Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Take a Look in God's Mirror

I believe in the power of our thoughts. The way we think determines the way we see the world, ourselves, and our choices. For example, a people who see themselves the victim of their circumstances will see their choices as limited to what happens to them rather than what they can do. When I was a little girl, I learned a song about our thoughts:

If on occasion you have found
Your language is in question,
Or ugly thoughts come to your mind,
Then here's a good suggestion:

Just hum your favorite hymn,
Sing out with vigor and vim,
And you will find it clears your mind.
Hum your favorite hymn.

It's a simple child's song, but I still on occasion mentally hum a song when a gossipy or mean or inappropriate thought comes to my mind. Beyond being a good way to distract myself from these negative thoughts, it also serves as a label and a reminder: these thoughts are not appropriate, are not helpful, and are not godly.

In regard to our thoughts, we often talk about thoughts and images of a pornographic nature. We talk of pornography as an epidemic, as an addiction, and as an imprisonment. But I'm not going to write about pornography today. I want to discuss a different epidemic of our thoughts that I see again and again, particularly among women.

The epidemic is negative self-talk.

I hear my dear, amazing friends and family members say things all the time that make me want to scream out: "That is an absurd lie!" They'll say things like, "Man, I'm really fat" or "Why would any guy want to date me?" or "I'm too ugly for anyone to notice me." If these things are coming out of their mouths, how many other mean things are they thinking inside their heads?

I hear a lot of people speak to women about how wonderful they are. It's true. Women are wonderful! Sometimes, I think this is done to build up women and boost self-esteem. While I think this approach can be beneficial, I'm not going to sugarcoat anything with this post.

Ladies, these negative thoughts are evil. They are not appropriate. They are not helpful. They are not godly. If we suggest to men (and women), that they should remove an unclean, immoral thought or image from their mind immediately, then we women (and men) need to remove these negative, self-degrading thoughts from our minds just as rapidly. Both of these type of thoughts—the immoral and the self-degrading—come from the same source, and it’s not our Heavenly Father.

You are capable of so much more than a brain filled with thoughts of inability, inadequacy, and inferiority. Your brain was meant to be used for so much more than that! Think of all the energy you could reroute to other things. Instead of being consumed by how you looked at a party, you could be consumed by how to befriend others at a party. Instead of letting your voice go quiet in insecurity, you can let your voice rise in words of comfort and love.

Several years ago, I had an awakening to my own negative self-talk. A wise professor explained that this practice was simply a habit. It was not an inevitable, insurmountable condition. So, just as I had set other goals to brush my teeth every day and clean my room regularly, I set the goal to remove the negative thoughts from my head. The first thing I had to do was label it: this thought is leading me away from my potential and from what God wants of me. Once labelled, it was easier to want to quickly replace it. Sometimes I would hum a song, but more often than not, I would think of something else, like school, work, or what was going to happen in the last Harry Potter book. And then I repeated this process again and again and again. And again. Like any bad habit, it was extremely hard to break. Thinking negatively of myself was such a common practice that it seemed a part of my personality, something impossible to truly remove. But I kept working at it. I failed many, many times, but instead of giving in to those thoughts of inability—"You're weak. How can you win this battle?"—I kept going.

It took a long time, but years later, I can say that negative thoughts are uncommon and passing for me. They sometimes come into my mind, but I pay them little attention. They no longer are the natural route for my mind to go down and focus on. And the fight has been completely worth it. I am free.

With sincere love for the divine beings around me,

Amanda Kae Fronk

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

7 “Life Hacks” You Never Thought to Ask Mom About

Where’s mom now that you need her? Well, you always did need her, but once you’re living on your own or creating your own family, the necessity of her wisdom becomes all the more apparent. Here are 7 things my mom and some other wise women have taught me that simplify life just a little more.

1.       When baking bread in the winter, or when you want it to rise faster, turn your oven on at its lowest temperature setting. As soon as it’s pre-heated turn the oven off. Put your bread dough in an oven safe pan, cover with a dish towel, and place in your warmed oven. Check on the dough until it’s doubled in size.

2.       Not all crockpots are the same. Don’t always follow the times/heat settings found in a new recipe. Get to know how hot your crockpot gets and adjust times/settings for each recipe. For example, my crockpot tends to be on the hotter end, so when making a new recipe I use the “low” setting to be on the safe side, and I check the food periodically to make sure it doesn’t over cook.

