Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Chapter 7: Our Engagement and Wedding Day

Remember that notebook that I gave to Jordan? It ended up being a game changer, big time. I'm still not 100% sure why, but something that I wrote answered his question of whether or not we should get married.

Two years ago, Jordan came back from the Priesthood Session of General Conference acting kind of antsy. He walked into the house saying that his car was acting funny. Dain, my older brother walked out with him to check it out. They both came back in shortly after to get my dad's help. (It was then that Jordan asked for my Dad's permission to marry me.) Then Jordan came in to talk to me, asking if I wanted to come with him to the store to get some parts for his car. Which seemed so weird, because Jordan doesn't work on cars. I had an inkling of what he was up to, but went along with his story. As we walked out of the house, he looked at me and asked if I wanted to go get a ring. Easy question.

We got a simple, beautiful ring from Walmart and called it our practice ring since we didn't have a lot of time to look, and we wanted things to be "official" right then. Then Jordan took me to the Brigham City Temple, which had just been dedicated. We walked around the grounds, then he kneeled down, poured his heart out, and asked me to marry him. I said yes.

It's hard to remember the emotions that I felt then. Yes, I was excited beyond belief. But even stronger than excitement was the peaceful calm that I felt, a feeling that this was right.

Our engagement was three months long. And, honestly, it was also quite uneventful. April, May, and June flew by in a blur. Pictures were taken, rings and a dress were found. Decorations, a cake, flowers, and invitations were finalized. I would have been totally content to let someone else plan it all, and being in charge of all decisions that were made was svery stressful for me. I didn't want or need an elaborate plan. I was just grateful and excited to be getting married to Jordan.

June 29th was the Saturday before our wedding. It was also the day that I went through the Brigham City temple to make promises with God and to receive my endowments. It is very sacred and beautiful and amazing. I didn't feel afraid or overwhelmed. I just felt that same peace that this sacred experience was right and true.

July 6th, 2013, I woke up earlier than usual. Amazingly, I had been able to sleep better than usual and I felt so calm. Before anyone else woke up, I curled up in a chair to read my scriptures and write in my journal. It was so quiet and calm and beautiful. Jordan's wonderful sister, Lindsay, came over to do my hair and makeup as everyone in the house woke up and got ready. Jordan picked me up and we were off to the temple!

Remember when I wrote about the Daughters of Light weekend that I attended? I mentioned that I had promised to keep the processes and the experiences of others confidential, to help keep it as a safe environment. Of even more importance to me is the sacredness of the temples of God. It is not secret, it is sacred and I will not share specifics of my experiences in the temple in order to protect that sacredness, much as I will not share specifics of my experience during the healing weekend.

But I will share what I felt. I felt with undeniable certainty that God lives and that He was happy that Jordan and I chose to marry each other. It wasn't an earth shattering revelation. It was calm and peaceful. I have learned over the years from being taught and from personal experience that peace comes from God alone, and no other source can mimic true peace. I had felt that peace over and over again as Jordan and I  moved closer to marriage. It showed me that God approved, and was happy with the life I was choosing.

I was so happy. I was so happy! We had made it! Against so many odds, Jordan and I were married. And it was the perfect day! The marriage ceremony was held inside the temple, which meant that only our family and friends who had been through the temple to receive their own endowments could come in with us. Because of this, we planned a reception for that evening to which everyone could come. Even though I hated planning it, it was so nice to see how everything worked out to make a beautiful evening. So many people pitched in to help, and I am so grateful for their efforts. That day would not have been perfect without them.

Our story doesn't end after our wedding with a "happily ever after". That was just the beginning of our eternity together.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Post graduation plans

Dear Everyone,

As of right now, I will graduate from USU in 3 weeks, 4 days, 9 hours and 13 minutes. High school senioritus has NOTHING on college senioritus. Just saying.

