Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Argument for Better Teacher Pay

This post has been a long time coming, and I have been hesitant to write it.  However, lately I have felt two things more and more: the first thing is the pressure to not only be perfect as a teacher, but also the pressure from parents, politicians, and community members to do more, to be more, and to bend over backwards to help their kid, or their cause.  The second thing is that I don’t get paid enough to do it.
However, I have been afraid to say that out loud, because inevitably I hear one (or two...or three) of several different arguments, varying from those that are valid, to those that are uninformed, to those that are down-right condescending or insulting.  In the end, though, I can’t be silent any longer. I may get backlash, I may get support, but I can’t NOT respond to these arguments any more.  Here they are, along with my response, in no particular order. Enjoy. (Or don’t.)
1. Get a different job.
            I have heard this argument so many times I’ve lost count: “Well, if you don’t like it, do something else.”  While this is, unfortunately, what many teachers (good ones, too) are doing, it’s not really a long-term solution.  It invites good teachers to leave because they just can’t pay their bills on a teacher’s salary, and allows bad teachers to stay because desperate school districts have no other option, and neither do the bad teachers.  It tells me that there is no interest in really fixing the problem, or making an effort to show teachers that they have value, and instead people would rather that teachers shut up, or get out.  That they don’t mind keeping the bad teachers, as long as they don’t have to pay them more.  It also implies that teachers should just be satisfied with what they get, and if they aren’t satisfied they’d better try something else, because no one is going to change things any time soon. They propose a deceptively simple solution, trivializing the problem, and making teachers out to be whiners who can’t solve their own “simple” problems.
Teachers go to school for years and years (many I work with have a Master’s Degree), but they don’t do this to simply quit their profession because people refuse to pay them any more money.  Imagine you go to your boss and ask for a raise. Is “If you don’t like what I pay you, go somewhere else” really a satisfactory answer for you? When you’ve put in the hours, earned the credentials, mastered the skills, and shown success in your work, are you really satisfied with simply going somewhere else and starting over? Maybe, if you work at McDonald’s. However, if that is not the case, my guess is that logically, you’re going to stay where you’ve already invested so much time and effort, hoping that things will improve, rather than investing time, money, effort, education, and other sacrifices into an entirely new career.  If people don’t want to wait around, luckily, most could get another job in the same field and potentially make more money.  For teachers, however, the entire field faces this problem, so they really would have to start over with a new career.  It is insulting when people insinuate that teachers can simply “get another job” when they’ve invested so much into their teaching career. 

2. Well, you chose it!
            Ah yes, the “you knew what you were getting into, so deal with it” argument. The “you made your bed, now sleep in it” attack.  Yes, I chose to be a teacher. I chose it, for good or for bad.  I chose to work long hours, to deal with extra work, extra meetings, disrespect, legislation, testing, pay-for-performance, and all the other things that come along with teaching.  I chose a job that allows very little time off during the school year, and what time I do get off is almost harder than just going in to work because of all the preparation it takes to help someone else do my job while I’m gone.  I chose to deal with drama and fights between hormonal teenagers. I chose to be a policeman, detective, counselor, janitor, librarian, entertainer, organizer, monitor, event planner, and all the other jobs-within-my-job that come along with being a teacher. I chose to have my heart break when some students move on to high school, and to heave a sigh of relief when others do (finally!). I chose to love them, and want to kill them, all at the same time.  Yes, I chose to be a teacher.  But that doesn’t mean I have to be satisfied with my salary. That’s like saying you should never ask for a raise because you knew the salary you started at, and should be satisfied with it.  Sometimes I wish people considered teaching to be the same as the job they go to every day. Why don’t the same rules apply?

