Friendship Retreat

Retreat
During the last year from hell when I was busily trying not to kill myself, a lot of my relationships took a big hit. I had to pull away completely from casual friends and acquaintances, developing relationships got nipped in the bud, and some long-term relationships were blown to bits. Being that vulnerable and exposed left me feeling naked and wounded in every encounter I had with another human, but it also made me need people more than ever. It’s been weird.

So with everything being so fraught and complicated and vulnerable on my end of things, it was the perfect timing to have a retreat with some of my favorite people from around the nation. Us Mormon Feminists LOVE our retreats. So often you’re the only one who thinks like you at church every Sunday, retreats are times to gather together, celebrate our relationships and our work, and nourish our hearts until we’re strong enough to get back out there and keep at it.

These gals are all a special breed of trouble that I run the Feminist Mormon Housewives empire with. We chat online every day about the minutia of our lives, problem solving all the issues that come with running a giant online community, and raging against the man. I love them totally, and getting to have a few of them in the flesh was heavenly.

Cooking
I forced everyone to travel to my house so that I could pamper everyone silly. I had the very best time cooking for everyone, fussing over bedding, making sure everyone was comfortable and watching the whole season of the Bachelor while we critiqued it through a feminist lens. And then Christa made us all homemade potstickers from a secret family recipe.

DungeonsandDragons
My friend Melissa schools me in all things Nerdly, and it was her gentle hand that guided me through my first ever Dungeons and Dragons experience. Turns out, it’s just like an improv game! I’ve wasted so much time not playing this!

Dudebro
My friend Noelle just went through an unpleasant divorce and if there’s one thing us MoFem’s like as much as retreats it’s rituals. Anytime we get together we come up with reasons to celebrate, to mark the occasion, to recognize milestones. There are just not enough moments in a woman’s life where she gets surrounded by her community in support and celebration, so when we get together we make those moments happen. For Noelle we decided to have a letting go ceremony. I had white tissue paper lanterns on hand we use for birthday celebrations, so we took one of them and we all wrote on it together. On one side we wrote all of the things we didn’t want to be a part of the next phase of her life – fear, sorrow, shame – and on the other side we wrote all of the great things we wanted for her. Then we lit it up and watched it rise into the night sky, glowing the whole way.

Dudebro tears is something we want to be banished from her life forever.

(Because it’s a fire hazard and I live in forest fire country we kept it tethered and then disposed of it safely once it was done burning.)

Friends
I must love these ladies an awful lot to make that face in a photo.

It was three restorative days with women that I love so so much. It’s almost too good to be true. And then last week I got to go to Utah for another retreat. This was for a conference about race and Mormonism and I flew in and showed up because I deeply care about anti-racism. I thought I was making a sacrifice. But then I got PREACHED to, and once again it was restorative. It cracked me open and poured me out and filled me back up with holiness. Luckily, you get to listen to the keynote address too. If you need a little retreat, a little ritual, a little restoration, go and listen. It’s enough to keep you going until you see the people you love in the flesh.

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Ordain Women, again.

Sisterhood
Photo by Katrina Barker Anderson

I spent this conference weekend in Utah, attending the second Ordain Women event asking to attend the Priesthood session of conference. I was planning on still being there today to meet with people who worked for the Church to have discussions about how to help the women of the church, but the meetings I had worked so hard to line up all got canceled. And I am left wounded and grieving and trying to not let go of faith in my people.

I’ve been writing and talking about this all so much that I am loathe to recap it all again. My OW sister Annie wrote a post that speaks for me as well. Read this.

What has been so deeply saddening in all this is not that we were turned away, I expected that. What has been so difficult is how we’ve been treated. Denied from the sacred ground our ancestors built and told to stand with the protesters screaming violence and obscenities in our faces. Our every action and mere existence interpreted with suspicion, people projecting poor behavior on us because their pride was wounded. Cars full of white shirts and ties yelling at us. Online commenters and friends I’ve known for years telling me that I don’t understand the gospel or must not have a testimony.

This is a video my friend Troy Williams took of me asking for entry:

I took her, and myself, honestly, by surprise when I went in for that hug. I was near the beginning of the line and when I hugged her, she bristled. But I was overcome and couldn’t help myself. I had empathy for her. I knew that what she was doing was going to be physically and spiritually exhausting and I felt for her. When I went in for the hug I whispered in her ear, “I know this will be hard for you today. Thank you so much for being here and letting us do this.” That’s when you can see her pat my arms and say, “OK, take care.”

