Saturday, June 27, 2015

5 Years . . .

Five years ago I began a study abroad at Cambridge University.

 [Look at that cute little Megan!]

Has it really been five years? It really has. Cambridge is one of those deep, lasting experiences of my life--so much so that I now cannot imagine my life without it. In fact, in order of events that have shaped me the most during the last five years, Cambridge sits comfortably at #2. It shaped me in so many ways. It taught me that I was more than capable to do hard things. And that I could do hard things well. It expanded my view of the world and of my potential. But most importantly, it gave me some incredible people in my life. 

[These are good, good people.]

Looking back, I realize how young I was. And I am so, so, SO grateful that these people took me in. (That sounds like I was a wandering, poor orphan girl or a puppy dog. Oh well. Keeping it.) I'm glad that they let me be their friend, even though I was so weird. Like, so weird. I had some growing up to do. Still do. But luckily people seem to like adorably awkward Meg. So it works out great for me. 

 [Proof that I looked like I was sixteen when I went up to Cambridge.]

 [When in Scotland . . .]


 [Oh, you know. Just an average day on the London Temple grounds.]

Five years. We've all come a long way. So much has happened--in the world and to us. Many of us are now starting families of our own, many of us served missions, and many of us are starting careers. (Or, in the case of myself, starting graduate school--but I was the baby of the group, so it's fine. I'll get there eventually.)

 [Love these people. So, so much.]

[More proof that I was the baby of the group.] 

I know that Cambridge and the people I met there changed my life forever. So, thank you. To all of you. You know who you are. Thank you for being my friends then, and for still being my friends.

Because if I have learned one thing these past five years, I have learned the value of relationships. Thank you for being a part of my life. And thank you for letting me be a part of yours.

. . . . . . also, I just realized. Five years ago I started this blog. I started it as a way to document my Cambridge adventures. A lot has happened in five years. A LOT. It has been a very full five years. We'll see where the next five take me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"The Stepsisters' Lament": Or, Why I Cannot Entirely Get Behind the "Real Women Have Curves" Movement

The “real women” movement is making another round on social media. This week, a BuzzFeed article appeared with BuzzFeed writers trying on Victoria Secret swimsuits and then showing what “real” women looked like in them. They said that their point was to show that beauty came in all shapes and sizes, whether you’re a size 2 or 22.

However, the article did not leave me feeling empowered.

Although their final words were “Go models! Go us! Go team, go! We are all amazing!” that felt extremely superficial to me, especially since many of the girls individually complained about their own bodies, the models’ sizes, and models’ lifestyle choices. Instead of female empowerment, I got the impression that this article was really a way for the writers to say, “Look, we are better than these models, because we are real women.”*

Okay, stop. Aren’t these models “real” women, too? I mean, I know that being called “fake” is one of the biggest insults our generation can throw, and I know that these models are airbrushed and photoshopped in these pictures and they have personal trainers to keep them perfectly in shape . . . but aren’t they women? Just because they are models does not mean that they aren’t real. This doesn’t mean that I agree with the media’s impossible conceptions of female beauty (I certainly have an axe to grind about that), but aren’t we all “real women,” regardless of how curvy or straight our figures are? And last I checked, cutting someone down to build yourself up is a hollow way to build self-confidence.  

I know that this is a complicated issue with centuries of baggage. I mean, we can look at history for a glimpse of how standards of beauty have changed: the Gibson girl, the flapper’s boyish look of the 1920s, the curvy 1950s housewife. Pick a century--pick a decade--and you’ll get a different definition of beauty. The only thing that doesn’t change is that society’s view of beauty is always out of reach. The media screams at women (and men, for that matter) to be someone they’re not—that we are too much, not enough, just take off those extra 5 pounds, just get that little black dress, get those razor-sharp abs and you’ll be happy, healthy, rich, popular, and you’ll find true love.

It’s a problem. Our society is inundated with messages that tell us to get, get, get, spend, spend, spend, be more, more, more or less, less, less than what you are and you’ll find the key to happiness.

But we exacerbate the problem when we compare ourselves with others, and then when we despise them when have something that we want . . . or else we applaud ourselves for being “better” than them. Fat-shaming and skinny-shaming both exist. And both need to stop.

