Friday, October 28, 2016

The Courage Equation: Part One

In August 2016 I participated in an event for women called "So You Don't Fit the Mold". The purpose of this event was to help women embrace the fact that we were not created to fit into a specific mold, we were not made to be just like someone else, we were made unique--beautiful and perfect for our specific creation--to bring something only we can bring into the world. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "Rather than attempting to force everyone into a mold...we can choose to celebrate...differences and appreciate them for adding richness and constant surprises to our lives."

At the event I elected to speak on finding courage to pursue our dreams. I chose this topic because I think so many of us are inspired to do something great, but as we compare ourselves to others--their accomplishments, talents, successes--we start to believe that we aren't good enough to go after the dream in our heart.

Using a formula derived from my own personal experiences, called The Courage Equation, I laid out basic (in)variables to find and hold onto true courage. Because courage based on true principles can be lasting and sustaining through the sometimes difficult road of dream achievement. Whereas courage based on the fleeting acceptance of the world will not last and will not be enough to motivate you to get back up when life knocks you down.


I wanted to share this formula with my blog followers in the hopes that it may help you discover true courage and help you on the road to your dreams.


The Courage Equation: Part One

Introduction:

Out of the many reasons why I don’t fit the “mold”, three stand out the most. 

The first, I was an extremely shy child. I struggled with anxiety even after I started to poke my head out of my shell. I never looked for opportunities to stand in front of a crowd. But there were benefits to being shy. I was very observant. I people watched. These ended up being two traits that came in handy in the writing world. 

The second reason, I grew up in a predominantly mormon neighborhood as the daughter of a less-active convert with some unhealthy habits, so I never really felt like I fit in with my friends. For the most part they were accepting, but my mother, brothers, and I, still felt the sting of judgement on more than one occasion. But there were benefits to this as well. My mother took us to church and through her testimony, the influence of good leaders and friends, I was able to nurture a love for God and His Son because I wanted it, and I gained a personal testimony of the gospel based on my own experiences. 

The third reason, as a wife and a mother I still struggle with anxiety. I hate to cook. I don’t know how to bottle or can. I’d rather watch the Bourne movies than chick flicks, I drive a lifted jeep, and I love getting my hands dirty. If it’s a car, I’ll help fix it, or paint it, the faster it goes and the louder it sounds the better, but if it’s a recipe, the most I can promise is I’ll probably eat it—unless it’s loaded with vegetables. But I’m here to tell you, the things that have kept me from fitting into a mold are now some of the very things I like the most about myself. I’m no longer ashamed of being different, now I love not being different, I love being me. Because as you’ve already heard today and will continue to hear—there is no such thing as a mold.

It hasn’t been an easy road to get to this place, and it’s consistent effort to keep moving forward with this mindset, the world still wants me to fit into a mold of it’s creation, but I’ve learned a few things that help me keep my head on the right side of the road. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that true courage is a powerful tool that helps me see myself for who I truly am and my real purpose and place in this world. This is what I want to share with you today. The Courage Equation was born from years of personal experiences, but it really solidified during what I call my dark period that began in 2008 and lasted for about 2 years.

I had just begun taking some classes and sharing my writing a tiny bit before this point. To set this up I have to tell you that having babies was never easy for me. My oldest was 6 weeks early, and I spent 4 months on bed rest with my second. And I had postpartum depression after all three of my pregnancies. I found this journal entry I wrote about 5 weeks after I miscarried our third child. Prior health issues and complications from the miscarriage resulted in the need for an emergency hysterectomy 5 months later.

“I’m hanging on but I’m not moving forward. It’s like I’m sitting in the middle of a dark crossroads with my engine idling unsure of which road to take. Should we try again? Should I continue writing, even though I feel so inadequate at it? Should I give up my ridiculous dreams and focus more fully on my family? Should I give up this part of myself I’ve only begun to explore? Is it really that important or is it a ridiculous self-indulgence? Is it selfish? Will the day ever come when I can believe in myself?”

It was 2 years before I wrote again in my journal. During those two years I experienced my literal hell on earth. I had three surgeries, was diagnosed with General Anxiety and Depression, and struggled sometimes daily just to get out of bed. It seemed everywhere around me people were having babies and more than once I heard the insensitive comment, “How come you only have two kids, or when you gonna have another one?” I understood that they didn’t know my circumstances, but it still hurt. I struggled with the question so many of us pose: “What is my purpose”? Was it okay, or even right to pursue a dream alongside motherhood?

