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My Invisibility Cloak

By Justine Dorton

I was called to my first “presidency calling” when I was 7 months pregnant. It was to the Relief Society Presidency. That calling lasted through two more pregnancies. My call to be Primary President came when I was 8 months pregnant with the fourth child. Another call to the Relief Society Presidency came at 2 weeks post-partum with my fifth. Through these experiences I have learned something very valuable about myself.

I am invisible.

For a decade now, I have sat through meetings where we discuss the vast chasms of need that dwell in the lives of sisters all around me. As we have contemplated filling callings or asking for service from these women, often the phrase is repeated, “Well, Sister S just had a baby. We couldn’t impose on her.” “Sister M is pregnant. She must feel awful. We shouldn’t give her a calling for at least a year after that precious child is born.” “Sister T sure has her hands full with all those little kids. Asking her to do something would surely be an unnecessary burden on her family.”

Ummm, hello?

Pregnant lady, right here next to you. You just called me to be the PRIMARY PRESIDENT!

I have, for the entire previous 10 years, wondered what kind of aura I’ve been putting off into the ethos that says, “I’m not normal. Please make me work as hard as possible, under the most trying of circumstances, and ignore this big, fat belly, or this screaming little mass of flesh permanently attached to my breast (which I’m sorry, but is just going to flash you, no matter how hard I try).”

Now, I consider myself a pretty tough chick, but even I could use a nice empty, meeting-free Sunday once or twice a decade. So, after thinking about this for several years (I never said I was very smart), I think I’ve come up with an answer.

I am completely and entirely filled with sinful pride.

I am just so unwilling to show any sign of weakness, that I force myself to be put together and composed under any circumstance. Kill me, it might, but darn it, I’ll be looking fit and prepared for the occasion.

Why on earth I do this to myself is beyond me. I’ve never much cared for the image of a weak, needy Justine (I don’t have the right jawline to pull it off), but then, I’ve never once considered any of the women who we’ve discussed in my vast array of meetings as being weak or needy. Go figure. I’ve seen so many strong, capable women who have borne their trials with grace and dignity. But me? I’d rather everyone just think I’ve got no trials.

Sinful, I tell ya.

I’ve only known of one person who saw so clearly through my iron-clad composure. It was a visiting teacher I had a few years ago. She would always ask the requisite, “How can we help you?” at our visits, and I would reply with the same requisite, “Oh, I’m just fine.” But she didn’t believe me, can you believe that? She would show up on my doorstep at random moments in my day with pies, entire dinners, chocolate, or notes of encouragement. She would steal my kids for an hour so I could nap or run errands. She would actually call me, exactly when I needed her most, just to say hello.

Imagine it! It’s just like you read about in the Ensign! Only it’s for real!

Someone, living by the Spirit, seeing through my pride and arrogance. She knew I couldn’t keep up the facade forever, but she didn’t wait for me to crack wide open. She just quietly glued up the fissures, opened up places for pressure to release, and filled me up with warm, chocolately goodness. Because of her example, someday I’ll actually be as good a person as I’m pretending to be right now.

If only I had been in the Relief Society Presidency when they took her away from me — I could have used my position to keep her assigned to me. Maybe I should have tried getting pregnant.

Why do we women pretend so much (or am I the only one)? Why is it so hard to be real? And isn’t there some sort of line somewhere between being totally put together 24/7 and being a big puddle of misery splayed out on the floor all the time? Where on earth is that line?

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

33 thoughts on “My Invisibility Cloak”

  1. I think I don't show my weak side because I don't trust anyone's ability to help me. Or,sometimes I am unable to think that their "helping me" will interrupt my life. I chose to show my weak side very carefully.
    After reading this post, I can jump in your boat and say that I am too full of pride.

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  2. Sometimes I'm afraid to show my vulnerability and my difficulties because I am afraid that I may come across as ungrateful or a complainer. Ingratitude and cheerlessness are the antithesis of what kind of women we are taught to be. But life has it's struggles and I would rather not deal with them alone, in fact, I think I need other women during these times.
    After my second baby was born, I experienced severe postpartum depression. I thought I needed to keep it to myself (which only made it worse). At the tail end of it I decided to be open about my struggle and discovered that there were a number of other women around me who were struggling. In the process of being open and vulnerable I've made more friends then I could have asked for. Because I have been honest and open with the sisters around me (most of the time, I still have my moments of pride), their love, compassion, and vulnerability have given me more reasons to be grateful. And I am grateful to be the person they can turn to when they can't pretend anymore.