3. You get your summers off, and you get off at 4 o’clock.
            I figured I might as well address this one next, since some people’s feathers got ruffled in the last paragraph, when I mentioned “little time off during the school year.”  “What? You get your whole summer off! I’d kill for that!” “You go home every day at FOUR! How can I get a sweet deal like that?” It makes all teachers sound like lazy slugs, who chose the job because they could get off early, and take the summer off.  Before you start to argue that THAT’S why teachers get paid so little, let me remind you of a few things.  The first is that yes, I am on “contract time” from 8a.m. to 4 p.m., and most people in the traditional work force work until five.  However, my 8hour day includes a 20 minute lunch, which I often scarf down while making copies, or running errands for student council (more on that later).  Most working people get an hour lunch break when they work 8 hours.  Even Wal-Mart does that.  But teaching is a job that requires you to be present, all the time.  Bathroom breaks are almost unheard of, and prep hour is the time we plan for the next day, run more errands, make copies, send emails, and yes—occasionally—check Facebook. You know, the kind of thing that most people get to do all day.
Another thing I’d like to point out is that the United States Congress was in session about 126 days in 2013, and plans to be in session 113 days in 2014.  Teachers are in school 180 days a year, which does not include in-service (teacher training) days, or the weeks they spend finishing up the school year in June, or preparing for the new school year to start in August. Most teachers only get about a month to a month and a half “off” of school, with many using the summer as a time to further professional development, plan lessons, and prepare for the next year.  Many justify the salary of Congress (over $170,000 for the lowest paid member) because the work of Congressmen doesn’t end when they go home.  But neither does the work of teachers, who spend hours and hours planning, grading ,prepping, fulfilling outside of classroom duties (like teaching newspaper, yearbook, student council, debate, after-school programs, sports, FFA, FCCLA, the list goes on  and on), and many other things.  For most teachers, work doesn’t end when they leave the building, and the more hours they work, the less money they “make.” 

4. If you work outside of the hours you get paid for, you’re just stupid.
            Yes, I’ve heard this one.  I think most people would agree that not doing your job is not an option, so the fact that mine takes more time than can possibly be fit into an 8 hour work day, means I work longer than 8 hours.  There’s not really another option. I either work longer, or I don’t do my job.  It’s not stupid, it’s necessary. Simple as that.

5. But, don’t you do it for the “intrinsic rewards”? 
            This one is probably the hardest argument to swallow.  Probably because it is the one I hear the most from my teacher colleagues.  I almost am afraid to bring up this whole topic because of the “intrinsic rewards” argument.  Basically, it says that if the idea of helping other people, of seeing students succeed, of receiving warm hugs and smiles from students isn’t enough for you, you are a bad teacher.  There is something flawed in your “teacher-make-up.”  It is the holier-than-thou argument, because a “good” teacher would be satisfied with simply making children’s lives better, and not ask for any more compensation than that.  “Remember, we do it for the kids, not the money!” 
Here’s the thing: I love kids. I love seeing them succeed.  I love seeing them in the hall at school, and hearing them shout my name excitedly as they wave and smile, just because they saw me.  I love that they do this knowing I will shout and smile and wave back, and that’s what they want.  I love getting to know them, and becoming their friend, their confidant. I love getting through to that one kid who all the other teachers warned me about, and hearing that my class is their “favorite” when I know school is the hardest part of their lives.  BUT—it’s not enough.  There, I said it; start gathering your slinging-stones. But before you start slinging, let me explain. 
It’s not enough because the world doesn’t work that way.  I can’t call my bank and say, “Gosh, you are the BEST bank ever, and I’m never leaving this bank! Thanks so much!” and hope they let my mortgage payment slide.  I can’t hug the clerk at the grocery store, and tell her I always go to her check-out line because she’s my favorite, and hope that pays for my groceries.  I can’t go to the doctor and say, “Wow, I bet you sure feel good helping people!” and hope he’s okay if I don’t pay him that time. While this would be a wonderful way to live—everyone gives what they can, and others show gratitude and help how they can—it isn’t the real world we live in. The real world doesn’t work that way, and teachers live in the real world.
We use the intrinsic rewards argument to justify paying teachers what we pay them, but we would never use it in other professions with obvious intrinsic rewards.  I’m sure it feels good when doctors save lives; I’m sure it is a nice experience to help someone win an unfair case in court; I’ll bet it is a great feeling to design a building and see it come to fruition.  But we never bring up the “intrinsic rewards” argument with any other profession, because we know that logically, it’s not enough. The basic truth is that we pay people what we think they’re worth, regardless of any “intrinsic rewards” their profession holds.    

