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You’re Really Not the Only One

I have this conversation nearly every day: “Hey, Elise, how are you?” “I’m good! Busy, but good!” And the other day, as I said that, I realized just how monotonous it is. I seriously say that every time. And yeah, I’m totally busy. In fact, every night as I fall asleep I think “Does everyone else do fine with just 24 hours in a day? Maybe they’re not sleeping. Do people really get bored? Maybe they only sleep four hours a night?” and then I fall asleep before I can finish that conversation with myself. So, hey, I’m busy. And I’m stressed. And I’m never sure I’m doing enough. And ‘real life’ is tough.
And this is where I’ve lived mentally for the last year or so.
So, last Sunday, as I rattled off my “Busy, but good!” answer about my life, I followed it up with, “Maybe I should stop saying that. Maybe right now is normal and I should just embrace it and let this be normal and let more than this be ‘busy’.” And then within a matter of hours I was feeling overwhelmed about life again. That night, I went to the Christmas Devotional that the LDS church does every December (it’s a favorite) and all the talks were about the silent night when Christ was born and the peace that can come into our lives when we rely on the Savior and the promised blessings that come from His teachings and His life.
And I remembered that the message I have continuously received over the last year or so is this:

“Be Still”

So, I’ve been studying peace. And I could probably write novels about all the cool connections I’ve found and things I’ve learned (and probably, someday, I will) but I’ve also found some other cool things as I’ve read articles and talks about peace.
Everybody is seeking it.
Each article seems to have a story that goes like this: “There was a time in my life when I was struggling with (sin/loss of a loved one/divorce/heartache/medical challenges/etc.) and my life felt like it was in turmoil and everything seemed wrong and I didn’t know what to do and I had unanswered questions and I felt really alone.” And those are the stories that are used to illustrate peace.
I’m not finding stories about people who have lived a struggle-free life. I’m not finding stories about people who just have never had reason to worry about anything. And I’m definitely not finding stories about people who didn’t ever doubt or have questions. The more I blog and the more I open up about insecurities or questions on my blog, the more people I meet who say “I went through the same thing!”
I’m pretty sure this study of peace is going to be a lifetime thing. I kind of think that the blessings of peace come more from continuously learning than from mastering it. So, don’t expect me to be an expert any time soon. But here is something I definitely know: peace is available to everyone. Always. And some of that peace comes from realizing that you aren’t the only one. You’re not that “mistake” who has all the questions and the doubts, you’re one of us. And none of us are mistakes. We’re humans who are learning and I’m pretty sure the learning is the beautiful part. Opening up and letting others learn with you – that takes talent, because vulnerability sure likes to feel scary. But on the other side of that vulnerability is a life filled with peace.

 

Dear You

Hey! Just thought you might need a little reminder of how great you are. You’re doing a really good job at this whole “life” thing, you know? And that thing you’re going through that’s really stressing you out? Have you thought about how much better you’re handling it this time? You’re doing a really great job. I just wanted you to know that your efforts don’t go unnoticed. You really are trying, and sometimes you’re not perfect. That’s totally okay! You’re still learning. Have you ever thought about how good learning feels? What feels like the tiniest baby step right now is going to feel like an entire mountain you climbed when you look back a year from now.

And think about last year. Remember all those things you were worried about then? Most of them seem silly now, don’t they? And the things you’re still stressed about – that’s because they’re not silly. They matter to you. Let them matter, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Those things matter because you matter.

Take a deep breath and let yourself smile a little bit. Because you are awesome.

Dross to Consume, Gold to Refine.

Summertime has been blissful so far. And by blissful, I mean, I’m having the time of my life and staying up way too late and kind of not even feeling bad about how perpetually tired I am. I’ve recently had a couple nights of driving back to my apartment after midnight. There’s something about driving when the world is a little more quiet and the roads are empty. I often drive without my radio on because I like having the “me time” to think. Sometimes I even talk out loud, mostly praying, sometimes to myself. Late night drives alone are my happy place.

