Every year, once a month, for as long as I can remember, the Ballif family congregates at one of my aunt’s houses and has family night. Each family takes turns sharing a thought, and its about as Ballif as it gets. There’s a chaos of kids running around, sometimes dogs barking, good food everywhere, and 40 plus people all crammed together in one place. I love it. I don’t get to attend all of them anymore, but this month, I was really grateful that we were in town to go.
My cousin Jenn shared a really special experience she had this year. Her dad, my Uncle Jeff, would pick a theme for the year and make wristbands for the family as a daily reminder of that theme or focus. Losing my Uncle Jeff this past year has been pretty definitive for the whole Ballif family, I think. I wouldn’t say it is our grief that defines us, though. It’s the experiences with the Savior. It is the legacy we share from having all known and loved a person so good. It’s the difficulty and the heartbreak and the gratitude and the whole thing. It’s part of who we are now.
Without sharing a story that really isn’t mine to share, I’ll say only that as she glanced at her wristband with the previous year’s theme, she knew very clearly that she needed to pick a new theme for the new year. Jenn was reluctant at first because she didn’t want a new theme, she wanted her dad’s theme. But being who she is, she listened and submitted and picked a new theme. Listening to my beautiful cousin talk about her experience, I felt a lot of admiration, love, and pride swell up that we are family. She is just about the most kick-butt individual that I think there is, and I hope I am half the person my brave and beautiful cousins are when I grow up.
Being that half my major is Community Health, I think and talk about basics a lot. And seeing that wristband reminder to elevate the basics and also remembering the source makes me think. When we go through trials, experience grief, loss, or struggle, we have to slow down and remember the basics. The basics to survival, the basics to our functionality or health.
The WHO (World Health Organization) defines health as the state of complete mental, physical, and social well-being – not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. My health textbook last semester defined health to include not only mental, physical, and social health, but also emotional, spiritual, and intellectual.
Thinking about basics, I think about health as the condition of your soul — the state of your spirit. The exact one God put inside you that makes you, you. I believe that we progress through life and uncover, recognize, and release that spirit more and more, but that potential, purpose, and goodness are already there, waiting to be unlocked and added upon as we travel through life and learn its lessons.
A good chunk of my life, I’ve felt disorganized. Never stupid, but schoolwork and staying organized was a struggle and focus/finishing tasks was a big struggle. I remember being at the doctor one day (probably for strep. Sorry, Mom. I was a strep-a-holic) in elementary school and reading a pamphlet about A.D.D. while we waited. I remember answering yes to every single question and being nervous to tell my mom because I didn’t want to go on medication. I remember thinking that I liked my personality and didn’t want it to change! I also remember my mom being incredibly patient with me and being aware of the struggles I had, but also never expecting less of me. She always understood the challenge and still believed I could perform extremely well.
And truthfully, she was right. Thank goodness for moms, am I right? Every year of school became easier and easier, and I learned to manage things much better. However, even after living and teaching school in a foreign country, I had never felt really, really secure and balanced until I was on my mission. I felt like I was able to do things I had never done before, and like something was unlocked, and I finally saw and used my full potential. Never had I felt so in touch with my Shelby-ness – like the little spirit inside me that makes me, me and allows me to do what I need to do in this world.
And you know why? My basics were covered. Heavenly Father made sure. He set it up perfectly. My physical needs were met. Every morning I exercised and made sure my body was strong (definitely not a certain weight or size because people were VERY generous meeting my eating needs…) My body felt alive and could do exactly what I needed it to do. My social health was provided for because I had an interpersonal network where I could feel connection, and because I was moving outside my comfort zone daily, I was able to connect, learn from, and love a more diverse social group. I was challenged by different ideas and learned new ways of thinking, and saw the world through many different lenses. I was better for that diversity. That spilled over into how I felt intellectually. I was also setting goals and making clear/responsible decisions on the daily rather than kind of fudging my way through things. I was checking my choices with God and that made them clear enough that I didn’t have to worry how people perceived them or felt about them, because I knew how He did.
