Free

butterfly

When I first left Mormonism, the great wide world outside was a scary place. I was afraid of the choices I might make, the consequences I might suffer, and the regrets I might have. The church had been my security blanket for so long and I had truly believed that it would protect me from bad things ever happening to me. I was shocked to find as I grew older that Mormonism was not a way to keep bad things at bay. Everyone experiences hard times and horrible ordeals from time to time. However, my naivete made it impossible for me to see that there is no difference between bad things happening to non-Mormons because of their lack of membership in my church, and bad things that happened to Mormons that were just “trials”.

Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that while the church had been my protector, it has also been my prison. I won’t lie and say that world the church created for me, the fairy tale it told with promises of a life lived “Happily Ever After” wasn’t a beautiful one. The bubble of Mormonism probably did protect me from many choices I could have made and consequences I could have experienced from those choices. I lived a life that was free from many terrible experiences. I feel fortunate. I feel lucky. But I do not feel grateful. How could I ever feel grateful to an entity that promised me freedom to make my own choices, and then stripped me of any choices I could make? The church was my dictator from birth. It told me what to do with my time, when I could date, what I could wear, what I was allowed to become as an adult, what underwear I needed to wear, what things I was allowed to eat and drink, how many children I should have, what I should do with my money, what movies I could see, what people I was allowed to associate with, who I should marry, where I could marry them, and so many more things I can’t even begin to name. Believe it or not, these are some of the fundamental things that make up a life and having an outside entity control all of those things was like being a member of a cult for me.

It could be argued that many people try to control others to keep them safe. Parents do it with their children. Spouses often do it to their significant other. I can understand the fear associated with allowing the people you love to make their own choices and accepting those choices no matter what they may be. Sometimes it probably just seems easier to dictate every decision so you don’t have to master acceptance and empathy. Also, so you don’t have to deal with the feelings of sadness when others make choices you don’t agree with and suffer consequences that are hard. I get it. I just don’t agree with it.

I believe in freedom. I believe in a life with no limits. I believe in treating others as the masters of their own lives. I believe in having faith in one’s self. I believe in carving out my own distinct life full of mistakes and triumphs. I believe that most people are capable of making sound moral decisions on their own. I believe in happiness. I believe that this is the only life I will have and I should spend it owning my own choices and reaping the joys and sorrows of those choices for my own. I believe in myself, in my intelligence, my strength, my morality, my maturity, and my talents. I believe that all of those things are mine and not something I have to thank someone else for giving me.

One of the first things I wanted to do once I left the church was get a tattoo. It was something I had always wanted to do as a Mormon but was not allowed to do. Now, as a grown adult woman of 31 years old, being able to choose for myself if I wanted a permanent marking on my body seemed deliciously wonderful. I had never realized before how many choices I simply allowed to be made for me before without every entertaining the idea of breaking the rules.

To me there are many things in Mormonism like this. There is a strong principle that is repeated over and over again that your body is a temple and you should treat it as such. I was taught that “embellishing your temple” was wrong so all tattoos, weird piercings, over-the-top hair coloring was unacceptable and God would not approve. As a adult I have come to see how absolutely hypocritical this is. Utah is one of the biggest consumers of plastic surgery. Many of the Mormons that I know dye their hair for no other purpose than to ward of the gray hair or to be blonde when they are not naturally so. I know many Mormons that find surgeries like stomach stapling for obesity to be completely acceptable. How is this any different in terms of “altering your temple”? I feel so glad to be free from this fish bowl of judgement about the choices I make with regards to my own body.

So in celebration of leaving Mormonism forever and the freedom I now have for the rest of my life, I got my first tattoo of a bird in flight. It represents me, free from the cage that used to bind me. It’s my life full of the whole wide world outside and the endless possibilities I now have within my reach. It’s my freedom. And I love it. I love that for the rest of my life I will be able to look at it and remember how it felt to be held back for so long and this moment in my life when all I feel is complete and utter joy to be free from it all. No matter where life takes me, this will remind me to live my life free from bondage.