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  3. Everybody else can handle it, why can't I? That's what I always think. And not EVERYBODY can be pretending, right? I don't want to be the only loser in the group, so I strap on a smile, even when I'm puking in the bushes before the meeting, and passing out on the couch afterwards.

    Also, when I whined once about how DH had a huge calling on top of a huge job which meant we got a whole bunch of nothing from him at home, my friend pointed out that they had to use DH because he was functional, capable, and, frankly, willing. If you are willing to do a big calling when you're pregnant, you're going to get used. Period.

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  4. I thought "Molly Mormon" was slain long ago (i know i was). If your R.S.V.T. motto is "is there anything I can do for you?" i suggest scrapping the program. This is one too many "fake it till you make it)slogans. The letter KILLS, The spirit GIVES.

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  5. I definitely don't like to tell people when I need help or am struggling. I hate asking people to do things for me… and there's pride in that, I think. There's this sense that I want to help others, but only because I choose to, not because I've obligated myself by allowing them to help me out. That sounds awful written down, but it's true, to one degree or another.

    On the calling issue, and skirting around asking pregnant people to do things: I am a pregnant whiner. I freely use the "I'm pregnant" card to get out of things. Actually, I do it in a preemptive way: I say I may not be able to, don't plan on me, and then I try to come through anyway. Lowered expectations give me an out if I need one, and then if I actually do stuff I get bonus points.

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  6. Great topic and essay, Justine. I think for me, I see myself as pretty real in many situations, but not all. Like Martha said, allowing myself to be vulnerable has opened the door to many good friendships and supports. In some situations, however, I don't feel safe being really open, so I put on the happy face, or at least try to act like I'm "fine." I don't LIKE being like that. I prefer being able to be real and not have to act like everything is hunky dory when it's not.

    I don't feel like I've got it down to a lovely, gracious science, which I regret. I would LIKE to be strong enough to be real all the time–to be honest in healthy ways. On the other hand, sometimes I'm too open/honest because I feel like my face shows my stress and I'd be lying if I said all is well (and they would know I was lying), or sometimes I say too much because my boundaries can get a bit loose when I'm stressed. Sometimes I wear my heart/mind on my sleeve a bit TOO much (and . . . I have a history of losing my shirt). 🙂

    Anyway, still searching for that balance, I do know that for me, being real is intimately linked to self-acceptance, and I am happier when I am real and honest, in both my strong and my less-strong times.

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  7. We are all so different and can only find a precious few that would do things the way we'd like them done. I know that's why I can't ask for help. You hit the nail on the head for me with with what you said, "I am completely and entirely filled with sinful pride."

    Although I am not one to come off as put together (everytime I wash my hair, I get asked if I got a haircut.)

    I just don't want to accept help.

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  8. i find that I who only thinks i have it all together. lately when someone asks me how i am, i don't go for platitudes– i go straight for the, "well, not so good 'cause such and such and such."

    and usually it's met with such love and hope and a good cry and a nice chat, and always i feel my heart knotted a little more to my "sister."

    but i also know people who don't want me to be weak– who try to gloss it over and suggest that i'm crazy to have certain feelings.

    which is a good argument, because i am, in fact, crazy.

    but justine, wow. i really feel for you all those presidency callings! good job to press forward and tackle the challenge.

    and thank you for also inspiring me to be a better visiting teacher. one that listens to the spirit yes, but also one who just GOESand gets it done! (it's been a busy summer and i'm crazy, remember?)

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  9. This is so good for me to listen to, because I, to be totally honest here, feel that complaining is just a waste of time. It just doesn't accomplish me anything. So I always try to put on my happy face and tell everyone that, "Oh, there's no point in complaining, so why not smile!?" while sometimes I'm just crying inside wondering if my house will ever be clean again, or my kids will ever stop bickering, or my constant battle to keep the Spirit in our house will ever be truly won.

