Because We Preach Repentance

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by Akls Meteo

It was a rainy Sunday afternoon as I sat on the hill at the south end of BYU campus.  The grey clouds reflected the storm that raged in my heart.  My thoughts turned, as they often did during these tumultuous college years, to taking my life.  I thought I would find peace in meeting with my bishop.  I thought repentance would heal me and help me to forsake my sins.  I had just walked out of his office, and my burden only seemed a hundred times heavier.

I was in my mid teenage years when I had discovered something new that no one had ever told me about before.  I didn’t even have a name for it.  I had a sexual energy that no one had told me I would experience.  All I had ever learned told me that I must be the only one experiencing this.  Sex was something to be overcome, vanquished with the natural man.  Not only that, but it was a man problem.  Women didn’t have sexual energy.  So I must be the only one.  Now I had an outlet for that energy.  It felt good, both physically and emotionally.  For a brief moment, it made me happy.  But then I discovered the name.  There it was in the For the Strength of Youth Pamphlet, listed underneath the category deemed the sin next to murder: masturbation.

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The Church is Pro-Choice

Note: this post mentions rape, incest, abortion, stillbirth, death of infants, etc. If those topics are going to be triggering, please honor your health and pass on reading.

A few months ago, we were discussing the need for modern-day prophets in Sunday School. One woman raised her hand and said that she was grateful for modern-day revelation because of issues like abortion. I fought my urge to exclaim, “Yes! Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!” because it would really derail the lesson, so I’m going to say it here.

Isn’t it great that the Church is pro-choice?!

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Birth/Rebirth: The Emotional Anatomy of a C-Section

DSC02265My sister-in-law has a wonderful story about the birth of her first child. “I feel complete,” she told me. “My body has now done everything it’s supposed to do.” Every time I’ve heard her tell it, she’s been giddy. She speaks of the wonder of a woman’s body, the physical instincts that take over during labor, the miracle of actually pushing a child into the world.

Three children later, I am still jealous.

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All I Really Need To Know About Mothering I Learned From My Cat

While I raised my children I remember watching myself over-expend energy. I was aware of what I was doing: helping and working, sharing and caring for everyone who needed me. However, it seemed there was never enough time in the day to slow down and provide for myself what I routinely (and for the most part happily) provided for others.

Midnight is missing from this photo. But my three mewing children are all there.

Midnight is missing from this photo. But my three mewing children are all here.

At work I was a skilled and compassionate nurse. At church I invested heart and soul as a primary teacher, den mother, young women’s leader, choir member, whatever I was called to do. At home I was a deeply devoted and exhausted mom to three kids. Honestly, most days I was overwhelmed by all the responsibilities. But I did the best I could. We ate cereal for dinner on really hard days. Other days it was a rotating menu of tuna casserole, spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburger patties with Rice-A-Roni. Taco Time, Arby’s and Stan’s Drive-In fed us more times than I can count. This was a time of endless giving and comparatively little receiving on my part.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t gain anything from serving and loving all those people at work, church and home. I gained a great deal of understanding about the human condition via those relationships. My capacity for love was enlarged because I believe God gave me strength beyond my own when I chose to serve people in need, especially my own children, and that was a good thing. But I learned lessons along the way about how to give and receive in more enriching, nourishing ways, rather than just “on the run.”

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Post-partum depression, one year later

Post-partum depression, one year later

Tomorrow marks a few milestones for me. My son turns 1 1/2, and despite his frighteningly early birth and warnings from doctors that we could be dealing with a lot of delays and health issues, he’s pretty close to normal on the developmental chart and is healthy (robustly so) and strong (he handles the stairs in our second-and-third-floor condo at now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t speed). It’s the 23rd anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, something seared into my brain because I’d spent several weeks the previous summer in what was then the Soviet Union, and despite people talking in cafes about independence and our translator’s curiosity about free markets and the nuts and bolts of owning a small business, Eastern Europe still looked like an unpickable lock. It’s the birthday of a few friends, one in particular whom I’ve known since childhood.

Tomorrow also marks a year since I signed myself into a psychiatric ward, suicidal, untrusting of family, resentful about church, furious with my husband, feeling desperately alone. I stayed for a week and a half, waiting for a new combination of medicines to work, waiting to trust myself around sharp objects and empty spaces. I slept a lot, went to workshops and meals when I felt I could, put together jigsaw puzzles and then pulled them apart again.

