March 2, 2016

an authentic life

i've written draft after draft of this post for over a month, worried it would be too controversial, too self-revealing, too difficult...

the thing is, to my very core, i consider myself to be an eternal optimist.
i thrive on hope. it inspires the belief that anything is possible.

i also believe i'm a pretty genuine person.

there are times, though, when it's difficult for me to be honest about the not-so-optimistic experiences in my life. when i share feelings of hopelessness and helplessness with others, they must be wrapped up nicely with a pretty bow.
when i share them, my experiences must say:

"look! see? this trial was hard but it taught me all this..."

and it's not that i'm trying to be inauthentic ...
however, my willingness to let others see my pain happens only once i've gotten through it. i want to show i'm capable, rather than allow others to think i'm weak in the midst of emotional battle. ....what if the only reason someone originally thought i was strong was because they don't know about my pain until after it's over?

but today i'm choosing to be honest and vulnerable.
there's no bow tying up the pain and confusion right now.

brenĂ© brown is my hero

i've been in a funk for a while, now.

if you read my previous post, you know that i truly enjoyed my trip home for Christmas break. it provided the most wonderful time with family. my incredible family is why the trip was wonderful.

my trip home reminded me, though, why i applied for graduate programs outside of utah in the first place.

it's no secret. ...i'm an "old maid" in utah standards.
but i'm fine being labeled an old maid.
what's difficult is how seemingly everyone - and their dogs - are all checking off the checkmarks i wrote about in this post.

it wasn't a specific person or thing that started my funk.
it was the overall impression that everyone's got their lives more "together" than i do.

most of my peers are done with school and have real adult jobs.
married couples have babies they coo at and cuddle.
young, happy families were everywhere i went.
{{i know, i know ... what else did i expect??}}
i think maybe the hardest sight to see were the cute, old grandmas and grandpas taking loving care of each other and holding wrinkled hands.

please know that i am quite happy with my life.
i've had a lot of adventures and accomplished many things.
i've overcome a lot of hardships.
i've spent years working to improve myself.
and still i keep finding:
life can be extremely empty without someone special to share it with.

but, i absolutely do not presume that getting married solves all problems.
no, no.
i am very aware of the problems it can bring -
growing pains, i think they call it?
i am also aware of the fact that marriage is not easy.
it's not perfect.
no life ever is.

there is something to be said for having your one "person" by your side.
and the fulfillment of being their one "person."
you become each other's "bae" {in today's speak: before anyone else}.

i believe sharing your life with a special someone fills an important role in the human soul. i don't believe life was meant to be lived alone.

know i'm not alone.

i am extremely grateful for the wonderful family and friends who support me, encourage me, celebrate my highs, and commiserate my lows.
in utah, i loved seeing old friends and chatting for hours and feeling so much joy in connecting with those i cherish. i'm incredibly blessed to have so many amazing people in my life!

i don't mean to diminish their importance.

i think everyone knows significant others fall into an entirely separate category.

and so, in utah, when i saw tender sights -- like a wrinkled man gently placing a hand on the small of his elderly wife's back -- tears threatened to fall, accompanying a painfully familiar feeling :
heartache fighting with soul-ache.

my heart aching to have a companion to love in this life.
my soul aching to return back to my Heavenly Father.

no, this heart-and-soul-ache is not a new sensation for me.
yet, it did get much worse in the past two months -
so i began calling it a funk.

but that's not what ignited the fire in my heart this week.

as you know, i believe in the gospel taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. this belief defines my entire being and is part of every aspect of my life.

so when i saw this article, sparks flew and hurt seared my heart:

i watched the video clip of elder bednar, a general authority of my church.
i listened to his words.
hoping for a message of love...

but then i cried.

elder bednar's comments came just a few weeks after elder oaks, another general authority in my church, addressed the gay mormon suicide crisis with flippant disregard for the lives implicated and the anguish leading them to such dire circumstances.

and he had the audacity to use the term "sexual preference."

let's just be clear about one thing:
i promise you, i would prefer not to be attracted to women.
i didn't ask for this!
and once i was aware of my attractions, i begged God to take them away;
being attracted to women makes everything in my life more complicated.

as i have mentioned before, i was oblivious to my attraction to women.
oblivious until one day in 2014 when the final straw broke the metaphorical camel's back.
i was left looking at a mountain of evidence.
my paradigm shattered, i retrospectively viewed memories in a new light.
suddenly i understood the feelings i had experienced in the past toward certain females were - unbeknownst to me - feelings of romantic attraction.

i, the self-proclaimed "feelings expert," found myself ignorant of such basic human feelings! i was truly flabbergasted.
when i realized i had always been attracted to girls, my anger was sparked and it all pointed toward God.

the following quote from jonathan sandberg's b.y.u. devotional makes me feel better about getting angry with God:
as a client once told me, “i used to feel guilty for getting mad at God. then i realized He can handle it.”

thankfully God can handle my anger, because in that moment during fall 2014, and again on tuesday when i heard elder bednar's words, i got really angry.

i was angry that...
  • such a thing as homosexuality does exists
  • i hadn't known what these feelings meant until now
  • i have a knowledge of my divine identity as His daughter - because it just makes everything hurt worse
  • there were - and still are - no answers to my questions
  • the ideal i had planned for all my life was blown to smithereens
  • never having a significant other was a valid option
  • as long and hard as i prayed for Him to change me, this new self-knowledge is here to stay...
                                    ...because these feelings have been here all along.

though my relationship with God has greatly improved since fall 2014, the comments from elder bednar and elder oaks brought back all that anger and pain.

i found myself questioning where and how i'm supposed to fit into this plan of happiness i've been taught all my life.

