Sunday Short: The Nativity that Made My Monday

This is the first in a series of short Sunday posts where I share my spiritual thoughts/impressions for the week. Most will be fairly casual, not the most eloquent or organized, but meaningful to me. Leave yours in the comments below! Sharing is caring.

It was the Mondayest of all Mondays, the kind that feels like it would steal your boyfriend, punch you in the face, and unapologetically eat the last slice of chocolate cake you were saving in the fridge just because. Work was a pile of unending problems, I had escalated into full-blown introvert mode by lunchtime (which is the social equivalent of being hangry, but instead of being mad about food, you’re mad about ever having to see or talk to another human again), and I got stuck at Macey’s with a stack of FHE snacks behind a woman straight off the set of Extreme Couponing who spent five to ten minutes arguing with the cashier about the price of a loaf of bread. When I finally got back into my car, it was to be greeted with several messages about more problems at work. I can’t say I didn’t sit in my car and mentally bang my head against a wall for a few moments in frustration. For the past few weeks, this has been my life, a bundle of stress and dissatisfaction with where I’m at. It all came to a head that Monday and left me tired and angry.

As I started my car and drove home, I passed a bustling Tai Pan Trading and an Italian restaurant my one and only Tinder date had taken me to. Then, in a flash, I remembered a little fair trade shop I’d visited a few weeks prior with a friend and how the shop girl had told us to come back in November when their global nativities would be in. It was right around the corner and I decided to stop and go in, because on the Mondayest of Mondays, a girl’s gotta have a break.

I walked through the door and the bells hanging from the frame clamored together. The smell of candles and spices hit me like a warm wave, and I walked slowly across the wooden floor, drinking in the bags and jewelry made by many different artisans. Then I smiled. There, on a display in the middle of the store, were nativities from every corner of the world. There was a nativity from Peru that consisted of three clay miniatures sitting in a small, cup-shaped leaf. There was a nativity with a sombrero-wearing Joseph, a nativity in a small stone stable, an egg-shaped nativity, a narrow, marble nativity…they were all so different and so beautiful and I was so obsessed, because I love nativities more than most things.

Then a certain nativity caught my eye. It was tucked in the back corner of a small shelf and contained three shepherds, three kings, three rudimentary animals, an angel, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. The artists were from Kenya. Each piece of this nativity appeared to be made from leaves (I’d later learn they were plantain leaves from the cashier) and wood. It was not the fanciest nativity. In comparison to some of the others, it was rather homely. There was no paint, no marble, and no stone. But the pieces were crafted with such detail and care that it left me a little breathless. I don’t know who these artisans are, but in their nativity, I see love for the Savior. I bought it immediately, and as I left the shop, I felt peace for the first time that day. Somewhere on the other side of the world, there is someone who loves the Savior like I do, and their love has found its way to my heart. That little nativity now sits in my apartment and I smile every time I see it.

What we forget about the Savior is that His birth was a world event — every human being on every part of this earth has redemption and grace weaved through their creation story because He was born. He is an intimate and important part of their life, whether they be in the United States, in Russia, in Europe, South America, or a little country in Africa. We don’t all have to be in the same place to gather around Him, either. We gather around Him when we choose to be like Him and open ourselves to His love. He, in turn, individually gathers us, and that is cause for the greatest hope. He is the light of the world, all of it, every mountain, valley, city and village in it. He is as familiar with you as He is with the Heavens, and His love can be seen and felt in everything. He is joy and He is hope in a world filled with Mondays. Celebrate His birth. Celebrate Him. It makes all the difference.

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When Did Empathy Become So Political?

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By 10:43 p.m. on election night, Vox.com stats, FiveThirtyEight tweets, Deseret News electoral map updates, and Buzzfeed News’ video feed playing on separate tabs, I knew that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States and I laughed.

At 10:45 p.m., undone laundry and unread library books lying in a heap in my bedroom, it was funny. It was funny in 2015 when Trump said he’d run and all we could think about was The Apprentice. It was funny last Christmas when my family sat on the couch watching Kevin McCallister run smack dab into Donald in Home Alone II. We laughed, “Can you believe this guy’s running for president? What a joke.” At 10:45, it was funny, because his whole campaign, from the very beginning, was supposed to be just funny.

Then came 11:00, when my friends, in a complete panic, sent me a flurry of messages and terrified tweets. Then came 11:15, when I had two missed calls on my phone, one from my mom and one from my Native friend who I couldn’t call back because I knew she was dismayed by this and I didn’t know how to speak to her. Then came 11:30 when I sat in a room with two of the most opinionated people I’ve ever met who had nothing left in them to say. I slowly ate a bowl of ice cream and spun the spoon around the dregs over and over and over again.

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How I Ended Up Camping With Three Indian Men in the Middle of Nowhere Yosemite

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There comes a moment in every person’s life when they are struck by the thought, “Now, how on Earth did I end up here?” For me, that moment happened when I found myself two hours away from my car at the heel-end of a sleeping bag sandwich composed of my fierce Navajo friend Stacie, the most optimistic girl I’ve ever known, and three Indian men we’d met hours earlier who hadn’t stepped foot inside a tent in their entire 20-some odd years of life.

Let’s just say my two truths and a lie game is unbeatable right now.

It all started when my weekend plans fell through and I got tagged by Stacie in the comments of a ridiculously beautiful Instagram pic some chump posted from the top of Taft Point. The envy was insatiable. I packed my bags. I took off work, planning on leaving late Thursday and returning late Sunday with Stacie and our friend Alysha. I watched my dad check the oil and the tires on my car. I messed with my worried parents by dropping questions like, “What would you do if I sat on the edge of Half Dome?” or “How much do you think it would cost to tow a car to Utah from Cali?” Little did I know I’d be sobbing that last question into an iPhone in a park ranger’s car next to some very unsympathetic tranquilizer guns 48 hours later.

But let’s back this thing up to the beginning.

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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

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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:

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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?

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“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.

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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…

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“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.

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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

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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

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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.
 
Sincerely,
Me
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My New Favorite Temple Prep Resource

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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.
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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

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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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