Nothing has been as exciting, overwhelming, terrifying, or stretching as these last few months. I've tried desperately to stay on top of my classes, to study hard and to gain knowledge. I feel like I have finally been able to be me, flaws and all, and I have loved making and building friendships with those in my classes.

But in 3 weeks, 4 days, 9 hours and 7 minutes (times a tickin'), what will I do with my life?

I cannot convey to you how much weight I have felt as I have tried to decide how to answer that question.

At the beginning of the semester, I was particularly overwhelmed as my friends all started to talk about job and grad school applications. In the flurry of excitement and nerves, I prayed to know what I should do after graduating. I studied different graduate degrees at USU and I considered several full time jobs in my field. But as I did that, I felt a strained feeling that I was moving in the wrong direction. I asked Jordan to pray for me as well, that maybe together we could feel what would be right for me.

His answer for me was this. "You will know what to do at the end of the semester." And though it was not what I expected or wanted, I felt so calm when Jordan told me. When I remembered that and chose to have faith in God, that strained feeling went away.

It wasn't always easy, especially when my friends started telling me about the amazing job opportunities that they had found in our field. I was jealous that they knew what they were going to do. Maintaining faith that I would have a place, even if I waited until the end, was difficult and sometimes painful. But it was worth it.

I don't remember when, but recently I realized that weeks had passed without my wondering about what I would do after graduation. I started to pray again, seeing as the end of the semester was coming, and I was very curious to know what was in store. Reading scriptures and praying helps me to feel the Holy Ghost more clearly. It was while I was reading in the Book of Mormon that I had the impression that I should review the promptings I had received through the whole semester. Some of them I had written about in my journal. Others were so clear that I could write them from memory, and writing helped me to remember more that I had forgotten. This is what I learned.

  • I need to follow Jordan. Of course I will go with him wherever he goes. That's kind of why we got married. More specifically, I need to be willing to let him and his career choices take us to new places.
  • I need to not get a full time job. A seasonal part-time job would be okay though.
  • I need to not be afraid of having children. This one is hard for me. I've struggled to have hope about carrying a child through pregnancy, and even more frequently my ability - or more correctly inability -  to care for a child.
I was so amazed to realize that those answers that I had been desperately waiting for were given to me bit by bit through the whole semester. When I put them together, I could see a plan that still gave me room to choose where and how to spend my time, while advising me on how to best help my family. 

Honestly, I don't have any solid plans yet. Besides growing a garden. It's going to be beautiful. I am considering several part time jobs. I'm hoping for the day when we will have a little baby. I feel so at peace knowing that God is aware of me and my small family and is guiding us. That guidance comes even when we may not see the connection between the little answers that He is willing to give us if we will only ask. So in 3 weeks, 4 days, 8 hours and 35 minutes, when my bachelor's degree is officially complete, I can walk away with confidence in myself and my God and my future. And I am so excited.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Daughters of Light

I can't remember a time when I was so nervous. It was an October Friday afternoon, and I was sitting in a room full of women that I barely knew. I was at a "healing weekend" that was put on by people from the support group I had just found. The support group was specifically for women who were married to men with same-gender-attraction, and though I didn't really contribute much to the group, it was nice to know that I wasn't alone.

Jordan had been to his first healing weekend called Journey Into Manhood a month before I went to mine. And I have never seen him as happy as he was when he came home from that. It wasn't a fix-all solution, and it didn't "cure" him. He is still attracted to men. But he is more confident and comfortable with himself than I have ever seen him. Because of the changes that I had seen in him from his experience, I decided that I would go to the healing weekend for women.

Though it was designed by women in my support group, this weekend was for any woman who wanted to heal in any way. Since I was one of the first to arrive, I quickly picked a seat and watched everyone else file in. I only knew a handful of the women who were there, and I realized right from the start that I could very easily be the youngest person in the room. That realization didn't really help with my nerves. Though I still don't know why, I didn't feel safe in large groups - especially a group of women. I could do one-on-one just fine. But my courage sank as I watched chair after chair being filled.

