09 February 2015

Tapping Into Your TRUEST Identity

(Photos taken at Storm King in the Hudson Valley, north of Manhattan. 
This is one of my most favorite places on earth.)


Today's post is one I can't wait to share with you.

It applies to women, men, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, single adults, professionals of any kind, designers, activists, feminists, political parties, members of any religion, athletes, etc. And it applied to me when I was dead to the world and barely able to walk my way through the city.

This post is all about...

Identity, Identity, Identity.

Do you know what is REALLY life changing in the deepest way you could imagine?? Tapping into your truest identity!!! And by some miracle, this happened to me. I have been a different woman ever since I did this.

Until I was about age 30, I was adopting many other identities for myself.
And oh please - I thought they were GOOD identities to have:

-Wife
-Hopeful Mother
-Successful in Business/Entrepreneur
-New Yorker/Living the Dream
-At one point, "Mormon" was my identity...(though I gave that one up at about age 18 and luckily came around to a better identity later in life, even when I did later attend church...)


Yes, they were good identities. But guess what? None of these were my truest, highest, most important identity. These identities were based on circumstances. Oye.

That meant that if things weren't going well in any of these areas, that my identity was feeling threatened, incomplete, meaningless, non-existent, or like a failure. Yes, FAILURE. Each of these areas has failed me and different times.  Because of the failure of these identities that I thought were so dang important in life, I remember the years when I felt there was no hope for me. I literally could not even imagine a way to feel happy, confident, successful, desirable, likable, spiritual, attractive, or comfortable in my own skin. Happiness seemed so, so very impossible.

But here's one thing I know now: Pursuing identities that are based on circumstances or the involvement of other people behaving according to your desires will sooner or later lead to great uncertainty, insecurity, pain and suffering at some point. It's a recipe for disaster. That is the life I once lived.

So what on earth does one do?!?

What is a better identity to pursue?

Well, I think there is an unchanging identity that you can tap into.  It trumps EVERYTHING else.


My truest identity is what I consider my inner, divine identity....my divine birthright to be the best I can be; my desire to align with The Divine & Love by doing my best to embody all the virtues of the world that I can. 

I don't have to rely on any other person or thing to pursue this identity or to be fulfilled by this identity or to truly OWN this identity. It's something I have right now. I had it when I was divorced and faced an unknown future, when I was single at age 32 and needed all the self worth I could muster, when I met Danny and wanted so much to share life with him, when I faced two failed IVFs, etc. Pursuing this identity brings PURPOSE and HOPE to the most dire of circumstances. For this identity to have power, though, I have to OWN IT and allow it to guide my life, my decisions, and my reactions. This identity, no matter what mishaps happen in life, can always flourish and thrive IF I stay true to it and align with it above all other identities. Can you even imagine a life with purpose, even in the face of turmoil. A life with more love and less pain. A life that can respond to drama with strength. A life capable of being whole and free even in the face of toxicity. A life capable of still pursuing desires and even other identities, but doing so with power and strength and wisdom and self worth. It is possible. It is so very possible.

Now, an important clarification: if I mess up the order and align with other identities first, then I'm likely letting the circumstances of my life (and the trials of my life) dominate my well being- perhaps even paralyze me. For example, if I want to be a mother, more than I want to just live a meaningful life - my lack of motherhood or feelings of failure at motherhood may ruin my life. If I want to be a wife and have a great marriage more than I want to be individually whole - being single or having a failing marriage could make me feel worthless and insecure and unvalued. If I want a successful career more than I want peace in my life - dips in my success may bring on a depression and feelings of failure and inadequacy. When these other outside identities dominate, my wholeness waivers according to the often delicate state of relationships, children, health, jobs, looks, body, money, success, etc.

This way of life is a complete roller coaster.

I think we all deserve something better.

Pursuing your truest identity is not an easy task, but the freedom, power, joy and peace that can result is so completely worth it. I hope you'll join me in the pursuit.

Much love,

Mara

Dear friends, do you find yourself pursuing some identities that bring you pain- because they are not currently being fulfilled the way you want? Do you think pursuing a deeper, truer identity might help you through it? Feel free to ask more questions if you need clarification. 


75 comments:

  1. What an amazing post. I know I need to make that change in my life. Are you and Danny currently members of the LDS church. If so how has that affected you in this divine identity you have used to change your life.

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    1. Thanks for such a good question! (This turned into a long answer.) We are members of the church (born and raised). Though I did not have a deep conviction about religion as early as age 12 and bravely left the church at 18 after years of turmoil (the model the church taught me regarding spirituality and receiving truth was not working for me after years of trying. And I wasn't one to fake like I believed everything.) I did start participating again in my mid twenties as I was then married and I quite loved participating in the service-oriented community aspect there in Brooklyn (which is quite amazing, actually.) But religion/spirituality still wasn't deeply meaningful to me. It was later (about age 29 or so), in my desperate state leading up to a divorce and in my first year of infertility that I met a spiritual healer/teacher - not associated with a religion. It is with her guidance that I learned to transform my life. It is with her guidance that I learned about real spirituality (for me - in a way I could understand it) and the power that I had as a human being. This is where I learned about my truest identity that I wrote about today. Also, many books (not related to Mormonism) were also transformative to me - more so than the Book of Mormon or books by Mormon authors. Ironically, because of this awakening, I did then appreciate more of the aspects of Mormonism because many of them overlapped with the new things I had been learning - and there is certainly a lot of beautiful stuff there. But I knew then for sure that Mormonism didn't have some monopoly on truth, contrary to what many believe. I had already found it elsewhere in unbelievably beautiful and more effective ways. I think the ability to receive and understand truth is dependent on so many things - perhaps mainly on timing and one's readiness and also the effectiveness of one's teacher! This part is not spoken of enough. I guess during those earlier Mormon years, I just wasn't ready yet - and furthermore, I don't think I had spiritual teachers that were effective for me. Certainly there are so many people whom I have learned from, but the truth is that many "teachers" in Mormonism are just regurgitating truths from other people - i.e. giving a sermon based on something another leader said. Or giving a lesson based on a script from a manual. These are actually the assignments given any time someone speaks. Things are very, very correlated. This way of teaching was not effective for me then and it isn't effective for me now. And so - - because I still do love being a part of the community (it really can be an amazing experience to discuss/share/contribute/learn) - and because I still do love many of the doctrines that match up with things I really have learned to be true, I still have participated in Mormonism in huge ways over the last many years. But I try to remain true to my highest identity when faced with something that doesn't sit right with me. For example, the way gays are treated in the Mormon church is flat out heartbreaking to me (i.e. they are not allowed to fully participate and are also seen as sinful by so many people.) The patriarchal structure of the church has led to many, many problems for many people - clearly mostly women. I feel we as people can do better than that! Unfortunately recently there have been a slew of excommunications of some very brave people that are speaking up about these important issues. Personally, it is a sad, sad situation to me. And so again - identity. Divine identity. That trumps everything. That helps me to realign and stay whole and full of purpose, even in the face of unsavory circumstances.

