Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cut Me Back, I'll Grow Again

By Carolina Sagebin Allen, Founder of Big Ocean Women

Cut Me Back, I'll Grow Again

My son once told me, "Mom ... you are like grass."
"Hmm?" I asked him casually.
He replied thoughtfully, "Well, I read in a book that after a forest fire, when everything's been burned to a crisp, grass is the first thing to grow back."

I stopped what I was doing and really looked at him.

"Ya." he said, "It uses all of the nutrients left from the ashes. It uses them up and grows right back again, bright and green. It feeds the rest of the forest animals and slowly life comes back to the forest."

I can picture the day he spoke these powerful words to me, with his sincere eyes and thoughtful demeanor. I remember being in the kitchen drying dishes. I had had a challenging few days and had cried myself to sleep the night before. My son lifted me up that day. It was a gift from God. I will never forget the day I was paid the most honorable compliment of my life.

In moments of despair and deep sorrow, when I feel the burden weigh heavy on my back, I first get on my knees in prayer to God Almighty, and then think of my son and his healing words. 

I imagine the tiny stirrings of of an infinitesimal green shoot making it's way up through the ashes ever so quietly. I am like the green grass. Cut me back, and I'll grow again. Burn me down, and I'll use the leftovers and grow back greener and stronger.

This is Faith. Faith is hope and consistent resilience. 

We all get burned down from time to time, but we must sprout back up! The heat of the fire will unlock our powerful qualities and our faith will continue pushing up from the rich soil of tribulation. We can choose this. We can choose to heal, we can choose life.

To my countless friends spanning across the big ocean. All of us mothers, and life-affirming sisters out there, keep using the rich soil of tribulation to your endless advantage! All people at some point or another get burned and cut down. It is the inevitable course of things. However, it is in the beautiful struggle that we must continue to grow back again and again. Ever so brighter, greener, and lively. Always with the intent to share, give, nourish, and contribute to more life. 

These are the great moments of triumph, with no onlookers to perceive our victories save the grand view from the heaven above. It is what we do. This is our greatest legacy. We transform death and despair into rich life again. One women's life-affirming choice can revive a barren wasteland. A choice we make for the children who cling to our skirts calling us "mom", "aunty", or "grandmother".  You, our collective children, are our hope and our glory. Our greatest power lies within you, our seeds.

Monday, February 23, 2015

How are women changing the world everyday?

By Carolina Sagebin Allen, Big Ocean Founder

The Big Ocean in 3 parts:

Part 1:

Moana  Means "Ocean"

When my sister- in-law Moana passed away in March of 2012, my husband and I flew to Oahu for her funeral. Never before had I seen such an outpouring of love and respect. It seemed like everyone in Lai'e was in attendance. Many shared countless stories of her behind-the-scenes acts of love and compassion. We learned that she had once talked a fellow out of suicide. She had spent years volunteering at a rest home and a youth club after working two back to back jobs. One person even shared that Moana had given away her car and only mode of transportation so his family would not lose their home.  As a returned proselyting missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, she helped countless youth fill out their missionary paperwork and encouraged them to serve missions when no one else in their family would.

              Moana Allen                                                      Moana Allen as a missionary

Moana was a strong Polynesian woman. She was enthusiastic and humorous. She was bold in sharing her faith. She was generous with her time and love. She consistently served and lived the true spirit of Aloha. Although she was never married or had the opportunity to bear children of her own, she nurtured her entire community. She was dedicated and involved in building and uplifting everyone she came in contact with. Moana Allen loved unconditionally. For me she was the quintessential example of a powerful and influential woman. She was like a mother to Lai'e. But after a hard fought battle with cancer, she passed away.

The day of her funeral, a group of 7-8 of some of the fiercest-looking men I have ever seen walked into the services. They were physically massive and had a warrior-like presence about them. They walked around together in what seemed like a pack. There was talk that they were from Waianae, one of the roughest parts of Oahu. Just before the funeral procession began and the pallbearers were about to take the casket, these men silently walked to the front of the crowd onto a clearing on the grass for all to see. There was an audible silence, and what they did next is something I will never forget.