That first night was nerve-wracking, terrifying, and emotionally distressing as I tried to push myself and be brave. By the time I was shown to my room, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I wrote in my journal, read my scriptures, and prayed for courage for the following day, because it really felt like I had used up every drop already.

Morning came a little too quickly, but breakfast was delicious. I was able to chat with several people at my table. Though nothing profound was shared, it helped me to relax and let go of some of the fear that I had been holding onto.

I learned a lot about myself that Saturday. The processes that we did helped me to see that in trying to protect myself, I had distanced myself from everyone. I held everyone at bay, because I believed that I needed to be strong on my own before I let anyone close enough to see me. As I pushed myself through each experience, I was amazed and distraught to find that I was stronger when I was vulnerable. I was amazed because I had never known personally that the strength in vulnerability comes from the combined strengths and weaknesses of everyone. Alone, we are weak. Together, we are strong. I was distraught, because I had spent so much of my life denying myself of that strength.

That whole vulnerability thing, it wasn't a "book learning" moment. Process after process pushed me well beyond my comfort zone by giving me the choice to be vulnerable with an individual. And that's what was amazing! I had the choice to be vulnerable. It was me that was doing the actually work of lowering that "protective" wall and showing them who I really was. Though it was frightening and I didn't really want to, I was vulnerable.

And I was safe. I was safe to learn and grow and try.

I learned that most if not all of my insecurities were due to my own thoughts. It wasn't other people telling me that my acne was bad, it was me. It wasn't other people telling me that I didn't belong, it was me. It wasn't other people telling me that I wasn't good enough, it was me.

I learned that my desperate attempts to cope with stress had distanced myself from my body. In trying to control something, I controlled food. In an attempt to be more spiritual, I tried to ignore how I looked.

I learned that I had let fears control me. In answering the question, "What disconnects you from others?", I wrote, "Fear. Fear of being loved, fear of being accepted. Fear of being enough. Fear of being abandoned, rejected, manipulated, mocked, ignored. Fear of trying my hardest to love and having them only be interested in the gossip I might bring them. Not so much the fear of being vulnerable, but the fear of being vulnerable around someone who will use it to control me."

For probably the first time in my life, I recognized those negative thoughts for what they were and learned how to fight them. I saw my body as a beautiful gift that I had a responsibility to care for and love. Here's part of what I wrote in a notebook at one point that day.

"I - in all of my weaknesses and imperfections - am strong. Accepting and acknowledging them and then acting on what I know is right is a source of power. I feel powerful right now. Not that I myself am terribly strong, but that when I am grounded, when I am centered on God's love I am powerful. I can not only do hard things, but I can excel. I can be connected to those around me. It is okay to cry. It is okay to be emotional, and it is okay to be wrong.
"Being vulnerable is a key to the greatest peace I have felt in a long time."

In one day, I went from being totally afraid of the other women in the group to loving and caring for each of them. At first, I was afraid to make any sound. By the time we left, I was comfortable enough to talk with anyone there.

As Jordan picked me up, I was amazed at how in-tune I was with my emotions and my body. I felt everything! I know that seems a little extreme, but it was true. I was aware of the texture of my clothes and the pressure of the seat belt on my torso. I have never experienced emotions so deeply or so quickly.

That in-tune-ness didn't last long. But the things that I learned then have changed my life. Relief Society, the women's organization in my church, became a place filled with friends rather than a place filled with stress and fear. I find courage to share my emotions more easily than I ever did before the weekend. Yes, I still experience fear. But it's not as strong. That weekend showed me that fear can't stop me from doing things.

The things that I worked through were rarely related to me and my husband. Honestly, our marriage has been hard. Totally worth it, but really hard. Yes, the things that I learned during that weekend have helped in my marriage. But the healing that I experienced was for myself in my own struggles.

