Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Target failed everyone.

Image credit

This week, Target announced it welcomes transgender employees and customers to use the gender-specific bathroom or fitting room with which they feel they identify most. And subsequently, half of America collectively lost their minds.

Target assured everyone its policy is in the best interest of "inclusivity," a principle it deems a "core belief" of the company. Problem is, in trying to include one group of people, Target excluded another -- those who simply aren't comfortable with the idea. And not necessarily because they don't want to share a toilet with transgender people, but because they are worried sexual offenders will use the policy to their sick and twisted advantage.

And, they might just do that. But, that's not what this post is about.

It's about how Target had an opportunity to make a revolutionary, forward-thinking decision about its bathrooms and instead, it made a brazen, in-your-face sociopolitical statement. In so doing, Target is not only alienating customers who disagree with the policy, but also the transgender community it attempts to include.

The Internet is blowing up with inflammatory comments from all sides. Many parents are loudly expressing their fears and boycotting Target over the policy, while others are praising Target effusively and deriding those who feel any concern. A huge segment of the population is visibly outraged and transgender people are the target (ha).

Is it really likely that transgender people will feel comfortable using Target's restrooms now that they know what people really think about the idea? Furthermore, seeing how mad people are, I'll add it might even be dangerous for transgenders to use their preferred bathroom now. I wouldn't put it past some of these angry commenters to turn violent.

What could Target have done differently, you ask? A realistic and truly inclusive solution: completely change the current restroom model to include greater privacy and safety for ALL its customers.

One of my favorite local restaurants, Liberty Market, has a restroom designed with total privacy for any and all types of people. Males, females, transgender individuals and families -- you name it, and the restroom provides a safe, comfortable experience for them.

It's quite simple, really. Each toilet is enclosed in its own room -- three walls and a heavy locking door. They're even relatively soundproof! The sinks are in an open area and shared by everyone. And since the common area of the restroom is open, you don't have to worry as much about shady business going on behind closed doors.

Here's a video about this amazing bathroom.

The first time I used the restroom at Liberty Market, it didn't even dawn on me that I was in a gender-neutral space until I went to wash my hands ... next to a dude. I freaked out for two seconds, thinking I'd wandered into the wrong bathroom and HOW EMBARRASSING and then, will I get arrested for this?! But my panic quickly turned to amusement when I realized it's just a restroom that actually makes sense.

This way, parents can easily accompany their children to the restroom for safety (personally, I NEVER send my children into the public bathroom alone anyway, but this makes family bathroom trips more feasible). Those who are concerned about their privacy have all the seclusion they want. And all but one of the stall doors have both an 'M' and 'W' on them, clearly showing they're for everyone (the remaining one has a urinal in it, so ... take that to mean what you will).

How groundbreaking would it have been if Target had announced they would implement this style of restroom in their stores? This change wouldn't negatively affect anyone -- except for Target, who would have to invest some extra money in making renovations. But even then, the return would've been worth it in the long run. Think of the reputation it would earn for being not only equality-minded but smart, too.

Instead, Target now has previously-satisfied customers threatening to take their money elsewhere and they're convincing their family and friends to do the same. Internet users are leaving insensitive comments about transgender people which, in turn, further alienates them from using the bathroom. And Target has made progressivism look pushy and bullish by basically saying, "We don't care if you feel threatened in our restrooms -- we're doing this, anyway."

Target, you failed. You could have thought outside the box a little and made a truly inclusive policy change. But instead, you took the easier route. You did succeed at making people talk about you for the time being, I'll give you that. You're all over the news and I bet that feels really good. But, you had the chance to do something monumental, something innovative, something that doesn't just talk the talk but also walks the walk, something that benefits literally every person who comes through your doors -- and you didn't take it.

What a shame.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


In my last post, I discussed my chronic pain and the inspiration I received for how to cope with it. Part of my new approach includes accepting the fact I have this condition and learning from it instead of focusing all my energy on making it go away.