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    2. You are so pretty!! I have been really wrestling with the whole issue of gay in general. So many Mormons and Christians believe the Bible and The Book Of Mormon is so clearly against it. Yet, I would never want to be mean to any person no matter their color or sexual orientation, or anything. I don't think the Bible is necessarily saying to do that anyway. Yet, I wonder if you guys think it is "ok" for people to be gay. Obviously, I'm sure you would treat them nice either way since that is who you are. Yet, do you think that it is an ok thing for people to do and do you think it fits into God's order? I have been wanting to ask you this ever since you mentioned in a post you went to support your friend at a Pride Parade. I'm asking out of actually trying to learn and grow... not to cause drama or anything. :)

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    3. Thanks for asking. I absolutely feel it's ok to be gay. It's as ok as it is for me to be alive. I know a lot of people and churches, including the Mormon church, do not see it that way and use doctrine or scripture as a justification, proclaiming that God has revealed that it is not acceptable to be gay. To me, there is nothing more shaming, abusive, and un-Christ like. However, I understand why people feel that way. They have been raised with it. Many probably know very, very few (if not zero) gay people, which is a result of gay people not being welcome in their communities. And they've also been taught from leaders they respect to have these beliefs. I hate to admit that I once had fears and judgments about gay people myself. Again, this is just the world I grew up in in Mesa, AZ. I didn't know one single gay person in my youth and even early adulthood. I am now thankful every single day that I was able to move past that mind set and see gay people as my equal brothers and sisters. (I can thank living in NYC for that - including having gay friends, a gay sister in law, a gay bishop, and gay neighbors.) I wish the Mormon church did not discriminate against gay people within their own church (in the case of temple traditions, "worthiness" standards and the ability to participate fully) as well as outside the church (i.e. in the case of gay marriage.)

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    4. Hey Rebecca! Good question, and I think Mara gave a great answer already.

      My path to these same conclusions that Mara shared in the post are different (as will be the case for anyone else who stumbles upon it). The path is always individual, and can unfold in countless different ways.

      I found that this concept of a "true identity" was something that first came to me in a powerful way while I was serving a mission for the LDS church. I remember reading various scriptures and reflecting on them and having some very profound insights that caused me to view things in much the way Mara wrote. I still had a long way to go to where I am now (and I still have a long way to go yet), but that is where the seed of this knowledge was planted.

      For Mara, her awakening came suddenly from a gifted teacher from outside the LDS perspective. For me, it was instead a slow and steady awakening from within the church as I studied deeper and deeper into true principles. For me, the deeper the awakening I felt, the more I found it focused directly on God and "the gospel", and had less to do with the church.

      I love scriptures (both those of our own faith, and the holy books of other faiths). And the message Mara articulated above, is to me the very message of the Sermon on the Mount.

      What else do you think Christ is saying when he suggests that you should seek first the Kingdom of God, and all other things will be added? Especially when he later defines the Kingdom of God as not something that you can find "lo here and lo there", but that it IS WITHIN YOU. Seriously, the entire sermon on the mount is about developing this kind of identity which empowers you to love more freely.

      What better way to understand Christ's parable about the difference between building upon a rock, and building upon sand? Everything but this truest identity is SAND, because it can so easily be stripped away from you, and when it is, our fall is often great. But that inherent worth - find that, nurture it, expand it, step into it, and connect it to that Higher Source - and you have a Rock that cannot be shaken by circumstance or behavior.

      Cont.....

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    5. Continued....

      I think in many ways the church can help people do that hard work of finding the truest identity. I think there are other ways that it can hinder it.

      For example, sometimes the LDS church (and any other church) places such a high priority on a very specific kind of lifestyle as the ultimate form of religious fulfillment...that it probably ends up inadvertently reinforcing one of those sandy foundations.

      I personally experienced that with the focus on Families. Families truly are wonderful, truly are a blessing, and I love that the LDS church focuses on that. But, what can often be the result is our personal fulfillment as a human being is tied to our ability to fulfill this specific role. This leaves those who never get married, or those whose marriages "fail" in divorce, feeling as though they are now worth less in some form or fashion....that their contribution to society or life is somehow diminished.

      I experienced a tremendous amount of pain when faced with divorce...primarily because of the difficulty of the actual circumstances...but also because this religious identity I so valued of having a "successful" family had crumbled, and I felt a great deal of shame. But it was also in this period that I did the personal work that involved applying all those things I'd learned both in and out of the church, to come to a place of healing. Healing meant not basing my worth on the success or failure of my marriage. It meant finding this truest identity.

      I've also seen this happen to the LDS people (and those of other faiths too) when they find their personal worth is wrapped up in (or at least connected to) belonging to a "true" religion. When very strong faith claims are made, it can be quite "soothing" to our ego to belong to this little group that has it really "figured out". We find ourselves attaching our personal identity to the institutional identity...which is a recipe for disaster, because you're beginning to build on Sand yet again. Ask anyone who has come to find troubling things regarding the past or present actions of their institution as a whole, or of specific leaders. Finding those weaknesses out can be earth shaking and cause a great deal of personal and family suffering. That is in great part because our identity was so attached to us being "right" and belonging to the "right group". I think the LDS church is seeing this a lot right now. It's very sad to me, and I think the suffering could be reduced if we were more effective at focusing first and foremost on this concept of "true identity", and let everything else be added upon that.

