tells me that the rest will go even faster now that he knows what to do and what measurements we need. The wood we are using was acquired from a source we found online a couple years ago. Skywalker has had an eye on this website for quite a while. The funny thing is, the owner of this company happened to move into our ward a year ago. Another not-coincidence in this endeavor. We're supposed to be doing this; Heavenly Father has given us reassurances and signs at every stage of this process. When we were finally ready to buy siding (we used a bit of our income tax return this year for that purpose, instead of devoting the whole of it to paying off principal on our house) we knew exactly what we wanted. And we ended up with a discount that helped, that we were not expecting. Blessings. Anyway, this company has the best prices for siding/tongue and groove etc that we have found anywhere, and they're great to work with, and they have branches all over the Salt Lake/Utah Valley on up through southeast Idaho. Check'em out.

We chose cedar tongue-and-groove siding and cedar-log siding. We got some discount pallets and bundles, so not all of it is utterly perfect, but we want our project to end up looking lovely and natural and whimsical and imperfect so it really was quite perfect. Here is what the wood looks like, after lying in the sun bleaching for about a month.

We will probably just use it like this, sun-bleached with no stain or anything, on the inside. Cedar is meant to be exposed to the elements, and it is lovely as it continues to weather naturally.

For the outside, we kind of wanted a more uniform look to the weathering, though, and we didn't want to wait years while it changed to the silvery color we've got our hearts set on, to match the grey/white/taupe colors of our house. I was planning on using commercial stain and bleaching oil, but following some good advice from the guy who runs this lumber company, we went a different direction. We bought a natural weathering treatment. It's a dry powder that you mix up yourself and paint on the boards and it is really effective. The results were immediate and beautiful, and exactly what we wanted. And it was natural, which we prefer, and much less expensive than what we were planning.

Here is what we've got on the house so far. You can see how the treatment has changed the color of the cedar wood. I think it goes so well with the color of our house. I couldn't be happier. We need to clean up those windows. This is an in-progress picture... you kind of have to have an imagination to know how awesome it looks :)

And from further away, so you can see how it looks with the rest of the house (you kind of have to squint to see where the siding is, and where it's still plywood. The colors are pretty subtle):

So this last schoolyear, Loli had a band trip, and because she is our first, experimental child, Skywalker and I had no idea that this meant she needed to sell 100 dollars worth of band cards. We didn't even know about the trip until two weeks before the money was due, because Loli plays her cards close to her chest. Or something. ANyway, when we found out, we didn't know what to do for a bit. Loli needs to be responsible enough to do the work or at least inform us that work needs to be done to go on this trip she wants to go on.

But she is the first, experimental child. Forging the path. Doing everything new. Not sure how to negotiate things, and she knows how full my plate is with all her siblings. I know how that feels.

So we cut her a break. We paid the band stuff ourselves out of the greenhouse budget, and she became our little laborer for the summer to earn the money. She's been helping Skywalker put in ceiling paneling, holding stuff for him, and a couple saturdays ago, she dug a pretty nice ditch under the north wall so we can lay down a concrete footer. That is the only area where a footer is missing. We're going to lay the concrete before the ground starts freezing again.

She did a pretty good job, didn't she?

The siding should progress fast at this point. And once we've got the new piece of footer poured, we'll move the wall there out slightly so it matches the edge of the house, and we'll side that too.

It feels so wonderful to almost be done with the outside! I've been stressing over that for a long time, because we want our lot and house to look nice. Once we get the siding off the grass, we'll be able to mow that stretch of lawn again, too.

Jul 29, 2015

Be OK With Where You Are

I can't really think of a title for this post right now. Maybe by the end I'll think of one that encapsulates all the free-floating, seemingly unrelated ideas swimming around as I write them down and they coalesce and make sense and point to a theme. I'm grateful for writing. It's a good Urim and Thummim for me. How's that for a confusing, oblique Mormon reference?

I think that recovery comes in layers. For me, the first was numbness. And that lasted for ten years. Next was anxiety. Lots of strong, seemingly rootless emotions would just come and overwhelm and turn the world flat for a while. That was a pretty scary place to be, and I still end up there from time to time as I stumble over "triggers." The nice thing is, eventually you learn to identify those triggers and can move through the anxiety better, knowing that's the source of it. Hopefully eventually one examines the root of these triggers and untangles them to the point where they're not triggers anymore. That's the goal, at any rate. I'm not quite there yet.