All of them began the fierce Haka dance as a tribute to Moana. They chanted the  Maori war cry that seemed to shake the very ground we were standing on. Their body language and posturing was powerful and gut wrenching. Their sadness seemed to echo throughout the quiet streets of Lai'e. I will never forget the strength of their dance and their cries. I have witnessed many Haka dances, but this one was the most passionate I have ever seen. It was a dance of loss, of utter masculine power mingled with deep heartache and loss. I will never forget the sight of these warriors weeping for their fallen sister. That scene will forever remain in my mind as a tribute of the highest level.

Later we found out that Moana had been their seminary teacher and choir director. She was deeply involved in their lives. She would drive to Waianae and teach them as a youth about Jesus Christ and His gospel. Her life had created tremendous change in theirs. The meanest, baddest men wept openly as they danced one last time for Moana.

After the funeral and family gatherings, I found myself slip away to gaze out at the the Ocean early one morning. The loss of Moana had compacted my previous feelings concerning female power and influence. For some time I had been yearning for a philosophical home that would rightly express what laid deep in my heart. The following is an experience I had in contemplation of Moana's life, and the influence that I, too could have in the world.

Part 2: 

By the Oceanside

The sun was beginning to stream through the horizon as I meandered barefoot along the edge where the sand soaked up the white ocean foam. Upon reaching a cluster of small black boulders, I climbed atop the nearest barnacle-encrusted rock and looked out. The vastness of the grand and mighty ocean was breathtaking! Mile upon mile of clear-blue water stretched into the horizon as far as my eyes could see. Contemplative wisdom began to sooth me like the warmth of the sunlight on my face.

I felt all unsettled thoughts and feelings escape me as I listened in stillness. The words “water" and "waves" surfaced in my mind. I watched intently as the persistent and gentle waves shaped and etched their stories upon the face of the massive rock. "Time.” It must have taken a lifetime of dedicated waves washing over the rough edges to slick-down the underbelly of the rock. Small wave after small wave, the collective efforts of the grand and mighty ocean had molded and shaped that rock until it glistened and shone deep black in the water.
My mind turned to the magnitude and frequency of the waves. I began to wonder what would happen to the rock if a large and torrential wave were to crash upon it one day? How would the shaping take effect? Would the rock be refined in the same careful way? What about a tsunami-sized wave? Could the shaping even take place, or would the boulder be removed from its place entirely?

Sporadic tsunami waves are destructive. They are a reaction to underground violence of tectonic plates in commotion. The giant wave is acted upon by this aggressive source and in turn is likewise violent. The powerful wall of agitated water grows to catastrophic proportions and obliterates the landscape.

As I looked out at the vast body of water, I realized that its collective power had been changing the landscape for millennia, one individual wave at a time. These seemingly small waves were powerful in their own right because they were creating harmonious change everyday. I realized that these peaceful waves were being guided by celestial bodies, the gravitational pull of the moon and regional trade winds. Their motion was also in harmony with the strong undercurrents deep below their surface.

All waves belong to the ocean and there is great power in both large and small because each type creates change. It was clear to me however, that the latter bore sustainable change that preserves life, whereas the prior did not. The polishing and refining, molding and shaping power in the smaller waves was deeply creative, affirming entire ecosystems and marine life. I realized that the individual energy output of a subtler wave may seem small, but as a collective whole, its energy output is infinitely powerful.

As I stood upon the rock and looked out, I saw my daily actions in a new light. Like so many small waves, my life reflected the ebb and flow of significant and beautiful contributions. My life was in alliance with the big ocean itself and my daily toiling and work as a mother and nurturer was deeply life-affirming and grand. The creative change and impact we make as a collective whole is not small, rather it is profound and generational. I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude for my place in the big ocean because I knew I was a part of something truly powerful. I thought about my many friends in all different parts of the world, women that I so admired and respected. They too were in alliance with this vast movement of change. I felt an unparalleled kinship to past women-nurtures because they were  like those deep undercurrents that move us still today. We have all been doing good in our own unique ways since the beginning of time. Water is symbolically female because water is peace and water gives life, and this is tremendously powerful!

With my feet firmly planted on that rock, its solid face in juxtaposition to the fluid water, the two archetypal elements side by side made intuitive sense to me. As I stood their beholding God’s creations, I knew in my spirit  that women and men's unique differences complimented each other in the highest sense. These feelings weren't casual stereotypes, but rather eternal archetypal truths that needed no explanation. I saw both elements as interconnected and working in harmony.

