Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Molly and Mental Health

Well, isn't this amazing? I'm staying on topic 2 posts in a row! Cookies for me!
   So, Molly Mormon.  She's sweet and kind. Never says anything bad, never appears anything but content with her lot in life.  She doesn't yell, is never depressed, joyfully and easily controls her emotions, and is always a ray of sunshine.  She's never, ever a burden on her PETER PRIESTHOOD husband.
   If Molly was in a car accident and only has one leg?  Poor, sweet Molly, bravely pushing on!  If Molly was born diabetic? Poor, dear Molly, and yet she cooks the most amazing sugar free desserts!  If Molly has a heart condition and has limited physical activities allowed?  Poor, darling Molly, the progress she makes every day is a marvel!  If Molly openly acknowledges her struggles with postpartum depression? Get away, you could contaminate my life!  If it is known Molly suffers from bipolar, schizophrenia, or an eating disorder?  She's pitied, but from afar, because every enlightened person knows mental illness is contagious.
   Which brings me to my point.  Why are physical ailments/disabilities pitied, and the sufferer of them almost championed in her struggle; but those with mental illness ostracized, or held at arms length?  Why are those with mental disorders treated like they were caused by sin (or God's wrath)?  As far as I know, nobody that suffers from a mental illness actually chose it.  I, for one, certainly never went through the DSM-IV and said "Wow. That bipolar...sounds so amazing! What do I have to do to make it a part of my life?"   If there is no shame in taking aspirin or antibiotics to keep the body healthy, why is there stigma attached to antidepressants and anti-psychotics to keep the mind healthy?
   And it's not just a Mormon thing.  This story talks about a Baptist Reverend who couldn't talk about his daughter's suicide for years, because of the stigma it has.  Can you imagine hurting for years, and not being able to talk about something, because people would question your worth as a person, and ordination as a religious leader?  “Too often in churches there is this belief that you have to be perfect — that you have to keep a smile on your face when your world is falling apart,” [David McKnight, a Dr. with Celebrate Recovery, a Baptist organisation] said. Or this quote, by Ed Stetzer, president of Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
   “We need to stop hiding mental illness,” Stetzer said.
   Stetzer said some evangelical Christians think that if they pray enough or become more spiritual, then    their mental illness will go away. But they don’t look at other health issues the same way.
   “People who become a Christian and have a broken leg will still have a broken leg,” he said. “We tend    to think that Jesus fixes what is in our heads, and medicine fixes what is in our body. Sometimes what      is in our heads needs medicine."
I wonder if some of the stigma comes from the New Testament.  Christ cast demons out of a boy.  There's been speculation that the boy suffered from Dissociation Identity Disorder (or Multiple Personalities), and not demons.  But the story is still the same.  Person with terrible mental illness was miraculously healed by Christ.  If it worked for that kid, then it can work for me, right?  All I have to do is pray more, read more, etc.
   But you know what? Mental illness doesn't work that way.  It's a problem with chemistry, or wiring, or a traumatic childhood.  And it's very unlikely you can pray away memories, or fast enough to fix your dopamine receptors.  If it were that easy, do you honestly think people would choose to still suffer?  I can't stress this enough: Mental illness is not a choice, or a result of sin.    It's not a game, and seldom a plea for attention.  It's a real, physically present, crippling illness that affects both the sufferer, and their families and friends.  
   As someone who suffers from bipolar and borderline personality disorder, I can bear testimony of the fact that these disorders are, forgive the language, scary as hell.  I honestly don't know how I'm going to react in any situation, or at any time.  And once my emotions take over (and they do, often), I physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually cannot turn it off without intense effort.  Emotions, especially big emotions, are physically and mentally draining.  Sometimes they turn into a big feedback loop, where my anger makes me scared, which makes me sad, which makes me guilty, which makes me angry. And I can't always stop this.  Sometimes my poor husband has to work hard to calm me down. Sometimes I go to the pantry and stuff myself with sweets, just to get enough of a sugar buzz to kill the spiral.  Sometimes I even give in, and just blow up about something inconsequential.  Why would I choose this?  What loving God would punish with this?
