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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Learning to Speak

I'd like to introduce you to a girl named Malala Yousafzai. Maybe you know of her, but in case you don't, here's a little bit about why you should. Malala was born in Pakistan, where during her youth, the Taliban took over her town and banned girls from going to school. Following after her father, Malala spoke up against this injustice. She was only 11 years old when she began to speak out. In 2008, she started writing a diary for the BBC under a pseudonym. She spoke on radio stations in Pakistan decrying the Taliban ban on girls' education. By the summer of 2012, Malala had gained notoriety in Pakistan and abroad, and the Taliban began to fear her influence. Just over two years ago, on October 9, 2012, Malala was shot through the head, neck, and shoulder by a member of the Taliban. But Malala survived.

And her voice hasn't gone quiet. On July 12, 2013—her 16th birthday—she spoke to the United Nations about education for all children. You can watch her speech here. [ ] (It's well worth your time.) A few months later, she appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where again she spoke with eloquence on why she did what she did:

“Why should I wait for someone else? Why should I be looking to the government, to the army, that they would help us? Why don't I raise my voice? Why don't we speak up for our rights? The girls of Swat [Malala's home region], they spoke up for their rights. I started writing the diary. I spoke on every media platform that I could, and I raised my voice on every platform that I could.”

            Four days ago, Malala became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her courageous call for change. This young girl has so many reasons to not speak up anymore. She has so many reasons to not share her opinion. But she continues to proclaim the power of voice—of using it and not being afraid to take a stand.

In this world of political correctness and respect for others opinions, I sometimes feel imprisoned. I am constantly aware of what everyone else is thinking, constantly aware of how I'll be interpreted and judged by the things that I say, constantly aware of how I might not be able to fully express acknowledgment of the wide variety of logical viewpoints of an issue and show respect toward them. I'm so worried about inadvertently giving offense that sometimes I don't speak at all. I don't want to come off as rude. I don't want to come off as ignorant. I don't want to come off as non-empathetic. And so I'm left not saying anything.

As I heard Malala speak a year after she'd been shot, proclaiming with eloquence, clarity, and wisdom in a language that was not her first, I thought, "She got shot at for her opinion, but she still keeps speaking. Can I not speak and be unafraid of far-less-terrifying consequences?"

                And even with that emboldening question pulsing through my brain, quickening my courage, and forming words in my mouth (or key taps in my fingers, as the case may be), I'm still nervous to speak. But maybe, like Malala, courage is forged a single act at a time.

And the truth is we need more Malalas. We need more people speaking up when they see wrong happening around them. We need more women adding to discussions and solving problems. I might just be one small voice, but so was Malala’s—small, at first, housed in a teenage body in a faraway valley in Pakistan.


Amanda Kae Fronk

Cranberries: A Magical fruit!

I heard a long time ago that cranberry juice was good for women’s health, and I’m sure that’s pretty well-known, however I had no idea until recently what exactly it was that cranberries helped with. An old roommate of mine used to joke that they were good for “your lady parts.” Through some research, I have discovered that this is partly true.

FIRST: Cranberries play a part in the prevention of urinary tract infections (UTIs). There is some debate on this however, because it’s not a 100% guarantee. Anything’s better than nothing though, right? Before I got married, I had pre-marital visits with an OB/GYN. A woman can be at a pretty high risk for UTI's when getting married after practicing abstinence. Her body will be exposed to germs and bacteria it isn’t used to, and this can cause a UTI rather quickly. When meeting with my OB/GYN, she suggested I drink lots of cranberry juice for the first little while. Many doctors believe that the acidity of the cranberry juice can make your urine less ideal for bacteria to reside, hopefully preventing the bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract. If you’ve ever had a UTI before, you know they’re no walk in the park, so drink up!

SECOND: Can cranberries prevent breast cancer? Cranberries are high in Vitamin C and fiber which both have been shown to increase overall health and avoid many types of cancer. So while cranberries aren’t going to single-handedly keep you cancer-free, they certainly do help.

THIRD: That Vitamin C strikes again as an important antioxidant that keeps your heart healthy! According to the American Heart Association, heart disease causes nearly 1/3 of female deaths every year. Antioxidants are an important part of a woman’s diet to keep her heart healthy and strong. Cranberries are a great source for those antioxidants.

FOURTH: The last benefit of cranberries I will mention here deals specifically with pregnant women. Cranberry juice can help prevent pre-eclampsia, a disease in which heightened blood pressure and too much protein in urine can cause pre-mature birth for your baby. Again, Vitamin C is a key here. The high abundance of Vitamin C in cranberries makes their juice a very effective way of lowering a woman’s risk for pre-eclampsia, especially if she is already at high risk.

There you have it! The mystery is solved; cranberry juice really is beneficial for women’s health –and men’s actually, as they can also suffer from UTIs, breast cancer, and heart disease. While it’s not a cure-all elixir that will make all your problems go away, it is a natural, effective, and preventative boost for your overall health. Of course, there are other ways besides drinking a delicious juice to lower your risk for UTIs, breast cancer, heart disease, and pre-eclampsia, but really, who wouldn’t want to opt for that sweet taste over a bunch of large pills if that’s a valid choice for you!

~ Janai Gariety

Sources:; American Institute for Cancer Research; American Heart Association
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