      So while I'm indebted to many teachings of the LDS church in many ways for helping me discover principles related to this "truest identity", principles that helped me eventually find through my divorce, I also see many ways that the church can hinder the process or myself and others. So it is with all things in life.

      What needs to be understood by anyone desiring to find this identity, is it will ALWAYS be a personal journey, and can almost never be mandated or controlled or created by an institution. Sure, institutions can help, and they can hinder, but ultimately we are all individually responsible.

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    6. Danny and Mara,
      You could turn several of your comment sections into follow-up posts if you ever feel the desire. Often there is such good stuff here! And helpful stuff that makes it clearer how to operationalize what the original post was about.

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    7. Your comment made us smile. We think the same thing all the time. Danny or I will be writing and we'll say, "yup, this one's a post." From time to time we do actually respond to someone with a post. But one of these days we'll smarten up and start doing some cutting and pasting from our actual comments. :) I've actually thought of turning many of the amazing Q&As into a book. I think it has potential. Some of the comments are worth gold.

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    8. I am a reader of your blog who does not believe it is God's plan for us to practice homosexuality... just as so many other human inclinations are not His will.

      People do not only hold this conviction because they were raised in it or haven't encountered gay people.

      Our convictions should not be based on who we know, but on what we have considered to be true. Liking and caring about people should not make us more accepting of their sin, if that's what it is.

      I am a conservative Christian born and raised in Portland, Oregon, which ranks beside San Francisco in gay culture. I have met and befriended many gay people and genuinely liked them. But meeting lovely, friendly, otherwise-upright gay people can't be enough to make me dismiss the Bible and the words of Christ Himself. I would do that at the peril of my own soul.

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    9. Harmony - I'll take your argument seriously when you (and other conservative Christians) start applying the same thinking to everything else the Bible and the words of Christ dictate. I'm guessing you do some of the following:

      - Eat red meat and other meat. Leviticus 3:17: It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood.
      - Wear blended fabrics. Leviticus 19:19: Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.
      - Use metal religious symbols. Leviticus 19:4: Turn ye not unto idols, nor make to yourselves molten gods: I am the LORD your God.
      - Trim your beard. Leviticus 19:27: Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
      - Get a tattoo. Leviticus 19:28: Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
      - Getting rounded haircuts. Leviticus 19:27: Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
      - Remarry after a divorce: Mark 10:11: And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
      - Wear gold or pearls or expensive clothing. 1 Timothy 2:9: “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments.”

      The problem is that the Bible and the "words of Christ" are full of contradictions (any document would be after thousands of years of translation by humans speaking all sorts of languages). Yet somehow people only want to cling to certain Biblical scriptures to justify things that have no other justification (because without the Bible to point to, you'd just have to own that you're bigoted and prejudiced and biased). Those same people want to conveniently disobey many other tenants in the Bible.

      The same people who are making your argument today would have been using the Bible to justify slavery, segregation, ownership of women, beating wives, countless wars, and other atrocities. And just like people "evolved" regardless of what the Bible says on these topics, so too will they about LGBT issues. So, why not hurry up and get over your prejudices rather than blaming the Bible and Christ for your own hate?

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    10. Harmony- I just want to say I appreciate and mostly relate to your perspective.

      Mara- I do feel like it's a bit unfair to say that a belief that homosexuality is wrong comes from a lack of having personal relationships with gay people.

      I ask that my belief, and my journey to my belief, be given respect. I find it offensive, and it is really difficult for me to not personalize it, when I'm accused of being un-Christlike for my beliefs about homosexuality. Whether or not homosexuality is a sin, Christ very clearly taught us that it is possible to love a sinner. Labeling a behavior as a sin, does not equal hatred toward the individual. It didn't for the Savior and it doesn't for me. People repeatedly argue that by not condoning homosexuality I am incapable of loving a homosexual. But that isn't what God teaches us, and it isn't the way I try to live my life. God loves all his children, all sinners.

      I know we fundamentally disagree about homosexuality as a sin, and I'm okay with that. I just long for some recognition that love does not require acceptance or support of sin, even if the sinner does not believe or acknowledge that the choice he is making is sinful.

      As a parent I may encounter situations with my children where we disagree about whether or not a behavior is "wrong." But I know, my love for my child will not be contingent upon my supporting them in the wrong behavior, my love exists regardless.

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    11. When I discussed how I felt the members of the LDS church were judging those who chose to believe differently/leave the church he said, "But that is a judgment right there." Sure it is. But I was trying to stick up for the underdog. Because the damage done to the underdog is more damaging and long-term than the damage done to a whistle-blower who is calling out the social injustice. I completely understand where you are coming from on your views about gays. Your beliefs are to your core and you are honestly trying to do what is right by having them. You have probably even prayed about it and gotten a spiritual manifestation that the church's teachings on this are in fact, aligned with God's views. I KNOW this. I have experienced these feelings on a deep level. I understand your concern.

      But Mara sees a social injustice. And frankly, the damage done to gays in the church is a lot greater than the damage done to traditional church members when challenged on this issue. If Mara says, "That is an un-Christlike view," of course a judgment is being passed. But no person would be offended at this to the point of suicide. But gay people in the Mormon church have a very high amount of suicide. The damage to the gays in the church is immense. You might not like Mara saying those things to you, but you will get over it (probably already have, as your post is 2 days old). I don't know of any other way to fight a social injustice than to call it out, even though it might hurt some feelings. When social injustices were great enough (i.e slavery) even war was necessary. But it was the right thing to do. I don't think anyone would disagree with that now.

      I have read many, many things said by past prophets and apostles about black members, and so many of them sound EXACTLY like what they are saying about gays. There is good reason for people to disagree with the church, to believe that leaders are fallible, that scripture is fallible. And people have the right, and even a moral obligation, to stand up for a social injustice if it is something they perceive. It might hurt some feelings, but as I said, the damage done there is far, far less than the damage they perceive being done to the gay members of the church.

