In The Meantime: Finding A Personal Ministry

every member a minister. 1395453_10151773808308717_127812155_nThis post is my last as a regular contributor to The-Exponent blog. My time here has been a profound and delightful blessing. Exponent women are among the best people I have ever encountered and I will always remain a part of this community, but I’ve felt pulled in a slightly different direction with writing. In this post, I share one example of why I’m making a change. Writing for The-Exponent has helped prepare me for whatever comes next. For this reason it is quite impossible for me to adequately express my gratitude for the remarkable gift of Exponent in all its iterations.

Thank you, readers and blog contributors, for enlarging my heart and mind with your unique and compelling stories. Thank you for being my sisters. I love you.

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I sometimes find myself slipping back into the mind of my child self as I make the daily forty-mile commute to work on the train. FrontRunner traverses the I-15 corridor between Utah county and Weber county each day. While I was growing up, we passed the Point of the Mountain hundreds of times either coming or going from Provo to Salt Lake City. The point itself has receded through the years and has lost some of what defines it as a “point.” Earth has been scraped away and used for road base or concrete mix or who knows what all else. All I know is that a monumental structure–a mountain–has been changed over time. The north-facing slope where we used to watch dune buggies and four wheelers crawling up The Widow-Maker is now covered with subdivisions of homes. I still don’t understand how those houses got there. The mountain face is changed forever and, even though I’ve watched it slowly recede, it still surprises me sometimes that it is now so different from what it used to be.

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Being a Bossy Mormon Woman

bossy

There’s been a lot of talk about the word “bossy” lately. Sheryl Sandberg ala Lean In and Facebook started a Ban Bossy website that promotes leadership in girls. And of course there’s backlash from those who say bossiness and leadership have nothing to do with one another; and others who object to the campaign because they refuse to accept “bossy” as a pejorative term, and instead, like Tina Fey, Ms. Bossypants herself, embrace it.

I’m no stranger to the word bossy. I’ve been called it (and another lovely b-word) many times in my life. My sister and I got to a point in college where we wore it like a badge. I remember a time we were playing a game at a birthday party and had divided into two teams, Angela (the sassy blond you see above) and I in separate groups. People were having a hard time deciding how to proceed so I waited for a minute or two and when I sensed a leadership vacuum, I took charge. I have no desire to run the show, but when surrounded by passivity I go a bit nuts. A friend of my sister’s stood up and shouted at me, “I picked this team because I didn’t want to be with your bossy sister! But I think you may be worse!” and he stormed off to the punch bowl. My sister and I burst out laughing and were not so secretly proud of our take-charge abilities. We get stuff done.

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Exposed

I am an introvert. I get my energy from being by myself and being undisturbed. Being at large parties or being around people I don’t know, emotionally and physically overwhelms me, makes me anxious, and exhausts me. Don’t get me wrong. I love being around a large group of my good, close (“good” and “close” being the qualifiers, here) friends that I already know and being in small personal gatherings to meet new friends and people. I love having great conversations and [attempting] to be funny and getting to know people on a small, intimate basis. However, it’s still physically draining for me to do. I need to go back home and recuperate so I can prepare myself for another day of interacting with people.

This party won't last all day for me.... So many people!

This party won’t last all day for me…. So many people!

I am also extremely shy around others that I don’t know. This often hinders me. When I intern, volunteer, or work somewhere, it’s hard for me to make friends with colleagues and coworkers. It’s difficult for me to open up when I’m thrust into a group of people I’m suddenly forced to interact with frequently. It stresses me out, even. Sadly enough, even here on the blog my introversion prohibits me from reaching out and forming new relationships. I’m afraid to speak out or chime in. I worry I’ll say the wrong thing. I’ll worry I have to keep up with conversations I’m not qualified to have. I’m afraid to open up and make myself vulnerable. It’s best if I stay in my quiet little corner until I’m able to warm up and open up. Introverts take time, but I am trying to change and speed up the process.

Feelings of exposure and vulnerability are a gift for some people, but a great struggle for me. A frequent complaint of my friends is the fact that I will actively and truly listen to them about their life and their problems and solve all of their life’s worries, but I rarely talk to them about my life and my problems.

“I feel like I’m talking too much,” a friend will say. “What’s going on with you?”

“Oh, nothing. My life’s not as interesting as yours!” And I’ll sneakily bring the conversation back to the life and goings-on of my friend.

I tend to be more of a listener and observer. It’s safe that way. I’m privy to information without giving up information myself. I get to listen and help with problems and practice my skills of empathy. I get to learn about others and hear about their lives. I love being close to my friends and other people in that way. But I’m now realizing that this is a two-way street. I already feel I’m an excellent listener. Now I need to work on being more vulnerable. More exposed.

