Mommies, not Models

Girls, you are so much more than your looks.

Have you caught Melissa McCartney’s interview with Ellen?  If you haven’t, you should.  Apparently, Melissa was criticized by a reporter for “really look[ing] bad” in her latest movie, Tammy. According to him, she was only a good actress when she looked attractive (never mind she was playing a broken-down woman, whose outer appearance was supposed to reflect her terrible internal struggle).  When she encountered the reporter at a film festival, though, rather than attack him, she used the moment to educate him.

Ellen Melissa McCartney
Click above to watch the video

“If [your daughter] comes home and someone says you can’t have a job because you’re unattractive, are you gonna say, ‘That’s right?’ And he took that in his heart and he was like, ‘No, I would never want that to happen. I would never in a million years want that to happen.'”

“I said, ‘Just know that every time you write stuff, every young girl in this country reads that and they just get a little bit chipped away.’ I just think that we tear down women in this country for all these superficial reasons and women are so great and strong.”

Isn’t that the truth?

I’ve been privileged to have many strong women in my life, starting with my mom.  She worked as an accountant, having three kids and putting my father through graduate school before finally graduating herself. Though she eventually had five children, she continued to use her formidable analytic and organizational skills as an accountant, church leader, and volunteer social worker.  She’s a wonderful example to me.

I met other impressive women in college and, later, in law school–women who somehow managed to juggle all the demands on their time:  spouses, children, jobs, and intense studies.  These were smart, educated and driven women. Yet, if you passed these women on the street, you’d probably have no clue just how incredible they are. None fit the Hollywood mold of the perfect woman; that rare Angelina Jolie-type female who wakes up, meets her personal trainer, shoots a scene for her latest film, meets with the UN and, at the end of a long and satisfying day, calmly tucks her kids into bed–all while looking flawless.  No, these women were all average-looking; not overly fashionable, or beautiful, or exceptionally thin.  These women are some of the most intelligent people I’ve met; and yet, if you believe the overwhelming message from Hollywood–that a woman’s appearance is the most important thing about her– these women would be considered lessless attractive, less desirable, less worthy–simply because they did not put all of their efforts into their looks.

And that is such a damaging message.

How many girls do you know who have issues with their bodies?  I’ve watched friends shrink away, depriving themselves of food simply because they believe their worth is tied to how much they weigh. Other women push their bodies to the limit with exercise and “healthy eating”–myself included.  After having my first child, I was anxious to lose the baby weight, so I adopted a punishing exercise routine.  I would get up in the early morning, even after little sleep, to run and exorcise some imagined calorie overload I’d had the day before.  One ulcer and a torturous year later, I realized I couldn’t push my body so hard- and I learned to accept myself as a complete human being, not just a physical body.

Now my children take up so much of my day, I don’t have the time or the energy to pursue a physical ideal that, quite frankly, I will probably never reach.  This is a point most of us come to, as mothers.  We make a conscious choice to put our children’s needs above our own needs, even the need to feel beautiful.  While we may not have Hollywood-worthy bodies, what is important is that we like the people we are now.  And we are not lesser for channeling our energies into our families; we are better and greater people for it.

It’s a shame that our entertainment industry can’t seem to grasp that truth.

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God Exists

Cloister-Aug04-DC3866sAR800

“What if it’s all fake—what if God doesn’t really exist?” It’s a question that I’m sure we’ve all had at some point in our lives. There are several experiences in my life that have proven to me that God exists. They’re not miraculous or newsworthy; but to me they’re undeniable proofs that He lives.

A decade ago, I was in an England study abroad program. We were learning about art and literature, and I soaked up our visits to cultural landmarks, museums, and castles. Yet, even as I threw myself into the experience, I soon found myself homesick. I called my parents regularly, but this wasn’t enough to remove my feelings of loneliness. I became very sick and depressed, and started to skip school excursions and social gatherings because I didn’t have the energy to attend them.

I tried to make myself “snap out of it,” but I wasn’t successful. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed help. As a Christian, I believed that God could heal me; but my prayers, to that point, hadn’t yielded any result.
I had also been raised to believe that I could be healed through a priesthood blessing. Finding I couldn’t be healed through my faith alone, I finally worked up the courage to ask another student for a blessing. We had only spoken a couple of times, always in a group setting, and he knew very little about me. But he readily agreed to give me the blessing that evening. What would follow was one of the most powerful priesthood blessings I’ve ever had.

This young man was soft-spoken, and clearly shy around girls. You had to look directly at him in a conversation to fully understand him. But when he laid his hands on my head, there was no hesitation when he said I would be healed. Then his voice continued, strong and clear: “God knows the desires of your heart,” he told me, “He’s heard your prayers, and someday, your family will be close with one another.”

To this point, I haven’t told you the full extent of my problems. This struggle with homesickness wasn’t new for me; I’d wrestled with these feelings since, at age seventeen, I had left home to attend college in Utah, thousands of miles away. Even if the man blessing me had guessed my illness was somehow psychological, he would have no way of knowing the severity of these feelings, or the fact that my depression and feelings of alienation continued when I was at home.

Ball Family Pic Dec 2014

Already two semesters into college, I was quickly finding that my short visits home during the summers did not make me feel any less lonely. Most people have a need for love and acceptance from their family. My family generally holds their emotions very close—we didn’t share feelings or talk about our internal struggles; in short, we did not take the time to truly get to know each others’ emotional needs, much less try to fulfill them. Thus, going home for me was, in many ways, as emotionally unsatisfying as being away from home. And I was left struggling to find a way of connecting with my family to fill the huge hole this left in my heart.

At the time I received this blessing, I hadn’t quite figured out why my visits home left me feeling so solitary. I just knew that I wanted my family to be closer, and I often prayed for this to happen. Nobody knew what I had been praying for—I hadn’t told a single soul, ever, that this was a very deep desire for me. So when this shy, reserved man started to talk about my family, and promise me that my prayers would be answered and my family would be closer, I knew that only God would be able to tell him this.

When I reflect on what my story means to me, I think about the Biblical account of the woman at the well, in ancient Syria. In the story, Jesus asked a Samaritan woman to draw him water. She resisted at first, and a verbal exchange followed. In this conversation, Jesus revealed to the woman details about her life that he, a stranger, could not have possibly known. The woman went away in amazement and told all the city, “ Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

I used to overlook this story as one of the lesser miracles of Jesus; but thinking about my own experience, I’m struck by how simply, but effectively, Christ was able to reveal himself to her as a prophet, even the Son of God. There are too many stories to count of those who have seen miracles in the world. But, if there is any weakness in these accounts, it lies in their physicality.  With time, we can second-guess anything that we alone see, touch, feel or hear. Too often, I do not write my spiritual experiences down, and the emotions or sensations that I felt at the time become diminished; until, eventually, I forget the miracle.

That’s why this blessing was so special; it was not something I alone experienced.  If I’d heard a voice in my head saying these same words, or only had a feeling in my heart, I could have one day disbelieved in them, because I so often doubt my thoughts and feelings. But God took it upon Himself to inspire a young man, a virtual stranger, to discern the thoughts and intents of my heart—and so His existence is something I can never deny.  Ten years ago, I wrote that experience down.  And it will remain forever etched in my memory as a testimony that God lives and is aware of me. And He is aware of my family as well.