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    12. My comment at 3:03 was in response to Anonymous Feb. 10 5:37. And I was discussing the beginning part with my brother. Sheesh, I need to proof read. That was confusing, and since I'm posting as Anonymous, I can't delete it and start over :)

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    13. Anon of Feb 12, thank you for your thoughts. I am Anon that you were responding to, and I genuinely appreciate your insights. You said it in such a diplomatic and gentle way I feel like I don't need to be defensive. :) Thank you. You make a good point, and as someone who generally cheers for the underdog, it struck a chord with me. I think part of my offense was that I DO know gay people, and perhaps feel a little insecure about my perceived love or lack of love for them.

      And if my hurt feelings and insecurities are the price to be paid in exchange for a greater awareness of the social injustices faced by gays and anyone else for that matter, I'm more than willing to pay it. It is my sincere desire that everyone on this earth feel less judged and more loved.

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    14. Anon Feb 15, what a great comment. Thank you for your humble reply.

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  2. Do ya'll take part in the Mormon Community in Ecuador?

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    1. Yes we do. Though I don't participate/attend as much as Danny. All the services are in Spanish and I'm not yet to the point where I can understand nor contribute -so 3 hours is too much for me and I will often focus on some other type of spiritual activity that day. Or I just work on my Spanish lessons. :) Danny, however, is fluent and teaches a class at church for young adults.

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  3. Thank you for sharing. I found you through some of your infertility posts. I, too, have experienced two failed IVFs and now we stand at the place of making a decision on how to move forward. Remain childless? Try IVF again? Adopt? So far I have no peace about any of the options before me. As I consider the option of remaining childless, my greatest struggle is that I feel as though my life will have had no meaning, no purpose, nothing passed on to the next generation. You said: "...if I want to be a mother, more than I want to just live a meaningful life - my lack of motherhood or feelings of failure at motherhood may ruin my life." I know I am in the throes of grief, but I can't seem to figure out what I am supposed to do to live a meaningful life other than be a mother. I always thought my purpose was to be a mother. How do I make a meaningful contribution to the world when the only way I knew how isn't available to me?

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    1. Oh, so glad to welcome you to the blog! I feel for you greatly. Your story is so familiar to me. I know those feelings so well. I think to give the best of yourself to the world going forward, it will be most important to be on a pursuit of healing from this state of despair. By healing, other opportunities will come. There will be room for other joys. You'll see more experiences ahead that are meaningful to have. And even your healing itself can lead to a great purpose- perhaps having greater compassion and love for those in your shoes - perhaps even helping them along their way. What helped me to start down that path was realizing that I had a CHOICE to change. That I really, really did have the power within me to change. Probably what was my most awakening moment was when someone plainly told me that if THIS is how I was going to choose to react to trial in life, that I would most certainly one day be teaching my children to do the same. Eeks. That reality hit me hard. I didn't want to be that kind of woman who taught children that there was no hope in tragic circumstances. That there was no way to heal from despair. So I decided that I had to learn how to do this for myself. I had to learn how to heal. Truthfully - I did it out of love for them -my future children. But it worked. And I was so amazed that it was possible that I had to start sharing my story - just to give hope to other women. I hope you'll peruse some of my past posts on infertility. I don't write about it as often now. But I did my best in many posts to share what might be helpful to someone else in my shoes. Much love and hope I send to you. -M

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    2. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I am and have been pursuing healing, and it is affirming to know that someone who has walked a similar path came out on the other side with hope and meaning for the future.

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    3. Hannah, I wish you well on your journey to healing. I share with you one insight I have had in case it might help. If you do not become a mother, you may eventually find you are free to live an EVEN MORE meaningful life and to contribute EVEN MORE to the world. I once realized that deciding to have a child is a very selfish choice. (BEING a parent requires sefllessness, but I'm talking about the actual decision to have a child.) I realized the world really didn't need my unborn child. The only reason I or most other people would have a child is because I (or they) wanted one. And if I had a child, I would direct much of my time, energy and resources to that one little person (or two or three). Without children, one has so much more time, energy and resources to direct to powerful, specific things that make the world better and that will bring meaning to your life. Pick any one of the thousands of issues that people and the planet struggle with: poverty, hunger, war, sexual assault, domestic violence, animal abuse, environmental problems, over-fishing, homelessness, lack of healthcare, cancer, AIDS, child abuse, child brides, and literally thousands of other problems. And I'm certain that you have skills and talents that could go toward addressing one or more of the problems that humans, animals or the environment face. And I'm also certain that that could lead to making a HUGE contribution to future generations and to giving your life purpose. In fact, work like this can allow you to affect thousands of people and can even have a ripple effect around the globe (like Mara's blog might have). I'd say that's a potentially bigger contribution than having your own children.

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    4. Anon -thank you for this beautiful and compassionate comment and these amazing ideas!! I have often thought of many of the things you've said, as this certainly has been interesting to now focus on a life without children. But you're right, you can actually contribute soooo much of your life and time to any meaningful thing!! Thank you for such a positive and encouraging sentiment. I'm actually banking on it right now as I work on this blog and host these retreats. :) There is some pressure there, though (I feel it) -to perhaps do something spectacular - to leave a legacy in some other way than just your smiling children and grandchildren. It takes some creativity. Some drive. Some courage. Because it's an unbeaten path comparatively. But, I think the journey can be extraordinary. So far, I've found it to be fulfilling ...and even thrilling. Scary, too, at times. But I think moving forward with whatever circumstances we've got - and doing our darndest to make the most of it in whatever way we can - is the way we leave a legacy. It's the way we can be of best service to the world.

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    5. Mara, maybe you can release some of the pressure, because you have already done something spectacular. Your blog and the way you live your life (volunteer work, helping in lots of little ways in your community) address so many important needs that people have: the need for connection, the need for more love in this world, the need for healthier relationships, the need for more self-worth and self-esteem, and so many other important things that many of us don't have but that you write about and model. Sure, you could do even more spectacular things and impact even more people (and I'm guessing you will). But in the meantime, you've already left a spectacular legacy. This blog and the information you've transmitted through it have affected more lives than you'll ever know. And I'm sure you know of specific instances of people whose lives and relationships you've changed by passing on wisdom. And those people will go on to have a positive impact on other people, and the benefits will ripple out. In addition, partly because you don't have kids, you've had the time to give so much to friends, family, people in your religious community, and through volunteering in your larger community.

