Wednesday, June 21, 2017

New Year's Goals Revisited and Some Thoughts on Setting Boundaries

As some may remember I posted earlier this year about my new year's goals being somewhat untraditional.  After dealing with postpartum issues, depression and anxiety this year I decided I needed to make some goals that would help me increase my happiness and peace.  The goals I proposed for myself were:

1) Care less what other people think about me
2) Care less about what other people are doing
3) Do less
4) Focus on the first three and stop making so many goals!

If you'd like to see those goals in context or understand what I mean by them you can view the previous post here: Perfect Goals and the Imperfect People That Make Them.

So what have I been doing to achieve these goals?

Goal #1- Standing up for myself more.  Giving my opinions.  Spending less time worrying about what others might be thinking.  Praying to know the things that I should and shouldn't be doing.   Working toward breaking my habit of saying "sorry" too much as a way to ease my guilt (or at least being cognizant of the fact that I'm doing that!). Trying to say sorry for those things that I'm genuinely sorry for and giving people time to forgive me or not. I've been working with a therapist to identify when and why I feel shame and how I can combat the negative feelings and actions that are produced by being caught up in that shame.

Goal # 2- I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.  Yes I can still check it through the web browser on my phone, and yes sometimes I still do that but I'm trying to do it less.  I limit my sessions on social media to twice a day and usually only spend about 10 min. per session.  Taking time to have real conversations with people about what is going on in their life so that I keep a better perspective about what real life looks like.

Goal #3- Setting priorities each week about where I spend my time.  I've started writing personal time on my calendars to make sure that breaks are built into my day.  I'm also trying to set up consistent times to exercise and pursue other hobbies.  I used to feel guilty if someone asked me to do something and I said no unless I had a for sure reason I couldn't do it.  Now, if someone asks me to babysit and it's during the time I was going to do something (exercise, read, clean the kitchen) I don't feel as guilty saying no.  Sometimes, if possible I change my schedule, but sometimes when it's the only time I have to get my personal items done then I just say "sorry, maybe next time".  I'm definitely not perfect at this one but I'm working toward it!

As I've read a few books on these subjects and started into counseling to understand some of these issues better I've realized that these goals are all about boundaries.  Each of these goals, in a way, is defining for myself what I am willing to put out there for others and what I'm willing to take from others.  And as I look at the parts of my life that cause frustration and worry, I realize a lot of those feeling come from not setting appropriate boundaries (boundaries for myself, boundaries in my relationships, boundaries at church, even boundaries on my goal setting efforts).

So what does it mean to set a boundary? The most concise definition I could find was on wikipedia where it said: "Personal boundaries are guidelines or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits." 

A video on the subject that I found helpful from can be found here: Tips to set boundaries in any relationship

I think that boundaries not only apply to how others treat us, but can also extend to how we treat ourselves.  I had reached a point in my life where I was no longer treating myself in a reasonable or safe way.  I had negative thoughts about being worthless, I beat myself up for failures, I even questioned why I was even here.  I needed to set some boundaries for myself.  I also felt frustrated with others frequently.  But as I begin to take responsibility for my own mental health and emotions I realize that my frustrations were not really anchored in the actions of other people, my frustration was with my own reaction.  I didn't stand up for myself.  I didn't state my opinions.  I didn't make course corrections over small things and thus let little things turn into big things.  I realized this when one friend got upset about something and another friend said "how can you be upset with Julia? that's like kicking a puppy?"  I knew she was right and it kind of made me reflect on how I was reacting to things.  I'm not a puppy.  I'm a strong opinionated person! So why have I been letting myself get kicked and why am I acting like a puppy?

At my core I'm a loving person, some people I'm sure would disagree with that, but I feel like I am usually motivated out of charity and love for others.  I am however, also a red personality, I like to get things done! It's sometimes hard to reconcile these two aspects of my personality.  I don't want to step on others toes, I don't want to make a fuss, but at the same time I don't want to be held down or become stagnate. In recent years, I've focused so much on "not making a fuss" I've started doing a lot of unhealthy things- Not stating my opinion, letting others talk for me, not saying things in the right moment so then I vent it passive-aggressively later, letting things build on themselves until they explode. I've been trying so hard to repress the "bad" parts of my red personality I've been letting some of the "good" parts go too.  I'd given up hobbies like debating, writing, and critical thinking.  That last one is more of a life skill than hobby...but you still see my point!

