Anxiety reflections

I haven’t written for a long while. I’m not entirely sure why but I think it had something to do with holding my breath. Holding my breath and hoping, hoping and praying this wasn’t a dream. The last year has been a blur and through it all one consistent thing has rang out in every second of every moment of every day. That is unfettered gratitude for the abundance of blessings I’ve received along with every painful heartbeat of anxiety.

Last August I was in the midst of one of the worst months of my entire life. Everyday was a tsunami of anxiety, depression, and guilt. I was trying to pick my life up and get a direction to start moving in. It seemed impossible and there were days that I was hanging by a thread. It felt so unbelievably unfair. Why the hell did I deserve this? Why was I stuck in an abyss of torment and pain?

I’m learning through out life that those moments of anguish are also met with the simplest joys. Those joys are what get you through it all, no matter how small, how insignificant, how fleeting. They are flickers of light in the night. Towards the end of August I had finally managed to push myself into volunteering in my mother’s classroom and somewhere in the bright eyes and childish laughter I begin to heal.

There is something so incredibly special about children. Their hope, their love, their zest for life, it infects you. Even though it only started with a smile from the corner of a room. It was enough.  Slowly moments of forgetting how distraught I was bloomed into minutes and hours of enveloping myself in lives of 9 year old’s and I had finally found a balm for my wounds.

Months flew by and I became an older brother to the most amazing kids. I knew about their lives, I knew what they were struggling with, what they were excited about, what they were hoping for. I lost myself in their lives and I gained back their strength ten fold. Those kids will never ever truly know what they did for me but they saved me. They grabbed me from the brink of despair and pulled me into a man who feels like he can succeed.

I was able to get a job and begin working with one of the most special women I’ve ever had the privy to know. Every day I baffled that I get to spend the day hanging out and working side by side with her. She keeps me on my toes and I am just unbelievably happy when I’m around her. It’s amazing how life can turn around so quickly.

A year later, I reflect back on what I was going through and it seems like a bad dream. I can’t even wrap my head around how awful it was and how happy I am now. So here I am, filled with gratitude, and a new appreciation for life. Thankful for a bunch of fourth graders. Thankful for an amazing boss who took a chance on me. Thankful for the best damn family I could ask for, I’ve received nothing but support, empathy, and love from them. Truly I love them with all my heart. I am also, very grateful for the wonderful friends I somehow managed to end up with. You guys are the zest of life.

To anyone out there who is suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. Please listen to me when I say that you are stronger than it is. Your story isn’t over yet. You aren’t defined by your shortcomings and your struggle. Every second is a war. A bloody, awful, violent war. You can do it though. I’ve been there, I am there, and I’ve come back from it. I’m not that strong of a person and if I can make it, I know with every fiber of my being that you can rise up and kick its ass. It won’t be easy, it won’t ever go away entirely but it will get better.


Talk about how you’re feeling. Don’t bottle it up. Let others know what is going on. It’s critical to not only your survival but for those around you to have an understanding about what you’re dealing with. Mental disorders are a BITCH and the more we communicate about them, the easier it becomes for us to share it’s burden. To lift each other.

Get medical help. Do it. I was skeptical about doping myself up on medications but oh my god, the difference it makes cannot be stated. Do it. Use every freaking thing at your disposal to beat this vile curse.

Go to therapy. It’s not all talking about your feelings and why you feel that way. It’s about seeing someone who can give you methods to reduce and cope with your anxiety. Whether it’s meditation or cognitive therapy, do it. You need to find a solution to ease the pain. It’s not a cure but it’s like a pain killer that helps you reduce the injury you’re dealing with.

Love yourself. LOVE YOURSELF. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE YOURSELF! You are the shit. You put up with so much that you keep hidden. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are competent. You ARE NOT THE DISEASE. You matter. You are the only you. The world needs your voice and your presence. It is better because you exist. Please, Love yourself.

Ask for help. No one can help you if they don’t know you need it. Simply ask.

I love you. Hang in there. It will get better. It can get better. God bless you.

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Inevitable.

