Be the Good in a World Gone Mad

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.

Les Miserables

For the past month, I have started and then stopped writing at least a dozen blog posts. I’ve opened my laptop with every intention of expressing my thoughts, only to leave it disheartened time after time after time. I’ve been silent, unsure of what to say, how to say it, or if it’s even worth saying. I’ve hated the idea of adding one more heated opinion into an already contentious space. I’ve hated the idea of being confronted, of having to confront. I’ve hated the idea of expressing myself as if I know it all, knowing full well that I don’t, that some days, I’m astounded at how little I actually understand. I’ve allowed fear to eat up the one good thing I feel I have to give back to the world: a voice. I’ve been a coward, and my writing’s gone rusty while I try to figure out how to respond.

Orlando and Dallas and, generally, the state of the world, have just about torn me apart. It seems that just as we begin healing, someone has to cause harm again. Cuts are made on top of scars on top of scars on top of scars. Bodies that have just gone cold have had more bodies thrown on top of them. Life, that delicate, beautiful, and vivid thing we all share is at every corner smothered out and pinned behind the glass some madman labels “A Statement.” Humanity is poisoning itself to prove its worth. And, if you’re like me, you’ve watched on from behind your phones or your computers and felt the devastatingly heavy weight of the thought, “What good can ever be done to end this?” like it’s the lid of a coffin closing on top of you.

This week, I’ve learned what it is that we can do.

We can stop being the same thing we were yesterday, the same cowering person who hides instead of running in to help. We can stop ripping apart the weak, the hurt, and the different, stop hosting pointless, heated wars on social media that do nothing for understanding and instead, polarize further. We can take a long, hard look at ourselves and stop doing bad things or cruel things, justifying our own callousness or conceit. We can be the good in a world gone mad, in a world that keeps doing and saying the same old things that just don’t work.

The world thinks forgiveness is a sign of weakness, that it validates bad choices and enslaves us. So forgive. 

The world thinks evolution botched up on humanity and we’re all destined to be animals. See us as something divine. 

The world thinks an eye for an eye is justified. Show mercy. 

The world thinks outrage is the only way to get anything done. Share love.

We are not a generation of Martin Luther Kings if our immediate reaction to bad things happening is to create chaos. We are not a generation of giants if we resort to violence and rage instead of love and empathy. We won’t do a single bit of good for anything or anybody if we continue to put ourselves in camps. turn ‘us’ into ‘them,’ and make space for hatred.

I can’t seem to say a single thing that isn’t cliche’ when it comes to tragedy right now. Just be good. Just be optimistic, better, and more empathetic. See brothers and sisters instead of enemies. Speak up and speak out, but speak kindly.

Please share more good. Please. We all need it.

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New Fears

Today I ticked another box on the long list of things that humans can be afraid of.

‘Great white sharks’ was checked when I was eight and watched Jaws for the first time at my aunt’s house, ‘my body’ was checked when I tried on prom dresses in high school and realized how awkwardly they fit over pudge, and ‘love’ was checked and unchecked and checked again when I slipped headlong into another something punctuated with far too many plans and far too many careless goodbyes.

Today, I ticked off a box I didn’t even know was one.

It happened with a phone call, just a simple call from a man in New York City who had received the wrong shipment. Sirens echoed behind him, and in an instant, I stopped hearing his voice, stopped noticing if he even had the accent. Through that palm-shaped receiver I saw streets and cities, the busy rushing of career men and women down the sidewalks, the honks of taxis and the clicking pawls of bicycles lit up beneath Times Square. For a moment, I wanted to be him, that man in some business tucked in some New York nook, attempting to live in a city that knows how to do little else but live and die loudly. I wanted to pick up his newspapers, say hello to his neighbors, and get caught up in the lights that he somehow managed to sleep through at night. I wanted to live his mundane, which seemed far more exciting than my own.

It hit me all at once how afraid I am of living a small life, of waking up every day to a routine I’m ashamed of, of one day looking back and seeing how much potential I let atrophy, how many places I left untouched, not because I had no options, but because I did nothing.

Today I ticked off another box: ‘not doing everything I’ve dreamed of doing.’

