Turn Away From the Light…A Dark Invitation

DSC_5081

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon

And if there is no room upon the hill

And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too

I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon

-Pink Floyd-

I got bitch-slapped on Facebook last week.  I was in one of those on-going, soul draining never-gonna-go-anywhere heated discussions with someone I am FB friends with,  regarding LGBT rights.

—Deep Breath—

Every once in a while, I am deeply triggered by this whole equality thing, particularly when the perpetrators of righteous discrimination are centered in my cultural roots.  So I found myself upset and riled up. At the end of the evening, a stranger stepped in, and basically called me an agent of darkness.  She urged her friend to ignore any and all things that upset her, and to step out of the darkness (me) and only focus on the light.  It was a huge bitch-slap moment for me, and I thank her for it.  It stung, as those moments do, but it brought me right to awareness of why I felt so triggered.

And it has everything to do with the dark.

There has been many times of struggle in my life when my father has told me this beautiful metaphor.  He talks about how the Self is an ancient holy temple, filled with rooms.  Some have windows and sunlight, and we allow people to come into those places.   But inside each temple there are also windowless rooms, places that sit dark and locked up.  There is one room at the center, the inner most sanctuary, called “the holy of holies.” It is the center of the temple, and of Self, where we store our most secret and dark parts of who we are.  It takes courage to open the door to these dark places, shine a light inside, and find out what we have stored there.

I have always loved this metaphor, as it validates a deep yearning in me, and makes me feel brave.  Because I am a person who wants to look inside those places.  And see what is there, to name it, to own it.  It has been my personal quest, to become more aware, more conscious.  My drive to peer into the dark was emphasized enormously by becoming a mother, and leaving my religion.  I have been bravely opening those doors and peering inside, flashlight in hand, an act that directly defies the teaching to “only be in the light.”

What I have found there has been… unpleasant.  All my darkest thoughts.  My ugliest feelings.  Monstrous and powerful fears that I thought were gone, but were just tucked away in hiding.

The opening of those rooms has sent me deep into depression.  Riddled me with anxiety.  Caused terrible, tear-filled clashes with people I love most.

I am realizing now that this temple story has to change a bit.  I have been at war with my darkness. There are hard and unpleasant emotions stored there… jealousy, anger, selfishness, immaturity, bitterness, loathing, rage, unbelievable sadness.  No one wants to feel those.  No one wants to see those stored up in their innermost spaces.  Shining a light in there has made me feel tremendously ashamed and panicked to the point of blindness.

We are so conditioned to keep ourselves in the light. To be scared of the dark. To run from the “bad emotions” and deny they exist at all. In the culture I was raised in, this teaching is so powerful, people are encouraged to never read anything that opposes their point of view, or makes them feel uncomfortable.  To never allow someone to challenge their ideas or discuss things that bring fear or uncertainty.  There are good feelings, and bad feelings, and people are supposed to avoid those bad feelings.

AT ALL COSTS.

And the costs are untold.   We are denying ourselves.  We are cut off from who we really are.  The whole range of human emotions must be acknowledged in order to experience what we all long for as human beings… love and belonging and meaningful connection.  To ignore/deny/negate/make taboo all of our human emotions that are not joyful and uplifting is devastating.  Either we become so cut off from ourselves, we feel depressed and hollow, or we label every “dark” emotion as “bad” and become crippled with self-loathing and guilt for our humanness…. and judgmental of everything.

What I am starting to understand, is that I don’t need to shine a light in my dark places.  I need to open the door, step into the darkness, take a seat, and get to know it.  Welcome all of my Self to exist and be acknowledged.  When I enter these dark places, I now work to become fully present.  A terrifying endeavor after a lifetime of fighting against these unpleasant emotions.  I sit, and step into my body.  Draining my mind, which is constantly operating in the past or the future, and bring full awareness to my body.  Attention to the physical sensations forces me into the present moment.  I notice how frustration makes my throat throb, and anger makes me hands clench and my stomach burn.   I feel how shame makes my toes curl and my eyes close and my body collapse in on itself.  Rather than deny it or fight it, I just acknowledge that it is there, inside of me.  Manifesting in ways that I was  unconscious of before.  These dark emotions are asking for allowance.  The awareness gives it permission to be there, and I am finding that once permission is given, the intensity of the emotion dramatically drops, but it doesn’t disappear.

Following the recognition, comes a question.

“What do you need?”  

The idea that I should welcome these emotions has changed me.  I have been spinning and sinking in a deep swamp of self loathing, feeling that I only had two choices:

1. to completely deny the existence of the dark.

2. willfully explore the dark rooms, condemn the darkness as bad, and fight like hell.

There is another way.  Radical Self-Acceptance.  Which begins by understanding that those scary places have something to say.  When I give it a voice, and permission to exist, I am finding that there is not a good and bad, just wholeness.

A person.

As I begin to sit in my dark rooms in welcome rather than judgement, I realize the scope of this practice. As a mother of three girls…being capable of modeling self acceptance, showing them how to love themselves, to feel welcome in every room, embody all of the human parts, not just the light ones.  Their beauty lives in the dark places too.

There is a reason the innermost sanctuary, the holiest of holies, is a perfectly dark room.

The most sacred work is done in the dark.  The answers to the simple question,  “What do you need?”   are the real reasons we are here.

The Painful Distinction of Doing and Being

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 8.47.42 PM

*Image credit:  Gardner Edmunds

It’s December 17th today, I am sitting in my office (the Panera Bread location) and enjoying the high of just mailing the last of my christmas gifts.  It’s a short-lived high. My to do list, is still a thick, itchy, wool scarf… wrapped entirely too tightly around my neck.

I don’t have time to be writing this.  But, if you are a follower of mine, you might recognize that I seem to NEVER have time for this anymore.  And there, my dears, is a dilemma.  Because much to my dismay, I have a lot of complicated needs to keep me from diving into a pit of despair and self-flagellation.

Two most important: I must exercise regularly.  And I must write things…to download these emotions that pile up like the mountain of mail order catalogues that are swallowing my kitchen table.

The real thing I should be doing right NOW, is writing a paper.  A  six page reflective essay  relating to a book about development of the western mind since Zeus ruled the heavens. An essay, due today, on “the identification and interpretation of personal beliefs that influence the creation of meaning in your life.”