It’s late and the dread that’s been circulating through your body for the last few days is still making your body feel tense. You’re walking on eggshells worried that at any given moment something will set you off like a land mine and blow everything to shit. It’s better than it used to be. You can manage much better than when you were first dealing with it. That’s nice and comforting but the dull ache in your stomach that you never seem to be able to shake, acts as a constant reminder that you may have this for life.
You distract yourself with little projects around the house to stay active and upbeat. You retreat into tv shows, books, and video games as well, diving head first into the “anything but alone with your thoughts” mentality. Your chest still feels tight though whenever you take a moment to catch your breath. Time races forward to the inevitable and your future looms overhead looking impossibly grandiose all while being laced with psychological pressure and unreal expectations. You fail before you even can get started.
If one could capture the war going on in your mind and heart in a cinema, the movie would look like an unrecognizable blood bath. Armies from a million different corners of the mind crashing into one another in the front of your consciousness. Your desire to move forward, the fear of failing and letting people down, the hope of living up to your parent’s sincere expectations, the lack of confidence you have in yourself. There are moments of calm mixed in amongst all the chaos, when for a brief few minutes, you’ve convinced yourself you can handle it. They quickly wither away in the face of the unknown and the struggle continues.
You think about dying. It’s unreasonable though because the love and admiration and hope you have for the people you care about in your life and the future only causes you to regret the idea. The amount of destruction you would unleash on the people you’d do anything to protect makes your stomach churn. It’s cathartic to think about the ultimate escape but you’re not that selfish and you never could be. In an effort to tame the demons inside, you try to arm yourself with knowledge because it’s one of the few things that helps curb the fear.
The laptop light screen flips on and illuminates the night in your quiet bedroom. You find the email and read the contents of it over and over again trying to process all the information and analyze every possible outcome you can squeeze out of the data. Instead of building your confidence though it shatters. You’re lost in a world of what if’s and failures. You convince yourself that you can’t handle it and your chest tightens a little more. Worried you’re going to hit that land mine you shut the computer down and retreat into your bed. The soft delicate pressure of the blanket and gentle hum of the ceiling fan begins to calm you slowly. Your mind is still trying to reconcile how you can escape the impending doom and unknown that looms in your future. Exhaustion finally takes you.
You groggily open an eye to a greet a new day and the future looms.

Anxiety and Swimming.

One of the major frustrations of my anxiety disorder has been trying to explain it in a way to other people that not only makes sense, but also gives them a glimpse of what the actual condition is like. It’s extremely difficult to do because most people will believe they are understanding what you’re saying but they are only grasping the bare minimum of the entire conversation. I first tried trying to explain it to people as if it was a type of stress. Stress is a pretty universal condition that everyone should be able to relate to on some level. The problem with that though is everyone experiences stress. So when you say anxiety is like getting stressed out, people can only relate to it in terms of how they feel stress and how they deal with it. So when someone with an anxiety disorder is relating it to stress, it’s like comparing losing a limb for them when everyone else is imagining dealing with a paper cut. Yea, they both hurt and bleed but the severity between the two is a pretty large gap.

For me, my anxiety is a lot like swimming. Life is a giant swimming pool and I’m stuck in the shallow end. I can swim out into the deeper end of the pool but once I get out there, life becomes increasingly dangerous. As I gradually swim out into the deeper parts of the pool I notice that the people around me all have life jackets on and are swimming around fairly easily because of it. I do not have this life jacket. The life jacket for others confidence and faith. It’s scary on some level for every individual to swim out into the deep in. They have the reassurance though, that they can handle any situation because they trust in themselves. To make up for not having this life jacket, I have to try to plan my routes very meticulously when I try to venture into other parts of the pool. I have to know how far I am away from the edge or how much swimming it will require for me make back to the shallow end where I’m comfortable. My life is a constant process of trying to analyze how far out I can handle going. Often times, I don’t even feel I can leave the shallow end of the pool where I can stand up at anytime. That’s my safety net.

Another aspect of the issue is the fact that within my own head I know that I am a decent swimmer. Logically, I know that I could swim out into the deep end and be okay. I’m also lucky enough to have people in my life who support me and love me. They often try to encourage me and tell me how good of swimmer I am. How I could swim out as far as I wanted and that I’d be okay because I can handle it. This, while nice, isn’t that comforting and fails to accomplish what it is trying to do. In the minds of someone with anxiety, it’s like watching everyone else in the deep end tell you to come join them and ignore the fact that you’re the only one without a life jacket. Mostly, at least in my case, it’s frustrating to me to see everyone else doing something with relative ease that I myself, impossibly struggle with.

Some probably wonder why I don’t just go get a life jacket and that’s the stage that I’m in right now. I feel like the process of dealing with anxiety is a constant journey of obtaining a larger life jacket. Some days you are able to fill your flotation device with more air and life gets a little easier. Sometimes life deflates it and you have to stay closer to the shallow end of the pool. Maybe in some respects, life is like this for everyone. I’m not sure. Currently my struggle is trying to find my life jacket. I feel like at some point my life I had one and then at a later date I lost it. I’m not sure if it was a gradual deflating or if it popped all at once but I am quite sure that it needs repairing. That’s on me though.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that in life’s swimming pool not everyone swims the same. Some of us who are stuck closer to the shallow end are doing the very best we can and that should be okay. You can’t swim for them. You can try to teach them how to swim but ultimately it’s something they have to learn how to do for themselves. Perhaps the only real thing you can do is reach out a hand to someone struggling next you in the water and simply be there or help lead them back to more familiar waters. That might make all the difference.

A toast to Old Battle Axe!