6. Stop whining.
            This is actually a new argument, but I saw it today in the comments section of a blog about teachers, and how difficult their job really is.  The comments claimed the author was whining, just like “all teachers,” and suggested they were denigrating their own profession by being so whiny.  Seriously? When you go ask for a raise, does your boss call you whiny? When you make a serious and thought out argument, pleading your cause for more fair treatment, are you being whiny? This just blew my mind. 

7. Raise the standards of teaching, and we’ll raise your pay.
            This is actually a good thought, that the standards for teachers in some places are so low that anyone can get a job, or get teaching credentials, so it lowers the credibility and validity of the profession.  However, I don’t agree with the order of things here.  If teachers continue to be paid so little, eventually only the very desperate will apply, and the profession will crumble in on itself.  The only way to justify raising the standards, is to raise the pay.  Raising the standards (which, for the record, are actually quite high in most places) will only deter some teachers from applying, because why go to all the effort for so little reward? (Again, not talking intrinsic rewards here.)  
Then there are the other demands we put on teaching.  We say, through extensive testing and re-testing of students, that we expect a lot from teachers.  We expect them to teach well enough that their students can pass increasingly difficult tests. The testing tells us that what teachers do is important—that what they produce is of value; student achievement is very important, and must be measured and improved upon. Billions of dollars are being spent on this each year—to measure what our students are learning.  Teacher pay is being threatened based on the success or failure of these students.  But what we need isn’t more tests, or fancier books and computers, what we need is better teachers.  I know for a fact that a good teacher can do more with pencils, paper, and a white board, than a bad teacher can do with all the laptops and fancy textbooks in the world.  So where should our money really be spent? The answer is not in more testing or better computers, it is in our teachers.  If we show them they are our priority, that we value what they bring to the table, then we might get more teachers who live up to high standards (again, many, many already do) and we can start holding them to it.  Until then, however, you get what you pay for.  (I should mention here that there are many good teachers, even with the salaries what they are. They teach because they want to help students learn, and they think that is worth the sacrifices they make in salary—but they shouldn’t be expected to do so, and neither should anyone else. Can you imagine how great they would be if they were paid what they’re worh??)

In the end
            Teaching is great, but it is difficult—harder than we give it credit for.  It has its own rewards, but teachers don’t get paid enough. Period.
I may not be a doctor doing brain surgery, but I am asked to understand fully how a brain works when learning, so I can mold and manipulate their learning experiences to their fullest advantages; I am not a movie star, but I am expected to educate AND entertain a class of kids who sometimes couldn’t care less about adverbs, while they’re dealing with everything from bullies to abuse, and broken hearts to hormones; I don’t have a law degree, but I am often asked to be judge, jury, and bailiff when someone cheats in my class, or an argument gets out of hand. This, among many other things, is my job, and I accept it.  But it is not easy, because in this country we assign value to something by the dollar amount we attach to it.  Doctors, lawyers, engineers, super models, athletes, movie stars, they are all assigned high dollar values, because we value what they can do.  Perhaps it is because we don’t all assume we could do their job better than they do it, or maybe because after 12-13 years of school, we think teaching is as easy as our teachers made it look.  Perhaps for these reasons, teaching has been assigned a dollar amount among the lowest of degreed professions, and even lower than many professions that don’t require any type of degree. I am not trying to be an education snob here, I am just saying it like it is. I feel that being a teacher is one of the most important jobs on the planet (how many paying jobs are there which could be done without some kind of a teacher showing them the way?) but that doesn’t pay my bills.
Sometimes I really wish that I could just say I don’t get paid enough, and not get the backlash from ignorant people who think my profession deserves what it gets, and I have no right to ask for more.
If you agree with me, we need to do something. This post isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t change anything.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Advice from a Not-So-Pro about Who to Be, and Who to Date

Be, Date, (and Marry) someone:
...who loves you for who you are, but makes you want to be better.
It’s great to have someone love you for who you are.  In fact, it’s usually a bad sign when someone is always trying to “change” you.  But if they don’t inspire you to be better; if they aren’t SO good in some ways themselves that you want to improve just being around them; if they don’t believe the best about you, and make you want to make it true; then they aren’t for you. By the same token, if you aren’t that person for someone else; if you don’t inspire them to be better, and believe they are capable of being their best; then maybe you should check your own habits.