3.       If your tub or sink is draining water slowly it could be because of a gooey build up inside your pipes. Most apartment complexes ask that you don’t use Draino in their pipes. Instead, boil some water and get some baking soda and vinegar ready. Dump half the boiling water down the drain, and right after, pour in some baking soda, and then some vinegar. The chemical reaction will clean out your pipes! Finish with the rest of the hot water to rinse everything off.

4.       Baking soda comes into good use again when your microwave is starting to reek of old pasta sauce and burnt popcorn. First, boil hot water in a microwave safe container in your microwave. The condensation will loosen up some of those tougher stains. After doing a wipe-down, put a small bowl of baking soda inside and let it sit for a few days, removing it whenever you cook something. The baking soda will help absorb that smell.

5.       Dry air and sore throats? Make a humidifier by pouring water in a plate or shallow dish and leaving it on your window sill. When the sun shines through the window the water will evaporate into the air. Simply refill the water when it runs out.

6.       Don’t you hate it when your water glasses get foggy? The fogginess actually comes from your dishwasher detergent coupled with the heated dry. If you’re having company over, or if you just want to do a periodic polishing of your glasses, simply rinse each glass in hot water, use soap if the fogginess is particularly bad, and then set on a drying rack or hand dry with a towel. If your glasses aren’t too old, they should sparkle again!

7.       Icing a cake can be difficult, especially when the cake crumbles and gets pieces in the frosting. To avoid this, create a sticky sugar glaze using milk and powdered sugar. Usually a little more sugar than milk works best, but keep adding one or the other until you have a consistency you like. Pour the glazes on the cake and spread around if necessary. Wait for the glaze to harden and then frost away! The glaze should keep all those pesky crumbs in place. 

By Janai Gariety

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Becoming Perfect Through Him

By: Emilee Wolfe

As women, we so easily get caught up in what author Anna Quindlen calls “the dance of perfection.” The looks, the wit, the poise, the charm: from day one we are expected to keep up in this dance with perfect cadence. Our insatiable media consumption only serves to feed our perception of the ideal. Even when we realize our lives can never measure up, we continue to fan the flame by trying to convince others, and ourselves, that we can do it all—that we can take flawless #Iwokeuplikethis selfies during exotic vacations on our break from ending world hunger. We strive to portray our lives as perfectly manicured, covering any trace of messiness or brokenness, afraid to admit that these parts of us exist…afraid that revealing them would make us unworthy of love.

This fixation is further exaggerated in Mormon culture, I believe. We equate our successes and failures to our degree of righteousness. We place motherhood on an insurmountable pedestal. We spend our time poring over picturesque fashion and mommy blogs. We strive to be anxiously engaged in a good cause while forgetting that sometimes we are the ones who need help. It’s interesting that as Christians we so often allow ourselves to be driven by a works-based culture, rather than relying on the grace that is so central to our faith.

We continue in the illusion of effortless perfection, failing to realize that the concept itself is an oxymoron. As it turns out, the fa├žade demands a great deal. Soon, the masks we wear, the smoke screens, and the dance become too much.

My perfectly woven story unraveled this past year, my final year at BYU—the time when, I told myself, I should have it all together. My life took a mental, emotional, and physical blow in searching for the perfect internship, in expecting the perfectly fulfilling relationship, in choosing the perfect career path after graduation. I let cultural pressures determine the paths I walked and dictate my worth, and in the process, I shaved my soul down bit-by-bit until there was very little of me left.

In the perfection dance, that’s what you lose: your soul, your spirit, your vibrancy, your passion, your sense of adventure, your love of life.

Yet, sometimes it takes losing yourself to find yourself.

Matthew 10:39 reads, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”

It took my debilitating health to teach me that being imperfect was okay. It took complete reliance on the enabling power of the Atonement to realize that love works only as a gift, never as a reward. It took losing myself for Christ’s sake for me to understand that I am fully His.

It is in these raw, fragile moments in which He gives himself to us. These moments require us to take off the masks we so often don, to share the broken parts of ourselves with one another, and to accept the unconditional love we never before thought we deserved.

As His perfect love flows through us, we find that His grace is what fills the deepest needs of our hearts. We come to see others, and ourselves, as He sees us: flawed and broken, yes, but achingly beautiful in our vulnerabilities. We discover true joy in the relationships that don’t demand perfection, in which we feel safe to share all of ourselves and grow together. We remember who we are and learn who we can become. We realize that no sin, no choice, no trial can keep us from His love, which has the power to make all right.

In Him, we are perfect.

