A Page of One's Own

Emotional Intelligence

Feb
17

I am writing this because of the growing importance I see, almost daily, of developing emotional intelligence. I apologize for typos or repetition. I only have a few moments to put together many thoughts.

I recently have been frustrated by the idea of ownership (or rather, the lack of it.) I believe that in all my reading and studying of ideas related to emotional intelligence, this is the most crucial. I feel that in relationships and also in nearly every political discussion I have heard in the last year, ownership has largely been missing.

To take ownership of self means that no one and nothing can make us act a certain way. It is the first principle we teach children about gettingalong: No one can make you mad. You choose to be mad.

It seems to be human nature to deny ownership when we can. To own our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and our stories is a hell of a lot harder than pointing outwards to others and saying, “you’re being mean, you’re being over-sensitive.”

For instance, I own that I had an eating disorder. I own that I feel anger, that I think both kind and unkind thoughts, that I have real strengths and also real weaknesses. I own my belief in language. I believe that the words we say to each other are important, and I own that this is a double-edged sword that makes some people like me and others uncomfortable with me, because I listen carefully to what people say.

I own that I had 2 kids in 2 years. I own that I have very keen perspective on experiences happening to myself and others, and that I am not a naturally grateful person. When people speak, I have the skill of being able to see where they are coming from. I also am way more likely to focus on negative than on positive. I own that I am Mormon. I own that I am brave and also incredible sensitive. I also own that it often takes me a long time to own something.

My story and words are mine. No one can make me do or say or feel anything. My journey is mine. No one can take that from me. By me asking someone else to make me comfortable, I am asking the impossible. Asking others to take ownership for what we must leads to manipulation and misery every single time.

The best way I have learned and am learning to take ownership is to begin confrontations with “I feel…” It’s simple but it usually works.

The second greatest aspect of emotional intelligence that I have been incorporating into my life is the ability to create space between self and emotion. This is the (somewhat trendy) idea of mindfulness. Mindfulness, often taught in buddhism, is when we, as emotional beings, can recognize our emotions and let them come and go as they will without trying to change them. This space gives us the responsibility to make a conscious choice of how we will react to an emotion, thought, or stimulus. We aren’t acting because something happened or we feel a certain way. We can look at an event, create a mental space, and then make a choice.

I used to take everything personally, because I didn’t want to recognize that perhaps the way I did things or saw things might be hurtful to someone else. Now I understand that we are all humans doing the best that we can. If I am disliked or if people are offended by me feeling a certain way, it has everything to do with them. If I dislike someone or am offended by them, it has everything to do with me. (Hence the importance of taking ownership in “I feel” statements.) We are all just mirrors for each other.

It is incredibly sensitive for me to approach Branden and say “Hey babe, I feel confused and hurt by our interaction earlier.” THIS IS VULNERABILITY. It is also mindfulness, because I am not speaking out from the emotion but rather have enough self-awareness to step back and see how I am feeling, as if I am out-of-body. I am taking ownership of how I feel in relation to a stimulus. How awful if he were to respond “well you shouldn’t feel that way because I didn’t mean it,” or “you are easily offended.” I am not offended. I am expressing my deep feeling because I care enough about the relationship to do so.

Me and my mom have become best friends over time by practicing this. We used to fight a lot; our personalities used to clash and honestly, we have very different ways of doing things. But now I can approach her and she can approach me with honesty and openness. “Kaylee, I felt attacked when you were talking about….” or “mom, I feel sad when you…”

What an incredible opportunity to show the other person that their perspectives, their realities, are valued. What an incredible opportunity to respect each other and our own realities, WHICH ARE NEVER WRONG, and to really listen and try to see merit in the other person’s emotion or thought. What I see as real and what you see as real coming into dialogue with each other gives both of us a potential opportunity to expand.

And third, emotional intelligence requires the ability to step away from our fear enough to experience the broad spectrum of emotions, both positive and negative. I think it is human nature to want to be happy. However, life is complex and we are complex. Happiness is a goal that seems to lead to more disappointment than joy.

The idea of the tyranny of positivity resonated with me powerfully. Susan David of Harvard said: “When someone says that your life is simply created by the thoughts that you have, and that we can simply choose to be positive, what we do is we deny the systematic policies that might lead particular groups of people to be disenfranchised, to be hungry, to be starving. The message that comes across is that you can just be positive and your life will be okay. It denies the reality that there is a real impact on well-being when someone needs to travel two hours to get to work each day, or struggles to put food on the table. One of the first signs of emotional agility is the real, growing body of research that shows that people who are overly invested in the idea of being happy all the time actually over time become less happy. They do not have the capacity to deal with the reality that difficult thoughts and emotions are normal. They’re part of who we are as individuals, they’re part of our human destiny, they’re part of how we have evolved as a species. And unless we and our children develop the capacity for being able to label and understand and be with these difficult emotions, the emotion will always feel bigger than us.”

Happiness is one of the many emotions that we as humans have the privilege of experiencing, as is sadness, anger, disappointment, etc… (See “Inside Out” for a glorious illustration.) One of my dearest friends told me something that has stuck with me over the years: There is something Godly about feeling all emotions deeply.

Susan David goes onto say that it is critical in emotional intelligence to “be with, show up to, and sit with the full range of human emotions that exist in our lives. To be able to show up to this in a way that feels honest with ourselves, not pushing it aside and pretending it doesn’t exist. To enter into a space, a dialogue with ourselves, where we are able to be honest.