That early morning as I beheld the ocean, my place and power in the world had been presented, and it was beautiful.

Part 3:

Big Ocean, a Women's Movement

What is the upshot of it all? Power. What type of power? Internal power. From my experience with Moana and with the small ocean waves, internal power creates powerful and lasting external change over time.  Like Moana, the most powerful person will harness and cultivate goodness, which will then begin to positively change the lives of others. Ofttimes we don't qualify what kind of change. Internal or external change? Sustainable or temporary change? In an increasingly impatient world of instant gratification, change is seen as something immediate and drastic. However, the most effective and sustainable change has been and always will be internal changes that stem from within. True and lasting power is rooted in service, selflessness, virtue, and compassion. These internal characteristics of goodwill harness internal power and consequently create positive life-affirming change that gradually flows outwardly impacts the external. One individual, one small wave, can affect a family, a community, a nation, and generations into the future. This is creative power. This is sustainable change.

Upon coming home, I felt a need to share my experience and establish a philosophical home rooted in this knowledge. I felt that for me, a woman and a mother, my archetypal uniqueness needed to be celebrated. This experience led me to question the status quo egalitarian foundation of modern feminism that seemed to so frequently bleed over into an ambiguous philosophical sameness. I was tired of the oppression-based flavor of egalitarian feminism that was endlessly at odds with the “patriarchy.” It was clear to me that the ocean and the land are essentially different elements which needn't be incessantly compared as negatives because both are mighty in their own unique ways. Both are necessarily and positively different. For me, there had to be something more out there, a bigger philosophical home founded upon this intuitive knowledge.

Upon coming home I stumbled on Dr. Christiana Hoff Sommers' work. It was remarkable for me to hear her outline two historical veins of feminism: egalitarian feminism, as well as what she describes "the long lost continent"of maternal feminism. According to Sommers, the maternal feminists of their time, women like Hannah More and Francis Willard, were revolutionaries that embraced their femaleness and femininity. Through expanding their maternal empowerment in behalf of home and family, they unified countless other women to do the same. Their feminism met women where they were. It spoke to them internally and encouraged them to grow their sphere of influence for the betterment of society. Like small waves identifying as an ocean, these women shaped their landscape effectively. They were the driving success in the temperance, suffragist, and pacifist movements.

I always knew there was a lost continent somewhere! Having a name to what I felt must be out there has meant a great deal to me. It has given me a framework from which to build a philosophical revival of maternal feminism today;  that's what Big Ocean Women is all about. We aren't just another wave of feminism, we are the countless women who have protected and safeguarded home and family from the dawn of time. It is an archetypal reality that we embrace. We are a grassroots collective of interfaith and international empowered mothers and mothers-at-heart. We are gathering our efforts in behalf of our children and families and sustainable and peaceful societies. Far too many corrosive social policies are being made that have direct impact over our sphere of influence. As we gather together our presence and influence will expand to make the creative changes that can grow goodness. Because we are life-affirming, we will not stand idly by as destructive changes take place (such as in national and international policies). We wish to highlight to the world that the internal power that we cultivate is indeed tremendously powerful, and what we do everyday within the walls of our homes is deeply valuable. We are united with women from all parts of the world that care, safeguard, protect, and sacrifice.

Our foundational pillars are: 

1.) We believe in God and are women of Faith. For many of us worldwide women. We believe in a higher power. It is what gives us our internal strength and courage as we face life's challenges. It is an integral part of our identity and it is powerful.

2.) We  embrace our life-affirming biology. To be a female means that we we have a unique and powerful life affirming anatomy. We celebrate this.

3.) We are each unique and innately worthy of respect. Every individual is worthwhile and special.
4.) We seek after wisdom and knowledge. We have each been endowed with an internal compass that when used can magnify our wisdom and knowledge for the good of humanity.
5.) We have the freedom to choose, and choose wisely. The freedom to choose is inalienable. We choose life-affirming and non-violent paths.
6.) We reach out and serve others in need. We are the innate healers of suffering, and do so with great compassion.
7.) We follow our conscience with integrity. We speak truth amidst confusion and  we follow our intuitions with faith and confidence.