I believe that we, as women, are our own worst critics—not only of ourselves, but of others. Of course it’s human nature—we seem to have this drive to pit us vs. them, and we hate it when others succeed (even if it’s not something we even wanted in the first place). I know that everyone—men and women—are capable of pettiness. Like I said, it is human nature. We seem to regress to our 7th-grade selves and simultaneously hate and try to emulate the popular kids, thinking that “they” somehow hold the secret to happiness, while forgetting that the key to human happiness was always in ourselves.

Before we know it, we are acting like the stepsisters from Cinderella. And I don’t just mean the Disney Cinderella you’re familiar with. I mean the Grimms’ Brothers version, which isn’t your typical Disney tale. There is blood—and a whole lot of it. Bear with me for a bit while I describe the story--there's a point, I promise.

The basic outline is the same—girl is mistreated by her stepfamily, she gets a ball-gown and slippers from a magic tree and birds, she goes to the ball, loses her shoe, prince searches for her, finds her, and they start a new life together. But the different details make the Grimm version, well, a lot more macabre . . . and the stepsisters don’t end up merely angry, annoyed, and heartbroken. They end up mutilated.  

When the prince comes by to have the stepsisters try on the slipper, the stepmother takes her first daughter aside and has her try on the shoe. The first girl almost gets her foot in . . . but her big toe doesn’t fit.

So her mother tells her to cut it off.

The stepsister and prince are about to ride off into the sunset when Cinderella’s bird friends alert the prince to the fact that there is blood in the slipper. So he takes the girl back home and this time the second stepsister tries on the shoe.

The same thing happens. The shoe almost fits . . . except for her heel.

And her mother tells her to cut her heel off. “When you’re queen, you won’t need to walk.”

So the girl cuts off her own heel.

The prince takes her home, but then again is alerted to the fact that there is blood in the shoe.

Finally Cinderella gets her chance to try on the shoe (but with all of that blood in it? Ewwww. The things we do for love). She tries it on, it’s a perfect fit, and they all live happily ever after . . . except for the stepsisters, who are angry, bloodied, and unable to walk. They have broken and mutilated themselves in order to obtain what they thought would make them happy—a prince, a title, power, wealth. And in the process of wanting to be something they're not, they end up unwhole. 

Since this is a fairy tale, there are multiple layers of meaning, and it provides commentary on society—even for us in the 21st century. Here are some things to consider:

1. First of all, why did the prince choose Cinderella? Because she was the most beautiful? The tale suggests that. And, you know what, that is extremely shallow. The prince has his own issues to work out. And so does society. That doesn’t mean Cinderella was better or worse than any of the other girls there. It simply means that she is who the prince chose. But Cinderella didn’t ask to be chosen. Maybe Cinderella went to the ball simply because she wanted a night out, or she wanted to dance. And maybe the prince was first drawn to her by her beauty, but maybe he fell in deep infatuation with her because she sang really well, or she made him laugh, or they both had a love for polished banisters, or she could talk political theory like nobody’s business. We don’t know. Just like we don’t exactly know why one girl is chosen as beautiful in society’s or a man’s eyes and we are not. But does it really matter? Some of us are naturally straight. Other gain weight easily. Some of us are models. Others are doctors, or writers, or business consultants. Some of us will be accepted by society. Others will not. Some of us will find love easily. Others will not. But society’s view of your worth or beauty does not add nor take away from who you are.

2. I feel really bad for the stepsisters. Their story is tragic to me. They are trying to fit this “one-size-fits-just-one” standard of beauty, love, and acceptance. And it’s just not going to work. They are never going to fit in that shoe. They just aren’t—they’ve grown into their feet and their feet aren’t changing sizes, no matter how hard they wish or try. The only way they fit into the shoe is by mutilating themselves and making themselves unwhole. It’s tragic because so many of us do the exact same thing. We give up important parts of us in order to fit the mold of the “perfect woman.”**

For example, I once knew a girl who told me that she was known as the “smart girl” in high school. She hated it, because she felt that the “smart girl” was not—and never would be—the “pretty girl” or the “hot girl” to the guys she knew. She felt unnoticed by boys and she wanted to be known as beautiful. And so, she changed in college. She dumbed down and tried to become what she assumed others wanted her to be so she could be called beautiful. And she was called beautiful. By many men. But they stopped calling her smart. As she told me her story she whispered, “I wish they would call me smart again.”

