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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Discovering Christmas After Leaving my Faith

 

Ringing through the sky shepard boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

 

December 3, 2013

I was born and raised a 5th generation mormon.   My ancestors gave their lives to the faith, crossed the plains pushing hand carts to seek religious freedom, and wrapped their posterity tightly in mormonlore, tradition and fierce faith.  Mormonism is a form of christianity… they worship Christ, and celebrate his birth.  We celebrated with Santa and the reindeer, but gave much weight into Jesus Christ being the Lord, Savior and King.

I remember one year when I was about 15, I innocently asked my close friend why they celebrated Christmas when it was a christian holiday to mark the birth of Jesus Christ, and she was not christian.  She was unable to answer my question, only stammered a bit and I backed off, sensing her discomfort.  This memory bubbles up for me every single year because eight years ago,  my husband and I scooped up our young girls when they were still babies in diapers and walked out of our mormon life.

I have often used the word “uprooted” to help verbalize the action of leaving our faith… and I often still feel the effects of our drastic decision in my every day life.

But.

On sunday, Rick and I drove our girls out to a Christmas tree farm in an adorable neighboring New England town.  We rolled down the window and they gave us a sharp saw and some twine, we drove up to a space in the dirt parking lot, and traipsed into the lot among the Frasier firs and Blue Spruce, picked one out, and cut it down.  An hour later it was sitting in water in our living room.

Not uprooted.

Cut down.

Sometimes, leaving your faith feels like that.

Because the truth is, my roots grew in mormon soil.  They were nurtured by loving stories of a newborn babe who eventually suffered immeasurable pain for me.  My roots tangled themselves around the belief that I must conform tightly to a long list of do’s and be’s in order to find happiness and eternal life…in order to feel Spirit and experience Joy.  I ate a lot of ice cream, green jello, dixie salad, funeral potatoes.  I sang a lot of “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” and “Follow the Prophet” and “Praise to the Man” and “I am a Child of God.”

I am not sure it is possible to uproot yourself and replant in new ground.  The roots belong wrapped around my ancestors.  It has been a deep and complex struggle to figure out what this means for me.  How I define myself. When we walked out of our mormon faith, I felt as if I stopped existing altogether.  And then, after the shock wore off and I realized it was not a death, but an awakening that left me feeling like an alien in my own body.  It is hard work, to sort out that kind of disorientation.

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Eight years later, I am beginning to understand.  I no longer need to feel cut down,  separated from my roots. Alienated.  I am beginning to see the more beautiful parts of the culture I came from once again, but this time, with my eyes wide open.  I can appreciate how I grew into a compassionate, strong, intelligent, curious, open and sensitive adult… It is no longer necessary to frantically search out the mormon pieces of me to be thrown away.

The Christmas seasons have been the hardest, as the “true” meaning of Christmas, the bible story, seemed like an untrustworthy lie.  A scam.  I struggled to find meaning in the celebration without getting sucked into commercialism.  I have been fighting  to answer my own haunting question I asked more than 20 Christmas’s ago.

Why do you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ when you are not a Christian?

The answers, swirling within me, are finally settling.  And I know.

Because Christ does not need to be historical fact.  He can be an idea.  A representation of the most powerful source there is.  LOVE.   And I can get behind LOVE, and see all the beauty that springs from it…Joy, Peace, Light, Happiness, Gratitude, Compassion, Grace, Understanding, Mercy…   I do not need to invest my life into anything other than those ideals.  I can find those things in the brilliance of a star, the excitement shining in my little girls’ eyes, the sight of their snowman melting on the lawn.  I can immerse myself in my favorite holiday music, bake the best damn Christmas cookies you ever tasted, drink champagne while turning our home into a place of magic once a year, and let nostalgia take me into my past and feel rooted once again.  Christmas is a practice.  A purposeful rising up, once each year, to get carried away in love.

This Christmas, I can finally honor the roots I grew from, but I can reach for my own sky.

And watch my children do the same.

