It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

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The best book that I’ve never read opens with the following lines:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

It’s an opening, yes, but it feels like a fitting way to close what has been, in the words of the renown artist known as 2008 Katy Perry, “a hot and cold, yes and no, in and out, up and down” year.

2016 has been a year of personal bests and global worsts. All time highs and sub-zero lows. Good guys seem to get better, and bad guys seem to get worse. Love, when found, is sweet and overwhelmingly beautiful. Hatred is strong and biting. It was a year of Orlandos and Aleppos. A year of La La Lands and Finding Dorys. A year that gave us more Star Wars and Harry Potter, but took away Alan Rickman and Carrie Fisher. A gut-wrenching, messy heartache that at its best taught us that we as humanity are still capable of curing disease, welcoming people who are different, winning gold medals for physical strength, saving endangered species (except Harambe, RIP), or making people smile with nothing more than a Chewbacca mask and a Facebook live video feed; and at its worst, it taught us that anger and hate can pull space shuttles back to Earth, redraw lines between color and gender, and erase unprecedented steps for mankind.

I don’t need to speak for the world too much, but looking back at 2016, it’s apparent that something was different. Grittier. Harder.

2016, for me, has been a year of extreme triumph and extreme low. I taught myself how to wax my own eyebrows, for example, thus sparing me a $10 trip to the hair salon — win. I have also waxed 50% of my eyebrows off two times as a result (most of my eyebrows are dot-to-dots right now, and I’d ask that you please refrain from mentioning it in public). I marched in a political protest for something I was passionate about, which was both thrilling and out of character and also terrifying. I also unintentionally severed a good number of friendships that I didn’t realize were dependent upon shared politics. I went on my first Tinder date. I learned that having to prepare a Relief Society lesson as an excuse to go home early will result in Tinder dates never calling you again. I finished my second 100-mile bicycle ride. I cried half the time because it felt like my legs were pulling an Anakin on Mustafar and burning off. I was introduced to Stranger Things. Barb died. The election did not go the way I wanted it to. The election did not go the way I wanted it to. I planned a national park trip and all of my plans were changed when my friends copped out and a fire put us two hours behind schedule. I got to spend the most precious time I’ve ever spent with my dad at Yellowstone on the National Park Service’s 100th birthday and we got to share the Book of Mormon with a couple from our campsite because we were so behind schedule — I also got a picture taken with a park ranger who I forced to wear a party hat and party whistle, and it was INCREDIBLE. I lost almost all of my snowboarding buddies. Snowboarding is now my recharge time and I don’t suck. My car broke down in Yosemite National Park and I cried like a baby. My friends and I were rescued by angels who taught us how to appreciate good Punjabi music and be optimistic, no matter our circumstances. I no longer have the ability to sleep in on Saturday mornings, but I started working at the temple, which is more of a blessing in my life than I can express. I moved out and learned that I can make a mean strawberry/avocado Panini. I also learned moving makes many a friend a stranger, and I don’t know why. My job has given me thicker skin and the ability to take things I may not have been able to before. The mental stress of my job and life has gotten in the way of my writing and I feel like I’m starting all over with this blogging thing. I’ve felt deep connections with good, good friends as they’ve shared their heartache and trials. I’ve felt lonelier than I ever have in my entire life. I don’t feel successful most of the time. I have to rediscover what I love doing every day. I’m not where I want to be yet.

But life is good.

2016 was the best of times and the worst of times. Here’s to hoping 2017 will be consistently best.

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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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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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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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Why I Stay a Mormon When Many Friends Have Left

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“I’m leaving the church.”

Over the past month, I have heard/read this phrase seven times. Once from an incredible woman in my home ward who can’t take anymore of the ward’s judgement. Once from a family member who has felt the church is too restrictive for years. Twice from young adults my age whose knowledge and testimonies of the gospel have buoyed my own in the past. The rest from good friends and acquaintances. Some of these announcements, I’ve been expecting for months and years. Others, I never ever expected.

The intensity of the grief I have quietly shouldered these past few weeks has been hard to describe and has left me with an alarming loss for words. In the miniature chaos of having, as one friend described to me, multiple individuals I propped my testimony on discard their own, I’ve found myself wondering why I even bother. My social media accounts have been inundated with angry words about members of the church being voiceless and cowardly, critical articles about confirmation bias, Joseph Smith, the church’s stance on gay marriage; friends who virtually laud their doubts and tear apart the testimonies of my other friends. In the middle of this, I see some of my friends faltering and questioning, wondering why they stay, and it’s overwhelmed me. I’ve not been able to blog for weeks. I thought that was because I just felt uninspired. I’m suspecting it’s because I’ve been deeply discouraged, not wanting to add fuel to the flame, not wanting to hurt or be hurt by other people who are just waiting for a chance to do it. Not wanting to defend the beliefs that are so much a part of me, that I’d imagine I’d crumble apart without them, and only because I worry about how others would react.

Because of beliefs I have expressed on this blog and others, I’ve been cyber-bullied and sexually harassed by online strangers who have put me in virtual stocks to throw tomatoes at. I’ve been called horrible names and told I’m a horrible person in the comments on my blog. I’ve been told that I’m a totally brainwashed Mormon and that I’m on the verge of apostasy all in one long digital breath, and I’ve dealt with it. But to see some of the things my friends and family are saying? To see members of the church turning on members of the church? To watch so many doubt and then cause others to doubt and then invalidate their feelings for them? It’s crippled me.

