Saturday, July 2, 2016

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Collecting the Pieces

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities in my life. I begin to feel stretched, you know? Like I can't do all that I need to do the way I need to do it. Feelings of inadequacy and failure creep in.
Then I remind myself that it's not my life to begin with. It's God's. He's put these opportunities in front of me. He will guide me through them.
I've always known that, but sometimes I forget to rely on Him as much. I put pressure on myself to do my part and His.
Nights like this are a blessing, when I collect the pieces of myself and come back to Him and say, "Here am I. Lead me. Guide me. Walk beside me. Work with me and through me. Let's do this life thing together."
It takes the pressure off of having to be it all and do it all. That's not my job. He is All. I just have to be the best me--the me that listens and relies on Him everyday. And everything will be as it should.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Change, Freedom, and Forgiveness Still

Recently someone close to me was unkind, admittedly stuck in the view of the past, unable to see past their own perception of me which had originated years ago. This view disqualified, in their eyes, any good that I have tried to do, as they were decidedly set on my perceived (inaccurate) intentions. It made me sad, and brought my mind back to these thoughts I posted a year ago today. They are as true today as they were a year ago. Perhaps, in the light of these recent events, even more so to me.


Every single one of us have said or done something in our lives that we are not proud of, something we would take back if we could.

(This post was hard to write. Yes it's long, and very personal, but the message is close to my heart and too important to share. I hope you bear with me and read on.)

People change. I have changed.

None of us are the same as we were yesterday, five years ago, twenty years ago. Every day we change. Sometimes it is imperceptible, other times the change is drastic. But we all change. That will never change.

When I was in my late teens early twenties in many ways I was different than I am now. I was still fun-loving and outgoing, but different. I made different mistakes. Many of my choices were driven by insecurity, immaturity, and selfishness. Perhaps that is pretty typical of one that age. My intents were good for the most part, but there were times when I said or did things then that I would never do now. There are things I wish I could take back.  I wasn't a terrible person, by any means, just different. I've grown a lot. I've repented. I've learned. I've changed.

In my first book, "Does This Insecurity Make Me Look Fat?" I am quite open about some of my struggles of those years and their ramifications. It was a scary book to write. I still have struggles today, which I am equally as open about. That was even scarier to write. But I am able to be honest about all of my struggles due to the very fact that I have changed. I was and am imperfect, but I know Who makes me perfect. I have been forgiven. I have been changed. I know who I am now, and I like me very much.

I am who I am because of my Savior. Through Him I've had the opportunity to change. My Father in Heaven has forgiven me, the Spirit has touched me, and I have changed. That's the beautiful thing about Their perfect forgiveness--I learn, I grow, I change, and when I honestly repent, They remember my sins no more. They forgive and move on. They don't hold my past mistakes over my head. They see me as I am now, love who I am now, and glory in who They know I can be.  When I seek forgiveness, I am free to be me now, and not be held hostage by who I was or what I've done before. Their forgiveness frees me now and allows me the chance to keep on changing for good. It is such an empowering and liberating principal!

Most of us want that deep inside: to be forgiven, to be seen for who we really are and who we can become. Heavenly Father is always ready and willing to offer His forgiveness. The Savior, through His Atonement, has already paid the price for our mistakes. They are just waiting for us.

If only we understood what power forgiveness really holds! Their forgiveness frees us, and yet, do we offer our forgiveness so freely to others? Can we see past who they were to who they are today? Do we withhold forgiveness because we don't feel they deserve it? Can we forgive to free ourselves of grudges or pain, even if the other person isn't sorry? Can we let go of our misgivings and allow those that have hurt us to be forgiven, to move on, to learn, and to change?

Sometimes it takes great courage to forgive people, to let people change, to see them for who they are now rather than who they were before. But, we should try. First of all, it's pretty much a commandment (Matthew 18:22) but also because it frees not only them, but it frees us.

Let me share two very different, very personal, examples of what I mean. 

A few weeks after my book came out I received a call from an old friend of more than twenty years. We used to be very close, and I felt we still were. She was the kind of friend who, though we spoke every few years, I had felt a sisterhood connection with and a love that time hadn't diminished.

