I still remember the first time I was called “gross.” It was the summer before eighth grade and I had been in a new ward for about three months. The transition had not been easy for me. I don’t know if there’s any scenario where a change of schools would be easy for a teenager, but my situation was made a little harder because I didn’t really fit in well with the girls in my ward. They were all thin and pretty, hailing from rich families. Puberty is a fickle beast, and she had been unkind to me. My once blonde, stick straight locks had turned into a kinky sort of wave, in a shade of light brown that society calls “dirty blonde”. Up until that point I had been a year-round diver and swimmer, my skin continually browned from the sun, but due to the fact that I was uncomfortable wearing my bathing suit around people, I quit all water-related public activities, and my skin had faded to a sallow shade of yellow. My face had rounded out, and I began to notice that my belly touched my upper thighs when I sat down. I watched the girls in my ward walk from Sunday school to Young Women’s and wondered why puberty had seemed to skip them altogether. They all had long sun kissed hair and legs that looked like they belonged on Olympic marathon runners. I made some attempts to hang out with them, and had landed myself invites to a couple of summer birthday parties. I always felt good about party invites until I got to the party. I could almost believe that people would want me there until I was actually there. Then it became painfully aware that I was a required invite from a parent; an empty attempt to be fellowshipped. 

I’ve never been good at keeping my mouth shut, and I’ve never had a poker face. There’s no gentle way to say that, other than to say I have a big mouth and I’m terrible at hiding my feelings, and I don’t know which way is less offensive. At some point, at one of the birthday parties I was pity-invited to, I made the very big mistake of letting it slip to the girls (the ones puberty had been kind to) that I had a crush on a boy in our ward. It didn’t take long for that confession to bleed out of the circle of girls sitting on a living room floor in the middle of summer, and into a circle of young men and young women at mutual the following Wednesday. When you’re a teenager, secrets spread faster than wildfire and they seem twice as deadly. Even though I knew this, I had to be reminded time and time again as my own secrets would be repeated to me in various places over my junior high and high school careers. Apparently I am a slow learner.

So this is where I not only overhear my own secret being told to my actual crush, but it’s also where I hear for the first time that I am “gross”. I put that in quotation marks and italics because that’s how it was said by my crush to the group of cool teenagers that I so desperately wanted to be a part of. Actually the full sentence was “I would never like Gabi! She’s fat! That’s gross!” I wish I could say I was confident enough that the words just rolled off my back, but I wasn’t , and they didn’t. I mean, I knew I was chubbier than other girls, I knew I had an extra chin where most people just had one, but gross? I had never really thought of myself that way before. Looking back on it, I suppose I had just been young enough that I hadn’t felt mean feelings about myself yet. How refreshing that time must have been, but it all came screeching to a halt the moment I heard those words. The laughter from the group of teenagers who would have been my friends if I wasn’t gross confirmed it: I was, in fact, fat and gross.

I wish I could tell you that my confidence only grew from that moment, or that I lost a bunch of weight and was welcomed into the “popular” group. I wish I could tell you that I proved everyone wrong and made cheerleader, or that I don’t know what it feels like to sit at home alone on weekends, or have a group of people get up and leave a lunch table just because I sat down at it. I wish I could say that I got asked to even one school dance, or that I didn’t know what it felt like to watch the boys that I liked repeatedly choose other girls- most often my best friend- over me. I wish I could say that I had my first kiss in junior high like everyone else, with a boy who was kind and funny. But I can’t tell you any of those things. I can however tell you what it’s like to have all those things happen to you, and to be happy anyway. I can tell you how to turn your pain into something empowering and beautiful. I can tell you what it’s like to laugh so hard that you pee your pants, with your mom who also happens to be your best friend. I can tell you all about the feeling you’ll feel when you listen to a song/read a book/watch a film for the first time and feel like it was written specifically for you. I know all about what it’s like to survive happily through your teen years as an undesirable, because I’ve done it. And I didn’t just barely survive, I fully lived. Here are some things I did that helped me get through the hard times, of which there were many. As an added bonus, I’ve also included some things that I know now as a “grown up” and wish I had known when I was younger.