    Thanks, ladies. Keep the good words of council coming. I need em!

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  10. Our first son had some serious problems at birth, and we had a real struggle his first few months (and many ever since). We had lived in the ward for 2 years, but never really planted any roots because my husband was going to school and we figured we'd be leaving soon — we didn't. Anyway, we thought we could handle the very serious problems we were going through, and we didn't ask for much help. Since we didn't know anyone very well, there weren't many offers either. We had SUCH a hard time, and it took a real toll on us emotionally and spiritually. We eventually had to move across the country and live with family to get back on our feet. I wish we had asked for more help instead of pretending we could handle it.

    I think there are two sides to service — giving service and receiving service. As hard and inconvenient as it is to give service when it's asked of you, I've found it's equally hard to swallow your pride and receive service when it's offered (or ask for it when you need it). It's so hard to be needy and vulnerable when you'd much rather appear to be a strong, capable woman at all costs. I've learned that if I swallow my pride and desire to appear "put together" people are so willing and happy to help. Receiving service also makes me that much more inclined to help, even when it is inconvenient. (Because I have been given much, I too must give…)

    I have to say though, I'll let my "strong, capable woman" facade down only when I REALLY need it, and then it goes right back up!

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  11. Hmmmm. . . interesting. I'm not sure how to respond. Part of me gets the idea that sometimes we are asked to do way too much because we don't tell where we are weak. But the other part of me has seen far too many blessings from serving–even when heavily burdened that I have a hard time turning things down. And frankly, unless seriously bedridden, I don't necessarily see pregnancy as an excuse to be released from callings. I do think that new mothers should have callings that they can manage while handling a newborn (i.e. NOT in the nursery). We've had a lot of problems in our ward managing the callings because most of the young mothers think that they should be released from their callings when they have a baby. And if they are not released, they simply don't fulfill their responsibilities or ask anyone to cover for them.
    I had an experience after my third pregnancy that really changed the way I view service in the church. My baby was 5 weeks old. I had just spent 3 days in the hospital recovering from a serious UTI. I was extremely weak and in no condition to do much of anything- let alone care for a newborn and two small toddlers. My husband was YM president at the time. It was time for the Youth temple trip–a two day excursion because the temple was so far away. My husband called nearly every man in the ward to ask if they would accompany the youth to the temple. Nearly all turned him down. He had no other options but to go with them. I was so worried about how I would manage as I was so weak. And he gave me a blessing. We made it through those few days and I was blessed beyond measure. I didn't actually get help from people in the ward–and yes, they knew my situation. But Heavenly Father made up for the lack of physical help with a lot of spiritual strength that kind of took over at that point.

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  12. Tiffany, you make such a great point. And I really have felt so immensely blessed by those callings, because they kept me busy and engaged in the world and in the gospel at a time that would have been easy to rest on my laurels. I also don't understand how pregnancy or young children gets to be an excuse from serving. I, personally, needed the blessings that came from being pressed to serve when it was difficult and inconvenient.

    I also, however, know that my facade belies the truth sometimes. But on many levels I feel that if I continue to fake it till I make it, make it I will. Thanks for your great comments!

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  13. Okay, one more comment here. I am a big advocate of sharing, in appropriate ways, struggles that we have. I was diagnosed with a lupus 8 months after my 3rd son was born (it was a doozy of a year) and I decided that I was done pretending that everything was fine. I was so sick and stopped hiding it. People asked me how I was and I told them. Sharing it, without complaining, really helped me get endure the tremendous physical and emotional pain I was experiencing. Sharing really lightens burdens.

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  14. Sorry, I forgot to add that my husband was so embarrassed that I told people about my health and my challenges. I couldn't understand why I should hide that I was worried I might not live long enough to see my kids grow up. When I opened up, my friends opened up. My husband finally came around and realized that in sharing my weaknesses, I was receiving help and strength.

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  15. I agree with Tiffany. Even if it's not a serious illness, if we open up with each other, if we're honest and real with how things are going in our lives, it liberates other women to do the same.