I don’t want to and cannot stay quiet anymore.

I know that some of you reading this right now have serious doubts, and you’re wondering why you stay. And there’s no one there to encourage you to stay because the battle you’re fighting is quiet and lonely. I know that some of you reading this right now are doing so because you’re lurking about like the bigotry police, waiting for a reason to ridicule me and say, “You’re wrong! You’re so stupid and so wrong!” And I know that many of you reading this right now are just as discouraged as I am, because you’re seeing people who helped your testimony abandon theirs, and it’s breaking you apart. Many, many of you are wondering why the words of the prophets seem so at odds with the words that the media, society, and your own friends are telling you. Many of you don’t believe the words of prophets at all. Many of you don’t see other members living up to what the prophets ask us to do, and it hurts.

In a time that is so chaotic, confusing, and heartbreaking, a time when men’s hearts fail them and men’s testimonies don’t seem to be enough, it’s easy to say, “You know what? I don’t want any part of this. It’s hard to be a member of the church, it’s embarrassing to be a member of the church, it’s not worth it to be a member of the church, and it’s stupid to be a member of the church.” It’s easy to think that. But I believe that most of us who think that way have forgotten whose church this is. It doesn’t belong to prophets or men or the whims of society. It belongs to Jesus Christ.

He is the center, basis, and foundation of every part of it. He’s who we worship, who we strive to be like, and who we make covenants for. He’s in every ordinance, and should be in every testimony, because in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Christ is not some far off deity. He’s a living, omnipresent Savior who can be found in everything and every person. Our scriptures confirm that. The New Testament is not some made up storybook. It’s documented testimony of the men and women who surrounded Christ, who boldly declared that Jesus Christ was who He said He was and did what He said He did. The Book of Mormon is not some made up storybook. It’s a compilation of testimony after testimony after testimony after testimony of men and women who saw Christ, understood Christ, waited hopefully for Christ, and reaffirmed that Christ would come. Even when accused of being fiction by critics of the church, the Book of Mormon functions exactly as the words of Christ’s early apostles do, not to glorify prophets, but to glorify the Messiah.

Some would suggest that the church is not true because prophets have been wrong, because prophets are imperfect, and because prophets just don’t understand. I wonder, however, what we would worship if we had perfect men leading this church. Would we remember to worship the Savior without being compelled to do so? Would we see the consistent need for and infinite capacity of His Atonement? I can’t say we would. Instead of perfection, we have imperfect men who have made mistakes, yes, even mistakes that our 21st Century brains find shocking and hard to understand. We often falsely suggest that prophets are perfect. We often struggle with the thought that they aren’t. Many who pour over doctrinal oddities and human faults found in the saints of early church history use it as justification to leave and condemn the church. But this church was never organized for the agendas of those saints. It was never a way to deify imperfect men with corrupt agendas. A closer truth would be that the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored in this church to give us a massive and yet totally intimate view of how we desperately need the Atonement in our lives, and even (and maybe especially) leaders and prophets need it, too.

Prophets exist to help us worship Christ, not themselves. Christ Himself tells us, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken; ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory”(Luke 24:25-27)? After that, he expounds unto His disciples all scriptures and all the words of the prophets concerning Himself. I’d argue that all doctrine and all principles given over the pulpit are absolutely secondary when compared with the exhortation to become like and follow Jesus Christ, and as Christ teaches, that’s the purpose of prophets. To not believe in prophets and to still claim to believe in Christ is to invalidate a vast majority of Christ’s words. And to do that is to invalidate Him.

I can’t do that.

If there is one thing I know more than anything it’s that Jesus Christ is the Savior and that His Atonement is both real and mighty. There is no way that I could deny that, because I have seen it work. I have seen it work in the lives of people who I never guessed it could work for. I have seen it do things for me that I had no confidence I could ever do on my own. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is beautiful and it’s incomprehensible and it’s real, and it’s real because He’s real. Because He’s real, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe Him when He says prophets give us the truth. And because I believe Him, I cannot deny the truthfulness of the one church on earth that has prophets that testify of Him. To do so would be to selectively believe the Savior who chose to believe entirely in me, so much so that He died for me. I cannot imagine the pain that would give Him.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a living, progressing entity that represents everything the Atonement is. It represents the enabling power of the Atonement, the ability to go from humble, hard, and yes, even questionable — in our eyes — circumstances to edification and happiness, and within the walls of its chapels, we covenant to always remember the Savior. That is the key. Remembering. Remembering who we were, what we are, what we felt, and what we experienced. Hanging on to the things that bring us closer to Christ. This church does that. Sometimes I think we’re so concerned with the roots of the church that we tragically forget to look up and see the fruits of the church, even the ones we have picked and savored frequently throughout our lives. The Atonement of Jesus Christ, sacred covenants, and the ability to be with our families forever are magnificent fruits indeed, fruits that we cannot find combined anywhere else.

I am inadequate on my own. I make mistakes and I’m imperfect and I’m stubborn. But I’m staying in the church. Not because I’m a coward, a prude, an idiot, a bigot, a conformist, an illogical fool, or whatever other garbage noun society likes to throw at me to make me feel bad about believing in something. I’m staying because of Jesus Christ. He is here.

And I never want to leave Him.

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