I promised to not share what processes we did or the experiences of the other women there that weekend. The confidentiality of the weekend is a big part of what made it a safe healing environment. But I hope that sharing my experiences and what I learned will help someone. The name of the weekend was "Daughters of LIght" (this link will take you to a website where you can sign up for or learn about these healing weekends). I love it! In Doctrine and Covenants 67:9, God is called the "Father of lights". So whether intentional or not, the weekend references that we are His children, and we can be filled with His light. Not much is more beautiful than that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chapter 6: Dating

In Chapter 1 of our story, I spoke briefly about my first year of college.  I wish that I could show you just how much that year and those people changed my life.  Even though I was a young freshman, they welcomed me with open arms and helped me to see that I mattered.

My one regret from that time is that I didn't let people get close to me.  I kept those amazing people at arms length and rarely if ever let them see me and my emotions.  It was especially hard to be open with men, though I loved hanging out with groups of guys.  But dating was hard because I didn't know how to and wouldn't let myself relax around one man.  During the end of spring semester, I started to see what I was doing and tried to take down those barriers that I had made.  Though I wasn't able to be as open as I had wanted to be by the time the semester ended, I was determined to be better the next year.

Jordan changed everything.  During our summer of working together, he poked and prodded until I told him about my senior year and the struggles in it.  And he didn't recoil or abandon me.  He became a safe person, a man that I could be open with.  I still had a lot of work to do with being open emotionally - believe me!  Through it all, he has been my greatest blessing and still continues to help me learn to be open emotionally.

Dating Jordan was probably one of the most joyful, playful times of my life.  All of the awkwardness that I felt before he told me about his attractions was gone.  I don't remember a lot of details like I do from when I met him.  I do remember laughing.  I remember going on walks together while it snowed.  I remember serious, quiet talks about the future where we took turns crying and comforting each other.  I remember the safety and peace that I felt when I was with him.

Jordan was the first person to kiss me.  It was a month after we started dating more frequently.  He asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend, to have our relationship be official.  I said yes (duh) and he leaned in and kissed me.  Twice.  I remember that numb, confused, blissful feeling as my roommates quizzed me and tried to get me to describe the experience in more detail.

I remember making the decision to move back home so that Jordan and I could spend more time together.  Even though I was still commuting to school, it was really hard to leave the amazing friendships that I had made with my neighbors.  I knew that I needed to do it if I wanted my relationship with Jordan to be a lasting one.

I remember the first time that he told me that he loved me.  He was playing with my hair when he said it.  I had never liked it when people played with my hair until then, but it was kind of nice when he did it.  I remember holding hands and cuddling all the time.  And kissing.  Kissing was fun.  Even though he wasn't physically attracted to me, kissing was fun for both of us.

I remember fighting for our relationship.  Many people didn't think that I should be dating him, and their doubts caused a lot of confusion for me.  One day after a lot of doubts had been dumped on me, I was praying to know what to do.  I prayed to know if I should break up with Jordan, and immediately  I heard a voice behind me say, "Please don't."  I turned around to see my sister coming down the stairs and thinking that it was she who had spoke, I asked her what she had said.  She hadn't said anything, but wanted to know what I had said.  I know that Heavenly Father answered my prayer by letting me hear someone, some spirit whisper in my ear.

I remember the first birthday present I ever gave to Jordan.  Instead of buying him a gift, I took him to the Festival of Colors in Spanish Fork.  We actually had a double date with my brother and his girlfriend and soon-to-be wife.  It was so much fun!  Like really, it was pretty fantastic.  I wasn't as big a fan of the faded, brown-gray that all the chalk turned into after a while, but the bright colors at the beginning were so much fun.

I didn't think of Jordan as gay.  Yes, I thought about the differences in our relationship due to his attractions, but I always thought of him as Jordan, my best friend.  He is a man who loves and lives the gospel of Jesus Christ as best he can.  He likes hiking and camping.  He dominates at slow, methodical card games.  The greatest love of his life would have to be food.   He hates bowling.  He loves Zelda - a lot.  He is so much more than just his sexual orientation alone.