While I was in the hospital, one of the occupational therapists on the ward handed me a list of events that could trigger post-partum depression. Nearly all of them applied to me. Unexpected pregnancy? Check. Complications during pregnancy? Check. Early delivery, baby in NICU, long-term separation of mother and baby? History of depression? Recently stopped breastfeeding? Check, check, check. I hadn’t chosen any of these things. No wonder I was feeling that my life was in freefall, that nothing I did had any effect or meaning.

I think I re-emerged from the depression seven or eight months later. I couldn’t give you a day when I knew I was going to be all right; I still have afternoons that yawn at me like enormous sharp-toothed beasts. For the most part, though, I am myself again, and I am grateful.

About that post-partum checklist: Everything on it represented either an outside stressor or an internal hormonal shift. We are good at recognizing stressors for what they are, but hormones are stealthy, and they are serious. Men are subject to them too, of course, but the word “hormonal” conjures up a specter of a wild-haired, wild-eyed woman at the end of her rope, screaming at her children and threatening her husband with a carving knife or cast-iron skillet. It’s chiefly a female attribute, and it stands in for unstable, unbalanced, irrational, emotional — the opposite of what men tend to pride themselves on being. Label a woman hormonal and she is immediately the other, the unknowable, an embarrassment.

I have a lot of resentment about this, but other than pointing out that hormonal changes are actually normal, I’m going to leave the men-have-hormones-too, emotional-is-neither-better-or-worse-than-analytical arguments for another time. Because yeah, hormones have huge effects on me. I knew that I was pregnant each time — taking a pregnancy test was only ever a confirmation of something I’d already known from fatigue, nausea, and blurred vision. I can feel it when I ovulate. I know when I’m too weepy or too angry or too withdrawn (or maybe just more weepy or angry or withdrawn than usual) that my body is marinating in some new chemical mixture.

And I guess what I really want to say with this post is, first, that sometimes our bodies betray us. We secrete chemicals that change our reaction to the world around us, that alter our lens on reality. I think it must be inherent to mortality: these bodies of cells, dependent on DNA copying over and over correctly, dependent on chemical messages, dependent on small electrical charges lighting up parts of our brains, have constant failures. It’s in the design. It’s miraculous that it works at all, so none of the failures are surprising, and some of the failures are bound to be distorted messages that say “null” instead of “whole,” “harm” instead of “bless.” Things break down. It doesn’t mean that the universe has betrayed us or that the presence of God has withdrawn. It just means that we are mortal and our bodies fail in infinite small ways. Sometimes, like starfish, we are self-healing. But sometimes, because we are social beings, we need someone else to help us heal.

The second thing I want to say is that things do regrow and heal, and that we are not alone. You are not alone. Someone — a visiting teacher? — made a list of people who knew me and loved me, people I could turn to when I felt most helpless and most unloved. Phone numbers. E-mail addresses. I left the list hanging on my refrigerator for months. I rarely used it, but when I did my friends never failed me. Even reading their names made me feel safer. Following this blog and hearing other women’s stories made me feel less “other.” I spent hours reaching out to my Mother in Heaven, asking her for help and feeling her beside me, whispering to me that I would be all right someday, that the only way around was through. I read and re-read Sara Burlingame’s Prayer for a Friend Contemplating Suicide and thought, Other people have been through this, and they have survived, and I will too. It has been a year, and I am still here, and I made it through, and I will keep making it through.

Who and what do you turn to when you feel alone? What are the things that help you see more clearly or feel more connected?

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Relief Society Lesson 19: Temporal and Spiritual Blessings from the Word of Wisdom

When I was young, I was often frustrated that one of the only things my peers knew about our faith concerned the negative aspects of the Word of Wisdom. They had a good grasp of the things that we don’t do, without having the same grasp of the positive things that we do do and believe.

Many years later, and many, many states away from my Oregon homeland, I found myself on the East Coast for grad school. I am still not certain if more people smoke and drink there, or if I was just more aware of it, but either way, I began to feel immense gratitude for the “negative” tenets of the Word of Wisdom that had previously caused me some frustration.

What exactly was I grateful for? That my lungs and liver had the greatest opportunity to be clean and healthy, and that I was free from these specific dependencies. While years and residences have again changed, I feel the same measure of gratitude for the Word of Wisdom–both the negative and positive aspects of it.

From the Life

Lesson 19 begins with a story from the life of a young George Albert Smith. He was very sick with typhoid fever, and his doctor advised his mother that it would not only be good for him to be on bed rest for a certain number of weeks with no solid food, it would also be good for him to be given coffee.

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