some well-meaning church members tell me that if i remain faithful in this life {never marry a woman}, i will be rewarded with a husband in the next life.

but.... what if i don't want a husband in the next life??

i absolutely do not agree with elder bednar's comments.

i do not believe my attractions will suddenly change when i graduate this earth life. we're taught in my religion that gender is innate. well, it is my sincere belief that sexuality is, too.

this is not something like depression or high blood pressure or addiction or disability. those have nothing to do with the very root of who a person is.

and yet, especially with rhetoric used by general authorities, members continue to believe and make comments about choosing not to be attracted or choosing not to have a relationship with someone of the same sex.

please, imagine if you were told that your eternal happiness depended on you never getting married or having a family, even if you fell in love with someone.

contrary to what some may think, this idea is not centered around physical intimacy. this is about condemning basic biology.
it's different than simply never finding the right person throughout your life. instead, it's saying that even if you did find your significant other, you will lose all hope of a joyful eternity if you give into the sin of that love.

regardless of your opinion on same-sex marriage, please try to understand what it might be like. please empathize with the pain so many in {and outside of} the church live with on a daily basis.

for me, the mere suggestion that i might be sentenced to a life without a spouse fills me with more hopelessness than words can describe.
i am a loving person.
do i not deserve to have someone love me back?
...then the thoughts get even worse as they spiral downward:
  • what is the purpose of life without love?
  • i can't bear a life so awful, i can't go on.
  • this doesn't change after i die, so my eternal fate is just as dismal.
  • if it's just as dismal in death, i am doomed to a fate worse than death.
i believe this is the very definition of "stuck."

luckily, i am in a social work program where i constantly learn and apply skills to cope with cognitive dissonance. i also received intensive outpatient therapy during that fall of 2014. these experiences have taught me how to be more willing to reach out for support.

i know, even though i continue to wonder what the point of all this is, that life is still worth living.

not everyone is as fortunate.

one of my favorite people {who just happens to be my aunt} recently shared on her facebook timeline the following post from tyler glenn, a gay mormon.
Tyler Glenn
Dear Queer Kids... I'm talking to you right now. I guess I'm always talking to you, because I care about you. But right now I'm specifically talking to you.
all of us queer kids need to be proud of who we are. I need you to stay alive, please. It's important. The last few months I've felt like I did when kids picked on me in high school. Disenfranchised. Shunned. Floating out in space.
I want you to know I've been turning that feeling into art. Ive been channeling it into music.
You CAN turn ugly pain into beauty and art. YOU have that ability.
Please know I know you, even if I don't personally. Please stay alive to see how amazing life can be. It really can be wonderful.
After every breakthrough in my life so far, I keep thinking "ok, this is what happiness looks and feels like"... "Finally!".
And then I'm always amazed to find out that the true happiness I thought I'd finally achieved was only the beginning, only the tip of the iceberg, only a small taste.
True happiness exists, and it doesn't come all at once. Please live to see and feel true happiness.
Please make it through the unbearable darkness to see the light. Even if it's only a faint light, please know that light grows. It fades and then it grows and then at times it may feel like it's gone out completely. I want you to know that it comes back.
So I'll say it again:
all of us queer kids need to be proud of who we are. I need you to stay alive, please. It's important.
oh, how i needed this message!!!
i cried when i read them.

aren't we all just doing the best we can?
the more vulnerable and authentic we are with each other,
the more we can learn and grow!

so, when leaders in my church share messages that leave some feeling hopeless, unloved, and hurting, i cannot accept that God is ok with that.

to tell someone they aren't who they are is absurd.
to say that there is no substantial correlation between the suicides of so many queer young people within the church and its policies or comments from its leaders is called denial.

i believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. i can respect and sustain the leaders of the church and also be aware of their human imperfections. i believe these men, called of God, are now skewing Christ's message of love. there have already been disastrous results.

sometimes i imagine this is what's going on upstairs: may think this blasphemous; i find it perfectly apropos.

and so my heart breaks for the youth and young adults - especially my gay brothers and sisters in the gospel - who are not as lucky as i am. those who are not as equipped to fight such catastrophic thoughts and feelings that strike at the very core of one's existence.

if i'm barely holding it together at times, i can only imagine the unending desperation they must experience!
no wonder there's a suicide crisis within the church!

God is a God of love.
our Heavenly Father loves each one of His children.
i have felt God's love for me over and over again.
i fight for my life because i believe God loves me - all of me.

He made me this way. and God doesn't make mistakes.
but people do.

i am a daughter of God who tries so hard to do good things.
i try to love and serve and help and lift others.
my heart is good and i have such great intentions.

i can't blame the people who are initially prejudiced against homosexuals, i know what those biases are because i used to think that way, too!
....until i found out i was one!

there is no excuse, though, if we do not try to learn and move past our bigotry.
i often feel as though some members are waiting with bated breath, crowded around me and watching closely to see if i'll "fail" {marry a woman}.

but our religion teaches us to refrain from judging others.
we need more messages of love and hope.

besides, trust me:
any gay member of the church has enough negativity
going on in their heart and mind.
you can't possibly state a criticism they haven't
already heard inside their own head.

thankfully, i'm overwhelmed by the many friends and family who are extremely accepting of who i am and shower me with unconditional love.
it doesn't take all the hurt away, but it definitely helps to remind me that life is worth living.

here's some encouragement, no matter what your life experiences, that helps me feel better:
{if you don't already know who brené brown is, please please please find out}

and, finally, i was told by one of the most intelligent people i've ever met that when someone says something that hurts you, it says more about them than it does about you., i still don't have any answers to this conundrum.
i'm still hurting and my anger comes and goes in waves.
amidst all the pain and confusion of the world, though,
there's only one thing that matters. the beatles knew it, too.
all you need is love.