I am grateful for the spirit of love I felt that allowed me to be empathetic to her. As Annie wrote in the link above, over the course of the day, she softened. I don’t think that the PR department had any idea that we were actually earnest seekers. I think they came prepared for people waging a manipulative and deceptive battle and by the end of it, I think at least Kim understood that we were not there to cause trouble or embarrassment. We were there honestly.

The statements coming out of the PR department are not honest. And that breaks my heart. In part because I know these people, I’ve had great associations with them, it hurts to have them think such nefarious things about me and it hurts me to see them not living up to their own values. Bear says, “PR people are PR people. They’re going to do whatever they have to do to protect who’s paying them.” But I want to believe that people who work for the church would still place their morals above their job performance. And the statements issued contain demonstrable lies. There’s no way to sugar coat that. Believe me, I’ve tried. I want to find a way to make it OK, and the truth is that it’s just not.

When people think that I’m doing all this for reasons other than my own earnest devotion to truth and justice, it never fails to shock me. There are people who honestly believe that I get something out of this. That I’m a ‘try-hard’ who wants to fit in with ‘the world,’ and I’m doing all this for attention. I can’t help but chuckle ruefully and shake my head. Here’s the truth: ‘the world’ doesn’t care about Mormons. They think we’re an adorably out of touch religion at best and a source of oppression at worst. I take heat from all sides, I don’t get any credit there at all.

Instead, if I were able to put all this away and fit in as a Good Mormon Woman I would be dramatically more successful. Because of my activism I have lost book deals, sponsorships, readers, friends, family, community, jobs, careers, speaking tours, and more opportunities than I can count. So often we members think that we are sacrificing to live our values, without ever looking at how much we gain by being “community approved,” particularly when Mormons have such a huge presence in the blogging, publishing, and craft worlds. By following my heart and the Spirit I am “community approved” exactly no where and it has had a major impact on my work.

But if I didn’t do it, I could never ask for another prayer to be answered. I could never ask for another blessing. I would know that I hadn’t lived up to what I had been asked to do and couldn’t be worthy of more. I don’t know why God has given me this road to walk, but he has. And I know that to be true with the same fervor and in the same way that I know God lives and that I find him in this faith. To deny one I’d have to deny the other. And I won’t.
Turned Away
Photo by D’Arcy Benincosa

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Year of Pleasures: Art

3 Birds
I had to go back and look through my archives to make sure I hadn’t posted these before. It seems like such a ridiculous oversight. This triptych hangs over my desk and is what I look at all day long as I’m typing away. My talented friend Melissa Mayhew created these for me based on an idea I’ve had forever and ever. These are a symbol reminding me to be courageous in how I fight for good in the world.

Brain
An owl is a symbol of wisdom

Heart
A lovebird is a symbol of love

Voice
And a songbird is a symbol of song

All together these birds remind me that God gave me a brain and a heart and a voice and he expects me to use them. Once upon a time another friend of mine (a hugo award winning friend) did a rendition of these for me that one day, when I get the guts, I’ll tattoo on my back. I don’t even remember when I thought of these birds, but anytime someone tells me I’m doing something God would not approve of and that I should just get back in line, I think of these birds. And I keep on going.

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Year of Pleasures: Rainy Day

rainy day

It’s bright blue skies and sunny here again today, but over the weekend and throughout the end of last week it was pouring rain. Rain always makes me happy – it reminds me of home in Seattle – but this was especially welcome since California is in the middle of a terrible drought that is threatening farmers all over the state. Local churches all got together to pray for rain and over the weekend there was one brief moment where I actually began to wonder if maybe we all had a little too much faith.

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How to cope with suicide

Atticus looking at the light

Someone close to us killed himself two weeks ago, and we spent the end of last week traveling down and attending the funeral. It is tragic and heartbreaking, but out of respect for the family I’m not going to talk about that. Instead, I want to talk about how to cope in the aftermath.

As someone who struggles openly with mental illness, I want to speak for those who commit suicide.

There have been times in my life with the threat of suicide was very very real. Times when I had a plan and the only thing that kept me from enacting it was people who helped me when I reached out to them. So I feel like I can speak from experience when I say: no one does this because they’re thinking rationally. Teenagers have their own unique dilemmas that threaten suicide, but if we’re talking adults? They do this because the disease they are living with – depression, bipolar disorder, addiction – has overcome them. It’s the disease that ends their life. Suicide was just the form it took.