   In church, there's often talk about "Bearing one another's burdens".  But it's funny to see how quickly other's idea of helping to "bear the burdens of mental health" react with fear, disgust, pity, and isolation.  Yes, being on the recieving end of mental illness is frightening.  Yes, it's hard to face what you don't understand.    So if your job/calling requires you to deal (for lack of a more polite word) with someone suffering from mental illness, DO YOUR RESEARCH.  A Wikipedia search takes about 10 minutes.  Or this book from Deseret.  Basically, do whatever it takes to get even a bit of knowledge about mental disorders.  
  If we claim to be a church that loves and takes care of it's people, then we should at least TRY to live up to that.  10 minutes of research might not make much difference in your life, but taking the time to learn the facts, instead of the stigma, will mean the world to those who suffer from mental illness.  If nothing else, it will earn you more Molly Points!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Molly the Honest

Lately, I feel like I've gotten a bit off track for my original intent of the blog.  My main schtick was to contrast the ideal "Molly Mormon" and how we set up impossible standards for ourselves.  So until something else comes up I'd rather discuss, I'll stick with that.  :)
  OK.  So the prefect Molly Mormon is honest.  Most would agree honesty is a good trait.  Molly pays her tithing, doesn't lie, helps everyone, and is always ready with a smile whenever anyone asks her to serve.
   The problem, is that we say we "value honesty", but what we mean is we value "social politeness".  Or, in other words, we value honesty, as long as it isn't TOO honest.  If we did value all honesty, Molly would be praised if, when she was asked if she enjoyed the black-bean brownies at the preparedness fair, she answered "I would rather eat the Pyrex they were served in."  instead of "Oh, what a healthy alternative to the boxed mix!"
   Can you imagine how awkward everyone would feel if, when asked, "how are you?" people actually answered honestly? "Ugh. I've got next to no money, my kids are driving me batty, and my husband won't stop playing his game long enough to eat, let alone mow the lawn!"  Within a few weeks, a woman would be branded as a NEGATIVE NANCY.  Which I find strange, because she's telling it how it is.
   But there's the point. Few people want to know how it is.  They want you to be happy and concise, so they can feel like they've done their duty by asking, without having to get involved with your drama.  Because we all have drama.  And most people don't want to deal with theirs and yours.
   When it comes to answering the obligatory "how are you?", I enjoy giving numbers.  "3/10" or "8/10".  That way, if they care, they ask why.  And if they don't, they feel good knowing they ask, and I feel good because I know they are shallow.  If nothing else, the expression on their face while they try to process why I say numbers is amusing.
   It's a tricky line, the honesty vs too honest.  I don't know how to stay balanced on it.  Personally, I've always veered to the too honest.  I've been told many times that I should be more "positive" and "optimistic".  I'm the person who, in temple recommend interviews answers "NO" when asked about the Word of Wisdom.  My reasoning?  My diet is consisted of about 40% sugar, 40% meat, 15% milk, and 5% veggies.  Definitely not the "Eat healthy and meat sparingly" thing.
   So, overall, kudos to Molly for being able to navigate that road.  You have mastered being truthful without giving too many details.  You are the queen of turning a question into a compliment to the asker.  You are the maven of societal interaction perfection.  And I salute you.  I just wonder how tired you are behind your pretty smiles.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tent Revival!

   Lately I've been feeling no joy in attending church.  A few commentors on have made comments saying basically that they sometimes attend other churches to feel the joy of Jesus.  I've been realizing that's one of the things I'm missing in our meetings.  We are inundated with messages of service, of works, of doing what's right.  Far fewer are the profestations of Christ's love in our lives.  It seems we are so concerned with "being Christlike" that we forget what that actually means.  
   To me, being Christlike is loving, accepting, forgiving, and comforting.  It's not a to-do list made up of several ways I can serve the Church.  The downside to believing in a Church that claims to have the full truth, is realizing that means we believe others don't.  And sometimes that conflates with others have 0 truth.  Can you imagine how bent out of shape people would get if a Sunday School or Young Women's teacher quoted at length a sermon by Charles F. Stanley (A Southern Baptist preacher with quite an impressive bibliography). 
