Rather than make a New Year’s resolution a couple years ago, I chose a specific intent to live by. I intentionally chose to be teachable, even though I learn very slowly.
I don’t know how many people feel this way, but I struggle mightily to retain new information. There’s a reason that some people quote sports stats but have no idea what’s happening in the economy. It’s because we tend to make note of what interests us. And it isn’t that things don’t interest me; my brain just prefers to forget new information I can easily look up on my phone. Which, honestly, is genius. Did you know Einstein didn’t know his own phone number? Yep. That’s what a telephone book is (was) for.
So if I’m not retaining what I’m taught, how am I doing on the teachable thing?
Pretty well, actually. Because what I’m learning is humility, and that’s not the same as gaining knowledge. It takes humility to figure out how to get along with myself and how to pay attention so I can bring my whole self to my life. It’s kind of like when you’re heading out on a camping trip, and even though you’ve done this twelve thousand times, you have to keep turning around and grabbing the things you forgot: the swimsuits, a meat thermometer, fly paper, a nail trimmer, the napping toddler. You know, all those things you can’t live without.
So one day as I step into my life, I might have my utility belt loaded just right for that day: sense of humor–check. Curiosity–check. Space for others to have their own experience–check.
Other days I step into my life like I’m in that awful dream, the one where I’m late for my final exam in high school biology and discover that all I’m wearing is a rapidly shrinking swimsuit. Those days I think the only tool on my belt is vulnerability. Yep, the whole world just saw raw Elissa, and it wasn’t pretty.
I am learning to be a whole person, and that takes introspection for sure. That’s probably what a lot of this blog is, a kind of wearing my brain on my sleeve so I can sort out where everything goes. Clearly, I didn’t learn much in biology.
But using humility to become my whole self takes looking outward as well. I’m pretty sure my New Year’s intent began in 2020, before the world turned into a series of universally understood memes. Like many people the world over, I resolved in 2021 to just not relive 2020. I think we’ve done pretty well at that. It got a lot worse. It got a lot better. And if you’re still the same after all this, then prepare for more of the same next year. Circumstances we dislike are likely to stick around, but we don’t have to stay stuck.
In 2020 I leaned into my teachability by continuing with therapy, blogging, inviting God into my life daily, sticking to my meds (and re-learning what happens when I don’t), and exercising, journaling, meditating, and yoga-ing when I remembered. I didn’t make much effort to connect with friends other than on social media because I’m a hermit, and people in person take more effort and planning than I thought I could handle. Besides, gathering friends and visiting friends, remembering their birthdays, equal parts complimenting and teasing them were things my mom did when I was growing up. She had energy for things like that. As with singing, decorating, and sewing, I just figured that talent had skipped a generation.
Then I got told to be a hermit, which I found secretly thrilling for a while. But there is nothing like being told to do something that you would have normally enjoyed doing to make you want to do the complete opposite. Probably me being unteachable, but we all dig in our heels and pout sometimes.
So my husband and I began to intentionally invite a friend or family over when conditions allowed. Pre-vaccine, I especially adored a friend whose whole family had experienced COVID and were now “safe” to hang with last November. But then they moved.
I tried to tell myself I was ok without in-person visitors because we didn’t have any cozy furniture (we still don’t), but my husband and I just couldn’t help ourselves. Every chance we got as restrictions loosened up, we invited friends over and made them sit on our hard chairs. We usually didn’t even have enough of those and would eat meals in shifts or while kneeling at the counter like it was totally normal and everyone should try this. You find out right away who your friends are when they find a way to be comfortable–or forego comfort entirely–just to stay a little longer.
We have even invited ourselves a few times to the homes of family friends for an afternoon or evening of visiting. We’re not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but we like to make it a piece of cake for them to spend time with us. How to get rid of us they haven’t entirely figured out, though having nowhere for us to sit would probably be a good deterrent.
I began to realize something as I continued reaching out and de-hermitting myself. I used to have this sort of sullen, woe-is-me attitude about socializing. I believed deep down that I didn’t fit in and never really would, so when we invited someone over, it was a bit of a test to find out if they would invite us back. I wanted “friends” to reach out to me the exact same way I had reached out to them for it to “count.” And the deadline usually came and went in about one month. If I went out on a limb, so help me, you did too. And sometimes, like that awful book, “A Separate Peace,” I see how easy it would have been to bounce my friend right off that precarious limb. “To have a friend you need to be a friend,” and I was doing it perfectly, if friends were people who feel manipulated and always in debt to each other.
[And reality check–I only behaved this way part of the time. If you and I are friends from pre-pandemic times, we survived my immaturity.]