 

Tattoo

Advertisements

Superdad

No words can possibly fully describe the way I feel about Mark as the father of our children, but I will try. When Mark and I started having kids 7 years ago I had serious concerns about how he would be as a dad. I had never really seen him interact with kids and he didn’t seem all that interested in having kids early on in our marriage. We both struggled to find our footing when Reese entered our life and it took awhile before either of us hit our stride(sorry about that Reese!). Yet, here we are 7 years later, and Mark has become the most incredible, patient, enthusiastic, long-suffering, and loving dad that I would have ever imagined. Here are just a few things I love about him as my partner-in-parenting-crime…

Our kids adore him. Like run-to-the-door-screaming-with-delight-and-excitement-when-dad-comes-home-adore-him. He is always more ready to drop everything and play than I am.

He has become such a teacher to our kids. They are curious and ask questions often and he always find great ways of describing and explaining things in a way that I can’t. I especially love the way he connects with our kids on certain things that they are interested in, cementing his relationship with them and taking such pride in their curiosity and growth.

He never shrinks from taking all three kids on outings and activities. Many men would unravel at the prospect of hauling three kids to Costco on a Saturday- but for Mark it’s an adventure.

He rarely yells. He rarely loses his cool. He is so much better at having patience and empathy than I am. We work well together.

So with that, I give you a thrown-together video that I planned on working on all week and then barely had time to finish. It is not how I imagined and I had some technical difficulties with some of the video clips which is why it’s a bit Reese-heavy….but life is not perfect.

Watch the video here.

What I am doing

In relation to Mark’s recent post about happiness, I felt that I should post about the question I get asked often these days from people in my life who are religious. That question is “If you don’t believe in God, what is your purpose in life?”.

It’s a question I can totally relate to because I remember being terrified of death. It was probably at the top of my list of fears and I used to take some comfort in the belief that there was a life after this one. Some people may find it shocking that losing that belief in the afterlife has not increased my belief in death as I was almost certain it would. Instead, I face death with both eyes open. I recognize that death is a part of life, and that everyone dies eventually. I fear it less because I don’t have to cling to an idea that may or may not be real. I somehow take comfort in admitting to myself that I really don’t know what will happen after I die and I cannot control it.

All I can do is worry about today. Right now. This moment.

I believe that what I do with my life each day matters not because I am trying to attain some heavenly glory, but because I want deeply to be remembered as a good person who impacted the world and touched people’s lives. I truly think death is a natural part of our existence and we are simply a tiny part of the very big picture. I think I am the result of many millennia of evolution and natural selection and to me- the human body is miraculous not because it was divinely created, but because it is so extraordinary how we as a race have survived and evolved to our current state of intelligence and population. I believe that when I die my body becomes part of the earth, and the air, and the plants. I believe that as time goes by I will be simply a memory in the hearts and minds of those who loved me. I believe that someday someone will speak my name for the last time, or remember me for the last time and then I will exist no more.

Somehow I take comfort in facing this reality, speaking it, and knowing in my heart that it’s true. Not everyone would feel the same. I can’t imagine what may happen when/if my children, or my husband, or my parents die. I’m sure I will be devastated. I’m sure I will mourn the idea that I will never see them again. But I can’t imagine that I will run back to the fairy tale of belief that I will see them again rather than settling into the honesty with myself that I will not be with them again.

So if I do not believe in life after death, or heaven, what drives me in life? What drives my moral compass? What do I have to live for?

There’s the obvious- my family, my kids whom I want to be a good example for. Just because I no longer believe in an afterlife, it does not immediately make me want to go out and have an affair or be a terrible mother. I have people in my life who I care about and take care of. I want to fill them with all the best parts of me, all the best memories with me, so when I die they will carry those things with them. I want to make my children into the future excellent people of this planet. I want their success and character to be a living memory of the person Mark and I helped them become. I want to live on in their smiles, their honesty, their desire to help people, their ability to love others, their creativity, their acceptance, their strength, and their happiness.