It’s hard. I naturally keep things to myself. When people speak ask my opinion of feminism, or Mormonism, or certain politics, I’ll give my opinion–– strongly. But only on a superficial level. I never bring in my personal experiences or connections with the topics at hand. When people ask about my family life or what I’m thinking about, I’ll give generic answers. No one wants to hear what I think, right? But people always want others to listen to what they think, that’s for sure.

But even in my prayers to Heavenly Father, I’m extremely generic. I go through the motions, but I can’t even be open to the one person I’m supposed to open with. Even communicating with God is a struggle for me, which is probably why I rarely say prayers.

Balance is possible, I know. And I also know that my friends truly do want to know what’s going in my life. People trying to be my friend and get to know me also want to hear about my thoughts and myself. My successes and failures, my wins and losses. It’s how we bond with one another. It’s how we help each other and “bear one another’s burdens” and become more Christlike.

So I’m slowly coming out of my introverted woodwork. I’ll always be shy and introverted, there’s no doubt about that. It’ll always be difficult for me to talk about myself and open up. But I need to open up and let others into my life. I need to be exposed. There’s no human connection more powerful than intimacy and vulnerability. And I want to be connected. I want to expand. I don’t want to be safe anymore.

Wish me luck.

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Herstory

Abuela is 2nd from the right

Abuela is 2nd from the right.

Abuela was raised in a small pueblo just after the Mexican Revolution of Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Grandpa Angel, 16 years older than Abuela, fought in the revolution. The illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, he killed a man for the first time at the age of 15 in a dispute over the ownership of some pigs. The revolution was good for him as murdering men frequently thrive in violent times. By the close of the war he co-owned a banana plantation and was quite wealthy. His fortunes changed when a drunken bar incident escalated to violence that culminated in a large gun battle in the center of town. Grandpa Angel and his men killed people including some important government officials and had to go on the run. A former general in the revolutionary war helped my grandfather to hide and convert his resources into land and cattle in the pueblo where Abuela lived.

Although raised in humble circumstances, Abuela loved to read and declaim. She first memorized patriotic poems as a three-year-old, declaiming at community events or simple family gatherings. An aunt who married into the family taught school and provided a free education to Abuela, who was reading by age four. Although much of her time was devoted to the typical farm and household chores expected of young girls, in her free time Abuela read every book she could acquire. It was well known in the community that no gift would please her so much as a book (although she also loved to play with dolls). When Abuela was 15 years old, Angel came to the house to visit with her parents. It didn’t matter that Grandpa Angel already had a family in the pueblo with another woman out of wedlock. He settled on a price of cattle and land with Abuela’s parents that greatly improved the resources of the family. Abuela put her books and dolls away and was married.

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On My First Mother’s Day Weekend

On Saturday evening a loved friend met my babe for the first time. Perhaps because of this, the conversation turned to children, and whether she hopes to have one some day. The answer was yes: one. I told her the thing you say, that if she chooses to have a baby, and is able to have one, that she “will be a great parent.” I said this thing sincerely–completely, completely sincerely. She said the thing that I have never had anyone say. “Do you think you are a great parent?” For what felt like a long time, I could only pause. I could only be silent.

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A Sermon for International Women’s Day

Several months ago I was asked to give a talk in my ward’s Sacrament Meeting in celebration of International Women’s Day. The following is the text of that talk.

Introduction

Several years ago I was at a park with my children. There was nothing particularly interesting about this park except for two older boys at one corner play-fighting. I don’t like my children to watch or engage in violent behavior so I tried to keep their attention on the other side of the park. But we kept hearing their taunts: ” I have the power.” “Ha Ha, I just took your power.” “You can’t take it because I’m invincible.” “I have your power, I have your power.” “No. I have THE POWER.”

Sylvia became more and more distracted by their exchange and before I could stop her, she marched over to the two boys. She stared at them intently and then proclaimed, “Now I have the Power.” She snatched at the air in front of their faces as if, in this one single gesture, all of their power and the power of the universe would instantly transfer to her. The look on the boys’ faces was priceless because, at least momentarily, three-year old Sylvie had taken the power.

I was shocked–where did this assuredness and sense of entitlement to a theoretical power come from? We tend to be uncomfortable with women claiming power but as far as I can tell there is no doctrinal justification for this, in fact, just to the contrary. So after the shock, I was delighted and so proud that this spirited little girl is my daughter. Sylvia was and is in that beautiful time before the forces of the world try to convince her that she is smaller than she actually is. Right now she has absolute confidence in her place in the world. Since this experience I have often wondered how I can help Sylvie retain this confidence, or at least prolong it. The results of those musings are the genesis for this talk.

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