...who isn’t too concerned with how they look, because they’ll care less about your “bad hair” days.
It’s okay to care about how you look. You should take some pride in yourself, and be neat and clean.  But if you, or the person you are with, is overly concerned about how they look, or wearing the latest styles and brands, or having their hair perfectly coiffed every morning, then watch out.  Someday you might put on a few extra pounds, or wear last year’s look to an event.  You might be up all night with a term paper or a screaming baby (or both) and you won’t be looking your best the next day.  Someone who is overly concerned about appearance might not be the most understanding, make you feel ugly, or not good enough, and you could end up very unhappy.  Someone who doesn’t stress about the outward appearance might be more understanding, and should make you feel beautiful on the good days AND the bad. 
...who you want to talk about, and tell the truth about, because the truth sounds better than lies.
This one is obvious.  If you have to talk them up by lying, then either they aren’t meeting your expectations, or you are embarrassed by their “resume” and feel the need to embellish certain things, or leave other things out.  The truth should sound better than lies, and if it doesn’t, and you are tempted to falsify information, then maybe you should rethink the relationship.  And if it’s yourself that you are lying about...well, that should ring some bells, too. 

...who doesn’t require you to make excuses, or explain them to others.
Although this is similar to the previous statement, this is bad news on other levels. If you are making excuses now, you will be in the future.  If there is a personality trait, a habit, or a past experience that you constantly have to explain to people now, don’t think it will get better with time.  Do you really want to spend your life apologizing for the person you are with?

...who you want to be seen with because their character speaks so loudly, and it says good things.
It’s great if your relationship is good one-on-one.  After all, you are the only two that matter, right? Well, in a sense, yes.  But you can’t live your life as a hermit; you eventually have to be around other people, be it family, coworkers, members of your church, or your children.  What kind of things do they say, without saying anything?  If what their character says is negative, and therefore you don’t want to be seen in public with them, it’s a sign that you have a problem.  If other people don’t want to see you with them, and that’s why you are hiding, what does that say about them?
...who will set a good example for your kids, and for others.
Many relationships run into problems because the involved parties are so short-sighted.  The flaws and negative attributes of their significant other are things they can overlook for now; they may not be very honest, but when caught in a lie, they eventually confess; they may promise changes that aren’t coming to pass, but right now, it’s not that serious.  Then 15 years down the road, they have children, and suddenly mom or dad’s bad habits are rubbing off on the kids; they make excuses based on dad’s behavior, or mom’s life choices.  If the person you are with now would not be a good role model for children, don’t expect them to suddenly become one in the future.

...who you don’t have to hide from others.
This is very similar to “being seen with” them, but it goes deeper.  If the things they do or say (or that you do or say with them) are things you don’t want anyone to know about, this is a bad sign.  If you have to keep their past, their “secrets,” or their lifestyle a secret, that should be a clue that they aren’t living the way you know they should, and that you aren’t either.

...who is dependable, and who speaks up for what’s right even when no one else will.
Standing alone is never easy, and someone willing to do so is rare.  If you find someone who will do that, you can trust they will always defend you, and always do what is right.  In the end, isn’t that all that matters?
...who knows how to be serious, and how to have fun, and that there is a time and place for both.
Sometimes I see couples who are in their 20s, but act like they are 15.  Occasionally, acting like teenagers can be fun, and in certain places it is appropriate.  But if the person you are with never knows when to be serious, you might end up raising an extra child, rather than raising children with them.

...who respects your divine qualities and gifts, and never takes advantage of them.
Many women have a natural gift of nurturing.  They care for others; they look after them, and have a sympathetic heart.  But when someone takes advantage of that, and makes you their slave, they are not respecting you.  If someone plays on your emotions and sympathies to get you to do things for them, or with them, they are manipulating, not loving.  They should respect your virtue and chastity above everything, especially if you were raised to respect it as well.  And it works both ways.  If a woman plays on a man’s desire to protect and provide, or uses his love for her to get things she wants, it is an unhealthy relationship and you should get out.  Again, this applies to individuals, so be someone who respects others, and never takes advantage of them. 