    For example, awhile back, I was irritated at repeated lessons on forgiveness.  Not because I'm opposed to forgiveness, but because of the unspoken "You better forgive right away or else God won't forgive you!".  However, I have yet to hear anyone LDS explaining HOW to forgive. I asked my husband about it (well, about self-forgiveness), and he said like 4 times, Google it.  Not read the Ensign, not check, and not ask my Home/Visiting Teacher.  Yet, when I talked to my bestie, she sent me 5 or so LDS articles about the importance of forgiveness.  I told her I had come across a great article on how to actually forgive.  She said that I should read the LDS ones because they were true.  
   So many things in Mormonland are black and white.  You either have the full truth, or have no truth.  You're either spiritually progressing, or backsliding.  You're either Temple worthy or a huge sinner.  But sometimes, there are shades of gray.  Other churches can have some truth; it's OK to admit that and to use that truth to enrich your life.  Sometimes, people get spiritually stuck.  Or confused.  Or transitioning between beliefs.  That's normal and OK and people shouldn't be criminalized or pitied because of it.  Life, and people, are full of shades of gray.  We should embrace that instead of segregating into small-minded boxes.

But I am getting completely off topic.  Back to what I meant to post.  Feeling the "Joy of Jesus"  (Isn't that a great slogan?).  I have come up with a solution.  Following grand tradition -wasn't Joseph Smith's interest in religion because of tent revival meetings?-I think we should have local Tent Revivals.  And not just an outdoor Sacrament meeting.  Guitar (or harp, or whatever talent you have in your area) music playing upbeat songs in the background.  Casual attire.  Maybe some snacks.  Not one person sermonizing, but people taking turns talking about the miracles they have seen in their own life.  Not like a testimony meeting.  The audience can clap, cry, shout, or sing as they feel moved.  How awesome would it be, if after you bore a particularly personal testimony of an experience where you knew God loved you, people came up to you, hugged you, clapped, and held your hand?  
   I don't know about you, but I would love some feedback.  I would enjoy hearing people's reactions to my bearing spiritual witness!  Think of how simple it would be to feel the Spirit if others could react in a non-stoic way?  Imagine how much easier it would be to bear each other's burdens (or even feel the desire to share our burdens, instead of pretending everything's fine), if we knew that the ward family cared for us and demonstrated that?

 To some readers, this may sound heretical.  Too much like Charismatic Pentecostals or something.  But maybe that's what we occasionally need.  To roll on the ground and not be so uptight.  It's supposed to be a Gospel of joy.  Not silent drudgery.  We need more emphasis on the Jesus of love and miracles, not the God of rules.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Advanced Placement

  I am bored with church curriculum.  The same Sunday School lessons every 4 years, the same questions, same answers (go to church, read your scriptures, say your prayers).  Even Relief Society and General Conferences are usually re-hashings of the same things.  It is unstimulating and, to be honest, getting to be annoying.
   I don't have kids, but I remember what it was like to be one.  Not to brag, but I am fairly bright, and as a kid got bored easily because stuff was too easy.  Did my mom say "Well, you seem to be uninspired by 2nd grade, but sometimes you forget to dot your i's and cross your t's, so I think I'm going to send you back to kindergarten until you can master that 100% of the time."?  No, of course not.  That's absurd and condescending.  
   Yet, that's what I feel LDS, Inc is doing.  Gospel Principles is great for investigators and converts.  Heck, sometimes, it's even nice to have a refresher course. But every week? Every meeting?  Frankly, if the reason we are stuck repeating the same lessons is because we're not doing the basics enough, then there's never going to be anything but the basics!  If there's one thing church consistently teaches me, it's that I'm not good enough. Not praying enough, or sincerely enough. I don't fast enough, or read enough, or study deeply enough.  Not enough, never enough.  If God is waiting for members to be perfect in their mastery of the basics to give us more knowledge, then we're never going to get it.  People screw up, or don't have time, or prioritize differently.  And that's fine, because we're in a state of progression.  But I fail to see how going repeating lessons every 4 years helps us progress.  How often have you sat in Sunday School hearing (another) lesson on tithing, and thought "Wow. That is a new way of thinking about it! I never knew/thought of that before! I'm so glad I came?"  If you're anything like me, then probably not very often.  Part of the problem might be the prohibition against using anything but the scriptures and conference talks to fill out a lesson.  That's an issue for another day.  And it's not like I'm against progression.  But I do take offense to people that don't know me telling me what I *should* work on, because in their limited experience, most people have to work on that.  I want progression to be my choice, in my time frame.