It all started on an early summer night. Riding my bike over to my buddy’s place to play some street ball out on his 7up basketball hoop. It was something we had been doing for years. Hardly a day went by that wasn’t spent outside doing something athletic. Usually it was basketball, sometimes front yard football, or backyard baseball but we were always moving. It was out there on summer evening after my sophomore year of high school that she came into my life. One that I am eternally grateful for. She was cute and spunky with blonde hair and had a ridiculous charm about her that seemed to ooze out of her personality with ease.

I probably should have known she’d be a staple in my life from  the moment she told my mother that she was going to marry me, as my mom walked by exercising. She wasn’t even phased when my mother quickly responded with a loud “No” and a laugh, as she sauntered off deeper into the neighborhood. I’m not sure many people can say they have a beginning story quite like that, but then again, there is nothing normal about our friendship.

The past 12 years have been incredible. We’ve filled them with everything from bitter fights to loud laughter and quiet tears. It’s lasted through a broken mission, failed relationships, long distance, lost faith, and renewed hope.  It’s been everything and more that a person could ask for in a friend. I’ve had many important people in my life, but I’m not sure there is any who have helped define who I am today, more than she has.

I am truly blessed to have her in my life and I thank God every day for sending her to me. She’s about to embrace her ever present wanderlust and set out on a new adventure. One that will separate us with distance but not in friendship. I just wanted to take a moment to brag about her and tell her thank you for all she’s done for me and my family. I love her a great deal and I’m excited for her as she sets off on her journey.

Goodluck apple dumpling, chair hands, bootylicious, webbertoes, old battle axe, and simply Cassie. I’ll hold down the fort. =)

Cass and I

Home

The barbwire fence ran parallel to the old irrigation ditch which brought much needed water to the large hay fields.  Between the fence and the irrigation ditch was a medium sized bank probably 3-4 feet wide at its largest point and along this bank ran a few trees. They were spaced out probably 30 or 40 feet in between and for the life of me I can’t remember them ever bearing anything but a few sparse leaves and a bunch of blossoms during spring. It was amongst the gnarled branches and blossoms of the first tree, closest to my friend’s house,  that we decided to build a tree-house.

Calling it a tree-house is giving this wooden structure our 10 year old hands threw together from old wood and rusty nails, more majesty than it ever would deserve and any passer who saw the thing would have thought it more likely to be an early grave for a snot-nosed brat than a tree-house. That didn’t matter though, to us it was the Taj Mahal of tree-houses and everything else that was said about it be damned. Our little structure was composed of a few braces, a small 4×7 foot floor, and 2 or 3 boards around the outside that we called walls. (Those walls served their purpose in keeping out the dirt clods and rocks thrown from advancing little brothers as they laid siege on our magnificent castle in the trees.) Perhaps the best things about the house was the nifty little ladder we constructed that was attached to the floor with worn-out hinges, which allowed us to pull up the ladder like a drawbridge, and the rope swing we had across the irrigation ditch, which would land you at the foot of the ladder when used accurately (otherwise you were sleeping with the fishes). Truly this construction was an architecture marvel.

It was out in these fields with wooden swords (the handles of broken off gardening tools and branches) that my childhood flitted by in lazy summer vacations interrupted only by tetanus shots,  calling mothers from doorways, and the invading armies of pesky siblings. Truly it was a golden age of my life and had I known it, I would have documented it better than with just the scars that lace my skin.

A short bike ride up the road in one direction took me to a world of fantasy and make believable. The other direction was equally engaging. Pick-up basketball games were easy to find, along with front yard football games, and backyard baseball games with tennis balls that would fly for miles if you hit them right.

Mine was a blessed childhood and the neighborhood I grew up in was rich with adventure and life-long friends. I would have never guessed I was from the wrong side of the tracks or that others were doing better off. The smell of hay and manure from the horse corral mingled in the breeze that floated over the lake and it ALWAYS smelled like home. Mountains rising in the distance. Sunsets that poets would spend a life time trying to formulate the right words to describe. Every road and trail and house and smell and tree and rock was memorized by heart. I was as much a part of it as it was me.

As I aged, my neighborhood aged too, but it never stopped feeling like home. The long winter nights I spent in Iowa on my mission were spent with my heart aching for it and the relief I found when pulling into the neighborhood after a long struggle with anxiety can never be put into words.  It was home and I was home and somehow that made everything a little easier.

Someone told me recently that my hometown sucks the life out of you. That they didn’t like it, and despite growing up here, they wanted to get away. It’s a common feeling by many I’ve encountered. They talk about exploring and wanderlust and adventure. I’ve never understood them. That’s just not the type of person I am and when I tell them that they often scoff at me.