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  16. My experience with chronic illness has caused me to be more 'real' about my life. I also find that I feel more connected with people who are real. There is a difference between whining and being honest. Honesty can tie hearts together and make service meaningful. We can be real with faith and endurance. But what good is endurance and sharing what faith means if we are always hunky-dory? Faith means something when we are faced with opposition. If we never share our opposition, how can we really share how faith helped?? If we never really ask for help, how will service really be meaningful?

    It is very, very hard to admit to less-than-perfection, though. At least for me. I think we too often equate our worth with what we do and what people see and notice from our lives that we forget that our worth is in our spiritual potential and progress. And very often, that comes when what others can see isn't necessarily all together. When I am growing most, my life is often in the most upheaval.

    I am in the throws of trying to redefine my worth not by what I do or don't do, or can or can't do compared to others, but about my relationship with God and my family, and about my progress — based only on where I have been not where others are. And it requires an ability to let go of what others think, or what we think they may think. And that is HARD. I'm in my infancy with this process, but I'm convinced it's one of the things I need to learn from my health struggles.

    One last thing — our society rewards the visible. You are successful if you get a raise or a promotion. If you have a decent house, a car, nice clothes. If your children are well-behaved and healthy. If you are community focused. If your children are involved in lots of things. The list could go on and on. We as Mormon women have to sift through all the voices out there plus the voices in our heads (OK, maybe YOU don't have voices in your head, but I do!) plus whatever other pressures we feel because of our desire to be faithful. And lots of these things can matter. So it's a matter of really prioritizing and figuring out what matters most…and yet, still not tying our ego up in those things.

    Are you sorry you asked? I've been thinking about this a lot…I should probably write my thoughts on my blog instead of taking up so much space here…. Sorry. I hope you don't think…. *slap*!

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  17. When I was expecting my 4th baby and was in the Prim. Presidency, I did everything I could to set up a "maternity leave" for myself: I got as much as I could get done ahead of time, found substitutes, and told the rest of the presidency that I wouldn't be coming to Primary or to presidency meetings for about 6 weeks after the birth. While I'm grateful I don't live in a time of a forced "confinement" postpartum, I DO believe it's best for Mom and baby to rest as much as possible and for the Mom to get a chance to heal really well, and I certainly think Moms should feel the freedom to take this time if they feel they need it.

    Anyway, the other presidency members had not taken that approach when they had their babies, and tended to be the types to drive themselves to exhaustion, and, so help me, within 2 weeks of the birth, the Primary President kept asking when I was coming back, asking if I wanted to try to come to Presidency meetings, giving me assignments, and so forth. It was really frustrating to have to keep politely declining. (I would have been fine with being released if they'd have preferred not to have to work around my absence, although I also said I was willing to come back to my calling after a sufficient rest period, but I was neither released NOR had my request for a rest period properly respected.) Also, during the pregnancy we would have 3-and-4-hour Presidency meetings, and one time I swear I was about to pass out from hunger/burst into tears from exhaustion/lie on the floor from back pain — unfortunately, I DID stick it out during those long meetings out even when my heart wasn't in it, and wasn't entirely open about how hard it was for me. But, since I never got much sympathy when I *was* open, it was just a hard situation.

    I think I could go on and on about this topic, but I'll stop there. But I do think that sometimes the fear of man/pride we have against showing weakness is bolstered by real prejudice we might experience — not that we should let that stop us from being real, but it can be discouraging. (And there is also such a thing as a healthy sense of self-preservation.) (Ooops, I guess I said I'd stop.)

    I don't know if this will let me post this anonymously (but you can see why I'm trying to.)

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  18. Anon, I am certainly not advocating a work yourself to exhaustion approach–especially directly after having a baby. I should have clarified my comments. I absolutely respect the rights of a mother to rest adequately after giving birth. But the women I was talking about in my ward were expecting a full year of rest from callings after the baby was born. I am not joking.
    In the case I mentioned where my husband went on the temple trip after I was so ill, we would not have had that experience if others had been willing to sacrifice a little bit. We were blessed. But I would have been so grateful if someone else had stepped up to the plate. I happen to know that not one of those men had an extremely ill wife at home with a newborn.
    I guess I meant the story in two ways: First, we are blessed when we serve, especially when it involves a great deal of sacrifice. Second, if more people were willing to sacrifice and serve willingly, I think that the work burdens would be lightened on everyone.
    I hope that made sense. I appreciate your added perspective on this issue.