   The gospel has some interesting doctrine and has the potential to answer many questions (where did God come from? What, really, is the deal with homo/trans/pan sexuality? Tell me about the mother-God figure.), but all that is labeled "Deep Doctrine" and is only rarely alluded to, if at all.  I find it almost insulting that the same answers (and questions!) used in Primary are used in adult Sunday school.  And that answers to most non-basic questions are "Well, we don't really know."  or "What do the scriptures say?"  
  If I had a kid who was bored in school because things were too easy, I would either put them in a higher grade, talk to a counselor about gifted classes, or provide an after-school alternative that is more academically rigorous.  If not change schools entirely, or home school.  So why isn't God (or LDS, Inc) doing that?  Why isn't there a gospel think tank where people submit questions and get answers rooted in doctrine?  Why isn't there an optional ADVANCED GOSPEL class that people can choose to attend?  Why is all we hear how we're not doing enough of the basics, and as such, are only allowed small knowledge?  What about those who have mastered the basics?  
   It's almost like the church is subscribing to a Bush-era "No Child Left Behind" gospel policy.  Until everyone gets it, no one gets any extra.  Those of us who are craving more knowledge, or deeper discussion, are left like Oliver Twist; holding our porridge bowl and asking "Please, sir, can I have some more?"  And the spiritual Mr. Bumble looks at us in shock and outrage, as if he can't imagine someone with the gall to want more than just watery gruel.  But you know what? I'm starving. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My God vs "Mormon God"

   I'm a firm believer in the philosophy that everyone creates their own god to worship.  I mean, think about it.  Everyone has different experiences, cultures, biases, and problems that shape who they are.  Everyone views the world differently.  If we're all looking at different things, why would what we, as individuals, think of as "GOD" be the same?
   This is something I've thought of a lot lately.  I'm trying to hammer out what I believe (in and out of relation to Mormonism), and I kept bumping into a problem.  If God is as loving as we are taught, then why are we held to impossible expectations?  I find it hard to reconcile a loving, omniscient God with a judgmental taskmaster with a list of things we HAVE to do to be in his presence.  Temple work, service, callings, marriage, child rearing, gardening, journaling, keep the word of wisdom, 10 commandments, tithing/offerings, etc.  And I find it distressing that I am held to this standard.  Last Sunday, we had a great lesson on "With God, All Things Are Possible".  The teacher, a very dear friend of mine, handed out plastic knives to whomever answered the question "What do we have to accomplish?"  My aforementioned list was a general compilation of these answers.  She handed out 39 knives.  39 different things we feel the need to do.  I had the 40th knife, with a scripture Phillipians 4:13 "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheth me."  Everyone smiled and relaxed after that, but I was bothered.  I couldn't figure out why I was conufsed/irritated until a few minutes ago.
   Yes, I suppose I can do all things through Christ, but why would he want me to?  Why would he want me to feel stressed and overwhelmed in my pursuit of "good" things?  Why wouldn't a loving God be satisified with what I consider to be my "best" effort?  Why wouldn't the God who created the world realize there are 24 hours in a day, and I have limited time/attention span/energy?  I found myself saying this to my husband, followed by the statement "I don't know if I want to believe in a God that doesn't get me as an indivudual."
   That's the rub.  I am a person with a different background than you.  Why would God hold us all to the same standard?  Why is a loving God so black and white? "Well, Aletha, I see here that you had some...sexual experimentation before you were married.  You knew full well my law, and yet you did it anyway.  Black mark!"  Wouldn't a compassionate God be more along the lines of "Oh,'re sure complicated, aren't you?  I see that you've had some disgressions in your past, and you knew better.  But I understand that you had undiagnosed mental disorders and had some repressed sexual trauma in your past.  Am I excusing you? Of course not.  But I know what was in your head and how you think.  And I can see that you've worked hard since then to become a different person.  Good for you. I'm pleased with your progress."