I didn’t realize it at the time but God was already showing me I needed to share this side of myself. When we lost the baby and my physical and emotional health set off on a downward spiral, I learned a lot about the way God helps us discover the complex creatures we were designed to become, just how vital it is to do things for our own personal growth, and how when we do, we ultimately end up touching lives around us for good in the process.

By December 2010 things had begun to level out. Panic attacks were down to a minimum, medications were balanced, hormones were becoming manageable, and my physical health was slowly improving. But more importantly I was beginning to see the purpose behind my experience, nourish a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, and recognize the importance of facing my fears and insecurities in order to pursue my goals and develop my talents.

As I continued taking writing classes and attending conferences, I began to find myself in the darkness. I discovered that writing was great therapy. I started writing for church events, and published my first short story in a Methodist weekly pamphlet, a short fictional piece relating to the emotions I experienced after my miscarriage and hysterectomy. The editor thanked me for writing it, saying she knew it would help many of their hurting members. I was beginning to accept that my writing could not only help me, but someone else as well.

Writing was helping me, but anxiety continued to be a big part of my life. When I made the decision to publish my first book in 2014, this happened.

 



Telogen Effluvium. Yes, stress related hair loss is a real thing. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture until it started to grow back, but as you can see I lost about 20% of my hair. I had overall thinning, and one big bald spot. When it reached about 3 inches long I cut it all off the way you see in my old bio pictures. But despite hair loss, reoccurrences with depression and anxiety, and the adversary’s shouts to just quit, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. If we ask the Lord to make our weaknesses into strengths, we’ve got to be willing to get out and exercise, right?

Onto the happy stuff. What is the Courage Equation? It is two basic (I call them invariables) that lead to true courage. Courage that is sustainable and real, based on true principles, not the fleeting acceptance of the world.

The Courage Equation


The First Invariable—1CG or Confidence in God

Each invariable is made up of a formula containing 3 truths that need to be understood, accepted, and applied.

The truths in 1CG are: 
The Caterpillar truth
The Truth of The Individual Plan (your Butterfly Purpose)
And The oxymoron—The Truth of the Lie

The Caterpillar Truth

Just as the caterpillar was created with all she needs to become a beautiful butterfly. You were perfectly created to fulfill your beautiful purpose.

“We do not need to become more of anything to start to become the person God intended us to become. God will help you become something greater than you ever thought possible.”—President Dieter F. Uchtdorf

I’m sure everyone agrees that within this ugly little caterpillar is everything it needs to become a beautiful butterfly, right? She won’t be borrowing wings from her neighbor, or antennae from her sister to become what she was created to become. She has to go through a process yes, a metamorphosis, but everything she needs to shed this skin and become a butterfly is already a part of her genetic makeup. A part of her creation. 

Truth #1: All of you, just like the caterpillar, were created to be beautiful in the truest sense of the word. In the pre-mortal realm you were given talents, gifts, and abilities unique to your spirit—to your creation. You were “created perfectly” with the power and potential to fulfill your butterfly purpose. God does not make mistakes and he did not screw up when he created you.

God loves you with a perfect love. You don’t need to “become” anything more than you already are. It’s already within you. You just have to trust God and allow him to show you the beauty he’s created just waiting to be discovered, taught, strengthened, and revealed.


The Truth of Your Individual Plan/Your Butterfly Purpose
Your path was created to bring out your unique beauty. Agency brings hurdles, potholes, roadblocks, and rough detours. But it also brings added beauty in the form of, compassion, growth, opportunity and a love and appreciation for the Savior and His Atonement.
Four gifts of navigation: Prayer, Holy Ghost, Angels (both in the flesh and beyond the veil), the Atonement
“Following Celestial roadsigns in Telestial traffic jams is not easy…[but] our Lord can lift us from deep despair and cradle us midst any care…” —Neal A. Maxwell 

Truth #2: Your Individual Plan. This is where it gets hard for some. I know many of your stories. I know some of the heartache you carry. Many of you have shared with me the abuse, self-doubt, health issues, and fears that have plagued you. I know that for some of you, the pain you have faced causes slight resentment when you hear that God created a plan just for you. You may be thinking: 2 seconds ago you insisted that God loves me, that he created me for a beautiful purpose. How can all this heartache and pain be a part of His “beautiful” plan for me? 