It broke my heart, because she had given up an important part of herself to fit a mold—a preconceived notion of “true” womanhood. This is not my story, but most—if not all—of us have done things like this. We give up a good part of ourselves in order to fit a mold—in order to fit a glass slipper we might not even truly want. When we focus too much on what we are not, we miss who we are. And when we try to force ourselves into a mold of beauty, we end up bruised, squashed, and mutilated.

3. The stepmother is the scariest person in this fairy tale. Why? Because she is the one enforcing and encouraging her daughters in these impossible standards of beauty. The stepsisters didn’t get the idea to cut off their heels and toes. That came from their mother. The stepsisters didn’t make Cinderella the household slave. That was their mother. For better or for worse, mothers play a HUGE role in the way their daughters view themselves and their place in society. And, regardless of how our mothers taught us about our bodies and healthy relationships, we can choose how we will teach the children we will raise, teach, and mentor about their own body images. We can teach them to be kind to others, to build instead of tear down, and to exude the beauty of confidence that will draw others to them so they in turn can heal, lift, inspire, and bless.

I once knew a fourteen-year-old girl with straight brown hair, big glasses, and a shy smile who was terribly insecure about her changing body. She was convinced that she would never live up to the expectations created by society, her peers, and her mind. I also know that what changed the way this girl looked at herself in the mirror was that her mother noticed that something was wrong, took her aside, and talked to the girl about what true beauty really was and where her worth truly began. It wasn’t in a dress size, shoe size, IQ, the number of school dances she went to, or the age when she had her first kiss. Her beauty and worth could not be measured. Beauty—true beauty—real womanhood—was in the curve of her smile, the light in her eyes, the furrow in her brows, and the crinkle in her nose. It was in the spread of her hands and the size of her heart and the swing of her hips. It was in the strength of her legs and the point of her toes. It was in the truth she spoke and the love she gave, even when nothing else was given in return except silence and scorn. It was the forgiveness she offered and the care of her touch. It was in the resilience of her spirit and the grace of her soul.

That little girl was me. And my mother’s example, encouragement, and goodness have taught me more about beauty and being a “real” woman than any manifesto, celebrity empowerment song, or social media campaign. I do realize that not everyone has a mother like this—a mother whom they can communicate with and trust. Nor do I have everything figured out. But I do believe that we can be in control. Healthy bodies, healthy body images, and healthy relationships start with us. We don’t have to put others down to make ourselves more “real” and therefore more “beautiful” than the other.

If I should have a daughter, I want her to know this. I want her to know that there is nothing quite so powerful as a girl or woman who knows that her main strength isn’t her beauty. But rather, true beauty is strength. Because once we know who we are and stop wishing for what we aren’t, we are better able to love others for who they are—and who they can become. We don’t compare ourselves to others. And we know that someone else’s beauty does not mean that they outshine us or we outshine them.  We see beauty everywhere, because we walk in the beauty of confidence.

Real women aren’t silhouettes.

We are powerful forces for good.

*I also realize that maybe all these girls wanted to do was start/continue the conversation about “true beauty.” Well, congratulations. I took the bait and have entered the conversation.

**I know that body dysmorphia, anorexia, and bulimia are very real and serious issues, and they deserve special care and attention . . . but I am not qualified to give that attention. I certainly did not write this blog post with the intent of making anyone who might have eating disorders feel ashamed. If you or someone close to you is struggling with any of these issues, please know that there is hope. You don’t have to deal with these difficulties on your own. There are people who can help you.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

a stream of words. [два]

i've been working on this post for a couple of days now. just putting things down as they come. because sometimes your mind and heart are just so full there is nothing left to do but write the words as they come. even if they don't have a formal home. orphan words and thoughts are often the best. like anne of green gables.