We do not need to engage in any struggle if what we feel or think is legitimate; it just is.”

 

That means that literally every human’s reality is as real as my own. When they speak up about how they view the world, I better listen instead of insisting that my way is right. Otherwise, I may never have the indescribably beautiful privilege of evolving, changing, becoming a version of me that is more accepting and less offended.

And lastly, the importance of self-compassion in emotional intelligence cannot be overstated. If we are not kind to ourselves, we will feel shame after shame after shame, which will lead to nothing productive. When my mom approaches me to express an intimate feeling, and I can see that the way I portrayed, said, or thought something could have been done better, I have two options: I can either get defensive and internally destroy myself and our relationship, or I can listen, validate, and make a mental note to try to do that a little better next time. I can forgive myself everyday.

These ideas within emotional intelligence are no longer nice thoughts for millennials. They are becoming crucial skills in the workplace and in personal relationships if we want to thrive. Our world is more complicated than ever. It’s not good or bad, it just is.

 

Me Too

Jan
20

I woke up three days ago feeling sick, because I had a dream that I had been molested.

After changing diapers, nursing my baby, answering a few emails and feeding breakfast to my toddler, I had a moment to sit down and feel what I was feeling, think what I was thinking.

My thoughts wandered back to my senior year of high school in my AP science class. My stomach immediately started churning, even 7 years later.

The teacher in this class had little control of the students. I sat in the back row. Throughout the entire year, three boys talked about my body daily.

I remembered what they said, I remembered their jokes about violating me, and I remembered exactly how I felt time and time again.

Everyone stared at their shoes in the class, even when comments were made loudly enough for every ear to hear. I tried to stand up for myself, but it was met with laughing and more jokes. I seemed to feel that the issue was all in my head, because I was the only one it seemed to bother.

I told my parents after a few months, and my dad just about blew a fuse. He begged me to allow him to take it to the authorities. But I was ashamed–of having my body talked about, of crude jokes I felt uncomfortable even repeating, and of making something out of what must have been nothing.

Something about them talking so cruelly of my body sparked shame inside of me–shame for my femininity and shame for my beauty. I wanted to shrink, to dress down, to never wear make-up and to hide under baggy sweatshirts.

I left that class every day either embarrassed or angry. I walked the long way to my next class, trying to blow off steam and mentally re-align myself to focus for the remaining hour.

Seven years later, as I sat surrounded by my two kids, still feeling sick from my dream, I had the distinct thought: BUT I WAS NEVER ACTUALLY RAPED. EVERYONE experiences what I did, to some degree.

Followed by this thought: Well, WOMEN experience what I did, to some degree.

(I’m sure my mom did, probably my sister, most of my friends. But none of us were ever actually molested.)

My rolling thoughts then screeched to a blinding halt in my mind.

Kaylee, women experience this. WOMEN, singularly. So as a woman, do you expect to be treated this way?

And then, Kaylee, do you expect for your daughters to be treated this way?

I realized then that I was a very real part of the problem of not only the inequality between women and men, but also the trauma historically and currently inflicted on “the weaker sex.” I have expected it my whole life. I had expected prostitution calls on my mission, dirty looks and winks at the grocery store, and crude comments about sex.

I don’t mean to be hard on myself, because I fully recognize who was in the wrong here–three idiot teenage boys. I also fully recognize that I needed to speak up.

I needed to speak up; I needed to take them down. I needed to raise the bar of my expectation infinitely higher for how I deserved to be treated. I needed to recognize that my body was not the problem.

How can I expect to enact or support change if my expectations are so base? And what will I say when my daughter comes home and has been thus violated with words, looks, or actions?

My bar has been raised, for myself, for my girls, and for all women. It simply is not okay, and it will no longer by tolerated in my spheres. I’ve found the bravery to stand up and call out.

At this point in my article, I could get on my soap box and rage–(maybe I will, sometime. I have plenty to say.) But for now, I would like to simply add my voice to the masses,

Me too.

 

Three Years

Oct
07

I have been thinking about this post for the last three months. To feel safe, I have wanted to write a list of what I learned in the past year of marriage, like I have in previous years. Lists are clean and neat, and I certainly learned enough this past year of marriage to make a substantial list.

But every time I thought about the last year of my marriage, a list seemed too cheap somehow. What I actually learned cannot be synthesized in numbers and phrases.

So here goes my best attempt to express this year in a series of paragraphs and pictures.

When Branden and I began to date, I had a severe eating disorder.

For the first year of our marriage, I succumbed to the eating disorder. For the second, I dug as hard as I knew how. I clawed my way out. For the third, I healed.

I say this because Branden and I never really experienced the “honeymoon phase” of marriage and dating that many people do. Our early days together were full of the push and pull that addiction brings–the balance of fighting against deceit but feeling too broken to put my heart completely on the line. I was afraid of being loved and was afraid of loving openly.

For the first two years, I said I was sorry, a lot. I said I was sorry for being a handful, for being “too much,” for having such a multitude of issues. He didn’t bring up his “stuff,” because he was busy taking care of my apologies.

This year, I started to say “Thank you for understanding,” when my impulse was to say “I’m sorry for being myself.” I began to realize that the burden of my journey away from maladaptive coping skills and towards self-love was mine to own.

