A Page of One's Own

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.

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.

Sacred Space

Jan
26

I walk into the room with my hands shoved into my black puffy coat pockets, and I scan the thirty or so faces huddled in corners throughout the small cafeteria. Yellow lights blare off of the glossy, fake-wood counter tops. My head quickly turns back and forth, but I do not see him. I find an empty bench and sit down. Two more women shuffle in from the door I just passed through–they are wearing expensive clothes and heeled boots, and I catch a glimpse of a “Kate Spade” label. A woman around their age limps up to them; her hair has not been combed and she wears a loose-fitting, biker looking t-shirt. The Kate Spade lady hugs her, and then the other.

Pulling my hands out of my pockets and bringing them together, I look to my left. A girl with fake red hair and heavy black eyeliner sits across from a dark-haired, stocky boy her our–or rather, our age. He talks through thick emotion. She grabs his hand and looks so intently in his eyes that I feel like an intruder. My hands sweat, and I wring them together. I don’t know why I’m so nervous.

It might be that he stopped eating or drinking, and I feel personally responsible to bring him light in this sterile, bleak-looking place. It might be that no one has been allowed to visit him. I am the first.

I sit there for too long, and bored looking nurses shift uncomfortably and whisper to each other. “Who is she here to see?” I hear. “Joseph, I think.”

Actually, he goes by Kay.

After ten minutes, a tall man in scrubs wheels him backwards through the door. His eyes are scrunched shut and he drags his feet from the wheelchair where he sits. One of his arms is through a cardigan; the other is free. The man apologizes quickly. “He wouldn’t let me put his other arm through.”

I ignore him and grab my grandfather’s hand. “Grandpa, it’s me.”

His eyes flutter open and he smiles faintly. “Hello, Beautiful.” Tears fill my eyes; he talked to me, and he called me Beautiful. I take both of his hands in mine and although blurry, see bruises where they have stuck him with IVs for hydration and nutrition. We sit there holding hands in this moment for me frozen in time, and now everyone else is intruding. I see the nurses look down, embarrassed to be a part of this intimate interaction. “Grandpa, how are you? How are they treating you here? You know that I love you?”

His moment of lucidity has passed, and he mumbles a non-coherent response.

After a few more exchanges, he tries to stand up. I put my arm around him, still holding one of his hands, and we begin to walk. “Wow, that’s the most active he has been this entire week,” one of the nurses say. He tries to take grandpa’s hand, and grandpa pushes him away.

Throughout the next thirty minutes, we walk back and forth across the cafeteria. He leans on me heavily and I tell him about Charlee’s upcoming birthday party, about Branden’s PA school, and about how much we miss him at home. Responses are muddy–he doesn’t know Charlotte, or Branden, me, or himself. “Grandpa, you know that I love you?”

“Yes, I do. It’s apparent.” Another tiny burst of Grandpa.

We walk to the soda machine, and he asks me for a drink. We share Diet Cokes and talk some more. He is so drugged that he hangs his head, falling in and out of the disorienting conversation.

He drinks something, and I feel hope.

He gnaws on his hand and I ask him why. “I’m hungry.”

They ask me to come back into the psychiatric ward, to stay longer than visiting hours, and to feed him. We wait in a small room together and he falls into sleep. I bring a spoon to his mouth and he refuses.

He is a giant of a man trapped in a decaying mind. He is literally a giant among men, with an ability to love so purely I can only dream and aspire to feel a fraction of that someday. I miss him so much as I kiss his cheek good-bye that later that night, after Branden is in bed, I sit on the linoleum floor in my kitchen and cry. I pray, “Just please, let this end.” We have lived with him and my grandma for over two years, and we have literally watched the most painful moments of his life and my grandmother’s. We have watched him digress from slight recognition to confusion to anger, blackness. I think back to mere hours before, walking with him and talking with him, seeing the bruises on his hands and his scruffy cheeks and his sunken, fallow eyes still in his pajamas, drugged and hardly responsive, with less than 1% of his brain functioning at any level, and I feel everything. I did not want to leave. I pray, “God, take Him home to you and God, let him be whole.”

