Sunday, February 21, 2016

Why don't you wear your hair up?

This story starts a long time ago. In the fall of 2008, I was finishing my last semester of college.

Up to that point I had thought college was the worst thing I would ever have to go through in my life. I frequently skipped class and spent my days reading in the on-campus bookstore. I battled depression, especially in the winter months. And my introverted self was not the best at striking up conversations with random people on campus or attending social functions in order to meet men and get married, which any girl who has attended BYU will tell you is one of those things you’re “supposed” to do while you’re there. I had a few really good close friends I liked to hang out with, and for the most part, I also had great roommates. But yeah, college was hard for me.

So you can see why that fall I was so ready to graduate and be done. I was super pumped at the thought of moving out of Utah and moving on with my life. Of course, that’s not exactly what happened. I did graduate, barely, but I got offered a job at Cedar Fort a few weeks before my last day of class that fall semester, and I took the job. That meant staying in Utah.

And that’s when things started to get a little crazy. Over the course of the next year, I . . .
  1. Graduated
  2. Started a new job
  3. Moved twice
  4. Bought a house with my parents
  5. Went through the temple
  6. Gained a sister-in-law
  7. Tried to renovate my house on a very limited budget
  8. Became a landlord
  9. Joined a new ward
  10. And worried about money and my life and my future all the time!
This is right after we bought the house.

Looking back on it now, I kind of wish I could tell my younger self to slow down. That was a lot to take on in one year. I was basically twenty-four going on thirty-four, but without all the life experiences to put things into proper perspective. As you might imagine, it ended up wreaking havoc on my physical health, my mental health, my emotions, and my hormones.

Kitchen renovation in progress

I was crazy stressed out a lot of the time. And going from walking around campus to sitting at a desk every day meant that I gained weight very quickly. That in turn caused additional health problems, some of which have had lasting effects. Eventually, I went in to see a doctor and things settled down and I mostly got back to normal. But as I said, a few of these health problems persisted.

At this point I need to mention that I’ve always had very unusual skin. For one thing, it’s really dry. I’ve never had a pimple; that’s how dry my skin is. But it also means that I get dandruff really easily. My red face and the bumps all over my skin (keratosis pelaris) aren’t entirely caused by my dry skin, but those things aren’t helped by it either.

I also need to mention that I love my dad. He’s the kind of guy who always wants to fix people’s problems. Which is an awesome thing to have in a dad because any time I mention something to him, he just jumps in and takes care of it.

And because my dad loves me and because he sometimes sees my skin as a potential problem, he periodically drags me kicking and screaming to the dermatologist’s office to see if there’s a cure yet. It’s sweet. And I should probably be nicer about it. But the thing is, I pretty much already know what they’re going to say: “Your skin is dry. Put this stuff on it every day or twice a day.” The “stuff” varies from doctor to doctor but it isn’t usually any more effective than regular lotion you can buy at a grocery store and that costs way less than anything they’ll prescribe you at a doctor’s office.

Sorry. That was a long aside. All of this information is to get you to the next part of the story. Because a few years after the house-buying and landlording and new-job-stressing, I found myself once again at the dermatologist’s office in order to appease my dad, who was worried about my dandruff and my dry skin, and the red face.

The weird thing was, this doctor had something new to say: your hair is really thin. It wasn’t a revelation to me. I had noticed. But suddenly I found myself thinking back to that time right after college and remembering the amount of hair I would find in the bathtub every time I showered. I remembered the sinking dread that this would keep happening and the twinging thoughts that it wasn’t normal. But in the midst of all my other stresses, at the time I didn’t feel like I had any bandwidth to deal with it.

And of course I just assumed my hair would grow back. As soon as I got my life and my hormones back in order, everything would go back to normal.

But it didn’t. I stopped losing large amounts of hair, which was good.

But now the dermatologist was telling me that my hair wasn’t going to grow back again. Ever. She said that my hair follicles were permanently scarred. I would never have my hair back and there was nothing that could be done about it.

After the initial surprise, I felt triumphant. I know that sounds weird, but I did. I said, “I told you so” to my dad for thinking that there was some miraculous cure at the dermatologist’s office. And because I really love who I am, regardless of how I look, the hair thing genuinely didn’t bother me for a long time.