When we started to date, Branden and I struggled to communicate. I needed to talk about everything, all the time. My idea of closeness has always been communication, while his has been creating memories through quality time. When two people differ on something so fundamental to a relationship, I think there often is a long stream of questions: “Who is wrong? Why isn’t this working? Is it you or is it me?”

I asked myself and Branden this for the first two years. If my way of communicating was wrong, his must be right, I thought. Or if his was right, I must be wrong.

This year, I began to accept that maybe our methods can co-exist. And as soon as I considered this, we began to accept each other. He stopped trying to quiet my passion and I stopped trying to pull rawness out of him.

As I gave him space to be unapologetically himself, he started to tell me his story day-by-day. Almost the moment I committed to let him be himself without questioning that this somehow threatened who I was, our communication problems became almost non-existent.

I have learned that Branden is not responsible for me, and I am not responsible for him. And as soon as this started to click, as I began to heal from the scars of my past, we became much more of a team. I can now honestly say that I love Branden exactly in this moment of who he is. I love that he loves smoking meat and working with wood, that he gets emotional about inspirational music auditions, that his way of being vulnerable with me is soft and thoughtful. I love that I know his struggles, which ones came out to me when I stopped pushing him and started loving myself. And I choose to believe him when he says that he loves me, really loves me, and that he thinks (at 9 months pregnant) I am the most beautiful woman in the world.

I cannot begin to describe how much I appreciate him. When I see posts about people in love who are “best friends,” I always wonder what that really means, especially when they seemed to have met only yesterday.

But Branden has earned that title for me and I hope I have earned it for him. He chose to marry me when we didn’t know if I would ever recover, or if I would ever be able to have kids or lead a “normal” life. He demonstrated so much confidence in my ability to fight and overcome that I couldn’t help but try. He inspired me to do what I thought could not be done, and he sat with me through counseling and encouraged me through despair and prayed for me through sleepless nights. He sat with me on many bathroom floors and talked me through many panic attacks, and he loved me and never shamed me in moments of relapse and struggle. He is the best friend that I have.

So what have I learned this year in marriage? I learned the richness that comes from loving someone without trying to change a thing. I learned the depth that comes from believing I am lovable, scars and all. I learned how to really love.

More than anything, I learned what a wonderful man I married. 

 

Epiphany

Aug
05

The last few months have been vulnerable for me. And as much as I say that I’m an advocate for authenticity and taking risks for connection, I hate being exposed.

I was very excited about a job opportunity about two months ago, but I tried to not let myself get too excited. I wanted to protect myself from being disappointed or hurt. With the second baby almost ready to party, Branden traveling for clinicals, and a busy 20-month-old, my options for employment right now are limited. Two months ago, I thought that I had found something that was a perfect fit. Anxiety followed the interview, along with self-doubt and the stress of trying to balance the needs of everyone in my family.

That day, I took Charlee to Petsmart to watch puppies. Her eyes lit up as she raced to the dog pen, planted herself in front of the cutest puppy, (who only wanted her for the graham cracker she held) and giggled and giggled. I watched her, untrained to mediate emotion and reaction, unaware of social norms like not getting too excited, too sad, too happy, too fearful, too much of anything–and I felt inspired. She let herself be joyful when she was happy, and tired when she was tired, and sad when she was sad. It seemed like a much better practice, the feeling what you were feeling out in the open, than protecting and faking. I watched her interact with the dog with pure joy, and I decided to lean into the discomfort of being vulnerable.

I decided to let myself be excited, joyful, disappointed, confused, or whatever else I needed to be, with the entire process of job hunting. 

I ended up getting the job and turning it down. I ended up having another offer and turning it down. I have interviewed for multiple jobs, been excited about a few, been disappointed a few times, been plenty stressed and overwhelmed, and felt extremely vulnerable the whole process.

Vulnerability is selling myself to a job.

Vulnerability is saying “I’m worth more than you are offering,” or “That’s a lot of money, but it is too much time away from my kids at this point of my life,” or “Thank you for the offer, but it isn’t going to bring me the fulfillment that I’m looking for in employment.” 

Vulnerability is saying “no” when I really want to say “yes.”

Vulnerability is telling people I am smart enough to do what they are asking.

Vulnerability is being rejected.

For me, vulnerability is a lot less about opening up, exposing myself through words, and a lot more about navigating myself. I have a husband who will probably be away when my second baby is born, and then I’ll have two kids, and I’ll be trying to make enough money for us right now, while attempting to remain sane and make time for myself–for my desires of personal fulfillment and growth.

I let myself feel this vulnerability, thanks to Charlee and her puppy friend, and it has been emotional. Self-doubt has arisen for me in interesting ways: Am I worth this amount? Am I being selfish for being picky? What if the best thing for me right now is to say no, to not work, and to trust that everything will work out?

A job recently came up that honestly would be perfect. I won’t go into details, but I have let myself feel thrilled with the prospect of doing the work that this job entails. I have gone through an extensive interviewing process. I have met with the owner of the company in person in Salt Lake. I have asked for a job to be open specifically for me, although they weren’t looking to hire. I have spent hours proving that my skill set will be an asset to their project. I have done my best.

Two nights ago, I sent in my last test after the last month of ups and downs working on different projects for this job, and I felt absolutely nothing.

After I hit send, my emotion was flat, and I had the epiphany of all epiphanies.

Although I will be blessed to get this job, I don’t really care. After hours of work and anticipation and hope, I am going to be fine either way.

