Monday, April 8, 2013

6. Happiness is Exhausting, But Well Worth the Effort.

I have kind of a different view on Happiness than a lot of people, I think.  But it works for me, and I'll be writing about it here, so that maybe some of you can understand where I'm coming from.
To me, there is a difference between being happy, and Happiness.  you can be happy because you're at peace, or content, or excited, or satisfied, or any number of things.  But to me, Happiness is something entirely different.  To me, Happiness is something that we can't achieve in mortality.  Not for very long, anyway.
I believe in moments.  Moments of happiness that are incredible, amazing, and mystifying.  These are moments that can literally change the course of your life.  Moments of Happiness are what drives us.  I believe that we are working all the time not to be happy, but to achieve moments of Happiness.  We are driven to it, hunger for it, and when we have those perfect moments... it is enough to feed us until we find the next moment.
A friend of mine a few weeks ago posted on FB "What makes you happy?" And I took it to mean, what brings me happiness?  What triggers those moments of perfection, when all the pieces fall into place and i experience something i imagine is akin to Godlike Happiness.  My answer?
I'm not talking about pledge of allegiance and American flag type of freedom... i'm talking about something else.  And i know most of you don't know what i'm getting at, so i will elaborate.
The first time i remember experiencing Happiness was when i was in Ecuador in the summer of 2011.  We had had an amazing day as usual roaming around Tena.  We were in the back of a pickup truck taxi going about 100kph down a dark jungle road.  The sky was clear and the stars were shining and the moon was glowing and giving more light than most of us growing up near cities can imagine.  The air was hot but the wind was cool as we smiled and joked and raced past the jungle on either side, headed home for the night.
And that's when i felt it.
This pure, incredible, powerful Happiness.  I literally felt as though i could take off in flight if i wanted to.  I felt my own light radiating out from me.  I can't explain this feeling.  But i can say it was the most powerful and influential feeling i have ever felt in my life. and the simplest way i can explain it is this:
I was free.
I was about to graduate, having an incredible experience down in Ecuador.  I was getting married soon, i was the master of my own fate.  i was free to do anything.  and i could do anything.  and God loved me for who i was.
I was free.
Anything was possible.
It only lasted a moment.  But it was a moment that I think defines me.  I've been happy, i've felt joy, and excitement, and peace... but never so powerfully, and never at the same time, and never without some other reservation or feeling sneaking around in the background.  it was truly, completely, incredible.
And when i as at a low point, i hated the memory i had of this moment.  I thought it was so cruel that i knew a taste of Godlike Happiness only to fall into hellish misery.  It honestly made my sadness seem so much deeper... having fallen so far from where i once had been.
But then I came to China.  And on top of Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, i had a similar experience. My misery was washed away and i was left with the same feeling.  I was left with that same powerful declaration I AM FREE.  I felt as though i had broken the chains of my misery with my bare hands and escaped from the deepest, darkest, dankest dungeon that I could ever imagine.
And it only lasted a moment. With the sun shining and the wind in my hair and the knowledge that i was doing something, that i was the master of my life, and that i could decide my own fate.
And it shocked me.  It honestly did.  I was exhausted by such a heightened emotion.  even though it didn't last for very long.  The energy it took to feel such a wonderful thing sucked me dry.  Being sad doesn't take much effort... really it doesn't.  it just sort of feels inevitable sometimes.  being angry takes energy, being happy takes energy... but Happiness will fill you up and leave you feeling like you just swam five miles.
I don't believe we can achieve true Happiness in this life, mostly because i attribute the few moments of Happiness i have felt as Godlike in nature.  I believe that this is the Happiness we will achieve when we leave this life, and return to our Lord.
And so here I am, living and working in China.  When i ask myself 'when was the last time you really smiled?' the answer is no longer 'i don't remember' but rather 'oh last week when we went hiking'  or 'yesterday when the little boy ran up and hugged me tight.' i can definitely say that i am happier here than i think i ever was in Provo... don't get me wrong, i've met amazing people in provo, received a wonderful education, and had amazing jobs... but that was all mixed in with the ever present "oh she's a jack mormon" stigma that follows me from congregation to congregation in varying degrees of persecution. if provo is predominantly cookie-cutter people, i'm a banana.  or a watermelon.  it just doesn't work.
i find it really funny, though, that i'm in a communist country, yet i feel more free than i did at home in the good ol' US of A.  it's kind of ironic, don't you think?
But back on track, yes Happiness is exhausting.  really.  But it is well worth the effort.  Here I am, knowing that having moments of Happiness is possible.  And so I will go hunting for the next moment. and the next. and the next.  Until the day i die.  I will always seek after these moments, as exhausting as they are.  And they're not phony. you can't formulate them.  everything just has to fall into place and then all of a sudden you feel it.  you have a moment.  a moment that you share with no one except yourself.  a moment where you know that you are exactly who you are meant to be and are exactly where you are meant to be.  a moment where you are truly and completely free.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