The second layer for me was anger. A lot of that anger stems from anger at the source of the trauma, suddenly understanding what happened to me and how it was very not OK, and negotiating feelings of betrayal, disappointment, etc. But it's also frustration with myself, that I don't seem to be functioning emotionally as well as I wish I could.

Some of it is also directed at others, in the present--people who seem to think less of me because I'm not acting cheery and competent, and I'm asking for help. I'm working through this still right now. I think one of the things I struggle most to forgive, in the now, is the attitude that I should be just fine right now because this all happened 13 years ago.

Some don't understand that, actually, that's quite normal for someone who's suffered pretty severe emotional events. People with PTSD are often numb for years, living in the world of adrenaline and reaction as emotion, not feeling much of the currents underneath causing the anxiety and numbness. It's like the heart shuts down and protects itself and doesn't allow the feelings to be felt, until there's a safe place, or a safe enough distance, from the trauma event, and then the mind and heart let it all flood in. Feelings. Forgotten experiences. What a lot of people don't realize, when they say someone who has suffered trauma "should be over it", is that right at that moment, they are working through things they haven't remembered, much less been able to process. *At this moment* the events are actually occurring for the person. The feelings are actually being felt for the first time--grief, fear, disappointment at what was lost. Sadness at what loved ones had to go through. The events are occurring for that person *right now*.

I've also been struggling to forgive another attitude some seem to have. It goes like this: "you're not the only one who's going through pain. What makes you so special?"

It kind of boggles my mind a bit, that attitude. Yes, everyone has pain. That hymn really resonates, "in the quiet heart is hidden sorrows that the eye can't see." As someone who has endured some real heartache and horror in my life, I'm utterly and completely aware that many of the people around me have endured heartache and horror. Their own personal tragedies, and things like depression and anxiety. What I don't understand is the conclusion that some people come to, that because they've had pain, another person doesn't have a right to be in pain. For me, enduring real struggle has made me more aware and more accepting of the pain around me. I don't understand the whole, "We've all had pain, so what makes you so special that you have to struggle, and we have to watch, and you need help?"

I mean, pain is pain. ONe person's pain doesn't minimize another's. One person's recovery doesn't take from another person's recovery. That's like saying that love is limited--if one person gets love and attention it takes from another person's allotted amount. Love isn't like that. The more there is, the more there is, period. And recovery's not like that, either. I think that Love and recovery are just like chocolate. Who doesn't want more chocolate? The more chocolate there is in the world, the better the world gets, right? I enjoy and celebrate all the love, recovery, and chocolate, I see around me.

I mean, each of us struggles with our own burden. I don't feel a need to compare. What's the point of comparing?

Jeffrey had an insight for me yesterday. He said that the type of person who'd say things like that, "We all have pain, you're not the only one, what makes you so special?" And "It's been thirteen years. You should be over that by now," is the type of person who isn't actually addressing their own pain. They resent me asking for help and being vulnerable because they don't feel safe asking for help, or being vulnerable. So they shoulder that burden on their own. And seeing people around them asking for the help they also need, and visibly struggling in a way that they're keeping only inside, is pretty threatening to them.

So my frustration should really be empathy. These people are still stumbling along in the state I endured for a decade. Numb. Anxious. Not able to address it yet.

Instead of being angry, I can feel for them. And hope that eventually they feel safe enough to pass into a less painful stage of recovery.

This kinda leads to the last layer of feeling, which I think I'm passing into right now as I leave anger behind. Grief. Just... sadness. I mean, it was really sad, what happened. I'm sad at what was lost, and sad my baby had to go through it. Sad I had to go through it. Sad my family had to go through it. I'm. Just. Sad.

And that's OK. IT's the feeling at the root of it all. It's something I might carry inside me and have to re-negotiate during my life. Grief is like that... you re-address it as you grow and new understanding of what happened develops. But Sadness is something one can deal with. When you're sad, you accept comfort from your loved ones. You talk to your friends. You cry. These things are vents of emotion--wells of feeling, being allowed to drain and become productive. The emotions above--anxiety and anger--tend to block release, but Sadness... well. The Savior wept. And I can feel the powerful force of the atonement come over me as I work through sadness.

