Monday, April 22, 2013

Napoleon Ross.

Sometimes I like to pretend that I am really athletic.
No, really.

Not that I wouldn't or couldn't be athletic if I tried, but really I just have no desire to pretend to want to play ultimate frisbee every saturday morning at 6 am. I know I could do it and hold my own, but why waste a perfectly good saturday morning on sweaty armpits and grass stains? 

Once upon a time I was all into athletes and sports and track and field. Then I decided to be my own person and stop copycatting my sisters. So I turned to the sport of chords, both vocal and guitar.

I honestly think that my preference in interests is largely influenced by the year I was born. 1988. My graduating class in high school didn't win anything in sports, but everything in the arts. We even sucked it up in track and field which never happens at MVHS.

All of the friends that I have kept in touch with have this huge grasp on music, art, photography, drama, and all the other frilly things that most of my siblings make fun of.

So, with my inevitable destiny creeping up on me it leaves this sort of road block.
I'm a biology major. Academic success and challenge has always been my goal. Help animals. Learn how to perform horse surgery. Save all the cats and dogs at the pound. Horde all the animals on a farm and know how to take care of them myself without needing a vet, because I would do it all. I have always thought that obtaining a career in the medical field was something that I would really excel in. I don't get queazy at anything really, and I have been around a wide variety of animals throughout my lifetime, owning and taking care of as many as I could get my hands on. Witnessing all the varieties of births and mystery illnesses along the way. Also, I detest dead bodies, even when I see them on TV or all dolled up in a casket, so I doubt that I could ever be around them more then I had to, and that alone influenced my animal route even more. But the more I think about school and the fact that I won't be a Vet until I'm in my thirties, plus I would have to take anatomy anyway, doesn't really bode well at the moment. I can't help but feel like I need to jump ship before I get in over my head.

I feel proud and important having my current major. I know how challenging it is, how much I am going to have to work for it, and the thought of conquering a Biology degree will prove to everyone and myself how smart I really am. I'm a bit of a slacker, but my brains are in tact and I know what I am capable of.

So I have this conversation with my mom the other day, where she calls me and says these words: 

"So, I was thinking about how artistic you are and how good you are with computers and technology, and BYU has this new program for people who want to learn all about the film industry and I just think that you should forget this whole Biology thing and make movies."

Immediately after I thought these three things:

1: My mother thinks I'm too stupid to be a Vet.

2: Aren't parents supposed to push their children to be successful productive citizens of society, who make lots of money and have a better quality of life then them?

and 3: What mom tells their child to stop pursuing a medical degree and enter the film industry?

As the conversation with her continued I answered my own questions:

1: My mom also worries about the educational length of my career choice, and believes me to be very bright, creative, technologically inclined and inventive.

2: My mom honestly believes that I would make a serious amount of money if I went full throttle and reached for my dreams.

and 3: My mom. My mom who had so many dreams as a young woman and instead of going after them, she raised nine diverse children, some of whom actually went after their dreams, and succeeded.

She lit the flame.

Now I have to decide.

I have always considered myself to be artsy, even though I tried to deny it as a child. I always wanted to pretend that I was a tomboy like my cooler than me sisters who wore their Orem rec. soccer shirts on non soccer playing days with no shoes on. Running around the neighborhood, riding their bikes, with their unbrushed hair flapping in the wind as they came down the hill, and all the neighbor boys chasing after them with stick swords.

Meanwhile,  I played barbies for six straight hours.

I brushed my hair, and internally invented the middle parted two metal clippy hairdo.

I wrote stories about being grounded on the fourth of July, and pretended to be Mary with her baby Besus (bear jesus).

Creating and inventing wild things in my mind.

I fear that I am too self conscious to pursue anything in the arts. I write songs and poems and rarely share them with anyone in fear that they sound like a spice girls song. I draw, and paint, and sidewalk chalk, and internally give myself a pat on the back, while thinking to myself 'Bob Ross would be so proud'. Then, I immediately slap myself back into reality and recollect how long it took to do the shading on the upper lip of this portrait, which resembles a cat more than a person. 