Because no matter what I do, nothing will compare to the fulfillment I get from a moment with my daughter or my husband. Nothing could even touch it. 

And I don’t say this to be preachy, because I’m aware that each of our situations are different. Maybe that connection for you will be through employment (which I hope can one day be the case for me) or maybe it will be through loving on your pets or caring for some cool plants.

But as I woke Branden up at one in the morning to try to figure this out, I realized that human connection, for me in this moment with the people I love most, is infinitely precious in ways that no external achievement could be. My moment of realization came when the internal, finally settling in, became more important than the external.

I said out loud to Branden, “This right here is as good as it gets.” And as depressing as this realization could have been, it actually felt light and joyful. The day-to-day is difficult, and nobody cares, and being a mother and a wife most days leaves me doing all my nervous ticks and not sleeping well. I am tired. But this is as good as it gets.

I realized then that one day, I am going to miss my daughter waking up screaming “MOMMY, MOMMY, MOMMY” and then constantly saying “no” to everything I offer.

I’m going to miss Branden driving 30 minutes both ways to retrieve her “lamby” that I forgot, while I rock Charlotte, way past her bedtime, and she asks me for songs until my throat is hoarse.

I’m going to miss Branden falling asleep with exhaustion everywhere he sits down, and I’m going to miss buying everything we own at a thrift store and making homemade mac n’ cheese in an already-trashed kitchen, because that’s the only thing that sounds good to me.

I’m going to miss Charlotte’s irrational fear of the sound of running water, and that her favorite color is very apparently green, and that her curly little hair is thick and wild and impossible to control.

I’m going to miss not being able to afford a gym, and I’m going to miss going to exercise classes every morning at a nearby church. I’m going to miss teaching myself to dance while 32 weeks pregnant.

I’m going to miss meeting Branden for lunch on days I have completely had it. I’m going to miss the inability to keep my house or car or self clean.

I’m going to miss date nights where we are both too exhausted to do anything, so we ask each other questions for hours with 20 fans blowing on us because we don’t have AC.

I’m going to miss him awake at 1 AM listening to me talk about this, when he has to get up at 5 to study for his test the next day.

I’m going to miss the little MMA boxer in my belly trying to break its way out, and I’m going to miss trying to craft a nursery out of things we already have, and I’m going to miss good friends helping me more than I can thank them.

Because one day, Branden and I are going to have kids all grown up, and we are going to have money and a comfortable place of our own, and it’s still going to be as much about connection then as it is now.

So I am relieved that I let myself feel uncomfortably vulnerable the last few months, because I let myself feel all the excitement and build-up, and then at the end, it wasn’t what I thought.

This is as good as it gets.

listen,

Jun
10

listen,
to the people who built you and lean in,
as they take their last breaths and speak a few words in their minds
buried deep
for you. listen,
to your smallest, tightest values and wonder,
where they came from and why they are so fluid that you ending
and them beginning
is the same. listen,
to the memory of when your grandpa cried over the phone and hear,
the song you played him on the piano
when he missed you and home and never
loved anything more. listen,
as heaven meets earth and you process death and wonder,
how it is that he is whole, that he is beautifully,
wonderfully, perfectly whole. listen,
to your father as he experiences father’s day without and hold on,
to him and the stories and phrases and words
he speaks. listen,
to your sadness and allow it to hurt and step back,
to see that your emotion manifests your depth and breadth and means you have
someone to miss. listen,
to God lifting the burden of a hurting mind and remember,
when you were fourteen and knew this was the last time, just you and him,
talking with perfect clarity. listen,
to how you thought you were special but it turns out everyone was to him,
and live.

Good Enough Parenting

May
22

If I could go back sixteen months to the night my baby was born, when I had no idea what I was getting into and every idea of how to perfectly parent, I would tell myself only one piece of parenting advice, and it would be this: You are going to mess it up.

You are going to completely mess it up at some point and in some way and in some facet of your child’s life, so give up on perfection. Give up on not making mistakes. Give up on being the ideal parent and completely tune out the million things your kid should be doing before age one and shouldn’t be doing before age five. Give up, and let it all go, and accept that your kid will probably be in counseling one day because of something you did or didn’t do.

That’s what I would tell myself. I would tell myself that I am enough being me and being a mom. I would tell myself I am a good enough parent, and that being a good enough parent is exactly what is needed. I would tell myself that being a good enough parent is actually enough despite the mistakes I will make, constantly and for the rest of my parenting life. I would tell myself that being a good enough parent is enough.

So since I can’t go back sixteen months, I’ll tell you all that instead.

(Except for the people who give talks in church about parenting whose kids never rebelled, forgot to brush their teeth, talked back, threw a tantrum, etc…Just don’t talk to those people.)

I wrote this in my journal a few weeks ago, about my own enoughness as a parent. Your version of this will be different. We all bring our own fight to the table.

“I’m a damn good mom.

I’m not a squishy mom, like when Charlotte trips I don’t gasp or react–I let her get up because I want her to be tough. I don’t buy her all the toys. She can imagine.

But I notice things about her and I write about her. I think about her constantly. I choose her to be my person, my number one. And sure, I would do anything for her, but I don’t think that’s what makes me good.

I am very concerned with being the best version of myself possible. I work at it. I choose to be self-aware even when it is excruciating and I change when I need to. It has been and still is the longest journey.

But I am more concerned with being a better me than the best mom, and that’s what makes me damn good.”