Can’t I just turn in a link to my blog instead?  It is ridiculous that this assignment has me hand-wringing, since I have thought of little else in my life over the last ten years.  In addition to grocery lists and christmas cards and the fact that I am still wearing toenail polish put on my toes in August, my brain is mostly occupied with huge, all-encompassing things like GOD.  And Guilt.  And Spirit.  And Shame.  And Worthiness.  And Judgement.  And Redemption.  And Soul-Crushing Inadequacy.

-Deep Breath-

Here is the thing, about my personal beliefs.  And how they affect my daily life…  This mess, that I need to neatly roll into a beautiful, personal, reflective, six page, double spaced essay:

First, an internal audit of my beliefs.  And, I find an overwhelming recognition that the toxic, corrosive, divisive, emotionally blackmailing, schizophrenic, mainstream religious cult that me and five generations of people I love have  been marinating in… is still offering me plentiful chances to learn forgiveness and acceptance and self compassion.

It has been ten years of really hard work, to unravel so much of the control the religious training had over my life.  Like a comically long and preposterous to do list, I have taken care of obvious ones, like wearing the kind of underwear I want to, and the not so obvious ones, like redefining my feelings about sex and morality. Throwing out the devastating metaphors of girls being a “licked cupcake” or “Already Chewed Gum” when they decide to become sexual beings has been a serious chore.

It has been almost ten years of liberation and excavation.  Now, I am free to have a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, wear a tank top, drop the F bomb, watch a rated R movie, buy a bag of apples on sunday or read a book about anything I wish.   And I can do those things without guilt!  I now know that strong families and sincere love and limitless joy and unfathomable generosity exist outside of mormon life.

I can watch clips like this one, and see men I was taught were infallible prophets to revere and to digest their words as God’s words, and finally hear the controlling patriarchal rhetoric and the dark stream of damage that runs through the doctrines and teachings of the faith I was born in, those things I had once taught and defended as Truth.  I have ferociously fought off ingrained belief that my only purpose in this life is to be a support for my husband, and bear children and be obedient to men who know better than I.  I have had to challenge myself to rethink what it means to love someone, what the difference is between faith and magic, how to draw appropriate boundaries for myself and my children.

Much of the DOING is DONE.  There is not much left to DO, when it comes to creating concrete distance between myself and the LDS religion.  So imagine the rude awakening I have had, when I came to the end of that to do list and unwrapped that itchy scarf, ready to breathe freely and be done with the Deprogram the Mormonism Program, and find that the really painful damage, the deepest, darkest wounds… were underneath the all that doing.  The unwrapping has revealed what is left…. raw and dangerous emotion.

Over the past ten years, I have also been busy discovering and declaring what it is I believe.  It has been exhilarating and freeing and I have felt relief and unimaginable joy in the self discovery.

Every human being has inherent worth.  Worthiness is implicit.

There is nothing to prove.

There is nothing to earn.

What happens after this life is NONE OF MY BUSINESS.

The purpose of my life is to practice living each moment in the present.

I am adequate.

Every person longs to be seen and heard.

Good and evil are judgments.  There is only fear and love.

Staying OPEN is the only goal.

Being CLOSED is part of the process.  I will be open to that too.

There is no need to define the Divine.

These things I can comfortably and passionately declare as my belief system.  My list has been scrubbed free from the doctrine I was immersed in since birth. The trouble is, now that the doing has been done, when I look at myself in the mirror, there is still the mormon girl staring back.  

The doing has not created the being.

The act of writing those words sends pain rushing up to my throat like hot bile.  It threatens to expose me.   It is the recognition that the actions taken over the last decade, as terrifying and disorienting and inspiring as they have been, have not healed the anguishing canyon that exists in my soul.  On one side, the powerful, complete woman who embodies that list of beliefs, and on the other, a weeping girl who will never be worthy or adequate or whole.

I have come to the very edge of that abyss.

Maybe the only thing I really believe right now, is that I am not alone here, on this edge.  I know my story is not unique.  We are all good at the doing.  The doing, no matter what is on that list, or how tightly it threatens to strangle us, is a matter of overcoming inertia.

But to be in alignment with our true beliefs, to begin to stitch up the giant chasm within us…requires the being.

Being is where things get real.

There is no doing left for me here.  Not when it comes to healing my spirit.  And the being is the excruciating part.  The part where the emotions must be felt.  The part where the feelings must be allowed to exist.  The part where true compassion is discovered.  The part where I simply exist.

I don’t really know how.  But I know there is no try… that is a doing word.

So for now, I will just breathe.

The Cocoon Was Hollow: Grieving the Absolute Loss of Self

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 2.00.29 PM

                                                                      -Lao Tzu

 

Once the decision was made to cut ourselves free from the religious life we had been woven into, Rick and I began the very delicate process of extrication.

 

Actually, it wasn’t that hard for Rick.  He shed his mormon identity like an ill-fitting suit that he had worn out.  He had put it on just six years before, after becoming a fully formed adult.  He wore the coat well, but taking it off was not too hard.  A temperature adjustment.   A loosening of the tie, unclipping the “Brother Poulin” name tag, he went back to being Rick.  He kicked off his dress shoes and pulled out his Birkenstocks, and found his old self waiting to welcome him back.

 

It was me that needed unwinding… the binding thoughts and ideas that had me tightly ensconced were thick and sinewy.  At first, I believed that if I just worked at it, the fibers that had cocooned me would release a new and completely different, freed creature.  The proverbial butterfly.  But as time wore on, I began to wonder if there was a self, underneath it all.  The discard pile grew, and with it I lost my shape.  After years and years of unraveling, I am left with a huge pile of string, a hopeless tangled mass, and no sense of who I am.

 

Such work, to unravel one’s self.

I have been sifting through my pile, overcome with grief.  For the form and structure of my self.  For the loss of what I knew.  For the comfort of having a home.  For the rejection of my cast.  For the familiarity of words and rules and rituals.  For the loss of the tethers that gave definition to my family.

I did not know how to recreate myself from this rubble, and yet inside it, were all my pieces.

 

I have cried more tears in the last year than I have in my entire life.  The grief when I first began this process was a rupture, and the tears spilled out in angry waves.  Now, the grief is residual, it shimmers at the surface, ready to spill over at the slightest ripple.  I cling to the necessity of the tears.  The washing out of the vessel.  The cleanse, as I ready myself to once again try to find a new woman in the old pile.

 

And then, as I was drying my tears the other day, something happened.  I looked up.

 

It is only now, eight years into the undoing and the fingering of my scraps that I have found something that looks…hopeful.