...who is striving consistently to be better, and who is intrinsically motivated to improve. 
Sometimes a partner in the relationship insists that the other partner is making them want to be better, and that they inspire them to improve.  This isn’t all bad, as I said at first.  Wanting to be better because of your partner can be a good thing. But what happens when their source of motivation is taken away? What happens when they “get you” and they no longer need to improve to be “worthy” of you?  It sounds romantic at first, but if they are only changing for you, be cautious: once they have you their desire to make difficult changes could entirely disappear.  If they aren’t consistently improving for themselves and for God, forget it.

...who doesn’t treat others (especially you) like possessions, to be flaunted, discarded, or used.
Men and women are both guilty of this.  People are used for money, sex, power, position, and dozens of other things.  Rather than respecting their partner as a human being, they want to show the world that they own them, and tell everyone else to stay away.  They want a pretty piece of arm candy, or a powerful, rich provider. If the relationship starts to feel like you are giving much more than you are receiving, take a step back.  Do you really want to live like that for the rest of your life? It might make you feel important, needed, even “loved” for a while, but eventually, just like an old T-shirt or an out-of-date cell phone, you will be discarded for the newest model, or continually treated like a possession.

...who makes you laugh; not at others, but by their wit, intelligence, and happy sense of humor.
Everyone loves to laugh, and a partner with a sense of humor is vital to surviving relationships and life in general.   But what inspires their jokes? What makes them laugh, and where do they find joy?  Is it in making others feel badly, and making themselves look “better” in comparison? Or do they make intelligent jokes about life, humorous situations, and just make you happy? If they are constantly putting others down for a laugh, or making others feel “small” so they can feel “big” then get out.  Find someone who feels good by making others feel good, and who lifts instead of tears down, because one day, they may make you the source of their self-esteem, and work to put you down so that they feel better.

What advice do YOU have from your experiences? Post tips below.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Beginning of: Our Story

Our story doesn’t have a specific beginning, really.  I mean, it starts, obviously, but it wasn’t one of those “enchanted-evening-across-a-crowded-room” kind of moments.  We first met doing baptisms for the dead with our ward.  It was the first activity our ward did after the Ririe YSA branch (his branch) and part of the Rigby YSA ward (my ward) was combined to make the Ririe YSA ward.  We met, we did baptisms, and I went home.  No big deal.  Though, I do remember trying to learn his name—Heath.  Not strange, but not one you hear all the time.
Our relationship went on like that for about six weeks.  I got called to be the Relief Society President, and he was the ward Mission Leader, which basically means we saw each other a lot at meetings, meetings, and more meetings.  We also hung out with the same friends in the ward, at Sunday night game nights, lots of ward activities, and movie nights on the weekend.  To be honest I wasn’t really interested in a relationship. I thought he was cute, don’t get me wrong, and I admired a lot of things about him, but I had just been in a relationship, and wasn't looking for another one right away.  Plus, one of my friends was really interested in him, and I’m not the type to mess with things like that.  He told me later that he was kind-of interested from the beginning, but he had also been in relationships before in a different singles’ ward, and had basically sworn off dating within the ward.
So, like I said, it went like that for a while: both slightly interested, but not really willing to take the step forward.  Then, I wrecked my car.