I also want Mark and I to love each other so completely for the rest of our lives. Corny but true. He is completely my better, more selfless and intelligent, other half. I want to make him happy, support him as he works hard for our family, make him proud, be a better version of myself for him. These things are things that motivate me to be a good person even though most of the time it’s unconscious.

I also feel strongly that I want to leave a lasting impact on this world. I know it sounds selfish, but I guess it’s just a way that I cope with the idea of dying one day. Somehow it’s less sad when I think about the idea that I will have helped make the world better or made an impression that is unforgettable. But people who touch the world for generations are few and far between. Seeing as how I don’t plan on making a huge discovery or winning the Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon I started to become a bit disheartened by it all. My life is small. It’s small and cozy and wonderful but I doubt my small contributions will change much of the world while I am alive, let alone when I die.

Then it occurred to me that what I do IS big. What I do is capture and chronicle people’s memories. Birth is a beginning and death a destination; But life is a journey. From wide-eyed youth to wistful old age- this life we live is beautiful, and joyful, and over in the blink of an eye. It’s a bumpy road full of laughter, heartache, and the occasional glorious vista. I intend to capture it all. To bottle it and keep it forever so as the years become heavy and the memories yellow and curl I can still point to those moments, the proof of joy found and love shared. There are so many moments that can never be relived, but they can be revisited over and over again through photographs. I want to help people never forget the most joyful times in their lives.

And they will remember me, even if they don’t remember my name, or what I looked like, or who I was. They will be looking through my eyes every time they look at a photo I took. Every time they show their family portrait to their children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, I will be there. I will be there in the moments I captured and in a sense, I will never be forgotten. That is the power of photos.

So maybe my life IS small. Maybe I will just love deeply those in my immediate vicinity, try to help people, and take some photos of people along the way. That is enough for me. Everybody dies, but I am not afraid of death anymore. For now I am living a day at a time with my eyes wide open.

free. happy. and loved.

photo by jump photography

Great minds…

While Mark was busy asking his brilliant father to put together a Penny video for me for Valentine’s Day, I was busy doing the exact same thing. Yes, that’s right, we both thought up the exact same gift to give each other….and obviously Penny is our current favorite child…..and we are totally in love and ridiculously in sync….you can stop gagging now.

Mark’s dad stepped up to the plate and produced not one but two darling videos of our fun and sassy Penny. He also didn’t let on to either of us what was going on. Sneaky-sneaky.

So here it is- Penny Video v.2. Enjoy.

Turning 30

Please allow me to take this opportunity, on my birthday, to whisk you on a trip down memory lane with me as I reflect on turning 30 and all the many things I am feeling and thinking today.

I have been silent for awhile. I was told by some that I was hurting friendships and relationships with my words on this blog and so, in order to sort out those relationships and also to be respectful towards the people in my life I value, I have tried to keep some of my thoughts and opinions to myself for awhile.

That is what I do. I am a people-pleaser. I love making people happy. I thrive on serving and helping others. It fulfills something deep inside me and I can ride the high of bringing a smile to someone’s face for days. However, with that has always come a deep-rooted insecurity about myself. I have always needed to be built up and complimented to feel good about myself and it has been a struggle throughout my life thus-far to be confident in myself. Only in the last couple of years have I finally found my voice and a way to live my life without apologies and without always needing the reinforcement of others. I went through a somewhat prolonged “ugly-ducking” stage as evidenced by the following photos. My mother once told me that she used to think “Wow, I’m glad Meghan has such a great personality, because she is really not that good-looking”. Thanks Mom.







I also grew up being very much a follower. I never wanted to be the person in charge, the host, the leader of the pack. I liked settling into a pleasant middle area where I could be loud and funny but not have to take responsibility for organizing events or making decisions. I never had a true “best friend” growing up. I had many good friends but no one I would allow myself to be completely real with. I was always afraid that people might not like the “real me”.

I am loud, like really really loud. I like to talk and the more excited I get about the topic the louder my voice becomes. I also have a poor habit of interrupting people. It’s something I became aware of only recently and I have been working on it because I think it is probably a really annoying thing to have a conversation with someone who never lets you finish what you are saying!