i've been on a show tunes kick as of late. mostly with shows about classic stories. like the secret garden. like jane eyre. and tale of two cities. i know that some of these shows aren't very popular/didn't have the best reviews. honestly, i don't even care. most of these shows i haven't seen (except secret garden, WHICH I LOVE). but i have found the music on spotify. and some songs i have had on repeat for, well, an exorbitant number of times. like one of sydney carton's song from a tale of two cities. "i can't recall a night so clear. the heavens seem an inch away--not cold and empty like before." his story makes me catch my breath every time. "it is a far, far better thing that i do, than i have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that i go to than i have ever known." once in the mtc our district was talking about favorite books. i mentioned tale of two cities. and as i tried to describe what i liked about it so much, i really did catch my breath just thinking about the last chapter. the other missionaries laughed at me. let them laugh. it is a beautiful thing to have a story take your breath away. i told my brother that he should read tale of two cities. i am such a nerd. i get excited for him to meet characters like carton. victorian literature characters. why do they hold my imagination? carton. dorothea. pip. oh, those great expectations. i wish that someone would do a musical of middlemarch. maybe that's just something i'll have to do myself. somehow. i mean, middlemarch is huge. but so is les mis. so it must be possible. i can already feel myself falling in love with dorothea's theme. and weeping over dorothea's heartbreak song as her expectations come to a crushing halt. lyndgate will sing tenor. will sings rich baritone. and casaubon is a bass (if he even sings at all--i can't really imagine casaubon singing). rosamond is a first soprano. (no question there.) dorothea sings mezzo. and mary . . . mary could sing either mezzo or alto. oh, there would be some beautiful duets to come from middlemarch the musical.

did you know that newsies reminds me of my mission? i know. it's kind of weird. but not when you know the story. there's a big story behind it. davey and jack. the kharkov four. brains, voices, ideas, and courage. and the world will know. and the world will learn. and the world will wonder how we made the tables turn. and the world will know that we've been here. and they have. and will continue to know. because our story is one worth telling. and the old will fall, and the young stand tall.and the world will feel the fire and finally know. little did we know. the implications of newsies. there's a lot more to it than singing and dancing newsboys. (even though the guy dancing with a ceiling fan at the end of "king of new york" is still my favorite guy to parody.) oh great. now i want to rewatch newsies. and you know i'll be singing along the entire time. because i may or may not have the entire movie memorized. but that's between you and me. i can also do a really great heel click. yeah. moving on.

today was father's day. which meant that we had a special breakfast for dear old dad. and a hilarious conversation at breakfast that i'd better not put on here to protect the innocent. and not-so-innocent. but let's just say that dad will never trust us to ask him questions about our births ever again. especially when mom is around. their stories never quite match up. haha. but i am grateful for the example of good men in my life. and for good men who have crossed my path in life. human orbits. leaving impressions. deep and lasting. because there are good people in this world. from all walks of life. it's easy to forget. especially when there is so much hatred in this world. but there are good people. they exist. and it is so much more rewarding to search out the good in this world.

the good that is worth fighting for.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"What are men to rocks and mountains?" part the second

Any week is a good week when there is a lot of hiking involved.

Especially when you get views like this:

Utah is beautiful. And isn't it incredible that the mountains are quite literally at our doorstep? I drove ten minutes to get to the trailhead.

And yes, that is the "G". I had never hiked it before--I know, I know, shame on me, especially since I graduated from PG, for crying out loud. Oh well. Better late than never . . . I guess?

Also, hiking with Melinda just made my morning. Love that girl. So, so much. (I don't have any pictures of us, but believe me--we conquered that mountain.)

I also re-discovered this week just how perfect hikes are for catching up with friends. They are better than lunch dates or girls' nights. Everything just feels more focused in the mountain air. You skip the fluff and get to the core. And I love that.

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home." --John Muir

Going to the mountains is like going home. Beautiful.

They lit the "G" tonight. Obviously it was in commemoration of my first hike to the G. That is the only logical explanation.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"What are men to rocks and mountains?"

The mountains are always a good idea.

So are long walks and talks with Em.


[this is me successfully crossing the water without getting wet.]

 [oh hi there, waterfall.]

[i love this girl. and seeing our selfie-taking skillz in our sunglasses.]

So, you can say that today was good.

Even if we have issues taking selfies while hiking. And sitting on rocks.