When I saw her name flash on the caller ID I excitedly picked up the phone and greeted her.  This was her response: "I am fine thank you. I am reading your book and I am not enjoying it at all." Then she proceeded to tell me I was a terrible person. She said I needed counseling, that I was messed up. She told me that there was no way I could write something like this when after what I had done to her. How could I, in good conscience, write a book about loving God, yourself, and others?

I was dumbfounded. We had emailed back and for just a couple months prior and ne'er a word was said about any issues or events. So, I inquired as to what I could have done to cause her such anger and grief.

There were three things: First, I had said something years ago that wasn't very positive about her to her husband, a then mutual friend, when they had first begun dating. Second, she was upset that she hadn't receive an invitation to my wedding twenty years ago. And third, she was upset that in 2010 she called to tell me she was pregnant. We were about to have family prayer, so I asked if I could call her back and I never did.

Still shocked, I tried to explain myself, firstly, about what I had said years ago. Whether or not it was true, and though my intentions were good at the time I had said it, it was something that should not have been said. I reminded her that this was something we had talked about at length in the past, something I had apologized for twenty years ago, and something she had forgiven me for twenty years ago. Still, I apologized again. I then apologized for her not getting an invitation. My mother had made the list and sent them out. I didn't play a part in that, nor did I pay attention to who was on the list. I simply didn't know she hadn't received one. As for the last one--I didn't ever remember that call. I am sure she did call, I'm sure I was happy for her, I'm sure I told her I'd call her back, and I'm sure I forgot. I'm also sure there was no ill intent. 

My explanations and apologies meant nothing. She was still mad, and had her mind set that I was simply a terrible person. She told her I had tried to ruin her marriage by my comment years ago (which was not true). She also told me she was sure I didn't call her back because I was jealous that she was pregnant again, and I couldn't have any children (I'd had a medically-necessary hysterectomy in 2001.). She said I had always been jealous of her, that I wanted to have her life and to be her, and that's why I didn't call. That last one particularly hurt, and proved that she really didn't know me very well now, or twenty years ago.

What she didn't know was that call came during the time we had just adopted our youngest child. The night-time routine then was long and hard. The transition was difficult for our daughter and for me. I spent many nights crying, wondering if I had the strength to be the kind of mother I needed to be to parent this beautiful, broken child. I wasn't jealous of my friend. I would have been happy for her. I was just struggling, exhausted, and focused on my own family at that time.

But she didn't want to hear that. She did want to hear about my twenty year old apology and her then-forgiveness, or that I had no idea she didn't receive an invitation twenty years ago, or that five years ago I was just keeping my head above water as I was trying to know how to parent my little girl. All she could see was who she thought I was in the past, and was convinced I was the same, that I hadn't changed. 

I spoke softly and calmly while my heart ached. She said she could never be friends with someone who could have done those things to her. She said I was a terrible person who didn't even know who she was now. I posed the idea that perhaps she didn't know me as well as she though she did now, either. I suggested we start anew, that the 'her-now' and the 'me-now' become friends. I told her that I loved her, and I didn't want to lose the friendship I had always valued. She said, "Your cute words sound nice but they don't mean anything, just like the nice words in your book. No thank you. I don't want a person like you in my life. You're toxic. I am going to finish your book however, even though I am not going to enjoy it." I told her I was sorry that she was not open to our friendship. She said she was even going to unfriend me on Facebook, so I shouldn't be surprised. Then she hung up.

It was a call I had no idea was coming. For years she had harbored these feelings. They had festered, tainting her ability to know me now. She was stuck in the past, and in a reality she had created herself. She was held hostage by her unwillingness to understand, to forgive, and let go. She was unwilling to believe I could change and grow after twenty years, and felt that I was undeserving of forgiveness. 

She is wrong.  

Still, I was shocked and hurt. No, I was devastated.  What brought me more sorrow was the fact that she was in more pain than I. She couldn't leave behind her negative feelings, and they festered until she was filled with bitterness and anger. She was in her own prison, and that made me so sad.

Contrast that with this next experience with two other people in my life, a friend and a roommate.

I had made a mistake once and was confronted by a friend in front of other people about it. Feeling ashamed, insecure, and embarrassed, I denied it. Not only did I lie, but I led her to believe that it wasn't me who had done it, that it might have been my roommate. I know, awful, right? That's exactly how I felt at the time. Insecure and awful. After the conversation nothing was ever said about it again by anyone. It just kind of melted away. We went about our lives and, as what happens to many over time, we fell out of touch.

