I am an Abolitionist.

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It’s a Wednesday morning. The girls are settled into a viewing of Maleficent (ahhhh, the blessing and the curse of easy rentals from Amazon Prime). I’m sitting next to them, bundled up in blankets. Their feet tap against my legs and they lean their heads into my arms and neck. I belong to them, I take care of them, I live for them. And every unconscious lean into, hold onto and snuggle against from them is a manifestation of their understanding of whoI am and what I will do for them. It’s easy to take those touches for granted. Easy to think what they’ve given me, what I’ve given them, is merely a matter of course.

Of course, it’s not.

Last night, I attended an early screening of the movie The Abolitionists. A documentary following the efforts of Operation Underground Railroad to rescue children from the iron grip of human trafficking and sex slavery. I’ve worked directly with O.U.R. In August, I went on an undercover sting with them in the Dominican Republic. While there, my skin was touched by human traffickers as we shook hands and I pretended to want they were selling.  My heart was branded with the faces of the children as they marched past me at the end of the operation, out the door and onto a different, better life. My life was changed. I know firsthand the, at times, miraculous works of O.U.R. And yet, the movie last night pushed me back into my seat and pulled my eyes wide open.

These children, with no mother to lean against, are bought, sold, raped, beaten, drugged and then bought and sold again. They are babies and adolescents and nearly women that never had a nearly childhood. The problem is growing. Millions of big spirits in little bodies are enslaved. The purveyors of the purchased and stolen children are often family members and fellow countrymen. Those that buy nights with the children? Mainly Western men. Americans, Europeans and Canadians. $300 will get you seven hours with a little girl or boy. Hours filled with abuse, violation and hurt. It’s a worldwide problem, spreading with the intensity of a wildfire and most law enforcement agencies are not equipped to deal with a slow burn, let alone the ravages they are encountering everyday.

Last night an audience of a thousand people watched the inner workings of an organization that thinks outwardly and upwardly. OUR goes into other countries and works hand in hand with the local governments to stem the tide of slavery. Yes in the movie, bad guys were caught and evil was disrupted. But the beauty of OUR is that they understand that while catching the criminals is necessary and invaluable, their focus remains on the children. We saw babies rescued from the filth and despair of an orphanage run as a front for child trafficking. We heard the stories of girls that had been rescued from a daily life of darkness infused with violation. Girls that hurt and never expected to stop being hurt. Girls that “never knew there were people out there that worried about girls like me.” Girls that even amidst the lingering pain and trauma are finally learning to dream again. To see the value in life and, oh my blessed heaven, to see the value in themselves. And we saw men and women willing to sacrifice hard-earned resources, time with their families, and physical safety to save even one life.

We did not leave the theater asking, How are the members of OUR able to do that hard and inglorious work? We left the theater asking the unsettling and ultimately uplifting question, How can we not be involved? There is no way out of this obligation to save. And I thank the Ever Living Lord for that.

Because, here’s the thing. These children? They belong to all of us and we belong to them. We must take care of each other. We must live for each other. It’s the only way. We must give them someone to lean against, finally, until they are able – for the first time truly – to stand up on their own. We must manifest through our actions and our heart hurt care, that we can see who they are and that we know, WE KNOW, that they are worth even more than our best efforts and grandest sacrifices. We must strive to give them the opportunity for the expansive kind of love that I take for granted on an average Wednesday morning.

And we must do it now.

 The Abolitionists will debut in Utah in the coming weeks. Across the nation, as circumstance and distribution allows. Until then, you can help by raising awareness and raising money. We can raise awareness by talking about this on social media, at lunch amongst friends and in our homes. Write down the reason you are an Abolitionist and then ask your friends to do the same by sharing it on IG, Twitter and Instagram.  On average, it costs a mere $1,500 to rescue a child from a life of slavery. It doesn’t take many of us to raise that kind of money. Become an Abolitionist by committing to donate $5 a month. For the cost of a couple of diet cokes, you will be literally saving a child. Start a campaign of your own. This isn’t just a call to action, this is a call to save, to heal, to make whole.  And I know, I KNOW, you will answer it.

 Because you are worthy of this task just as surely as those children are worthy of rescue.

 Amen.


Watch the trailer for the The Abolitionists

Three Crazy Things You Should Do Every Day

crazy lady

She’s crazy.