I think that this is my biggest strength in parenting. I am an excellent communicator and empathizer, I am self-aware, and I want to live a life focused on the values I believe. But still, I have plenty of reasons to not feel good enough. We all do. I could write an entire book on the million things we could feel bad about as parents–ruining your kids’ lives and chances at happiness, for instance.

To illustrate, let me tell you about this week.

Branden had a conference in Las Vegas where he met interesting people, made meaningful connections, and participated in the political side of his profession.

Meanwhile, Charlotte and I almost died. She fell down cement stairs about an hour after Branden left, leaving her face scraped and bruised. She cried, almost non-stop, for five consecutive days. The only time she stopped was when we were around other people. Then she was adorable. I have tried everything to help her, to no relief or avail. I will save you the stressful details, but I had a pediatrician tell me this week that in his twenty two years of practicing, he has never heard of some of Charlotte’s symptoms and honestly isn’t sure what to tell me.

I am five months pregnant, without a husband, working, entirely exhausted and emotionally frustrated. The job I care about most in my life–the job I would give up all the others for–the job of taking care of my daughter–I often feel I am failing, or flailing through. So this week, she ate graham crackers (seriously) whenever she wanted them, I haven’t done her hair, and we have worn pajamas all day the last few days. I have chosen to let go of the expendables in order to save our sanity.

If there is one universal theme I have noticed with parents, both young and old, it is the feeling of shame that hits, almost initially after becoming a parent, that they are not parenting good enough–they let something go, lost their temper, let their kid fall down cement stairs (ahem), should be teaching them how to put puzzles together at six months, teaching them Mandarin by age two, teaching them business strategy by age four, creating competitive little humans in a competitive world, and feeding them only organic crap.

With everything we are supposed to do as parents, it is no wonder that shame is universal. Most parenting books, podcasts, talks and advice is laced with the message: You’re not quite doing enough. You’re not quite caring enough.

Well I’m calling that out. Because to be honest, I would have to hire a small army–at least twelve people–to help me raise one child doing all the stuff I should be doing. And I would have to have a mind-reader on hand to come in and tell me at any given moment what is wrong with my kid and exactly how to fix it.

I absolutely love this quote on “good enough” parenting.

Good enough parents do not worry too much about their imperfections. They strive to do [good] things, but they recognize that they will not always succeed as fully as they might wish, and they forgive themselves for that. Good enough parents recognize that even love is never perfect; it is always at least somewhat fickle. In Bettelheim’s words, ‘Not only is our love for our children sometimes tinged with annoyance, discouragement, and disappointment, the same is true for the love our children feel for us.’ Good enough parents accept this as part of the human condition. Good enough parents understand that nature has created children to be quite resilient. As long as parents don’t mess up too badly (and sometimes even if they do), the children will turn out OK, and OK is good enough. -Dr. Peter Gray

To me, this means that it’s okay to pick your battles. It’s ok to prioritize. It’s ok to say that you are sorry, to mean it, and to show willingness to change as a parent. It’s ok to not be an intentional parent 100% of the time, or even 50, depending on the day. It’s okay to try.

I believe in good enough parenting. I believe that it’s messy. I love my baby so much I would move the world for her, and I also was so frustrated with her this week that I was writing KSL ads to my friends (half kidding) about taking a free baby for a few hours (or years.) I believe that the reality of loving a child is hard, and giving up control slowly, constantly, is painful more often than rewarding. I believe that we all feel bad for being as frustrated as we sometimes are, and we all believe that we should be handling parenting with more patience, love, and general enjoyment. (Once again, except for some people who give the talks in church about parenting. Because they’ve arrived. Or they don’t actually have kids.)

So I don’t buy into the shame, and you shouldn’t either. It’s exhausting. You are a good enough parent, no matter what phases your kids are going through or what mistakes you have made. You are a good enough parent, and so am I.

And if you’re about to become a new parent: You are going to mess it up. Give up. You are good enough.

 

The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Apr
10

I have felt vulnerable both preparing and now giving this talk. Not because of any doctrinal or philosophical question about my topic, but rather because I do not know how to talk about the Atonement of Jesus Christ with any amount of distance from myself. It is so incredibly personal. When I received this talk, I felt immediately what I needed to talk about, but my thoughts and impressions are a little uncomfortable for me to share. But despite my fear, I will do my best to say what I feel I need to today.

When I went on my mission to San Fransisco and then to Brazil, my expectations for what my mission would be and what my mission turned out to be were vastly different. I thought that my mission would be about conversion, about teaching and about learning. Although all of these happened, the most sacred moments for me occurred when God and Jesus Christ allowed me, privileged me, to see another person through their hold, all-encompassing and all-merciful eyes.

In San Francisco, my companion and I walked to an appointment, a few minutes late, hurried, and stressed. On our way, we passed an old woman sitting on a cement slab, wearing mis-matching clothes. She was very dirty. Thirty seconds later, I turned to my companion and asked if we could return; I had felt that the old woman needed our attention. Approaching her, we sat, one of us on each side of her, and asked if there was anything we could do for her that day. She immediately began to sob. I saw that she had no teeth and that cigarets hung from her oversized sweatshirt pocket. She told us that she had been diagnosed with cancer that day, that her husband beat her, and that she had been abused since she was three years old. She did not have a soul in the world to love her. I put my arm around her and in that moment, the heavens opened and I saw her and loved her as perfectly as I have ever loved anyone.