I know it wasn't the right thing to do. I knew then. Though I never talked about it, it was still there, a heavy spot on my heart. So, years ago I spoke with the person I lied to and sought their forgiveness. They were so good and understanding and kind, They forgave me, understood me, and let it go. I felt so grateful, so good. They told me I need to apologize to my old roommate. I told them I would.  Then, as it happens, we lost touch again, and the promise faded into the background of my busy life.

One day, years later, my old roommate popped up in my Facebook news feed when a mutual FB friend commented on a post of hers. Like a rush of heat I remembered my promise. I knew I needed to apologize still, even after all this time. I was surprised and embarrassed I had forgotten the promise, and knew what I had to do. It took a few days to muster up the courage, but late one Sunday afternoon I reached out to her. 

I was so nervous. What if she was still upset? What if she hated me? What if she couldn't forgive me?

After our initial long-time-no-talk pleasantries, I dove into my apology. I told her what happened that day, how I apologized to our friend, and how sorry I was that I purposefully redirected possible blame her way so long ago. Then came silence....followed by laughter from her end; not unkind heckles, but a soft chuckle. She was never aware of what I had done. But that wasn't what made her laugh. She laughed because I still cared enough to apologize after all these years. Not that she thought it was funny, but she couldn't believe how sweet it was that I had still cared enough about it, about her, to apologize now. 

In a loving tone she forgave me, even though she said there was no need for forgiveness. That was a long time ago. We are both different people now. We had both changed. And nothing else needed to be remembered or spoken of again.

We talked for another hour about our lives now, our families, our accomplishments, our testimonies, and our interests. She told me multiple times how it was such a joyful surprise that we had connected again and I agreed. At the end of the call I expressed my gratitude for her understanding, forgiveness, and love. She laughed again and said, "I don't even know what you're talking about. You are wonderful, Michelle."

Do you see the difference? Both incidents were of friends that I had offended long ago. One wasn't willing to see that I had changed. She was unwilling to forgive and see me for who I am now. She was weighed down by anger and pain.

The other freely offered forgiveness and let go. She rejoiced in the fact that I had changed, that we both had changed, and that brought us closer together again. 

One was held hostage. The other offered freedom.

I know, it can be hard to let people change, to forgive. It's hard to acknowledge that someone who hurt you in the past could change and grow. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to let the past stay in the past, and to live in the now. I know it does.

I had a friend who hurt me a long time ago in a way that could be easily considered unforgivable. I have heard through a mutual friend that he is a loving father and husband now, active in his church, and is happy. He has changed. I could be mad, feel that he doesn't deserve happiness, that he was and always will be a terrible person. But that simply isn't true. I am so glad he has changed. I am grateful he has learned and grown. I am free of ill feelings towards him, and, through the power of my Savior's atonement and a lot of prayer, I see that he is a good man now and I am happy for him. He has changed, but I am free.

When I say we 'let' people change, what I really mean is that we acknowledge they can and have changed;  we 'let' ourselves see them as changed. It's hard to do when we want to hold onto our grudges, when the pain they cause runs deep. But, forgiveness isn't ours to keep to ourselves. The moment we ask God for forgiveness we give up the right (if it ever was one) to keep forgiveness to ourselves. When we ask God to help us learn and grow and change, we acknowledge that that is a gift He gives to all His children who sincerely seeks Him. 

Every single one of us have said or done something in our lives that we are not proud of, something we would take back if we could. Most of us are trying to become better people each day, to improve, learn, grow--to change. If only we could see each other as we really are now, untainted by our past mistakes, what would we see? Who would we see? How would we feel?

Yes, it's hard to let go of our perception of who people used to be, but when we do we free ourselves, and them, to love who they are now and to keep changing (hopefully) for good. It takes courage in some cases, but it is worth it. I am heartbroken by my good friend that refused to believe I could change. I am filled with relief and joy by my sweet friend who offered forgiveness and love for who I am today.

People change. I have changed. And I will strive to continue to change the rest of my life, for that is why I am here--to become better, to become more like my Savior.  I know what it feels like when forgiveness is withheld. I know what it feels like to withhold it. It is painful. I also know what it feels like to be forgiven and to forgive. It is liberating. And that, I think, is something that will never change.

