Sunday, December 13, 2015

Finding My Place

Today was the fourth annual "wear pants to church day."
I know, I can hear you saying "she hasn't blogged in almost two years, and now she's back to blog about this?" Yeah, I am. And if that bothers you, well I guess you know where I will tell you to stick it, right? Because (in case you're new here or something) I don't see a point in beating around the bush. If you don't like what I write, feel free to go read something else. Nobody is making you stay.

But if you are here, and reading, I thought maybe you'd like to know some of my thoughts about why I do this, and what it means to me.

I participated the first year, and the second, and if you are scratching your head and trying to figure out what on earth I am talking about, please go read the posts that I wrote about those two days.   I didn't participate last year, actually, because I didn't attend church on that day. I don't remember why. I do know that I wore pants on the first day I attended my ward here in Kenai, and no one batted an eye that day (just as they did not today). No one minds here.
And it's not as if wearing pants is dressing down. (In fact, due to my body deciding that metabolism is not a thing we do anymore these last few years, I've had to rebuild much of my wardrobe, and actually my 'best dressed' mostly IS pants because it's my work wardrobe. But I digress.) This year my sister lives with me, so she joined in.
The obligatory 'pants picture'
The point of pants day is to stand up in a visual representation of fulfilling the calling--the covenant--to love. To comfort those who need comfort. To be a light for those in darkness. To say loudly and clearly to everyone "I am here, I accept you as you are, and I claim you as my sister or brother."

Over the last few years my relationship with the church has changed. I've written about it here on and off under the tag 'my faith journey.' I know my journey is troubling to most of my family and probably to some of my friends. Others of my friends are supportive and even wholly understanding as they travel or have traveled journeys of their own. I don't know that I have figured out everything, but today I made some decisions.
Let me try a metaphor. It may help.
Water sustains life; it can also kill you. It all depends on the specifics of who you are and the situation of the water around you. 
They always say that if you see someone drowning, you should not go out to them. You should keep yourself safe, and toss a life preserver or something to them. You should never jump into the water with them. 
But what if that person is a tiny child who is not able to understand about grabbing onto the life preserver? Or what if you are are a lifeguard. Then you are supposed to jump into the water, because you are able to be safe even as you save that person who literally needed you to be right there. 
Some people cannot jump into the water safely. We do not blame them for the fact that they cannot swim, or have not been trained for this task. They do what they can from the shore.
Some people can jump into the water safely. And therefore it seems to me that perhaps they have a responsibility--a moral obligation--to do so.

With that in mind, I return to my story:

Within Mormonism I am disenfranchised now more than ever. My spouse is no longer a member of the church. My children prefer to stay home with dad. I, myself, have only attended sporadically for the last year or so. It was a sabbatical, I suppose. Time I needed for pondering over many things. 
It has been a long time since I felt like I got much out of my relationship with the church. I have felt like it was a very one-sided relationship, where I gave and gave and gave, and was asked to give always more, but was not receiving even the little that I had been promised (peace, hope, support, or inspiration). I could find those things in other places--and I did--but it was not coming from church sources. So I took a break. I stopped giving so much. I took care of myself.
I work in behavioral health, and when someone is in a one-sided relationship like that, the typical advice would be to move on. Leave it behind. Find someone or something that gives to you as much as you give to it. So, naturally, this is something I have contemplated.

It is not something I am choosing at this time.

Remember the part of the story about having a moral obligation to go into the water if you are able to do so safely?
The Mormon church is flawed. There are imperfect people and beyond that there are policies in place within the organization which are hurtful and damaging. I will be honest and say that I do not believe in the literalness or infallibility of many things which I once did. But I also do not forget that this is my heritage and my culture. That doesn't go away, even when I am deeply troubled by some of the things happening right now. 
I am also aware of many people who do believe in literalness and infallibility, and who are hurting (even to the point of suicidality) at the situations they find themselves in because of it. That is where the metaphor comes in. Because there are some people who cannot swim in the waters of Mormonism safely, even at the same time as there are those who need it to sustain life. Some people will choose to exit the water (with or without help) and they have every right to do so. Some people need the water, even though they are literally dying by being in it. 
And here is me. I can swim these waters. I may no longer feel the need for them as I once did, but I am safe within them nonetheless. I can help others learn to swim (or get safely to shore, if they prefer). I can do it safely and without judgment toward those others, regardless of which path they choose. can be what I have always been--what I have always felt called to be--a teacher, a healer, a helper. I can be that person who makes the comment in sunday school that was inclusive instead of exclusionary, or the comment that makes everyone think instead of just repeating the status quo. (I've always done that; might as well carry on!) I can be that person who has the knowledge and credibility of being an insider, but who also boldly wears this necklace week after week, or who wears pants to church, thus establishing myself as someone who is not entrenched in habit or closed-minded. I can be a safe space for those who feel they are drowning, or for those watching others drown and not knowing how to help.
I do not know what the future holds or where I may go next, but this is where I choose to be now. So perhaps it is not accurate to say that I am finding my place, but rather to say that I am choosing my place.