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
-Leonard Cohen

Further food for thought:
Being Perfect Anna Quindlen
Letters to a Young Mormon Adam Miller
Real Love Greg Baer
“Becoming Perfect in Christ” Gerrit W. Gong
“His Grace is Sufficient” Brad Wilcox

Friday, October 17, 2014

Leaves & Roots: Preparing for Trying Times

Fall is in the air!  The weather is cooling.  Pumpkin sales are skyrocketing.  And the leaves are changing colors.  I’ve recently been thinking about lessons that can be learned from nature, and in particular, I have been pondering about how trees prepare for the fast-approaching winter.  And I noticed some principles that are pretty relevant in our lives.  I’d like to share with you a few things that I learned.

First, a lesson about trees.  Every year, in preparation for winter, trees shed their leaves.  This is done in order to help the tree conserve water and energy during a season where they won’t have the same access to water and nutrients that they enjoy in other seasons of the year.  During warmer seasons, the leaves use sunlight, water and air to help create energy to sustain the tree.  But in the winter, because of the dry, cold air, the energy leaves create is less than the energy it takes to sustain those leaves.  So, in order to conserve moisture in the trunk and branches, thus protecting the tree, leaves are dropped, the spots where they were attached are sealed, and the tree lies dormant until spring.  This keeps the tree alive during a difficult period of time.

Now, a lesson about life.  There will be many difficult seasons in life.  For students, some of those seasons may include midterms and finals.  For individuals who are affected with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), that season is literally winter.  For others it may be periods of poor physical or emotional health, times of loss, of financial difficulty, or of prolonged loneliness.  Sometimes these seasons of difficulty come suddenly and unexpectedly.  At other times we may anticipate them and recognize their approach.

At such times, it may be wise to follow the example of trees in nature and find ways to let go of certain activities that we no longer have the energy to sustain.  This is often difficult.  After all, many if not most activities in your life exist for a reason.  Do you neglect school work?  Work?  Church service?  Hobbies?  Relationships?  Scripture studies?  Community Service?  Meals?  Therapy?  Exercise?  Sleep?

I don’t have the answer, because it will be individualized to each individual or family.  Determining what “leaves” can be sacrificed for a time is a matter that is best approached with prayer.  Perhaps you will decide to simplify by making faster, easier meals.  Maybe you will feel that you should say no to invitations to social activities.  Maybe you decide to only put in sufficient effort into your studies to earn a C rather than an A.  Maybe you think to take your kids out of an extracurricular activity for a while.  Maybe you ask for fewer hours at work.  Maybe you will decide to give up time spent on social media.

But, as you consider what “leaves” you may be able to let drop for a season, be careful to not confuse leaves for roots.  The root system of a tree plays a vital role in sustaining a tree.  It is a store-house for food reserves.  It absorbs and transports water and minerals from the soil to the trunk and branches.  It also anchors the tree.  Even though it becomes necessary for a tree to drop its leaves in winter, a tree never detaches from its roots.  We likewise have sources of strength that nourish us and anchor us.

I wish to highlight four “root” things we should hold fast to during trying times:

1.       Health
To quote the six-fingered man from The Princess Bride, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.  Your physical body matters.  To say that you are too stressed to eat or sleep or exercise is like saying that you are too sick to take medicine.  You may need to adapt some patterns around these activities, but to drop them altogether is going to deplete you of the energy you need to sustain you when times are tough.

2.       Relationships
In the words of Sister Hinckley, “Oh how we need each other!”  Social science and lived experience supports this.  Don’t cut off all people.  Perhaps you will need to become dormant in certain social circles for a time, but maintain some meaningful connections.  Have someone that you can talk to and laugh with and confide in and seek counsel from.  If you are married, turn to your spouse as a source of strength and support and be a source of strength and support to him.  Connect regularly.  Have fun together.  Make time together a priority.

3.       Sources of Spiritual Strength
It can be tempting, in busy times, to let scripture studies or church attendance slide.  However, it is in stressful, busy times that you need the peace the gospel brings the most.  In difficult times we have extra need of the enabling power of the Atonement to give us strength, expand our capacities, and make up for our shortcomings.   

4.       Self-Care
Take time to do things that refresh you.  Perhaps your self-care is rooted in one of the other roots.  Perhaps you exercise for self-care.  Perhaps you love having late-night dance parties in the kitchen with your roommates.  I find myself refreshed by conversations with close friends and going thrift store shopping.  Find something that helps rejuvenate you, and take time to “sharpen the saw”.

Just as trees shed their leaves to conserve energy as winter approaches, at times in our lives it may become needful to let go of certain practices for a season.  But we should never detach from those things that give us our strength. 

By: Allison Ellsworth
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