I can write impromptu stories about nothing and make them sound like I spent a great deal on them when in reality, I was trying to rhyme Aphrodite with something and the best thing I could think of was hermaphrodite, and suddenly my love story turns into a racy mystery about a hermaphrodite in search for a love cupid at a gay bar. The arts can be rough sometimes.

I will struggle to find a career in the arts that I am not interested in. I am interested in everything. I wouldn't know which one to choose that would most benefit my future financially, and for the sake of my happiness. 

So I sit here. Stagnant yet again. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

My conversion story.

I never really talk about my faith.

When asked about my own personal testimony I usually tend to clam up and feel the need to excuse myself from the room. This is normal for me. Not doing anything in terms of my spirituality is normal for me.

 Heres why:

When I was growing up, my parents were very closed off about a lot of things. We never discussed anything really controversial or awkward. No birds and bee's talk, no womanhood talk, no boys and girls dating talk, don't do drugs talk, and no serious rules or chores were ever put into place.When it came to anything uncomfortable they usually just went with silence as the best policy. I never heard my parents bare their testimonies unless they were asked to do it for church. I always knew they were spiritual people, but they saved that for sundays, and the occasional attempt at family home evening. They very rarely said I love you to each other, although they probably didn't have any time with all nine of us driving them crazy. I doubt they were that in love back then, but then again they did have 9 kids, so you know something was going on.

So, when I became curious I usually went to an older sibling. They would try to fill me in on what little knowledge they did know, or they would tell me that bigfoot and unicorns were real and that we were all going to die in a few years. I learned the birds and bee's talk from good old Sarah Peterson in the back of her portable trailer, which was parked in front of her permanent trailer. It smelled of old wood and Marlboros. Barbies were provided. I never learned about drugs because my parents were against the D.A.R.E program at school. All of my friends had T-shirts and my parents were saying... nothing. I think they felt like negligence was safe. Not knowing about something meant that you didn't experiment. Telling kids about drugs in the dare program only made them curious, so if it was a touchy subject, they would be brief, silent, or give very little details. They are old fashioned that way.My brothers and their often "burned leaf" smelling clothing taught me enough about drugs, and my parents did a really good job on that "talk".  I'll spare you the details of my pubescent years, but lets just say my mom decided to give us the womanhood talk a couple 5 years too late. It was a good try though.

I usually learned what not to do from my older siblings. I would either not attempt something, or do and then realize why I shouldn't have done it. Skip church = grounded, so don't do that. Skip school = grounded, so don't do that. Hit sister = sister beats me up, so don't do that. Steal candy from my mom's room = mom hides candy, so take less next time. Everything I did concerning church, was out of fear of punishment, so, I only got baptized because my siblings did and I feared the wrath of the church and my parents if I didn't.

While my parents lead by example, my mom was very stern, and shoved the gospel down our throats often. She preached about how great and spiritual she was because of her faith, and was always pleasant and comforting to be around at church, but she didn't know how to get us to listen to her at home and show that obvious passion for the gospel that she had without being forceful. My dad was quite the opposite. He was spiritual and comforting to be around all the time, passionate in all his deeds, but he never forced us to do anything, in fact my parents fought over this very subject time and time again. My mom would try and get us to do something, my dad would do nothing, probably assuming that he was being awesome enough as it is (which he was) and she would give up and try again the next monday. Perhaps she felt like she had to do all the work, because my dad was so laid back. But what she didn't know, was that my dad has this way of making you fear him, in a god like manner. He was all about feeling and the spirit radiates off of him to the point where you can't help but do what he says, or feel like you need to repent. My mom was more literal in her religious ways. If you didn't do the work, then you didn't get the A, or "C" in her eyes for Celestial.

All throughout my childhood and into my teenage and adult years I thought hated my mom. Nobody really hates their mom, even if they say they do. But I was determined to loath her forever. I tried to say I loved her when my friends always bragged about their awesome mom's but I didn't feel it inside. How many people do you know that say that? I hate that I hated her. But she was mean to me. She never believed anything I said and she was constantly judging me. I don't think I was a walk in the park, i'm sure, but I had a hard relationship with her.