I'm Still Here

Hi, it's been a while, I know. I haven't posted here in nearly two years because my life has moved into a new season and I simply don't have the time. But I will catch you up a little on my life these last 21 months, and at least tell you where I've gone.

I finished graduate school in August of 2014 and shortly thereafter began working full time in behavioral health as a case manager. I enjoy it and (at the risk of sounding not humble--which is fair because I'm not) I will add that I am really darn good at what I do. With that said, work now consumes 40 or 45 hours of my week, and when I am home I try to put my attention and energy toward my family.

Also in the spring/summer of 2014 my depression reared its head again. It has done this periodically over my life, but certain spells are worse than others. This time however there was something that helped. It was unexpected, but it was the right thing at the right time and has made an enormous difference in my life: Glee
Yes, I do mean the TV show. I had started watching the episodes on Netflix that spring, and yes it's a cheesy dramedy and sometimes the writing is terrible, but the musical and dance performances are amazing. And more than any of that, Glee reminded me of something: It reminded me of my own love for music and dance. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten how much those things mean to me. Somewhere along the way I had stopped singing and dancing around the house (or anywhere else). I had gotten so busy with the many things I had to do that I had forgotten what it was that drove me to major in theater only a decade ago. 

I started singing again. I downloaded music and I started singing along with it. I had fallen out of touch with the arts so gradually that I hadn't realized how far I had moved. But now I sing again. I dance again. I feel more (dare I say it) glee than I did for years.

The other thing that Glee did for me--or helped me to do for myself--was writing fiction. For years I've said that I'm a good writer, and a good storyteller, but that I didn't feel that I had any original stories to tell. (So much for writing a bestselling novel, right?) But then with Glee--because it was impacting me so significantly, and because I wanted more of it--I learned about the phenomenon that is fanfiction. And lest you be too judgmental (because I was too at first), I will clarify: Fanfiction is original stories--sometimes really impressive ones--that just happen to borrow characters. But do you know how helpful it is to be able to practice writing with borrowed characters? Without having to create everything from the ground up? Did you further know that authors do it all the time? Shakespeare hardly wrote anything original, and how many novels or movies are "based on" or "inspired by" another story? Yeah, so everybody writes fanfic. And, for me, Glee fanfic was a gateway. Reading it was a gateway to writing it, which in turn was a gateway to something else... Because dabbling around with borrowed characters gave me confidence to build my own. And now I'm writing my own fiction (working on two different novels actually). The practice with fanfic helped me build up my writing chops--I can write longer things than I ever used to. It also gave me the chance to get feedback on my writing from readers and other writers, and that's invaluable (and good for the self-esteem too).

So the time that used to go to writing nonfiction (blog posts and then grad school essays) has now turned to fiction. I plan to submit my novels for publishing when I finish them, but I also know that now I'm not going to stop writing either. Writing (along with dancing, music, and knitting) are my antidepressants, and they are working pretty well so I'm sticking with them.

At first I felt silly, saying that a TV show had changed my life. (Sounds crazy, no?!) But it did, and it does, and I'm better off for it. And you know, I'm not going to be shy about saying it either. Because maybe it will help someone else.

So no, I haven't written here on the blog in a long time. The truth is that I don't know how often I will write here in the future either. I am spending more time in the real world and less in the digital one. I do still see comments that are left, here, and I will reply to them and to emails. I'm also on facebook fairly regularly. I don't know how much I will post here, but I am not going to take it down because I believe that the archive here can be useful to others. I know it is useful for me: both as a reference, and as a reminder of where I've come.


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