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  19. I'm soo torn about this issue. I tend to be of the mind that there is a lot of unnecessary whining going on in the world at large. But I also see the value and beauty of being more open, where we can stop pretending and enjoy the grace of serving each other.

    I think I fall in the "never ever tell anyone that anything is wrong" camp, to my own dissatisfaction and disadvantage. But I don't exactly know how to be open and honest without becoming one of the whiners that I can't stomach. I think I would be at one extreme or the other. It's that middle ground that I don't know how to successfully navigate!

    Thanks for all the great discussion. Keep the good advice coming!

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  20. Thanks Tiffany — my response was more to the general issue and wasn't meant to be critical of your post. I was just trying to say that in addition to our own pride there are sometimes external pressures against revealing weakness or asking for help. I do think it's almost always true (with specific exceptions — such as, for example, if you're doing it for the praise of men rather than the glory of God — and of course only He knows which is our motivation) that when we make even somewhat unnecessary or unreasonable sacrifices for the Church, we're blessed for it, and when I'm faced with what I think are unreasonable demands but am not in a position to do anything about it, I usually try to just put my heart in it and go the 2nd mile. I do think that it would be a more bitter pill if you and your husband had made that huge sacrifice for something more trivial than a temple trip, but that still wouldn't mean you weren't blessed for it.

    I think how much of a burden pregnant women etc. need to carry in a ward has much to do with the size and make-up of the ward — in the ward I was in at that time, there just weren't enough active folks for anyone to take much of a break for any reason, and most active couples both held challenging callings, etc. The Stake was later reorganized, and in our new (larger) ward, the new Prim. Presidency was mostly made up of women whose children were already grown, which I thought was wonderful. I would never want to go a full year without a calling, but having a less time-intensive calling when I have young kids has been a welcome reprieve.

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  21. But I don’t exactly know how to be open and honest without becoming one of the whiners that I can’t stomach. I think I would be at one extreme or the other.

    What about sharing our struggles within the light of faith? In other words, being open, but then talking and sharing about how our faith helps, what we are learning, etc. ?? Just a thought, and something that I think helps keep perspective in it all, too.

    After all, faith is also required to be strong. If we are pretending we are strong on our own, we are missing something, too, even if we aren't appearing to be 'whining.' Whining/negativity isn't the only thing that could keep us from leaning on the Savior. At least for me, trying to 'do it all' or appear I am doing it all can get me into 'I can save myself' mode.

    Am I making sense?

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  22. Michelle, thanks. I do worry that I'll start to lean to much to my own understanding and expect to "save myself". But on some level, I know we are ALL asked to sacrifice and do really hard things, so I don't see why my lot of hard things should be notice worthy. Everyone has hard things expected of them, so I'm trying to be of the "make lemonade" variety and suck it up.

    All the while, I still feel that pride in me, not letting my fortress of protection down.

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  23. But on some level, I know we are ALL asked to sacrifice and do really hard things,

    Good point. I guess my line of thinking these days (again, because of my chronic illness issues, I've had to revisit my approach because I simply can't do it all and need help and support sometimes) is that yes, we all have to sacrifice, but if we are willing to share in a positive/constructive yet open way, how we face those trials can be a strength to others. Even knowing others have trials can sometimes help us not feel so alone in our own. And to me, it can make faith richer when we see how even as our trials differ, the answers the gospel gives can be so very similar.

    I agree, though, that it's not like we all ought to go around wearing all of our trials on our sleeves. There's a balance to be sure. But my sense is that most of us hold back quite a bit (more than we share our trials), and the true whiners who do little but burden others really are few and far between. Then again, I think we all deal with our different trials differently, so there is not necessarily one right way to handle things.

    I'm rambling, I think. Justine, let me say this. If you were in my neighborhood or ward, I'd WANT you to feel like you could share. I personally like to listen, and rarely have I found someone who truly is a whiner. I feel a growth of love and connection and ability to care and serve when someone will trust me enough to open up. I feel it's hard to really care without knowledge of what at some level is going on. I personally grow weary of trite 'let us know if we can help' offers that we give as we are walking out the door for VTing. But we can't expect our VTers to do all the work. They can't read minds, and sometimes we need to be willing to risk and say, 'hey, I'm struggling. Do you have a minute to listen?"