      If people want to be parents, they should have a child or children in whatever way they can. But having children is in no way connected to "legacy" or "contribution" or "meaning." Sure, there's a tiny chance that your offspring will change the world by curing cancer or being an amazing leader or making some other massive contribution, in which case birthing and raising a child will be the best legacy you could have made. But otherwise, one's work on this planet (through a blog like this or through countless other ways of addressing pressing issues of our time) will be a much more powerful way to leave a legacy and make a contribution that will positively impact thousands of people. And having a child is in no way a guarantee of any of those good things, anyway. Plenty of decent parents have raised children who have only taken from society and created negative legacies (everyone who commits a terrible crime is someone's child after all).

      Our world is facing so many pressing and catastrophic challenges. Having children often encourages people to look inward and can limit the energy available to improve the larger picture (though having children also does lead to activism for some parents, such as a desire to improve education or children's healthcare or other things that one becomes sensitive to as a parent). A blessing of a life without one's own children is that you can use as much of your energy and talents as you desire to make a giant contribution to humanity and to leave a huge legacy in terms of how many people (or animals or environmental issues) you've helped.

      Of course, it's a beautiful thing to help 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 little humans enter the world and become adults. But it's just as beautiful - and maybe more beautiful - to use one's energy to improve the world for hundreds, thousands or millions of humans (or animals or plants or any other living thing).

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    6. Hannah,

      When I look at my husband and think that we won't share in the special bond having and raising a child together, the thought makes me so very sad. My story is a bit different than Mara's, but her motivation to heal is similar.

      When Mara writes, "So I decided that I had to learn how to do this for myself. I had to learn how to heal. Truthfully - I did it out of love for them -my future children. But it worked", I agree. Future children or not.

      My heartfelt desire to heal from the loss of a newborn daughter came more from meeting her, and then witnessing her death, and only thereafter wishing to be the best kind of person she would have been proud to have as a mother. Kind of my legacy to her memory.

      I'm still working on that last bit :) It's been five years and a miscarriage since. Infertility for me is something else. The inability to bring to life a dream. But I can change what I dream, which is another way I discovered to questions of self identity.

      Mara,
      So eloquent, this post! I really admire your approach to spirituality. I left the Catholic church at 18. For me, it was the people and teachers in the catholic school that did it. And now, it's the thought of the pope condoning spanking children "with dignity". Always something.

      I'm preferring to find meaning outside of doctrine and organised religion. Something purely spiritual. As one ex-boyfriend said when he told me was raised atheist, How did I think he became such a good person (and he was a very loving, compassionate, gentle person).

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    7. Hi Sandra,
      I am sad for your loss and can relate to letting go of the dream of motherhood by losing a much loved baby.
      your courage is the legacy you are living.
      Thank you for sharing x

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    8. Hannah, thank you for your comment. I am four years along the path since my pregnancy loss and I can say that the pain is not so intense and time really has been the healer (I did go to counselling once a fortnight for a year and this helped me to have one hour where someone listened and I really felt heard). It amazes me that today I feel like I have a purpose and it is not as big as I thought it had to be. I live simply and have so much love and availability to connect with others. I work in a job that inspires me and others. I feel truely blessed and this is coming from someone who was unsure what good was left in my life after my loss. It takes time and more will be revealed, hang in there

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    9. Anon 12:44. Thank you. Thank you so so so much. I'm still holding your words tight.

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  4. LOVE THIS!!! Mara, what is the best way to pursue this other, eternal identity? What daily practices help you remember it?

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    1. The best thing to do first is to just BELIEVE that you actually are a divine being full of life, full of potential to love. If someone else is, than you are, too. Then do something to ACT like you believe it. Practice responding to difficult circumstances in a better way. Rehearse in your mind in advance how you will respond. Practice practice practice. It's difficult in the beginning. But once you get going with living in this way, the ease of it seems to snowball. You really can experience a transformation. Also, ASK for an experience. Meaning, just put it out there that you are now ready for an experience where you can respond according to your true/divine identity. There is power in saying I'm ready to accept whatever comes my way.


      (I have many, many posts on this type of thing. How I wish I had a website where they were more accessible. I do hope that day will come very soon. We're getting close to doing an organization overhaul on this blog. Perhaps for now peruse under the topics of happiness and self worth. )

      Also - try affirmations. They're statements about yourself or your life that you would like to believe. You repeat them until you DO believe them. Until they do take power. For a great intro on this, watch the film, "You Can Heal Your Life" by Louise Hay.

      (p.s. One cool thing is when you can begin to see this divine potential in yourself, you can see it in others, too - even those that may bring difficulty to your life. I think seeing this divine potential in others is one of the most powerful things that helps us truly & deeply forgive.)

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    2. Hi Mara! This post and comment section is PERFECT! I am Sara D…..I just tweet asked you this last week about letting old habits go and new habits in and you were gracious enough to tweet me back to practice, visualize beforehand the obstacles I may face and shared the book recommendations but this post elaborates more on what you were tweeting for me. Dots connected! Light bulb! My TRUE identity! Yay! Thank you!

      Thank you for taking the time and effort to patiently and lovingly help us find our path of love!

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    3. Ah ! My friend on twitter! I am so glad you wrote here. Thanks for inspiring me by asking good questions and by wanting to start a journey. That is amazing!!! AND YOU CAN DO IT!!!! You are incredible and wise and whole. You are capable of believing that yourself. And capable of living your best life. Sending you love and best wishes. -M

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    4. If you have a chance, any chance you can post the book recommendations you suggested to Sara D...

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    5. The books are The Power of Now and A New Earth by Eckart Tolle. SO good. SO transformative. I devoured these books when I first was learning about my spiritual power. My mentor recommended these to me. She said, "if you can do this stuff, you can do anything."

