Becometh as a child…at least until you turn eighteen.

A favorite childhood pastime of mine (and one I would never let my kids do now, along with most of my other “pastimes”) was exploring the woods in my neighborhood with my friends.  One friend in particular had a home in a prime exploring spot that ran along a stream.  We spent a lot of time back there, and apparently so did her older brother.  While it was our favorite place to explore, it was his favorite place to hide his porn.  We came across it one day and I brought it home with me and stashed it in my nightstand.

I was 8.

Another unfortunate pastime of mine was seeking popularity with the wrong crowd.  One night a group of us got bored and decided to go rent a movie (remember video stores?).  While we were there, someone suggested that we sneak into the “back room”.  It’s not really sneaking if there isn’t someone guarding the door and checking your ID, but it was obviously a bad choice if we were being sneaky.  We returned home with an inappropriate movie, I probably called my mom to tell her I’d be late for my curfew because I was doing something really important (definitely not watching porn), and I sat there for an hour laughing uncomfortably with everyone else and thinking about whether it would be worth the embarrassment to tell them to turn it off.  I knew it was wrong, I had been taught better than that.

As a child I thought pornography was something that only adults could look at.  Something to “look forward to”, like driving, or voting.  Why was this stuff even on my radar as a child??  As a teen I learned that it was something that was not really appropriate at any age, but still acceptable in most circles.  I realize now, as an adult, that it is not only inappropriate and unhealthy, but leads to other more serious damaging and unhealthy behaviors (which I’ve seen firsthand with a close family member).

With the unveiling this weekend of the worldwide, morality-crushing phenomenon that I don’t even need to name, I feel the need to be yet another strong oppositional voice in defense of a return to virtue.  This week alone, I have seen far too may phrases used to justify a need for this kind of entertainment:

“It wasn’t abuse; he was upfront about what he wanted and she consented to it.”

“It may have started out dark but in the end it is a love story.”

“You shouldn’t judge BDSM if you’ve never tried it.  Some people really enjoy it.”

“It’s not hurting anyone.  Just don’t see it if you don’t agree with it.”

“It’s not real life, it’s just fantasy.  Stop making such a big deal out of it.”

“We’re sexual beings designed perfectly by God.  We can choose to express our sexuality in whatever way we want.”

What??  Don’t blame God for this.  And as if that last one wasn’t bad enough, an even more terrifying card is being played:

“I won’t let my kids won’t see this.  Certain things are made for certain ages and this is an adult novel.”

I’ve been going over this and over this in my mind.  Why does it matter what age you are?  Is there an age that morality and decency stop being important, and if so how do we decide what that age is?  Once you’re 18 are you not emotionally affected by things like violence, profanity, and indecency?  One person admitted that she and her husband planned to see the movie together this weekend without their kids (obviously) but it’s okay because “we have a rule that our kids can’t date until they’re 16.”  Yes, that’s a start.  But what happens once they turn 16 and suddenly they decide to “express their sexuality in whatever way they want”, because Heaven forbid they be accused of inexperienced judgment?

I have to admit, I am not completely void of guilt in this respect.  When Aaron and I watch TV at night we turn the sound way down, and if our kids come into the living room at anytime we pause the show quickly to avoid the scarring that may occur when they see someone getting beaten up or shot or naked pushed up against a wall, or to avoid the embarrassment at the grocery store when one of them repeats a word they heard, or when they call someone that word at school (which did happen last week when my daughter told me a boy called her 6-year-old friend “sexy” on the playground).  The conversation that would follow would go something like, “Honey, we don’t use words like that,” “But they were saying it on TV,” “Yes, you’re right, but only adults can use words like that, and only when they’re really angry, or trying to be funny, and only when no one is listening, and only if they’re not Christians.”

Why the double standard?  If its not right for kids, why is it all right for us?

A scripture passage from the bible keeps popping up in my head:

…Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?  And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4).