That scares me more than I care to say.

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7 Things that Happen When You’re an Outdoor Retail Shopaholic


Since I started working in outdoor retail, gear and clothing have evolved into my proverbial carrot on a stick. You could legitimately drape a Patagonia down sweater vest over a bear trap and I would probably tear my limbs apart trying to grab it. My addiction is that bad.

To help you understand the extent of my problem, here are 10 things that happen when you’re obsessed with the outdoors and work in outdoor retail to boot:


The word ‘need’ becomes relative, AKA you completely forget what it means. 

Everything becomes “an investment.” You start by ‘needing’ a tent so that you can go on a big camping trip this summer. Then you decide you ‘need’ a WindBurner camp stove to take with you, because otherwise you’ll starve. Before you know it, you ‘need’ a gravity pulled water filter, a $300 YETI cooler, and a fully stocked Bear Grylls survival kit, because if a Bear Grylls flint and match set can’t save you, what can?

“I see you’re buying Ozark Trail and World Famous. Is that because you think it’s good? ‘Cuz it’s not. You could be buying MSR if you wanted to.”

You hardcore judge your neighbors with Walmart brand gear. 

Seemingly overnight, as if the Miss Havisham of outdoor gear has ushered you into her presence and introduced you to what life is like for the other side, you turn into a brand snob with great expectations. You might have a water and cracker budget, but you’ve got wine and cheese taste. You look at Arc’teryx jackets as if you can one day afford them. You kick yourself for buying a Kelty bag instead of the $100 more Osprey a year ago. Whenever anybody manhandles cheap gear as if they’re going to buy it, you cry a little on the inside. You want to save them from their poor choices as you toss 70% of your budget into name brand gear instead of groceries. You blatantly ignore the irony.


You pick up more hobbies than you can control. 

You started out as just a rock climber. Now you’re juggling trail running, hiking, camping, cycling, backpacking, and snowboarding. Why? Because sales. Because employee discount. Because, like how boys describe having a girlfriend, Mother Nature and your desire to do things with her are sucking your wallet dry. Soon it gets to the point where you’re walking out of the store with a new pair of skis bought on season clearance, and you’ve got a big, stupid grin on your face because it still hasn’t fully occurred to you that you might not even like skiing — you’ve only ever snowboarded! You could have been the female Tommy Caldwell & Kevin Jorgeson one day, but instead, you’re just a semi-broke girl with a lot of new hobbies you’re equally mediocre at.

Get you a man who can do both.

You become inanely attracted to men (or women) in North Face/Patagonia jackets. 

Like charisma or Old Spice, name brand outdoor gear on a man instantly grabs your attention. You claim you don’t have a type as you swipe right on rock climbers wearing ThermoBall jackets. You say that personality matters, but most of your crushes are scruffy gents whose Facebook profiles consist of magazine quality outdoors shots of them in Nano Puff vests. You get to that weird place where you see the gear before you see the guy. It gets even more complicated when their photos include epic mountainscapes in the background and you can’t tell if you want to go on a date with the man more or the mountain…

“No, Ari, I don’t care that my shoes have Vibram soles.”

You become that annoying friend who tells everybody everything about their gear. 

When they’re wearing hiking boots that you own, you have to comment. When they’re using brands you love, you have to gush about them. Secretly, everyone probably hates this, but you receive so much validation for your purchases when you do this that you don’t care and do it anyway.


Your wardrobe goes from “bum on the street” to granola chic.

You become that person who swears by prAna pants and only wears prAna pants. You realize you have some weird kind of problem when you look in your shirt drawer and 90% of the things in there are plaid. You start wearing hiking shoes that double as normal shoes, and on the weekends, you wear Chacos and baseball hats. You never used to wear baseball hats. Outdoor retail has ruined you.

You run out of money. 

Financial karma is a wench.


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Jesus Makes Our Brokenness Beautiful


This weekend, I learned about a little thing called Kintsugi (“golden repair”). You could call it the Japanese art of making broken things beautiful.