Honestly? I didn't want to implement this acceptance of my pain. I fought this bit of inspiration hard. "If I accept it, I'm throwing in the towel. And I am NOT a quitter," I thought.

Here's the thing, though -- there's value in knowing when it's time to quit, and this concept goes beyond chronic pain.

Many things in life are simply beyond our control. Among these, for instance, are the actions of others. People are going to say and do things to us every day -- yes, even mean things, stupid things, ignorant things and bad things -- and you and I can't do anything to stop it. We sometimes try, but it's all in vain. The fruitless pursuit of changing a person's actions leaves us feeling defeated, hopeless and bitterly resentful.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Dillon, my wise husband who's been dealt more than his fair share of challenges in life, always says, "You can't control the behavior of others, nor how others react to your choices. But you can ALWAYS choose how you react to theirs."

He truly lives by this principle. In more than 11 years of knowing him, I've seen him turn the other cheek countless times. When necessary, he reproaches others calmly and directly. He doesn't yell, throw a tantrum, manipulate or coerce them to adopt his way of thinking. He is the prime example of one who accepts what he cannot change.

Dill's attitude of acceptance is not one of resignation -- he doesn't just lay down and die when something doesn't go his way. Rather, he chooses to be grateful and optimistic in the face of adversity. He doesn't waste precious time trying to change or control what is fixed. He acknowledges the bad but capitalizes on the good. This way of thinking is something he has learned and developed through the challenges he has encountered. He'll be the first to tell you he didn't always see things this way, but he has learned how.

Some may think this positive-focused mindset lacks integrity, but I disagree. If he were to pretend the negative aspects of life didn't exist, then yes. But Dill's not under some false illusion that bad things don't happen. He creates a healthy space for both disappointment and the gratitude in his life.

Just two weeks ago on April 4, Dillon's grandfather was tragically killed in a bicycle accident. He was 92 years old, but he was as healthy as anyone. He regularly biked 10 - 15 miles a day a few times a week. He'd been cycling for about a decade, brought on by a knee replacement that left him unable to run anymore (did I mention he ran his first marathon at 76 and then another one a year later? Yeah. Also, if this isn't a prime example of acceptance, I don't know what is).

It wasn't as if he died doing something irresponsible or uncharacteristic for him. It was indeed a tragic accident, one we never saw coming.

Dill and his Grandpa Seymour at Grandma Seymour's funeral, February 2012

Of course, Dill was devastated by the news of his grandfather's death. We all were. Death is sad no matter how and when it happens -- painlessly, quickly, doesn't matter. It's not so much the death that hurts as it is the separation from that person, the idea that you won't see them ever again, at least not in this life. It's a painful realization and it stings each and every time you consider it.

This picture was taken the last time we saw Grandpa Seymour, last summer at the cabin which he built many years ago with his family.

The visit at the cabin was just a few days before Grandpa's 92nd birthday, so we had some cupcakes and sang to him. Boy, am I glad we made the trip up there. I actually had a great conversation with Grandpa about my mom. He was always so kind to me, never too busy to ask me how I was doing.

The funeral was on my birthday, April 7 (I'm unfortunately no stranger to death on my birthday). Due to some health issues Clara's had recently, I opted to stay home with her and supported Dill taking the two older kids to California for the services.

After my last post, I got to try out my new, enlightened philosophy of acceptance right away -- accepting the facts that a loved one died close to my birthday, that I would be apart from my husband and kids on that day, and that Clara and I couldn't attend the funeral. This scenario would have previously stressed me out, but I approached it from the standpoint that it was happening no matter what and I could only choose how to react.

My parents helped my twin brother and I have a fun birthday, despite the fact we were both alone for it. We all went to breakfast and dinner together, my mom and I got pedicures, and my dad even bought me some new hubcaps and installed them for me. I taught a piano and voice lesson, and my students were so sweet to bring me treats.