I have always been creative and as a child I loved to color intricate pieces of art with many vibrant and coordinating colors. I still remember being complimented by my elementary school teacher on my use of color and the way in which I put colors together. I treasured that compliment for years since I never felt like I was as artistic or intelligent as my older sister. I also loved putting outfits together and coordinating “photo shoots” with my sisters or “fashion shows”.

I tell you all of this to help you understand who I was in my youth. In many ways I was the same person that I am today but in so many ways I am different and I never imagined that I would change so much in such a short period of time. At 23 years old I thought my life was basically over. I believed that I had checked all the major milestones off my list: Baptized- check! Married in the Temple- check! Baby- check! I felt like all that was left was for me to endure to the end with my family and fight every day to keep myself and everyone around me righteous and safe from Satan’s grasp. This fate seemed somewhat depressing at 23.

Then, what happened, happened. I still remember telling Mark one night that I was afraid to lose my belief in the church because without it I might find that I am not actually a good person underneath it all. I was worried that without the framework and guidelines of the church I might turn into the type of person I always thought existed without the gospel- lazy, selfish, drunk, depressed, and lost. I didn’t have confidence that I would know how to be good and have morals without it.

Then my testimony crumbled, whether I wanted it to or not, and I discovered something amazing. I was a good person all along. I thought that everything special about me was because I was a member of the church but now in hindsight I realize that I was all those things and am still all those things because I am me. I still love to serve, I still want to make people happy, I still want to be a good person. A religion can’t claim those things about you or me, and if I was doing them only because my religion told me to then that doesn’t really make me a good person after all.

So many have asked what drives me now. What I have to live for if I am not spending my life preparing to meet God or earn a place in heaven. I am driven by a desire to be happy. I am motivated by a belief that this life may be the only one I get and I should make it great and touch as many lives and people and create as many good relationships as I can. I want to spend as many moments as I can in this life helping people, laughing loudly, and making the world better. I want to be remembered in the photographs I take, in the people I have spent time with, in the words I have written. I want to make many deep and lasting friendships.  I want to be an example to my children of what it means to be selfless, adventurous, courageous, empathetic, and generous. That is a very high standard to set and I don’t always meet that goal. I am human and I am not even close to the person I want to be for my kids, but I try. Mostly I don’t believe in a next life so I live knowing that there is no way of knowing if my life will be long or short, so every day matters and every day I need to show my children and husband love and appreciation.

Recently I heard about an ancient Buddhist idea that we are walking through life backward in a sense, with our backs to the future and with our eyes facing the past. We can see where we have been but not where we are going. This really hit me as I heard it because this is so true of where I am now. I have spent a lot of time recently looking at the past and being angry about the things I was taught or the choices I made, and trying to blame others for those decisions or those teachings. This anger or blame does no good but looking at the path I have taken helps me to understand who I am and how I got here. I finally feel at 30 years old that I know who I am and I am finally beginning to have the confidence in myself that whoever I am is just fine. I don’t have to change myself to fit a mold or make other people comfortable. I am who I am and that person I am is pretty great. If you accept me, flaws and all, then I welcome you into my life with open arms. If you don’t then it’s too bad. I will not change myself for anyone else and If you don’t like me for who I am you are missing out, because I am an awesome person.

However, I am not perfect. I know that in the last two years many people have been offended by my views and opinions. I don’t aim to upset and offend. I am just not the best at presenting my ideas and thoughts in a way that is empathetic and kind. I am a passionate person and my words can be misinterpreted as self-righteous. If I have come across that way I sincerely apologize. Please be patient with me, I feel like I have turned on my brain for the first time in my life and have found my voice and the confidence to use it. I don’t profess to know everything, I simply enjoy discussion and open conversation. I think I lived too much of my life feeling like I couldn’t say everything I thought and now I make few apologies for having ideas of my own and expressing them. My aim is never to be hurtful, my aim is to help other people see my point of view and consider it even if they don’t come to the same conclusion. Ideas should be challenged. Nowadays, I value honesty and a say-it-like-it-is attitude.