I can’t help but feel that wanderlust gets this really overrated sense of reverence amongst people my age. The grass is always greener elsewhere. If you don’t have the zeal to see everything and be anywhere other than where you are, there’s something wrong with you. Let me be clear, it’s a perfectly acceptable and wonderful thing for people to have that zeal for something new. To go where the wind and will takes them. You get used to new though. You get used to beautiful as the wonderful author John Green wrote.  I’m perfectly content with the beauty I’m already used to.

I get it. Utah isn’t perfect. It’s filled with political party I disagree with. It’s filled with people that have a weird judgmental attitude towards people who don’t practice religion the same way they do. The winters are cold. The summers are hot. The weather is erratic. The pollution can make the air terrible. It doesn’t have beaches. It’s not brimming with a wonderful night life. The list goes on and on. Everywhere has things though. For all its flaws though, when I smell the familiar scent and gaze at the looming mountains, I’m filled with an incredible sense of peace and safety.

Being attached to a place has its burdens, as well. You watch the people you’ve grown up with leave in droves. Taken away by wanderlust, employment, education, marriage, and so many other things. The fields you once ran through get torn down and houses are erected. Tree-houses age and fall down. Life moves on. People move on.

I guess the point of me writing this is to say that no matter where you go and the places you see, this sleepy city is a part of you and that makes you a part of me. The last few years I’ve seen most of my best friends start to move away. Some of them are married, some of them are in grad school, some of them just tired of being here. It sucks and a part of me is a little upset that this wonderful place that I call home doesn’t satisfy their lifestyles. I get it though and that’s the hard part of not being the person with wanderlust. Everyone leaves you and you don’t get to do any of the leaving. That’s the undeniable fact of life, everybody leaves you eventually.

I just want you all to know, that as I cruise down the road towards the lake with the smell of home blowing my hair gently through the window as the music blares over the stereo I’ll be thinking of you; and again when I pass the old worn out driveway with the echoes of basketballs bouncing; and again as the sun sets over the lake and the outline of a small gnarled tree comes into view with the skeleton of a broken down tree-house in the distance. I’ll be keeping that porch light burning hoping that our paths meet again and that you never truly get used to the beauty of the wonder we shared here together. Image

*Photo stolen from the BYU website.

Confession

Most nights before I go to sleep my last thought is hoping that I don’t wake up in the morning. What a relief that would be. I would just cease to be me and be able to get out of my head and this body. Just free myself from the shackles of being Jason.  I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to kill myself. I’m scared of dying. But yet, all too often as my face is buried in my pillow and the covers are strewn about over my limbs, I hope that I won’t wake up.

I’m just tired. Not like physically tired or mentally tired but existentially tired. Like my soul is exhausted. Not even the soul, but like the essence of being me is exhausted. It feels that for the last 7 years and 6 days, it’s been running circles in a hamster wheel of uncertainty. The thing is though, I’m not sure I have any right to be tired. I’ve been doing nothing with my life since I graduated college. Where do I get off saying I’m tired? How entitled.

I read some article about how this generation, my generation I guess,  is too entitled. We believe we are the smartest and brightest and things should just be given to us. We are lazy and we don’t want to work for things. Which is bullshit. Apparently our parents coddled us too much and tried to convince us that we were special and the idea that we are special (when we really aren’t) has caused us to be entitled. Whatever.

You’re probably like, wait, isn’t that what YOU are acting like Jason? I’d argue no. Because I don’t want anything handed to me. And I’m not sitting here out of laziness. I’m standing still, kicking the soft ground with my toes while the world passes me by, because I’m inherently scared. Yes, scared. Of everything. And also because I fundamentally, honestly, and straight into the very fabric of my being, do not know what I want.

That’s like the million dollar question. If I vent frustration to anyone about my crisis of identity, the very first thing they ask is “Well, what do you want?” Shit. What the hell am I supposed to say to that? I can’t answer that because the whole concept of “you” is part of the problem. You, meaning Jason, is ground zero in Crisisville. I feel like I don’t know who Jason is anymore, in fact I’m not sure I ever really did, which is why the whole anxiety and mission thing started this clusterf**k of dominoes. Teenager Jason wanted to be a lawyer (I’m not even sure why. Too many Matlock and JAG marathons? Cause I’m argumentative? Because the idealist in me is in love with Atticus Finch?), he wanted to do what the LDS church wanted him to do (laughable, seeing as how my inner psyche probably looks like an Atomic bomb has leveled it after the mission field), he wanted to get married quickly (26 isn’t old but I’m pretty sure that teenager Jason thought he’d have a happy little family right now), and well there are a hundreds of little things that teenager Jason wanted that I’m not sure where they started but are things I don’t think I really want now. It’s simply amazing how you can build yourself to be a certain way but unless there are firm passions and convictions, the slightest breeze or sign of difficulty will level the happy little facade you’ve built.

I’ll be honest though, I think everyone probably feels like me in some ways. Lost. However, I think that most people have some hidden flame inside them of passion towards something that keeps the furnace burning. I’m jealous of that because that warmth gets you through many a dark night. My pilot light is out and I haven’t really been able to find the thing to reignite it. Which is why when people ask “What do you want?” I can only look at them dumbfounded and expressionless and frustrated.