There was still an air of sadness in knowing it was Grandpa's funeral day, and I honored it. I didn't dismiss it or pretend Grandpa hadn't died. I also knew Dill was probably feeling deep sorrow that day, and empathy is important to me. But I permitted myself to enjoy the day, to relax and to spend time with my family. And it was a truly wonderful day. Different from how I had originally planned, but wonderful nonetheless.

To me, acceptance is making room for both disappointment and gratitude simultaneously. It's saying, "I can't change this bad thing that's happened to me," then, allowing yourself to move on. It's acknowledging that, despite your best efforts, things aren't going how you wanted or planned, but pinpointing and highlighting the positives anyway. It's a refusal to impart your energy and time toward anything you can't control.

Acceptance is a mature perspective -- one which, I'm finding out, requires discipline and time to develop. I'm not patient by any means, but I'm trying. As I have been practicing this new mantra for the past two weeks, I have noticed a greater sense of peace and gratitude in my life. I have even seen my chronic pain take a back seat as I am no longer feeding it most of my energy. I am processing my emotions in a healthy, balanced way. I am not letting my disappointments consume me. I am choosing to end each day on a high note.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Time to get outside.

Over the past two weekends, my church's leaders addressed members in a worldwide conference. This conference happens twice a year, beginning on the last Saturday in March and again on the last Saturday in September. Each speaker chooses his or her topic and gives a 5 - 10-minute speech about it. The messages are intended to inspire as well as provide direction.

It seems each time General Conference rolls around, I have a new question to be answered. This time, all I could think about was my chronic pain, diagnosed years ago as the elusive fibromyalgia. It's like a little tag-a-long I can't shake. And for the past few months, it's been at its worst. My tried-and-true methods for quashing it just aren't working anymore and I'm exhausted. The truth is, it gets worse the more stressed I am. I have a lot on my mind with my mother's terminal cancer diagnosis, difficulties with my husband's job and now some health concerns with my toddler, Clara.

This unexplained, all-consuming pain has been a part of my life for nearly five years now. Since there's always something to be stressed out about, it hasn't gone away -- it has simply ebbed and flowed, getting better or worse but never leaving me entirely. I remain hopeless and depressed.

I wake up each day in pain, but life must go on. My children need my help getting ready for school, so I roll out at 6:00 every weekday morning. Dill helps however he can, but he has to go to work, so the morning routine falls mostly on my (sore) shoulders.

After the older kids go to school, I have a toddler to love and teach, a beautiful home to maintain and  a handful of music students who come over for lessons most afternoons. And when my big kids get home, they need a loving parent to ask them about their day, help them with homework and take them to the park to let off some steam. I also cook dinner most nights. By the time Dill gets home, I'm running on empty and my muscles and joints are screaming at me. Nighttime is the hardest because I know that when I wake up, it will still be there, staring me in the face. That stupid little companion, my pain.

My life is truly lovely, one to be envied -- a handsome, adoring and hard-working husband, three smart, beautiful kids, the perfect home and even a little job that brings in some extra income. But sometimes, my pain is so bad, it's literally all I can think about. How can I feel joy when all I feel is this blinding pain?

As the conference started last weekend with the Women's Meeting, I silently plead with God to know how to cope with this trial and others. How can I live happily and gratefully in spite of it all?

That meeting was focused on refugees all over the world who are in great need of material goods as well as love and friendship in general. I was surprised and so happy to see my church take a stand of acceptance and love towards the refugees, despite the many politicians and thought leaders who loudly preach otherwise. The choir who provided the music at the meeting was filled with refugee women and girls, who sang of God and Jesus Christ with such conviction.

As I watched and listened to the many talks about these refugees and their plight, I thought, My trial isn't so bad. At least I have a warm home where I can suffer in some comfort. At least I live in a land where I am wanted and don't have to hide. At least my family is all here to support me instead of stranded in a war-torn country or dead in the sea somewhere.

Then, two days ago, the general meeting for all church members began. Again, I was approaching it from a "please help ME" standpoint, hoping for some comfort. And I did receive some -- for instance, Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us that "heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow and forever."