The thing I love about these drives is not just that I have the time to really think, but also to listen. Sometimes, I think we pray, or start down a train of thoughts in our minds, and quickly get distracted by something. When you’re driving, it’s much easier to stay on that thought because you really don’t have much else to do until you reach your destination. I’ve had a few great a-ha moments during these late night drives recently.(But not of the “Take On Me” variety, the radio is off, remember?)

I don’t really know how this train of thought came about, but one night I got to thinking about how good I feel about my life right now and thinking about how rough things felt just a couple months ago. I want to understand what made the difference, to know how I was holding myself back, to figure out what I was learning… my mind often works in images, and the “picture” of my life a few months ago is of me clinging for dear life to a rope. Like, one of those awful gym class ropes. The “picture” of me now is of me standing on a solid, cement floor.

I’ve let my mind play with these pictures for a few weeks now, and I’m kind of putting the pieces together. The clinging was just that – clinging. The more I imagine about that picture, the more I realize that I felt like I had to hold onto that rope with everything in me. I thought that letting go meant falling. I didn’t think I had anything to land on. In fact, in my mind, I imagine giant alligators in a big, yucky, bottomless swamp. And in my mind those alligators have names like “what if” and “you’re not good enough” and “nobody wants you”. The rope, in my mind, is multiple things – things like writing thank you notes, going to the temple, reassurance from friends and family, prayers (lots and lots of tear-filled prayers), etc.

I learned a lot from the clinging. I’ve never read my scriptures quite like I read them during those really rough months. I craved them. I needed more knowledge and more peace and I was starving for it every day. I talked to friends and family often. They reassured me and I often wrote down things they said so I could go back to that and rely on that when I had moments where I didn’t feel so reassured. Things changed when I felt like all I had was that rope.

And then one day, I loosened my grip on the rope. Not to let go, not to give up, but to breathe. Because I realized I hadn’t been breathing. I was white knuckling it and terrified. On one magical day, I finally loosened my grip just enough to step back and look at my surroundings. That’s when I found that solid cement. It had been there underneath me the entire time, right below my feet. It wasn’t moving, it wasn’t going anywhere, it was firm.

Maybe this is feeling cheesy to you. I realize it might seem silly, but in my mind, it’s a beautiful, visual representation of what I’ve learned. Things got hard and I didn’t feel like my feet were on the ground. I clung to the best things – I needed to. But more importantly, I learned that you don’t have to spend your entire life clinging. At some point, you have to loosen up enough to recognize that foundation that’s been there the whole time. There are things you already know, solid ground to rely on – and often that solid ground was built from the very things you were clinging to.

Letting go of the rope felt wrong. Because clinging to the rope was about doing all the “right things”. And I knew those things were blessing my life, I knew they were! But there is a difference between doing “what you’re supposed to” and actively making choices that you deeply feel are right. It turns out that sometimes actively making your own choices is hard, really hard. Sometimes there are hard questions to ask, sometimes other people won’t understand, and sometimes you may even feel like you are stepping away from all of those things you’ve relied on your whole life. The secret is in where you’re stepping. There are murky waters with alligators and there’s a solid cement foundation that’s been built all your life. Trust the foundation, trust what you know, but take those steps and ask those hard questions.

The ropes are always there for times you need to cling – sometimes, you need to cling. But that foundation is also always there too. Trust your foundation enough to stop clinging when it’s time to stop clinging.

Interestingly enough, this song is one of the ropes I was clinging to:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious, omnipotent hand.

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee thy trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not harm thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

“The soul that on Jesus doth lean for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.”

If you take anything away from this blog post, take this: Sometimes, our pathways take us through fiery trials – it is meant to be that way. But the flame will never harm us. “All these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good.” Our deepest distresses will be sanctified to us and we will never be forsaken. Hold on to what you know, trust your foundation, make choices that feel right to you – not based on what you’re “supposed” to do. Walk through that refiners fire with the confidence that you are gold – you are already gold simply being refined to something even more precious and beautiful.

silent battles

I’ve mentioned in recent blog posts that life has been hard for me lately. Honestly, it’s difficult to explain why it’s been hard because it’s a lot of things and it’s a lot of mental things. It’s dating, it’s work, it’s self-esteem, it’s acne, it’s growing up, it’s not wanting to grow up, it’s a whole lot of learning things about myself that I didn’t realize before, it’s failure, it’s overcoming weaknesses and discovering new ones, it’s healing, it’s holding on to hope, it’s letting go of things that need to be let go of… and that’s just the beginning.