What I learned about myself over this time of socializing on purpose is that I need women. All ages, all stages, and all willing to be real. But my resonant frequency rings most with women who engage peaceably with their world. Women, often of faith, who look around, see what is, and make themselves into quietly mighty warriors who not only match the needs of the moment but prepare for a future in which swords are beaten into ploughshares. Which dovetails nicely with their plans if they’ve been cultivating and caring for the very ground they walk on. They know what a blessing it is to stand firm when the world is crumbling. Their preparations provide soil so rich that even roses bloom beneath these women’s proverbial feet.
I intentionally watch and listen for this kind of woman now because mighty as she is, she has sometimes learned from cultural norms to keep herself hidden. Humbly helping others happens in homes, classrooms, the briefest of conversations, and sometimes, by wisely doing nothing. But it may or may not change the person who has served. It might be done resentfully or be followed by a barrage of self-doubt. Developing oneself, though, happens from within and then at some point, manifests in outward ways. It can’t be helped. Letting others see and learn from you being your best self isn’t vanity. It’s humbly offering a gift no one else can give.
Remember the bizarre dream I described in Part One? When the band members of Midnight Oil stood up to receive their award, everyone saw them dressed up as their mothers. Now all creepiness aside, they had done this (according to my nocturnal screenwriter) to honor their mothers because it was from them they had learned to stand up for the marginalized, the least of these, among us. And who knew? That song, Beds Are Burning, spoke to the conflict between the aboriginal people and the Australian government over land ownership. They had learned to stand firm from their mothers, and they wanted to honor those whose firm ground had been taken from them.
Probably because I expected that song to be dirty in some way, I lacked the capacity at that time to recognize meaningful lyrics. But I also couldn’t understand most of the verses. The singer sounded sort of croaky, and I didn’t enjoy listening to him. The quality of his thoughts was lost on me.
In the dream sequence at the Grammy Awards, the band members were so befuddled by all the attention that they went and hid in a side pew. I promise this dream started in a fancy hall like you’d see on TV. But suddenly we were in a chapel with pews because I think that’s how I perceive too many amazing women. They’re hiding.
But hiding is not humility, and it isn’t strength.
I thought of these inspiring words that a woman named Camilla E. Kimball shared in September 1979, just weeks before my parents married and began their own eternal partnership.
The words were prepared by her husband, Spencer W. Kimball, then president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was too ill in the hospital to participate in this conference address to all the women in the church. These words are powerful regardless of who delivered them, but I believe God arranged for Sister Kimball to deliver them. Our Heavenly Father is not a single parent, so the counsel and instruction God offers us comes from a Heavenly Mother as well. What better way to show how our Heavenly Parents care for us than by demonstrating it through a husband and wife (regardless of office) who serve together?
Though it predates my life by a year, and though the delivery carries with it some cultural relics, I see happening now the progress of the Church that this presidency predicted 42 years ago and for the reasons they indicated.
Here is an excerpt from the address:
Finally, my dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.
Among the real heroines in the world who will come into the Church are women who are more concerned with being righteous than with being selfish. These real heroines have true humility, which places a higher value on integrity than on visibility...
Thus it will be that female exemplars of the Church will be a significant force [influence] in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the Church in the last days.
I added “influence” because force sounds so coercive even though it could imply something as impartial as gravity or gray hair. That’s just my sensibility showing. I added boldface to some words for emphasis.
A woman who unites other women of all backgrounds with the family of our Heavenly Parents reflects articulateness and righteousness. She is a woman with humility and integrity.
To reflect a thing means that it came from somewhere else. Do you know who I think is articulate? Well of course my own mother–where do you think I got my start? But to a degree I don’t fully comprehend, I envision a Heavenly Mother who articulates truth and has planted in my heart a profound desire to draw other women into this everlasting family.
Righteousness comes off as rigid and inaccessible to some people. I remember someone no longer in my life who lived among many church members and said there were Mormons (former nickname for members of the Church) and then there were temple Mormons. The latter, he complained, were people who stuck to their beliefs even if it made you feel awkward around them. Regardless of how onlookers might feel about it, it is possible to be distinct and different in happy (as in positive, useful) ways.
To me, righteousness has much more to do with aligning oneself with an expectation from God. It requires a pattern, a blueprint to follow. The blueprint isn’t one of outcomes, which would make us all the same. It’s more like a way of being. I believe a woman reflects the righteousness of our Heavenly Parents by responding to the desire to bring more goodness into the world.
Having humility and integrity eschews selfishness and the need for visibility. Fully acknowledging my humanness, my need for help, is humility. I don’t say this to gain visibility or praise, but I receive regular feedback that I am changing the world for the better. I have learned to not hide from praise but to let it remind me how much I need God to help me find women who want to be gathered. As I continue on in this journey, I demonstrate humility when I seek to be teachable instead of thinking I’ve got this thing down to a fine art.