After my senior year of high school, I started writing letters in a notebook that I planned to give to my future husband some day.  Mostly, it was a way for me to express my emotions when I felt alone.  Even before Jordan and I had started dating, I was addressing the letters to him.  I had felt so strongly that he and I would be together that it just made sense to write to him.

In mid to late March, I was praying to know if and how I could let Jordan know that I wanted to marry him.  In that process, I was guided to give this notebook to him.  I panicked a little bit because I had intended it as a gift for my husband after I was married.  So far, though, those promptings and feelings had brought Jordan and I together when I had acted on them.  So I trusted God and gave Jordan my notebook, hoping desperately that it wouldn't freak him out too badly.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Piece of My Story

All through growing up, my parents advised me to limit the extracurricular activities that I participated in.  I didn't really listen – especially during my senior year. Much of my time was spent playing violin in my high school orchestra and saxophone in jazz band and marching band.  I also played violin in a youth symphony in the area.  On top of that, I was the drum major of the marching band and had the responsibility to conduct music and prepare the band for performances.  I was also the orchestra class president, and conducted the class frequently as we prepared for our own performances.  During my last trimester of high school I was an intern with my orchestra teacher.  I got to help teach the 8th and 9th grade orchestras.  I was so incredibly busy, but I loved it.  Music was my life and my safe place that year. 
I had the opportunity to be on the seminary council for my high school seminary, a religious school.  The seminary council planned activities and goals for the students of my high school.  It was a good experience for me to be actively thinking of ways that I could serve the people around me.  I was also a member of the youth committee for a week-long summer camp for the youth in my stake.  We met every Sunday morning at 7am from early October until the actual camp in June.  My class schedule was pretty heavy.  I was taking two AP classes - one of which was calculus - and one concurrent enrollment course.   
During the summer before my senior year, I spent a lot of time with a good friend.  For the sake of the story, we'll call him Clarence.  He had just graduated and was getting ready to go to college.  By the time August rolled around, I realized that I liked him a lot and that we were beginning to act like a couple.  I had been taught all through growing up to avoid steady dating while in high school.  And I believed that it was important and had followed that council as closely as I could.  So when I opened my eyes and finally looked at our "friendship" and acknowledged to myself that it was becoming more than that, I knew that something had to change. 
After a lot of prayers, I "broke up" with Clarence.  I don't know if it counts as a break up because we weren't technically together.  But I told him that I needed things to change.  I thought that we could still be friends. 
More than anything, I wanted Clarence to be happy.  To see him afterwards when he wasn't happy made me feel like I needed to do something.  Whether he intended it or not, I was manipulated to believe that his struggles were my fault and that I needed to stay with him to help.  September through December was a lot of getting back together and breaking up again and blaming myself for it all.  Mid December, I told him that I couldn't talk to him anymore and ended all contact.  
A different friend asked me to go to senior ball with him.  It was literally the same day as when I ended all contact with Clarence.  I didn't want to hurt this other friend, but I knew that if I said yes I wouldn't be a good date for him and would probably hurt his feelings more by going with him than by saying no.  After saying no to him, whole groups of people at school stopped talking to me.   
A friend from work was killed in a car accident during this time as well.  He wasn't a close friend - I wouldn't have known him if I hadn't worked with him.  It broke my heart and I grieved deeply for him and the pain his family must have been going through.  I felt childish for grieving for someone I hadn't known well, and so I tried to keep it to myself. 
I have never felt so alone in my life.  All of the people that I had looked up to had graduated.  I didn't really know how to reach out to anyone my own age and when I did I was brushed aside or what I said was shared with others who didn't need to know.  So I pulled deep inside myself. 