Although I haven’t always known how important it would be to me, my personal relationship with the savior has made all the difference in my life, not only during my teen years, but throughout my adult life as well. As I’ve gotten older, my heart has broken as I’ve watched many beloved friends leave the church. When I think about what the difference between myself and them is, it’s most often that they lacked a personal relationship with the savior. When you have a strong personal relationship with your savior, all of the politics involved in church culture affect you less. You don’t get drowned by the loudness of outside voices because the voice that is clearest to you is the savior’s, as he testifies to you time and time again that you are strong, beautiful, capable, and worthy. As a teen, I was bullied and picked on, primarily by Mormon girls. I don’t think the religion had anything to do with that, I think that’s just how teenage girls operate and I happened to be surrounded by more Mormons teens than not. Do I wish that the girls in my ward would have been nicer to me? Yeah, of course. There are times when that would have made things a lot easier. Because of my lack of friends, church and seminary were never social things for me. The experiences I got out of church and church activities were spiritual ones, not social. I went to church to take the sacrament, learn more of Christ, and feel the spirit. Over time I did make some friends at church, but they were almost all younger than me. So be nice to the Beehives, your best friend could be in there! Outside of church, one of the things that I did to stay close to the savior was read my scriptures every day. I was diligent with this through junior high and high school. The only nights I skipped were Saturday nights because I usually stayed up so late that I would crash while watching Titanic for the 79th time (don’t judge). I would also read the New Era (I loved Mormon ads. You know, the really cheesy ones that make most people cringe? I had them hanging on my wall next to my *NSYNC posters), spend time with my family, and pray often. These are all things that helped prepare me to go through the temple and get my endowments later in life which was without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

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In August 2013, I had a little bit of a breakdown. I had spent the first part of the year counting calories and participating in a rigorous work-out schedule that included cardio and weight lifting. Though I was in the best physical shape of my life, I was still considered “plus size” by America’s standards, and was the heaviest of most all the girls around me. It was incredibly frustrating and disheartening. I have a medical condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, which in the simplest terms means I have elevated male hormones in me. It’s a real pain in the butt. Some of the side affects of this disease are high blood sugar, irregular and heavy periods, acne, and really severe pelvic pain. PCOS also makes it much harder to lose weight. I worked for nine months counting calories and exercising for an hour a day, and I was only able to lose 20 pounds. I’m not telling you all of this to make you feel sorry for me, I’m just trying to give you an idea of where I was at emotionally during this time in my life. I was extremely frustrated with my body. I was tired, I was bored of food and my workout routine. I felt like I had worked so hard and seen little payoff. It was maddening. Having struggled with my weight ever since I hit puberty, I had reached a point where I was over it. On top of that, I had gone on a few dates with this guy I had been set up with, and I thought it was going well. I thought he liked me. I was 29 and thinking that I had maybe finally found someone who liked me for who I was. It turned out I was wrong about him liking me, and my feelings were hurt. I wondered why Heavenly Father would put someone in my life at this age, if it wasn’t someone I was supposed to be with? What was the point? I was more physically, emotionally, and spiritually tired than I had ever been in my life. I remember one day after a work out, I sat on the couch and let a mosquito bite me in four different places on my body. I remember watching that little guy suck my blood and thinking in my head, “DO SOMETHING! MOVE! GET HIM OFF YOU!” but I physically couldn’t do anything but watch. Later that night I was in my room cleaning and texting with friends and feeling very sorry for myself. I finally fell to my knees and sobbed. In that moment, I felt so much sadness overcome me at once. I heard every mean word that was ever spoken about me echo in my head. I missed everyone I had ever known. I was hopeless. I didn’t know what was next for me. I didn’t know if I should move out of state or change jobs or what. I felt like I had done what I was supposed to do my whole life. I had made mistakes, of course, but I went to church, paid my tithing, read my scriptures. I was a good person. I was nice to people. And yet here I was, sobbing on my bedroom floor on a Wednesday night. Alone. Frustrated, I asked loudly to Heavenly Father, or to anyone who would listen, “What do you want me to do?? Where do you want me to go?” I got no response. I was devastated. My fears were confirmed: I was truly alone. I got up off the floor only because I had to. I had to keep going. Keep working. Keep moving. Even though I wanted so much to stop everything. I had to get up and move forward.