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    6. mara: seems like many of us are interested in this specific topic. any chance you could create a class, lecture or event focused specifically on this topic. some ideas: a single-day live event in nyc, weekend in vermont, online class/lecture (eg: 6 weeks, 1-hour webinar, weekly homework)

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    7. Anon - I can't tell you how much I love this idea. We are so, so, so finally planning on expanding what we do here (and it feels so good). 2015 is our year! We're working on a U.S. Tour of events - starting in May. We'll definitely be speaking about this topic more in depth at those events. We also want to develop some online classes, some books, some mentoring packages, and a video or audio podcast. [And this is only the beginning. I have too many ideas to list.] Little by little I hope we can see this all come to fruition. Stay tuned for the U.S. Event Tour - that will be the first thing. And...THANK YOU for writing this. Thank you for the encouragement and confidence. Thank you for the great ideas. And yes to homework!! :)

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    8. FYI - it's what all of our retreats or speaking events that we've ever done have been about. We don't speak without covering this topic, because we believe it to be the foundation for everything else. I hope at one of these future lectures we'll see you there, or if you get super adventurous, we'll see you for a week in Ecuador :)

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    9. Let me know if you add Denver to the list. I'd be happy to try to help coordinate!

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    10. Ginna - this just made our day. Thank you so much. We would absolutely love to connect. It turns out that Denver was soooo so so close to making it on the tour we're planning. But due to some time conflicts, we had to reduce the number of cities. BUT if all goes well, we do hope to do another tour in the future and Denver will be on our list!

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  5. I have found this to be so true for me. I think that knowing and believing our true identity are two very different things, by believing it I mean actually experiencing it. Whenever I forget this I find myself feeling really off because I'm looking for validation in my other identities, and you're absolutely right that it's painful and unhappy. For me this has made all the difference in being able to feel and show love to myself and others. Thanks Mara!

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    1. I totally agree with you Jordana! I've noticed the same. No matter how much I know this, and how much I've experienced it, I of course have days where I just don't experience it or act like it...and I kind of have to start back at square one again and focus on the basics.

      When I am practicing these principles, it truly makes all the difference.

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  6. What a great message! Thank you for sharing. You look beautiful in those photos! Where is your jacket from?

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    1. Oh, thank you. That's so nice of you. The jacket was a gift from my former boss's wife. I don't recall the brand, unfortunately - and the jacket is currently in NYC. Sorry about that! But I will say that it was quilted and quite warm! One winter it was the only coat I wore the entire season as it was that warm. I was so surprised. But I guess a little quilting goes a long way.

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  7. I really love this post and want so much to be true to myself and actually just discover who that is. As a 36 year old woman, I've realized lately that I've made pretty much every decision in my life with someone else in mind, be that my parents when I was younger, my spouse or children now, and always always always as a Mormon. I would love to be able to figure out who I am independent of all outside influences but I have no idea how to begin that process when I have four kids especially who look to me and my example constantly. I, of course, want them to have the example of a mother who knows and values who she is but I have lost who I am in the process of raising them and just the time and energy that is invested in being a wife and mother has over shadowed (for me) my own personal development. I want to be clear that I value very much my family and I'm grateful that I have a family and children that I get to raise. But ever since having my last child I have felt an intense desire to develop something (I don't know what) within myself that has been dormant for many many years. Possibly always. I hope I'm making sense. I want to live an authentic joyful life without feeling resentful towards the people I love most. I want to give them my time and energy freely because I want to, not because I have to (which can make it more like a burden). I want to learn to make decisions without being afraid of not doing "the right thing." I don't know how to do any of this especially when I'm not just responsible for myself, but for my children as well.

    -Q

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    1. Hello to the two of you. At first I wanted to say that I'm so sorry for this difficult situation you're in. But you know what - no - - - it's a beautiful thing!! It's an incredible OPPORTUNITY for you to harness something inside you. For you to do something FOR YOU - something that you are deeply passionate about.

      I think our dark hours are worth gold. They push us and inspire us. They give us drive. They teach us. They make us stretch. They make us tap into abilities and gifts and power that we didn't even know we had. They help us to know what we are made of. There is NOTHING that can even come close to this. So, don't despair. Carry on with tinkering about your life and your passions. Trust that something will come to you. That a pursuit of some kind will manifest itself. Think about it. Work new experiences into your day. Talk to people. Little by little, a plan of some sort can come together. And little by little, you can begin pursuing it. Get creative in relieving some of your other duties, if need be (my fav. idea for moms is to get a foreign exchange student who wants to learn about US culture. In exchange for room and board, they can help do some tasks around the house.)

      And also, do practice transforming some of that resentment. That will only hold you back. Practice embracing this trial, the time commitments, the lack of personal time. Practice the idea that this trial can teach you. It can help you grow personally. It can help you to be more aligned with ultimately who you want to be. The challenges are something you can be grateful for. Seeing it this way is life changing and removes bricks from your back. Much love, M

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    2. I hope this isn't too late! I just love Mara's response! My heart goes out to you, as I can relate to what you are feeling and have have felt stuck there in my own past. In addition to all of Mara's amazing advice, I would like to add that attending to myself physically has given me the biggest boost and allowed me to deal with the challenges of mothering in a healthy emotional state.

      For me that means getting a walk outdoors DAILY. If I miss too many days, those old feelings can start to creep back. I did this before kids religiously for years, but it is easy to let this slip with the constant demands of mothering. It has made the BIGGEST difference for me and is worth every bit of the effort. You may have to work around your husband's schedule, but just squeeze it in whenever it fits: morning, afternoon, or evening. This has given me an incredible amount of mental and emotional clarity... Not to mention a 20-30 minute block of time to have my own thoughts to plan and dream for the future! A definite win, win!

      Supplementing with Vitamin D3 has also helped me a lot! Chances are you are deficient, most people are, and that can affect you more than you may realize. There are studies that show that simply supplementing vitamin D3 can help even reverse depression for some people, especially in women. Mothering can be unrelenting and draining, but since I started doing this, I am less likely to slip into despair and feel more hopeful and optimistic about life in general and my amazing role as mom. Grassroots health (www.grassrootshealth.net) has a ton of researched backed data and info about supplementing and recommended doses. I can't recommend it enough.

      I am not kidding when I say that adding these two things to your daily musts, just might turn things around for you and give you the mental/emotional/ physical strength to push through your "trial" and put into practice many of the awesome things Mara and Danny advocate! This comes from someone who has been where you are! Lots of love and best of luck!!!