So I'm working on setting those boundaries.  And so far the results are mixed.  Also, it's hard to be brave. It's hard to speak up for what you need after so many years of not doing that.  It's hard to stand firm in what you believe when people are angry, or saddened, or confused by why you believe those things.  Some of these types of conversations have gone really well.  Others haven't. Some people have heard my boundaries and respected me for telling them while others have felt abandoned, called me selfish or insinuated that I'm not being very Christ-like.  But I have to fall back on my first goal of worrying less about what others think of me.  When I've made these boundaries out of love and after reflection and prayer then I have to be confident in taking care of myself. I've had people set boundaries with me and I find that as we are open about what we need in healthy relationships it makes the relationship stronger.  I would much rather someone tell me when I'm crossing a line then sit back and stew and get frustrated with me.  So I try and have faith that others will feel the same.

As a Christian it can be hard to find the balance between helping others and taking care of ourselves.  Others might interpret our need for boundaries as a selfish. We know that we are supposed to be selfless and we know that we need to focus on others' needs as much as our own.  But we also have to take care of ourselves to be able to have anything left to give to others.  We've all heard the analogy of the oxygen in the airplane.  First you put on your mask so you don't pass out, then you help your children put on theirs. Heavenly father expects us to take care of our bodies and our families and sometimes that means we have to disengage from other situations that take from our limited resources (emotional, time, financial) whatever the case may be.  Going back to that original definition about boundaries: if someone is unwilling to be safe or reasonable around you, then it may be time to give it some distance and walk away temporarily until that person is ready to interact with you in a healthier way.  We shouldn't judge what other people do but we can certainly be a wise judge in what we allow into our own lives and homes. Christ would not require us to be put in unsafe situations. He wouldn't want for us to be emotionally, verbally or physically neglected or abused. 

Christ was loving, kind and forgiving.  But he still gave people instruction and commandments.  He gave people the steps and practices that would improve our relationship with God.  I'm certainly not saying we should command people in how they should treat us but it seems probable to me that Christ wouldn't have any problem with us giving people guidelines about steps and practices that can make our relationships healthier too.  When the rich young man asks Christ what else he should do beyond believing on Christ, Christ tells him to sell all he has and follow him.  When the young man refuses to sell all of his great possessions he goes away sorrowful and Christ sorrowfully lets him go.  Christ doesn't say "okay never mind what I said before" or "I guess you don't really have to sell your possessions".  He stands firm in the instruction that he gave.  When we set a boundaries like- you need to listen to my feelings, or you can't be drunk around my kids, or you can't threaten me, or you can't yell profanities in my home, and the person refuses to do those things- then the Christlike thing to do is to step back.  It can be hard to remember but when you take a step back you have to realize that you didn't harm the relationship by making a boundary they harmed the relationship by not being willing to consider the boundary important.

I find that even though I've had more people temporarily upset with me in the last few months than I ever have before I also have more peace.  I feel sorrow that some of my relationships will change and some may even stay broken because others might not be willing to accept my boundaries.  But really, if someone can only be my friend if I'm the only one giving in the relationship, or because they don't know my real opinions about things, or I only tell them what they want to hear, or because I never stand up for probably wasn't a really quality relationship to begin with.  

I'm learning who I am and what I believe.  I know that I love and care about others.  I know that those who love and care about me will stay by me and support me as I make positive changes in my life and as I state my opinions. I'm learning sometimes being kind and loving requires me to do hard or difficult things. I'm learning that being a "red" personality isn't a bad thing like some would have you believe.  Each personality type has strengths and weaknesses. As I embrace my personality and focus on it's positives I know I can get stuff done! Like improving my relationships, improving my view of self, and improving my mental wellness and quality of life!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Review- Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone RollingJoseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Longest good reads review ever coming up...
A very good and honest look at the life of Joseph Smith. The author refers to it as a cultural biography in that it gives a clearer picture to Joseph Smith's actions, teachings, etc. by highlighting the culture of Americans in the early 1800s.

I had marked it as a book that I wanted to read based on the lds topics articles that can be found on that discuss some of the churches more controversial teachings (some that were lived historically and some that are lived today) such as polygamy, Heavenly Mother, seer stones, priesthood restrictions, etc. No matter the topic, this book would come up as a reference and so when I was at BYU in early May I went ahead and picked up a copy at the campus bookstore.