In Kintsugi, artists take the pieces of dishware that have broken (pots, cups, plates, etc.) and put them back together again with lacquer. It’s kind of like that thing people do with puzzles — fitting the pieces together and then putting a protective coat over them to seal them together. Onlkintsugggiy in Kintsugi, this sealing is done with lacquer mixed with golden powder.

What results from piecing together broken pots and plates with gold are pots and plates that are not only more valuable, but more beautiful than they were before. Every break is covered, every surface glittering with golden veins. You can see the places where the dish was vulnerable, but instead of seeing brokenness, you see wholeness, completion.

I’ve come to find that in my own life, Jesus Christ’s Atonement is that golden lacquer. When I am broken and weak, the Savior holds my pieces in His hands and He puts them back together, one by one. He is the only person who not only chooses to look past my cracks and forgive them, but who can fix them. His Atonement is the gold that lines and covers my brokenness and restores me.

I am not perfect. There are days when I get home and I ache, because all I see are those breaks in myself. For most of my life, I have struggled with the fear that no one will ever fully love or accept my pieces. It is crippling and lonely.

To me, the Savior is a striking exception to that fear. My struggles matter to Him, my heartaches concern Him, and my broken pieces, which to me seem so unbearable at times, are the very things He set out to fix and understand when He suffered in agony in Gethsemane, alone and broken Himself. My love for Christ is so overwhelming that when I think about Him, I am often humbled to tears.

The Savior validates me. He refines me. He makes me whole. His Atonement is the priceless lacquer that fills my breaks and makes that possible. All of us are broken dishes, but Jesus Christ doesn’t reject or dispose of us. He tenderly holds us in His hands and when we let Him, He repurposes us. Completely.

May we always remember that that is how much He loves us. May we love Him just as much.

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An Open Letter to Donald Trump

Dear Donald Trump,
We need to talk.  
I am one of the Americans whose future will be directly impacted by the policies you enact if elected president. Because I am one of those Americans, and because Americans like me are listening to you and taking you seriously, I feel the need to speak up. We’re having this talk right now because the idea you’re running on, the central message of your campaign, is one that I don’t think you really believe in or understand, and your supporters are buying into the idea that you do.
It needs to stop. 

You say “let’s make America great again” like America is lackluster, like we’re missing something. It’s a common dialogue politicians use, suggesting that America used to be awesome, but someone swept in to ruin it. Thing is, when you say “let’s make America great again,” you don’t offer any real solutions as to how to do that, or what it means to be great. You say “let’s make America great again” again and again. I don’t really understand the kind of America you’re nostalgically look back on and wanting to repeat.
Do you ever think about what actually made America great in the first place?
America is great because of immigrants who left a repressive government and signed their names on a document declaring, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” a document that, upon signing, they risked their lives for. It is great for and because of immigrants who fled the terrors of Nazi Germany, the employment crisis and poverty of Ireland, and the disastrous circumstances of countries with deeply corrupt governments to the one place in the world that would give them a chance.