[this was our fifteenth attempt to get a picture of us with the waterfall.]

And . . . obviously we had issues trying to get a selfie with the waterfall.

*Cue photo montage of failed selfie attempts.*

Point is, mountains, kindred soul sisters, talking, and waterfalls are good for the soul.

I am a mountain girl, even if I am not a mountain goat.

Monday, June 15, 2015

"We love the things we love for what they are."

It's the little things that make up a day. A week. A summer.

Like bonfires with family.

And lunches in the park with friends.

Holding newborn babies and watching them stare at the world with big eyes.

Or walking back from a church activity with sisters and cousins and belting out songs from the "Sound of Music" on the backstreets of home. (Because I think we all know that I am kindred souls with Maria.)

Or how whenever Erika and I are in the car, "Mirrors" comes on. Without fail. So. It's our jam. Obviously.

Having time to read books I actually want to. And then savoring them. Bliss.

Also, this song. On repeat.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

If you were a sno-cone flavor you would be my favorite one

It's summertime, which means it's sno-cone season.

Which means that Megan is a very, very happy camper.

Because sno-cones--especially from Snoasis--are some of my favorite treats in the world.

And when you combine sno-cones with sisters, there's no telling what will happen.

Like all of us jamming out to "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." (Because there ain't no mountain high enough to keep me from getting from sno-cones.)

And that awkward moment when the girl working at the sno-cone shack says that the sno-cone she just brought out was "for free," and when no one claims it, I'm like, "Is it really for free?" And then she says, "No, there's a person whose name is Free."

I don't really believe that.
Like, who names a child Free?
Then again, we are in the 21st century. There are children out there named Apple.
The point is, that sno-cone was not for me.
It was for Free.

Tiger's blood with cream and extra syrup, please.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

"According to the desires of their hearts."

*First off, this blog post is written from the perspective of an active young LDS woman. That doesn't mean I have everything put together or figured out (who does), but it does mean that I'm striving to do good and be good and live to be worthy of having the Holy Ghost influence my life. That being said, I know there are people who are not LDS who read my blog, and what I will say below might sound strange to you as I talk about one of the important ways I receive direction and guidance in my life. I think that search for direction and purpose is something we all seek--whether Mormon, Baptist, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, or atheist. We all have different ways of seeking and we call it different names. Some people call it "following an inner light," or "trusting their instincts." For me, I really do believe that God cares about our lives, and He will give us guidance through feelings and impressions; that He will speak to our minds and our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. Although my experiences may be different from yours, I still hope my words and experiences give you something to think about.
** I talk a lot about feelings in this blog post. I know there are some people who avoid talking about emotions because they can be frustrating and illogical. Emotions are part of being human. And, like it or not, they influence our personal lives and the world we live in. Until we are able to accept that emotions are an important part of our minds and hearts (even if we can't understand them all of the time), then we are at risk of being driven by our emotions instead of being more in control of them. I believe that being self-aware and reflecting on our hearts is crucial to emotional, mental, and social health. Knowing ourselves is key to having a happy, healthy life. And part of knowing ourselves includes knowing our heart.

I've been thinking a lot about hearts these past six months. Specifically about the desires of our hearts. There are a lot of reasons for this. One reason is because I've been making some major life decisions these past months (grad school, anyone?). But another reason is because I think there is a lot to be said about those innermost desires . . . and I think they matter more than we realize. They drive us more than we realize.

We are told in the scriptures that we will be judged according to our works and the desires of our hearts (see D&C 137:9). This is both comforting and terrifying. Comforting, because (at least for me) it reassures me that the Lord does know the desires of my heart and knows that I am striving. Terrifying, because, well, the desires of my heart aren't always as pure as they should be, and my desires shape my works . . . which also aren't always as pure or dedicated as I know they can be.

But ultimately, it makes me thoughtful. It makes me think about my desires. It makes me think about agency, choice, and the consequences of those desires. Because in the end, I really do believe that we get what we want. For better or for worse. And for that reason, as President Joseph F. Smith said, the "education of our desires is one of far-reaching importance to our happiness in this life."

