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.


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!


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.


Listen To Your Mother

Listen To Your Mother Read Through
Photo by Margaret Andrews of Nanny Goats in Panties

So much happened this weekend it’s going to take me the rest of the week to tell you about it. And it took half of this week even to wrap my head around it. It was everything I’ve been missing in my life all wrapped up in two neat little days of relief.

First, I have to try and describe what it was like to meet up with my new cohorts and do our first read-through for Listen To Your Mother. But that is a hard, hard, thing. How do you explain love at first sight?

Let me back up a ways.

Because of the activism work I do, I often find myself the object of a great deal of scorn. And worse. It’s a hard thing to try and describe but in this tiny tiny tiny little corner of the internet, I’m a public figure. It’s not a role I’m really even comfortable acknowledging because as someone who is also engaged in this mainstream world of blogging and writing and YouTube and trying to gain eyeballs, I am painfully aware that the corner of the world that cares about Mormon Feminism is miniscule. Laughably small. So so very tiny that it is pretty ridiculous anyone would think of me as public at all.

And yet, here we are. These issues are deeply felt, and activism for powerless or disenfranchised groups mean that any crumb of public attention matters a whole lot more than it would in any other group or situation. Which means that by being willing to engage with the press, I take a ton of shit. From every side. Mormons who think that I’m an apostate and go so far as to gather random comments I make across the internet to make the case for a church court. Secular feminists who think that a woman in a patriarchal religion is a beacon of internalized misogyny. Other Mormon feminists who think I’m megalomaniacal or representing things wrong or too aggressive or not aggressive enough.

There are people who monitor my every word. I wish I could say that was me being paranoid, but I’m currently paying the price for the truth of that statement. Around the internet there are whackjobs and bigots who are convinced I’m secretly trying to bring down the church with an elaborate conspiracy, but I usually find those people amusing. Locally there are people here in town who also monitor my facebook page and my blogging and report me to my ecclesiastical leaders. I find these people to be so vitriolic and attached to their own political principles over the teachings of the gospel that I think their apostasy court would be far easier to support than my own, but not according to my Bishop or Stake President.

I kept quiet about these things for a long time to try and repair the relationship and be discreet, but those efforts proved fruitless, and I’m now moving so…

For the last few years I haven’t been allowed to hold a calling, or speak without the stake president supervising, or teach a lesson, or even hold book club in my home without the bishop calling me into his office several times over my selection and then coming to chaperone the event. I still have a temple recommend because I’ve done nothing wrong and my conscience is clear, but nevertheless, I’m essentially being disfellowshipped for my actions. When I talked to the bishop about this he couldn’t name any problems and said that things would change, but they haven’t. I’ve lost friends I’ve had for years. People that I was there for in their own times of crisis have told me I should leave the church. But I keep at this because I believe it’s the right thing to do. And because I believe the true test of a Christian is how they treat the people who aren’t kind to them.

Photo by Lisa Smiley of Lisa Smiley Photography

So with all that pressure, and all that emotional energy going out, I’m sure you can imagine that I’ve been feeling depleted. I think it’s shown in the blog here. My creative mojo has been gone, the words have not been coming. I am luckier than most in having many deep and true friends but I’ve been feeling a loss of community. Without my family in my life, I long for a group to understand me, to support me, to hear me.

And it was with that big aching need that I came to the Listen To Your Mother read through. As we sat around the table we poured out our most intimate feelings and experiences. Our emotion built on each reading, tears flowed, we laughed until we were sore, and we nodded and clutched our hearts and said, “me too.” Here was this roomful of funny, smart, passionate, present women, with vulnerable open hearts, and we filled each other up. In that one afternoon we did the work of years of friendship.

Margaret and Nichole thought they were selecting readers for a beautiful show, and that’s true too, but really, they were curating me a group of great friends.


A Mormon Feminist on International Women’s Day

Courtney and Carina and me
My pals CJane and Azucar, speaking at BYU today! If you’re in Utah, you still have time. Go catch them talk about work/life balance and having it all!

I had a craft tutorial all lined up to share today, but once I logged on to read the news this morning and realized it was International Women’s Day, I knew I had to talk about something completely different.

I don’t make it the focus of this blog, but it’s important enough to me that I’m sure it’s bled through here and there: I am a feminist. And I am that special breed of feminist known as the Mormon Feminist. A wild and unruly group of women dedicated to their heritage, their community, their God, and each other, as we work and hope and pray for greater gender equity. This often means something different in each of our lives, which is wonderful. It means we’ve gotten big and strong enough as a movement to support diversity of thought. It’s a thrilling time to be engaged in this work.