It sounds silly to say that a car wreck was what triggered our relationship, but I honestly think it was.   The details aren’t important to this story, but one Sunday morning someone pulled out in front of me, and I ended up in a “ditch” (a big canal really) on the side of the road. Because word spreads fast in a small place like Rigby, Idaho, it wasn’t long before it got back to Heath.  Because I had just left our ward council meeting, the Bishop found out at almost the same time, and through an assignment/volunteer process, Heath and the other mission leader, Sawyer, were soon on their way.  They actually showed up before the police, though that’s not saying too much since it took 30 minutes for the cops to show up.  I was very touched that they came. Sawyer gave me a hug, and Heath offered his hand for me to squeeze, since I was shaking pretty badly.  He also gave me his number, just in case I needed anything.  In my head, dear reader, I can see you start to nod.  You’re seeing where this is going, right? Good.
That night, there was a surprise going away party for Holly, a mutual friend of ours, and so we both attended. I was very sore from my wreck, but tried to be tough.  My little brother showed up just before the guest of honor, and Heath volunteered to go tell him where he could hide his car.  Just as he got to Clayton's car, Holly's car pulled down the road.  Not wanting to be caught, Heath jumped in with Clayton and they drove to the parking spot.  As they later walked back to the house together, they had an interesting conversation.  The details are fuzzy for me (since I wasn't there) but the gist is basically this: Clayton suggested to Heath that he should ask his sister (me) out on a date.  Heath responded a little surprised--he didn't think I was interested at all--but he didn't say no. I guess I must credit Clayton (who was actually encouraged by my mom--discerning as she is) with planting the "bug" in Heath's ear.
The next night at FHE, my neck was hurting something awful, due to the whiplash I got from running my car full speed into the side of a canal bank.  I was literally in tears. Because of his job as a physical therapy tech, Heath knew a few stretches I could do, to help with the stiffness. He also offered to rub my neck, an offer I gladly accepted, even though I was a little taken aback by the shift in his attitude towards me. By the next day, I was feeling 100% better.  It was a miracle, which is what I told him the next night at our meetings.  The look on his face when I hugged him was priceless.  I don’t think he was expecting it, but he seemed nothing less than pleased.
To me, though, the most interesting—perhaps prophetic—thing happened a few days later.  Our ward was again at the temple, this time doing sealings.  If you haven’t done that before, the actual process isn’t what was significant, but rather what happened before we started.  As I walked in, one of the workers asked for my name, and my ward.  Then she started to ask if I was waiting for my husband, since many people do sealings as a couple.  As she realized that I was with the singles’ ward, she stopped mid question, and all she got out was, “Are you waiting for….oh, never mind.”  When my friend Amber showed up, we joked a little bit about the incident.  Each of us had an empty chair next to us, and we decided that technically we were waiting for our “someone,” but that he probably wasn’t going to show up that night.  We thought we were so funny we even turned around and shared our joke with the Bishop.  By that time, Heath had showed up, and taken a chair next to the Bishop and his wife, so he also overheard our joke.  I had turned back around to talk to Amber again, and a few seconds later, I was surprised to hear a voice next to my ear.  “I guess I’m the one.”  It was Heath. He had moved over to sit by me, in the empty chair supposedly being saved for “the one” for me.  I laughed, and so did he, but I couldn’t deny the funny little feeling I got when he said it.
That night we went out to dinner with a friend, and I impressed him with my ability to eat.  Seriously. And a few days later we had our first "official" date--drinking hot chocolate ("luke" actually) and a few hours of great conversation. The rest, as they say, is history.
It's been over seven months now, since that night, and to detail every thing that has happened in the process of our relationship would take much more time and space than this blog (or your attention span) would allow.  But as each day passes since that night, I'm starting to think he was right.

Here are some pictures, just so you don't feel like I'm skipping the good part! Obviously there will be more stories to come.....stay tuned!

Making pizza so we could watch some football! 
It's Santa! 

Driving to Utah...first of many trips!
Decorating the Christmas tree.

Salt Lake temple at Christmas time! Freezing cold! 

Matt and Corrinn's wedding photo booth!
Cherelle's wedding!(We went to a LOT of weddings!)
Katelyn came to visit!

Easter eggs--sensing a theme with us? 
Campfire on Easter.

Shooting on the desert! 

Mother's Day picnic at the park with my family.

Fixing a wound from 4 wheeling on my bday!

Yep, that's how it is! Happy birthday to me. :) 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Quest to Be Perfect

"The command 'Be ye perfect' is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. [God] is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were 'gods' and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose--He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said."
(C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, 205-206)

What I Used to Think:
In addition to this idea from Lewis, a comment by Brother Ward in class also must be mentioned: “The scriptures say ‘Be ye therefore perfect,’ not ‘Be ye therefore a perfectionist.’ That is a perversion of the truth by the devil,” and it essentially means “we are trying to do it all on our own.”

That really hit home for me. I think I try so hard to be the perfect friend, daughter, president, student, teacher, employee, woman, etc. that I turn into a perfectionist, and I forget who I really need to please—only my Heavenly Father. When I am being a perfectionist, I think of how I can make everything perfect, and do everything I’m supposed to do perfectly. As a friend I try to be understanding and forgiving when offended, I try to be "there" when I am needed, and I try to make time for others when really there isn't time. As the RS President I try to make the perfect agenda, have the perfect meeting, visit everyone who needs to be visited, be perfectly prepared for every assignment, and fulfill every responsibility I have with perfection.  As a teacher I feel every class must be perfect, interesting, and exciting.  Each PowerPoint must be perfect, and every student must understand perfectly.