5. I Am Not Being Punished

This, for me, was really hard to come to terms with.  I'm not being punished for wanting to be something more.  It's not pride, it's not that i'm not humble enough (although i'm probably not) i'm not being punished for some sin that i couldn't even recall doing.  I'm not being punished for Adam's Transgressions... i'm just me.  i'm not being punished, i'm just going through a rough patch.
and you know what? that's okay!
we all have times of difficulty and sorrow.  and it's always triggered by something different.  for some people, failing a test is the worst thing ever, or not finding a job, or getting fired, or someone you love dying, or losing a friendship.  now these are all terrible things, but they affect us differently.  For example, i have never been fired... so i don't really know what that feels like, but i do know what it feels like to fail a test (feel stupid) or not being able to find a job( feel worthless), or someone i love dying (i feel sad, but also happy that they're in a better place) and losing a friendship( this sucks... but you get over it and chug along ahead)

I remember an experience i had... Scott and i had been married not even six months and we went to the Salt Lake Temple and the visitors' center.  Now in teh visitor's center there is a big statue of Christ. and it's beautiful. it's always been one of my favorite places.  But i was so angry.  i was so upset.  I had it in my mind that i had done something to deserve the misery that was plaguing me.  But i couldn't figure out what it was.  I read the book of Job and got even more upset... but back to the statue.  I remember looking up at the statue with tears in my eyes, thinking that i was so close to Him now.  And i thought in my heart "Will you tell me now?  I'm here, right in front of you!  will you tell me now? WIll you tell me what i've done to deserve this?  Will you tell me why you're punishing me?  Will you tell me what i've done so that i can repent?  Will you tell me why you won't change me?  Will you tell me why i can't be happy?"
Needless to say, He didn't answer.  And thus began many, many months in which i couldn't feel the Spirit at all. i was too angry.  to hardened to it.  too upset by what i imagined to be my unfair punishment to even remember that God loves me.

And really, just in the last few months, i've realized that i was never being punished.  I was just suffering because of the situation.  and that God wouldn't change my whole personality just to fit into a neat little cookie-cutter.  He loved me too much to make me into something else.
I've always believed that each and every one of us has a specific purpose here on the Earth.  Now for some of us, that might be saving the world, or catching murderers, or whatever grand schemes you can imagine.  but for most of us, i think those purposes are smaller.  i think a lot of us are here to help someone, to love someone, and to protect someone.  and if God made me into someone else, someone that wasn't like me at all... then i wouldn't be able to fulfill whatever tasks He has set out for me to do.  Isn't it better to suffer for a while than to never fulfill something akin to a divine destiny?
but the suffering still sucks.
but it is a most comforting thought, to me.  I am not being punished.  I am not being purposely made miserable because i decided to get married.  I am not being plagued with demons because i don't want to be a stay at home mom.  i am not being tortured simply because i want so badly to be something more than i am.  and that, really, is all there is to it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