That's where we want to be in the wake of hard stuff. Sad, so that we can eventually be happy. What is that quote from Genesis? Without pain, we don't truly know Joy.

I think I"m going to do a post in a few days about why I'm grateful I've gone through the things I have. What good they've brought into my life.

In the meantime, I guess one message I wanted to bring across is this: comparison is the thief of joy. It's not good to compare your pain to others'. It's not a happy place to compare your recovery to others', either. It's really just best to be where you are, and be Ok with that.

May 16, 2015

No Man is an Island

At the girls' camp I attended through my jr. high and high school years, we had a tradition that still brings feelings of reverence and a bit of longing when I think of it. We would have campfire every night where all the girls from all over our stake (the regional LDS congregation we belonged to) would gather to laugh and play games and share skits and read "mail" from outside (we had to sing for it) and sometimes end up duct-taped to tree trunks because we snuck into others' campgrounds.... it was great. Everybody loved campfire. You sat with your "Unit" (groups created by the stake girls' camp leader... most often many girls that you didn't know very well before camp started,) and your leader, like a little family, cozy in blankets by the campfire, and laughed a lot, and sang really loud.

Then at the end of campfire, before we were doled out some delicious dessert prepared by a genuis kitchen staff and walked back to our campsites, we stood around and sang "no man is an island." It was a quiet, reverent moment in the middle of boisterous fun and ruckuss:

No Man is an Island.
No man stands alone.
Each man's joy is joy to me,
each man's strength is my own.
We need one another, so I will defend
each man as my brother, each man as my friend.

The words struck me then as powerful and important, and they still strike me that way.

We are not meant to work out our salvation alone. Heavenly Father did not create us that way.

Even if you don't believe in God or a higher power, you have to see, I think, how people can't become, alone, the best self they can be. A person can't reach the highest echelons of their potential without people around them to refine them.

I have been pondering, lately, the refining process. How we become better, and stronger, more patient, more resilient, more capable. I've been thinking a lot about how God has been involved in this process. I feel like, throughout my life, He has carefully and gently brought to my attention, when I am ready, things that I need to change about my behavior, about my environment, about my patterns of thoughts. He is gentle with me because he knows that, once I discover something about myself that needs changing (particularly if it is hurting others) I really struggle with myself as a person until I can change that thing.

My childhood was like a refiner's fire. I felt constantly awkward, constantly frightened, constantly blindsided by how my imperfect (whether because of my clumsiness, or my lack of awareness, or my inability to expression myself properly) actions affected others. I felt a bit like a loose cannon--someone who ran around making others unhappy by accident, who was inherently offensive just by nature, because I seemed to make people sad or uncomfortable a lot when I was trying to be kind and friendly or just trying to follow the rules, etc. It got so that I was afraid to even look people in the face. I remember, after avoiding eye contact in the hallways of my high school one day, realizing that even though my intention was simply to escape notice/be neutral/not make an a** of myself and make someone else upset or uncomfortable, I was *still* making people sad, baffling some who expected a smile from me or at least some small acknowledgement. I remember seeing (out of the corner of my eye) smiles start up, then disappear as I passed by them.

I made a goal then. I was going to try to smile at those who I knew, when I passed them in the hall. No matter how painful it was, no matter how awkward I felt, I needed to smile at people I knew so that they knew, at least, I wasn't mad at them or something. That I liked them.

I tried it. I remember, heart beating wildly in my chest, forcing smiles as I passed the girl who sat next to me in math class, as I passed the people I knew on the ski team (though some of those guys could be real punks, and didn't return any smiles... oh well.) And I remember being completely startled when....

they smiled back at me.

It was inconceivable. I had fully expected a 90% rejection rate at least, but plowed ahead knowing it was more important that people I knew, knew I appreciated them. And instead I got, like, a 90% smile-back rate.