I want you to know I will not disrespect or downplay the weight and breadth of anyone’s pain. Heartache is real, pain is real, and so is resentment and fear. We have no right to judge how each person deals with pain. I only know from my own experiences that it is when we find the path beneath our feet, through the mists of pain, that forward movement is possible. So, I will try to bring to light a truth that may not answer this question as completely as some would like it to, but hopefully will bring hope as you face heartache and pain.

Finding the path through the pain is understanding an element of agency that is often misunderstood. Physical ailments and disease are not always a result of agency. These can be a part of our path for other reasons. Reasons that can be uncovered in your personal conversations with God. The element of Agency I want to discuss is the one that causes the other kinds of hurts, hurts of the heart. In the caterpillar truth I told you God created you perfectly, and He did. I said He loves you perfectly, and He does. When I say He has a perfect plan for you, I promise you, He does. The great gift of Agency brings imperfection into our perfect path, but these imperfections are vital for growth. Let me explain. 

Our choices, the use of our personal agency, can sometimes cause a roadblock, a pot hole, or a hurdle in our path. Sometimes it is our own choices that lead us to heartache and despair. But our path is not only affected by our choices, but also the choices of others. With the permission of a good friend (whose name I’ll not share) I’ll use a piece of her story to illustrate. 

This friend admits to making choices that brought her into a marriage that became dangerous and unhealthy. Her choice brought her to the hurdle, but his choices created the potholes of abuse and pain that she had to maneuver over, around, and through.  God in His infinite wisdom when He was creating her, knew what she could one day face—and though he could not take away her agency to choose her spouse, or her ex-husband’s agency to abuse and mistreat—He could and did bless her with abilities, talents, strengths, and people in her life, that she would need to get past the hurdles and potholes. He gave her His Son, to pay the price of her sins and the sins committed against her. 

So how do we recognize our perfect path beneath the distractions, hurdles, and potholes? By utilizing the four gifts of navigation.

Prayer-Talk to God. Ask Him to help you see the path and the direction you need to go. 
The Holy Ghost—the precious gift who sees past the fog we’re stuck in and helps guide us through. Angels—We are never alone, Family, friends, mentors, and sometimes perfect strangers, both in the flesh and beyond the veil will show up in our path when we need them most. 
The fourth and most vital, the Atonement—Jesus Christ has chosen to walk with us every step of the way, hold our hand, lift us up, and carry us when we need Him to. The Atonement tears down the guilt roadblocks brought on by our own sins, and rescues and carries us over the painful potholes gouged into our path by the sins of others. 

My friend mistakenly believed that she needed to feel guilty and punish herself for her ex-husband’s abuse because she chose him. She chose him, but she did not force him to abuse her, that was his choice. Once she could separate the two, she could utilize the Atonement for her sins, forgive herself for the choices that led her to the situation, then let the Atonement take away the pain from the sins her ex-husband placed in her path. The Atonement both heals and strengthens us. And I can tell you right now, my friend is amazing!! She is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever known. Her experiences have increased her faith, and brought out immense beauty and strength. She is a force for good, a force to be reckoned with.

As we try to follow the right road signs, as we struggle with fear, doubt, anxiety and pain, know that God has given us everything we need to navigate the path, and Jesus Christ understands exactly what we are going through.

The Truth of the Lie

God prompts. Satan pesters. To which voice are you listening?

“When you follow Satan you give him power. When you follow God He gives you power.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”—Eleanor Roosevelt

Truth#3 The oxymoron, The Truth of Satan’s Lies

God prompts. Satan pesters. Because God gave us agency He cannot intercede in our lives unless we ask Him to. Our families and friends can pray for us, but ultimately the decision to move forward with God in our lives is our decision. Which brings to light the truth that it is also our choice to listen to Satan’s lies.

I want you to remember something from this day forward. The woman who trusts God and His plan for her is a threat to Satan. She makes him weak. Every single thought you have that resembles: “You’re too stupid to succeed” “You’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough” IS A LIE! These are not from God. These lies are the adversary fighting to keep you down, to keep you from becoming who you were born to become. When you listen to these lies you subconsciously allow Satan to build a roadblock in your path. You give him power.