What I want is to find that thing that reignites something in me.

I feel paralyzed. My soul, my essence, is screaming at my body and my mind and my confidence and my heart and my faith to move. Just move. MOVE. but I can’t.

So I crawl into bed late at night and stare at the ceiling, trying to figure out me, trying to figure life, trying to figure out God, trying to figure out everything and then I roll over and bury myself in my mattress and often times hope that I don’t wake up.

Reconciling Reason and Religion: A thought on Gay Marriage.

I, like Nephi, have been born of goodly parents who loved the Lord. One could consider me a spoiled individual, I have been blessed in ways that most in this world have not. I would be a fool and a liar to consider my upbringing and my current station in life to be anything less than blessed. I was raised in such a way that I was never found wanting. I was given love, health, faith, education, friendship, and many other spoils in countless measure. Truly, I am lucky and aware of that fact.

Not only that. I was raised with knowledge, of what I believe, to be the true and living gospel of our Savior. Yes, others may lay claim to other such knowledge and that is perfectly acceptable. I have no quibbles over with who is right. It is all our own prerogative to find what works for us and I truly believe that the ultimate goal of happiness can be found to any who are willing to search for it. The rest is semantics and philosophical arguments. A religious pissing contest that only brings about damage if it’s taken too far.

Now, here is what I’m getting at. I believe that the almighty Creator designed this human body of mine (like all of ours) in such a way that we have been given the ability to think and to discern. Now I’m not infallible. Far from it. I’m flawed as hell, but I’d like to think that my ability to figure shit out eventually is pretty good. I usually end up at the correct destination, even if it means I’ve taken a few wrong turns and failed completely a few times. On top of this ability to figure things out, I’ve also been given a conscience. A metaphorical Jiminey Cricket if you will. I take in information and situations, throw them into this big distillery of experience, environment, education, upbringing, values, logic, and a whole slew of other things that all factor into my decision making. I think you probably have one of those too. Although, all of ours are distinctly different and what we end up believing to be “moral” or “right,” usually ends up varying. Hey, it happens.

I believe that this ability to discern and (for lack of a better word) judge morality are given to me by God. They are not only a gift but they are tools that are meant to be used. God put them there for me to use on a daily, second to second basis. Basically he wants me to figure shit out or at least try to. If not, I believe I’m probably failing this whole thing we called life, but as long as I TRY, at least that effort means something. I believe that it means something to me and to him. He looks at me, Jason, perched on his giant white fluffy cloud throne and goes, “Eh, maybe he’s not that big of a screw up. Good job lad.”

Which leaves me feeling better about myself. Yay.

I also believe, that God in his infinite wisdom and goodness realized that morons like me might not be able to figure everything out on my own. I’d probably screw up. A bunch. So he decided to give me directions, teachings, teachers, to help me along my merry way in this thing called life. In my particular religious belief, he gives us the scriptures, and temples, and prophets, and all that great stuff that tells me how to screw up less. Thank goodness. I need ALL the help I can get.

The problem with being mortal and stupid though, is that sometimes my brain and those teachings don’t align perfectly and things get messy. Most times, I listen to my brain, screw up, figure out I screwed up, listen to the teachings, and everything works out for the better. Other times I listen right away and things go smoothly. Even rarer, sometimes I think the two are not able to align and I have to find a way to compromise between the two.

THIS is where I’m at in this particular moment. Where my brain and my conscience don’t agree with what I’ve been taught. Which makes me feel like a complete heretic but I think there is a compromise to be had here. At least one that I feel comfortable with making. Maybe you don’t, that’s fine. Different strokes and all that. See. I SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE. Ah shit, cats out of the bag. However, my religion and it’s teachings do not support it. Rock > Me > Hard Place. BUT, I think I’ve figured out a way to wiggle myself out of this little difficult situation.

My religion says that MARRIAGE is between a MAN and a WOMAN. Meaning, a MAN and another MAN can’t be married. A WOMAN and another WOMAN can’t be married. I however, believe that should not be the case. I believe that love is love, regardless of what gender is involved. Why? Cause I believe that LOVE=Happiness and I believe that happiness is the meaning of life. Finding it, sustaining it, giving it, taking it. LOVE, LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE. I’m a nutcase like that.

Now many people my own faith will look at me and shake their heads saying “If you honestly believe in the Gospel and in our Prophets, You can’t support or believe that.” Anything else would be undercutting my faith. I, however, have a proposal. One that doesn’t involve bickering over biblical text and prophetic teachings.