I learned a profound lesson by smiling at people in the hallway in high school, and that is, that we are all fighting our own battles. Quite often we are all stuck deep in our own troubles, our own emotional whirlwinds, and if someone looked upset, it most likely was not because of me. And it takes only a small, friendly gesture to help someone kind of break out of whatever dark emotional place they're in to return a gesture in kind, which then gives you a little bit of hope... etc.

I still struggle to smile at people. Just FYI. It's a battle I'm still fighting. Particularly in situations where my "blundering" feelings come into play. Where I feel like a great big oaf, stepping in other peoples' happiness and well being, when get back into that mental state of "I should just go live in a cave somewhere that I can't hurt other people. The world would be happier."

But the words of that song.

The world wouldn't be happier. What if everybody went to live in their own caves and nobody ever interacted with each other or reached out to each other because they were all like me... worried about blundering, about hurting others, about making mistakes? We'd all be pretty lonely. And, to be honest, we'd all grow pretty self-centered.

I've realized that one of the answers to this problem (and I work through this when I am capable... there are some situations where the weight of negative thoughts and emotions and fears is still pretty heavy, and I find my face turns down in a slight frown automatically when I'm not being vigilant, and to be honest, sometimes I still end up in dark places where I don't care enough to try to be vigilant)is to not focus on what's inside of you, on what mistakes you might be making, and think instead of everyone around you, what their needs might be, how you can make their life better.

I think a lot of us are a lot less forgiving of ourselves than we are others. I will rehash conversations in my head, emails I've sent, text messages I've sent, meetings I've gone to... any form of interaction I have with those around me, and obsess about whether I came across the way I meant to, whether I've accidentally offended someone, whether I made someone's burden heavier by accident, whether I've made people uncomfortable, upset, etc, and inevitably that sort of cycle of thinking will produce evidence to verify fears whether valid or not, and I come away feeling like a terrible person, like I just should not reach out to people at all, I do too much harm to those around me.

I've realized, though, as I try hard to work myself out of this damaging thought pattern, that even if I did accidentally say the wrong thing, or give an awkward hug that someone really didn't want, or in a meeting come across a little stronger than I meant to.... how do I feel when people around me do these things?

I actually don't mind so much. And I appreciate their effort. If I don't really want a hug and someone offers one, I don't mind a two-second awkward hug. It's the thought that counts. If someone stumbles over their words when talking to me, I don't leave the conversation thinking how offensive or embarrassing the person is. I kind of appreciate them more, actually, because I realize that, in that moment, they were being real. Being vulnerable. Trying to reach out. And I understand, fully, what an effort that is... and it overwhelms me with gratitude that someone would care enough to make any sort of effort. In a meeting, when someone is visibly perturbed and trying to work something out, I don't resent them or think poorly of them, I sympathise because I have been there, and I respect them for caring so much about what they do.

I need to apply that level of forgiveness and tolerance to myself as well.

I've realized that thinking of what others might be thinking or feeling can either be a damaging process or a redeeming process, and the key is the focus... am I thinking of what others might be thinking or feeling about me? Thoughts stemming from that sort of self-focus are almost always damaging.

Or are my thoughts born of concern for those around me, wanting to make people happier, make their burdens lighter, noticing needs and pondering ways I might or might not be able to help? Thoughts stemming from that sort of others-focus are almost always freeing, if I can manage to believe myself capable of helping. I have to talk myself into trying. I remind myself that, for someone who is struggling, having no effort at all from those around them, nobody reaching out to them, is far more damaging than blundering, goodhearted efforts that show that people around them actually do care.

When I apply this concept, No Man is an Island, closer to home and think of the refining process that occurs between husband and wife (we become better because we love each other so much, we want to be better people so we can be better spouses) and between parent and child (we love our children so much and are so concerned for their well being that we become more patient, more longsuffering, more willing to deal with inconvenience and sleep deprivation, etc, and start finding hard-to-swallow duties actually becoming sweet), and in church callings (we step out of our bubble and our self-isolation, even if we're terrified of blundering, to teach passionately and offer service and cultivate friendships because we care about the people we have stewardship over and those we work with and we realize that *we* are the ones that have to do it, we were put in that position, so it has to be us)....