In the very raw process of unraveling, there is a powerful sense of isolation and loneliness. I was selfishly consumed by my deconstruction and loss, and it made me blind to my surroundings.  Not out of spite, but out of grief, the world outside of my own undoing became a vague and blurry mess.  The only pieces of reality and the only choices before me seemed to be born out of the pile of scraps I had created in shedding my entire identity.

The hope came when I looked away from the tangled nonsense I had been stewing in…  and I noticed.  Instead of a presence of separateness that I had been feeling in my loss of structure, I saw others.  They look like me.  Some are crying, too.  Everywhere, people are discovering their empty cocoon, and the task of recreation.  And my story is not so special.  We are all standing in our pile,  trying to rebuild.  I saw my uprooted, raw  feelings reflecting back at me.  And I saw their beauty.   The work of creating something grand and strong, sifting through the rubble to find the shiny pieces… these people were doing it.  All of them.  I felt my unformed self crack open, and love rushed out.  For all the people, for their loss and mine are the same.

 

And maybe, that is the Truth.

 

We are all in various stages of this moment… unwinding and rebuilding and whittling away. Anyone willing to break free from the shell that we begin in, to find renewal and movement and light, is going through this too.   It has taken me a long time to blink away my grief and look around at the wealth of experience we are all standing in.  The survivors of broken childhoods.  The immigrant rebuilding in a foreign place.  The lover, holding a shattered heart.  The parent, reshuffling life after a death.  The woman, peeling away her shame.  We are all chipping away the armor, to reveal the truest version of our Self.

 

The truly freeing part?  I am realizing that we are not limited to our own broken shells.   That pile is our past.  The things that have already been. The shape that has already formed and been undone.  We are not limited to this material, to rebirth ourselves.  There is only so much we can find within, before we must look for the beautiful pieces that others have to offer us.

 

The world is wide, and open, and full of breath-taking pieces that will feel like home when we find them… they are meant for us to discover.  We find unity in the recognition that we are all busy with different versions of the same task.  And then, we are less afraid to see the beautiful offerings of others… and perhaps the value of our own discarded pieces.

So,  I will pick from my pile the material I want to keep, and then step away… to search out the new treasure that will define the woman I want to become.
Her shape is only for me.

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 1.59.40 PM

Photo credit:  Gardner Edmunds

 

My Hysterecto-versary: Lessons I Learned While Losing My Lady Parts

Photo Credit:  Gardner Edmunds

Photo Credit: Gardner Edmunds

At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.

– Alan Alda

It’s my hysterectoversary.

A year ago, I had major surgery.  They opened me, took my womb.

Let them open me, I had thought.  Let them take a piece of me out.  It will heal all that is wrong in my world, the pain will be physical.  And then it will finally be healed.  I will be healed.  Not whole ever again, but free from the persistent sensation that my parts and pieces were scrambled up inside.  I had been feeling this way for years, diagnosed with a disease of the uterus called adenomyosis.  It creates a heaviness.  A fullness.  Pressure.  The options were to have surgery, or wait till menopause.  I jumped into surgery, desperate to make things feel light.  In order.  Pressure free.

The surgery did not go well.  It was supposed to be simple.  Heal internally.  There would be no knowing of the scars, no way so see the damage.  Just the emptiness.  They went through my vagina, to reach the uterus, the offending woman part.  They took it out, and repaired the damage, and my body still bled.  Not a dangerous, life threatening pace, but a slow, persistent trickle.  I laid on the operating table for two more hours.  They stitched and cauterised with no avail.  Finally, they felt they must take a more drastic step.  The bleeding was not threatening my life, but could not be ignored.

They opened my belly, exposing the tiny bleeding wound they could not find without light.  And stopped the bleeding.  I woke up with the internal wounds and a big, long, ugly cut.  Visible.  A constant reminder of my missing pieces.  A permanent talisman of the persistent trickling damage.

Once at home to heal, I burrowed deep into the dark of my room, wallowing in the cushy leather recliner.  I tried to hide from the funnel cloud of emotions that had moved into my space with me.  The pain of recovery and healing was a place to focus.  But I felt so… betrayed.  Visible scars were not what I had bargained for.  I did not want a sign, written on my flesh that stated,

“Someone took out your womb.  You gave them this power, and you knew it would not heal you.”

It is true.  I ran towards surgery at a determined speed.  I made the appointments, I talked to the doctors.  “There is more,” she whispered.  My intuition.  I did not want to hear her. So I locked it away.   I carried that intuitive knowledge around, smothered under a thick blanket of denial and simplicity  as I slipped on paper gowns.  Endured ultrasounds.  Vaginal exams.  Blood work.    I met with the surgeon, and walked out, turning the music up loud in the car to drown out the doubt, the voice that began speaking louder, “get another opinion.  She is not experienced enough.  This will not heal you.  It is more.”

I clung to the diagnosis.  It felt good to have something with letters and sounds to define my experience.  A name.  Adenomyosis.  Simple.  There is a physical discomfort.  There is a name for it.  We will surgically remove the offending part.  We will sew you back together.  You will experience great pain.  And then you will heal and it will be over.  I loved this idea.  It needed to be true.  I would make it true by going through with it.

Wounds heal.  I wanted healing.  If I had to give away a piece of me to do it, so be it.

 In my desperation for wholeness, I willingly ignored my screaming intuition…the deeper pain, the slow bleed that surrounded womanhood, hurts that needed much more than the scalpel of a surgeon.

For weeks after the surgery, I laid in a recliner, listening to the sounds of my family downstairs, their lives marching on as my layers of skin grew back together.  I slept.  And my dreams were filled with holes.  I woke and thought about what my body must do to shift and sift and fill the hole within me.  What my surgeon had to do to stop the slow, persistent bleed.  The belief that it would all be worth it, the pressure would be gone, the pain would heal, and it would be a distant memory was like holding water in my cupped palms.

Eventually it all ran out.

It’s been a year.  My parts have shifted, the hole filled, the bright purple line has faded from an angry purple to a more relaxed violet.   I have spent every day of this year healing.  From the hysterectomy.

 From the betrayal of my inner voice.

I was taught as a young child, that this inner voice was a gift from God.  A women must receive this gift from the priesthood powers of men.  I was taught that I must earn my worthiness, and that  worthiness would be determined by men in the church.  There were definitive measurements of my worthiness as a girl, before I could have this gift of the Holy Ghost within me, the still small voice.   And I was taught to use this gift as my most precious possession to guide me throughout my life.  I was also taught with great fear that I would lose this cherished gift if I did not receive guidance that matched those of my church leaders.  I could ask within myself, and their answers would always come to me.