Many other leaders spoke of God's love for us. Others talked about the Resurrection and how someday, all of us will be free from whatever ailments cause us to suffer -- chronic pain, cancer, addiction, grief, all of it.

I appreciated those words of comfort, but what I needed most was the greater message I heard repeated more often, which was:

Get outside of yourself.

This theme kept repeating, from admonitions to forgive others and let go of your pride to yet another address regarding the refugee crisis. There were also talks about harmony in the family, about apologizing and setting aside your pride. There were others which plainly stated why opposition is important in life and how it helps us become closer to God.

It was as if the whole conference was written for me.

Some personal thoughts came to me as I soaked up the inspired words:

"Allow yourself to feel joy in all the small moments." This one is hard for me as I am very empathetic. I take on the world's problems, which is why I am also very stressed out most of the time! Being very empathetic often prevents me from being happy because I feel like if someone I care about is suffering, then so must I. My empathy knows no boundaries which is unhealthy. I need to learn to better balance my empathy with my own personal emotions and find room for both.

"Accept your pain and learn from it instead of trying to fix it." I am the type of person who is always trying to fix things. As such, I spent the better part of the last five years trying to find a solution to my daily pain. Well, after so many failed attempts, I had lost all hope. The loss of hope feeds depression and anxiety which are both obstacles for living happily. Instead of pining for a fix, I need to accept the reality of this trial and focus on what it is teaching me. I can (and should) accept the advice of others and try different methods to alleviate the pain, but I should also try to find purpose in my "constant companion," pain.

"Focus on others and your pain won't be so consuming." When you're suffering, it is very difficult to see outside yourself. All you see is YOUR pain, the injustice of YOUR situation and YOUR  overwhelming sorrow. You feel it all so acutely, it blinds you to the challenges of others. But the truth is, we are all in pain, in one way or another. I know I need to do more for other people as it will help me be more grateful for my life and will give me a greater perspective. I am also looking forward to learning more about the Church's new refugee assistance program, "I Was A Stranger."

I know this is getting long, but I need to clarify one more thing.

If I feel depressed, it is because I am in pain every day of my life and there is no foreseeable end to it. It is really that simple. It is not because I married young, nor because I have small children, and it's definitely not because I actively participate in the LDS church. My husband, my children and my faith are the three things I can count on to get me through every rough patch! They are the source of my joyful moments in life, not the cause of my suffering.

Yes, I have desires to pursue endeavors outside of my home in the future, but that doesn't mean I'm currently some miserable mom wishing the days away. I cherish the one-on-one time I have with my sweet daughter, Clara and know these moments will pass too quickly. And quite frankly, I also like being able to blog in my pajamas.

Everyone has their challenges in life. I am choosing to be more open about mine in hopes that the people I love will empathize, try to help or at least understand where I am coming from. I will always afford the same courtesy to you!

Today, I resolve to get outside of myself. I know I still need time to meditate and care for me, but that time will not involve self-pity or feelings of hopelessness. I will appreciate the happy moments of daily life and know that as I do, I will see them more abundantly. I am accepting chronic pain as "my trial" and want to approach it differently than I have for the past five years. I want to accept it and learn from it, not try to fix it to no avail.

Here's to getting outside more often. Cheers.

Image credit

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Favorites: SteamFast Everyday Steam Mop

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are mine.

If you had to pick just ONE household chore you absolutely hated more than any other, what would it be?

I could name about a dozen top contenders, but my least favorite is MOPPING.

Could there be a more involved chore that is less rewarding than mopping? I mean, before you even start, you have to completely clear the floor -- rugs, barstools, trash can, chairs ... all of them have to go. Then, you have to sweep the floor (because you can't mop over crumbs, that just ain't right).

Then, you must use the hose attachment on the vacuum and suck the remaining crumbs out from all the nooks and crannies that your broom can't reach. You don't think you need to do this, but if you don't, they will find a way to screw up your mopping job. I don't know how, but they always do.