4. Who I Am is Not Defined By What People Think Of Me.

Number four also builds on the last two.  i am not a bad person, i am good enough... and who i am is not defined by other people.  it is defined by me and me alone.  And how true that is for each and every one of us.
"You are your own worst critic" and i think this is very true. but i think it's true because we judge ourselves the most harshly because we know ourselves the best.  Haven't you ever experienced that before?  An acquaintance offends you and it blows over in a few days, but your best friend or your sibling offends you and it's not over for weeks or longer.  I think we just judge most the people we know best. we like to think that "I judge myself on the same standards that i judge everyone else" ... and being human we assume that the people that we love or are closest to us judge us by the same standards that they judge themselves and everyone else.  So if they don't like you, or if they don't think you're doing as well as you should, or that you're a disappointment... well, we tend to believe it.
I included this point mostly because i've seen (and participated in... yes, i'm not innocent in this either) a lot of judgement through the years.  Mostly having lived in Provo.  And i've been through it, i've seen my friends go through it, and it just really makes me so sad.  I have a few friends that were criticized and judged harshly for silly, unimportant things like formula feeding instead of breast feeding, or putting off getting married until after graduation, or for girls who let their husband drop out of school because they were closer to graduation, or a couple who has been married for more than ONE YEAR and isn't pregnant or planning on having children.  There's a lot of judgement.  I've been on the receiving end of a lot of it since i got married.  More than when i as single, i think.  Mostly because when i was single i made it very clear that i didn't fit the norm and i never planned to.  well getting married was on the 'norm' list and so suddenly everyone expected me to fit into the cookie-cutter.  i have quite literally been chastised for wanting to work (apparently that's not a wife's place, let alone a woman's place) not being ready for children (you're not pregnant yet?) and not being happy at not having a job (why can't you just appreciate all your free time?)
But when you listen to only the criticisms, you start to fall backwards.  you start to believe that you're a bad person or that you're obviously not good enough. BUT YOU ARE!
You are a lovely person
you are always good enough
and they don't know what the heck they're talking about!!
who you are is your right and your right alone.  no one else can write your story but you... but it takes strength.  it takes reserve.  it takes wings that won't be broken by a single bad incidence or comment.  I think being able to pull this off, defining yourself based solely on your own perspective, regardless of what others think, is real strength.  Real resolve.  it is something to be admired.  and something to seek after. If i think i'm good enough, if i think i'm strong enough, if i think i'm faithful enough, if i think i'm good enough; then i am.  end of story.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

3. I Am Good Enough

Number three goes almost hand in hand with number 2.  you need to realize that you're not a bad person before you can accept that you are good enough.
This one, too, i think comes a lot from family pressures.  Not just in  your immediate family, but those close enough to practically be family.  Aren't we always as humans seeking for approval? But when you're not measuring up to what others may think you should be, then you've got to find the strength to say 'i'm good enough for me' and actually be satisfied with that.
Again, turning away from speculation, I reveal my own personal experiences.
I've always felt a little odd in my family, not only because i'm the only girl of the siblings, the youngest, or the redhead... but because my interests were just so different.  My  mom is a nurse, my dad is a surgeon, my brother is in pharmacy school, my other brother is also a nurse... and me?  well, when i was 17 and headed off to college, i was an English Literature major.  I had dreams of becoming a writer.
And it was made abundantly clear that that wasn't good enough.
The whole time i was growing up it was always "try your best, and that's good enough" or "do what you love and that will be good enough" "You could even major in underwater basket weaving for all we care!"... but when you declare an english major?? yeah... that all goes out the window. Apparently underwater basket weaving is more useful than an english degree...
So after numerous fights/arguements with my parents, a truce was called.  i could major in anything i wanted for undergrad, so long as i did something 'useful' for graduate school.  Which pretty much basically encompassed biology, chemistry, and/or the medical field.  And just when i thought my parents had dropped it... the topic came up again and again... it was so frustrating.  why couldn't they see that i loved writing? that i loved stories? that languages intrigued me?  that i was never going to be a nurse or a doctor or a physical therapist?  that just wasn't me?
Well, then i found linguistics and that was good enough. for a while. then i got married and couldn't find work and the economy plunged... yeah.
Sorry mom, i love you so much, but i've got to dig into our relationship a little.  mom was always sort of the driving force... i always was trying to be good enough for her instead of for me... and even after i'd gone to the jungle and got married and learned 6 languages... i still wasn't quite there.  well i called her one afternoon and we hashed it out.  it was a really wonderful conversation and really cleared the air.  i started realizing that i could be just good enough for myself and that everyone else didn't really matter.
about two weeks after this wonderful life changing conversation and revelation, i was telling her how i was thinking about going to dental hygiene school.  she was all for it... but then came the kicker "and maybe after your kids are all in school, you can go to REAL dental school!"
i just about hung up right then and there.  i didn't tell her at the time that she was doing it again.  that she was making me feel inadequate.  and i should've.  old habits die hard i guess. and while it hurt, i got over it pretty quickly.
and now i'm trying to be good enough for me.  The latin for Enough is Satis.  like satisfying, or satisfactory.  So being 'good enough' is nothing more than being satisfied with who you are.  you don't have to be satisfied with your job or your family or even your life or situation.  you just have to be satisfied with you.  and that's all that matters.  because you're not a bad person.  so why wouldn't you be good enough?