I have always been aware of this pulse inside me.  The throbbing, persistent boom-boom-boom-boom of my heartbeat in my eyelids, my fingertips, the base of my throat, the top of my scalp.  The sensation is a drum beat, calling me to my truth.

My intuition is not a sleeping beast, needing poking and prodding to come alive.  It is a roaring beast, tantruming inside me, fighting to be heard.

My intuitive voice has never been hard for me to hear, but almost always terrifying to acknowledge.  Because the whispers, and persistent shouts of my inner voice have been in opposition to the voices of those that claimed to bestow me with this great spiritual gift.

Herein lies the bleed.  The tremendous heaviness.  The healing process is long and repetitive.   I am learning, ever so slowly, and not without pain, that  ignoring my own intuition has brought me into my darkest moments, and finally being brave enough to do what I feel called to do inside has been the light to guide me out of those dark times.

I signed the consent forms, I put on the paper gown, I laid my head on the hospital gurney, and I allowed a surgeon I did not fully trust take out my womb.  In the end, the adenomyosis was confirmed, and the offending part, the center of my womanhood, was taken out.  But in the process, I ignored the loud, intuitive voice that begged me to find a more experienced surgeon. So I could avoid the myriad of complications that have arisen since.   And I denied the voice that was begging me to stop denying the knowledge that there was already a slow, trickling bleed inside me.  A wound that no surgeon could heal.  There are emotional and spiritual wounds that  I was tired of addressing, so I chose to ignore them.

And now, I have the outer scar to remind me.  And maybe, that is what needed to be.  A tattoo, calling me to this healing:

We all have the tremendous, powerful gift of intuition.

-I am a woman, and women are powerful.

We are all worthy of this gift.  Always.  Worthiness is an inherent birthright.

-I am worthy.  I have always been worthy.

The ability to connect with one’s inner knowledge gets stronger with consistent practice.

-No one can give or take away this ability from me.

No other person can provide you with answers.  If you are seeking to only confirm what others have found to be their truth, you are denying yourself access to your own inner wisdom.

-I can trust myself.  The answers are within me.   

 

One must be open.  It is easy to be blinded by desire, or the need to be safe, or the need to please others.  There are many ways to be dishonest with one’s self.

-Living in defiance of my inner compass will leave me lost in the dark.

 

My 180 on Gay Marriage

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 11.25.02 AM

Photo Credit:  Gardner Edmunds

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

                                              -Martin Luther King, Jr.

We were sitting at a small table near the window of a bustling indian restaurant, my mother, my brother and I.  It had been just over a year since I had told my parents that my brother was gay. The revelation was like approaching the edge of an enormous waterfall… desperate attempts to paddle backward, away from the edge, the mounting fear of what would happen… and the fall.  It had been a year of resistance, free-falling, drowning, and fighting.  I looked at my brother, a person I have loved ferociously since he was born, a boy I felt inexplicably bonded to by unseen strings.  I saw a young man I adored for his humor, his gorgeous smile, his great dance moves, his peaceful wisdom, his creative spirit, his enormous generosity, his ability to make every person he is with feel truly seen.  I felt there was nothing I would not do for my brother.   Sitting there, with our mother, whose love and pride for her son emanated from her in almost palpable waves, we ate our navrattan korma and samosas. The subject of marriage and family somehow invaded our pleasant bubble.

And then I bravely told my brother.

My belief came thickly wrapped with true regret and remorse, as if it could insulate him from receiving the cold, hard center.  I did not believe gay people should be allowed to marry.  I saw the sharp, focused pain in his eyes, but he remained still in his seat, his eyes luminous with my rejection.  I looked away, unable to bear his sadness.  I looked at my mother, who sat quietly, not quite ready to voice her agreement with me, but not disagreeing either.

I felt sad for him, and I felt the loss for him… the loss of his future spouse, the loss of the family life I was in the midst of building with the love of my life.

I remembered him as a baby…his sparkling, joyful eyes, his dimpled knees, his fat cheeks.  It was a sharp undoing… a death.  The  knowing that he would never have a son or daughter  with his tenderness and infectious smile.   The situation was terribly painful, and I gulped back some ice water, trying to swallow my need to weep for our family situation.  Disbelief that this was really happening… that we were really being asked to deal with such an awful dilemma, crept up my throat.  It often did, when we talked about my brother being gay.  A sort of disconnect, that kind of out-of-body feeling that comes from true desperation, the need to escape even being.

I tried to let my love for him radiate through my presence, I wanted him to feel it.  I tried to gather it up in a huge, tight ball and coat him in it.  I wanted him to feel my love with same aching presence as I did.  To know that I would give my life for him, my love was that great.  I wanted him to understand that this one, small difference of opinion would not affect our relationship. We were stronger than that.  It would not influence our ability to be a support for each other.  We would overcome it, transcend it.

It need not define us.

The trouble was, my sense of morality, my belief…was bigger than just one sister and one brother.  I knew that one must not allow the pain of our situation cloud the greater picture of what is right and what is wrong.  My belief was Global.  Natural.  Social.  And in support of God.  My love for Gardner was bigger than I was.  But I must stand in protection of the greater good.

Tradition and family and children and GOD HIMSELF must be held in protection.

If I were to falter, to waver in my faith and love of Jesus Christ himself, to  acquiesce to this painful moment, I would crumble into a million pieces and blow away.    If I conceded on this moral stance, if I overlooked the fact that God created MAN and WOMAN, if I turned a blind eye to scripture, if I denied the reality that sex was ultimately designed for procreation and homosexual sex is therefore not supportive of a natural order…

I may as well dissolve all of my beliefs.  I may as well set fire to all that I knew to be true, and in turn, my very identity would turn to ash.

It was for these very good reasons that I sat at that table in 2005 and admitted to a brother that I adored that I could not support his right to marry another man.  Or have children.   I had to take a stand. For God.  For my children.  For my faith.

For my SELF.

My identity  was 100% invested as a person who was strong enough to suffer any amount of pressure and pain from outside sources, as long as I was being true to my God, and therefore honoring my own values.

I left this agonizing night throbbing in pain.  I was completely absorbed by the ache in my heart.  Despite carefully avoiding his eyes, I could still feel the grief radiating from my brother.   From my mother.  We were drowning at the bottom of the waterfall, unable to find the surface, take a breath.  Back at the house, I cradled my sweet infant daughter and wept.  She fed, and I could no longer hold in the flood of emotion.  The toll on my spirit was undefinable.  Taking a stand for what I believe in was at great cost to my mental, emotional, and physical body.