Three months later, a man with no arms in Brazil approached my companion and I to beg for food. I told him that we had very little but that I had a book that had brought light and joy into my life. As his eyes widened in shock that we had responded in kindness and with the idea of hope and belonging in our voices, I began to cry as I earnestly testified to him that he, personally, individually and alone, meant something irreplaceably beautiful to not only just someone, but to the Son of Man and Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.

In Isaiah 53: 3-5, it says, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

This scripture illustrates that He “descended below them all” (D & C 122:8) when He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and then on the cross. Because of this, each of us, independent of circumstance or fortune, have find power through turning to him. None are left out or abandoned–the woman in San Fransisco, the man with no arms in Brazil, the hopeless, the hopeful, you and I–none are denied access to the most incredible source of power and resilience through Him, Jesus Christ. This was  my greatest discovery on my mission. Truly, like Preach my Gospel says, “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

Although my problems comparable appear small when weighed against what so many suffer, I truly believe that the small injustices in my life matter to the Holy Son of God.

Our Savior loves us perfectly. Elder Renlund recently said that “The Savior’s mortal ministry was indeed characterized by love, compassion, and empathy. He did not disdainfully walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, flinching at the sight of sinners. He did not dodge them in abject horror. No, He ate with them. He helped and blessed, lifted and edified, and replaced fear and despair with hope and joy. Like the true shepherd He is, He seeks us and finds us to offer relief and hope. Understanding His compassion and love helps us exercise faith in Him—to repent and be healed.” He goes on to say that if we are to understand, appreciate and truly apply His flawless teachings, we are to love others. “The message to us in clear: a repenting sinner draws closer to God than does the self-righteous person who condemns that sinner.”

I’ll be the first to admit that among my favorite pastimes is judging people. It’s easy. It turns my thoughts out instead of in, and it feels good to blame someone else for what goes wrong in my life. However, the truth I have learned and the first tangible application to drawing power from Christ’s life and culminating sacrifice comes from withholding judgment. It comes from withholding criticism. It comes from understanding that when Christ knelt in the garden pleading with the Father for relief and finding Himself more and more alone, He did not pick and choose which of us merited His love. He did not say that He would feel the pain of only those investigators who chose baptism, only those men and women who would spend their time on earth practicing self-sufficiency, or only those who would be loved and give love.

No, He saw each of us; He thought of each of us. Of the ex-communicated member, the anti-Christian, the less-than-ideal church leader, teacher or speaker, the smoker, drug addict, the murderer. He saw us each in those moments. He saw those who believe and practice religion differently, the corrupt politician, those with different sexual orientations, and those who for the life of them cannot read their scriptures of pray consistently.

I believe that the most beautiful aspect of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that He chose each one of us, no matter where we may find ourselves right now. Recognizing this has helped me make small goals to be kinder, to give people a break, and to say that I am sorry with more sincerity. Although I am far from where one day I will be, when I remember Jesus Christ and His impeccable love, I feel that I am heading in a good direction.

The second way that I have learned to draw power in my life from Christ’s Atonement is by trying to live in such a way to have the Holy Ghost with me. In a recent face-to-face with the youth, Elder Holland and President Eyring spoke of how the application of Jesus Christ’s Atonement in our life is seen by living with the Spirit and thus being guided, comforted and led by Christ. Elder Nelson said last weekend that “When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do.”

I have little idea what’s going on in my life most of the time, let alone yours. But because of Jesus Christ’s excruciating choice to see each one of us, He knows–He knows how to come to us. He knows what we each need. Tad R. Callister, in The Infinite Atonement, wrote that “One of the blessings of the Atonement is that we can receive of the Savior’s succoring powers. Isaiah spoke repeatedly of the Lord’s healing, calming influence. He testified that the Savior was ‘a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat’ (Isaiah 25:4). As to those who sorrow, Isaiah declared that the Savior possessed the power to ‘comfort all that mourn’ (Isaiah 61:2), and ‘wipe away tears from off all faces’ (Isaiah 25:8; see also Revelation 7:17); ‘revive the spirit of the humble’ (Isaiah 57:15); and ‘bind up the brokenhearted’ (Isaiah 61:1). So expansive was his succoring power that he could exchange ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isaiah 61:3).

Oh, what hope soars in those promises.”

As we strive to have the Spirit with us, because Jesus Christ has been where we are and knows the best way for us to keep going, He will come to us. Through the Spirit, He will speak to our souls and help us know what to do next. And if in any given moment He doesn’t, He will be our Friend.

In my experience, the most sacred understanding and application that comes from Christ’s Atonement is the recognition and belief that although He suffered for every other individual in the world, He also saw you, and me. I have experienced and seen that as a culture, this one is hard for us. This one is hard for me. But I believe that if I am to understand, accept and show gratitude for my Savior, then I am kind and forgiving to myself. I see that no matter what I have done or still continue to do, He knew, and I was still worth it.

I spend a concerted amount of time and effort every week remembering that and trying to change the way I speak to myself. As a recovering perfectionist, I know that this is hard.

But I also can testify with certainty that Jesus Christ loves us in our weakness, in our very moment of struggle. He loves us as we fail. When it seems that so much in our world is conditional–we get into college when we earn good grades, we maintain healthy relationships when we work on them, we receive praise for acting a certain way and rejection for acting another–I genuinely know that our Savior’s love is not conditional on what we do.