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    3. Not too late, Lauren! I have been coming back to this comment thread daily for more inspiration. I'm a new first-time mom just beginning to make my way out of the fog of PPD and your comment inspired me to get outside in this 10 degree weather for a short walk and I feel so refreshed. I've never commented before, on any blog, but I just want to say thank you, Mara and Danny, for creating this amazing space. So, so happy you are back at it.

      PS Mara, you look absolutely gorgeous in those photos. Your beautiful spirit just shines right through!

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  8. You just put into words exactly how I'm feeling, too! Hoping to figure this all out!

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    1. Sorry that was for anonymous @ 6:26pm

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    1. Chastity is not the same if you have same-sex attraction. If you are attractive to a different gender then you are able to hold hands, be in a relationship, and even kiss the opposite gender. If you are attracted to the same gender, you are unable to do any of these things. So no, your gay bishop would not have the opportunity to be moral just like you. It is not just that you can't marry, it is that you can't be emotionally or physically intimate.

      As a teenager I was often told by leaders and friends that it was unlikely that I would get married in this life because of my race. I was told that I would probably have to wait for the Celestial Kingdom to be married. We were also taught to only date people who were marriage material. This meant that people could not date me because they would not be able to marry me. You probably think that I'm talking about something that happened 50 years ago and is not relevant, I'm only 28 and grew up in Mesa, AZ. These teachings were very hard to hear as a teenager who wanted to date when I turned 16 like everyone else. It also meant that I didn't get to dance at the Stake dances. I eventually left the Church for 3 years until I moved to the midwest and realized that people had different views.

      My experience is very different than being gay, but I feel like I was able to glimpse a sliver of what it must feel like to have no hope that you will ever be able to have the type of relationship that you desire within the confines of the Church. I, of course, did not have the sin and shame associated with my desire, which is another reason why my experience is nowhere near as terrible as what people who are gay endure in the Church. I do understand what it feels like to be told that you are not good enough or righteous enough for simply being who you are.

      If you were not able to ever touch a man or have boyfriend/husband and were told that doing so would be one of the worse sins you could commit, how would you feel? Mormonism is easier when you fit into the mold.

      Another important thing to consider is that Mormon prophetic counsel and understanding is always changing. In 2000 and earlier, general authorities spoke of homosexuality as a choice and a sin. In 2010, An apology/clarification was issued when President Packer taught the same thing in his General Conference talk. Now we say that some people are born with a tendency/predilection towards same-sex attraction. The rhetoric has changed and it will continue to change. What is a sin today, may not be a sin tomorrow. It was the same way with black people in the Church up until June 1978.

      Sidenote: Let's remember, even Mormon's don't think being angry is all bad. We use Jesus as an example of righteous anger all the time.

      Everyone should get celebrate who they are.

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  10. Just came across this quote from the Dalai Lama that is quite relevant to today's post -

    "We have the source of contentment and happiness within ourselves, and it is related to nurturing our inner values."

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  11. Oh, I have so much to learn. I wish I could have a chat with you sometime.

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    1. Oh, Jeanette! Thank you for this. We'd so love to chat with you, too. We've been thinking of ways to earn a living so that we can continue to run this blog and one thing we want to launch soon are some mentoring services (by phone or Skype). We get requests for this all the time. So we're going to offer that soon. It will be sometime after we return from this next retreat on Feb. 19. Stay tuned!!

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    2. Very excited about this Mara! :)

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    3. Oh! This is so exciting! I can't wait to hear more about this. I've been an avid reader of your blog since the beginning (and many of the books you've recommended) but have struggled in some ways to actually put things into practice. Mentoring sounds amazing, and something I'd be very interested in (as I bet would a lot of your readers!)

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    4. You guys - thanks a TON for the support and encouragement!! I'm really excited about it. The truth is I'd love to continue to do this full time. And I'd love to also help fulfill all the requests we get for mentoring. SOO...it could be really good. Fingers crossed!

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  12. Just wanted to say thanks for this post. Posts like these made me love ABAL and helped me during a really dark time. I'm glad that you are back!

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    1. You should know that comments like these let me know that I should keep writing. THANK YOU. This means so much.

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  13. RIGHT ON sister!!!!

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  14. The best person you can be is you and you are so beautiful inside and out xx

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  15. This is an interesting post. As a non-Mormon, lapsed/ex-Catholic, I was interested to learn that for you it seems Mormonism serves more as a lifestyle. Sounds like you woke up at 18 and ceased to buy it. I can relate to that. I wonder if the Mormon friends you have in Brooklyn are similar in their thinking. Surely you could all fill the need for service through group service projects with nycares.org and having potlucks and in-depth discussions and continue your spiritual paths. I find it fascinating that you, who described a journey in search of truth and authenticity, can align yourself with a faith that is at root homophobic and patriarchal. I couldn't do it, even if their were opportunities for appealing activities and projects. Reading in the New York Times about the spate of "ex-communications" of those willing to stand in their truth and question the church was really eye-opening. Personally, those are the courageous people of conscience I would be all-in with.

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    1. Hello - thanks for the post. There are a lot of Mormons in Brooklyn and elsewhere who still participate in some ways but don't align with some of the stuff going on. Right now is an interesting time for the Mormon church as many leaders are taking very huge stands on things and many people are greatly divided. I know some that have left the church or are on the fence. Many have started seeking ways to serve in other ways. Truthfully, there is a lot of pain involved as people are shifting, thinking, redefining. Though this is also so good in my opinion- as scary or disrupting as it may be, it's so good to move forward in a way that feels true to you.

      I do absolutely see why people can no longer align with the homophobic and patriarchal ways. I don't align with it either and don't see that it aligns with God's highest law of Love. Luckily that's where this post about identity comes in. I'm not looking to an institution to fulfill my spirituality or to fulfill my identity or to be the soul source of truth. It leads to less disruption when the institution or a leader does something that is unsavory. And if I choose to participate more or less, it's done so out of a true desire, and not because of a need to fulfill an institutional role. Right now my participation is much, much less for a multitude of reasons. Things are always evolving though. And I do hope that in the future things can improve within the Mormon church - and within any institution that carries on traditions that are discriminating.