I did it not because I was cruel or flippant or uncaring.  I did it not because I was incapable of love.  I did it because it was the only way I felt I could maintain my moral integrity.

My moral integrity defines me.  There is no characteristic, no action, no feeling more important.  I have been driven by this one identifying principle my entire life.  I could not sacrifice that sense of integrity, it makes me whole and gives meaning to each breath I take .

in·teg·ri·ty

[in-teg-ri-tee]

noun

1.  adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

2.  the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished

3.  a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition

I was consumed by my desire for him to validate my love for him, feel my intent, and understand my inability to offer him more.  I truly did believe that if he had as much love and respect for me as I did for him, he would not ask this of me.  He would not ask me to sacrifice my moral integrity for him.

I could see his pain.  I could feel his pain.

Could he see mine?

Could he tell how much it hurt me, to see him suffering?

Could he see how this wasn’t easy for me?

The only way out of the mess was to simply agree to disagree.  Agree to share a relationship of love and respect and kindness.  I would support him in every way that I could, but he would not ask me to compromise myself.  Because that is not what love is.  Mutual love requires that we both offer up what we can, and respect the places that we can’t. I wanted him to love me as much as I loved him.

And he did.

As pure as I believed my offering of love was for my brother, as impossible as the situation seemed to me, as visceral and real as it pained me to maintain my integrity, there was one element that prevailed.  An element that spoiled the whole exchange. Unbeknownst to me, it tainted my offering of love.

I was being selfish. Self-centered.  Self-protective.

I was blinded by my very real need to preserve my sense of self. I was demanding that my brother see my dilemma, my pain, my guilt, my intent.  And in all that, I did not see him.

My, my, my.

I was failing to recognize this selfishness, because I was so consumed by the threatening request to examine my beliefs.  It is not an easy or comfortable undertaking, and I clearly spent a good amount of time insulating myself from the true discomfort that comes from doing an autopsy on my own moral character.  What I was failing to recognize, in my fear, is the fallibility of some moral choices.  I was so caught up in my own fear and hurt, I was unable to clearly see that some moral choices can safely evolve.

These evolutions end up magnifying the principles that I care most about.  Love, charity, generosity, forgiveness, respect.   There are countless examples in history of decisions and choices made with moral intent that have soften and changed and evolved for the greater good over time.   While the intent may not be filled with malice, some moral choices are driven by fear rather than love.

The result is that instead of building upon the good and magnificent in human nature, creating more unity and peace in the world, highlighting beauty and divinity that exists in every person, these moral stands disintegrate and divide.  They cause undue pain and anguish in our fellow human beings.  The kinds of choices in the name of God and morality that result in families disowning their children, cruelty and bullying… they need to be examined.   When children are taking their own life at the hands of our moral integrity, it is time that we ask ourselves if this is not unlike other dark points in history that we now look upon with regret and shame.

People against gay marriage take enormous offense to the comparison of gay rights to the civil rights movement.  They can’t stand the correlation that is made between the discrimination and bigotry imposed on black people and the treatment of gay people today.  I was one of those people.  In that restaurant, with the sting of my morality shining bright in his eyes, by brother calmly and lovingly tried to make these associations for me.

They fell on deaf ears.

Words like “discriminate” and “bigot” and “prejudice” are words filled with hate and a long history of cruelty.  It was unbearable for me to hear him say these words, when I was defending my integrity.  And I loved him.  There is no room for love and prejudice in the same sentence.  In the same room.  So, there was no way that he deserved to be using those words with me.

The fact that it was intolerable to me did not make it less true.

The similarity lies in how it makes people feel, and in turn the climate of acceptance and love it creates for people.

Black people had a seat on the bus.  They were allowed to ride… so why did they care where we made them sit?    (Why can’t they be happy with civil unions?)

Black children had schools.  So why did they want to go to the same school as the white children?  (It’s not like we don’t love you.  We just can’t have your family visible to my family.)

 Black people were provided a place to go to the bathroom.  What was the big deal in making them go somewhere outside the home they worked in?   (Fine.  Get married.  But not in my state!)

They were loved and trusted and cared for and provided for.  I am sure that they were genuinely loved by some of the white people in their lives, their employers, their fellow christians.

But it didn’t matter.

Nothing at all mattered, when they were still being treated as second class citizens.  Drinking out of the same drinking fountain is not a matter of law, it’s a matter of love.  Of equality.  The similarity lies in the message,

“There is something about you that is not as deserving.”

When we are willing to treat a whole group of our fellow citizens with this mindset, we are not only withholding something precious and respectful from them, we are creating a social climate where people feel more justified in participating in unjustifiable acts.

I am a loving sister, a person so sensitive I would never, ever dream of saying terrible, hateful things to anyone. But I was standing with a group of people, who to this day are innocently defending  their position with things like:

“I have never, ever had feelings of hate, bigotry or discrimination against anyone homosexual, and I honestly don’t know many people that do. Although I’m sure they are out there, which is really sad,”

or

“ I don’t condone bullying ever, on either side of this issue. Love and understanding is the best in all cases.”

Just like me in that restaurant, these well-meaning people are simply not examining reality.  We condone hate, bigotry, and discrimination when we are willing to participate in the creation of  second class citizens in our country.  It matters not what your intent is.  Your love.  What matters, is your participation in creating a superior class, ranking people’s worthiness, placing your self above others in the eyes of the law.

There are some things that we can not agree to disagree upon.  And basic human rights should be one of those.  We do not “agree to disagree” on matters of justice, of equality, of freedom, of safety, of dignity and respect for every human being born on this earth.

To me, at that restaraunt, marriage was the final piece of my conviction I would not allow my brother to take.  I had come so far, but I had to draw the line.  And I wanted him to respect that.  But I had it backwards.  To achieve mutual respect, there must be equality first.  Always.  There are not enough loving acts to overcome the indignity of unequal human rights.

It is the first and most crucial piece we must hand over.

I know that most of the people that oppose gay marriage are kind, caring people.  They wouldn’t dream of hurting someone.  They wouldn’t dream of using hate speech or violence.  They are the people that would give the shirt off their backs, offer a hug when it was warranted, be the first in line to volunteer help when it was needed … gay or straight.  I know this, because I was that person.