Monday, April 1, 2013

2. I Am Not A Bad Person

This, like most of the points on my list, may seem a bit obvious.  but isn't it the stuff that seems like it should be obvious sometimes the hardest things to really believe?
"I'm not a bad person, after all."
"of course you're not!"
Well... but do you ever look in the mirror and wonder?  Don't you ever feel the guilt of mortality and think that your sins are too great or will never be forgiven or that while you believe in a forgiving God, you feel detached from Him?  Do you ever listen to those critics closest to you?  And think, wow, they're so great, they're so righteous, they're so successful or perfect or strong... what they're saying about me must be true.
but it's not.  I'm not a bad person.  and neither are you.
I'm not going to speculate on this too terribly much... i'd rather just share my own insights in my own personal life.
I am not a bad person.  But i remember much more vividly the times that i believed that i was.  I was married, but wasn't happy... i must be a bad person.  I must've made a mistake.  i must've not been listening. I was married, but not pregnant or trying for children... i must be a bad person to not be desiring children.  after all, that's all a good woman wants isn't it?  to be married and have children?  That's not what i want, at least not right now, i must be a bad person.  I don't want to be a stay at home mom... that's not what's written in the proclamation.  That's not what i've been taught from the time i could crawl, that's not what has been expected of me since i hit puberty.  I must be a bad person.
I must be wicked.
I must be unrighteous.
I must be unholy.
I must be wrong.

but i'm not.

i'm not a bad person.
We talk about the Gospel like it's the same for everyone. and it's really not.  I mean, the same principals of righteousness and the law of God apply to everyone the same, but the journey is different for everyone.  we all have a different path.  And i think we forget that.  We as religious people are told so many times by so many authorities that we are not the exception... but so long as you're still obeying the law of God, it's not really an exception, is it?  So long as you're teaching your kids the principals of righteousness and setting a worthy example of the love and charity of Christ in the home... who says a mom can't work?  Who says that a dad can't stay home?  Who says that a woman who can't have kids or doesn't want kids is selfish, possessive, unworthy, unrighteous, or wicked?  What if she's just not ready yet.  And why are you sticking your nose into her very personal choices, anyway?
I spent over a year fasting and praying and begging and pleading with the Lord to change me.  Because i was so convinced that i was wrong, unworthy, wicked, unholy, and a bad person.  I begged for Him to change me.  To make me want the things that would supposedly make me righteous.  I wanted to want to be a stay at home mom.  i wanted to want kids.  i wanted to want to stay home and be happy with that.  but it was impossible.  and i never got an answer to those prayers. not because He couldn't change me, but because He wouldn't.  Because i'm not a bad person.  I'm not wrong.  I'm not unholy.  I'm just me.  And He has work for me to do, work that only i can do because i'm the only one that's me.

And that's why i love "Wreck it Ralph" so much.  "I'm bad, and that's good.  I'll never be good, and that's not bad.  There's no one i'd rather be than me." except in my case, my mantra would be more like "I'm not bad, and that's good.  I'll never be perfect, and that's not bad.  There's no one i'd rather be than me." And there's no one i can be other than me.  it really is just impossible.  I am who i am.  And who i am is not a bad person at all.