I have struggled for years with addiction. I understand all too well what recovery and relapse look life. I thought for years and years that I could not approach my Lord while in the midst of my sin. I did not plead for forgiveness because I thought that by asking and then messing up again, every day over and over, I was disrespecting Him. And I knew that I loved Him and I didn’t want to hurt anyone any more.

But here’s the thing I have learned: we try and we often see our efforts fail. I am imperfect. It would be impossible for me to wait until I had it all “figured out” to start applying His sacrifice in my life. When I reached a point of humility to where I was willing to ask Him to help me change, to help me want to repent, even in my consistently failed efforts, I can testify that He loved me perfectly. And recovery began.

In D & C 45: 3-5, Christ says, “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—

Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;

Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”

I know that Hie is our advocate, and He is kind. He is on our side, especially in the midst of our imperfections and struggles.

I got sick on my mission and came home early. The time between my hospitalization in Brazil and my flight back to the states was among the most confusing of my life. I will never forget the moment, the first moment of my life, when the realization hit me: He thought of you too, you know. He saw you too.

I was very sick and afraid. I did not know what my future looked like, and I was afraid of the comments and judgement I was sure were to come. As I left the mission home for the last time, I looked at a small picture of Christ handing on the wall. He had tears in His eyes and I had a distinct impression: Kaylee, He is crying with you.

It is my sincerest desire that everyone in the world knows that they have a Savior and that He saw them, He sees them, He cries and rejoices with them, as I have come to know.

Being A Mother//Being Myself

Mar
09

There is a natural progression to what life as a middle-class, religious, conservative woman looks like: elementary school, middle school, high school with a boyfriend and a sub-par job, college, adventures–a medical or religious mission, a study abroad–, dating around, settling down with “the one,” a job or career, and finally, then, motherhood. Finally, then, you’ve arrived.

At least that’s what I thought. I have been taught from religion or society or something that motherhood is the grand destination to life. Once you have become a mother, you’re there.

A good friend said to me today, “Kaylee, you know there’s nothing wrong with being goal-oriented and ambitious?” and she said it like that should be the most obvious statement in the world, but it felt so good to hear and also so surprising that I have felt…lighter…all day. It feels like a strain has been lifted off of my shoulders.

I have been thinking all day about why this statement surprised me and have reached a conclusion, or rather, a question that might lead to a few conclusions: what if being a mother, arriving at what I thought my destination would be, does not “fill” me completely? And that question led me to another: why do I feel so incredibly shamed for still trying to be myself–one who desires achievement, who is rarely content but always hungry, starving for creating and trying and experimenting with  my talents– after getting married and having a baby?

I know that this is a touchy subject for probably every woman, so I want to make something clear: I believe that women are unique. I believe that many women find complete fullness from motherhood, from the very moment they first hold their first child. And this is not lesser in my mind. We are all different, with different needs and desires and ambitions and disappointments. This is not an argument against stay-at-home mothers or for working women. I anticipate being “filled,” being completely fulfilled as a mother in some future moment of my life. I admire and respect women who choose to stay at home–my mother was one such, and the blessings of what continuously come from her sacrifices are unparalleled.

And if what fills you the most is cooking dinner, doing crafts, creating beautiful gardens, meditating, reading, or focusing all efforts into your children–how wonderful! I appreciate that you are different than me. I need friends who can cook me dinner and teach me how to be organized and help me craft.

This also isn’t an argument against working mothers. I know incredible women who balance beautifully their many roles.

I wish as women we could recognize and truly appreciate that we are different, and what a relief, because we need Pinteresty women and lawyers and surgeons, humble, giving women and cooks and yogis and talkers and listeners. We need all sorts. We need workers and watchers. We don’t all “fit.” Maybe none of us fit.

I am a mother first and foremost. I would do anything for my daughter, and she brings me more joy than I can imagine anything else ever will. She is my world.

And I think it’s okay for me to be a mother and to still be myself, just like I think it’s okay for you to be a mother and be yourself, whatever that looks like. For the last year, I have been trying to “fit” and “fulfill my duty” to Charlee, to Branden and really to my culture. I have struggled with condescending comments from women like “being a mom is the best thing ever!” and “being a mom is enough; enjoy every moment!”

I know. I know it is. I love life with my daughter. I am a mother and I get it, and I would not trade it for anything. But how did sacrificing who we are as individuals, as women, somehow get wrapped up in our perceptions of what it means to be a good mother? (I can’t speak for you. Maybe it’s just me.)

When did it become black and white? Or is it? Why is it either a “stay at home” or a “working” mom? And why does it feel like there is a “versus” in between the two? It feels black and white.

But today I realized that it doesn’t have to be. I will be a better mother for chasing my dreams and filling myself daily, weekly, and monthly. I will be a better mother and actually, I will be a better person if I remain authentic to myself no matter what else is happening in my life. And the reality of what that will look like, I imagine, will fluidly move as I change throughout the years.

I’m an intense person who loves achieving and loves making and reaching goals. So that’s what I’m going to do, or at least, try to do.

I’m about 117 pages into my first book.

I decided today to become a health coach and teach people about intuitive eating.

I need room to explore how I personally can live what I believe.

I go to counseling every week because I like learning about myself, and I am passionate about self-improvement.

One day, I will get my Masters in Fine Arts and be a certified teacher.

And today I realized, for the first time, that this isn’t selfish. As a mother, I choose to sacrifice myself in certain ways and to hang onto myself in others. This isn’t selfish; it’s self-care.