My Relationship with my mom improved greatly as I got older and didn't live with her anymore. I understand her in ways that I never thought I would, and embraced the fact that our differences were mostly due to our similar personalities. I am her clone.

 My parents would compete for our attention and because my dad refused to discipline us unless we really needed it, we usually favored him. I now know in my adult age that his passive uncooperative ways really hindered their marriage back then and alienated my mom, which wasn't fair to her, but my love relationship with my father has always been because of his gentle nature, and passionate comforting spirit. 

The older I got the more I hated being around my parents see saw style parental guidance, their spiritual and parental competitiveness, and their bad mouthing each other so much that I doubted everything they ever taught me. They teach one thing, and often times do another. So I doubted my opinions in anything and most of all I doubted my faith. This faith that has brought so many people together, and that brought so much happiness and joy to those around me, was also the faith that was reeking so much havoc on my own family. My older siblings never went to church, and they often made fun of the church and were constantly talking about how judgmental everyone was, which hardened my heart at a young age. I often felt judged and unappreciated in my home ward. Granted, my home ward had some really judgmental people that assumed the worst of my family. Everyone assumed that we were no good and were bad influences when really we weren't. At least not at first. Tell someone their ugly, stupid and dumb long enough and they are bound to believe it eventually. We were constantly accused of stupid things, untrue things, and were looked down on. There are only a handful of people in my home ward today that I would even consider inviting to my wedding.

Now, I know that what I am saying makes my parents seem like horrible people. They aren't. They love me, and are the best parents in the world. They did their best, and are still trying to do their best everyday. They love us all and have grown over the years to be the wisest and most fun loving people I know. I love them. I turn to them for advice. Being an adult changes you that way I guess, it really is true.  I really love my mom, but was given so many mixed signals as a child that I didn't know how to recognize her love.

As a teenager it got to the point where I wanted to move away. Just get away and not deal with anything. All the friends and good times at school didn't make up for my lost spirit. I skipped seminary all the time, rarely went to church and mutual, and I jumped at the first real relationship I had just to see if that would spark any type of healthy personal relationship growth. I came close in high school to acting stupid with a guy, but used my self learned knowledge and STD warnings from my parents (they did teach me about that) and decided that seriously dating someone while in high school was stupid. So,  instead I seriously dated him once I graduated.

I experienced what I thought was unconditional love for the first time. I felt wanted, needed, and cherished. I was attention starved and he gave me all the attention in the world. Naturally I fell in love with him fast and hard. At that point I didn't need anything or anyone but him. He was my drug. He made everything all right, no matter what I was compromising for him

So we moved in together. Even today I still say those were the happiest months of my life, because I felt safe, happy and almost whole. Waking up early in the morning to kisses from your love as he leaves the apartment in army dress for work everyday has a way of making you feel amazing. I wanted to stay in my dream world forever, that is until we both started to feel the neglect weighing our spirits down. He tried to tell me a few months before he ended things. He had been on deployment, and when he came home he had changed his heart already. He wanted to be married in the temple, so he told me, and my spirit started to flutter a little bit again. Temple marriage was lost to me. I didn't even have the desire to go inside a temple ever again. I never paid my tithing even when I was going to church so I didn't know how hard it would be to become worthy to go again, especially not after our relationship.

But I realized right then that I wanted to be worthy again. I was desperate for any type of spiritual insight. I prayed harder every single day, multiple times a day, while I was inactive then I ever had in my entire life. I prayed for safety, for love, for answers, for hope, for everything. So I wasn't surprised that when we went to that church across the street from the Timpanogas temple for the first time in two years really to talk to the bishop, that I felt so good. This was the first time that I had ever gone to talk to the bishop about anything, and this one was pretty serious.

Although our relationship ended, and I learned his true colors and felt the heartbreak of all heartbreaks, that was just the beginning for me. I kept going back to church, although I did have some pretty bumpy times afterwards. It took me a long time to break my bad habits, and I often went on dry spells of no church just so I could feel independent. But slowly over the next couple of years I regained a small portion of that spirit that was missing from my life. My life was healthier, although stagnant for the most part from a shattered heart, and I was constantly searching for help, and constantly praying. My church attendance has always been up and down, but I have never stopped praying. 