We realize that God (or, the universe, our biology) didn't create us as creatures of isolation. We cannot grow and adapt and become what we're meant to be, alone. And if we isolate ourselves, if we aren't willing to blunder, we never get refined. Everybody blunders a bit when they're learning something.

There are a few people out there who will make fun of you for your blunders, who will gossip about you, who seem take pleasure in making fun of the awkwardness of those around them and gather people into tight-knit, usually mutually emotionally abusive groups called "cliques".

Those people are hurting. What kind of emotional pain must someone be in to have such a giant defensive wall around them, to have to gather people as weapons to defend them? I think that often what we find most distasteful in others is actually what we dislike about ourselves. These people also deserve smiles. They also deserve patience. They need help. They might snicker after you walk by, but the smile couldn't have failed to warm their heart, just a little. I have to believe that. I haven't gotten good at that yet, to be honest. I bet many of you reading this are much better at that.

No man is an island. That's not just a concept meant to motivate, it's also a reality--spiritually, biologically, we can't help but be affected by the emotions and efforts (good or ill-willed) of those around us. That's how we were created--to be affected and refined by each other.


May 11, 2015

Steady in Your Goals

I made a goal, on this blog, one year ago this last January. If you don't count rewrites, I accomplished that goal by November. If you do, I completed it today. I wrote, rewrote, and polished two novels. One Epic Fantasy and one LDS Contemporary.

I'm going to just come out and say it... Fantasy is grueling to write. Grueling, and perhaps more wonderful than anything else. The LDS contemporary came so much easier and quicker and the rewrites were not nearly so extensive. Of course, it was also about half as long. The grand total: about 290,000 words in eleven months, and then polishing and rewriting in another five.

Man. What a trip it's been :) Two thousand words take me about two and a half hours to write each day. I think it's important and worth it and all that, but I'll feel better about it when it starts giving back to my family. That's where I'm at right now, but I'm not hanging my writing on it. I'm a writer, period. I keep writing. Right now, I have three polished (I believe, wonderful) as-yet-unpublished manuscripts. One of them (LDS historical fiction) failed to find a publisher. I'm setting it on the back burner for now. These two will be in the process of submission for quite a while... several months, even if I get a quick "yes" on my LDS contemporary novel from somebody. And it's possible that both of these will not find publishers as well. They're both kind of outside-the-box. Epic fantasy is hard to sell when you don't have big sales to back up the fact you can sell books. And the LDS novel isn't your typical romance-or-inspirational-fiction... it's kind of complicated.

But right now I can say, these are good books. ANd I know that some day people will read and enjoy them. In the meantime? I try the next idea. I've got quite a few ideas to try. I'll try them all, one after another, and become more and more accomplished at writing, and somebody will want something sometime. The odds of being picked up get better the more you have to offer. It becomes increasingly likely that someone will want something of yours if you continue to produce a variety of quality products.

(I don't like to think of my books as products. That's my marketing brain kicking in. As a writer, though, I have to think like that if I'm ever going to sell anything to anyone.)

I guess, to sum up: goal accomplished. I feel wonderful. In a way, even more wonderful because I've kept going with little encouragement from those I'm selling my books to. That means I'm a writer. That I do it for the creativity, for the love of storytelling.... not for the audience and (ha!) certainly not for the money.

I think that the best way to be lucky, if you need luck, is to keep steady in your goals. To keep working hard. The longer you work hard, the more you do, the more likely it is that someone will notice and appreciate your hard work and decide you're worth taking a chance on.

This week I will be writing summaries, chapter outlines, and query letters. And then I will be submitting, everywhere. Faith is the other part of it. You work hard, and you have faith in yourself, and you put yourself out there.

Apr 13, 2015

The Long and Winding Road of Today's Writing Career

I finally got my epic fantasy in final draft form, and I feel wonderful about it.

I have been writing that story since I was fifteen years old. I've written about 4 different full manuscripts of it. This particular version makes me very proud, and I'm resting on it. It is such a good feeling to get this project out of my head and into peoples' hands. Beta readers have come back with overwhelmingly positive feedback already, too. And all I can do other than that is

Submit. Submit. Submit.

My goal right now for this project is to do one submission per day. I end up doing about 2 per week instead. Stuff happens.