That distinction is crucial in every way. When we process a loss, we all go through the anger stage. This is a normal and healthy part of processing our grief and isn’t something to be avoided. But when it’s suicide that complicates that loss, the anger stage contains a specific component that blames the loved one. We talk about the person “giving up” or say they “couldn’t cope.” That they’ve abandoned their family or sneer that suicide is a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Well, sometimes that problem is temporary – the problems that often affect teen suicides can be temporary – but sometimes it isn’t. Mental illness and addiction are not temporary. And if someone dies from suicide after a struggle with a permanent problem like that, it’s not because they couldn’t cope. It’s because the treatment failed.

If someone had cancer, and they had good care from doctors and fought through chemotherapy and they still died, we would never say it was because they couldn’t cope or lament that they weren’t stronger or criticize them for being selfish. We would say the treatment failed. That despite every effort the cancer did not respond to chemotherapy and it took their life. That’s how we need to treat mental illness and addiction. (I keep saying mental illness and addiction because I want to pay special attention to addiction. It is, in fact, a mental illness and should be taken every bit as seriously.)

I am extremely lucky because in a nation where it is far from the norm, I have had access to mental health care including prescription medications. And I’m lucky again because the medications work, and I am absolutely diligent about staying healthy with the help of supportive family and friends. Not everyone has that string of luck.

We have no real treatment for addiction. There is no medical treatment, there is no cure. We have some excellent therapeutic tools, but we have no way to change brain chemistry or structure in a way that consistently and reliably counteracts addiction. Which means that every person you know who is sober and living with addiction is performing a mind over matter feat of strength that should humble us to our core. Unless we can use our mind to lower our cholesterol or blood pressure, how dare we judge an addict whose disease ends their life?

Blaming a victim of suicide for being weak reinforces the stigma surrounding mental health and feeds into the diseased mind that tells us the world would be better off without us, that we’re too much of a burden on our loved ones, that we shouldn’t reach out for help, that we’re not capable of coping.

But it also is a tragedy for the people left behind.

Your loved ones didn’t commit suicide because you didn’t love them enough. They didn’t commit suicide because they didn’t love *you* enough. They didn’t do it because you enforced boundaries or consequences or to teach you a lesson. They did it because the disease overwhelmed them and the treatment failed.

No other cause of death has us feeling so guilty. We wouldn’t tell ourselves that if we had put up with the cancer better than our loved ones would have survived. If only they loved us more they wouldn’t have been overcome by the tumors. If we had loved them better than they never would have gotten cancer in the first place. All of those thoughts are absurd, but when you replace cancer with addiction, they are commonplace.

Mental illness is a disease. Addiction is a disease. And losing someone to it is tragic, but it does not make them, or us, weak. All we can do is rest in the knowledge that their fight is over and try to leave room in our hearts for the knowledge that whatever length of time they managed to fight this disease was heroic.

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What I’m reading: Traveling Mercies

Traveling Mercies

It’s been a challenge to make time for reading in my already overpacked life, but it’s something that has fed and sustained me my whole life long. I can’t afford to abandon it. It’s just so hard since it’s the one thing I do that I can’t multitask. Even my knitting is done while listening to a podcast or watching TV.

But I’m going to do it. Thus: that goal over there in the sidebar. One book a week.

The first book I’ve finished this year I wanted to give special mention to, most books won’t get their own post, but I had to mention this one because I think it’s my current favorite. I’m so not the type to rank favorite movies or books or whatever, but for right now, this book has my heart.

Anne Lamott is my kind of lady, my kind of Christian, my kind of writer. Whenever I read a book of hers I want to write a whole book back in response. There’s something so relatable about her that her books seem more like a conversation than an expert spouting off from their enlightened sphere. And when she writes about Recovery or Faith, it’s the kind that resonates with me – not some holy untouched thing, but something worn and used and ragged. Her faith is a faith that isn’t about having the right answer to the big questions, but about just being sensitive. “I had no big theological thoughts but had discovered that if I said, Hello? to God, I could feel God say, Hello, back.”

I deal so much with people who are convinced that they are RIGHT, and want to discuss why they are RIGHT and how they are RIGHT, that reading something from someone who is content with the mystery of it all is like discovering a freshly made bed after a long hard travel. People of faith are supposed to not have answers for everything, that’s how faith works, and yet it’s more rare than you’d think to find someone who actually lives that way. “This is plenty of miracle for me to rest in now.”