Most of the time, it still doesn’t . . . except when I try to wear my hair up.

Because this is what happens.

Without much hair, you can see straight through to my dandruff-y scalp. And it just looks . . . weird. Weird enough that I’ve often felt self-conscious doing it, and so I haven’t lately. Instead I wear my hair down or pulled back in a low bun or ponytail. But there are times when you really want to wear your hair up! I took these pictures right after jogging on the treadmill. That’s one of those times when you just have to get the hair off your neck.

So why am I bringing this up now? Because I’m tired of trying to hide it all the time. And because I’m thinking about cutting my hair really short and I’m not sure if that would help the problem or make it worse. What do you guys think? Would short hair help anything?

I obviously don’t go around looking at the back of my head all the time, so maybe the efforts at hiding it haven’t been working anyway and I don’t even know.

I guess I just wanted to put this out there so that I can be honest about the fact that it does bother me sometimes. There are days when I look at girls with long, thick hair and think, I wish I could do that. But then there are other days when I remember how grateful I am that it takes me less than ten minutes to straighten my hair and that because my hair is curly it still has a lot of volume, even though there isn’t that much of it.

It’s like the dry skin thing and never having had acne. I try to focus on the positives. Plus, I like that no one I know is friends with me because they think I’m beautiful. They’re friends with me because they like who I am on the inside. I think that’s really cool that I can say that.

But what really inspired me to share this story was watching this video of a girl I so admire. I was one of her counselors one year at girl’s camp (several years ago now) and I just think she’s amazing. I didn’t ask her if I could share this video. In fact, I haven’t talked to her in years, but I’ve watched it several times since she put it online, and I just feel like it’s awesome that she’s being so open about this.

Honestly, I think all of us have things about ourselves that challenge us. Some people struggle with physical limitations. Some people are hurting on the inside. And a lot of the time we’re afraid to admit that we’re not perfect.

But no one is perfect. Well, no mortal person, anyway.

The important thing is to be honest with yourself and others, to keep trying, and to trust that God has a plan for you. He doesn’t make mistakes. He loves you no matter what you look like or how badly you mess up. He looks at your heart and sees your efforts to be better. And He’s always there to help you move forward.

Happy Sunday, everybody! I hope you’ve had a lovely one.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

What did you speak on in church today?

For those who aren't familiar with LDS church services, we take turns speaking and sharing our feelings with each other as talks. Today in church I gave a talk on my favorite hymn and why it's my favorite. Though I have lots of favorites I chose, "Come Let Us Anew." I decided to share my talk on my blog because I feel like the message in this hymn is one that can apply to everyone. This hymn was written in the 1700s as a traditional Methodist hymn. I love it because it talks about improving ourselves and becoming better, which if you've read my blog for very long, you know I'm big on that kind of stuff. 

If you've never heard this hymn before or if it’s been awhile since you heard it, you might want to watch this video, so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

"Come Let Us Anew" is a hymn that we often sing around New Year’s and then forget about for the rest of the year, which is a bit of a shame, I think. The lyrics talk about renewing our commitment to living the gospel. And that’s something we do all the time not just at the beginning of a new year. We’ve been taught that when we take the sacrament, it’s a renewal of all of our covenants (Mackay, Ensign, March 1995).  We know temptations aren’t a one-time thing, they’re constant; we face them every day. For that same reason, our covenants can’t be a one-time thing. We need to constantly renew them.

So how do we do that? The answer can be found in the lyrics of this hymn, particularly in the verbs. Now, I should warn you all that I’m an English person. I majored in English, and I’ve been working as a professional editor for several years, so you’ll have to excuse me as I go a little grammar geeky on you. But if you pick out the verbs and verb phrases in the first verse of this hymn, you’ll notice some interesting things that we are told to do. I’ll list those actions for you now:

roll round
never stand still
fulfill His will
improve our talents by the patience of hope and the labor of love

That’s the first verse. The second verse talks about how we need to hurry up and work on these things now because our lives will fly by so fast. And the third verse is about how wonderful it will be when we meet the Savior again and report on the progress we’ve made.

But today I want to focus on just this first verse because I think there are things we can all improve on. And that’s the true message of this song: that we can always improve.