Your idea of making America great is to look at it through the lens of someone who has never gone without, who doesn’t understand what it is to go without a home or a place to stay. Your idea of making America great is to build walls, then build them higher.
America is great because of men like journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who exposed government corruption for what it was and did so in the name of freedom and the right to know. They did so because they were protected in doing so by the First Amendment, by the lines asserting that Congress shall not make laws restricting the freedom of the press.
Your idea of making America great is to “open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money…we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never been sued before.” And why? So you can get back at journalists who write “purposely negative and horrible articles.” Who’s to say what that is? You are, I suppose, if you get elected.
America is great because a baptist minister from Atlanta Georgia marched on this nation’s streets, sat in seats he was legally excluded from, and stood at the Lincoln Memorial before the country he and those who followed him helped change to declare, “I have a dream that my…children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Your idea of making America great is to be politically incorrect, which to me just comes across as discriminatory and bullying. Your idea of making America great would forgo character and pretend to be colorblind while speaking such things as “I have a great relationship with the blacks” and “the Mexicans love me.” Why does it have to be the anything? We are all humans!
America is great because here, I am secure in worshiping the God I believe in without censure, when a little over a century ago, my pioneer ancestors fled thousands of miles away from their homes to escape the same government that said of them, “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace.”
Your idea of making America great is to shut down the places of worship of my brothers and sisters of other faiths. You do so from the angle that you’re concerned with American safety, but what good is safety, I ask you, without liberty? Without the freedom to believe and worship as we may?
The truth, Mr. Trump, is that you think people like you are what made America great, when it was the people who bled for, the people who fought for, the people who lost everything they had for, and stood up for this country who made it great. It was the very same people who vowed to protect the rights and liberties that you enjoy and would so casually take away from people who are different from you. America, if it only was great, was great because of democracy, because of a Constitution that gave you and I the right to speak for, believe in, and assemble together for the causes we love. America, if it only was great, was great because it was a place where people of every race, gender, background, religion, and class could come together and build something bigger than themselves in the pursuit of happiness, something that went beyond discrimination and hatred and came as close as it could to peace. 
If America only was great, it’s because we’ve forgotten those things.
Your campaign is one run on bullying, intimidation, intolerance, and harassment. Well, Mr. Trump, you cannot bully, intimidate, or harass America into being great again. You make America great again by standing up for the very liberties that made it great in the first place, for defending to the death the rights of those who would disagree with you, not because you like that they disagree, but simply because that is their right. It’s the right of us all.
I don’t want to live in a country that you’ve made “great” again, Donald Trump, because that is a country that has forgotten how much it owes to the sacrifices of those who loved it. That is a country that would cower in fear, be coerced by flattery, bristle at criticism, and name call instead of live up to the rich history of respect, diversity, and courage you have so completely discarded.
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My New Favorite Temple Prep Resource

If I haven’t blogged in awhile, it’s probably because I’ve been reading my brains out to achieve the one resolution I never seem to keep — read one book a week, or at least 100 a year. The past few months have been crazy due to this ridiculous resolution, which I’ve kind of given up on. Usually, I stick to one book and one book only until said one book is finished. Last month, however, I somehow managed to find myself trapped between two self-help books, a classic as thick as my face, a book by Tad Callister, and the lovely book pictured below. It was one of only two that I finished this last month, and I want to take a short post to share it with you.

When I started this book, I was under the erroneous assumption that it was only for people who have just gone through the temple. I thought it was a temple prep book. It seems like it, as it tends to feel pretty basic in parts. Truth is that it is a temple prep book, but it’s one for both the new temple goer and the seasoned temple goer alike.

I guess you could say this book was a bit of a wake up call for me, as it’s been easy to lull into that state where you’re complacent about your covenants and about your temple attendance. I think we all, at some point, slip into the experience of going through the temple as fast as we can and not treating it like something new and special every time. I vividly remember how much every word meant to me when I first went through. They were a BIG DEAL, these promises and blessings I was making and hearing, and I wanted to make completely sure that I was ready to make them. Nowadays, if I’m not careful, I’ll sit through a session without taking the time to seriously consider it. This book was a very good reminder for me that I need to constantly be taking my temple trips seriously. How do I learn and progress, otherwise?

This book was filled with really fantastic insights that made me sit back and vocally go, “Huh.” a few times. My favorite books are books that teach me something new, and this book did that while also being super edifying. It has great examples of symbolism, historic temple ceremonies, and even greater perspective as to why we say and do what we say and do in the temple. I found myself wanting to take this with me to the temple to study it, in fact. Not sure I could get away with sneaking it in my temple dress…but I’ll certainly be putting it near and in my temple bag!

If your temple attendance has felt uninspiring lately, check this book out! I’ll even let you borrow it.

Looking for other ways to prepare for your temple trip? I’ve got a few ideas

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My Belated New Year’s Goals

Usually, I’m all over the New Year’s Eve stuff. I’ll write long lists of what I accomplished in the past year, do a review on my blog, and think of all of my worst moments and mentally let them go in the seconds counting down to midnight. One year, I spent the last hour of my New Year’s Eve writing a page filled with close to 100 resolutions. Can’t say I wasn’t ambitious, right? This year was a little bit different, however. I partied hard, slept in harder, and woke up with the realization that I hadn’t done a thing to prepare for the new year. Not only that, but I woke up with the horror of realizing that the last song I listened to in 2015 was “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae).” Oh heavens. Please forgive me, better than the average human’s musical tastes. (That was a subtle and accurate, though arrogant, nod to the quality of my Spotify playlists, in case you’re interested.)