Three Crazy Things You Should Do Every Day

1. Voice your most critical thoughts.

Listen, we’ve all been there. It’s 10:05 in the morning. You still haven’t showered. Your kids are on their fourth episode of Curious George. The house is a mess. And the monologue in your head starts,

“Well. Today’s a bust. I guess I’ll just try again tomorrow. I bet every mom in the world is making organic crafts with their kids – their kids that are all potty trained and know how to read and write to the president about social issues and never fight with each other and always wear clothes from swedish catalogues without ever spilling on them ever. I should have been a mom like that, not a mom like this. Maybe if I shower, it will help. Of course, I don’t know what I’ll wear after the shower. Nothing fits. I used to be so cute, Maybe I’ll just have potato chips and ice cream for breakfast. Yeah, let’s start with that and see if it helps.”

And then you do, and you’re surprised when it doesn’t.

Here’s an idea. When you are thinking all that utter nonsense…close your eyes and say it outloud. If you overheard someone saying all that bleep about themselves or someone else what would you do? You’d be sympathetic or indignant, but you wouldn’t think it had merit. Me?? I’d probably laugh, tell them to get over themselves, take a shower and get going. Listen, most of our inner criticism is too ridiculous to survive reality. So make it real. Take a look at it’s malformed inaccuracies and then toss it over your shoulder in the garbage heap where it belongs. You deserve to move about unencumbered by your own untruths. Own that and then get up and get going.

2. Work towards a far-fetched dream.

Adulthood doesn’t do away with our most fantastic and hopeful selves. It just buries that person below the mortgage and the stretch marks and the cynicism we all pack on like so much armor. Well, you know, it might be time to get over adulthood. Pick a big or little dream that seems beyond your circumstance and take one tiny step toward it a day. In this season in my life, there are days when my most far fetched dream is a clean house – and I get as close to that as clean counters above a toy strewn floor. Other days I can feel beyond my walls and I write a page of that book I hope to see on a shelf some day. As I grow older, I am realizing that the type of dream doesn’t matter as much as our willingness to devote time to it. When I dedicate my resources, minutes, and a sense of validity to even the simplest of my heart strung hopes, I am acknowledging my personal worth and ability to contribute. And I am discovering that mere acknowledgement is the catalyst of more forward movement than any actual dream I’ve ever actually dreamt.

3. Act with Love

Acting with love in a world motivated by so many unloving things is really, really crazy. But it is also my most moving act of insanity for my most immoveable days. I can’t control the world outside my door. Hell, I can barely control the world INSIDE my door. I have no hand in whether I’m invited to THAT playgroup, or THAT book club, or THAT party. I can’t make people read my writing. I can’t force the world into the shape I think it should assume. What can I do? I can decide get rid of reaction as a means of survival or supremacy. I can replace it with deliberation, with empathy, with a decision to think the best, and a commitment to not be hurt by others inadvertent actions. I can reach out. I can bring in. I can circle round.  I can act out of love. Especially when it comes to forgiving and believing in my most imperfect, ever reaching self.


Here’s to more crazy days.

January 22, 2015  |  mamma in progress  |  , , ,  |  No Comments

From the Outside Looking In

tuesdaymorning

Tuesday Morning Still Life

I’m not where I want to be.

Mornings aren’t organized. The girls watch too much TV. I consider it a triumph when we carve even an hour or two out of the day to be productive and creative and together. I’ve had a hard time writing. I’ve had a hard time cleaning. I’ve had a hard time keeping in touch. I’ve had a hard time…

I’ve had a hard time.

So I’ve been reading. Medieval history, southern cookbooks, organizational gurus, Tolstoy, Austen (again and again), Early Christian writers, CS Lewis, Harold Bloom, Plath and Dickinson and Auden. And so many biographies. Pages that peer into the lives of the famous, infamous and merely human. Words that connect me to a mortal experience removed from mine by era and value and gender. And I’ve come to love these people – even the ones I’ve hated. In understanding them, I’ve forgiven them or sat back with greater awe in the face of their achievements, even the ones that were never known beyond the walls of their hearts. (Well, not known until some really snoopy biographer was like, “I will find her journals and expose their contents to the world! For money! I mean…for the greater good!” Then whispers, “and money.”) I’d just finished Manchester’s opus on Churchill when I realized I was giving these never-met people more room for imperfect living than I was giving myself.