   I realize this story is all in my head, but can you see (or feel) the difference between the two conversations?  The first is with an absolute authority figure who is quick to judge, regardless of circumstance.  The second is with someone who knows me, my weaknesses, and loves me anyway.  That's the God I want to worship.
   So I thought of a list of traits I want my God to have.  I want a God who is understanding, and kind.  One who knows me and thinks I'm great, despite what I've done.  I want a God that will hold me accountable for what I do, but will take into account circumstances.  I don't want a God who gives me the "ideal", and then counts how many points away from it I am.  I want a God who knows I'm intellecutually bored with the watered-down lessons at church and is OK with me reading and gaining knowledge from other sources.  A God who understands that re-reading the Book of Mormon isn't spiritually uplifting for me, but a drudgery.  And one who will lead me to books about the BoM enhancing what's in there.  I want a God who says "WORSHIP ME IN THE WAY THAT WORKS FOR YOU."  Not one who demands 3 hours every Sunday, and countless hours in between.  Basically, I want a God that I can relate to.
   And for those who think "God is so far above humans, we can never relate to him." or "He gave His instructions, why are you trying to water it down??", I ask, WHY DOES ONE SIZE HAVE TO FIT ALL?  As a plus-sized girl, I know that when a Halloween costume has a tag that says "One size fits all", it really doesn't mean that.  Why should the gospel and how we, as individuals, find satisfaction in living it?
   Which brings me to my final point (if I've made any points at all in this ramble).  If I am unsatisfied with the Mormon culture of "you are never doing enough" and "strive for perfection", then why do I keep buying into it and berating myself?  I realize, as I type this, that at the end of the day, all I want is a God who will say "You were given a lot of raw deals, and you did the best you could.  I'm really proud of you and think you're great."  And if the God that is preached from the pulpits of Mormonism won't say this, then why should I tie myself into knots for Him?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Gender Roles and Other Annoyances

Due to the questions I've had about my place in our little family, we decided to join the marriage and family relations class offered instead of Sunday School.  I figured, where better to figure things out than a church-sponsored class.  Today was the 2nd day.
   The first day, we talked generally what family was.  No problems there.  Our homework was to read from the manual and discuss it.  The talk we were supposed to read was Boyd K Packer's talk "The Great Plan of Happiness". It started out about what I'd expect, marriage is between a man and a woman, homosexuality can't work, men and women are equal, etc.  Not that I particularly agree with those points, but that's a post for another time.  I started getting irritated at the talk when he said "There is nothing in the revelations which suggests that to be a man rather than to be a woman is preferred in the sight of God, or that He places a higher value on sons than on daughters."   I wanted to laugh.  No, revelation doesn't say it, but culture and lessons sure do.  Young women get lessons on obeying authority, becoming good homemakers, preparing to be a wife and mother.  Young men get lessons on finance, schooling, leadership.  In Relief Society, we are taught many, many lessons about the PRIESTHOOD; honoring, obeying, supporting the priesthood.  But, as far as my husband has told me, there are very few lessons in Priesthood about supporting, honoring, and listening to your wife.  The blatant gender inequality drives me bananas sometimes.
      The next little gem that got my goat was: "Some roles are best suited to the masculine nature and others to the feminine nature."  I wonder how much is "nature" (i.e. based on gender expectations), and how much personality matters.  Because, personally, I am not meek, mild, humble, sweet, or especially nurturing; all characteristics normally used to describe women.  My guy doesn't have a strong personality, he doesn't like to make decisions, and he is very patient.  None of these really seem to be typical "manly" characteristics.  And it bothers me, because the church seems to think that because I was born with indoor plumbing, that I am full of sweet, sweet spirit and loving kindness.  But really, I'd rather yell at you and tell you why you're ticking me off, then smile and turn the other cheek.  I guess my main irritation in this is WHERE ARE THE LESSONS TELLING ME MY PERSONALITY IS OK? Why do I feel like a failure because I'm not looking forward to staying at home with the kids (if we ever get them).
      We  talked yesterday about our roles.  He would much rather stay at home and take care of the house and kids then go out.  And I kind of would rather be in a job where I can be in charge and get validated.  The problem is he is currently making at least twice what I could.  But, as we talked and thought that maybe, we could reverse our work situations and it would work out.  The thought terrified me. Not only because with my very demanding mental illnesses I fear I won't be able to handle the pressure of being the breadwinner, but more because I was scared of what the reactions at church would be.  How the guys would look down on him for doing "women's work" and I would be condemned for not wanting to fulfill my role as a HOLY HOUSEWIFE.