      Also, I do fully support the people who are trying to advocate for change. They are bringing hope to so many people. They are causing so many to dig deeper. They have brought exposure to topics that have never been discussed in such a widespread way before. I'm amazed at what they've accomplished and the discussions they have brought to the forefront- I consider them heroes.

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    2. Very thoughtful and enlightening response. It is a question I had wondered about and appreciate your taking the time to address.

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    3. Oh good - so glad you saw my response! Best, M

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    4. out of curiosity- Do you and Danny share any differing religious/spiritual view points? Does he feel the same way about participating less in the Mormon church? If so, how does one stay spiritually unified in a marriage with differing spiritual/religious view points?

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    5. Great question!! We'd love to answer this and really it could be a whole post. We're doing last minute prep for the retreat as we leave for the airport soon. We'll likely have to get back to this later next week when we return. Thanks!

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    6. Agree with anon 5:23. My husband and I have differing religious views. This happened after we got married. We totally love each other but how would you recommend addressing some of these differences and still having a successful marriage and what plays in with kids. Thanks!

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    7. Hey Anon - Good question. I think Mara and I have a very similar set of basic principles guiding our spiritual and religious views/feelings, but we do approach it differently in practice.

      That in part stems from the differences you see in our responses to the first comment on this thread. Mara's spiritual growth/awakening came very much from outside of the LDS language, which caused her to then see various LDS doctrines in a new light and brought an appreciation she previously did not see. I did things in the reverse. My spiritual growth/awakening came from within the LDS language and doctrines, and led to an increased appreciation for sources outside my faith.

      Perhaps because of that, it's probably safe to say that of the two of us, I get greater satisfaction and personal fulfillment out of our traditional religious/church practices, simply because it is a spiritual language I understand very well, and I'm able to use that to teach and serve and help ignite that spark in others.

      I think the idea of how one stays spiritually unified in a marriage with varying degrees of religious commitment or participation is a really really great question that perhaps should be explored in a further post. (We also intend to address that to a degree in a follow up interview with John Dehlin that still needs to be scheduled)

      But for the quick summary, this post really is the answer to the question. We both feel this way about the concept of true identity, and the need to set that at the foundation for everything. Since we are both united on that, we both grow together in very meaningful ways regardless of a "religious identity". When we both feel the personal responsibility to first pursue a unity with God and our highest selves, the rest of the stuff becomes less important. It becomes an appendage to that principle practice.

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    8. I find it interesting in this post and in the comments that the word 'religion' is synonymous with the people and culture of a church, which will always be flawed because none of us is perfect. I find that a lot of the culture and traditions associated with the Church give me pause because they don't have a lot to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a huge difference between the flawed folks trying to live the gospel and the gospel itself. Even in our personal, oftentimes flawed understanding of the gospel. I like that you focused here on personal identity because for me that's what it boils down to: I am a child of God. I am His daughter. I am loyal to Him in all things. I have a personal relationship with Him. And because of this I am magnified and empowered when I seek to understand and live the gospel. It's not about letting others dictate to me, but seeking His will in all things. This is my religion. Not a single person on this planet is excluded from this. We all sin in many ways every day. I am not willing to judge another because he sins differently than I do. But I will love him with all my heart, knowing that the Savior does the same and wants the best for each of us. It saddens me deeply when others assume i am bigoted and hateful because I am a Mormon. We all do things that are contrary to Heavenly Fathers plan for his children but we try. We want to try. And in that trying comes the understanding that so many of us seek.

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  16. Anon 5:23, that is a great question!

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  17. Side note: Every gay person I know is very very nice. Like nicer than the average person. I'm sure I'm over-generalizing and there are some mean ones ;) I'm just speaking from my experience. I am sad that because of Old Testament scripture that is accepted by huge amounts of the world's population, gays have been rejected by the religious world in general. We have forced them out of religion. We are responsible, IMO, for the immorality that does exist in the gay world (the gay community is notorious for not settling down with just one person, though that, also, is of course a generalization). I think this is our fault. We have said, "There is no room for you here to seek for God," so they stop seeking for God. There is room for them. They can serve with us. They can worship with us.

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  19. Danny and Mara- I've been thinking about this post ever since you first wrote it. I was part of the DC YSA Relief Society group that you came and taught a few years ago. Danny taught us about finding our divine identity, and we were really inspired by reading Moses 1 in the Pearl of Great Price. My truest identity is that I am a Daughter of God. When I was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I covenanted to be a disciple of Him. I renew that covenant and am cleansed of my sins each week when I take the sacrament at church. It helps me grow closer to God. Mara, you wrote that you are not attending regularly for a few different reasons. I hope that you will remember that there is SO MUCH for you to give at those meetings on Sunday! They are lucky to have you. Even if you don't understand the language. I also know that you will feel closer to God when you renew your covenants and receive a fresh start each week.

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  20. These posts always fill me with hope. And for that I thank you dearly. I was raised in the mormon church and have always participated in it. I married another born and raised mormon, very convicted in his beliefs in the church. I actually chose not to marry in the temple as the religion-- not sure the right words-- had not resonated with me for a long time. I never thought about it till later but I can only imagine what most people concluded from this action. Oh well. I now have four children, am married to the same man, still convicted, and continue to attend the mormon church. And continue to participate in a religion that still does not 'resonate' with me. Just a few facts of my life at present. Which brings me again to my point in a round about sort of way. My point being that your blog fills me with hope. From a religious perspective, I do not find it easy. I am far far far far less focused on the doctrine of this church at present, so it tends not to 'ruffle' me so much. But I miss my spirituality which in the past flourished outside of the church (even whilst attending it). And I find myself presently seeking it out again but it feels difficult to do so while I help raise these four children in a traditional way within the mormon church. I would love to stay home every Sunday and have three hours a week to think and learn spiritually in my own way but I actually think it's good for my children to attend a church and to do so with both parents. I think there is good there to be had there. I guess what I'm trying to say is that for me a relationship that approaches religion in differing ways feels tricky, especially when children are involved. But somehow when I read your words it feels as though there is hope and that it is possible.

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