So let’s start with that first verb: come. Why is it important for us to come? To me, that word expresses the importance of attending our church meetings and being present with the body of the saints. I think it’s significant that when we renew our covenants with God, when we take the sacrament, we do it all together. I think that there is great strength to be found in participating in a community of people who are all striving to become better. We can encourage each other and hold each other accountable. When one of us struggles, we all struggle together. That’s what we’ve covenanted to do, after all: “bear one another’s burdens.”

The verse continues by talking about pursuing our journey back to Heavenly Father. Even when we have setbacks, we need to “roll round” and keep moving forward. We can “never stand still” because when we think everything is fine, Nephi tells us that that’s really Satan trying to convince us that we don’t need to worry about our sins because they don’t really hurt us. But the truth is that none of us is perfect. There will always be things we can do to improve. I know that might sound depressing, like you’ll never get a break from the hard work of repenting, but there is some hope coming up in the next few lines of the verse.

The next line talks about how Christ’s commandments should be something that we fulfill gladly. Living the gospel should be “adorable” to us, in the sense that we adore or love following His will. I’m not sure about you, but I have definitely had times when I was obeying the commandments just because I knew I was supposed to and not because I truly wanted to. When those times happen, we have to pray for the desire to live righteously and pray for a deeper relationship with the Savior. It is so much easier to live the gospel because you love Christ than it is to live the gospel because someone told you to or because you’re supposed to. When we strengthen our relationship with the Savior, he helps us to stay on track and makes it easier for us to receive inspiration and guidance every day. In this way, living the gospel becomes personal for us and we can follow our personalized plans back to Heavenly Father.

In the final part of the first verse, we learn that we can improve our talents “by the patience of hope and the labor of love.” These words have become very important to me as I’ve pondered them over the years. I just talked about how it’s easier to live the gospel when you love the Savior. And that ties in with the idea that improving ourselves is a labor of love. I’ve found that it’s much easier to practice something when you already love it. Even if you’re not good at it, your interest will keep you going. For example, I am not good at playing the piano. I took lessons when I was little, but I quit in sixth grade and haven’t taken a lesson since. However I realized a few years ago that I still like to practice the piano. I can’t play well, but it’s still really fun for me to practice. And because it’s fun for me, I’ve gotten a little bit better at it. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that we become good at the things that we love to do most. So, again, we need to do whatever we can to learn to love improving ourselves because when we can turn that process into a labor of love, we’re much more likely to stick with it.

The last phrase I want to talk about in this hymn is “the patience of hope.” Patience is one of those virtues that we all think we have until we really need it, and then you realize how impatient you really are. That’s why I like that this hymn pairs patience with hope. Instead of trying to patiently endure, which sounds so painful, we can instead practice looking forward to the future with hope. I know that when we talk about talents in the church, we sometimes make talents synonymous with hobbies and that’s not really taking into account the whole scope of what a talent can be, but for simplicity’s sake, I’m going to talk about another one of my hobbies, and that’s writing. 

I don’t usually broadcast this fact, especially not over the pulpit, but I’ve now written eight books that have been published. When I think about my writing, I don’t think of it as something I need to endure until I’ve mastered it. I just keep doing it because I love it, because I have high hopes for my books, and because I also hope that my writing will help me better communicate with the people around me. Sometimes the things I write come together well and find an audience, and that’s great. Other times, that doesn’t happen. But no matter what, I know that I need to be patient with myself and have hope.

At the center of all this change and improvement is our Savior’s Atonement. None of it would work without that.The Atonement allows us to keep improving, even when we think we’ve fallen too far and that there’s no hope for us. I am so grateful for a Savior who died to give us that hope. I am grateful for the testimony He has given me to know that I can change and that we all can. Repenting is hard work, but it is the best work we can do and it does make us happy. I hope that we can each continually renew our covenants and improve our talents so that, as the end of this hymn says, we can “each from [our] Lord . . . receive the glad word: well and faithfully done. Enter into my joy and sit down on my throne.”

I’m grateful for the many examples I have in my life and the people that I get to join with as we all renew our covenants together and strive to improve so that we can return to our Heavenly Father someday.