 My moral integrity was in fact, in grave danger.  Because I was willing to look my brother in the eye and communicate to him that he was a second class citizen.  A person undeserving of something I held sacred and precious.

Marriage was a right I would afford to anyone at all, with any motive, as long as it were two people with the proper body parts.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 11.39.31 AM

 I was willing to condone the mistreatment of gay people, by drawing a clear, bright line between us, that seperated us as dignified, and undignified, and in the name of Jesus Christ …whom would never do such a thing.  I did it for selfish reasons.  Because I was too scared to dissect my own moral character, and find that there were cancerous pieces that needed discarding.

In the end, I left my religion.  As did my mother, father and married brother.  This looks like an awesome step in solidarity.  This looks like we were willing to toss our moral integrity into a blender, and flip the switch.  But I can assure you, walking away from one’s religious beliefs, culture, and family security is not that simple.

It is also entirely possible  to support  the LBGT community and maintain your faith within your religious practice.  It will not shatter you, it is a step toward a true practice of Christ-like acceptance.  Our moral integrity is compromised when we confiscate from others that which is not ours to take.  We can practice our religions, apply our moral standards, draw firm lines around what is acceptable, and unacceptable.  Each of us can decide if homosexuality is a sin, a choice, an abomination.  We can preach it to our children, our neighbors, from the pulpit of our churches.  But we can not and should not willingly create a country that does not serve the rights of all. The LGBT community deserves dignity, respect, and equality because they are human beings, created equal.

The rest is a matter of opinion, and we can agree to disagree.

224611_946489250969_6166327_n

Peeling Back Layers of Ugly: The Gay Reality

This was it.

The expectant tension was building in our awkward phone conversation to an almost unbearable degree.  I felt myself struggling to regulate my breath and appear nonchalant.  He struggled for words, a way to open the door, for the very first time to anyone.

His fear became so present, it felt like we may shatter when he finally found the words.

My brother is gay.

When he finally told me, a few months from graduating high school in the spring of 2004, every single bad, derogatory, judgemental comment I had ever heard about gay people played out in my memory. We did not grow up in a home where bigotry and hateful speech was ever uttered.  But we grew up mormon.  A place where they talked about the sin of homosexuality.  A place where t.v. shows like Ellen, or Will and Grace were considered immoral and inappropriate.  Where traditional marriage was considered vital in protecting society and moral character.  Where being gay was being a sexual deviant by choice.  Where in 2008, the mormon church would rally tremendous money and forces in  to support Prop 8 in California.

 It was not a safe place for my brother.

 I remembered every single off-hand remark or gesture he must have been exposed to.  The jokes that were just not funny.  The gossip that had been circulating in our ward in Colorado about a girl my age, who had “decided” to be a lesbian, cut her hair, and ran off with another girl after high school.  The head shaking and tsk-tsking and whispers of how painful that must be for the family, how disgraceful.

Shame and horror over those flashes burned in me, a small taste of how it must have burned in him for years.  I wanted to crawl through the phone and wrap my arms around him.  I wanted to look him in the eye and tell him how I loved him.  How it changed absolutely nothing about how I felt about him.  How it was going to be fine.  But I was thousands of miles away, and he was hiding in his basement bedroom in my parents house, filled with fear at being fully seen for the first time.

We went from rarely ever speaking on the phone, to talking for many hours every day for several months. If more than a day would pass, he would call, filled with fear of what I must be thinking of him, the judgement I was making, the disgust that must have been percolating for him. His vulnerability made me throb with empathy.  My mother and father called too… begging for me to tell them what was going on.  What was wrong.  Demanding that I let them in on the reasons for our daily contact.  Their fears were an endless ticker tape of threatening possibilities in their minds.  It was the only time in my life I lied consistently to my parents.

Here is the part where I have to be brutally honest. and own the course I had to take.  It’s not easy to write now, but it is real.

I had no idea what to think.  Like anything else, if it isn’t happening TO you, it is easy to dismiss.

I never considered that my brother had chosen to be gay.  That was ridiculous. I heard the pain in his voice.  I could feel his fear.  I knew that an alarming number of gay kids take their own life.  There was no issue of choice.

But the first thing I wanted to know was… why?

I did research.  I read about sexual abuse.  Or having a broken and damaged relationship with a father.  There wasn’t a lot more to read about the subject, in 2004.

I confronted Gardner, asking questions without malice, but honest innocence and a desire to understand.   He was not abused.   Nor did he blame my father.

Eventually, I realized, it simply doesn’t matter.  If he is not choosing to be gay, it matters not what the origins are.  The result is the same.

Then…  HOW?  I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.  How could he possibly be attracted to… MEN???    He was so patient, calmly explaining things to me over and over.  He asked me to tell him why I loved Rick.  Why I was attracted to him.  And when I did, he said, “me too.”  And I understood a bit more.  I never made a conscious choice to like men instead of women…  It just IS.  And the things that I loved about my husband and reasons for my attraction were all basically things that my brother was also wanting in a relationship.  I am not interested in having a romantic relationship with a female, and neither was he.

It was the first time I had ever really pondered love, attraction, relationships, sex, so comprehensively, and from such a distance.  I realized that my perception of being gay was just about the sex.  What a ridiculous, simplistic view.  Love is love.  Sexual attraction is important, but certainly not the most important part of a romantic relationship.  DUH.   It seems unnecessary to even write about this, but it was a revelation to me.  An idea that had never presented itself in my community, in my upbringing, in my religion.

Then… what can be done?  I  read and researched ways to “cure” being gay.  He could go to  terrible places that teach inauthenticity, repression, shame, and impossible expectations.  When those don’t work, they hook you up to electrodes and physically “shock” those deviant gay feelings right out of your body.

Erm, NO.

Several months in to these discussions and as my understanding unfolded, I remember telling my brother that after careful consideration, I felt that if it meant fitting into mainstream society, avoiding painful rejection and ridicule, and being able to have a traditional family, I would give it a go… and have a relationship with another woman, despite it not being my preference. So… maybe he should go try to date women first.

In that conversation,  my ability to empathize with desperate gay people who marry, have four kids, and are caught cheating on their wives with other men was born.   These horrifying, naive suggestions… this  ill-formed advice was rampant in mormon culture at the time.  Marry!  Have kids!  Find out that you were wrong about who you are all along, and we were right!  Jesus will change you!

Thank God my brother weathered these inane conversations with me.  He watched my understanding unfurl from a tightly folded, tiny piece of closed-minded ignorance into a greater understanding.  With the understanding came more real support and love.