I feel comfortable with this, me, personally, this isn’t me trying to preach doctrine or anything. It’s me trying to compromise what I feel to be right and what I choose to worship/believe. I believe that that TEMPLE MARRIAGE. One that involves my religion’s holy covenants between man and God to only be between a MAN and  a WOMAN. All other marriage, to be equally obtainable to ALL individuals, REGARDLESS of orientation. Other religions can also decide for themselves what they want marriage to be definable for them.

Here is where I believe so many LDS people get caught up in the semantics of the argument. The term MARRIAGE is not what makes our marriages holy. It’s not the governmental recognition/civil rights. It’s not. It’s about the COVENANTS that we make and HOW we make them. Everything else is secondary. We have the right to define our religion’s TEMPLE marriage to be anything we want and we have. It’s sacred. It’s special. WE believe that to be true. So why are we fighting over the term MARRIAGE? That’s stupid. It’s a word. A word that for some silly reason, in this country, makes people UNEQUAL; unequal in a country that supposedly DEFINES itself by equality and freedom. Where any man or woman can have a chance to be happy, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, history, health, and any other factors you can think of.

What is Christ-like about denying others a chance at happiness? Where is humility and grace in trying to horde something that isn’t ours to take from ANYONE else? You can’t answer that, because it’s not there. At least I don’t think so. That’s not how I was raised. That’s not the beauty and mercy of the religion I’ve come to love. It’s not in the grace and love I believe that my Savior offers me daily.

If my homosexual friends can get married and live a life of happiness, I want that for them. They are GOOD people and I love them and they deserve it. NOTHING, about their happiness, love, and marriage can change anything about your marriage, my parent’s marriage, my friend’s marriages, and even my future one (God willing).

Now you may believe that homosexuality is a sin, or evil, or something else. WHO CARES. It’s not your business. Just like it isn’t anyone else’s business that you’re slothful, or that you’ve lied, or any other manner of sins you’ve committed. That’s how this thing works. Someone else’s failings are not for you to police. The only one that can be the judge of that is the one who died for us. I must have missed the Sunday school lesson where Christ told us to stop treating someone like a human being because they may or may not have sinned. Was that the lesson where he told us all to throw the first stone because we all live in glass houses? No? Right. Cause he wouldn’t say something stupid like that and I can’t help but believe that is how we are all acting.

So I try to act how my conscience dictates, the one I believe to be God given. This is where it has led me. It has led me to a place where I choose to believe that everyone deserves the chance to be happy. Where love and understanding defeat fear and confusion. Where I can try to reconcile being happily LDS and letting others be happily not. I believe that’s how my Savior would want me to act. Maybe I’m wrong but at least I get the chance to make that mistake for myself.

Spirit of Gratitude

                I’ve been thinking lately about the progression of the winter holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Years. It’s an interesting series of events. One that begins with a holiday where we celebrate all that we have to be thankful for. That then leads into Christmas, a holiday that honors the birth of our Savior through charity, hope, love, and togetherness. Quickly after it, we have the beginning of the new calendar year where we look towards the horizon of new beginnings. We celebrate it by setting goals and letting go of the troubles we experienced in the previous year. It’s a rebirth. What an amazing series of celebrations and what a great way to go about embracing life.

                I’ve always been a big lover of Thanksgiving. Partly because of the obvious reasons. You get to stuff yourself with delicious food, you get to watch football all day, and you get to spend time with your loved ones. I like to call them the 3 F’s, Football, Food, and Family. The other reason I really like Thanksgiving is the spirit of gratitude. It’s this reason that I get so frustrated with those gung-ho Christmasy types. The ones who rush right into the pretty lights and colorful paper right after Halloween. They skip right over Thanksgiving and I often feel that it doesn’t get its due. Yet, Thanksgiving has a quiet nobility which is different than the spirit of Christmas. It’s a quiet introspective spirit that lets us examine our lives and remember all that we have been blessed with. It sets up for the season of Christmas and the spirit it brings and also allows us to embrace the rebirth of New Years after paying homage to the previous one.

                It is this quiet nobility that I felt impressed to write upon. I’ve noticed a growing tradition on social media, especially Facebook, where people state something they are grateful from the beginning of November to the end. I think this is an honorable tradition but I also think that in some respects it is a hollow one. It is easy to express what we are grateful for. Family, friends, social and professional situations, etc. Ok, maybe it’s not easy, it does require some effort to let people know you are grateful for them but saying isn’t the same as doing. I think to truly honor the spirit of Thanksgiving we must not only have a spirit of gratitude but we must also act upon it. How? By acting gracious.

                Now this may be something different than what you are expecting. When I say acting gracious, I don’t mean acting thankful or being charitable in respect to all that you’ve been given. Instead, I mean going about it in another way. The best way I can think of describing this is the way that Native Americans used to go about paying respect for animals whom they hunted to survive. They honored them by using up every part of the animal that they could, making sure as much of it didn’t go to waste as possible. I think we should go about approaching our blessings the same way. Using them to the fullest extent that we can and making sure none of the opportunities go to waste.