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, that challenge has a label. It’s google-able and people have heard about it before. They may not understand what it’s like to go through that trial, but it’s something they’ve heard of before. When someone has cancer, you can post about that on Facebook and ask for help – and thank goodness for that! I’m grateful for the lives that have been blessed and the prayers that have been answered because we know how to ask for help when someone has cancer.

But that’s the thing. Sometimes we have trials that aren’t google-able. Sometimes there is no easy label for why life is hard. Or maybe it’s something private that you don’t actually want to talk about. I know some brave people who talk about their challenges with infertility. I think people who share their struggles with cancer are incredibly brave too. I also have learned that sometimes there are brave people fighting silent battles that they don’t understand, can’t label, or aren’t really prepared to open up about. Sometimes there are battles that are so innately internal that you really can’t tell people about them. And the more time I’ve spent thinking about this “silent battles” concept, the more I come to realize that a LOT of us are going through these times in life and maybe we don’t know what to do.

I feel weird telling people that life is challenging right now and not being able to really fully explain why. I tell some close friends/family a little bit, but there are so many deep factors to why life is hard for me right now and I don’t even understand half of them. So, hi, life is hard. I’ve got a whole lot going on inside of me and I’ve got no label to tell you why.

But I want people to know that my life is hard. I feel selfish just typing that. The phrase “misery loves company” comes to mind. But I think it’s much more than that. Honestly, I think sometimes we need to cry out and say “Hey! You people that care about me! I am not sure I’m okay right now and I need help.” Actually, I think we spend a lot of time crying out messages like that – I think our bodies know how to get that message out when we’re not ready to admit it. I’m sure you’ve seen lists of “signs of depression”. They’re filled with things like fatigue, over eating, under eating, insomnia, over sleeping… you get the point.

I think the world has taught us one giant lie that needs to be torn to bits and destroyed forever. That lie is this: “Asking for help is not okay/means I’m weak.” Perhaps it’s phrased differently in each of our minds. Any way you say it, it’s a lie. We were put here on earth with other compassionate humans for a reason. We can ask for help. We were born into family units with people who love and care deeply about us for a reason. We can ask for help. It’s OKAY to not be okay. It’s OKAY to let people know you have flaws. It’s OKAY to need help.

I let myself do this thing where I say “I’m fine, it’s okay, I’ve got this” for a long time until I’m crying in my car on the way home from work and it’s all I can do to think of something I might be able to eat without feeling like I’m going to vomit. I’m learning that I’m allowed to ask for help before I reach this point of desperation. I can tell someone I’m struggling before the tears come. I’m allowed to get support from friends and family any time I want. I’ve learned that all you have to do is ask. People LOVE you. They want to support you and help you be okay. We’re not here to work through all our challenges alone. It was never meant to be that way.

Ultimately, I’ve also been learning how to turn to the Savior. It’s okay to need Him. It’s okay to ask for divine help. In fact, we are promised “ask and ye shall receive”. He wants to run to us, to succor us, to heal us and bless us. I think I re-learn how much I need to rely on the Savior almost every day. In my favorite Holland talk of the day, Elder Holland says “When He says to the poor in spirit, “Come unto me,” He means He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows it because He has walked it. He knows the way because He is the way.” Up and out is exactly the way I feel like I need to go.