    I like this from Kathleen Hughes: "Recently our presidency was meeting with a Church leader. He commented that he wished Relief Society and priesthood meetings would be places where we would be able to say to one another, 'Sisters, or brothers, I'm struggling right now. Will you help me?'"

    I think having the attitude of making lemonade is good. But I'd rather be able to stand by you and help you make it, or, you know, loan you a figurative cup of sugar (in the form of a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a bit of empathy, and the chance to share testimony) — not have you make it alone. 🙂

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  24. I really like Michelle's comment: "I feel a growth of love and connection and ability to care and serve when someone will trust me enough to open up." I completely agree with that.

    I wonder if you started small, Justine, if that would make it easier. Try with a few people saying things like, "It's been a rough week, but I'm doing okay." That's a great way to start that doesn't invite a world of pity and inquisitions. I can't picture you delving into the world of over-divulging and self-pity. And I bet you would find yourself relieved to be able to share a little more openly. And I bet it would be worth the risk.

    Good luck!

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  25. And BTW, all, I'm sorry if I sounded like a broken record. It may be that I just need to feel it's ok for me to open up, because dealing with the struggles I have dealt with has become a lot to deal with alone, and I grew weary of pretending. Not that I go around whining, because I really try not to. But if someone is going to ask me how I am doing, I'm going to assume they would be willing to know a little bit of the truth. 🙂 Or at least I know a few people I can really open up to and it helps a lot. I certainly don't do it with everyone, and usually do it with people who can empathize.

    I would much rather say that everything is fine, and sometimes I do say that, but it's nice to know there are some people who actually want to KNOW how I'm doing…usually those who have some empathy from their own

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  26. I've noticed something rather interesting lately; most of the women I've seen called to the young women presidency have been those who have most recently had babies. It's almost as if it is a requirement to be in the young women's presidency.

    Actually, I think there is something different behind it. I think that the Lord knows the kind of trials and afflictions that go with certain times in our lives and I suspect that one of the reasons that He puts us in a difficult calling at a difficult time in our lives is so that we can gain the blessings that result from the consecration of our time, and those very blessings are what Heavenly Father knows will help us cope with our difficulties.

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  27. I think you're on to something. I've always felt so guided through those tough times precisely because I felt I had a responsibility to fulfill my calling, and thus was able to call upon the Lord in more meaningful ways. Maybe the Lord knew I'd be a big ole' train wreck if I didn't have an intense calling that required me to stop stressing out and wallowing!

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  28. I'm in Tiffany's camp on this one…It was lupus that blew my cover, too. I didn't want to tell people I had it, so at first I tried to act like I felt "fine" and did my best to keep up with all my activities. After awhile, though, I was canceling plans with friends and having to call them at the last minute to get out of responsibilities. It was really taking a toll on my reputation!

    I finally realized that my friends were feeling angry/hurt because I'd cancel things out of the blue. Some of them even thought I didn't like them anymore because it was clear to them that I was making excuses. Finally, I just came clean about the whole lupus thing, and it really cleared the air.

    I still take a lot of things on, but I do it more realistically now…and I warn the people who ask me (often church members) about what my limitations are.

    Of course, not everyone has a chronic illness, but everyone does have limitations, and they are no cause for shame. It's good to do what you can, yes, but it's also good to admit it when you can't!

    I learned this the hard way: There's a real difference between whining/complaining and telling someone the truth about your situation. JMHO, of course.

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  29. I've never been pregnant, but I had a whole year where it would've taken just one small thing and to push me over the edge where I would've been a complete wreck. Maybe I actually was. While there were many things the Relief Society president at the time did that made it harder on me, I will be eternally grateful that she left a dear friend of mine as my visiting teacher. That friend was the one person who could have come in to my home and when I told them I was fine, call me on my lie and ask how I really was. Otherwise I would've forced myself to keep on pretending.

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  30. Justine, I know this post is old, but I have to tell you that I love your soul! And your writing! And your thoughts…. We should never, ever clean up the house to host visiting teachers….but I always do….

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