As I enter my 30’s I am apprehensive, excited, and grateful. I am sad that my 20’s are gone forever and I will never be in that chapter of my life again. I am nervous about blinking and being 40 without feeling like I have done all that I wanted to do in my 30’s. I worry that some of the best years of my life are behind me. I am excited for the decade ahead in which my children will become teenagers, my love for Mark will grow deeper, and my adventures will only become more epic and fantastic. I look forward to hopefully becoming more grounded, more patient, more mature, more confident, and more open-minded. I have so many goals for this chapter of my journey, among them: I would like to run a marathon, travel to places like Italy and Thailand, teach my daughters about confidence and sexuality, explore other cultures and beliefs, get my first tattoo, take more photographs of my family, and use my time and talents to serve people in need.

I am so grateful at this point to have found my “niche”. I have finally found where I fit in with a group of friends who I can be my complete and whole self with. Some of these friends are also ex-mormons and it’s wonderful to have no filter with them and be able to say everything I want to say all the time. I also have so many dear friends who are still members of the church and the ones who have been able to see that I am still a person worth spending time with and developing a friendship with despite my departure from the church have forever carved out a place in my heart. Good friends have become incredibly important to me at this stage in my life, I think it may be because I never had the confidence to let people in to the very deepest parts of myself before and I am still constantly amazed by the caliber of women who seek out my friendship despite my many quarks and flaws now.

There are some things that I take from my 20’s with joy and gratitude. Lessons learned. Relationships formed. Happiness found. Most of all, a deeply reinforced love and admiration for my husband Mark. He is my rock. He is the best decision I ever made. He is my everything. It never fails to surprise me when other people want to make him out to be the villain in our little saga. He is the most amazing man, the most incredible person I have ever knows and I feel lucky every day of my life that he loves me. I could have never anticipated how our marriage would turn out. I hoped for bliss but with my back to the future and unable to see what would come I simply jumped into the great unknown and held my breath. I’m so glad he turned out to be so wonderful. He makes me want to be a better person and our life is never boring. I am so thrilled that I get to spend many more years discovering what our life will be together.

My kids are wonderful. I am lucky to be there for their questions and snuggles. I feel so liberated to be able to raise them however I want and to make choices about how I want to handle each situation that comes our way. Instead of dread, I feel excitement about teaching my children about sex, about body image, about gender roles, about marriage and family. I no longer feel worried about them making choices that I don’t agree with and having to feel conflicted about that. I now feel an immense freedom to love and accept them for whomever they are instead of feeling like I have to make them be who I want them to be.

Last year, as 30 loomed closer, I started to think about the way in which I wanted to to do in my final year of being in my 20’s..

* I had the opportunity because of my age and fertility to donate my eggs to a good friend this last year and watch with excitement as she is now a month away from delivering her precious baby boy. It was an incredible experience that I will write about later in detail but it may be one of the greatest things I have ever done or will ever do in my life.

*I decided to get LASIK so I can see clearly for the first time in my adult life and it is AMAZING!

*I have always wanted to vacation with my high-school girlfriends and it is finally happening later this month for a weekend in Vegas. I am so excited.

*I stopped trying to censor my clothing and beverage choices in front of some of my Mormon friends and became comfortable with wearing what I want and drinking my iced coffee in front of everyone. I realized that if someone thinks I am a bad person or my friendship is not valuable because of what I wear or what I drink they are obviously not a very good friend.

*I have started to move my business more towards boutique newborn photography and I couldn’t be happier about it. I will still always be happy and love to photograph families and weddings but photographing people’s precious new babies truly makes me happy and fulfilled.

*The one word I can think of that encompass my feeling about the present is “free”. For the first time in my entire life I feel free to make my own choices, to live my life according to the dictates of my own conscience, and free to be who I truly am. I have thought about getting this word tattooed somewhere on my body. We will see if I go through with it, but I would love to solidify this feeling in my brain and always remember how I felt at this juncture of my life feeling free.