                That means embracing friendship and family in a way not many of us feel comfortable doing. If you’re like me, you always try to be the one giving and try not to take as much as possible. You don’t want to feel like you’re taking advantage of a situation. WHICH, is a good thing. We shouldn’t take advantage but we SHOULD take everything we are being given. True friendship I am starting to realize, is one where you also let the other party give to you. True friendship is TAKING and not just giving. Why? Because it allows your friends to feel like they are also contributing to the relationship. It’s more even keeled. It’s give and it’s take.

                We should embrace gratitude the same way. It’s awesome to be able to recognize the blessing you are being given by God but, what is not awesome is letting some of those blessings go to waste. We should be using every speck of opportunity we are given by Him. You’ve been blessed with a good job, that’s great, are you doing everything you can to excel in the position? You’ve found the love of your life, are you giving as much of yourself to them as you can? Are you taking as much from them as they are trying to give? You have a great talent. Are you using that talent as much as possible to benefit not only yourself but those around you? You’re alive. Are you really living?

                It’s not just about recognizing what we are giving, but using it. I fail horribly at this and I fail at it constantly. I’m going to work on it though. I hope maybe you will too. Maybe as you sit around the table with your loved ones and people that care about you, you will find a moment of time to reflect and honestly evaluate your life. Are you really being gracious? Are you expressing your gratitude? Are you alive? Are you really living?

 

Let’s all really live. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

                

Eleanor and Park. A book review.

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So upon the request of my good friend Mary ( who was encouraged by another amazing friend Cat ), I read a new book called Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. It was a great and quick to finish read. The book chronicles the development and journey of a romance between our two main characters, Park Sheridan and Eleanor Douglas. The two meet in Omaha, Nebraska in 1986 while in high school and over the course of a school year they go from reluctant bus seat partners to hopelessly in love teenagers.

                I won’t give away too much of the plot because hopefully others out there will read the book but I still wanted to discuss my feelings on the subject and in order to do that, I’ll have to give a little bit of the plot away. What think initially captured me as a reader and from what I’ve heard from others as well is the ability to relate to the two main characters. Eleanor exhibits many of the insecurities we have about ourselves from an aesthetic perspective. She isn’t the cultural standard of beautiful. She’s abnormally tall and chubby. She has a tangled mess of red hair and freckles. She comes from a difficult family situation which leaves her wardrobe, hygiene, and self confidence lacking. She’s ostracized by her peers and her insecurities have caused her to develop coping defensive mechanisms. She’s quick to be sarcastic and she has difficulty letting people in which keeps them at arm’s length.

                Park on the other hand, removes himself from his peers instead of being ostracized. He doesn’t want to be a part of it even though he has ample opportunity to do so. He isolates himself. He keeps his head down and tries to remain left of the center of attention. He’s good looking enough to warrant attraction from the more popular girls at school but doesn’t want their affection. His family experience is solid and perhaps the cultural standard of what we imagine a family to be. Park, unlike Eleanor, has everything going for him and yet, he chooses to blend into the background instead of stand out. It’s where he is comfortable and can be himself.

                There are plenty of relatable characteristics between the two for us to get attached to their story.  It was easy to find myself rooting for the both of them because I saw parts of myself in them. The experiences they go through in high school and the experiences they go through while falling in love were just as relatable as their personalities though. I too have had the long awkwardly intimate phone call conversations; the intense and yet completely innocent hand holding; and the romantic moments that feel as though the entire world has slowed, where the air felt thick and warm and sticky, where you know that the instant the moment ends your soul and heart are going to ache with nostalgia so you rush reluctantly and frantically into an impossibly significant situation. It’s about being young and unapologetic and in love.

                Now, what really surprised me wasn’t how much I could get lost in the romance because I expect that from me. No, what really surprised me was the cold bucket of reality that was waiting hidden in every page that would douse me with frigid water and cool the passionate fever of high school love. Eleanor’s family situation was a constant reminder that there are real people in the world like her step father Richie. Men and women who destroy those around them because they are miserable. Who would rather tear down and ravage the confidence of those they pretend to care about instead of look at their own miserable existences and do something to change it. There are families and children who go through what Eleanor does every day, who are too scared and too broken to get help. Who think they deserve the lot they are given, when the reality is that they deserve so so so so much more.

                Another harsh realization is that the amount of people who feel like Eleanor does. Who feel frumpy, awkward, ugly, unloved, undeserving, and out of place. Perhaps everyone feels this way sometimes, but then there are those kids and people out there who don’t only FEEL that way but are TREATED that way by their peers. Undeservedly. Those people like Eleanor are special and are important and need to be told that. They deserve to know that and be treated as such.