I'm currently working on another project that I have already finished multiple times. A story about emotional healing, romance and the Monarch Butterfly migration. I love it. This second version has lots of drastic changes--I changed the gender of my main character, for instance, and the entire setup changes as well. It's pretty funny. Going back to it with a fresh perspective after taming the behemoth of the epic fantasy, I'm chuckling a lot and pretty happy with it.

I'm a good writer. I believe I can accept that as truth now, without being accused of undue pride or whatever. I'm not a perfect writer, and I definitely need a lot of refining process to get my books in shape, but I think I write stories people like. It's nice, and important, to know that.

In the end, no matter who wants or doesn't want my stories, I guess the point is, I'm a writer anyway. I write because I love it.

After I get Butterfly Years off my plate, I'm going to go ahead and start a new project. Something sweet and fanciful and funny and fun and shorter and less epic than my other projects. Something more marketable. I figure another thing I can do to sell my epic fantasy is, sell something marketable first. So..... on to that facet of trying to accomplish my goals. In the meantime, keep submitting the epic fantasy, and hopefully find an LDS publisher for the LDS contemporary.

I read somewhere that writers nowadays can expect their writing careers to take several unexpected turns, and to have to "start over" several times. I'm experiencing that. I've published two novels and won the Whitney award, and now here I am with nearly three finished manuscripts, and unsure if I have a place for them.
I think that patience is a big huge piece of the process. Patience and diligence and continued work on honing craft, trying new ideas, and putting yourself out there. It feels exhausting at times, but everything in my life is exhausting so that's not really anything new :) the nice thing is, just about everything in my life is also incredibly fulfilling.

Apr 6, 2015

The earth's elliptical rotation (hint: it does not revolve around you)

This is a weird title for this post. It's something symbolic, though, for me. I used to think the earth turned a perfect circle around the sun, and when I realized the orbit was in fact more elongated, it was hard for me to conceptualize. I like things orderly. I like things to come out even. Eliptical just seemed disappointing.

It was even more disappointing to find out that the earth isn't perfectly round; is in fact, slightly pear-shaped. Did you know that? Is your mind bending just a bit?

This weekend was my church's big bi-yearly meeting. Every six months, at the beginning of October and the beginning of April, we meet for two days to hear our leaders speak. We spend a total of ten hours or so if you count the sessions for the women of the church and the priesthood meetings. I love these meetings. I feel a lot of peace--perhaps more than I feel at any other time. I also, suddenly, seem to find perspective, which is hard for me, sometimes--I am often very stuck in the moment and stressed. Being able to see and feel a more long-term, gestalt perspective of my life, of why I'm doing what I'm doing, being reminded of how much I love what I believe to be true and how much I appreciate and am grateful for all I've been given, is so refreshing and important. I wish they had general conference every three months instead of every six.

I used to be a part of an online community that took in LDS people from many different perspectives, mostly the off-beat among us Mormons. Radical feminists, disaffected members who still wanted to be part of an LDS-cutlure-based-community, members struggling with feeling sidelined because of things that had happened to them like divorce, or same-gender attraction, or infertility or whatever else gave us a need to go someplace to feel included. For a while I felt like Mormon Culture did not know what to do with me, a divorced 22 year old woman with a child. I went there to feel like I wasn't alone.

I loved being a part of this community for a short while, but I quickly realized that this community had its own standards of inclusion and non-inclusion. They were talking, one day (sorry, this is a bit gritty but it's my example) about female genital mutilation in Africa (a terrible thing, which I have read and thought a lot about because I knew I'd be adopting girls from Ethiopia. BTW my girls are fine.) Anyway, I brought up male circumcision. Jeffrey and I have had a lot of discussions about this, and we read a lot of information on both sides of the issue, and I wanted to discuss how our cultural expectations/norms also brought us up against something similar. In other countries, you see, they don't do it. But we do. Why?

I was pretty much kicked out of the discussion. Angrily sent on my way, in fact. I tried again a few times, and found that the same thing happened... kicked out, ignored, mocked even. It was strange, to me. If LDS culture has been so hurtful and non-inclusive to this particular collection of people, why the heck, after feeling all of that, experiencing it firsthand, would they turn around and do the same to others?