Then, when I fail (because how could I succeed with such expectations?) I beat myself up. I tell myself I'm not good enough to be the RSP; as teacher (of English, no less) I freak out when I see a typo on a PowerPoint in class, or when I don't have my students' papers graded in what I think is a "timely manner." If I am too busy to hang out or talk, I think that I'm a horrible friend, or whatever else I feel I should be at the time.  Every General Conference I get out my notebook, take lots of notes, and by the time I am finished I have an impossibly long list of things I need to start doing better, or stop doing all together. I used to think that I was doing what they asked, that I was day by day and step by step becoming perfect. In a way, I guess that is true. But I used to think it was more about me doing everything perfectly, and then berating myself when I failed--and that really is a perversion of the devil because here’s the problem: I burn myself out. And soon, I start focusing so much on the things that I didn’t do right, or the things I need to do tomorrow, or later on today, that I forget the point—forget the “why” of the gospel, as Elder Uchtdorf talked about at the Relief Society Broadcast this year. I forget all the areas I have succeeded in that day with the help of the Lord; I forget the real focus of the gospel—Christ—and instead focus on how I need to work harder or do better.

What I Am Coming to Understand
The thing is, there is really only one thing I need on my “to do” list: come unto Christ. That is what every Conference talk, every lesson in church, every scripture, every temple session, is all about. When I get caught up in the “doing,” in being a “perfectionist” and I forget the “why” of the gospel, then I am missing the point. And eventually I am missing the “mark.”

Heavenly Father demands perfection, but he says I don’t have to do it alone. Moroni 10:32 says—“Yeah, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” It’s all about turning to Him, and telling Him honestly each day, “I did my very best today, and it probably wasn’t enough, but I know with you it can be.” That’s all He asks. And as I do that, I cannot deny the power of God, or be denied the power of God—and eventually I will become a god. It’s amazing and mind-boggling, but it’s true.

Faith: A Matter of Head and Heart

“It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.

“Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.”
(From “Faith,” in Mere Christianity, p. 139, 140-141)

What I Used to Think:
I think I always believed, at least in a sense, that faith was a mental exercise; that reason and faith (head) were meant to combat emotions and imagination (heart). For me, however, that exercise was more like a boxing match than anything else. In a way I used faith to punish myself for feeling emotions. When I was sad because I boy I liked wasn’t interested in me, reason took over and said, “Come on, Adriane, you know you are a child of God. He loves you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you. Stop moping over a boy and feel happy.” When I felt depressed it went something like this: “Adriane, you know that Christ suffered your every pain, sorrow, and affliction. Now, exercise some faith and just get over this.” I thought that if I just reasoned to myself, I could make it through any trial, and get over any negative emotion.

But the questions come: Where is a faith like that when I am not suffering? Where is my faith when I am not sad, or lonely, or depressed? If my faith is only something I pull out from time to time in order to beat my emotions to submission, then what good is it really?

What I am Coming to Understand:

What I am starting to sense from Lewis is that Faith is more than just something used to counter my emotions. It is something I hold on to in spite of my emotions. It is not the emotions themselves that are bad, for I know that there must be “opposition in all things. If not so...[one body] must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation” (2 Nephi 2:11-12). I was created to have and experience emotions, both positive and negative, and there is nothing inherently wrong in that. There is in fact a purpose in my existence and an end (to become my “real self”) to my creation, so I cannot live without opposition. And sometimes that opposition comes in the form of negative emotions, which we are expected (and I would suggest even required) to feel in this life.

So rather than beat myself up because I “know better,” than to feel sad or depressed, I am realizing that what real Faith does is tell my emotions where to “get off” so I can be controlled by God, and not the natural man. If I start to feel those emotions are destroying or weakening my faith, then would be the time to take a stand, but Faith is something to hold on to as I sail through the sea of life on my “undulating” feelings. My feelings will change from time to time, the “rebellion of moods” against me will come, and sometimes they will make a “blitz on [my] belief” (Lewis, 140) but Faith in this sense is something that I keep refreshed constantly enough that those emotional attacks can be recognized, acknowledged, and eventually set aside as I continue on in spite of them.