8.) We cultivate wholeness and harness our creative power. Our virtue is priceless and we guard and cultivate our wholeness.

The solutions we are seeking lie within each of us. Every wave that washes up on shore  is unique and so very needed. Our different life stories hold within them specific solutions and ideas that will grow goodness. By focusing on our families and children, we are healing the world one wave at a time, together.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Redefining the Word: Cultivating a Spiritually-Infused Feminism

By Carolina Sagebin Allen, Big Ocean Women Founder

From a young age I felt in my bones I was part of a vast ocean of women who had something unique and valuable to offer the world. Instinctively, I felt that being a girl was something special because I knew I was a daughter of God.

When I heard the term "feminism" as a youth, I claimed it. I liked the word; it spoke of my female power and influence. In my mind, feminism was spiritually infused. It had little to do with "sameness" and everything to do with "uniqueness." To me, women were inherently powerful, independent of external factors.

Throughout the years, I had cultivated this concept of feminism, what I like to think of as 'true feminism.'  Because of this identity, the framework of oppression and disadvantage was foreign to me. Rather, I was lifted up, edified and strengthened. I was confident I could lift others because of the understanding that God’s power naturally rushed within me.

As time passed, I had no serious cause to doubt my true feminism. It suited me well. I felt it deep in my heart as I maneuvered through college as a philosophy major, as I served in leadership capacities throughout the years, and most especially as a wife and mother. That is, until my very sobering and life-changing experience at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women last March.

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), focuses on women's issues internationally. At this council, critical language within the negotiated UN documents are altered and redefined. Over time, many words begin taking precedent as countries create their domestic laws around such language. This is "international customary law." UN treaties can be legally binding too, like The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In these cases the country signs on to these UN treaties and decides to honor them (the U.S. Constitution states that all legally implemented treaties become the law of the land).

In other words, the language adopted in these negotiations have the power to affect families throughout the world! So, when I was offered an opportunity to attend this important event through a pro-family organization, I jumped on board!

While there, however, I witnessed the workings and dealings of many who claimed the word 'feminist.' They essentially ran the show, pushing policies that grossly undermined many religious and family centered cultures of the world. They worked overtime warping provisions concerning life, motherhood, children, families, and marriage. Many pro-family countries endured bullying and intimidation.

On one occasion, an organized group of women stood in protest of "religious fundamentalists" (a term they have subscribed to many God-fearing people of faith). They lined up in the main plaza of the UN building and strapped on their masks that read, "Silence the religious fundamentalists!” The masks were big red lips that covered half of their faces. Many nations whose cultures are deeply religious witnessed this intimidation. Their media team followed them around snapping picture after picture. Later, they inundated social media with images from the protest and were applauded by their coordinated supporters. Some of us watching did our best to counter with positive comments regarding people of faith. However, their side was well organized and they took over the dialogue.

Our children's educations were also being negotiated there. The new "cutting edge" of social change now revolves around "child sexual rights." Year after year, children's legal ages of sexual consent and sexual debut are systematically lowered by these policies. The "Comprehensive Sexuality Education" (extreme sexual indoctrination for school-aged children) is already underway in the United States, Canada and many other countries. There has also been the consistent shift to replace the term "Maternal Healthcare" to "Reproductive Health Care," which changes the focus from maternal/fetal heath to abortion. The word and concept of "motherhood" is all but being eliminated in documents.

At the United Nations, I had witnessed a moral tsunami at work. It was as if a colossal wall of debris-filled water had heaved itself beyond its bounds, its toxicity pummeling the nations of the world. I saw the power these radical feminist groups wielded, and grievously watched in silence as they influenced policies that would eventually have direct impact on my children.

I felt powerless and helpless. I felt as though my personal feminism failed because it was just that---personal.  It was alone, isolated inside me. I felt like a miniscule wave compared to the massive tsunami. I ached for a group that I could stand with. I knew in my gut that sharing my small voice was a start, and finding women who felt the same way was the answer.