As I was about to publish this post, a thought occurred to me. I've talked about letting others change, accepting who they are now and letting go of the past, but what of ourselves? I'll admit, when I remembered what I had done to my roommate so long ago I felt terrible. How could I have forgotten to reach out and apologize to her? Thoughts began to creep into my mind and the adversary, seeing a crack in my armor, fueled the flames of self-doubt. Questions about my integrity and worthiness whirled in my head, but only for a brief moment. I shared my concern with my good husband, who said, "Michelle, you made a mistake a long time ago. That doesn't mean you were a bad person then, and you are not a bad person now. Go and apologize. Let it out and let it go. Then be the person you know you are now." He was right. For a brief moment I let the past taint my own view of who I am today. Seeking forgiveness and letting go helped me to, once again, accept that I have changed for the better, and fed my desire to continue to do so.

I love the quote by Donald L. Hallstrom, "Who we are is not who we can become." We are meant to change, to progress, to improve. We are meant to be more than we are now. That doesn't mean we aren't good enough now. It's not a matter of being good or worthy of being loved. It's a matter of becoming like our Savior. Regardless of mistakes past and present, we have infinite value and worth. But, through Jesus Christ we have the privilege to progress. He gave His all--literally--so we could. Let's not get in His way, in other's way, in our way, of change.

Sometimes it takes even greater courage to see ourselves and others for who we are now, not a collection of mistakes we've all made in the past (because we have all made mistakes). It can be hard to forgive ourselves and others, to love ourselves and others. But, we must try. We need to try so we can be free. Free to love ourselves fully, free to forgive others--free to be all that we can be. Free to change. Free to forgive and be forgiven. Free to be free.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Just One Question

This is a repost from 2011. Partly because I love it, but also because, in the exercise of reviewing the past year and looking forward to the New Year, I would still ask just this one question.


A few years ago my job at church was to teach a class of 5 and 6-year-olds each Sunday. They would say the cutest things.  One Sunday the lesson was about staying pure and making good choices.  There was a point in the lesson where we talked about Jesus and what He would do in certain situations.

Then I asked them a question: If they could meet Jesus face to face today, what would they ask Him?

I loved the questions they came up with.

"I would ask Him how He got here."

"I would ask Him out He made the earth."

"I would ask Him how He made the scriptures."

"I would ask Him what He likes."

"I would ask Him how I can help Him."

I asked myself the question, too.  If my Savior came to my home today, sat on my couch and said I could ask Him anything- what would I ask? 

What would you ask Him?

Honestly, I would probably want to ask Him all the questions the kids shared today, and then some.  Then I would thank Him for all He has done and will do for me. 

But, what if I could only ask one question?  Out of all the questions in my mind and heart, what one question would I want answered more than anything. After much thought, I finally picked on out.  

If my Savior came to me and I could ask Him one question, it would be this: May I hug you?

I know it sounds strange.  I mean, here is Deity that knows everything, that is everything, that could tell me anything, and I ask for a hug.  Why?

I'll tell you why.  I already have a knowledge of the gospel and Plan of Salvation, I already know where I came from and where I am going.  I already know about His life.  True- there are millions of missing details, but I already know everything I need to get me back to my Heavenly Father without ever seeing my Savior facet to face. (Blessings of being a member of His church.)

But, what I have longed for (rightly or not) when I pray is to feel more: to feel Him more, to be comforted by Him more.  I have even been known to plead in prayer for eternal arms to hold me tight and bring me peace. 

So, even though I would love to know exactly how the Atonement works and what that was like for Him, I already know that the Atonement is for me, and that it works in my life.  

And even though I would want to know how He performed healing miracles, I already know that He has healed my heart and my body more than I can count.

Even though there is so much I want to know, there is one thing I want that can't be learned, taught or told: I want to know what it is like to be held in the arms of the One that loves me purely, has sacrificed all, and wants my happiness more than any other (aside our Heavenly Father.)

So, that's my one question.  

I'm curious, what would your one question be? 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Character and Personality--It's not about fitting in.

A few years ago I found out a good friend of mine wasn’t attending the Relief Society class (the class for women taught by women) at church. When I asked her why, she replied, “I feel uncomfortable.” Upon further prodding she opened up and said, “I don’t fit in. I’m not like them. I can’t be like them. That’s just not me.” 