THENNNNN, you have to fill up a bucket of hot water and floor cleaner, slop it all over the floor with a heavy mop (basically, you're just moving around the dirt), rinse the stupid mop, wring it out, refill the bucket because the water's black after about two turns ... you get the idea.

After about an hour, you're done! But ... your floor is now soaking wet, and every living thing in your house suddenly wants nothing more than to walk all over it. So, you use about four bath towels (yay, more laundry!) and hastily drag them all over the floor with your feet until it's somewhat dry, trying to prevent people from making footprints and/or slipping on it. Spoiler alert: They still manage to do both.

Move all the furniture back. Now, you're really done! Just in time for dinner, when your kids will drop and spill everything onto the floor and even manage to make crumbs out of salad.


But friends, there is an easier way. Behold, the SteamFast SF-150 Everyday Steam Mop.

I ordered this for myself for Christmas since my home has a LOT of tile. I mean, a lot. And regular mopping just wasn't going to happen, ever.

For less than $70, I figured it was a worthwhile purchase. It doesn't require any cleaner -- just water. And it comes with two washable mop head pads. So really, it's just $70. Less if you have Amazon Prime.

You guys. This appliance is a total game-changer! First of all, it comes out of the box practically assembled. It is so easy to set up. The microfiber pad goes right on like Velcro and stays put until you're done, and it's washable.

Once you plug it in and turn it on, the mop heats up in about 20 seconds. At that point, all you have to do is drag it across the floor like a vacuum cleaner, and it pushes steam out through the mop pad as you go. The steam sterilizes the floor and cleans it like nobody's business. It even cleans the grout! And since it uses only a small amount of steam instead of six buckets worth of water, it dries almost instantly.

It operates on a power cord, but the cord is quite long. And anyway, I'd rather not waste money on batteries.

The water tank seems small, but I can do my whole house in two tanks. I'd say I have about 1700 square feet of tile, so I'd say that's not too shabby. Plus, the tank is super-easy to remove and refill. And since it's small, it's not heavy in the slightest.

Yeah, you still have to clear the floor, sweep and vacuum before use. But, the worst part (all that water-bucket-mop mumbo jumbo) is long gone! Just let this little baby do all the work for you. Not to mention, it's so small and easy to use, you can whip it out to spot mop any time your little heart desires.

I seriously cannot sing the SteamFast's praises enough. If you have a messy family and a lot of tile, you NEED this! I can't vouch for its efficacy on other types of flooring, but it is totally perfect for tile. It's all-natural, cost-effective and so convenient.

Get yours HERE!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Greek yogurt banana bread.

About ten years ago, when I was a young newlywed up at BYU, I saw two blackened bananas on my kitchen counter. The thought dawned on me that when I lived at home, my mom would take those old things and lovingly mush them to tar to make banana bread. Suddenly, I had an itch to craft a loaf of banana bread for myself and even impress my new husband with it. But I didn't want it to turn into some dry, dense crap. I knew I could make something amazing with the right recipe.

I Googled "moist banana bread" (yeah, a lot of people hate that word, "moist," but how else do you describe non-dry bread?) and a recipe came up which included sour cream. Sour cream will definitely yield moist bread, right? I thought. It sounded like a great plan! I printed it and got to bakin'.

After an hour in the oven, I pulled the loaf pan out and could tell by the appearance of it and its divine scent that it was a work of culinary art. I later popped out it out of the pan onto a cooling rack and marveled at its beauty. The cinnamon-sugar dusting on the crust made it sparkle with deliciousness. I cut a warm slice, took a bite and WOW. It took all I had within myself not to eat the whole loaf on the spot! I refrained, though, and shared some with Dill. He was impressed, too, and he didn't even like banana bread. I had found a winner!

Since then, I've tried other banana bread recipes, but nothing compares to this one. Recently, I began substituting plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream as I always have some on hand. Bonus: it has twice the amount of protein in it as sour cream!