I want to view motherhood as this forever journey in my life, not its final point, which at some times I will do full-time and at others I will share with other goals.

And that’s okay, at least for now.

 

 

 

Feeling Too Much

Feb
21

Being tender and open is beautiful. As a woman, I feel constantly shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy. Blah blah. Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a raindrop, a teakettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep, feel it all–look around you. All of this is for you. Take it and have gratitude. Give it and feel love. -Zooey Deschanel

Today: an walk in the wind, gold sprinkles on a cookie, butterfly kisses, an over sized floral bow, tiny footsteps upstairs, two dutch braids, creativity on a computer sheet of paper.

Yesterday: a nearby farm, a picnic blanket under a tree, a bird talking to everyone, sparkly fingernails, thrift store shopping, sweat pants, blaring country music.

Noticing and feeling everything.

Society favors extroverts. Job interviewers want their future employees to be social, good with people, friendly and likable. Understandably, many introverts feel a few steps behind.

I am an extrovert in every sense of the word. Let me tell you everything. Let me give you my heart and my thoughts and my observations and my days and my moments. I am yours, whoever you are. Despite the favoring of “my kind” of people, there is one caveat–it seems that I feel too much.

As much as society favors extroverts, it encourages a type of communication different from the one that comes naturally to me. People are more often careful and guarded and reactive, because people compete with people who compete with other people who compete with themselves. A never-ending competition of appearances advocates for a certain type of communication; a cautious one. And if I open up and listen like I always do, time after time I feel that I feel too much, that my heart is too big and guides my decisions more than it should.

There are many people like me. After asking many friends, I have discovered that even  people who are not exactly extroverts feel that they feel too much. The whole world feels quieted.

And in the middle of this world, I am vulnerable most of the day to most everyone I meet. I bubble up in every conversation. I crave connections and I feel it deeply when they are strengthened or broken. In the middle of this careful world, it would be probably be easier to shut it off and shut down, to close my mouth and heart. It would probably be easier to lay the vulnerability which I experience daily in many forms down to rest. The vulnerability sometimes gets exhausting.

When you feel too much by today’s standard, people sometimes crush it. But here’s the thing that I have learned about sacrificing vulnerability: it comes with a steep cost. Being careful does not allow me to connect with people in the ways that I love, and by sacrificing who I am, I lose parts of me that are irreplaceable, authentically me.

So if you are like me, an extrovert or someone who “feels too much,” here is some free advice from someone who has learned:

Feel it anyways.

If someone hurts you and blames you from their distance from people, feel it anyways. Allow yourself to be hurt without blaming.

Allow yourself to be human. Look at what others may call “weakness” as an incredible opportunity to empathize and validate others. Look at every feeling as a buy into humanity.

For those of you who feel for others too deeply: I know that it hurts, because you cannot fix the world. Feel it anyways; allow yourself to hurt for others, and then you will remember to be kinder and to try harder to be better. The pain is productive–feel it.

When you get too excited about successes, let yourself feel joy. I often protect myself from this one in order to prepare for potential future failures. Feel joy.

Feel sadness when you need to. Take a day or a week or a month to mourn.

Don’t let people silence you by telling you that emotion is weakness; it isn’t; it is incredible strength that makes you uniquely, beautifully connected. Feel as deeply as you can, and cherish the moments that it lends you.

Like a Girl

Feb
05

This morning, Charlee and I showed up at the church gym to cheer on daddy as he played a basketball game.

Branden’s team was down a player, and I can play basketball. Branden suggested that I join the team, and I watched as some of the men shifted, some accepted, and some grimaced. Playing with a girl?

One of the men, stooped over putting his basketball shoes on, said, “Well, if we can’t get five guys we might as well start trying to get girls to play.”

Oh, really?

I lifted my eyebrows, looked directly at him, and said, “might as well?” loud enough for everyone within the room to hear.

He caught on, laughing nervously and playing it off. I immediately said to Branden in Portuguese, “I don’t want to play with this guy,” to which he responded, “I get that.” There was an immediate assumption that I was going to play basketball “like a girl,” which phrase we can use interchangeably with “worse” in this case.

I ended up playing, because I wanted to play and I’m actually pretty good, not great but pretty good, and I played while my baby crawled around on the sideline. I asked the opposing team to play hard against me, and they did. I got swatted a few times, and I had a few great steals. I played good defense. And not that I was keeping score or anything, but I scored more points than that guy.

Women are as individual as men. Please do not make assumptions about me.

How does it make sense to assume that because someone is a woman, she cannot possibly play basketball as good as say, a middle-aged, out-of-shape man? And how does it make sense to assume that men can lift heavy things while women cannot? It doesn’t, but I’m still picked hesitantly to play for a team, and eyes still skip over me when looking for “strong hands” to help.

I am as individual as you, with strengths and weaknesses. Being a women does not make me weak and it does not make me strong. Let me decide what I am.

I am a mother and a creator and I like to play basketball. I can lift heavy things. I am a woman, a mother, a creator, an athlete, and I am strong.

In order to compete though, I need opportunities to compete–so give them freely.

And then if I am not keeping up, cut me from the team.

I want my daughter to hear the phrase “like a girl” and know that that phrase connotes strength and individuality, not weakness or inferiority. Because girls can do, well, pretty cool things.

See stats from basketball game today.