I know what has happened to me. I know where I’ve tried and where I’ve let things fall. I know the battles I’ve won and the battles I continue to fight. I know the things that brim to the tops of the walls of my heart. What if I started to look at the last year the way a biographer would view it fifty years from now? (Granted the biographer would have to specialize in obscure women that weren’t known beyond their social circle. I am sure there is someone out there in the future just dying to profile “an everyday woman who accepted her mediocrity and turned the shower on twenty minutes before getting in it every morning as a means to avoid her children FOR JUST A FEW MORE MINUTES!” Ahem.)

But really, improbable future biographer of tedium aside, what would an objective, outside paragraph or two about the past twelve months look like?

Her father’s cancer returned the month before her twenty-ninth birthday. The records we have from that time express both her faith and horror at the time of his short illness and quick death. Her relationship with her father was one of the central points of her life. There is little record left by Megan of the year that followed. As she was protective to the point of defensiveness of her family, the silence can be viewed as a decision to safeguard those she loved as well as herself. And while depression was never acknowledged, it seems apparent that it played a significant role in this scene of her life.

It was a time of upheaval. She helped her mother pack up thirty years of life and marriage and move to a new home. Her husband’s career changed. Her children reacted against circumstance and she spent much time healing them and trying to heal herself. She let long sought opportunities fall into the dishwater and worried about little slights. The regret of these unconscious decisions was, at times, crippling. In her few private writings, there is evidence of a minor faith crises and a continued search for understanding. We also encounter a real yearning for place and calling in her journals. (And by “journals”, the biographer would mean the 15 notebooks that each contained about three pages of writing spaced between five years before I moved onto another notebook to “really journal right this time.”)

The quality of the little writing she did during this period varied wildly. Spread from the enlightened to the pedantic, she seemed to be scrambling to find her voice and the words it carried. By the end of the year, she and Riley moved across town to a house with fruit trees and an office for her thoughts. Her later works reflect both the growth and hurt she experienced during this time. The woman we came to know would not have existed without this era of which we know so little.

Hmmm. It’s not the beginnings of greatness (and honestly, it would never get published, sorry pretend biographer), but it might be the beginning of understanding and forgiving myself.

And right now, I really, really need that.

(You might need it, too. What would your paragraphs look like?)

First Kiss

Start this weekend with a kiss.

I was driving around yesterday in an attempt to clear this old head of mine.

My head does feel old lately, weighted down by questions and answers and hopes and places my heart tries to reach but never quite does. Driving and listening to music while looking at the houses where other people live seems to make everything feel lighter and younger. So, I suppose was driving in pursuit of my youth when a cheesy country song came onto the cheesy country radio station.

hey, I want a kiss a girl

want to feel nervous before I kiss a girl

but then we do kiss

and it’s the first time

but I’m not nervous anymore

annnnnd I really like it

Because I like kissing new girls for the first time

Okay, I might be paraphrasing a little bit. But that is pretty damn close to accurate.

The timing seemed fortuitous. An old minded girl seeking youthful lightness is reminded by her radio that she will never have a first kiss again. And also, somewhat tangentially, that she should probably get her ipod fixed so that she no longer has to listen to local radio stations.

Eight years into a happy marriage with lovely children and trees bearing fruit it occurred to met that I’ll never have a first kiss again. It’s an odd thing, to think that you’ll never feel a feeling again. I’ll never have that moment of will he or won’t he? Will I or won’t I? What does the shape of his mouth feel like against mine? Will he kiss me into butterflies and desire or kiss me into, “Hey, this was great. Ummmm. Don’t call me because I will be in Africa for the next….ummmm….foreseeable future.” The first kiss is a beginning.

And beginnings are exciting.

Right now, my brain sometimes tries to tell my soul we are in a middle. Riley and I are tired. The kids are a delightful handful. Work is draining. The mortgage is due. There is heartbreak and hearthope. The ipod is broken…forcing me to listen to horrible country music stations that in turn force me to analyze my place in life. It’s exhausting.