Emotionally, I had the ability to express emotions and maintain a level of self-confidence. I was making myself vulnerable every day sharing what was most important to me with both strangers and my companion, and I had to trust people with that. Spiritually, I obviously had a sense of meaning and purpose in my life every moment of every day. Environmentally, I was living in a clean, if humble, space and had great appreciation for my environment, especially seeing the living circumstances of some we would meet and visit. Things were not easy – life is not easy, but I was equipped to experience and appreciate it fully. My spirit was happy.
Missionary life is really basic, but all the basics were elevated. While prayer, scripture study, temple and church attendance were my most important basics, there were rules concerning every single other aspect of my health. Why? Because it contributed to my ability to feel and respond to prayer, the scriptures, the Spirit. Every part of health is your spiritual health, I think. And because of that (because of His plan!) in those 18 months, I accomplished things I never knew I could, and helped others like I hope my Savior would.
Coming home from my mission, I really struggled to adjust. And we could go on and on about the hot mess that was, but I’ll boil it down to this main thing: I forgot how interconnected ALL the basics are, how much physical, emotional, mental basics affect my spiritual basics like quality prayer and scripture study. I tried to function on four or five hours of sleep, I tried to focus only on making others happy and ignoring my own feelings, I tried counting a granola bar as lunch, etc. I expected myself to continue to be able to serve the Lord in this extraordinary capacity, and I burned out. I felt like my needs weren’t being met, yet I felt selfish to be thinking about myself and my basics when I wanted to just continue serving others. What that created was a vicious cycle of being hard on myself and not experiencing the full potential of my mortal experience.
There is kind of a stigma, especially surrounding women, I think, that if you want to be a good person, a faithful person, someone doing good in the world, you have to think less of yourself. Like you have to be this sort of martyr – to be a good mom, to fulfill a calling, to be a kind wife or a good friend. While I think the people who do the most good think of themselves less, I know that they aren’t thinking less of themselves or their needs. Rather, they understand their basic needs, meet them, build on them, and can then focus on building others. The main reason I wanted to get these thoughts down is this: You can’t draw from an empty well, people. You can’t draw strength for others when your own basic needs aren’t being met. Now please don’t misunderstand. I believe in making sacrifices for others. I believe in doing all we can to uplift and care for God’s children.
BUT. I believe I am one of them. I hope you believe you are, too.
I didn’t fully understand that for some reason. I used to think that view of service and need and nourishment applied to every single other person, yet somehow excluded me if I wanted to do good. But if I could say one thing, it’s this. Don’t be afraid to take care of you first. Just like I couldn’t convert anyone beyond my own conversion on my mission, I can’t show true love or joy for others if I am not feeling love and joy within myself. I can’t do anything for anyone if I haven’t fed and nourished the Spirit God gave me to do so.
My New Years Resolutions this year revolve around these six aspects of health, and they are big goals. Every week, Code and I sit down together and make little weekly goals to reach the big ones. And I can’t tell you the difference I have felt, nor the connection and peace I feel with me, with my spirit. And I’m not perfect at balancing all basics, and chances are, I won’t be in this life. I think that’s why we learn that the invitation to become perfect in this life actually means to become “complete,” and we won’t be fully complete in this life – we can only strive. To be completely healthy, to be completely connected. And we should!
So in closing, this. It’s nothing groundbreaking, you’ve heard it before, but it’s true. I’m not your mother, but you deserve to feel the strength of who you are as a child of God. Take care of yourself, dangit. It’s not selfish. It’s a basic human need! You have a something inside you that pops and crackles like fire – a flame you should feed. Something that will ignite potential in others — a unique light that really and truly, no matter who you are, will leave the world better than when you found it.
Heavenly Father wants you, for the sake of who you divinely are — for the sake of that spirit inside you, to elevate the basics.
So take care of your body – be really nice to it, not because it’s a certain weight or a certain size, but because it can change and become stronger and allows you to experience life. Do one thing every week that takes you outside your social comfort zone (hi, every time I share one of these little posts). Trust in Heavenly Father, and trust in your connection to the Spirit. Make decisions! Learn and stretch your mind with books, travel, new experiences, and good conversation. Say what’s on your heart and believe that your heart is an important thing to offer.
TREAT yo’ self. But really. Do.