….Written to participate in the holiday writing advent at http://onetreebohemia.wordpress.com/2013/12/03/3-december-holy-days/

 

The Mormon Anthem

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I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.

I am a child of God,
And so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows too late.

I am a child of God.
Rich blessings are in store;
If I but learn to do his will,
I’ll live with him once more.

I am a child of God.
His promises are sure;
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure.

Chorus
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.

The song I am a Child of God is one of the quintessential hymns in mormon childhood.  A solid mormon upbringing will include this song as a childhood anthem, and my home was no different.  I sang it for comfort in dark, scary places. I sang it to remind myself that I was extra special.  I hummed it, summoning courage in my bed at night.  I sang it with gusto with the rest of my young classmates in church, proud of the touched expressions on our mother’s faces.

But then, things changed for me. I sang it with tears dripping off the end of my nose and into my clasped hands as a teenager kneeling at my bedside, begging to be more faithful and desperate to believe.  In my search for comfort, my mother’s love, the thought of her soft hands squeezing mine would ease me back into bed and under the covers.  But the words tortured my young heart, as a glowing piece of my childhood suddenly felt  threatening.

 I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.

My parents were kind and dear.  The first verse was a way of establishing the expectation that the rest of God’s plans must be accomplished because of their kindness.  And dearness.  It played on my fierce, child-loyalty.  It made me feel as if my struggle to believe in God was a rejection of my parents.  Maybe it was.

 I am a child of God,
And so my needs are great;
Help me to understand his words
Before it grows too late.

“Help me to understand his words, before it grows too late.” Too late for me, a girl who sensed innocent, blind, parent-lead faith dripping through my cupped hands like water I was trying to carry in my palms. I felt desperate to comply…to understand.  The pressure was real, unrelenting.

 I am a child of God.

His promises are sure;

Celestial glory shall be mine

If I can but endure.

“Celestial glory shall be mine, if I can but endure…”  This one.  Am I worthy of glory?  Do I want to endure my life? To endure…to suffer patiently, to tolerate with out wielding.  It made me feel bleak, and as a teenager, bored.  Life can be more than enduring.  The idea that I could fully enjoy my life and each moment and not fear what would happen when I was dead was a unfurling in my rebellion.

 Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.

Teach me all that I must do…to live with him someday.  This one broke my heart.  I was the teacher’s pet, after all.  If there are things I must do, I wanted to be valedictorian.  And I wanted acceptance, praise.  A feeling that doing the things that I must do would make me special.  To live with him someday made me envision a thick, heavy door.  And would he open it for me?  The thought that Heavenly Father would possibly not let me in, if I did not perform the things I must do, filled me up with leaden fear, and a sense of failure.

And the song, which used to bring me peace, felt corrupted, dangerous.  I clamped down on it tightly, storing it away.

A few months ago, I was kneeling at the bedside of my youngest daughter.  She was three, and golden, and trouble.  I was stroking her soft platinum hair and kissing the tears from her round cheeks and wet eyelashes, a sore toe causing her newest despair.  I sang her “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and  then, quite unexpectedly, “I am a Child of God,” a song dug out of the tombs of my now locked up mormon vault.  I felt my love for her crack open my chest, and white, warm, mama love encased my little girl.

I switched to humming the tune after the first line, perhaps unconsciously avoiding the words that carry such weight, and let the song soothe my baby.   I found the place that long ago had soothed me before it hurt. The wounds are healing, the anger dissipating… slowly, ever so slowly.  In the year we have been here in Connecticut, as I write about my life, I am noticing, finally, my ability to accept the beauty under the damage, find the gold thread woven into the cocoon I felt caught in. The song fills me with hope and safety and warmth of childhood.  The feeling that I belong to something.  I am allowed to toss out the words that dish out dogma I don’t hold true…and just sing the song, allowing the spirit of connection be as simple as I need it to be.

The connection that makes me, and Stella, and God, one and the same.

And then she slept.