The day of that protest, I vowed I would return to that very spot with a massive representation of women like me. But upon coming home I struggled to know under what banner was this to be accomplished? Ever since my UN visit, the word "feminism" had become indescribably bitter. I found myself saying, "Who needs feminism anyway? I know who I am! Let them have it!”  I considered other words. I researched and got in touch with leading "womanists," yet theirs was a theoretical philosophy, and didn't yield the kind of practical power necessary to influence policies. I learned more about the 'Feminists for Life' group that opposed abortion, yet as much as I believed in their cause, I felt there was a broader influence to attain, and a different approach in attaining it.

The image in my mind was of women that would inspire rather than demand. I pictured life-affirming exemplars leading the world in faithful, peaceful, and happy ways. I searched for a word that would have the scope and breadth of righteous power in the female sphere. I looked, but all I found were fragmented groups of women's organizations, all wonderful, but not having the influence I felt was needed.

One day, feeling defeated and broken, I knelt down in prayer. Sobbing, I pleaded with the Lord for guidance. This was important because this was the key to protecting all that was dear to me! I thought of the bullied countries of the world standing in defense of truth.  I thought of women and mothers around the world in need of a true sisterhood. I thought of my children. What would the future look like for us all?  I needed help in order to help!

It was then that I began to feel peace, and the tiny flicker of my childhood feminism resurfaced. The distinct thought entered my mind, "Words are powerful things, Carolina! Don't give up! It's your word!"  Words are ideas that inspire actions! They are labels that can potentially identify, unify, and gather in behalf of change.  Amidst my tears, it became clear to me that what started as a corruption of the female sphere was now corroding words like "family", "mother", "father", "marriage", and the like. The strong impression came to me that when we redefine and restore feminism, we will be perfectly positioned to take back these words.

Eliza R. Snow

Upon closing my prayer, I was reminded of the early Relief Society exemplars and recalled Eliza R. Snows' statement, "If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least [limited] in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed." (Daughters in My Kingdom, Chapter 4). Never had I felt so grateful to past and present Relief Society leaders, and the good brethren of the Priesthood who have always sought to encourage and support! Never had such words comforted me!  As I got up off my knees, my tears of defeat turned into tears of gratitude. I understood that we are the peaceful, happy, purposeful, sisterhood of action! We are covenant women endowed with truth and power!

With this realization my feelings of doubt and helplessness were replaced with a whirlwind of ideas. What if women of many faiths joined in a vast sisterhood that influenced and played an active representative role in protecting our children and families nationally and internationally? What if life-affirming women everywhere reclaimed true feminism as 'the power of the female sphere in increasing worldwide goodness and relief'? Now THAT would be something indeed!

These experiences have lead me to believe that the righteous and peaceful women of this Earth set the standard on lasting power and influence! Power in the female sphere was first given to our great mother Eve, the fearless and life-preserving mother of all living. Hers was the feminism of peace, compassion, and deep faith. Women of the world who embrace such God given attributes are the true feminists.

Egalitarian driven undercurrents are a mere means to an end, and that end is power. However we already have power! It is within us. Our scope and outreach is inter-generational. Like peaceful waves that consistently shape and etch our stories upon the landscape, the power of those persistent waves over time far outweighs the destructive force of isolated tsunami’s.

President Spencer W. Kimball prophetically declared:

My dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way.  Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the church are seen as distinct and different―in happy ways―from the women of the world…Thus it will be that female exemplars of the church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the church in the last days ... your talents and spiritual strength are so desperately needed. (The Role of Righteous Women, Ensign, October 1979).

I have come to the conclusion that the origin of the word "feminism" is mine, and I won't give it up. Since my trip to the CSW, I have come home with a renewed purpose. I feel deeply that the time has come to stand united, upright, shining like beacons, especially in the darkest of places. The knowledge that women are mothers of all living, and that we are indeed co-creators with the very God that created us, is a truth that all women must have access to. When we know this truth, nothing will internally oppress. And when that happens we will influence and inspire changes in external oppression. I am certain that now is the time to gather in defense of our children and families. As we do this, we will have great opportunities to open our mouths and proclaim to the world:

We are powerful in our nonviolent nurturing ways. We are strong because we serve and willingly share one another's burdens. We are courageous because we stand for truth amidst confusion. We are the answer to the world’s problems because we are inherent healers of suffering. We carry the capacity for these gifts in our very DNA, and we pass on these gifts throughout space and time. This is the power of the female. This is feminism.