From both inside and outside of the church, I often experience a great deal of resistance (read: people calling for my excommunication and/or telling me I’m a manhating harpy). People inside of the church often misinterpret my efforts as being critical or condemning of church leaders. I’ve been accused of being apostate, being dangerous for young minds, being selfish or prideful, that I think I know better than the men called to lead this church, that I’m on a swift path to hell. Those reactions say so much more about the people reacting than they do about me. I believe the scriptures when they say that “all are alike unto God,” and I know enough about church history and structure to know that even the best and most righteous of us get it wrong. Each of us are human beings fumbling our way along to progression, and it doesn’t need to change anything about how we view authority to acknowledge that there are times when we can’t help but be blinded by our experiences and prejudices.

The people who react so viscerally to me are reacting out of those experiences and prejudices. They are reacting out of fear. Fear of not having someone in charge who is always right. Fear of change. Often just fear of being wrong.

Religious people want to do right. And they want to be right. And often that desire can make them believe that there is only one right answer to this mortal condition. One way to be, one path to take, one choice to make. But that just doesn’t jive with reality, or, for that matter, scriptural precedent.

I have often described myself as a “red-letter Mormon.” Meaning that what moves me and calls to me and most informs my choices are the words of Jesus Christ. And Jesus was about love. Not the law. So I get frustrated at the people who think that I’m dangerous while they complain about people wearing leggings or sleeveless sundresses, they gossip and judge, and show such deep unkindness. And of course that’s just the most benign example. That doesn’t even touch on the behavior that really keeps me working. The times when women experience abuse and don’t have someone who can help or understand them. Those hopefully rare but still extant occasions when a leader grossly oversteps and commits spiritual abuse or even commits assault. All the women and girls in this church who don’t have a voice in the power structure. I know they have a voice with God, and I know he wants us all to do better.

The secular critics roll their eyes at me and say that if I just left the church I’d have no more of these problems. They blame religious institutions for every problem in humanity and shake their heads at efforts to change them as if I was Don Quixote tilting at windmills. To them I shake my head right back. Religion certainly has its problems, which I can probably enumerate better than most since I’m the one here in the trenches, but it is just naive to think that leaving a church will end the problems of sexism. There is no feminist utopia. Anywhere. Any institution from the government to corporations to the media will still repeat these same problems. It’s systemic. And since religion isn’t disappearing, at least in our lifetime, this is something I can contribute that has the potential to affect millions of lives.

Many more people wonder why we need feminism at all. They have the freedom to vote, get an education, work at a job they like, they feel like we’re all good now and people like me who want to keep up the fight are just whiners. Those people are the luckiest people on the planet. They’ve been surrounded by people who didn’t hurt or neglect or assault them, they’ve never been denied opportunity because of their gender, they’ve never faced the problems of poverty that disproportionately affect women or needed to take control of their fertility and been denied. Because of their great fortune, they just don’t see all the other people around the world and on their doorstep who still struggle with the same things we’ve been struggling with forever. If you think there’s no need for feminism today, it means that you’re not paying attention to the people who don’t have it as comfortably as you do.

Last night I got together with some of my favorite friends and we talked about the people who are mean to me or judge me or work to limit what I can do at church, and even in that discussion I realized how lucky I am. I sat with these wonderful women who genuinely care about me and support me, who understand that I do what I do out of love and loyalty to the church, out of love of God and my fellow woman, who reassure me and buoy me up as we eat frozen yogurt and laugh and laugh and laugh, and I am so grateful that I get to experience all the best parts of sisterhood. There are costs to doing this work, but so so so many more benefits. So I’m going to keep it up until women all around the world get to experience that same feeling.


Coming Clean

Making me feel better

I’ve been having big time comment problems, but I think I might have them resolved now. I miss you commentors! There was never any permission needed!

Whenever something hard happens in my life, I normally make a few inappropriate jokes, and then come here to process it. I kind of pride myself on how open I am because I believe that none of us needs to feel like we’re alone, me as much as anyone, and the more I share the more I learn that. And show it to other people. But this year I haven’t been my usual transparent self. This year I’ve been struggling with something big and scary and I’ve kept it to myself because for once I didn’t know if I could bear the consequences of having it out in the open. My abusive childhood, fractured family relationships, infertility, chronic illness, sex life, I’ve written about all of those things without batting an eye. But this one upended everything about how I saw myself, and made me question how I wanted the world to see me.

I’ve long been open about having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It has greatly affected my life, but not in any way that I felt threatened my credibility. Even at my worst, when the compulsions were driving me so mad I’d stand in the aisle at Wal-Mart and break out into a sweat over the need to steal a lipstick – not buy it, I had to take it – and then hide in the sporting good department while I stashed it in my purse, I always viewed my compulsions as eccentric. The only one who really suffered was my husband, when he had to run all the errands because I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house. The costs of a few compulsions were rewarded with order and motivation, and except for the worst times, I called it my superpower.