I also want you to know that I am okay. I have moments where I want to scream out and cry out and tell everyone that I’m not okay. Those are real. But I also have wonderful, blissful, joy-filled moments where I feel peace and I know that I am okay and that things are going to be okay and I know I’m on a beautiful path. I’m finding that there is a lot more joy in the struggle than I ever believed there could be. Slowly, I’m starting to realize that there is a lot to be learned from the hard times and even from making mistakes. I have to remind myself, but I think that deep down I actually do know that being vulnerable, taking chances, going off of gut feelings and moving forward (even moving forward feeling like you have little to no sense of direction) is a lot more like progress than staying safe in your comfort zone and not ever risking anything. And through all of the scary, vulnerable, not okay moments, it really is always going to be okay.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A picture is worth a thousand words, yet somehow, without words, nobody could ever understand exactly what this picture means to me. 
[90] Most of the nails are not all the way in the board, but that rusty nail is the one that towers over them all. Welcome to my life as the tall girl with acne. When I took this picture, however, I focused on the rusty nail because it was beautiful. It stood out. It has tone and color and texture. It tells a story. And in its weathered, beaten state it still retains its metal core and holds strong. Perhaps, sometimes, we’re meant to be a little weathered and beaten. 
[81] Look at that focus, the clarity, the perspective, the lighting, the composition. Think of the training behind this picture: which lens to use, which f stop to choose, which angle to shoot from, where to focus, how to focus. Some of it is left to chance opportunity. How did I spot that nail? How did I happen to find it during such ideal lighting? I’ll let you run with the billions of life analogies that can come from photography on your own.
[84] The place where this photo was taken, Wheeler Farm, holds so much of my childhood. We often passed it on the way to my grandparent’s house, we’ve had family reunions there, I went on field trips there, and one time during an Easter egg hunt I got “lost” in the woods with my cousin, Ashley, and we found a mysterious plastic egg filled with a creamy white substance. (Let’s just say that shaving cream is less appetizing when you think you’re getting marshmallow cream.)
[150] The day this picture was taken was an incredibly happy day. It was a warm Sunday afternoon. Nothing but sunshine, the cute boy I was dating, a camera, and endless photo opportunities. For a while after that boy and I broke up, I couldn’t look at this picture. No matter how proud I was of the quality and beauty of the picture, it reminded me of a happy time that I wasn’t having anymore, because I attached that happy time to that boy. He was, of course, a big reason for that happiness. But, my happiness didn’t end because the relationship did. There is beauty in happy memories, in fresh starts, even in being single. With time and learning, this picture has come to represent hope. A wonderful boy loved me once and it wasn’t right. Someday, a wonderful boy will love me again. And someday it will be right. 
405 words.
Not even half of a thousand and not even half of what the picture means to me. 
Or what it means to you.
Maybe it speaks to you differently.
Maybe it doesn’t speak to you at all.
Isn’t it beautiful to know that somehow, even though we all have separate brains, life stories, experiences, and emotions; through images and words we can share and experience life through others? 

Happy Bowling Ball Day!

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Elise, you’re crazy. It’s actually Pi Day which isn’t even a real holiday.”

But, no.

It’s Bowling Ball Day. And it’s a very special day for me.

Four years ago today I was on spring break with some friends and a bowling ball fell from the top of a flagpole and hit me on the head. I fell from the 5 ft platform I was standing on and had a seizure on the ground. My friends called 911. I was taken in an ambulance to the local hospital where they discovered that my spinal fluid was leaking into my brain, so they life-flighted me to the UofU Neuro Care Clinic.

Ashli and I on the platform with the flagpole.

A couple of CAT scans and 8 staples later, I was on my way to recovery. My skull was fractured from front to back. (You know how babies have a soft spot when they’re born because their skull is in two parts? I split it open again.) I also had a severe concussion. I was in the hospital for 4 days, at home on Loritab (which makes Full House ten times funnier) for another week, and I couldn’t wash my hair for another 3 weeks until they removed the staples.

Look at the top of the flagpole in the background, you can see the bowling ball in its prongs.

News story:

The loooong story can be found here.

I love Bowling Ball Day because I remember how loved I am. I remember that I am very lucky blessed to be alive today. In more ways than one, that accident should have killed me. So I have no doubt that I have reason to be alive today. (Bowling Ball Day is like a second birthday!)

Tonight, I’ll be going bowling with some good friends to celebrate. Oh, and we’ll be eating pie. Of course. 🙂