All of that being said, new years are important to me. I’m a significantly imperfect person, and it always feels refreshing to have a symbolic chance to start over and be better, to let go of all of the things that were sad or hard the year before and try again. I’ve thought long and hard about what I want the theme of my year to be, and the three words I always come back to are authentic, open, and brave. I want to be open with others and myself, honest about who I am, confident and unafraid. I went through a period as a teenager where I hated and struggled with who I was. There were few things I liked about myself, and when I didn’t get validation from people I looked up to, I caged myself in and hid both the worst and best parts of myself. I was terrified of being laughed at or rejected for who I was, so I forced myself to be emotionless and personalityless. It’s taken years to undo the damage that caused. I still have to work on not hiding myself every day.

At the end of 2016, I want to be able to say that that is completely behind me and that I am unashamedly me, authentic with whomever I’m with and more afraid of hiding who I am than losing the good opinions of other people.

I am imperfect and weak and funny and smart and my hair is pretty okay and I can be fun to be around when I stop worrying about what other people think. Here’s to a year when I can fully embrace all of that.

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To the Girls Who Love Showing Off Their Bodies on Social Media

Dear girls,

As someone who follows you on Facebook, sees your pictures on Instagram, and notices the things you pin on the rare occasions that I’m on Pinterest, I can say that I kind of know who you are.

You’re smart and you’re capable. You love baking and cooking and sharing good recipes. You’re young mothers, new wives, struggling college students, happily single, or fighting to get by every day. You read and you sing, you work out and you travel. You like weird music or popular TV shows. You’re rodeo queens, political think tanks, expert hairdressers, champions, outstanding photographers, and you can do things with watercolors that just enchant me. You’re the next J.K. Rowlings, Elizabeth Cady Stantons, and Clara Bartons. You’re my friends and girls I want to be friends with.

You are all of these things, and yet, as someone who follows you, sees you, and notices you, I sometimes get a little discouraged at some of the things you’re posting.

You take lots of selfies and share them. I only mind that a little. I’m very guilty of taking selfies, too. You wear nice clothes and put on nice makeup and have nice hair, and yeah, I sometimes compare, but I don’t hold it against you. What I notice goes beyond that. Some of you have stopped sharing your travel experiences, your adventures, and your life with me and instead share images of your face that fill the whole frame and have captions like: “Spain is just beautiful this time of the year! #lovinit.” You’ve stopped sharing inspirational quote posters that you’ve found on Pinterest, ones that speak to everyone, regardless of size or color, and instead share a picture of your lips and your eyelashes with something like “Live life to the fullest! Dream big!” beneath it. And it’s not a huge deal, but it’s very indicative of a bigger issue I see girls of all backgrounds struggling with right now: the need to be physically admired.

This letter is for all of us, but it’s particularly for the girl who has built a virtual art museum around her anatomy. It’s for the girl who obsesses over the slope of her chest and distance between her hips. It’s for the girl who wants attention, good, bad, or any, who treats her cleavage like it’s a Monet, who treats herself like a philanthropist by taking pictures of her butt in workout pants and telling other women, “If you want it, work for it.” It’s for the girl who publicizes her body parts on Instagram to a crowd of bored, stimulated strangers, all who harmonize together with comments such as:

“You’re perfect”
“Where do you live?”
“That is gorgeous”
“Very beautifuuuuull, my looooovvvee!!”
“Can I marry you I would love you forever”
“The things I would do”

I think we women are both ignoring and creating a serious societal problem, one we’ve gotten away with blaming on other people for a long time, and it’s about time we had some girl talk about what we are doing with our bodies.

We live in a world that consumes, uses, and sells the Victoria Secret body like its merchandise. I know you’ve seen it — curved hips, narrow waist, full lips, exposed parts. The girl inside it may have an expressive, beautiful face, but the greedy businessmen who sell her body mostly care that we see her from her lips down. She’s on every television, every movie, every magazine, and every book that lines the shelves of low culture. People love her and buy sandwiches, video games, and movie tickets because of her. People pay money to watch her move, as if she’s a prize race horse set to win the Triple Crown.