I honestly would recommend this to anyone (member or not) who is interested in knowing about the roots of Mormonism. I feel like the author did a pretty good job of presenting the material in a neutral way. In fact, he even dedicates most of the preface to the book explaining why and how he tries to present it in a historically factual yet neutral way. And I felt like it made the book easier to read coming from that perspective. I thought this book would answer a lot of questions for me. And it did. However, it also left me with a whole new (and possibly bigger) crop of questions to be answered in the future. It was definitely not a light read and left my poor husband as the recipient of most of my late night questions and discussions.

I find it funny that sometimes other members of the church will view historical books about the church as anti-mormon literature. Despite having purchased this book at the BYU bookstore I was told by someone that I shouldn't be reading it. I understand that not everyone wants or needs to know about the early church. For me, I feel like if I can only accept the easy parts, and never look at some of the dark or hard to understand parts of church history, can I really claim to have a strong testimony?

After finishing this book I would say that my testimony has definitely been affected. I wouldn't really say that it's been strengthened or lessened, but it has me seeing things a lot differently than I did before. I think we get a very limited number of stories from church history that make up the bulk of what we've been taught in Sunday school and we start to think that everything was the way that those few stories portray it to be. Taking a step back and looking at the entire life of Joseph Smith and the other founding members of the early church helps to make the picture a little less picturesque and little more diverse. These were real people, with real struggles, making good and bad decisions, making mistakes, helping others, fighting, forgiving, etc. That might be hard for some to accept, but for me it makes it more believable and relatable. If God loved these imperfect people maybe he loves me.

So, here are some of the topics this book covers:

Seer Stones/Translation-

I've made my peace long ago with seer stones and the Book of Mormon translation process. Being a bit of mystic myself and knowing what I do about the religious culture of the time I really don't have a problem with Joseph Smith looking for treasure, helping people find lost items, or translating plates by looking into a stone. Do I think that is how God usually talks to But maybe sometimes he lets people use tools that are comfortable for them. I guess if I believe that Moses talked to Him in a burning bush, I can believe Joseph Smith saw the word of God in a stone. The part that is hard for me to understand is why more members don't know more about this part of Joseph's history or how the Book of Mormon was translated. However, I'm excited that the church's website is starting to address these issues and the church just announced a new extensive church history that will be published in several volumes over the next few years and no doubt added to the Sunday school resources.

First Vision (and the differences in written accounts)-

I'm still good with the first vision. I'm even fine with each of the accounts being different. I don't really feel like any of them contradict one another. Some are more elaborate than others, some focus more on particular aspect, but for the most part tell the same story (even though they may be used to emphasize different points). I know from some of my behavioral science classes when I was becoming a teacher that when a kid tells the same story over and over the same exact way it often means it's an altered story (either covering up details, fabricated by them, or memorized from an adult). Had Joseph Smith told the story word for word the same way each time throughout his life I'd probably be more inclined to think it was made up. But maybe that's just me. An interesting thing to note about that time in American history is that there were tons of people claiming to see Christ and Heavenly Father. And his account really isn’t that uncommon when compared with stories being told by others at the time. I guess for some that would make them inclined to think he was telling the truth, and for others probably that they were all lying. I enjoyed reading more thorough accounts of others who also had first vision stories.


Now this was one of the topics that I feel like I was not very well-read about. I think sometimes the way we think about prophecy is very old testament in nature…God just comes down and states in plain words exactly what his people should do. While Joseph sometimes claims to receive his prophecy this way it’s often received more as impressions and in very vague terms. I was also interested in the many accounts of him being “caught up in the spirit” where he would collapse or shake or have to be carried around from place to place while semi-conscious. Again, historically this is something that a lot of denominations at the time were doing but we always hear so much about him trying to distance the early saints from the Shakers and others that it was interesting how many of those practices he participated in himself.