A few more miles, one more bad song and I’d worked out that my brain is full of, well, bleep. Listen, yes. Once married you’ll (hopefully) stop kissing new people. But that doesn’t remove the beauty, brightness or surprise of a first kiss. Heavens, I am not the person Riley married eight years ago. And he isn’t the boy I married. We’ve changed. We’ve grown together and apart and back again. We’re developing into the people we’re meant to be. Thank goodness. Could you imagine a static existence? Every day with Riley is a day with a new man. Every kiss is the first time I’ve kissed THAT version of him. It’s fulfilling and exciting and I’ve never tired of it. I don’t need to seek the new when it is standing right in front of me.

Last night, it was late and I suppose we should have been asleep. But I hadn’t kissed the man I married yet that day. So I leaned against him and our lips hovered apart from each other for just a moment. There was just a moment of will he or won’t he? Will I or won’t I? What will the shape of his mouth feel like against mine tonight? Then the moment broke and he pulled me in.

And it felt like a beginning.


 

January 16, 2015  |  mamma in progress  |  5 Comments

From Hearth and Home

art detectives young woman kneeling prayer desk david wilkie

Woman Kneeling at a Prayer Desk by Sir Davis Wilkie

I try to avoid writing about religion in this space. God, yes. Spirituality, yes. The Atonement, you betcha. But religion, I leave alone. Because you can’t talk about one without disagreeing with another. Because it isn’t a universal concept. Because at the end of the day it is really just the shiny wrapping around the gooey gospel goodness. (Did I just equate The Word with caramel? MAYBE.) But today my call to write comes from within my faith tradition.

Write it I must, but read it you…may. (Tune in tomorrow for more traditional meg in progress fare.)

I am LDS. And for several years, the topic of female ordination has been one of agitation, honest hope, dutiful prayer, anger, peace, love and disenfranchisement. I have friends on both “sides” of the topic. Not that it matters much, but I fall in a third category myself – one neither those that seek ordination nor those that discourage it feel much kinship towards. This gives me the unenviable role of outsider. It also gives me a sense of objectivity. (I say a “sense” because objectivity is surely always an illusion.) I’ve wept with my friends who have felt their hearts have called them away from the church. Their choices were not made lightly. They had to decide to tear themselves apart to go. I’ve stood next to women that have decided to stay because of truths bigger than the doubts that clutter around their feet. Their choices were not made lightly. They had to decide to tear themselves apart to stay. And I’ve felt honored by every damn association with every one of them.

I thought of every one of those women today as I read the announcement by April Young Bennett. A woman on the board of Ordain Women. A fervent contributor to The Exponent. An active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. According to Ms. Bennett, her stake president gave her a choice. If she wished to keep her temple recommend, she would need to step down from OW. She was allowed to remain a member. She was also told take down every article she’s ever written about Women and the Priesthood. This included the surveys she conducted asking women how they felt about their positions in the church and priesthood authority. If she complied she would have her temple recommend and access to her brother’s impending wedding. If she did not, she would lose both. Faced with exclusion from one of the most sacred events of her brother’s life, she acted as many of us would have acted…she did what she was told to do.

I’ve never read April’s work. And as of the writing of this article, I’ve decided to keep it that way. I did not want my assessment of her opinions to have anything to do with my assessment of her situation. So what do I think? With an objectivity colored only by our joint membership in this sisterhood in Zion?

I find myself hoping the facts have been misrepresented. But if they are accurate, if this is what truly happened, then I am appalled.

I cannot address her work with Ordain Women, I don’t know enough about the organization or her role within it to write about that aspect of the demands coherently. What I do know about OW has mostly left me feeling ambivalent about whether being a member makes one in open rebellion against the church. That is another discussion for another day. (I lean towards the “everybody’s invited to this party” approach.)

But I do – I DO – know about writing as a means to seek, communicate and commune as an LDS woman. These men. With their desk jobs and time away from hearth and home. With their certainty about what should be said and where and how it should be spoken. Do they have any concept of what it is like to be an LDS woman with ideas that want to run about and hopes that don’t have a name? We have joy. But the hardships are not few.

Do they know the isolation of a traditional LDS woman? Of the moments over the dishes and the children and the floors and the meals? With no weekly meetings, no lunches with colleagues, no time for personal aspiration except what is carved out of  the exhaustion of early mornings and late laundry soaked nights? How can they not understand that writing and publishing our revelations, our hopes, our hard sought answers and, yes even the imperfect act of seeking itself, is how we commune, how we find one another, how we build?