C.S. Lewis--Changing My Life

This semester I decided to take advantage of the four "free" credits offered to me by the University, and signed up for a C.S. Lewis class.  I thought it would be an interesting class, and I'd always been embarrassed by my lack of experience with his books and other writings.  Little did I know that this class would not only educate me, but change me in ways I didn't know I needed to be changed.  Each week we write an "insight" based on something we read and/or discussed in class during the week.  These insights are sometimes very personal, and almost always are just a scratch on the surface of what I am learning.  I decided to share them on here, in the hope that they might be an insight someone else needs to hear.  I start each one with a quote (usually by C.S. Lewis) that inspired the insight for that week.  I hope they make sense.

A Real Personality

"It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality,
that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 226)

What I Used to Think

To me a personality has always been something I discover, something that happens as a result of my life experiences. I used to believe that the Lord gave me experiences as I grew that would shape me into the person I could become. I thought I was a more empathetic person because of the teasing and rejection I experienced as a child in school. I thought I was a more patient person because I grew up with a brother who (bless his heart) tested my patience. I thought I was a “good” person because I did good things, because I did what was “right” even in the face of tough situations. I thought I was a forgiving person because I could move beyond past hurts, and even be friends with those who had hurt me. I suppose I responded the way I did, in part, because that is how I was taught to be, and those were the things I was taught to do.

I thought that if I “did” those things long enough, if I went through enough experiences in life and responded in the “correct” manner, I would become what I was meant to be. Similar to Lewis’ example of the people in a dark room, I thought I knew who I was, what I “looked like” more or less, and how I was supposed to be. But I was in the dark and did not know it. Maybe I felt that the things I “did” represented who I was, and my personality. Maybe I thought I developed empathy, patience, or love all on my own, just by surviving the experiences of my life. Whatever the reason, the idea of going to Him to find out how I should be, and to receive my real personality never crossed my mind, because I thought I knew who I was, and that it was more or less out of my control.

In a sense I developed snippets, pieces, parts of a real personality, but I was doing what Lewis says can never produce the change necessary to make me into a god one day—I was waiting to “evolve” or, perhaps worse, I was waiting to “be evolved.” I was waiting to be changed into something better by doing the things I was taught, and by “surviving” the life experiences I had in store for me.

What I Am Coming to Know

But what I am coming to understand is that this change, this development of a personality, this “evolution” is different than what I thought it was. It has to be. In order to be changed from a “creature of God” to a “[daughter] of God” (220) I am missing a crucial point—it is voluntary. It isn’t going to just “happen” to me if I act the part long enough. No, I have to choose to be like Him. I have to choose to let those experiences I have turn me to Christ. I have to choose to let the good things I am taught lead me to Him. I have to go to Him, to want to be with Him, to want to be like Him. And not just to make myself better, not to find my real personality, but to find His personality, and voluntarily let Him make it my own. I have to “submit to death, death of [my] ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of [my] whole body in the end” (227) in order to let Him give me what is the only “real” personality after all—Christ’s personality. I never realized that those things I was taught, and those experiences I had did not shape who I was as much as they lead me to Christ so He could show me who I really am, and who I can and should be.

I don’t think that empathy, forgiveness, and patience are not part of my real personality. In fact, I believe quite the opposite. I think they are a glimpse of my real personality, which I received as I let tough experiences turn me to Christ. Though I did not realize it at the time that was what was actually happening to me. I went to Him because I needed Him, and as I came to Him, He gave me a heart. He gave me a real personality.
Now that I realize this, the challenge is to continue to go to Him. Not because I want to get a personality, because, as Lewis says, “as long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all” (226). I need to forget about myself, and just trust that Christ will take care of “it” as I go to Him. It is He who has been teaching and loving me since my spirit was created, and it is He who knows exactly how to make me into the person He wants me to be. Making a conscious, rather than unconscious, decision to turn to Him and go to Him will change me. It will reveal to me the personality God has intended for me—and possibly even put within me—all along.