Also, because so many of his prophecies were indirect or vague. We have to look at his interpretations of prophecy. Sometimes he would publish them directly or give them in front of large groups. Other times he would write them down and then draft and redraft them until he felt like he had it right. A pattern that seems to emerge for me is that Joseph Smith had a tendency to take things overly literal. Or another way of saying that would be that he sometimes took eternal principals and tried to make them fit into the physical mortal world at the time. He hears treasure in Salem and he’s thinking it’s gold when it’s really converts. He hears Kingdom of God and he sets up a secret council of fifty and appoints himself king. He hears that we need to seal the human race together in the Kingdom of God and he starts marrying multiple women and sealing men to one another as father and son for dynastic reasons. He hears Zion and he immediately thinks it’s a specific place- Missouri, Kirtland, eventually Utah. He hears second coming and he thinks it’s happening next week. This isn’t to say he didn’t receive these revelations just that sometimes his interpretation about how it should be handled or how literal it is seems off. I know I sound like I’m trying to rationalize some of the more difficult decisions he made. This is just my own opinion on things. I think the church clarifies some of these and some have just kind of been dropped. We now believe that zion has many stakes all over the world. That the kingdom of God is an eternal organization rather than a physical government. But when it comes to polygamy, it’s just kind of this gray blob out there that no one really knows about. Was it commanded of God? Why? If so, was it lived in the correct way? Etc etc etc. But we’ll get there later on in my polygamy sections.

Word of Wisdom

So some interesting history here about when it was actually enforced. When received Joseph regarded it as a “good thing to try” but not a commandment as serious as say polygamy. I found it interesting that Joseph continued to drink and occasionally smoke the rest of his life. And that sacraments and temple ordinances were all performed with alcohol for many years even after his death. He even gets drunk on occasion and has a fist fight with one of his brothers. I think sometimes we hear the story about him being a young man and needing surgery on his leg and he refuses to drink and says that he’ll be fine if his dad just holds him and we think that indicates he never drank. I don’t fault that church or teachers or anyone for that, it’s just my own incorrect assumption that I made when I was younger.

Mob violence:

There’s no question that Joseph Smith and the early saints had some terrible, violent and unjust acts perpetrated against them. Including theft, tar and feathering, rape, murder, and more. In some cases these things were even made lawful to do to Mormons. However, I always assumed that these acts were all perpetrated by people who didn’t know much about the Mormons or hated them for being different. When in fact many of these stories were carried out by disaffected ex-mormons or even splintering groups within the church itself. For instance the Kirtland temple is taken over by several recently excommunicated members of the quorum of the twelve. It was also unfortunate to read about many instances where church members where found stealing, destroying, burning printing presses etc. of non Mormons either in retaliation or under orders from superiors within the church. Very sad treatment of many people on both sides who did not deserve it.


This one is hard guys. This one is seriously hard for me. I just have a really hard time reconciling polygamy and my belief that God values women equally with men. I just don’t see how they can go together. And I guess I always just put this on the shelf before and said “I’m never going to understand that one so I’m just not going to think about it”. But after reading this book and realizing how important Joseph Smith regarded this practice it’s hard to put it on the shelf and consider myself a well informed saint. Joseph Smith has several quotes referring to polygamy as his crowning doctrine. The doctrine that all other doctrines pointed toward. It's often suggested that it was just a test of the obedience but that's not what Joseph Smith taught. He believed it was a necessary ordinance of exaltation...just like baptism or marriage. So, I guess I have to take a closer look at it.

Upon closer inspection, however, you find some hard stories. Already married women who are sealed to Joseph Smith instead of their husbands. Sexual relations with younger women, older women and the already married women. Joseph actively telling people to keep it secret from Emma (his first wife) and telling women when it’s safe to come over to avoid Emma. Emma threatening to leave him. In fact, as he begins to extend the practice of polygamy to other men he tells those men that part of the doctrine of polygamy is that they must keep it secret from their first wives also. How could a loving God require that of women or men? It’s a lot to take in.

It's also interesting to note that so many men left the religion because they refused to live polygamy. Oliver Cowdery, Orson Hyde, and more. Eventually some come back and do live polygamy but many others don't. It's often suggested that these men left because they wanted more power within the church or wanted to be prophet. That may have been true too but we have to acknoweledge that on some level a lot of these men leave over polygamy.

I mentioned before that it is kind of ambiguous why the church stopped that practice. Certainly a partial reason is to gain statehood. Many of the early saints and prophets of the restoration have multiple quotes about polygamy being superior to monogamy and that polygamy will never be taken from the earth again. Yet it is. So if they were wrong about it never being stopped, is it possible they were wrong about starting it up in the first place? Or is it a case like when they started to practice the law of consecration and they failed at it so God stepped it back a bit. And if they were practicing polygamy wrong, in what ways was it wrong? Should it not have just been men with multiple spouses? Maybe it was more of an eternal principal and they didn’t need to have marriages in the mortal or sexual sense? Maybe it was supposed to be a financial or protective joining rather than a physical one? Again, these are the questions I have. I’m not trying to give anyone any answers.