     Also, in class, a point was made "The First Presidency teaches the ideal.  They know people won't always reach it, but they teach it so people know what to strive for."  That made sense to me.  But what doesn't, is why do our lessons, also, talk about the ideal?  You would think that a Relief Society president would know how many of her flock isn't living the "ideal" or even those who have the ideal are struggling.  Why can't we have lessons tailored to where we are and how to get a little bit further?  Why are we always reiterating THE IDEAL, knowing full well most of us won't reach it?  And I'm not just talking ideal family.  Ideal anything: calling, service, Visiting Teacher, wife, etc.  What would be the harm in admitting that no one is perfect, and starting lessons at the bottom, teaching us how to work our way up?  So often in church, I'm frustrated because there's a lot of telling us what to do, without telling us how to do it.
     Anyway, this post has gone on much longer than I anticipated, and I apologize for my soapboxing.  I will conclude by saying, if you really want to read a horrible, obvious, and condescending analogy, then click the above link and scroll to the bottom where it talks about a parable.  Then come back and tell me he's not talking about how feminism is selfish.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why I am a terrible wife

So lately I've been binging on Marriage aid books. Mostly Christian ones: Created to Be His Help Meet; The Surrendered Wife; His Needs, Her Needs; and Fascinating Womanhood.  There are no LDS Marriage books at the Goodwill here (if you have any, and don't read them, send them my way!), so I work with what I have.
The question that's probably in your mind is "Well, how bad is her marriage that she's reading these books?" The answer is complicated.  My marriage isn't bad, and my husband is pretty amazing. But I feel like a failure. I interrupt him, I over power him -I have a very strong personality, I criticize, nag and harp.  I feel like a selfish shrew, a lot of the time.  I thought reading a few books would get me in shape, figuratively speaking. As with most things, I plunged in with both feet.
These books all have a lot in common.  Basically, men's needs are different than women's (duh).  According to these books, collectively, what my man really wants is a wife who:
-Never demeans him
-Looks attractive (makeup, hair, and clothes to his preference)
-Never criticizes or disagrees
-Lets him make EVERY decision
-Is totally submissive
-Never, ever, EVER, says no to sex
-Gives lots of sex
-Has dinner cooked by the time he's home, and readily wait on him hand and foot
-Is vulnerable, sweet, and feminine 
-Never says what she wants, but "makes appeals" in a way that doesn't upset or emasculate him

I could go on for quite awhile here.  The general themes are the same in every book.  The man is the head of the house- let him make decisions and take care of you, silly womanz. And I'm scared that Mormon books would say the same thing.  It kind of sounds like Young Women's lessons I used to hear.
 This has me in a tizzy. If you know nothing about me, suffice it to say I am not submissive, I am not meek, and I tend to wear the pants.  All these books are telling me that this is WRONG WRONG WRONG and that I am making my husband's life a living hell.  I emasculate him, treat him like a child, and embarrass him by my refusal to be docile. 
You would not believe the headgames this plays with me. Constantly running through my mind this past week: Is my husband unhappy? Am I really making his life miserable?  Is submissiveness really what God wants for me?  What if (as the books say) I am unhappy in my egalitarian marriage, but don't know it?
 I even tried "surrendering" on a trial basis, just to see if it helps.  It was horrible!  I lasted all of 4 hours. He kept asking things, and as the "surrendered" wife, my reply was to be "Whatever you think best."  This freaks him out, because his mum is very passive-aggressive, and he I was playing the same game.  So he was getting angry, and I was hurting because I was pushing my needs and wants down to be submissive.  After a few hours of this, I broke down in tears; wailing that I was such a horrible wife, I couldn't even be surrendered for a full day.
Of course, the poor guy was really confused. He had no idea where all this was coming from.  I admitted that I am insecure in my wifely abilities, and I'm afraid I'm not what he wants, and he just settled and now he's stuck.  He looked at me like I was crazy, and told me that he knew my personality when we were married, and that's what he fell in love with.  He told me he doesn't want a doormat, and he doesn't want me to never have opinions.  Basically, he told me he loves me the way I am, crazy bipolar and all.