The psychiatric hospital was a sacred place, and the memory will forever hold a sacred space in my mind, because it was the Atonement of Jesus Christ in action. It was broken people, who needed each other and who have struggled and who were trying and more times than not failing. It was my grandpa, saying “Hello Beautiful” like some sign from God that he was still within himself somewhere deep and mostly hidden, and that angels were around him always, the ones that we can and cannot see. It was a woman with a Kate Spade bag taking time to visit a friend in an uninviting, prison-like place, and it was a twentysomething girl  extending her arm to her boyfriend, unafraid to love him. It was brokenness, but it was also this blinding light shining through the cracks of all the hurting people and connecting us with each other. It was a symbol of humanity to me, and of sacrifice and failing and one day hopefully overcoming. It was the closest I have felt to God in a long time, because scriptures and prayer do it for me sometimes, but sometimes I forget to really study and to really converse, and the connection comes in waves and bursts, sometimes too far apart. It was God in that room.

 

 

 

My Views on Feminism

Oct
09
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Virginia Woolf

I’m feeling controversial today. Some idiot driver didn’t let me into his lane–he actually went out of his way to not let me into his lane–and it made me so angry that I rode his bumper for a solid mile. I generally don’t get road rage. But, really? Charlotte was crying in the car and I had to stop completely after the idiot driver had passed, and I even started yelling. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments. The moral of the story is that I’m feeling controversial today.

So while I’m making people angry and yelling at the world, I figured that I would finally write my feelings about feminism, and specifically feminism within the church that I belong to.

I am a feminist.

I hate the public reaction when I say that sentence, because I can guarantee that at least half of my audience cringes at the very word. The social connotations with the word “feminist” are actually very different from what I consider to be true feminism, which is, that men and women are equal.

I graduated with a degree in English. Within my studies, I focused primarily on women in literature. I took classes studying women writers throughout history, especially in Central/South America, and early North America. The name of my blog is based on who I consider to be a great woman and leader in certain feminist ideas, Virginia Woolfe. She wrote about creating space for women in the literary and creative world.

From my education and subsequent studies, here is what I have come to believe, to this point:

Historically, women have not be heard; they have be silenced. Most women who I read or studied fought, hard, to breath from the same air that men breathed from. Queen Elizabeth wrote about this in her personal journals. Even being a leader, her femininity trapped her in many regards.

I do not mean to be dramatic in saying this, but I truly believe that this era is actually the first in recorded history when women have been free. I don’t say that lightly. I believe that with that freedom comes a new host of challenges and responsibilities.

I also believe that anyone who thinks that sexism isn’t prevalent in our current society isn’t paying attention.

I recognize that many feminist arguments don’t seem fair. I disagree that there should be a certain amount of positions in a graduate school or company for women. I want to go to graduate school or get a dream job because I earned it, not because I am a woman.

Women’s rights have certainly come a long way, and they still have a long way to come. I am grateful to live in a time where I can go to work if I chose or get married and have children. I feel that women are pretty nasty at times when it comes to this. Stay-at-home mothers criticize working moms, even in unsuspecting statements about breastfeeding, daycare, or loving their kids “enough” to do _______ for them. And the jokes against stay-at-home moms from working mothers are everywhere; if you don’t believe me, start watching TV.

I admire and respect women; we need them at home, and we need them in the world.

I know that the above ideas and beliefs seem scattered, but they represent together an idea I believe passionately and will continue to support: that women are equal to men. It is not my “job” to do what women have historically done. The beauty of this time is that I can chose.

Another crucial part of my beliefs on femininity, and one that is increasingly unpopular, is that women are different than men. I feel a great burden with the thought of raising a daughter, and I feel the burden for mothers raising this generation of daughters, to teach that each girl can actually dream and accomplish anything she wants. And at the same time, she is a woman, not a man.