An amazing sister missionary sent this truth home after hearing it at a zone conference,“When you follow Satan you give him power. When you follow God He gives you power.” Unfortunately we often find it easier to believe the lie in this mold making world. We use “molds” as a judge of our unique capability and beauty. But easier to believe, does not make it truth. It is NOT TRUTH. Satan’s lies fester and rot in our minds and hearts and they feel awful. They engender self-loathing and thoughts like: “You’re a bad person. You’ll never be free. It’s your fault bad things happen to you. The world would be better off without you.” But these are all lies. 

The truth is God created you perfectly for your plan. Everything good comes from Him, and that includes you. It also includes Godly sorrow, something completely different than Satan’s lies. Godly sorrow for sin prompts a need and desire to repent and be free, with whispering comfort that God loves you no matter what. Guilt may be there yes, but it is seasoned with hope, not despair. God tells you that it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, you are His child and He wants to be in your life. He reminds you that he knew what you would face so created you with perfect potential and power. He tells you, you can be clean and free. He tells you to never give up. He is behind every quiet gentle thought such as: “I made you, so I know you can do hard things” “You are enough” “You are beautiful in every sense of the word” “Just try again, it’s not over yet”. Truth is often harder to hear over Satan’s shouts, but it is always accompanied with power, light and a spark of joy. When these thoughts come, grab on like your life depends on it and act, eventually the more you listen to God and act on His truths, the more power He gives you to overcome the lies.


How do I begin to put more trust in God?

Evaluate: Do you doubt God wants what is best for you?

Can your prayers use a metamorphosis? Do you need to focus more on talking to God as your loving father in order to more fully trust Him? I’ve heard that we sometimes give God tendencies of earthly fathers, or earthly men. Are you passing learned attributes to a perfect God? Have you expected help, but not asked for it, or asked for it but were unwilling to accept the answer? 

Would you benefit from a deeper understanding of the Atonement? The benefits are yours for the taking, the price has already been paid, but we must ask for it to be a part of our lives.

Do you see God and Jesus Christ for who they truly are, or is your image of them tainted by pain, worldly views, or resentment? Do you want to believe good things about yourself, but you’ve listened to Satan’s lies for so long the truth seems too quiet to hear? I have one suggestion for this. Service. In order to truly love our neighbor we must first love ourselves as God created us. We do that very often by serving others. Join a support group, help a neighbor. I can’t tell you how often my own pain was healed more deeply when I was helping another.

List steps your journal or a notebook that you can take to better understand these truths: Try and experiment in trust. Pray to know God’s will concerning you, trust that he knows you, do what you are prompted to do before Satan has a chance to cause you to doubt, and see what happens. If you cannot fully trust at first, start with a desire to trust and let that work within you. Study the scriptures and words of the prophets.



Confidence in God (1CG)
Confidence: full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of [God]

Confidence in God is the first and most vital invariable in the Courage Equation. It is the solid foundation of courage.

With confidence in God and His plan for you, you have solid truth to fight the lies of Satan and the molds of the world. With Confidence in God we move naturally to the second invariable....


END PART ONE:

I feel like it would be best to divide the Equation into two parts to allow you a couple weeks to ponder the "truths" introduced before moving on to the second invariable. The reason being that until you can say you have confidence in God, or you are beginning to recognize when you doubt Him and are truly working to trust more fully, the second invariable will not stick.

It took me awhile to recognize my own lack of trust in God. I was unintentionally giving Him some attributes of my earthly father. Don't get me wrong, my dad is a great man and I love him dearly. But as a Vietnam Veteran he suffered from PTSD (something not understood in those days) and to deal he self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. These coping mechanisms left him "unavailable" in the fathering department much of the time. In short, I never learned to depend on a father figure, or how to talk to one. It wasn't until my adult years that I started to realize much of my self confidence issues go back to a lack of trust in God, trust that He made me and doesn't make mistakes. Trust that He would never leave me alone and had given me all I would need to maneuver my path of life.

So I ask you to take some time to really evaluate this invariable. Do you honestly trust God? Do you trust the promptings He gives you? Do you really believe He loves you unconditionally? If these questions are troubling to you, I encourage you to get down on your knees and talk to Him, really talk to Him as His child. Follow the steps listed above. Deepen your relationship with Him, and I promise when it's time for you to understand the second invariable, it will speak to your heart in a pure and plain way making it so much easier to believe.

God bless,
Kelly




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