I had kind of an epiphany yesterday as I was watching Elder Packer talk. For those of you not familiar with Mormon stuff, Elder Packer is the most senior of the LDS apostles. He often speaks on the topic of difficult moral questions--pornography, marriage, etc... all the hot button issues. And he does it unapologetically. So he gets some flack.

Lately he has been very ill. In this last conference, I couldn't understand what he was saying. He was tired. He was struggling. I felt a great deal of love for him... the man's personality might not be mine, or mesh well with mine, but what he has to say has a great deal of merit. I remember one conference a couple of years ago, a talk of his that just struck me as powerful. It raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I may not understand him well as a person but he has valuable things to say.

Anyway, just out of curiosity, because I'm like that, I went over and peeked at this website I've stopped following. They often take conference talks and dissect them, discuss why they disagree, etc. Often, Elder Packer has been the butt of a lot of angst on this site. But seeing him struggle, with so much courage and humility, to deliver his conference address, nobody could possibly make fun of him, right? Because we're kind people. Even if we don't agree with the man, we're decent human beings.

Well, I shouldn't have looked. The thread on his talk was all about his garbled speech, making fun of him for a word people had mis-heard, talking about how they're ready to take offense because of all else he's said, etc. It made me pretty sad and pretty angry.

I shouldn't bother myself with this stuff. I know that. But this, for me, speaks to an overarching theme that disturbs me a lot. I see examples of it everywhere.

People think they're the center of the universe.

I've been thinking lately, about leadership and why it's hard. I was given a calling in my church a couple years ago (still plugging away) that involved an element of leadership. I got to know my bishop pretty well, and he'd talk to me about the struggle of being a leader and also being a principal. Jeff and I have been watching some star trek. You won't believe me but, if you want a good treatise on leadership and what it means, go watch a few episodes of Patrick Stewart in the role of Jean Luc Picard. I've learned a whole lot about being Young Women President from Jean Luc Picard. I don't think anyone ever thought that sentence would exist.

I've had a lot to chew on, thinking about leadership and what the job really is. Do you know what it is?

Making people upset.

Ok. Not on purpose. A leader shouldn't go out of their way to offend, to sideline, or to disagree with those who serve with them. But the thing is, the hardest part of leadership... the part of it that is the front-line, the part nobody else can take on no matter how much you delegate, is that very thing: having to make decisions based on careful consideration of all information, all opinions, all situations brought to your attention. I've learned that you have to expect that whatever decision you make will make a few people unhappy. Because that is just how it works--a collection of people with all different ideas of how something should, or could, or ought to or it would be nice!, to have it done this way, is just not going to agree. And so that's what a leader is for. To listen to everything and then make a decision. And then, the way it's supposed to work is, everyone accepts that decision and works together to bring about the common goal.

Of course, in order for that to work, all the people have to trust that their voices were heard, and that the leader is capable of making wise choices. That's the other ucky part about being a leader... you have a sort of obligation to try to get people to trust you. It's not about being liked, it's about giving whatever group you're trying to bring together confidence in your ability to make the choice that's best for the whole.

And generally speaking, it works out ok. There are a few who aren't all that glad, but they come along and work good-naturedly alongside everybody else and then the next time, it'll be their idea that gets put into practice. It balances. It comes around again. Everybody gets heard and eventually, everybody's ideas will be implemented and everybody's causes given attention. In an organization like the LDS Church, we fully expect that everybody who is there is there for a reason, and God will inspire each individual with something important to the whole.

The problem is, this doesn't always work. Do you know why?

Because there are some people who really struggle to see another's perspective. Their ideas are more important than others' ideas. Their cause is the most important cause. Their perspective is the only perspective.

It's like some people really struggle to see the universe as anything but revolving around them. THey see through their eyes, and feel with their feelings, and see the world around them as being only that way--the way they see it. They struggle to notice or give importance to anything but their feelings, their needs. And that even goes so far as spiritual feelings. One leader will have their heart touched, hard, by a certain issue or a certain individual they have stewardship over. Another person will have another set of needs and ideas come into their heart. A good leader will make sure each issue and each need and each individual is eventually addressed, but as there is only so much time and only so many resources, unfortunately all can't be addressed at once. Some understand this, and others see it as their ideas and promptings going ignored or being pushed aside as unimportant, no matter how you reassure them their issue is important to you as a leader.