Within the LDS church, there is a recent movement of men and women joined together advocating for what I can with near confidence say would be more equality between men and women. Any worthy man holds something called the “priesthood,” to heal and bless and administer ordinances. Women do not hold the priesthood.

How do I fit this into my feminist beliefs?

The word priesthood means the power of God. I genuinely believe that I have the power of God. So the priesthood that I have just looks different from the priesthood my husband has. One is not greater than the other; they complement each other perfectly.

For instance, I have the ability to receive personal revelation. I can literally talk to God and He will answer. I have the ability to create life. I have had experience after experience that confirm to me that I have the power of God, and thus, my own kind of priesthood.

The foundation of my religious beliefs stem from personal revelation I have received that have taught me that the gospel I believe in, and the church that gospel is built on, teach truth that comes directly from God.

The distinction between church and gospel has been tricky for many church members. I hear stupid things at church all the time, which I don’t believe or agree with. I have had leaders who I don’t like at all; who I flat-out disagree with, and who I don’t respect. I can make room for this, because people are, actually, human.

The gospel to me is pretty simple: it is built of principles of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and committing to God through promises, or covenants. It teaches that God always has and always will call prophets and apostles to be His mouthpiece. They will make mistakes. (Again, that “human” thing.) At the same time, the principles that they teach are directly from God Himself.

So when the prophet says something, I support it. I pray about it and think about it. And then I support it.

The gospel is not a democracy. It wasn’t when Jesus was here and it isn’t today. I feel that women who have issues with not having the priesthood either don’t understand how much power of God actually fills them up, or don’t understand that the principles of the gospel are up to God. Not me or you.

Let me return to my first point: I’m a feminist. Even within the church.

Like, what about Nephi’s wife in the scriptures? She was dragged all around the universe bearing children in the desert and she never gets a name? You better believe she’s a main reason Nephi stayed as good as he did. For that matter, what about all of the wives?

I recognize that within any organization filled with imperfect people, churches included, there will be names omitted and mistakes made. It isn’t a deal breaker for me. I try not to expect people, even and especially leaders, to be perfect. I expect God to be perfect. If a change needs to happen, I believe it’ll happen in His time. I don’t pretend to know everything or feel completely at ease with where I am. I feel that this discomfort is essential, else why do I need faith?

I love being a woman. It is messy and complicated and exciting right now. I love messy and complicated and exciting.

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Mormon Missionaries

Jul
13

12919923_1145730325467362_3861388297796855638_nI was once a missionary in Brazil. Frustrated with Portuguese, insecure in my ability to communicate, passionate about what I tried desperately to say.

I sacrificed everything that I could on my mission.My mission forced me to grow up. I let go of the innocent parts of me, and I struggled and wrestled and questioned and triumphed over what I truly, really, knew and believed. I have since been married, had a child, graduated from college, experienced grown-up life in all its glories. Still, my mission stretched me further and deeper and wider than any experience since.

My husband and I were asked to be a part of an activity for our church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, last Friday night. We showed up late and sat in the back with our baby. A man in a suit stood up and instructed us on what we were to do: hundreds of youth from the church would drive up in their tired cars and dirty bicycles any minute. We were to pretend that we were not members of the church and allow them to practice teaching us about Joseph Smith, about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, about eternal families and the Book of Mormon.

My first response was an eye roll. These 12-18 year old kids, I thought to myself, would not take this seriously. And to be honest, I have heard it one hundred times, studied it one hundred times, taught it one hundred times.

Branden and I walked slowly out into the hall, waiting for the kids to show up. We planned our date night after we had checked this obligation off of our “to-do” list, and I started to feel hungry as he mentioned pizza and root beer.

Fifteen minutes later, two young men in suits and ties, about 16 years old, walked up to us and sat down across from where we played with our baby.

“Can we teach you a message about Jesus Christ?” one of them asked.

I thought of a snarky remark in my head. No, you can’t, that’s why I’m starving over here with a grumpy baby.