But last year I started feeling things slipping away from me. I was plagued by fears of losing control, of inflicting harm, of ruining everything we had built. So I went to the psychiatrist for some help. My superpower had become too much for me.

I started taking Zoloft and plunged into the deepest, darkest, most terrifying depression I had ever seen. My actual thoughts were changed overnight. I couldn’t write, I had no energy, I laid on the couch and huddled under a blanket for days. That psychiatrist fine tuned my meds and brought me away from the brink, but I had a new awareness of just how close disaster was for me. When she left the practice I had to start over again with a new psychiatrist. The thought was exhausting, explaining everything from the beginning, starting over at square one, but with the specter of that darkness in my peripheral vision, I went.

We talked, and as we talked, she seemed interested in things my previous therapist hadn’t been. She was much more interested in hearing about the times I’d been depressed, and then when I started talking about my superpower – how it fed my productivity, how creative I felt, how I was pushed to work and create and do more, how happy and full of love I felt – she burst my bubble. None of those feelings were from OCD. She said, “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder wouldn’t make you productive. It would be the opposite. Your compulsions would keep you from doing what you needed to do.”

As soon as she said it, I knew she was right. That inner fire I felt to work and create was not the same thing as the vibrating need to wash my hands or arrange patterns or make even numbers or pick pick pick at something. That inner fire was something else, mirrored by the darkness that the medication amplified, but didn’t introduce. That darkness had been with me since childhood, grew during my teen years when my mother started giving me pills to cope with it, and pulsed throughout my adult years, growing and receding with the seasons.

I started crying in her office, with recognition. She was explaining my whole life to me.

I have Bipolar disorder.

Specifically I was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, which is a different animal than Bipolar I, which is what you usually see depicted on TV. Which is why I never even imagined I would have it. I don’t have breaks from reality, I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I don’t act out or engage in self-destructive behavior, I don’t act crazy. What I have are periods of intense depression, and then I have periods the experts call Hypomania – a version of mania that doesn’t reach the destructive or fanciful heights of Bipolar I. Instead I am energetic, creative, full of love for the world, a cauldron of ideas and motivation and enthusiasm. I feel amazing. Until I don’t. Eventually I crest over the top of the climb and race downhill, irritated at the slowness of everyone else, compelled to keep going, faster and faster, despite what I want to be doing, despite my need for sleep or my desire to be still, until I crash back down into the darkness.

Anti-depressants without an accompanying mood stabilizer aggravates this condition. Which is what happened when I started Zoloft. Unfortunately, the mood stabilizer that would be most appropriate for me is better not to take during pregnancy, which we’ve been actively trying to achieve for years now. Going on them and then immediately getting off after pregnancy could be worse than just not starting them. So I’m taking care of myself, paying attention to the rhythms of light and sleep and exercise that are so crucial to governing my moods, asking for help, riding the cycles, being aware.

Many people with Bipolar II disorder prefer to remain untreated. The risks are high – Bipolar II is just as high a risk factor for suicide as Bipolar I – but the rewards are great. When I’m hypomanic, it’s like I have access to a whole other part of my brain. I feel brilliant and expansive and I have so many ideas I can barely get them all down on paper. I’m happier, more loving, and in touch with a creativity that feels divine. And then I have to pay for that. But if I can take care of myself enough to avoid the highest highs and the lowest lows, then the benefits might just be worth it.

I cried when I discovered this, in part because I recognized my life, and in part because I didn’t know what this meant for me. Was I really crazy after all?

My family thinks I am. I’m the only one who identifies as an abused child. My siblings make excuses and justifications, saying ‘things shouldn’t have happened’ or ‘they were angry’ and never getting to the heart of the dynamic. I’ve been accused of being melodramatic, oversensitive, crazy, a liar, because I am seeking health and honesty in my relationships. And then there’s the whole question of God. I feel Him in my life. I’ve had my prayers answered, I’ve dreamed dreams and seen things that I couldn’t explain any other way. Was this God after all? Was it a delusion?

I couldn’t bear to be public about any of this until I’d figured it out for myself. After study and counseling and meditation and prayer, here’s what I’ve determined:
I am not crazy.
I am not delusional.
I have a mood disorder that makes me have highs and lows I have to pay attention to and be careful with.
I have days where I will be more productive than anyone except a member of the military, and other days when I need to waste time playing puzzle games on the internet.
And both are all right. Both feed the other and make the other possible. Both have to be honored and paid attention to and in return I will be rewarded with creativity and light and love and an inner fire that warms me and pushes me to do more. And the darkness will keep that fire safe.
The darkness gives me empathy, connection, stillness, depth. The fire gives me energy, boundless creativity, enthusiasm and love. My job is to keep them balanced.