Let’s meet this stake president halfway. Let’s say he is right in his assessment of Ms. Bennett’s position. Let’s say she is wrong. Well, then. What?

Are we only to publish the things we KNOW to be right? How many things do we absolutely KNOW with a surety? Are we only to write the things that are approved by people we’ve never met? Is there no room in our journey, our places of refuge, our online board meetings for ideas that may seem irreverent or iconoclastic or fringe? Don’t we have the right to be wrong if we go about it with a love for Christ and man? If we do it without offense or broken covenant? If we’ve lost that right, then we’ve lost our pursuit of truth. I don’t know how to find The Lord without bumping around in the dark. I can’t. If you require that of me, then I’ve lost all hope of finding His light.  Thank goodness, Joseph Smith wasn’t held to this same standard. He never would have survived it.

My dear Stake President.

Yes, we think and write in the public eye. We reach out across continents connected by screens and wifi. For many of us, it is that or muttering to ourselves over the dishes during naptime. Because we’ve listened to you. We’ve stayed home. We’ve raised our babies. We’ve made meals for the sick and the heartbroken and unmended. We’ve sought revelation and we’ve been confused, too, by the myriad of answers across gender and circumstance.

So we’ve written what we know and we’ve written what we hoped until we knew and hoped something better…and then we’ve written those things, too. Places like The Exponent aren’t nests of dissent, they are sanctuaries for thoughts and hearts that sometimes meet and sometimes collide. Their existence is an act of sisterhood – the good, the bad and the genuine. The fact that we let you read there,too is a testament of our hope for you – not an invitation to police and destroy. You can’t silence our faith journey simply because you don’t agree with it. You can only rejoice that we’ve garnered the strength to embark on one at all. We get to disagree with you. We get to ask questions. We get to share the revelations that have settled into our bones. You don’t get to decide what is worthy of thought or conversation.

It’s not up to you.

By telling Ms. Bennett to remove the work of her heart from the safe walls of The Exponent, you’ve told us you think her journey to the truth is unworthy of our sisterhood. By removing the surveys that recorded the thoughts of her readers, you’ve told us the feelings of women in the lay membership only deserve to be acknowledged if they reflect your own. And, most damningly, you’ve used admittance into our highest house of learning as a way to discipline someone you deemed not learned enough. You know, the next time my oldest daughter confuses how to write her bs and ds, I am going to keep her home from school. That ought to teach her about the importance of her education.

Ahem.

Did you know discipline comes from the Latin, disciplina? It means to guide, not to punish. Where else to go for guidance but the temple?

I think Ms. Bennett and I would disagree on a great many things. But I also think we would find common ground in our love of Christ, our adoration for the gospel, our thirst for more revelation and our hopeful faith in the framework of the church. Most importantly, I think, after awhile, the two of us would discover the great truth inherent in the sisterhood. We need one another. I need April. I need women like her. Women that are different from me. Women that teach me to love those that are not of my heart and mind. I need to feel something bigger than our mortal fabric pull us together. I need to sit next to her at the Temple and marvel at the same truth reflected through a prism of hearts and souls.

And, not with due respect but with respect freely given, I would say you need that, too.

In solidarity with my sisters that know, hope to know or don’t know whether they know or not,  a few things I currently believe that are not doctrine:

The Word of Wisdom approves the drinking of beer. (Okay, this one doesn’t really matter…I certainly stay away from the stuff since I’ve been asked to by later prophets. But a thorough reading of D&C leaves little room for other interpretations. D&C 89: 17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, and for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.)

The Holy Ghost is a female presence. (If gender is eternal, then what do we make of that personage’s very female gifts?)

The concept of eternal progression applies to ascension from one kingdom to another in the eternities. Nearly all of us will be exalted in the truest sense of the word.

The priesthood is the Power of God, it is not withheld from women. In the fullness of  the gospel, women will regularly participate in the laying on of hands. While I do not believe my priesthood looks like male priesthood, I do believe further revelation will show us its full force and full place. Until then, I have patience.

The coming years will prove the veracity or falseness of these present convictions. And I will rejoice no matter what the outcome. Because the truth can’t hurt the truth. No matter the accuracy of my current thoughts, they will have been one of many steps that led me to enlightenment. And that is a blessing I will not deny.

© megan conley 2012

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