In the case of General Conference, there are people out there who are hurting. I'm one of them. I really struggle with priesthood authority, with the issues of single parents, pornography addictions, and children in need. So when those issues come up my heart is extra-sensitive. THere have been times when the speaker went the direction that didn't necessarily nurture and help me, and if I wanted to, I could take offense and become angry and feel unlistened-to and hurt. Or.

The OR is this: Or I could realize that the Mormon faith is made up of many, many individuals with different and sometimes contrasting pains, hurts, and needs. I need to remember: the leaders of my church lead everybody. Not just me. The issues they address are everybody's. NOt just mine. A woman struggling with years of infertility might feel a lot of heartache over a talk about motherhood. But another woman, struggling with severe postpartum depression and feelings of inadequacy, needs that talk.

A woman who is divorced or single and struggling for perspective may be hurt by a talk about the importance of marriage, but another woman, contemplating marriage with a great deal of fear because of events in her life, perhaps parents or a sibling who has endured a painful divorce, needs to hear that message--that marriage is wonderful and important.

A man struggling with a pornography addiction may feel horrible during a talk about the damaging nature of pornography, but there are twelve year old boys who need to hear it, to have that salient in their minds as they negotiate the difficulties of junior high school and cell phones and sexts and free videos and all the stuff.

We all have very real needs and we all look to those who lead us for comfort, reassurance, and validation.

I think that the thing that has helped me most, is to *look* for those things in what my leaders say. Be on the lookout for those messages of peace and validation that speak directly to my heart. Expect to come away with a handful of messages that were meant specifically, specially, personally for me. I need to see and feel the love in that: this is a big church, 15 million people, and Heavenly Father, and my leaders, took the time to say these few, special things, just for me.

I remember how emotional and grateful I felt when President Hinckley, addressing BYU during the time I was there struggling as a single parent, mentioned divorce. Mentioned single parenting. How it was so hard. How he knew that those of us going through it spent long hours sorrowing. He said Heavenly Father knew our sorrows, and that he also knew our sorrows, and sorrowed with us.

Heavenly Father knows me and my sorrows. And the leader of my church was aware as well, and sorrowed with me. That's something I have cherished in my heart ever since. And I've cherished the countless other times when this has happened.

General conference is not just for me. The earth revolves in an ellipse... it moves in response to all the different forces pushing and pulling on it. And it does not revolve around me.

One popular phrase I find very frustrating:

Yes. Well, only from your perspective.
To someone else, It is something else.

This applies to more than just religion and religious discussion and policy. It applies to politics, policies, issues. It applies to Stuff. All Stuff. People struggle because they see out of their eyes and feel from their bodies and think from their minds and forget that other people, just as smart, just as caring, just as wise, are feeling and seeing and thinking from another place entirely and so they see something different. And both are important, valid, real, intelligent places to think and see from.

I hate guns.
You love guns.

I have eight children.
You are passionate about the environment and feel large families are irresponsible.

I am very religious, and I believe the gospel I've been brought up in holds important and necessary keys to salvation.
You believe that organized religion causes unecessary pain and conflict.

You think our country’s on the brink of socialism.
I feel frightened of the hysteria that seems to have gripped our nation on the topic of socialism.

We’re both here for a reason. Every human is born with passion and perspective, and over time all gain experience. We are all here to create what needs to happen and to be, together, what needs to be.

And that takes *All* perspectives. Yours, mine, the guy ranting in your politics class. The REAL killer in our society is apathy.

We need to step out of our lonely solar systems, where all the planets seem to pass around us in perfect symmetry and circumference and we're standing there on the sterile, lonely ground of our own making, and start seeing the universe for what it really is--a balance of so many crazy elements and objects and forces that we really can't even begin to understand how it all works together (though some really enjoy trying, and I dig that). To truly enjoy life we must enjoy the richness of a home, a church or social group, a society, a country, a world, made up of everything you don't understand. And we need to fully comprehend how every different perspective plays a part in that, even if we can't fully comprehend every perspective.