But people also hate her and write angry letters about her.They tell Carl’s Jr. to please, for the sake of their kids, get rid of her. Hers is the body that has indirectly launched a thousand ships — Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, “big is beautiful,” and “I won’t be no stick figure, silicone Barbie doll, so if that’s what you’re into, then go ‘head and move along” among them. Because of the toll she has taken on our society and self-esteem, we now tell girls that their bodies do not limit nor define them. We tell Hollywood that it is unrealistic to ask square pegs to fit into circular holes. We see right through and shame magazines that use Photoshop on their cover girls. We’re just beginning, as a society, to talk about the damage pornifying women’s bodies does to us all. We are changing the way our culture talks about and views women one step at a time, and so far, it’s been mostly good.

The sad truth, however, is that the objectified woman we’ve been force-fed all these years still clings more tightly to our self-worth than we may think. She’s leaked onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. She hides in forums called “Fitness” or “Thinspiration.” She is worshiped by us, emulated by us, and pornified, yes, by us. She doesn’t look tan and fit and good in a bikini all the time, either.

She looks just like us.

Us, the small and lanky and thin and curvy. Us, the overweight and narrow and big-boned and emaciated. She lurks behind us girls who claim to be all about natural beauty and self-celebration but still haven’t mustered the guts to post a selfie that isn’t altered. Us, the women who tell each other that our bodies are no definition of who we are, and yet, plaster our social media with them.

We women are objectifying women as much as, if not more than Hollywood and society. Don’t believe me? Just look at your Instagram.

Many of you have somehow amassed thousands of followers that come to watch as you cut your body into little square-shaped pieces and demand, like a consumed Victor Frankenstein, that your creation be seen. Many of you push the edge, fed by the hunger to have friends and family and love interests tell you three significant words: “You look good.” You are billboardizing yourself with your selfies, turn yourself into a virtual Mona Lisa with a story behind that smile that no one cares anything about because they’re too busy staring at your body. Because you’re doing this, other girls are doing it, and you’re giving the world permission to keep treating us all like we’re only as good as the skin we expose and the bodies we show off.

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of wanting to be admired for who I am, but feeling like that’s not even important to us women as a whole anymore. We seem to be driven, not by the need to be heard, but the need to be seen. We claim that we don’t want to be “just another pretty face,” and yet we advertise ourselves as if that’s what we are. We are not the helpless victims in a world attacking women’s bodies, not when we obsess over the body of our athletic neighbor, not when we collect pictures of body parts that we call inspiration, not when we take more pride in how our behinds look in photographs than how we make the world a better place, and not when we justify all of that by saying “it’s my body, and I’ll do what I want with it.” Don’t tell me we are blameless when we don’t care how much we know, how hard we work, or how big we can dream; don’t say that when we put no importance on how kind we are to people who are not kind to us, or how brave we are, and instead put all of our attention into how hot we look in photos.

Dear girls who love showing off your bodies on social media, you are more than your body! For the sake of the rest of us and the future of us, stop acting like you aren’t.

I don’t want to see your pretty face all of the time. I want to see how you’re living your life. I don’t want to see those ripped abs and tight thighs you’re wallpapering your Pinterest account with in the hopes that one day they’ll be yours. I want to see you accept yourself and work for a better version of your own body because you want to feel good. I don’t want to see your butt in yoga pants. I want to see you kicking butt on that test or that trial or that insecurity you struggle with. I don’t want to see you change the angle of your photographs. I want to see you change the world.

You are not something to be consumed by other people. You are a woman, and your beauty is not surface deep. So please. Take that selfie. Don’t let this letter stop you. Please. Celebrate your body. Don’t think I’m asking you not to. Just remember that no selfie can capture your actual self, something that goes far beyond surface beauty and isn’t an it but a who. Celebrate her! Love her! Don’t let anybody else forget that she, not the package she comes in, is worthy of praise.

Dear girls, please stop objectifying us.
Start standing up for us.