Eventually, we made plans to tell my parents.  It was truly a scary time for me, knowing it would change my family in drastic ways. I didn’t know if my parents would be able to handle it, to be honest.  I felt fiercely protective of him… the idea of him witnessing their shock, the potential of hurtful words and tears… I could barely stand the idea of it.   If it was scary for me, it must have been a time of blinding, paralyzing terror for my brother.

We knew the long road we would be going to down to redefine expectation and the story of how everything has to be.  What it means to support  and what it means to be honorable and authentic.

What it means to really LOVE someone.

It’s crazy what happens when you are willing to take a step outside of your judgement and examine what you have been standing on.  The foundation of your ideas about something that seems so foreign and threatening…. is really just irrational fear.  It is dishonorable enmity born out of ignorance.

Once armed with my newly developed understanding, and countless hours of conversation, once my brother had moved out of my parents’ home and lived a comfortable distance away, I told my parents for him, as we had planned.  Their initial reactions, their shock, their questions were first absorbed by me.

Even then, I did not support gay marriage….because what about society?  and the children?!!?! what about the children!!!  Every single message I had ever heard in my life surrounding gay marriage was about how it would destroy the very fabric of society, and children would suffer.  It sounds real.  And scary.  Who wants the fabric of society shredded?  And poor little children to suffer?

I remember a specific, terrible night when my brother and mother and I went out to dinner and my brother was left to defend himself on this issue.

I loved him.  I supported him.  I did not think he chose to be gay.  But should he be allowed to destroy traditional marriage?  Bring kids into a home without a mother?

I had two little girls at the time.  How would I explain their uncle to them?  Will I allow him and a boyfriend to come visit?  Display affection?

It all seemed so scary…. so scary because it had been presented that way to me by my culture and my religious leaders, and the politics I subscribed to.  It takes a lot of de-programming to see the underbelly of this particular bigoted beast.

Fear.

Fear unfounded.

Gay Love is simply  LOVE.

Love is love, people.

It turns out, it was really not that hard to explain to my kids.  One day, they asked me if my brother had a girlfriend.  I told them he did not, but he actually wants to date boys, so he would have a boyfriend someday.  They nodded, shrugged, and asked for a snack.

One day, my brother had a boyfriend.  I showed my kids pictures of them together.  They thought he was really cute, and their uncle looked really happy.

One day, they came for Thanksgiving.  And they held hands, and kissed after the Thanksgiving toast.  They played games and made the kids laugh and made memories.

One, big, happy family.   It was normal because it was normal.

IMG_0068

We are complicated beings.  Emotionally.  Sexually.  Intellectually.

Being in love can be complicated, as most of us know.

But supporting love is not complicated.

The other day, my husband and I were visiting my brother in New York.  His roommate asked how it was, when we found out my brother was gay.  And I wanted to say it was great.  I was the loving, supportive sister who made him feel totally safe and secure and loved.   While that was always my intent, that is not what happened.  Most of that journey is a great embarrassment to me now.    Peeling back layers of judgement and fear can expose some pretty ugly pieces.  Under all that, is the glorious recognition that none of the differences that  keep us separate and critical are there.

I felt the need to outline this story because I recognize there is a huge leap in understanding that must happen to help people out of their locked-in beliefs about the LGBT community.  I try to exercise patience with others as my brother did for me, while I found my way out of that trap of intolerance.  In fact, it is not a leap, but a shedding of skin, the callous layers that we keep to protect us from people that are simply wanting all the same things everyone wants.

Love.  Acceptance.  Safety. Affection.  Respect.

Surprise findings:   Giving another human being these things is not going to shred the very fabric of society, or ruin your children.

Your children will benefit from your willingness to get rid of those callouses and be open to more LOVE in the world.  They may be one of those tender souls that the anti-gay movement is so visciously attacking.   It may be your vulnerable child you are burning painful scars into with your bigoted remarks and support of anti-gay rhetoric.  It might be your child that will sit at the lunch counter and be refused service because of who they are.

Enormous, painful, angry, wrenching rejection… that is what has been happening in my family since my brother came out.

But thankfully, my brother was not the target.  My parents refused to be a part of their culture, an organization that they had previously devoted their entire lives to. My other brother and his wife refused as well.  We have all marched out of the mormon church.

We reject the notion that my parents should reject their son. We reject the ridiculous stand that suggests that my brother should live his life void of the most basic human need… the need to love and be loved.   We reject the idea that being gay is like be an alcoholic.  For holding hands with someone, feeling love and affection and connection found in romantic love is not the same as having a beer.  We reject the  preposterous suggestion that only a married mother and father can raise a healthy child.  We reject the idea that being openly bigoted toward the LGBT community is in anyway associated with being Christ-like.  We reject the theory that eliminating more judgement, bigotry and hate in our society by allowing gay people to get married and yes, buy a wedding cake, will threaten others’ ability to carry out their religious freedoms.

It is not “hate the sin, love the sinner.”  That is not love.

The fact that you watch Ellen, are friends with a gay person, tolerate them at your dinner table or let them give you a hair cut does not translate into real love and acceptance.

It is not possible to “love gay people” and stand against their ability to be a normal, everyday, respected members of the community.  That is not love.

Love thy neighbor as thyself.  Do unto others.   Magnify joy.  Celebrate love.  This will not shred us, it will make us whole.

images-2

Sleepless in Zion: A Study of Romance vs. Reality

I didn’t really love my husband when we got married.  He didn’t love me either.

IMG_5189

Can you fall in love with someone you have never met?  Really, truly, in LOVE?  In the age of internet dating, chat rooms, email,  can you cultivate deep, committed love,  without being together?

I don’t think so.

Rick and I met for the first time on top of the Empire State Building.  It was just like that movie, Sleepless in Seattle. I had imagined myself like Meg Ryan, arriving breathless, flopping her wallet open to buy a ticket, and moments later, stepping out on top of the world to meet the love of her life.  They were MFEO. (Made for each other.)

Unknown-2

With a few minor changes, that is how it happened for us.

I got lost walking to the Chrysler Building instead of the Empire State Building.   In a New York August heat wave… 90% humidity,  102 degrees.   I finally arrived looking like KISS with a sunburn and bloody blistered feet.   I was two hours late, and then waited in a 90 minute line in the basement of the building to buy my ticket.  Other than that, it was super romantic.  We fell into each other’s arms.   People took our picture, and clapped.  We held hands,  he kissed me softly after we gazed out into the night cityscape, dazzled by the enormous city.

images-1

 Our lives together began.