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We could all stand to learn from children.  Children come to Earth with “believing hearts. They are full of faith…They exemplify humility, obedience, and love. They are often the first to love and the first to forgive (Jean A. Stevens of the LDS Primary General Presidency).  With all the time we spend trying to move on and forget the past, maybe there is more to be gained from remembering it than we realize.

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Shedding pride while finding worth: A lifelong struggle

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Circa 1989

I was in a jazz dance class, mostly with kids who were quite a bit older than me.  I was pretty proud of myself and it showed through my dynamic recital performance.  My enthusiasm came to an abrupt halt when, after my number, a little boy got up and sang a solo; my memory tells me it was the song Father Figure by George Michael.  I didn’t say anything, and I’m pretty sure I thought I hid my disappointment well, but I remember thinking he’s not very good, why did he get to sing by himself?

Summer 1992

I was attending a performing/fine arts camp in Wilmington, NC while visiting my dad for the summer.  During a lunch break, a small group began to congregate around one girl as she told a story.  I was nearby and overheard her talking about her relation to Christina Applegate.  I’m not sure why this was a big deal to everyone, or how they even knew who this actress was — At the time I only knew her from Married, With Children and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, both of which I shouldn’t have been watching at my age — But they did care.  A lot.  I felt something well up inside me; a feeling I now recognize as jealousy.

During one camp day we took a field trip to a theater called Thalian Hall.  I was very familiar with this theater because the previous 2 summers I had been in productions of Annie and The Sound of Music there.  I’d explored every nook and cranny of this space as we searched for signs of its supposed haunting.  So as we walked behind our tour guide, listening to stories about when and why this building came into existence, all I wanted to do was run off and go back stage.  “This is boring.  Lets go see my dressing room!  This is my theater!” I wanted to scream.  But nobody knew, or cared, about my experience with this theater.  Why do they care so much about that other girl’s experience? I thought.

7th Grade

Our 7th grade class was assigned to complete an awesome project together.  We were to create an actual restaurant, interview for the job we wanted, and then bring our creation to life in the school cafeteria.  My Language Arts and Social Studies teacher, who also happened to be my drama teacher, announced that included in the list of jobs would be the job of “entertainer”.  I didn’t even need to look at the rest of the list; I knew that’s the job I wanted.  But since he also told us that the entertainers needed to first sign up for a REAL job, I chose hostess.  I thought that’ll be an easy job that I can get out of the way at the beginning before my performance starts.  Auditions were held, cuts were made, and the final cut left 4 of us.  For my final audition I chose a song from The Secret Garden.

The Girl I Mean To Be.

I thought it went really well.  I must have thought wrong.  Mr. Deboer assigned the other 3 girls as entertainment, while I was the only one who didn’t make the cut.  I fulfilled my job as hostess and when it was time for the singing to start you can guess who I thought could have done a better job.

Fall 1996

In the Grand Rapids Ballet company, cast-list-posting time was the most exciting time of the year!  And no matter my track record, I still had high hopes every time I walked into that studio.  We’d had auditions for The Nutcracker recently, and I felt strongly that this was my year.  I’d worked hard and paid my dues and this was going to be my time to shine!

It wasn’t.

But it also wasn’t Molly’s.  Oh, Molly.  She was one of the 3 girls who had been chosen as restaurant entertainment, and had also been cast as the coveted role of Clara in the previous year’s production of Nutcracker.

After we had all had our chance to look over “The List” I found Molly crouched under a ballet barre in tears.  I sat next to her and put my arm around her and told her it was going to be okay.  Her response?  “You don’t understand.  You’re USED to getting bad parts!”  Touche Molly.  And thank you for reminding me why I resented you so much.

Forest Hills Central High School: Senior Year

Since leaving the GRB company a few years earlier, I’d had very few disappointing experiences when it came to dancing and performing.  My departure overlapped with my acceptance to the high school pom squad, and upon hearing from the captain that my audition score had been highest of all participants, I knew I’d made the right choice.  I was finally — FINALLY! — in a place where I was appreciated and recognized for my talents.