And lastly, the reason that this topic is so hard for me to put on a shelf- the fact that it is still in some form practiced today. As Mormons, we claim all the time that the practice was ended a hundred years ago. And while that’s physically true we still practice spiritual polygamy all the time through temple sealings. If a man divorces or becomes a widower he can be sealed to a new spouse at the same time while a woman may only be sealed to one man. I know that several years ago, it was changed so that a deceased woman can now be sealed to more than one man, but that is much less common than the other. So it’s not really that we aren’t practicing polygamy we’ve just postponed it for the next life.

There's approximately 1 million more things I could say about this topic but since the book I'm currently reading is a biography of women who lived polygamy I'll save the rest for that book review.

Women and the Gospel

This is the last topic I’ll hit, even though there are more that I’d love to discuss. It’s hard to be a religious woman because we are told over and over again that we should find ourselves in the scriptures and learn about our divine potential from our heavenly parents. But all of the writers of scripture are men and 98% of the stories are about men. And we know tons about our Heavenly Father but very little of our Heavenly Mother. I feel like church leaders today are good and they are careful to add women into the scriptures. When a scripture says the word man you might often hear them add “and women” when reading it aloud. But given the cultural background and attitudes toward women at the time when the doctrine and covenants or bible was written it’s not very likely that the original authors thought it included women. It’s kind of like when the Founding fathers wrote “All men are created equal” they didn’t mean women or other races, they meant all white men are created equal. When Joseph Smith hears “This is my work and my Glory- to bring to pass the immortality and Eternal life of man” he is thinking of it in the same way- Man, not woman.

One clear place we can see this is in temple practices that are different for men and for women based on Eve’s choice. So even though one of the articles of Faith written by Joseph Smith says Men won’t be punished for Adam’s transgression the follow up to that is that Women will be punished for Eve’s. This shows me that when Joseph Smith wrote man in this context, he meant just that, man.

The church organization from the beginning has men at the lead with women at home taking care of the family and property. I’m not saying I want the priesthood or anything. I just mean that reading this helped me empathize with early latter-day saint women. For months at a time the men are in the school of the prophets or in the temple learning and being edified while the women are left at home doing all their own chores, and their husbands chores, and taking care of the children (many of whom die in their arms.) While things aren’t quite as bleak for me today. It’s still very hard in church culture when my husband is called into so many meetings and receives so much training and I’m often left at home taking care of all the other things. Or I’m left at church taking care of all the kids and can’t hear any of the spiritual messages. It’s hard to feel like my bucket is getting filled at all.

I also was under the impression that men and women received the endowment at the same time. When in fact it was actually a few years in between the first endowment of the male leadership and the endowments given to women. Part of this has to do with the fact that the first endowment didn’t resemble our current endowment in any way. When it was revisited a few years later, and given more structure, it was then made available to women for the purpose of them being able to enter into polygamy. It was also interesting to note that there was an ordinance called a “second anointing” that was given after the endowment to people as a gift for helping Joseph marry additional wives or for entering into polygamy themselves. When I tried to look this up on the only reference was in a Sunday school lesson that said “Do not try to discuss or answer any questions about the second anointing”- which kind of gave me a sinking feeling.

So, I’m not apostate. I’m just making sense of things. I guess a huge takeaway for me is that God uses imperfect people. And that maybe he doesn’t reveal all of his purposes even to his most elect because we are all here to make decisions and be tried. Even with all the questions I have I’m able to see Joseph Smith as a prophet. But not infallible. I know that we all make mistakes and that he made mistakes. But, sometimes it would be nice to know which things were mistakes and which weren’t. For each person that line is going to be different...obviously some people think it was all a mistake or lie, others think none of it was a mistake and it was all done perfectly, for me the truth seems to be somewhere in the middle. Like I said before- sometimes the church clarifies and sometimes they don’t. Are the holding things back? Are we just not ready? Are some things just unknowable? Anyway, all of you people who are smarter than I am, read this book and give me some answers! Please! ;)

View all my reviews

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