"Desires of our hearts." It sounds almost trite or wishful. Like wanting a pony for Christmas. But there is so much more than that. Desires are not just wishful thoughts or flippant wants. Desires are those innermost feelings that represent our strongest motivations. Desires drive us. They guide our actions. They shape our character. We are a compilation of our desires and the consequences of those desires. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, "Our desires clearly control the tilt of our souls."

We see from the scriptures how much God really does care about the desires of our heart--how important they really are. Here are some examples:

-- In the beginning of the Book of Mormon, we see Nephi desiring to see the vision his father saw. As he ponders, the Spirit comes to him and asks Nephi one question:
"What desirest thou?"
Nephi answers, "I desire to behold the things which my father saw."
He wants to know for himself. He wants that knowledge. He wants that experience.
And he is granted the desire of his heart. And then some. (see 1 Nephi 11)

-- In the Book of Enos, we see Enos "wrestling" before God with the desires of his heart, which he describes as his "soul hunger[ing]" after truth, comfort, forgiveness and peace . . . not only for himself and his people, but for his enemies as well. And he receives his witness in a powerful way. (see Enos 1)

-- The Brother of Jared in prayer reminds the Lord that although we "are unworthy before [God] [. . .] nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires." The Brother of Jared asks the Lord for light. And learns that whatever the Lord touches, shines. (see Ether 3)

-- Most of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants come from someone asking a question--they desired more understanding, more direction, more knowledge, more assurance--and God gave it to them.

-- Rebekah wanted to know why she was having complications with her pregnancy. So she asked the Lord, and He gave her understanding and peace, which she was then able to use to influence future generations (Genesis 25:22-23).

-- In a dream, the Lord asked Solomon what he desired from him. Solomon could have asked for anything, but he wanted an "understanding heart." And Solomon used that wisdom to help build the kingdom--not only his kingdom, but the kingdom of God (see 1 Kings 3).

-- Abraham desired to become a "greater follower of righteousness" and to receive knowledge about God and God's promises and covenants (see Abraham 1:2). So he left his home and all he knew, trusting that the Lord would fulfill His promises. The Lord would test Abraham time and time again, but ultimately--the Lord showed Abraham that He does keep His promises, even though the road is never easy.

-- The Savior, in His intercessory prayer, desired that we might be unified and come to know God. Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice in order for us to become "at one" with God. But still, it is our choice if we decide to apply His Atonement in our lives.

I could go on. The scriptures are full of examples of the power of the desires of our hearts. How they compel us to pray. How they lead us to action.

Alma 29:4--"For I know that God granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction."

Alma 41:3-5--"And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their words; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. [. . .] The one raised to happiness, according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires for evil; for as he has desired to do evil all the day long even so shall he have his reward of evil when the night cometh."

2 Nephi 2:27-28--"Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself. And now, my sons, I would that ye should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments, and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit."

Helaman 14:31--"God hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you."

Whether or not we like it, there is power in those deep, innermost desires of our hearts. And God will honor those desires. He will not force us. He will never force us to come home to Him. If we do not want it--if we are not "willing to receive" all that He has, then He will not force us (see D&C 88:32). God must value agency very, very highly if He will "force no man to heaven." It is sobering. But also . . . there is no other way that we can learn to be like Him if we didn't choose it ourselves. We have to want it. With all of the bruises, frustrations, and heartache that mortality entails. We have to choose His way, and choose to become His disciples, even though the road is never easy. We have to want it. We have to want to choose His way. "We cannot become like Jesus unless we first desire to like Him."  As William Law wrote, "If you will here stop, and ask yourselves, why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you, that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it."

That is a sobering thought.

We have to be completely honest with ourselves. Because even though I think that most of us are striving, we also have conflicting desires. We want to devote more time to working out, but we also want to sleep in. We want to eat healthier, but we also really want to buy that new flavor of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. We want to devote more time to worship (whether through scripture study, prayer, meditation, or temple worship), but we also want to spend more time with friends, or relax by watching a show, or do a million other things that demand our time. How do we lay hold upon every good thing? And how do we figure out which desires are driving us?