Also, this recipe is so easy. SO EASY. You can't screw it up, and you probably have every ingredient in your house, except for maybe two over-ripe bananas. But never fear -- you'll have some tomorrow or the next day. Haha.

Note: pictured bananas are NOT RIPE ENOUGH. Only present for aesthetic purposes.

Greek Yogurt Banana Bread

Cinnamon-sugar mixture (about 2 TBS sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon)
3 TBS butter (room temperature)
3/4 c sugar
1 egg
2 over-ripe bananas, peeled
1/2 c Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 c flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease the bottom and sides of a standard 8.5" loaf pan with shortening (I use a paper towel to rub it on). Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture into pan and move the pan to coat the shortening evenly.

Cream the sugar and butter together. Add the egg, bananas, yogurt, vanilla and cinnamon and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to banana mixture; combine until batter forms. (Note: batter may have banana lumps and that's OK! But the rest should be smooth)

Pour into greased-and-sugared loaf pan. Bake on center rack for 1 hour at 300 degrees. Make sure the middle is cooked through by inserting a toothpick -- if it comes out clean, you're good! If not, give it another 5 - 10 minutes.

Set pan on a cooling rack for 10  minutes before turning pan over to remove the loaf. Allow loaf to sit for another 10 minutes before slicing.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Does God give us challenges we can't handle?

This morning, my friend's little preschool-aged boy was diagnosed with leukemia. She shared a somber black and white picture of him in a hospital bed on social media, explaining the upsetting situation. The well-wishes came pouring in -- support and love from everyone she knows.

It took me back to when my mom and I first shared her breast cancer diagnosis. So many kindhearted remarks flooded our posts to the point it was hard to acknowledge them all. But we appreciated each one so much.

One comment that seems to pop up every time something tragic like this happens is along the lines of, "God doesn't give us anything we can't handle." I used to take great comfort in that statement, and I know it is intended to strengthen people. However, over the years, I've found it doesn't quite ring true, and that there's a greater message of comfort we fail to hear when we share this one instead.

First of all, I don't believe God is sitting up on a heavenly throne doling out trials to us like some sinister Gamemaker in The Hunger Games. It just doesn't fit with his "work and glory," which is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39)

In the book of Genesis, we read that God put Adam and Eve into the Garden of Eden and allowed them to choose whether they would eat the forbidden fruit. He told Adam, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:16 - 17)
In other words, He laid out the consequences for them, but gave them the freedom to choose. At that moment, He set the stage for all humankind and agreed to step back, presenting humanity with the gift of agency. And this plan has not changed since, nor will it ever.

The "God doesn't give us anything we can't handle" statement causes me to imagine God up there somewhere with a clipboard, saying, "Nancy's going to get cancer; Jimmy's wife is going to die and meanwhile, Susan will have a particularly nasty hangnail." It's a juvenile thought, one with which we are content to reconcile ... but only if we're Susan with the hangnail. It's not until you're the one going through a particularly difficult trial, like Jimmy's or Nancy's, that you start to wonder if God actually bestowed this terrible challenge upon you Himself.

When my mom first received her cancer diagnosis, I was a bit of a Susan. I'd been poor, but never homeless. I'd experienced the loss of some family members, but not immediate ones. I'd endured a few painful childbirths but nothing debilitating, and we all survived. I'd suffered with anxiety disorders and depression, but I actually did believe God made me that way.

But at my own mother's diagnosis of cancer, I started to think more seriously on that idea. I asked myself, Did God actually plant the cancer cells in my mom's body? Did He make it so that, despite regular check-ups and screenings, the cancer would not be detected? I came to doubt that He did. He undoubtedly knew it would happen, as He knows all. But I just don't think He caused it.

It seems more likely to me that, once the world was created, He set things in motion and then stepped back. It is not atheistic to believe He allows the laws of science and nature to govern His world -- after all, He created it. They are HIS laws. And I believe His willingness to stay His hand, even though He has the omnipotent ability to take control of every situation, is what makes Him divine.