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Year of Pleasures: Brian Kershisnik

She will find what is lost

Since I am broke, as I discussed yesterday, I’m hardly in the position to be an art collector. So when artists that I love offer open stock prints of their work I am so grateful I could weep. This is my latest acquisition. “She will find what is lost” by Brian Kershisnik.

This piece is so significant to me and has become even more significant since my work with Ordain Women. I believe God has more for his daughters.

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Ordain Women

Kate Kelly and me
I am a believer.

I believe that creativity can change the world.

I believe in Jesus Christ and in striving to make myself into what he preached instead of making his preachings into what I am.

I believe that people are good, and when they’re not it’s because they are either sick or they’re afraid.

I believe in God and that he’s still trying to guide us if we would only listen.

And I believe that God loves his daughters just as much as his sons.

I left home on Saturday at 4 in the morning and drove across the desert to get to Salt Lake City to join up with my fellow supporters of Ordain Women as we sought entry to the Priesthood session of general conference. In my religion, like most religions, only men hold the priesthood and by extension nearly all of the leadership opportunities, as well as bureaucratic and financial authority. Many women are not bothered by this because the system works for them. They have the good fortune to be surrounded by men who don’t abuse or dominate them, and have plenty of opportunities to exercise their talents and gifts. Many others don’t but want so desperately to be righteous that they make it work for them, grateful for what they do experience. But many many others, so many others that the weight of sorrow I witness often overwhelms me, see the unequal policies and feel intense pain at the thought that their Heavenly Father views them as less important than men. That the current church structure reflects the structure of heaven. That the silencing, and ignoring, and discounting, and even often cruelty they experience from men and leaders in their life might be a shadow of what awaits them on the other side.

What people often misunderstand in viewing these kinds of efforts is that the motivation comes from an abundance of faith, not a lack of it. If we didn’t love our leaders, it wouldn’t hurt. We’d shrug our shoulders and walk away, shaking our heads at the time we spent as part of this religion. If we didn’t have faith in the priesthood we wouldn’t want it. We’d go about our business and smirk whenever someone suggested it’s power, knowing how much power we could wield without it. But we don’t do those things. We drive alone across the desert, fly across oceans, walk past men refusing to meet our gaze, show up at the door and knock, only to be turned away. We can read the talks offered at the session, use them to teach our Relief Society lessons, watch it on television, but we can’t enter the building. And we mourn and we weep when we feel rejected by our church home, our righteousness questioned, our earnest faith unwanted.

We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
-9th Article of Faith

I feel called to keep pushing on this issue. There are a lot of people who don’t like me because of it. I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost callings, I’ve lost jobs, I’ve been threatened, I’ve had family chase me from their home. But I am a believer. And I believe that God has more for his daughters.

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Spiritual Directory Assistance – the original!

Spiritual Directory Assistance

I designed this handout years ago when I was working with the teenage girls at church, and it’s kind of taken on a life of it’s own. I’m constantly seeing it all over Pinterest, and some wonderful forthright people have contacted me to make sure they’re giving me the proper credit. Gosh I love thoughtful people. So I resurrected this from the bowels of my computer to create one easy place to find it.

After all of the activity of the last few weeks I am feeling energy depleted. I might just take to my bed and look a few of these verses up.

Click for full size image!

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Year of Pleasures: History is Made

History being made
This weekend was the semi-annual conference for my religion, and for the first time in the history of the church, a woman prayed over the entire congregation. Not only did a woman pray, but two women prayed. One as an opening prayer, and one as a closing.

On a local level women have been praying for always, but never on such a visible level and over the entire church body. And even locally, as in several of my own wards I’ve attended, there can be weird traditions of women never being allowed to say the opening prayer, or the closing prayer. Because in some cases those are viewed as requiring the priesthood. It’s ridiculous when you actually stop to examine it, but as with everything touched by human nature, it’s always easier to go with the status quo.

Woman praying

This might seem like no big deal to you. But it is huge. Without someone that looks like you doing something, no matter if it’s a matter of gender or race or disability or orientation, most people subtly get the message that whatever that is is not for you. There will always be some people who are trailblazers or surrounded by strong enough support to buck that message, but those people are the exception.

And when that ‘something’ that is not for us is approaching God on behalf of all His children? That is so far from OK that I’ve dedicated my life to changing it. And this weekend, we got somewhere.

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