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What a Small Idaho Town & Disney Characters Taught Me About Christmas

When I was a little girl, my parents would pack all of us into our winter coats and then into our family Suburban to drive around town and look at Christmas lights. It became a sort of tradition for us. We’d drive up to the benches with the biggest houses, decked in wreaths and bows and hosting little candles in every window; then we’d wind our way down city streets where the Christmas displays were smaller, but often more outlandish and colorful. To us, every lit up house was something magical.

I remember one house in  particular that was the most magical of all of them. It was a ranch house that sat just north of historical Preston, Idaho. We’d drive for about 45 minutes from our house to get to it, but you could see it well before you got to it. Not only was it covered in Christmas lights that stretched high into the trees surrounding it, but the house was covered in Disney characters.

Stationed on every patch of ground around that house were wooden characters that had been meticulously cut, painted, and propped up to form scenes straight from movies. Simba, Rafiki, Nala, and Scar stood in one corner of the yard, and Belle and the Beast spun around on a mechanized wheel in the other. The Grinch was on the roof of the house, his wooden arm creaking up and down to crack a whip against his poor counterfeit reindeer, while little wooden puppies traveled along a metal conveyor into the clutches of Horace and Jasper in the front yard. Everywhere you looked, there was a different character doing a different thing — Toy Story, Lilo and Stitch, Cinderella, you name it! I’d roll down my window and lean far out of the car as we moved around the circle drive so I could see every single character. It was the most magical thing I’d ever experienced.

As time passed, we went on Christmas light trips less. I grew older and reached that age where Christmas seems less magical and more meaningless, where the noise and the chaos and the gift giving aren’t what they used to be and the wonder of childhood is replaced by the weight of reality. Last year, like some sad, parallel symbolism, the lights and wooden cutouts came down for good at that house in Preston. The expense of having them up every year for 25 years was too much. Even having not visited for years, hearing the news broke my heart a little. Reality, it seemed, had spared very little of the magic from childhood.

This year, Christmas has been extra noisy and chaotic and hard. I’ve been exhausted every day for the past three weeks, as my job requires a lot of customer interaction and problem solving, most of that being really stressful. I’ve ached to feel as excited about Christmas as I used to feel, and it’s been hard. Last night, after a particularly taxing day at work, my good friend Mariel invited me to go to an Institute class in Preston with her. As we drove down center street in Preston, I slowly relaxed and fell a little in love with the way the trees were wrapped in lights.”There’s this whole street with lights strung on both sides. We should walk down it after class,” Mariel said, turning down a back road as she spoke.Curled up in the passenger seat and reminded of all of the trips up here we used to take as a family, I turned to her to tell her about that old house with the Disney characters, how much it had meant. My attention was stolen by a wooden cutout of Shrek and Fiona that stood in somebody’s lawn.Oh, wow. It’s like that house! I thought with a smile, on the brink of pointing it out to Mariel. Before I could, we came to a stop sign at the street just west of that house. What I saw almost brought tears to my eyes.Stretched out for one block on both sides of the road were the Disney characters I had been so enraptured with as a child. They were scattered so that each yard down the street held one or two groups of characters. New ones had been added since I last saw them, like Frozen and The Princess and the Frog characters. They all moved and creaked or stood still beneath a long line of lights that had been wrapped from telephone pole to tree to telephone pole all the way down the block. It was incredible.

After Institute, Mariel and I bought hot cocoa and walked down both sides of the street and I was struck again by the magic of it all. This small street had come together (I don’t know why or how) to keep a tradition alive. They’d offered their lawns and homes, and I’d imagine they’d done so because they loved that house just as much as I did as a child. It had gone from being the tradition of one to the tradition of many, and I was blown away by the care they had taken to make that street just as magical. While we were walking, a car drove slowly down the road and I could hear children giggling from the rolled down windows. It was the most beautiful sound I’ve heard in awhile.

Last night, I felt an overwhelming amount of love for the people on that street. This neighborhood had revived something I thought I’d never see again, something that brought me so much joy. It was an act of service that humbled me and even now causes tears to fill my eyes. As Mariel and I walked down that street and listened to creaking wood and buzzing lights, I felt an overwhelming contentment with the simplicity of it, with what Christmas means, which is, quite simply, Christlike love. Service. Coming together. Being together.