My final year of poms I was named captain.  And at our annual pom camp, I was also thrilled to be chosen as an All-Star and given the opportunity to perform in Disney World with a select group of dancers the following winter.

86(That’s Molly embracing me…clearly only hugging me to try to overshadow my special moment…not really, but that’s the teenage me talking)

Before winter came, I decided to audition for our school’s production of “The Music Man”.  The auditions went seamlessly and I found myself again in a group of 4 girls (one of who happened to be Molly) singing the lead character, Marian’s, solo.

Disappointment set in when I found out that although I had made the call-backs, they fell on the same day as the final All-Star rehearsal prior to leaving for Disney World.  I made the tough decisions to back out of the All-Star performance and take my chances with the musical.  After all, auditions had gone so well!

I not only did not get cast as Marian, I was cast as a chorus member with no lines.  Molly was cast as understudy Marian.  I spent a lot of time regretting my decision to back out of the Disney trip.

Summer before college

Despite almost 10 years of difficult with Molly, she and I decided to take a trip to Wisconsin just before graduation.  We were both auditioning to be counselors at the pom camp we’d spent the last few years attending.

I have such wonderful memories of that trip.  The audition was so much fun, we met some great people, I did my very best, and I went home with a lot of confidence and excitement about my new summer job!

A few weeks later I still hadn’t heard back in response to our audition.  One day, I got a call from Molly.  “Did you get your letter?!” She asked excitedly.  “No…,” I knew where this was going, “Did you?”  By this point it was clear that she felt bad for calling.  “Yes…”

The best part was that summer:  While I was attending my younger sister’s pom competition, the same competition I’d competed in for the last 3 years, Molly was performing with the group of counselors as an introduction to the event.

Still in need of approval even in adulthood

I’m embarrassed at my reaction to all of these experiences, and so many others that I didn’t mention.  I really could throw myself off a bridge for allowing myself to waste so much of my life judging my worth based on whether I received more recognition than someone else.  And I wish I could say it stopped when I left home.  But as you can see, that’s not the case…

Last week

A few months ago, I wrote a post that included a story about a “falling out” that I had with a fellow Zumba instructor.  He is currently teaching at the same studio that my daughter takes ballet with, and whose recital we’ve participated in as instructors.  I knew that if I wanted to take part in this year’s spring recital I’d have to take matters into my own hands — he and I haven’t spoken since December.  So I wrote him and asked how he would like to handle this years performance and what days would be best for him to get together.

His overdue response came, in which he briefly told me he had it handled and that he’d already gotten a group together to participate.

I instantly felt rage that I’d forgotten I was capable of.  I didn’t realize how prone to grudge holding I really am.  I’ve always thought I’m pretty great at getting along with people.  But not this person.  As much as I’ve been blaming our broken-relationship on what he did to me, the truth is I just never wanted to see his face again.  And it makes me sad, because I really miss doing this.

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That same wave of jealousy I felt as a 6 year old in a dance recital, that same disappointment I felt when my teachers didn’t think I was good enough, that same humiliation I felt when Molly got chosen over me for parts, jobs, boyfriends (oh, did I not mention that my high school bf cheated on me with her?), the rage I felt recently at being rejected, it still creeps up now.

This is where I segue into something more serious and important that may not be immediately recognizable as relevant…

About 5 billion years ago

My spiritual beliefs tell me that life did not begin at birth.  Before the Earth was created, we lived with God as his spirit children, where he revealed his plan for us to receive a mortal body and live an Earth life away from him, where we would be tried and tested, but also form families and experience joy.  In this way we would have the chance to learn things we couldn’t without a body and hopefully one day choose to return to live in Heaven again.