I watched this amazing woman ostracize herself from a group of wonderful sisters because she held onto the notion that you must abandon any sense of individuality in order to fit in or fit ‘the mold.’ What a deflating and damaging misconception! 

In my years of service in the Church I’ve worked with women and young women of all ages who are all striving to be more like Jesus Christ. Some have it in their minds that going to church requires you to conform to a certain personality type, to embrace hobbies that don’t come naturally to you, and to ultimately sacrifice any sense of uniqueness, as if sharing the same faith means sharing the same personality. They think of conforming as the death of who they really are, and that it is simply not true.

Yes, God does want us to change, even conform, but I don’t believe He wants us to conform our personality to the style and likings of the people around us. He wants us “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). That means that we are to become like Jesus Christ. In His own words, He said, “Therefore, I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). We are to conform to perfection. But what does it look like? Does it include highlighted hair, a size 6 dress, a spotless house, and a love of canning seasonal fruit? Thankfully, no. Not that these things are bad, but if perfection rested upon them, I’d be in big trouble!

Perfection isn’t a personality issue, but one of our character. There is a subtle, yet very distinct difference between the two. Your personality is made up of your behavioral patterns habits, temperament, and emotions. You may have the personality of an extrovert, an optimist, a jokster, serious, lazy, hard-working, etc. Personality traits are easy to see because we are always showing them in all that we do.

Character goes deeper and is not always easy to see because it is often times revealed in specific circumstances. Your character is based on your beliefs and can include things like honesty, virtue, kindness, and selflessness. Have you ever had someone you thought was one way (based on their personality) who, when put into a difficult circumstance, reacted totally different? You may have heard someone say, “Well, that’s their true colors coming through.” Our character is our ‘true colors.’ It’s the stable, constant, undercurrent of beliefs and the condition of our heart that lie under the ripples of our personality.

When we are asked to conform to the image of the Son, I don’t believe we are meant to abandon all the good and fun stuff that makes us us! We don’t have to change our personalities to match everyone else in the room. What a tragedy that would be! No, I believe we are to look at the things that lie deeper in our hearts, embedded in our character, that might not be congruent with the character of the Savior—things like pride, greed, selfishness, and anger. Those are the things we are asked to change and can change through the miracle of repentance.

Does this mean you don’t have to change your personality at all? Not quite. Just as there are negative character traits, personality traits like being bossy, impatience, aggressiveness, critical, secretive, or rude are all pretty bad. These negative personality traits can be hurtful to others, and can and should be recognized and addressed. You might find, however, that the more you focus on conforming your character to be like the Savior’s, these negative personality traits naturally will begin to disappear.

We don't have to become like everyone else, we simply need to become our‘best’ self. That happens as our character is refined through repentance and our personality is polished; the harmful stuff is washed away and all the wonderful stuff is left.

Paul of the New Testament is one of the most powerful examples of personality and character. Before Paul was converted, his name was Saul. Saul had a strong personality. He was dedicated, tenacious, and brave. There was one major problem: Saul hated Christians. He hunted them down, putting as many into prison as he could. On his way to Damascus to persecute more believers, a light encircled him and he fell to the ground. The resurrected Christ appeared to Saul and told him to go into the city.

In the meantime, the Lord appeared to man named Ananias in a vision and told him to find Saul. Saul’s reputation had preceded him, and caused Ananias concern, and perhaps even fear. The Lord answered, “Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me” (Acts 9:15).

How could Saul be a chosen vessel when he was persecuting the Lord’s own followers? The Lord knew who Saul was and what he would do when his beliefs and character conformed to the Savior’s. He was baptized by Ananias, and immediately set out to learn all he could about the gospel (part of that tenacious personality.) He changed his name to Paul as embarked on a life-long mission to right his wrongs preach the gospel to anyone who would listen. He was nearly stoned to death, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, and imprisoned, and in all of it he praised God and gloried in his tribulation. That was his personality!

That is amazing and so very comforting to me that Heavenly Father sees who we are and what we can do. It reminds me of what I tell my kids, “Use your powers for good.” It is often half-jokingly, but always true!

It's not about fitting in. You belong. You have a place.You are wanted. You are needed. So, build your character and embrace your personality.Conform yourself to the character of Jesus Christ and be YOU!