*I am planning a sensational 20’s themed dinner party this weekend with all my dearest friends to celebrate and while it feels a bit narcissistic to be throwing such a big shin-dig for myself, I feel justified having never had a big 16th, 18th, or 21st birthday party. I can’t wait to party like it’s 1929 and I feel incredibly lucky to have such wonderful friends to party with.
©2013 Photography By Busa©2013 Photography By Busa©2013 Photography By Busa©2013 Photography By Busa©2013 Photography By Busa

(sensational photography by the brilliant Brandon Busa)

So 30 is looking bright and exciting, my 20’s will be missed, but the end of one chapter just means the beginning of another. Cheers to new adventures, new discoveries, new relationships, new ideas, new beliefs, new victories, and new chapters!

I am not

Someone I know recently posted this at the end of her blog post chronicling her departure from the church. It spoke volumes to me. It made me remember how free I feel now. Free to be everything I am. Everything I have always been inside. It reminded me of the box I used to live in and what it felt like when the walls came tumbling down and I discovered the whole universe outside of it. It made me feel that relief, once again, that I am on a journey that is mine.

I’m not an envelope opener
By Tova Benjamin

God appeared to me when I was very young.
He whispered to me through the mouths of dumpy woman in straw like wigs and sang to me, together with shuckeling men in black hats, and long beards.
God came to me, in the form of my community – a cross-word puzzle of streets where everyone was somehow connected because we all claimed to have a piece of God inside ourselves. I listened to the trees boast this claim, listened to the ants tell me how the leaves fall to the ground to protect their children, and I listened as my teachers looked me the eye and said:
“Chelek Elokie Mimaal Mamesh, you are a literal piece of God above!”
I asked, “How did it get there?”
They said, “He blew it into you, through your nostrils”
I asked, “Is that why Jews have such big noses?”
I still don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know, that it takes a community to keep a child in line, to infuse a love of learning – it take a community to raise a child, and it takes the same community to ruin another but I don’t know anything good that doesn’t cause harm. Because God made this world like my mother makes soup. With too many vegetables – and he sprinkles in salt like my brother, too much. But you can’t take out the extra salt without throwing the soup away too, and my community liked things salty.

In elementary school the nine year old girls would wear men’s style uniform shirts because the woman styles showed off too much of their underdeveloped bodies and Sex-ed wasn’t taught. Boys were only told masturbation is a sin and the girls think that God magically places babies in their bellies after marriage and don’t know what a period is. Until they get theirs, and think they’re dying. When I was young they said “Tova! Respect your body, your body is a precious gem!” So for the high school play they duct taped our chests so our breasts wouldn’t bounce around on stage, I wondered “Is this what God wants?”  I pictured him in heaven making cookie cutters, and I saw that my ideas were too big to fit inside.

When I told my teachers I wanted to go to college, they told me that college is wrong and the principal said it’s unnecessary, there are too many outside influences. So I argued with the Rabbi, I said “What if I don’t JUST want to have nine children?”
The Rabbi stroked his long beard and said, “Would you have an envelope opener do anything else, other than open envelopes?”

YES. I would use my envelope opener to open up the packaged potential inside of me and I would use my envelope opener to file my nails and put on my shoes so the backs don’t bend. I would engage in pirate sword fights with my envelope opener, and spread butter on bread.
I would take my envelope opener, thrust it in the ground and draw a circle around it to make a sundial to tell the time, and I would see – that I’ve spent way too long, flattening my hair, so it would fit into God’s cookie cutters.
So I left. I left the crossword-puzzle of streets that I could no longer figure out the answers too, and when I left, I left my envelope opener there too with a note for God. It said, “Hey God? There are other ways to shape cookies.”

Best of 2012 Photo Poster

This is my yearly tradition going on 5 years now. At the end of the year I use my favorite photos of our family in a photo poster that I have printed in a 20×30 poster print. I switch out the new poster for last years print and it hangs in our kitchen so we can see it every day. I love how it makes me stop sometimes and think about the fun adventures we have had and the memories we have made. It reminds me to take more photos of my kids which, believe it or not, is something I struggle with. Most of all, it helps me to be in the moment and remember what is most important in my life. Here is my 2012 poster!

Poster2