The very next Sunday, my bishop called me into his office. I was scared. I thought I was getting fired from teaching relief society. I had just given the lesson on sexual purity the week prior and was sure I had offended someone. “Oh great,” I thought to myself, “I can’t even teach relief society the right way.” I sat down in my bishop’s office. I was sweating. I couldn’t even look him in the eye. He didn’t say anything for a moment. I wondered what the meaning of all this was, why was I here? What did he want? If I was in trouble I wished he would say it already. But he didn’t. He didn’t even make small talk with me, he just asked me one question: “Have you ever thought about going through the temple?” I started crying, probably for no reason and for all the reasons. I told him that I had thought about it before, but I had always planned on getting my endowments when I got married. He looked at me and said simply, “I want you to think about doing it. Now.” He didn’t need to say more than that, because I knew right then that it was the answer to the question I had cried out a few days before. I was not alone. The Lord had heard me, and he had a plan for me. This is what he wanted me to do. I told my bishop that I didn’t need to think about it, I was ready to prepare to get my endowments on my own.

Two months later, I went through the temple and received my own endowments. I was nervous and overwhelmed. I felt unworthy in a lot of ways, but stronger than that feeling was the love that my heavenly father and savior have for me. I was so anxious and worried that I would feel unworthy when I walked through the doors, but I have never ever felt more deserving or worthy of something ever in my life. I went through the temple for the first time at 29, much later than most, but I did it exactly when I was supposed to. I had spent years of my adult life telling myself that I wasn’t worthy of the blessings of the temple, and in some ways, that I wasn’t worthy of my heavenly father’s love. That is a trick that the adversary uses on us, and it can be very damaging if we let it. The truth is, we are all undeserving of our Father’s blessings and love. But through the atonement of the savior, we can become worthy to receive all that our Father has in store for us. I encourage all of you to consult with the Lord about getting your own endowments, and testify to you that he will guide you to the time that is best for you. I am so glad that I went through the temple when I did. I did it for myself and not for any other reason other than it was my time. I love the temple so much. It is the one place on this earth where the veil between this side and the next is thinnest. Inside the temple I feel loved and special and strong and capable. Those are the kinds of feelings we should be feeling about ourselves outside of the temple as well, because we are loved, special, strong, and capable. We are all imperfect and broken in so many ways, but we can all be healed and made whole by the atonement and the specific love that comes from our heavenly father and savior Jesus Christ. It will take much longer than a day, a month, or years in most cases. I once read that it takes a saguaro cactus 75-100 years to grow one arm. Would you ever say that the arm is not worth growing if it takes that long? You wouldn’t, because the end result is beautiful. Whether we bloom in a day or a year or 75 years, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is that we keep ourselves growing. One of the wonderful things about this gospel is the knowledge that it brings us that we are a forever thing. We were not made for endings. When you think about your life that way, isn’t it wonderful? Doesn’t it open up endless possibilities for you? When you fall down, use the time on your knees to pray. And then get up knowing that you are worthy. Your future is bright. You will grow. I promise you this. You just need to give yourself time to blossom.

IMG_0062-1-e1466645115430Guest Post by Gabrielle Rush

Gabrielle is a writer/makeup artist/selfie queen who lives with her husband/best friend in Arizona, though she desperately wishes she lived in Disneyland.  She looks like an adult, but still sleeps with the TV on.  She believes in living a balanced life which is why she has salad for lunch and pizza for dinner. Her one regret in life is that she cannot pull off adult overalls. She used to write every day in a public blog but for now she is keeping her writing to herself. You can see pictures she takes (here).

Instagram: @gabrielledoes

Instagram: @gabrielle.rush

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