Integrity is a wholeness that comes from valuing every aspect of oneself. I have gained such an appreciation for my whole self as I contemplate after Whom I am patterned. Loving myself, taking care of my whole self–none of that is selfish. When I am my true, whole self, I direct and focus the light from my Heavenly Parents so that others can see the way into Their arms. I wish I could give everyone a sample of how good it feels to know even the littlest bit of Their love. It changes everything even when our circumstances have rigidly remained exactly the same.
Gathering women is so much more than socializing. It’s doing internal work, paying attention with compassion, to the way you work and learning how to revamp your whole system. I suppose some women only need a little fine-tuning here and there, but I think we would all be surprised at the private battles a woman wages to become kind, thoughtful, patient, creative, etc., in the face of adversity, especially if that adversity looks like a dream come true from the outside.
I’ve been gathering myself the past few years. And now I’m gathering others. I used to think feminism meant getting angry about circumstances and then channeling that anger into some sort of change. But that isn’t where progress comes from. Progress is growth and development. It’s aspiring to the best within ourselves and then using that strength to lighten the burdens of those around us, particularly as it concerns girls and women. Or I can at least offer a more effective way to carry those burdens when improvement of circumstances comes slowly or, perhaps, not at all. That is the kind of feminist I am.
I had a co-worker right after high school who said God must be selfish for wanting everyone to come back to Him. I could see how he landed on that idea, but I wondered if he knew how much God wanted to give us everything and that following His plan was the only way to do that. Providing a space for our journey, allowing us to choose our way, and then giving us infinite opportunities to make course corrections doesn’t sound selfish to me. It sounds logical, like something that time and space and love and meaning all coalesced for. It just makes sense to me, like divine parenting.
Giving ourselves space for our journey, space to make decisions, space to mess up, and space to try again isn’t selfish. It’s the only way forward.
Suppose you want everything I have just described, but currently you would be thrilled to not have children hanging all over you? What if nothing about parenting sounds divine because all manner of bodily fluids have erupted on you today and words you swore you’d never say erupted just as forcefully? What if instead of sharing your light with the whole world, you’re teaching “Popcorn Popping” to a bunch of three-year-olds today?
I would like to answer that question as if I’m responding to a past Elissa, a mom of babies and young kids.
You know what? It doesn’t change a thing about you. You can still reach for some perspective, and that can change everything. Does it demean a woman to sit with children and sing “Popcorn Popping”? Are you a “traitor to the cause of equality” by having children and caring for them? Do you even need to answer someone who asks, “How do you sleep at night knowing that there are women and kids all over the world without the resources you have, and yet you’re adding another one of your own?”
Elissa, others’ circumstances matter, but you need to show up in your own life first. Consider the difference it makes to help children gain perspective and to develop themselves. Even that whimsical song about popcorn popping shows the tiniest bit how enough heat and a kernel of hope can become the popped corn of progress. Or how the tree that seemed dead can burst with beautiful blooms that brighten the world? The possibilities are endless. Keep practicing the art of gaining perspective. You’re doing more good than you know.
My future self is someone who has patterned herself after her Heavenly Parents, so while I learn from my parents and the women in my life, I look further for a help I am only beginning to understand. If my future self has a future self who has a future self and every one of them is making progress, then my Mother in Heaven is, in a way, me. I look forward to learning more about Her from available resources in the Church, but even if I exhaust those, I can live true to the best within myself and better understand Her nature from that vantage point, at least until we, as a Church, and therefore, the world, learn more.
More than ever, it is the quality of the thoughts coming from righteous women that inspires me. Hearing these thoughts from women makes this an even more exciting time to live in. Hearing men echo these thoughts is supremely gratifying.
Women of integrity offer me an example of how to speak to myself. If I grow accustomed to speaking to myself kindly and with conviction, it may not be as hard to hear Her while I am also learning to hear Him. Because the mission of Jesus Christ fulfilled the will of God, both of my Heavenly Parents’ voices are reflected in my Savior’s voice. Even though they sing in unison, if I listen for it, I can pick out Her voice in the personal revelation I receive. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I find great comfort in picturing my Heavenly Mother parenting right along side my Father. It is a comfort that makes rest come more easily.
Any woman anywhere at any time can prepare the world for the best that is yet to come by gathering herself and those she can reach. It is an ongoing work.
So how do we sleep? We don’t. Because we don’t need to all sleep at once. When we trust in God and lean on one another, there is enough sleep, self-care, and joy to go around. Meanwhile, this work insists that I wake up over and over again, so it is time for sleep. I have long since used up my midnight oil.
I find rest in the assurance that I can let God prevail, and wherever you are in your journey, Elissa, I hope you find that rest too.