We are not God's voodoo dolls -- we are His children! He understands the importance of our mortal trials in refining us and preparing us to inherit all He has, but he is not some masochistic puppeteer who relishes in our afflictions.

I believe He does intervene sometimes to bestow miracles, but I also believe they have their purpose, just as our trials have theirs.

So, if God allows the laws He has set forth to work in their way and doesn't often intervene, isn't it reasonable to believe we may actually encounter impossible challenges in our lives? Trials we actually can't handle?

Yes, yes we will. Of course we will. And we do, every single day.

This is why we have a Savior.

Photo credit: Mark Mabry

God's role in the Plan of Salvation is to provide us with spiritual bodies and prepare for us a place to live out our mortality. In this preparation, He created laws which govern the world. He also created commandments for us to follow -- but we are free to choose not to follow them if we so please. God is also a spiritual mentor, whom we call upon through the power of prayer. He communicates back to us through the Holy Spirit. He serves as our guide through mortality. He is our Father.

But God has a Son -- our Savior, Jesus Christ. And it is He who redeems us from the laws of the universe.

He is the One who has suffered the pains and afflictions of every living soul so He could know how to succor us in our times of distress. He is the One who said:

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

"For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11: 28 - 30)

Here, He is telling us exactly how to conquer the unconquerable, to win a race we can't actually win, to climb an insurmountable mountain, to survive that which is terminal. The answer: The atonement of Jesus Christ.

Actually, life in its entirety is impossible without our Savior. If it weren't for his everlasting atonement, we would be doomed from the start. Hopeless failures.

But, He paid the ultimate price for our souls. I don't know how He did it, but I know why: because He loves us. And God loves us.

The gift of a Savior was the only way to allow us freedom to choose, but to also provide salvation from death and redemption from our mistakes.

Bad things happen. They happen to good people and bad. But good things happen, too. Such is the condition of mortality. As the saying goes, "it's all part of life's rich tapestry."

When we encounter hardships along our earthly journey, we don't have to survive them alone. We have God's spiritual guidance and His matchless power. We have Christ's enduring sacrifice. And we have each other -- mortal angels waiting to bear one another's burdens, comfort those who need comfort and mourn with those who mourn.

Yes, we will face trials we can't endure -- not on our own, anyhow. But we can endure them with heavenly help. This is the message we need to share.

And sometimes, we don't survive. Sometimes our trials actually kill us and the people we love. But -- blessed day! -- Christ's Atonement covers that, too. Through Him, deaths dark shadows are put to flight. We are not lost at our last breath. We will all rise again.

Though this knowledge brings great comfort, death's sting is still too much to bear. The overwhelming ache of loss threatens to strangle us. At the loss of a loved one, we can't breathe, we can't move and we can't go on in the wake of such sorrow. Grief is impossible to overcome -- except through Him.

When it comes down to it, Christ's sacrifice makes our pain and suffering worthwhile and purposeful. His atonement allows our hardships to refine us and make us more worthy. Without the possibility of repentance and resurrection, mortality would simply be an exercise in torture. But because of them, life is an intense yet crucial preparatory experience, readying us for what's on the other side.

It's comforting to believe that God wouldn't give us anything we can't handle. But it's a naïve belief. The real, lasting comfort comes in knowing we will face impossible hardships, but with our Savior's help and our Heavenly Father's guidance, we can overcome them. Maybe not in the way we thought we would overcome them, but we can win nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How I got "fit" without any exercise!

Many of you have seen the viral post of the Australian woman who was able to go from "flab to fab" in under 15 minutes. As a fitness trainer, Melanie Ventura knows all the secrets to make yourself look slim in a photograph without doing any exercise. She revealed she simply changed her posture, flexed her muscles, positioned her body differently, sized up on her swimsuit bottom, let down her hair, put on some makeup and added a filter.

The results:

Photo c/o Melanie Ventura

Crazy, right?