Mother’s Day without a mother

My Indian feast
My Mother’s Day presents: An Indian feast

Mother’s Day has never been a day I terribly enjoyed. That’s really underselling things. I flat out hated it. I stayed in bed as long as I could get away with, snapped at Bear, stayed in both my pajamas and a depressive funk, and went back to bed as early as I could. Part of that was of course because of our long struggles with infertility, but thanks to Atti that issue has gotten a lot easier. As I was looking back through my archives to find that link, I noticed that most of my Mother’s Day posts describe me staying home from church. That’s no accident. Having a child made one part of Mother’s Day better, but I didn’t think that anything could fix how I felt about not having my own mother to celebrate.

25 lbs of cherries to do anything I want with

My childhood was rough, and yadda yadda yadda, I haven’t spoken to my parents in nearly 13 years. They haven’t changed their behavior, they think I’m ridiculous and melodramatic, and there is a big hole in my life where family is supposed to be. Since Atti was born, I spent Mother’s Days adoring him and being grateful for my little family, but there was always a dark echo reminding me of the relationship I’d severed.

I was never sad for the actual relationship, or missed my actual mother. Cutting off contact was the absolute right thing, and continues to be. What I mourn is the mother in my imagination. The one who was supportive, who cheered me on, who thought I was great and liked spending time with me. The mother I’m trying to be to Atticus. And when I would go to church, I’d hear stories of that mother, and the missing was too much to bear.

Cinnamon Bears
and cinnamon gummi bears. I ate til I was too full to sleep.

When I woke up yesterday morning, Bear asked me if I was going to go to church. I hemmed and hawed, started getting ready and then got back in bed. I couldn’t decide if I was ready to chance losing my composure at the mention of that mother I longed for and never got to have. But Atti just got a hair cut and Bear was getting him dressed, so I decided to take a chance.

I’m so glad I did. My little guy sang in the Primary choir, his face just peeking up over the wall of the stand. I spent time with my church family where I felt loved and accepted. And surrounded by my women friends in Relief Society, I felt fine. I felt better than fine. I felt that I was finally ready to let go of the last traces of the dream and recognize that the mother I never got to have was all around me, spread out throughout all the women I know. Women who teach me and nurture me, who help me raise my child, who offer me inspiration and someone to love. Family is what we make it, and I am so grateful for mine.


Year of Pleasures: Generosity of Eggs

There’s a woman I go to church with who is a recent convert and Vietnamese. I have been so touched to watch her bring her culture and history into ours and show us expressions of love and community in a way that she’s used to. She brings lunch of homemade summer rolls and passes it around Sunday school, a basket of hard boiled eggs and a shaker of salt she sends around the meetings of the women’s organization. You see all these WASPy Mormons, the older ladies in their smart little skirt suits, passing around a basket of eggs and not really knowing what in the heck to do with them but understanding the gesture and taking an egg. It’s a beautiful moment.

This friend also loves to get deals to share with us, so the other day she bought a gross of eggs and asked around for people to split the cost with her. I took two flats off her hands for $5. We made frittatas and custard and all kinds of baked goods and in every bite I felt a little more love from the generosity of this friend.


Atti the Gleek

Tell me this kid isn’t a musical prodigy. Look at Atti showing his mashup skills. He started off with “I Am Like a Star Shining Brightly,” went into “Twinkle, Twinkle,” back to “Shining Brightly,” into “I Am a Child of God,” back to “Shining Brightly,” but this time with a key change, added a little soul to “I Am a Child of God” before breaking it down with “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” and bringing it all back around to where he started with the last part of “Shining Brightly.”

Personally, I think it’s inspired.


I’m now an award winning troublemaker

This past weekend I ran off to Utah (via Orange County for the longest possible way to go, but also for free childcare) to attend the Salt Lake City Weekly party for the recipients of the 2011 Best of Utah award. Mine was as a board member of WAVE, the advocacy group I helped found, and the staff of the newspaper liked us so much they invented a category for us. Best Mormon Feminist.

I didn’t know what to expect, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t need an acceptance speech or anything, but it turned out to be a party at a club with free food and booze. I got no food, and was interested in no booze, so I missed out on that, but I brought my cousin friend Karen and we had a blast living it up like two single girls on the town. I even got hit on at the party, and since I’ve been developing a bit of a complex about my momma frump, that did the old girl some good.

We left the party and had a beautiful meal like you’d see on Top Chef, slept in late the next morning, went shopping, had another long lunch, and then Karen left and I got another day to sleep in, lay about the room, meet with some other friends, and get away from worrying about anybody else’s needs for a while. It was pretty dang luxurious.

Shut yer Pie Hole
I was so honored to represent the rest of us mouthy broads that make up the WAVE board, and I will now have a plaque on my wall declaring me the Best Mormon Feminist, if that ever comes up for debate. But I’m not really sure that my troublemaking needs to be encouraged.