Rick had just been released from a two-year mormon mission in Sacramento, CA. He had flown home after his two years of service to Vermont, where he had kissed his mother, barbecued with his father, and greeted his sister with his new niece for the first time. He also planned this trip to NYC. To meet me, a stranger, and the woman he loved. Rick had met my brother, a fellow LDS missionary in Sacramento, when they had been assigned as roommates. Zack was just six months into his two-year commitment, and Rick was one year into his. Like most other missionaries…he was busy, focused, homesick, and trolling for mail. Contact with people from the outside, the real world, was crucial.

The mission rules were strict, and contact with family and friends was only allowed through the USPS.  No phone calls, no email, no text messages.  Rick saw a picture of me, among my brother’s things, and casually asked if I was his girlfriend. Horrified, as any little brother would be, he informed Elder Poulin of our sibling relationship. (Elder is the assigned title men in the mission field use. It is a recognition of the spiritual power they are given. Women are not allowed to have this power, and are referred to as “sisters.”)

A week later, Elder Poulin sent out a letter. To me.

A little desperate? Yep.

But in reality, I had been desperate too.  Not for a mormon missionary.  At that time in my life, a missionary was dead last on my list of desires, but for some inexplicable reason, I wrote him back.  Perhaps it was a mercy letter.   I hated to be rude, or hurt his feelings.  Perhaps I was desperately alone and jumping at the chance to express my innermost fears to a person I was not invested in. Perhaps I somehow knew that he would offer me healing in a way I could not find on my own.

IMG_5250

What ever the reason, it worked. Elder Poulin won the snail mail jack pot. In the 395 days that ensued, we wrote over 150 letters. A few months in, we began carrying mini cassette recorders everywhere we went, conspicuously talking to each other in long, drawn out conversations that took two weeks to complete.  7, 425 minutes of conversation, to be precise. At first, a casual way to insert a bit of excitement into a week of monotony. Who doesn’t love to get a letter…hand written…in the mail?

It grew from casual fun, to inexplicable, illegal attraction, infatuation…love?

Missionaries were supposed to be dedicated only to God.  Elder Poulin and I were not to write of things involving love and lust, so we wrote of ourselves, shared our fears and hopes, mailed pictures of ourselves in hopes of familiarizing the hopelessly unfamiliar.

Can you love someone you have never met?

The question ran through my mind on endless repeat for more than a year.  It defined my life and decisions I made as a young college grad.

We were engaged one month after we met, and married four months later.  Madly in love, or so we thought.   We were ready for the Happily Ever After part.

IMG_5196

Today, we have been married for 12 years.  We have moved across the country and back again.   Welcomed three beautiful little girls into our family.  We have left the mormon religion, and are still healing from the aftermath of stepping off of our foundation of faith.

Here’s what we discovered about love:

You can’t truly love someone you have not met.

Which means, I don’t believe that Rick and I loved each other as much as we thought we did when we became man and wife.  We had been with each other for less than six months.  It’s not enough time.    It was an arranged marriage.  Each of us exchanging parts of a resume.  We presented to each other our truest selves, on paper.  In one-sided conversations, in which both of us listened and imagined being with that person, hand in hand.  But something falls flat.

I loved that Rick was smart and open to adventure.  He was athletic and physically active.  He had a college degree, and ambition.  He wanted to marry and have children, be an active father and role model.  He was willing to show vulnerability, and he was a leader.  He and I both wanted the same kind of life.  We had the same interests, the same priorities.  He was willing to work with me and my struggles of faith.  He had strong, muscular hockey-player legs, dark wavy hair, a strong jaw, and an amazing ass.  (Not that I was allowed to be looking).  I still love all of these things about him.

But.

What I didn’t know, was how he would look at me when I throw frustration fueled temper tantrum.   If he would make me feel safe when I was scared.  I didn’t know what Rick would when he felt threatened.   I wasn’t sure if he would give me the space I needed to cool off when my feelings were hurt, or if he could be cruel and let biting words leave permanent scars in a fight.    Would he let ego or fear of appearing weak, drive his decisions?  Would he use his gender as a weapon, insist he had the final word?  I couldn’t tell if he would be able to look through the letters, the pictures, the tapes, and see me.

Really, and truly see me.

The answers to these questions are needed to give dimension to real love.  They only come with experiences life gives you as it unfolds over time.  More than months, spent in a flurry of wedding planning and job hunting and moving.

We came together knowing so much about each other… so many questions answered, so many topics explored.  But we were missing so much, the breath that brings the relationship to life.  I have so often wondered, was it luck?  Or are we such a good match because of the soul baring resumes we created in those 150 letters?   The naive faith I placed in our ability to fill in all of the cracks… fissures I could not see or anticipate  in my young twenty-three years… was that real intuition, or just blind luck?

Maybe it’s both.

Our courtship, engagement, and marriage has been a study in romance vs. reality.

IMG_5193

You can not love someone you have never met.

Not a full, living, breathing, multidimensional love that can carry you through the joys and the gauntlets life lays out for you.  We did not marry with that love, but it came to life for us in the small moments that create memories, history, trust.

I remember the first time Elder Poulin signed a letter, “Love, Rick.”  And my heart cart-wheeled in my chest.

I remember the first time I admitted to Rick, whispering into my mini cassette tape, curled up in bed, that I was falling in love.

I remember feeling him grab me in the throng of tourists on top of the Empire State Building, and the thrill of believing I had just met my soul mate.

I remember watching a tear roll down his cheek when Fantine dies in broadway’s Les Miserables… how that tear cracked me open.

I remember spying on him as he bathed our daughters since they were a few days old, singing Peter, Paul and Mary’s Marvelous Toy, kissing their toes.

I remember how he would take their hands as toddlers and skip down the sidewalk with them like Dorothy in the wizard of Oz, unconcerned with anything but their thrilled giggles.

I remember the first moment I felt completely safe… when I knew without a doubt that we had survived leaving the mormon church, and he loved the real me.

I remember the moment I looked directly into his eyes as I was overcome with exhaustion and fear while trying to birth my last baby girl.  I saw the real, breathing, luminous love for me in his eyes, and she was born.

I remember when someone asked me to conjure up an image in my mind of safety, a representation of the thing that would make me feel completely protected…

That image is me, in Rick’s arms.

There is no other place.