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At that time, Lucifer (Satan) stepped forward and wanted to be recognized and praised as the one who would make all of God’s children return to live with him after their Earth life.  But at that same time, Jesus Christ, understanding that God’s plan required his children to be able to make their own choices and mistakes, volunteered to atone for the sins of the world, providing the gift of repentance and forgiveness to all of his brothers and sisters.

It was then that Satan, feeling resentful and vindictive, rebelled against his Father’s plan, taking a “third of the hosts of Heaven” with him, and in doing so was denied the opportunity to receive a body.  Determined to deceive the rest of God’s children into rebelling as he did, Satan has subjected us to much temptation, fear, and sorrow.

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I really do hesitate to compare myself to Satan, the father of all lies, the cause of all unhappiness and sin.  But when I get so angry about not achieving success, being the favorite, or being in the forefront of everyone’s mind, I can’t help but see that he is succeeding.  He does have such a strong hold on me.  I’ve been feeling so much hate and resentment towards people lately, and the more hate I feel towards others the less I feel I am worth anything.

I think he knows that the younger he starts tempting people to hate others and hate themselves, the more likely he is to succeed.  Lately, I have heard the phrase “It’s not fair!” out of my 6-year-olds mouth WAY too much.  Satan is no respecter of age.

One day, possibly many many hundreds of thousands of years ago, I made a decision to follow Christ’s plan and not Satan’s.  He’s angry with me for that and trying in every way to get me to change my mind.  I chose eternal joy and family in spite of temporary challenges, over limited progression in a naive and oppressed dictatorship we would have been subject to under Satan’s plan.

“…having made that decision, why should we have to make it again and again after our birth into mortality?”  The late prophet Gordon B. Hinckley asked.  And he continued, “I cannot understand why so many have betrayed in life the decision they once made when the great war occurred in Heaven.” (“The Dawning of a Brighter Day”, Engisn, April 2004)

He goes on to describe the “faint but beautiful light” that shines through the darkness of these perilous times the world has always lived in.  There are so many opportunities in life for us to do good and to be a part of something much bigger than our own journey.  We are told that we have so much more tremendous significance than we could possible comprehend.

But despite our significance in God’s eyes, “…this does not put us in a position of superiority.  Rather it should humble us.  It places upon us an unforgiving responsibility to reach out with concern for all others…We must cast out self-righteousness and rise above petty self-interest”.

Based on my history of pride and resentment, clearly I’m not qualified to preach humility.  Even as I write this post I have to convince myself that I’m not sharing my experiences so people will think I’m an amazing writer.  Or even so that someone might thank me for being the reason they found God.  So I’ll end with the words of another remarkable leader:

“Some suppose that humility is about beating ourselves up. Humility does not mean convincing ourselves that we are worthless, meaningless, or of little value. Nor does it mean denying or withholding the talents God has given us. We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. It comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellowman.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 2010)

UPDATE (May 25)

When I wrote this post, I honestly had no thought in my mind that someone who actually knew Molly would read it, let alone Molly herself.  I had no intention of dragging her name through the mud and I hold absolutely no ill will towards her today.  She is and was a beautiful person.  Regardless of the jealousy I always had towards her, I still considered her a great friend for many years.  I think sometimes we choose friends based on our admiration of them.

My point of this post was not to prove how terrible other people are, it was to show how in need I was and am of changing.  How in need many of us are!  Pride is a terrible thing.  It is no one’s fault but my own that I carried these grudges and resentment around with me for so long and life would have been so much happier if I could have let them go and seen myself for who I really could be without being compared to others.

As for the writing style, drama always makes for better story telling right?  So while I wrote as if I still hold these feelings as a 31 year old woman, I truly don’t.  It is always easier to see the truth and the purpose behind the experiences in hind sight.  I’m grateful for what I learned about myself through these times, even if I didn’t handle them as I would have liked.

So I want to sincerely apologize to Molly (and John and that little boy who sang a solo and anyone else who I thought was living the dream that I should be living).  They don’t deserve what I have felt for them in the past.  Love you Molly!