I'll admit, I don't have all of the answers. It is still something that I am trying to figure out. But I think that we first have to realize that desires are driving us, and we have to be honest with ourselves. And part of that honesty starts with honest prayer. Elder F. Enzio Busche talks about how prayer and analyzing the desires of our hearts go hand-in-hand:

"The Spirit of Christ teaches that we must pray, that we must ask for the things that we seek . . . But before we can do this with focus, we have to become aware of a multitude of defined or undefined, conscious or subconscious desires. We have to learn to bring them to our awareness, to analyze them, to categorize them, and to bring them in to order according to priorities. When we do not do this, we will be condemned to remain, in our prayers, on a superficial level, or even on the level of formality, where there are no answers or there are only imagined answers. But there are always hundreds of different desires fighting for supremacy within us. The act of categorizing them is a very painful, but needful act to become, in the eyes of God, a mature person and to be taken seriously."

Prayer is a way that our will and desires come into correspondence with God's desires. But before that correspondence can happen, we have to be willing to analyze ourselves and analyze our hearts. Not only can this help us know what to pray for, but it will help us be more confident in ourselves and in God. Being honest with ourselves helps us to focus our efforts to become "more fit for the kingdom."

Certainly, it is important to be aware of the times that our intentions aren't pure. We shouldn't seek to gratify our pride or vain ambitions or surround ourselves with yes-men (or yes-women, for that matter) who say that anything goes, just because we want it. We should be constantly checking ourselves and trying to seek God's will. But at the same time, we need to be agents of choice. We have to act for ourselves and do "many things" of our own free will. There is a difference between seeking the will of the Lord and waiting for Him to tell us what kind of toothpaste to buy. God doesn't want us to be "compelled in all things." (see D&C 58:26-27). For how would we grow?

If we are to become like our Heavenly Parents, then we have to grow up. We must decide to be an agent of choice instead of passively being acted upon. And we must educate and reform those desires if we don't like what we are becoming. As we start to define and refine the desires of our hearts (and as we ourselves are refined through divine tutoring), God will trust us to make our own decisions. Even big decisions, like who to marry or what to major in or where to go to graduate school. I believe that God can use our desires to guide us. What we want really does matter. And it matters to Him.

One of the most important decisions I have made was where to attend graduate school. I put a lot of time, thought, work, and prayer into this decision. And I'm not even just talking about the ultimate decision to go to Oxford. The process itself started over a year-and-a-half ago as I looked at programs, prepared letters of intent, writing samples, and visited schools. And during that process, before I had even submitted my applications, I had impressions that I was going to be in either Washington, D.C. or England the next year. Just feelings. But those feelings reflected desires of my heart and compelled me to action. And as I thought, pondered and prayed throughout the process, both still felt right to me.

And so, of course, when I got the acceptance letters back, I had offers from schools in D.C. and from Oxford. I narrowed my choice to my top two options: Georgetown and Oxford. I know, I know--everyone says that Oxford was the obvious choice. But believe me when I say that this was a tough decision for me and I was looking at the choice from all sides. And as I "studied it out in my mind," sought advice from friends and mentors, and asked God in prayer for direction, I ultimately felt that the decision was up to me. That both of these options were good . . . I just had to choose.

When talking with one of my mentors, I had a conversation which was extremely enlightening. While talking to this mentor, I laid all my cards on the table. I had already gone through the process of thinking things out, and I wanted him to know what all the factors were. This wasn't just a case of, "Oh, help me I don't know what to do, tell me what to do," but, "Look. I know that this is a big decision. I've thought about it a lot. And honestly, the scales are preetttty even. I'm not looking for you to tell me where to go or what to do. But I do want advice. I do want your opinion. And I will take it into consideration. So. Here are all the things I have considered. Is there anything else that I should consider?"

I honestly thought he was going to say that the scales were tipped in Georgetown's favor. But instead he said,

"Look, Megan. You have two great options here. And I don't think you can mess this choice up. It might seem trite, but ultimately it comes down to the heart wants what the heart wants. So. What do you want?"

The heart wants what the heart wants. 
What do you want? 

"Oxford," I immediately said. "I want Oxford."

Then what more do you want from Me? 

What more do you want God to do when He allows you to make the choice of your heart?