“Of course,” Branden said, “We would love to hear what you have to say.” (This is why I take Branden places with me. He often talks before I can, which turns out to be a pretty good thing most of the time.)

The other young man delved into the lesson. It became apparent after the first word or two that he did not speak English well, and actually hardly spoke at all. We found out later that he had recently moved from Spain to our little town of Mapleton, Utah.

I leaned forward, trying to pick out recognizable words. I looked at him and nodded my head, now genuinely intrigued with who this young man was and what he had to say.

He looked me in the eyes the entire lesson. He stumbled on words almost every sentence. He would close his eyes, take a deep breath, and try again. And again. And again. And again.

As he spoke, an overwhelming peace filled my soul, and my vision became cloudy. I cannot remember a single thing that he said, but I remember that long sought-after peace.

For the first time in my life, I forgave myself for not being quick enough at Portuguese or a good enough teacher or companion or missionary.

My words mattered little. My heart mattered most.

I felt the sacrifice of this young man. I felt good and warm and peaceful when he spoke. I felt my beliefs solidify further.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I pictured my baby brother Ben, now on a mission in Chile. I pictured him struggling to teach in Spanish, always too hard on himself, trying with everything he had to serve the people around him, feeling like he falls short.

But it turns out that none of that matters too much. His good heart and pure intentions and earnest, eager desire to simply help matter an infinite amount more.

I know that Mormon Missionaries are unique, and that they can be awkward and nervous and even flat-out bad teachers. I also know, both from being one and by being taught by one, that they have good things to say, which things have changed me and enriched my life with meaning and fulfillment and hope.

 

The Land

Jun
01

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We woke with the sun and the bluest sky. The sky is brighter and bluer when you are in the mountains. The hot dogs taste like steak and the sun is hotter and the water colder.

We woke with the sun and began running the narrow dirt road up the side of the mountain to the reservoir. Branden sang ACDC as loud as he could, between gasps of air, and I ran circles around him. Ever since I accused him of only pretending to enjoy running to impress me while we were dating, he has made more of an effort. Hence the ACDC.

I have never seen more shades of green. Light green of the aspens, lush green of the pines, bright green of the grass, yellow-green of the moss–everything green. A waterfall ran down the side of the cliff to my right.

I jogged in place while Branden ran 20 yards ahead. Pretending like I was on my high school track team, I dropped my hands to the ground and started sprinting after him. His ACDC stopped as he surged ahead, and all I could hear was my breath, now harder and faster.

Ten minutes later, we reached the top. The sun and surrounding mountains reflected off the clear blue lake. Massive pines lined the water, and we ran for another mile in silence. The trail took a sharp turn and the thick trees dissipated for a moment. I stopped in my tracks. Gold danced on the completely still water. The snow-capped mountains reflected brilliantly off of the gold and blue. I could not breathe in that moment.

Later that day, we drove up the other side of the mountain, on a rocky, steep, off-road trail. A grove of thousands of aspens lined both sides, and little bluebells danced beneath. We drove slowly and looked at the carvings of different sheepherders who had left their mark on the land. Marcos, Peru, 1962. Ron, 1973. Juan, Peru, 2013. I began to imagine the stories of these men. Why they came here, what their lives looked like, how they survived on this mountain, what their families thought of them.

We made it to the top, again. Except in the mountains it is never the top; it is a single peak but never the absolute top. We stepped out of the car and spotted a herd of elk running along a mirroring mountain. We looked up and saw more peaks, and more peaks, and more and more. We stood in a sea of land.

Charlotte played with the grass. She grabbed and tried to eat it. Branden lectured me on all of things anatomy and I tuned out and started a yoga routine.

I thought back to visiting this same piece of land when I was five years old. Fishing in an over-sized t-shirt with my dad. When I was seven years old. Pulling down unsteady pines in our campground with a chainsaw and a truck. And then, when I was twelve. Riding a motorcycle and a four-wheeler for the first time. And when I thirteen, princess lessons with my cousins. And when I was seventeen, whittling a piece of campfire wood all day for my boyfriend. And when I was twenty-three, my baby, fascinated by a piece of grass.thumbnail_IMG_8295

The land always changes. It takes years, tens and hundreds and thousands of them, but it changes with the storms and the sunshine and the water flow and the wind and fallen trees and tumbling rocks.