And I have to wonder if God feels that way.  Like He and Heavenly Mother are sitting up there thinking "Why in tarnation is she doing that to herself, silly girl? Doesn't she know she's loved and precious?"  
The answer is, no. But maybe someday, I will.  But why is it that women never feel like they are good enough? Never smart enough, never pure enough, never capable enough, never giving enough? Where did we learn this? Why do we put ourselves through this day after day after day?  Who first decided that guilt and doubt are the hallmarks of womanhood? It's disgusting and annoying and terrible to live with. I wish I had an answer. Does anyone?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Temples, Feminists, God, and Me

  Saturday, my husband and I went to the temple.  I hadn't been for quite awhile because I am questioning a lot about the church and my beliefs.  But he asked nicely, and since my recommend hadn't expired yet, and I hadn't done anything to affect my worthiness, I said ok.
  I was in a tizzy all the way there, and found myself hoping that the session would be full and we wouldn't be able to stay.  (The temple is 3.5 hours away; Kansas doesn't have a temple yet)  Didn't happen. So we got ready for the endowment session, and the whole time, my mind was filled with questions.  "Why do women wear the same clothes, take the same oaths, learn the same signs if we don't already have the priesthood?  Why is God such a stickler for gender roles? Are wives supposed to be submissive to their husbands?" And most importantly: "If I disagree with so much of church culture and some doctrine, why do I even bother anymore?"
  There are some parts of the endowment that irritate me.  Namely, why am I only allowed to be a Queen and Priestess to my husband? and Why can't I hearken to God myself, only through my husband?  I was nervous and uptight, and I must confess, I didn't say yes at one point.  I was sitting in the session, feeling enraged, upset and conflicted, and then guilty for having those feelings in the temple.
Then something happened.  I had gotten a blessing a few weeks ago that soon my questions would be answered.  And in Saturday, in the temple, I got my answers.  
  First, this session I was having a hard time with, wasn't about me. It was about the sister I was sitting proxy for.  My struggles and anger had nothing to do with her, or her receiving the endowment. I felt that while we all make the same covenants, we all view what they mean in different ways.  By viewing them in different ways, we perform them in different ways.  The way I see hearkening to my husband is sitting down and having a good discussion about what each of us thinks is right.  It doesn't mean listening to him blindly, or pasting a smile on while I tell him "oh, thank you, big strong man for making this decision for me!"  And that's OK.  For some couples, that is how things go, and that's OK, too.  We are all individuals with different experiences and biases.  We all have our ways of doing things, and it doesn't make any of them more right any other way of doing it.   I now feel, that at the end of the day, that what the endowment is saying isn't "obey your husband, as long as he's obeying God", it's saying "You guys are in this together, and however your dynamic works, obey God."
   Second, I got the distinct impression that my previous idea of God (big mighty MAN God who thinks women are 2nd class) was wrong.  I had heard somewhere the phrase "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, too".  That thought came flooding back to me in the temple.  I realized that we are all children of our Heavenly Father and he wants us all back.  It never says anywhere in scripture about the "Holy Housewife" ideal that is so harped on.  Scripture says "male and female, bond and free" should come unto Christ and be saved.  Our Heaven Father wants us all back, and has given each of us the talents and weakness we need to get there; regardless of plumbing.
  Third, we've all heard the phrase "the Church is perfect, but the people aren't".  After thinking about this phrase a lot, I don't think it's accurate.  What we mean is that God is perfect, but people aren't.  I don't think the Church is perfect.  It's a corporation made up of very human people. And that's the point.  You can't separate the church from the people, because the church IS people. People with racial, cultural, sexual, economical, and bigoted opinions.  It's made up of people with weaknesses, people with different opinions, and people with doubts and questions.  Yes, God is perfect, and so his His doctrine, but He is working through a system full of imperfect people.  Even the prophet isn't perfect, as scandalous as that sounds.  I believe that God deals the best he can with what He has. 