She used this collage as an example of how unreliable before-and-after fitness shots can be, proclaiming you can change THIS MUCH in just two weeks (or some other unreasonable amount of time) by simply buying into a certain diet or exercise plan. Here, the transformation only took 15 minutes and absolutely no exercise!

Obviously, this woman is a fitness trainer, so she does have a toned, slim body to begin with. Me, on the other hand? Well, I try to eat healthily -- avoiding white sugar and flour, red meat and preservatives while incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible -- but I'm not a freak about it. Since Thanksgiving, I've supplemented my diet with a steady supply of chocolate and other candies. You see, as soon as the Christmas candy ran out, along came Valentine's, and now we're working on Easter, and well ... you know how it goes.

As for fitness, I exercise for 20 - 30 minutes (mild to moderate level) every day. I could probably run a mile, but it might take me 15 - 20 minutes. And I hate running, so we may never find out.

I decided to try the photo experiment for myself after a recent workout. Could I drastically change my appearance just by making a few simple tweaks? I didn't bother with hair, makeup or filters like Melanie, but the results were still striking.

(Note: I did not correct these pictures in any way besides crop them.)

Here's the before:

And, the after:


In the picture on the left, I slouched. I faced the camera directly. I didn't smile. I relaxed my muscles.

In the picture on the right, I moved closer to the light, adjusted my pants a bit, stood with tall posture, engaged my core, flexed my arms, turned to the side and stuck my chin out. Oh, and I smiled.

It literally took me only a few seconds to do this, yet I look like I lost 10 pounds. Melanie's simple tricks worked.

Now, my point in showing you these pictures is not to say, "If you wanna look hot, stand with better posture, wear your clothes correctly and flex your muscles!" I mean, those actions can make you appear thinner in pictures, I guess. But what I'm aiming to communicate here is this:

You can't trust a photograph.

In my everyday life, I look more like the Jenna on the left than I do the one on the right. I don't walk around like a fitness model all day, flexing and posing with my guns up. I drive kids back and forth, fold laundry, make meals and chase my toddler. I eat a lot of "discretionary foods," aka treats. I stay up late and watch Netflix. I slouch.

So, here's my question: why bother scouring the Internet for "fitspiration" when the pictures you find could be outright hoaxes like Melanie's and mine? Pictures are POSED. They are edited and often digitally enhanced. They are selected carefully for consumption. They are trying to sell something. They rarely reflect reality.

Second point: Attitude is everything.

Look at your body. Really look at it. Every part you love and hate. Now, call each part what it is. "This is my abdomen. These are my arms. These are my legs. This is my waist." Accept that your body parts look way they do and choose to be happy about it. The first step to wellness is a positive mental perception. Love the body you have, be grateful for it and start treating it that way. Exercise and eat right JUST because you care about your body, not because you want it to change shape. Because guess what? It will NEVER look perfect enough.

And if you miss a workout or choose to eat a treat? Oh well! Life is about balance.

Saying, "I love my body, but I wish it were thinner" is like saying, "I love my daughter, but I wish she was an opera singer." Seems harsh, right? Unreasonable expectations only lead to disappointment. As a society, we'd do better to stop relentlessly pursuing unattainable fantasies and embrace reality. Give it a nice, big hug. Live in the moment. Find joy in the journey.

How do you cultivate a positive body attitude? Start smiling. Don't hide from cameras. Wear the clothes you like and wear them proudly. Eat in public. Have that cupcake. Skip your workout to go visit a friend. Cry all your mascara off. You will not turn into the old hag version of the queen from Snow White. I promise.

And stop punishing yourself. Life's hardships are difficult enough without additional self-loathing.

Happiness is not found in looking thin or fit. In fact, happiness doesn't even need to be found because it's not hiding from anyone. Happiness is simply the choice to be grateful. It's rejoicing in all the wonderful parts of life, including having a body and appreciating all it does. Without it, you wouldn't be capable of experiencing anything.

So, the next time you don't like what you see in the mirror, remember my photo experiment. Stand a little taller, look yourself in the eye and flash yourself a smile.