The magic of Christmas is not found in things, it’s found in people and it’s found in service. Thank you, Preston, for reminding me of that so forcefully last night.

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Confessions of a Girl Who Sucks at Vulnerability

Whenever I open my phone and scroll through Facebook, I run into this same sponsored post by The North Face (I guess that’s what FB’s algorithm does to you when you drool over Thermoball jackets all day long). It’s a black and white image of a grisly older man who has ice in his beard, the edge of a beanie darting across the middle of his forehead, and a jacket collar lifted high around his ears. It doesn’t really speak to me, but that ad inspires me every time I see it. I never click on it, and I don’t know what the man’s supposed to be doing (or selling) in this ad, but what always catches my attention is the caption that accompanies it:

“The truest version of ourselves lies far beyond comfort’s perimeter.”

Isn’t that a beauty of a line.

I used to think that I subscribed to this line, that I lived every corner of my life according to the idea in this line. Why else, after all, would I have a public blog with my feelings all over it? Why else would I go skydiving with a bunch of strangers for my 21st birthday, read a poem about an ex to a crowd of 500 people, and say yes to being a Relief Society teacher, even though speaking in front of people often leaves me in shambles? It’s because I rock at getting out of my comfort zone, right? Wellllllll…wrong. Every time I see this ad, I feel the pain of falling short, of not living by it at all.

I genuinely suck at vulnerability and getting out of my comfort zone. I’ve struggled with that for most of my life and I still do. It’s about time that I own up to it.

When I was a kid, I was cripplingly shy. I talk about that a lot because that is something I dealt with for a good 13 years of my life. Add in some social anxiety, major introversion, and fear of falling short and you have one chaotic mess of a person that was (and occasionally still is) me. It was very hard for me to open up to anyone as a child, and one of the few times I finally got myself to do it, I was badly hurt by a good friend. So I locked myself up and shut myself in. My comfort zone became a very tight, very confining circle, and I’ve spent years crafting habits and responses that “protect” me in this circle. To name a few, I:

a) dilute how I really feel about situations and current event topics in conversations to avoid getting emotional or getting criticized
b) avoid parties or activities where I won’t know more than one person
c) don’t pry into other peoples’ lives too much for fear that I’ll start caring too much for them, and when they leave, it will hurt a lot
d) keep my emotional distance from people at work so I can seem more professional and in control
e) do my favorite activities, like hiking and writing and even listening to music, alone rather than involving someone else, because in these situations, I’m at my most vulnerable, and if they left, these things would hurt
f) stifle the parts of my personality that are spontaneous and carefree in an attempt to not draw any attention to myself and, in extension, my weaknesses
g) avoid getting to know people whose intelligence intimidates me for fear that I’ll fall short
h) (lately) avoid written/text correspondences whenever possible to avoid the moment when someone else drifts out of my life because I’m “better in writing than real life,” which has everything to do with items a, d, f, and g in this list and nothing to do with the fact that it may be true

And there you have it. That is me. I am a pretty piece of work, aren’t I.

I have made an automaton out of myself in an attempt to not be hurt, and it is a terribly lonely way to live. Sure, I’ve made breakthroughs. Sure, there are people who get the full, undiluted me, but it is very difficult to get to that point with everybody. The truth, I’ve found, is that I don’t live outside of my comfort zone at all. I’m not vulnerable. I put on a facade of icy coolness so that people don’t have to see that, underneath it all, I am deeply emotional and sensitive and caring. Those things, historically, have seemed like weaknesses to me. I’m coming to understand that, as much as those things hurt, they are the greatest strengths I have. Without them, connectivity in this world cannot exist.

I suck at vulnerability and connectivity, and I don’t want to. In an effort to be genuinely authentic and real and open, and in an effort to see where I can improve, I want getting out of that comfort zone to be my focus this next year. The truest version of myself is someone I want to discover and embrace. I don’t want to hide her for fear of getting hurt. The real truth is that hiding is where we hurt the most.

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