Gratitude: the Back Float

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Wow.  Have you ever had one of those weeks (or two or three or forty in a row) where all of those cliché sayings like, “When it rains, it pours…” and “The shit’s hitting the fan” and “That which does not kill you makes you stronger” are appropriately running through your head?

Not the truly devastating stuff… not the real monsters like a death in the family, or a life threatening emergency or the end of a marriage.  But mid-level crap and madness that are stress inducing and eat away hours of your sleep.  The junk that makes you alternately lose your appetite and then eat a whole pizza at midnight like you are a 19-year-old college kid?

Stuff like that, peppered with ridiculous moments that seem to add insult to injury…since your brain is occupied with the mid-level madness, you don’t realize you are pointing the non-stick spray at your face and not the hot pan while making your kids’ breakfast (yes.  It happened.)  Or you begin dropping things constantly and repeatedly (never the car keys, always the iPhone).  Then you bend over six times in a row before successfully picking it up, making you look like you are doing some ridiculous dance in the cross walk of Target while everyone waits for you.

The moments that kick up that stress level until soon, every word you utter brings tears to your eyes?

Well, that sums up my last few weeks.  A stressful event happens, I freak out, I deal with it, I wake up the next day having talked myself down through a night of sleepless agonizing.  I begin my day feeling much more stable and ready to carry on…and then something else happens.  And slowly, I begin to unravel.   I will try to get some advice from a friend about the day’s non-emergent, mid-level flavor of the day crisis and suddenly I am desperately wiping away insistent tears on the kids’ playground at school.  It seems like a terrible over-reaction to the issue at hand…but  the culmination of it all at once that threatens to take me down.

Having these experiences has seriously challenged my ability to write a Gratitude post.  Something I committed to doing weekly and have been failing to meet the mark.  I am drowning here, people. Continue reading

Stripping down

When worn properly, the garment provides protection against temptation and evil. Wearing the garment is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior.    – (First Presidency letter, 5 Nov. 1996).

The garments must be worn day and night.

Mormons are allowed to have sex, (married of course) swim, and shower without the garments, but they should be immediately worn again, as soon as possible.  The prophet and the first presidency of the LDS church are all old men in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.  They are not about to advise women on the pleasures of wearing garment bottoms and getting a period, or having a baby. We figure it out.

They make maternity garments, (belly and boob pouches!) and nursing garments (the boob pouches are designed with flap, to give access to the breast once the nursing bra comes down).  They come in different fabrics, and necklines.  I found them all to be drastically uncomfortable.  I was painfully sensitive to lace, and even the simplest styles had trim that rubbed me raw.  It was always hot, even in the winter months, wearing an extra layer under my clothes.  I hated the way the fabric bunched up around the underwire of my bra, and caused my bra straps to slip around.

I hated sleeping in them, I hated golfing in them, I hated never being able to undress or dress in a locker room at the gym.

But, despite the physical discomfort, I wore them diligently, faithfully.  I tried so desperately to embrace the life of a married mormon woman.  I read material about the garments, their sacred nature, the blessing I would get from wearing them.  I taught young, impressionable preteen girls about the importance of wearing temple garments.  I told them how sacred and special they were.  I left the church on those particular Sundays always wondering if they recognized how resolved I was in convincing my own heart.   I wanted my new husband to see me as a valiant, faithful woman.  I wanted Heavenly Father to validate my efforts with a boost of faith.

 Visiting the Oakland Temple

After our daughter Carly was born, we moved to California.  I became pregnant with Lydia just six months after Carly’s birth.  As I  fed and cared for one baby girl, and grew in my womb another.  My spiritual crisis flourished, growing as fast as the new life inside me.

 

Garments are worn as a reminder of the covenants and oaths taken inside the temple.  They are to serve as a constant reminder of who you are, what your purpose is on earth, and the morals and standards you are striving to live.  They keep you dressing modestly and behaving accordingly.  Putting the garments on your body is like dressing in the armor of God.

These were the true reasons the mormon underwear was hard for me to wear.