In a few weeks from now, I will visit my grandfather’s land once again; the pristine and majestic thousand acres of undeveloped beauty. I will be different then; I will have changed. Next year, I will come back and ride a horse on that same trail and it will be different and I will be different. Ten years from now, I will be molded into something else and fifty years from now, I will be entirely transformed.

I am not good at change. I like rigidity and schedules. But as we ran to the lake and the beauty took my breathe away, I thought that maybe I should start to like change. If the land never changed, I would not have seen what I saw.

I am not good at change, but maybe every year I can leave my mark on a tree and see where I have come. Kaylee, Kennewick, 2011. Kaylee, Brazil, 2013. Kaylee, Mapleton, 2016. And then I can look back and see, tree by tree, that I am different, and that is good.

Charlotte will play with grass only for a few months. Branden will be in PA school for a short two years.

This moment passed, and now today I am changed.

 

My Grandfather’s Brain

May
21

IMG_2677Everyone discriminates. We choose what brand of peanut butter, what school for our children, what friends and what career. Life is not fair, because people are people and everyone discriminates and nothing is simple.

Disease, however, does not discriminate. Neither does death. If disease discriminated, if it chose who to infect and who to leave be, my grandfather would not be sick. For all of the discrimination, disease and death do not. It is never the nasty people who get sick; it is my grandfather.

I was 14 years old when I spoke with him for the last time. In Washington at a family reunion with colorful t-shirts and video cameras and water bottles and a hike on a mountain trail, we spoke for the last time. The little kids blazed up front and the adults lagged in back, and frozen for a moment in the middle was me and him. I had the looming feeling that this would be the last time we spoke, and I held onto his words. I do not remember them now, but the essence was kindness and gentleness and little talking and much listening.

Then began the

deterioration.

Deterioration and death do not discriminate. They drew his name from a genetically-cursed hat and grabbed him slowly and then all at once.

Last week, me and him searched for his home, this walk mirroring the antithesis of the one we took nine years ago. We walked for an hour, turning down every road and searching and searching and searching and searching for something that exists only in his dying brain. I asked him many times what he felt was the best thing he had done in his life. Although he does not recognize his wife as his wife, he said each time, “The best thing I have done was marry my beautiful wife. She is everything to me.”

And she is everything to him. I have to believe that deep down, his core and his values and his wife are still the same. Untouchable to him for this moment in time, but still the same.

The first phase of his disease was a defeating and devastating self-awareness. He stopped speaking at the dinner table, for fear of repetition. He knew his mind was disintegrating and his humblest prayers and struggles would not change the literal atrophy of the thing that makes us, individuals, individual. Then came depression as he forgot that he was forgetting. Then came complete darkness and confusion.

The deafening complete darkness and confusion. He cannot speak as my grandfather anymore. Allow me to speak for him.

With every person I meet when I am with him, I want to say “He is not him. Let me speak for him.”

So let me say this. He has lived the fullest, simplest life. Every person he met loved him. He did not hold grudges. He was content. He was kind. He was so kind. He was so kind that people felt as if they were the most important person in the world after 60 seconds of talking with him. His deterioration did not discriminate. It would have and should have chosen really, anyone else. He is dying slowly.

Alzheimer’s Disease is death slowly. It is a fading awareness of self. It is a backwards film reel that takes an adult and rewinds back to infancy. The knowledge existing in the brain is the same as the knowledge of an infant, but the adult is left with adult-like emotions. Fear and frustration, and deterioratio…

Complete deteriora…

He is home, but he does not believe that. Constantly searching for his home, he must need something familiar. He stubbornly and belligerently insists on “home.” I think of the things that are my home–my husband, the smell of a vanilla candle, a down pillow, the sound of my dishwasher, the cry of my baby–and I cannot imagine a world void of these things. His world is absent of even a scent of the familiar.