  Fourth, as God is perfect, and working through imperfect people, things may not change as fast as I would hope.  Choosing to believe "One miracle at a time" doesn't make me less of a feminist.  It makes me trust in God more, because I have to rely more on him.  I feel very strongly about women's ordination, and instead of saying "well, God isn't fair because the Church keeps harping gender roles", I should be saying "give me strength to endure this until things change".  I need to rely on Heavenly Father and Mother to help me through difficult times.  
  I know that this sounds really simplistic, and a bit cliche. "Sit and wait, little girl, and eventually somebody will tell you what to do". I want to be angry, I want to get involved, I want to affect change.  First, however, I needed to change myself.  If there's one thing I learned from my dad, it's that anger never fixes problems.  It just makes all sides feel justified. By getting mad and nitpicking, I'm only hurting myself. Does the church have a long way to go, especially concerning gender roles? Absolutely.  Is getting upset and turning towards anger and hostility going to help foster that change? Probably not. So, for me personally, the outcome of my temple trip was to foster a small change in myself as to how I view the church.  I can still be irritated at LDS Inc for what they are doing to women, but that doesn't make the gospel of salvation, repentance, eternal families, and forgiveness any less beautiful.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Not Pefect, But Maybe Good Enough?

When I think of a Mormon wife (basically the IDEAL MOLLY), I think of a size 2 blonde, who spits out children annually.  All her kids are well behaved; she sews, cleans, cooks (and enjoys doing it). She is industrious and kind.  She is subservient and deferential to her PETER PRIESTHOOD husband in all things.  She never starts fights, husband and wife never argue, and he treats her with nothing but respect and love all the time.
I don't know how I came up with this ideal.  My family growing up was nothing like this.  Single mom, abusive but distant dad.  A remarriage that didn't work for anyone, and absentee parents.  But somewhere between there and here, I came to suspect that all Mormon men wanted a Barbie Doll.  This scared me.
I was never pretty, never popular, and a bit...odd.  I know now it's because I suffer from severe Bipolar/Borderline Disorder and ADHD.  But back then, I was just a ball of emotions and weird behaviours that scared a lot of the kids my age.
Fast forward to now. I've been married for 3 years to a great guy.  And every day I struggle with who I am versus the ideals in my head.  Unlike Molly up there, I'm 325 lbs, currently have black and pink hair, and infertile.  We've been trying to get foster kids, but the agency is giving us the runner.  I can barely sew a straight line, and though I'm a terrific cook, I hate cleaning.  Sometimes I consider it a good day if all I accomplish is reheating leftovers for dinner.  I'm sarcastic, rude, and very un-PC. I have no filter, and little to no sympathy.  I pick fights just to make sure my husband still loves me.  He does.
I'm not giving the whole paragraph to be self-deprecating, or because I hope the comments will be filled with "Oh, you're beautiful in God's eyes". I am using my characteristics to show the dichotomy between what I see as ideal and what I have.  
Throughout the years of our marriage, I have read numerous relationship books to figure out what I'm doing wrong. I tell myself that I am a horrid wife because I turn down my husband for sex.  I'm a terrible Mormon because I go for weeks without praying.  (I'm sure a psychologist would say my self-talk is self-destructive or something equally scientific)  While I'm reading these books, I would ask my poor husband if "things would be better between us if I did XYZ."  Every time, he looks confused, and says something to the effect of "you are good, and don't need to change." 
And to be completely honest, this reaction scares the tar out of me.  I don't think I'm good enough to love, let alone be loved for who I am for eternity.  Blame childhood sexual abuse and neglect, if you will.  But every day I struggle with the fact that my guy loves me as I am right now.  He loved me before I was diagnosed and properly medicated.  He's been to hell and back with me through these past 3 years.  And still loves me.  
If I have a hard time accepting the love of a mortal man, the notion of a loving, perfect God is almost beyond my grasp.  We tend to base how we think of God on our Earthly father.  Intellectually, I know that God is nothing like my dad.  God is perfect, his love his perfect, and he loves each of us exactly as we are.  But I don't understand that very well.  Because I hate myself so much a lot of the time, I can't imagine a God that loves me despite my flaws.  Every day, that gets a little bit easier to get.  My hope is that one day I'll be healed enough to realize that while I'm not the perfect ideal, I'm good enough for husband.  And good enough for God.