I didn't know how to handle the stress that was piling on top of me.  Some things helped less than others.  I started to limit how much I ate.  Eventually it became a habit to avoid meals or just eat as little as possible in a day.  No, I was not anorexic.  But this habit could have become just that had I kept it a secret.  I told my mom one day, and just talking about it and having someone else know made it possible to stop.  I now strongly believe that keeping our struggles a secret is what gives them the power to grow into all-consuming monsters.  I wasn't able to conquer the habit easily and it took time because high levels of stress became a trigger and I would have to start all over.  It wasn't until after I got married and could talk with my husband about it every day that I was able to go for months and then a year without giving in to the habit.   
Prayer became my refuge.  My bedroom had a window facing south and during those winter months when the stars came out so early I would sit on my bed and watch them move across the sky.  I had pulled so far down inside myself that I didn't know how to talk with others about the emotions I was feeling.  But when I prayed, I was able to open up completely.  Sitting on my bed in the dark, I felt peace.  And I knew that God heard my prayers.  I knew it!  It became something that I looked forward to each night.  Those stars became precious to me and to this day I feel peace when I see them. 
In the middle of the pain and confusion were beautiful things.  Some of the most beautiful things I saw that year were in music.  My orchestra teacher became my greatest hero.  She was struggling with health problems at the time and I didn't really understand the sacrifice she was making until my internship with her.  Her dedication to teaching others was so important to her that it gave her strength to do impossible things.  I will always remember her as one of the strongest people I have ever known.
I played in Abravanel Hall twice.  Once was with the youth symphony that I was a part of.  Though I don't remember the pieces that we performed, I remember the power of a symphony that was totally synchronized and breathing together.  When we finished playing our last song, I felt like I was waking up from a dream, that those brief moments during our performance were too perfect to be a part of reality.  
My second opportunity to perform there was an opportunity that I didn't really deserve.  Several people from my youth symphony and other youth symphonies all across Utah were given the opportunity to perform with the Utah Symphony in their All Star Concert.  Though I had less experience than almost everyone chosen, I was able to perform in that concert.  I should not have been there, but I will never forget that experience.  It's one thing to listen to beautiful music, but feeling it is more rare and more magical.  Never in my life have I felt music like I did that night.  I don't know if I will ever have an experience that was as magical as sitting on that stage.
Even though I felt totally alone, I wasn't.  My parents became my best friends that year.  They went above the call of duty when it came to supporting me as I sifted through the mess I had made for myself.  They didn't demand that I drop anything.  They didn't force me to "break up" with Clarence.  For my whole life, they taught me what was right and then let me make my own choices.  I can guarantee that I would not be a happy me, who loves learning and is happily married and is about to graduate from college (yay!) if it had not been for the constant love that they showed me during that awful time.
All that time praying and watching the stars dance across the night sky taught me that God lives.  I know it.  I know it - with every fiber of my being!  God is my Heavenly Father.  Christ is His Son, who knows exactly how I am feeling because He suffered and died for me.  And every hard thing that I have experienced since then is okay because I know that I am never alone.  He was there with me through every dark night then, and I know that He is here with me now.  The Holy Ghost confirms this truth to me every time I think about it.
It's been four years since then, and I am now a senior in college about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in plant science.  It took writing this post to realize how many emotional scars I still have to work through.  At first I was embarrassed that I still have work to do to resolve those emotions.  But as I have written and edited and thought about it, I am okay.  I'm okay with the fact that I am feeling these emotions now.  I mean, it makes total sense.  Bottling and ignoring emotions doesn't make them go away, it just saves them for later.  I had worked through some emotions, but not all of them.  And writing this opened up that sour, putrid bottle of old emotions.  I am okay, because my husband was there to hold me while I cried and help me feel safe.  I am okay, because I know that the fear of those days has no foundation now.  I am okay because I know that feeling and expressing these emotions now - even though it's a little late - is helping me to heal and grow and become strong again.