                This is why the book was so hard for me because it caused a quiet and sudden self examination that left me feeling insecure and disgusted with myself. There aren’t enough Park’s in the world. There are millions of Eleanors and not enough Parks. He saw through the peer persecution and pressure towards Eleanor. He saw through her torn clothes and messy hair. He didn’t care about her physical flaws that are judged and pointed out because of impossible social standards of beauty. All he saw was Eleanor and that’s exactly what she deserved. To be seen for who she was. Not in spite of her “flaws” but with them. This where I found myself hurting. I hurt for the men and women like Eleanor who haven’t found their Park yet. It’s unfair and it’s brutal and it’s frustrating. People like Eleanor deserve to find their Park. They, more than almost anyone, deserve to be loved for being Eleanor. Because being Eleanor is beautiful and it is special and it is important. She matters and everyone out there in similar situations or who feels like her, also matters.

                What really kicked me in the metaphorical gonads wasn’t just that there were millions of Eleanors out there who weren’t finding their Parks but also because I wasn’t Park. At the beginning of the book I related to Park on many levels. I guess, even through the book I continued to relate to Park but what really mattered is that I wasn’t like Park where it counted. Despite my best efforts to be open-minded and empathetic to those around me regardless of their outward appearances, social standings, cultural diversity, ethnicity, gender, orientation, and anything else you can label or catalog someone by; I wasn’t Park. I couldn’t and can’t see myself loving someone like Eleanor. Even more pathetic is I feel like Eleanor all the time. Ugly, awkward, out of place, and undeserving. Yet, I can’t see myself loving someone like that even though it is the way I want to be loved.

                How completely shallow and assholish of me to be like this. I can’t even begin to describe to you what this dawning has done to my inner psyche. It’s awful and I FEEL awful, but I don’t know how to change it. How do you change that? I, if I’m being completely honest with myself and you, am attracted to the Kims of the world. (Kim is a popular good looking girl who Park’s best friend Cal has a crush on.) I am not attracted to the Eleanors of the world. You know, the girls, who are completely wonderful and amazing and DESERVE to be loved. Which makes me just as much a part of the problem as I wanted to be a part of the answer. I want to be like Park but I don’t know how to become Park and that’s where the infuriating frustration and self disgust has come in. Even worse, I’ve been robbing myself my entire life of the chance to be with an Eleanor. That’s a huge loss because they have so much to give if someone would just offer them the chance.

                I don’t know what the answer to this is. Maybe there are plenty of Parks out there and they have just yet to reveal themselves. Maybe they are hiding. Maybe they are still too shy to scoot over in their seat on the bus. Maybe it’s guys like me that want to be Park but haven’t figured out how. Maybe eventually they do. Maybe they don’t. I have no idea. My friend told me that my frustration was partly coming from the 26 year old me being frustrated with 16 year old me. Upon further reflection that’s not the case. This is 26 year old me being frustrated with every age me. This is 26 year old me being upset with the status quo. This is 26 year old me being upset that maybe there isn’t a Park for every Eleanor out here in the real world, but he knows that there should be.

                Honestly, I think the message of the book is something much more hopeful than the one that my own insecurities are fretting about. I think the author’s unapologetic forcefulness about the harsh realities of not only teenage life, but life in general serves as catalyst for the hope that Eleanor and Park find in each other. One that we potentially also have in ourselves. One that lurks beneath the surface and can be incredibly special when you let it leak out. Correction, one that leaks out when we not only give ourselves the chance, but give others a chance to let theirs out. The reality is that life owes us nothing. It gives us nothing freely and we have to fight, and tear, and claw for every inch we are given but when we do, it’s incredibly worth-while. What this book did for me was reaffirm my staunch stance that kindness is a much needed necessity in the world. It ranks up there with air, water, food, and shelter. Because when you’re kind, when you give someone else a chance, you are giving them hope and hope saves lives. Hope matters. Kindness matters. So I leave you with this thought from the book:

“You saved my life, she tried to tell him. Not forever, not for good. Probably just temporarily. But you saved my life, and now I’m yours.”

Be kind and save lives.

Confidence, a poem

(While falling asleep last night and staring at the ceiling this little poem popped into my head from nowhere. Not sure if it was the drugs or tiredness but I rather enjoyed it and thought I’d share.)

Confidence-

I wish I was a better fighter
but I’m not, I’m just a liar
set to burn on Regret’s pyre
flames of Remorse burning brighter
my looming future looking dire
Fate’s strong clutches growing nigher
dreams now sinking in Doubt’s mire
bruised and bleeding from Fear’s briers
feeling Hope’s strength start to tire
Will I let life quench my fire?

No. I will not be a martyr
I will struggle, I’ll fight harder
with my dreams I will not barter
experience has made me smarter
thus my future I shall alter
hear me now I will not falter
I spring anew from Hope’s altar
to pave the new way that I’ll venture
with Love and Faith as my mentors
I have become Doubt’s tormentor.

By Jason C. (*cough* That’s me!)Image

-Picture by mathiole