Making decisions between two good options can be agonizing. But instead of agonizing about making a wrong decision, maybe we should take a moment to just "glory in the mystery" of life. That there are so many swinging doors. That God opens windows as doors close. That there are so many more good possibilities in life than bad ones. That we can make any decision the "best" decision. That we can seek and strive and accomplish and breathe and laugh and love and live. "Glory in the mystery." And then take a deep breath, come to the edge of opportunity, leap . . . and find that we have wings.

Having that freedom is exhilarating and humbling. True freedom. A choice between two good options.

And then choosing what you want.


Too often I think that we believe that if we desire something, it must not be what God wants. Or if we want something, God will take it away because we want it. I don't think that God is like that. Certainly there is sacrifice. And certainly there are times when we want something so much it hurts--and we pray and pray for this desire and we don't get it. Maybe we don't get it at that moment, or maybe we don't get it at all. And it's not a bad desire at all--it's something good, like starting a family, or getting an education, or serving a mission, or desiring health for a sick or injured loved one. And it's hard--it's really hard when those righteous desires of our hearts are delayed or denied . . . or distorted. Because we don't live in a vacuum. We associate with other imperfect humans with desires and motives who are also using their agency--we experiment on each other, and there are often disastrous results.

So what does it mean when we don't get the desires of our hearts? I don't have a good answer for that question. It's a hard one. And one that I am still thinking about as it has confronted me in my own life and will continue to confront me throughout my life. But I do believe that God is aware of those desires. And He will grant them. In His own way. And in His own time. There is more to the economy of heaven than I can even begin to understand. And I believe God can give us all the peace we desire as we go through the trials and joys of life.

Still, it is a gift to know the desires of your heart. It can be torture at times when we know exactly what we want and it seems like there is no possible way to achieve it. But it is a gift to know what we want. Because as we are aware of those desires, we can choose to act instead of being acted upon. We can take the Holy Ghost as our guide as we educate our desires and as we desire to trust in God. "Choosing to trust in God takes faith. The best guide of all as we seek to choose faith in every footstep is the whisperings of the Holy Spirit."  But if our desire is to have the Holy Ghost with us, our choices and actions will allow us to find God's will--not only for us, but we will desire to have His will be our will, and we will seek ways to do good and be good and to bless His children.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, even as you desire of me so it shall be unto you; and if you desire, you shall be the means of doing much good in this generation." (D&C 6:8)

I know that this is a huge topic. There are so many things I can't touch on right now, and so many questions I still have about desires. But I believe that desires matter more than we realize. And I believe we have a responsibility to be accountable for our desires and for their consequences. I also believe that one of the most important principles of the message of the Restoration is that we are not slaves of circumstance, but we are agents for ourselves. We are free to choose--with all of the terrifyingly glorious responsibility that comes with that knowledge and power.

And I think--and believe--that God is the "giver of good gifts." And sometimes the thing holding us back from our happiness is not God, but rather our own fear.

He wants to give us everything He has.

But we have to choose it.

We have to want it.


What do you want?

For Further Reading (if Megan's "Discourse on Desires" wasn't enough and you want more):

"Live Right Now" by Gerrit W. Gong
"Unleashing the Dormant Spirit"  by F. Enzio Busche (If you are going to read any of these talks, READ THIS ONE.)
"Free to Choose"  by Neal A. Maxwell (Another one of my favorites.)
"The Education of Our Desires" by Neal A. Maxwell
"According to the Desires of [Our] Hearts" by Neal A. Maxwell (Can you tell I love Elder Maxwell?)
"The Desires of Our Hearts" by Dallin H. Oaks
"Resolutions and Desires" by Rachael Givens Johnson (This one is by one of my good friends. She makes some excellent points about how important it is to honestly analyze those conflicting desires of our hearts.)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Deserving Donuts

Happy National Donut Day!

I hope that you enjoyed some donuts today.

(My favorites are the old-fashioned donuts. Mmmm . . . so good.)

Spoke too soon . . .

Remember how I did a lovely post about our family's pet pinata?

Well, she died the other day.

It's a bit morbid, really. 

And although nothing like this happened . . . 

I still kind of felt like the little kid. But in the end, the promise of candy was too much for me. 

What can you do? I like my Milky Ways. 

R.I.P. Mamana.