When my life sort of plateaued last year, I knew that I needed to change things up a bit or I would falter again. At the same time I internally had every intention of faltering. I decided to nab a job out of state and moved to Chicago. I figured that once I got out here I would fail to stick with the church, give in to old habits, and never go again. I would be free of it all and "find myself" somehow. 

But, once I got out here, I felt like being close to the church made me feel at home. Thinking of my life in Utah and how different everyone is was comforting. I started to get excited that we got BYUTV on our cable network and I could watch music and the spoken word on sunday mornings like my mom did. I would go to church and make friends a lot faster then trying to meet nanny friends, or go out to a bar all alone on a saturday night like a weird Amish girl in search for friends outside the parish. Not to mention the fact that the bar scene is really lame.

When I began going to my singles ward here I attended every now and then at first. I would try it out for a week and then give myself a break for a couple of weeks. Then I would go out of town for my job and feel the hunger for the gospel come back to me. I would actually purposely not go to church just to see if the ache would return. It always did, and still does. 

I felt my spirit grow stronger and stronger every time I went. But I never prayed for the knowledge of the gospel, and I never prayed and asked the lord if the church was true. I suppose its because whenever I did pray and ask for anything, he always gave me what I asked for. So I was afraid. I was afraid that I would ask, he would tell me, and then I would really have to go every single sunday and live as righteously as I could or I would be letting him down. I felt like not actually asking him was my pass to sin a little. I still haven't asked actually. But I already know.

I knew the moment my sister told me she wasn't going to church anymore. My sister who is my idol, who I always look up to, who is married in the temple, who got everything she ever asked for and is so successful in life. She decided that she didn't agree with the church. I think that is so brave. She searched and found herself. Her and her husband seem so happy. Perhaps I hope they will come back to church, but when she was telling me about her feelings of the church it really made me think about how much I actually believed. I thought to myself: This is an educated woman who has always done what she thinks is right, who searches and studies on her own and doesn't listen to anyone else. She carves her own destiny and has found such peace and success doing that. If she came to that conclusion, then it wasn't done half heartedly. I didn't ask her why she wasn't going anymore, I didn't dare. But I knew that if she was questioning her faith then I should too. I should stop going with the flow and really decide for myself if this is the life I want to have. No more fence sitting. So I searched. 

I came to this conclusion. If I had to imagine my life WITHOUT the gospel, this would be what it meant. The gospel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is not true. There is no life after death. There is no such thing as eternal life, or Eternal families. The plan of Salvation isn't real. Praying doesn't do anything. Faith in a higher power isn't real. The holy ghost is fake. The scriptures aren't true. Everything that I have ever believed in or looked forward to is moot. What a crappy way to live. What would anything mean if I did not have my religious backbone to keep me standing?

However ridiculous or unhealthy my upbringing was, however horribly wrong my parents were with a lot of things, there has always been one thing that has been constant in our home. My parents love the Lord. They love him and this gospel with all of their hearts. They are human and tried to raise children in his gospel, bumping and faltering and plateauing along the way just as I have my whole life. They aren't perfect, but they don't have to be. They raised us just the way that they were supposed to. So much of my life and so many of my beliefs thoughts, and loves are because of them. I am constantly realizing things about my life that I have applied because of the lessons that I thought I was ignoring as a child, but really, I was just pretending to ignore. I listened, and they taught us all how to be kind, and generous people. They taught us how to raise a family, and how not to raise a family. We are stubborn, but we all love our parents in our own way. I believe in them, not because I am a follower, or because I just listen to everything they say. But because they are right. They are a little eccentric and extreme sometimes, but they definitely know how to instill faith into their children. I believe the happiness that the gospel gives me when I apply it to my life. I guarantee that all of my siblings active and inactive have a strong testimony of the gospel, but they are just afraid to ask, or afraid to challenge the Lord who will turn them into true believers. I think they just want to sin a little. I hope they figure out what I have finally figured out. 

The Church is true. That scares me. But I believe. I love the Lord. Bumps along the way are okay. I will try my best. That is all he asks, and that is my Testimony.