I have lived with my grandfather for two years. Every time I see him, I miss him deeply.

I miss him deeply. My parents named me after him. I carry that proudly. He called me “beautiful” in the place of my name for the first 14 years of my life. I knew he was deteriorating when he started calling me “Kaylee” instead. I wish to God I would be beautiful once more.

He is a mirror. In him I see how I treat people who genuinely give me nothing back and even will not remember what I say or do.

Like I said, disease does not discriminate. He has faded from a human being to a mirror, and now he is a mirror and the rest of us are human beings and maybe that is why it is so damn hard.

He cannot speak as my grandfather anymore. Allow me to speak for him.

Dear Charlotte

May
20

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Charlotte,

You literally have no idea how much worth is bundled up inside your precious little soul.

Believe me on this one, and you will be unstoppable.

Don’t you dare play small. People boil, shrink, and mold themselves to fit in a box they think will make them more socially acceptable, more normal, or more invisible. But love, be too much. Feel too much. Be a little too big, take a few too many risks. Believe that you can do more than will ever be possible.

Be hungry, starving, to discover everything. Intelligence won’t necessarily get you anywhere. Be hungry instead.

If you don’t want to like someone, don’t get to know them. Almost every person under a microscope turns out to be pretty amazing. If you are struggling to be kind to someone, listen to them. Look at their eyes.

There is an unlimited amount of joy floating around in the air. Be happy when it lands on someone else. Their success doesn’t take away from the fullness of your life. The most miserable people make happiness a competition.

Stop saying sorry unless you actually mean it. But when you mean it, say it without excuses or justifications. Accept that you are imperfect, and be flexible and open to modes of improvement.

Be straightforward. If you need to say something, just say it. You are in charge of yourself, and no one else. Be kind, but realize that you are not in control of other people or their feelings. If they have a problem and choose not to handle it, that is on them, not you.

Leave the house without make-up often. And walk around barefoot.

Listen to music loud. Not “go deaf” loud or anything. But listen to it loud.

Take care of yourself. Do what makes you feel, deeply. People might tell you that doing this is selfish, and that you should be busier. But even Jesus went to the mountains to have a few days to Himself, and I imagine that He wasn’t too busy multitasking.

Avoid toxic people. They are the ones who you consistently feel small around. Sometimes these people are the most popular, but don’t fight to be liked. Never fight to be liked. Just be kind.

Pray, and do yoga.

Read Hemingway. People say he was a jerk. But “The Sun Also Rises” is beautiful. So is “The Old Man and The Sea,” and so are his short stories.

Eat the biggest cookie. And eat the middle of cinnamon rolls. Don’t waste your time on the outsides; just eat all of the middles.

I love you, so much.

Mom

 

Powerful

Feb
25

Rather than fighting for every woman’s right to feel beautiful, I would like to see the return of a kind of feminism that tells women and girls that maybe it’s all right not to be pretty and perfectly well-behaved. That maybe women who are plain, or large, or old, or differently abled, or who simply don’t give a damn what they look like because they’re too busy saving the world or rearranging their sock drawer, have as much right to take up space as anyone else.

I think if we want to take care of the next generation of girls we should reassure them that power, strength, and character are more important than beauty and always will be, and that even if they aren’t thin and pretty, they are still worthy of respect. That feeling is the birthright of men everywhere.

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I, like many men and women, have had body image issues. It wasn’t until I became pregnant that I really started to work on changing this. And it was hard work, some of the hardest I have ever done. When Branden and I found out that we were having a little girl, I made up my mind that the best thing I could do for her would be to learn to like who I am.

I have succeeded in this, and I have never been more powerful than I am now.

I look back at how and when my issues with myself began. I was about thirteen years old. At this incredibly critical time, a few young women’s leaders made a few comments to me about themselves, and about being “skinny.” If the women who I looked up to the most felt that this was important, and if they occasionally didn’t eat in order to achieve this, maybe I shouldn’t either. In the place where I should have felt the most reassured of being beautiful because of who I was, I ended up first feeling insecure.

When we teach girls about beauty in imperfection, beauty within themselves, do we believe it for ourselves? If not, nothing we say will ever matter.

The area of Utah Valley has more breast implants done than any other region in America. And to be perfectly frank, this ticks me off. In a church preaching that our bodies are sacred, what right do we have to change ours in order to “look better” for other people? It sometimes feels that fat, skinny, big, small, waists, jeans, curves, everything bodies and beautiful becomes a conversation piece even at Relief Society activities–more than anything, women talking about dissatisfaction with themselves.

Girls pick up on this. I certainly did. Healthy matters, and this has nothing to do with size. Character matters, and this has nothing to do with beauty.

There is nothing more awe-inspiring to me than a man or woman unapologetically accepting who they are. Eleven months ago, I decided that no matter the cost to appreciate and love myself, I would achieve this–partly for myself but mostly for the people in my life who will look at me and mimic what I do. I want to give people permission to confidence, not a vain or unimportant expectation to something so shallow and superficial.

I do not like to be around people who focus on weight and appearance, theirs or mine. I have lost friends because of it. I hate talk of “fat” or “skinny” or “beautiful” or “ugly–” I hated it while I was pregnant, and I hate it even more now. My kids and the youth who I am around will never hear this from me, about myself, about anyone.

I just gave birth, and my body is incredible. But more importantly, I can think for myself and listen well to people. I play the piano and write, and I cry for my friends and my family because I love them deeply. I am kind, and good, and smart, and funny.

This is what people will remember about me, this is what matters, and this is what makes me powerful.

“I Need Help”

Feb
18

Last Sunday, a darling down-syndrome girl stood up in church to give a talk on Jesus. With her finger following each word, she carefully read the notes she had taken. About two minutes into her talk, she took a breath and lost her place. Within one second, without hesitation or thought, she turned slightly to the side and said emphatically to whomever was behind her on the podium: “I need help.” A man in a suit immediately jumped up to help her find her place. He stood there for about thirty seconds to ensure that she felt confident before slowly backing up and sitting back down in his seat.Out of everything else said in church that day, this was the most profound.

After this sweet girl turned to say the words “I need help,” I pondered the simple, pure thought that went into this request. Losing her place, she recognized that something was now out of her control. Perhaps she could have found the correct words on her own, but no doubt it would have been harder than merely asking someone who could empower her to accomplish the task without a problem. The only thought that went into the decision to ask: she had a need, and someone else could help.

How often have I had a need, surrounded by people who could and want to help, but still insisting that even if it takes me thirty-five times as long and even if I jeopardize my health or relationships, I will figure it out ALL BY MYSELF? This is my worst type of pride.

I had a friend tell me about a year ago that expecting miracles when I was not willing to ask for help and look to my resources was prideful. At first I was taken aback, because I thought by sheer willpower alone I could do anything.

I have since discovered that almost every miracle in my life has come through the service of another person.

Situation forced me to re-discover this only last week. By Thursday, I had become a crazy person. Between mastitis with an accompanying fever and migraine, lack of sleep, a screaming baby and working husband, I hit a wall. I have always wanted to be someone who can do hard things by myself, but I am reminded again and again that insisting on independence in a world full of good and helpful people maybe is not strength at all.

I’m not advocating dependence. The girl on the stand in church did not need the man to stand there and read each word for her; instead, she temporarily needed assistance. I can imagine that the man whom she asked to help did not have a second thought. The opportunity blessed him as much as her, no doubt.

Maybe it is human nature and maybe it is a cultural norm, but it seems that people tend to wear their difficulties as badges, made more impressive by their ability to do it “on their own.” I used to admire this. Now, I mostly want to be like the girl on the stand, strong enough to recognize that receiving service graciously is just as important as giving it freely.