 

It was an oppressive,  constant weighing reminder of who I was – a latter-day saint (LDS).

 I would step out of a shower in the morning and stare at the blurred outline of my body in the fogged up mirror.

 I was disappearing.

I pulled the garments on, and the woman in the mirror became visible as the fog cleared.  She looked like all the women in my life…my mother, my grandmother, my aunts and cousins, my ancestors.

 It felt like chain mail under my clothes.

 My underwear was immutable evidence that I was trapped, encapsulated in fraudulence.  I hated when Rick would see me in them each day, knowing my garments were a reassurance for him that I was doing it.  I was complying with the temple promises.  It felt like a bold face lie.

I wanted to fall asleep at night, his skin and my skin unsheathed from our armor…my raw self and his.  But it was against the rules, to spend a night sleeping in our bed, holding onto each other without the barrier between.

The lightweight cotton was becoming so heavy, I could barely get dressed in the morning.

 

It seemed that each passing day, as my belly grew larger, so did my discontent.  I had managed to avoid buying maternity garments while pregnant with Carly, eeking by with my regular sizes and the nursing garments afterwards.  But this second baby, fast on the heels of the first, changed my body quicker.  The garments became uncomfortably tight, rolling up over my abdomen.  Rick would ask me almost daily if I had remembered to order maternity garments, and I would always respond with, “tomorrow.”  I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

 

I had respect for the garments, for the people who wear them, for their sacred and spiritual meaning for my loved ones.  And there came a point where I could not put them on.

 I had outgrown them.

I only had a month or two before Lydia would be born…  I sat on the edge of my bed, Carly calling for me in her crib, and I could not put them on my body.  I stopped wearing them.

 Rick began to ask about it as gently as he could, and I would shrug it off, as if I simply forgot. Both of us knew forgetting was not possible.  I could feel his fear building as the force of our spiritual storm began to build and take shape.   I would try to be nonchalant, tell him, “tomorrow,” and almost gag on my words.  His disappointed eyes and my guilt filled me up like wet cement.

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In that last month, Carly, with her imploring blue eyes, would lift my shirt and pat my bare belly, press against me.  She would squeeze my fingers and leave wet kisses on my cheeks.  My daughter.  My little girl, watching my every move.

And inside me grew a fierce and fearless Lydia, straining against my insides, running out of room, ready to come into the world and become.

 

And… there was…me.

 

A burgeoning woman who knew that the time was coming. The moment where soon, I would no longer be able to hold myself in.

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In the green of a blooming spring, amongst the awakening world, it happened.

I gave birth to us both.

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Worthy to Wear; the Initiation

I love to see the temple
I’m going there someday
To feel the Holy Spirit,
To listen and to pray.
For the temple is a house of God,
A place of love and beauty.
I’ll prepare myself while I am young;
This is my sacred duty.
I love to see the temple.
I’ll go inside someday.
I’ll cov’nant with my Father;
I’ll promise to obey.
For the temple is a holy place
Where we are sealed together.
As a child of God, I’ve learned this truth:
A fam’ly is forever.
Words and music: Janice Kapp Perry, b. 1938. (c) 1980 by Janice Kapp Perry.
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I walked into the Denver Temple, hand in hand with my fiance, my mom and dad just a few steps ahead of me…I was ready.  I had been found worthy.  I had a temple recommend in my pocket, and I was going to cross over from a child in preparation, to a grown woman.  I would be making covenants with Heavenly Father, participating in what I had been taught since birth, would be the most sacred, beautiful, spiritually powerful experience of my life.

They don’t really tell you WHAT is going to happen in there… WHAT the ceremonies are really like.  They do not define the kinds of promises and oaths you will take.  It is spoken about with reverence and hushed tones and vague references to spiritual wakefulness and glory and sacred duty.

I walked in filled with anticipation and readiness, I was finally going to be a part of the inside, I would at last be able to feel the tremendous spiritual affirmation that I was going to be ok.  That I was doing the right thing.  That love will conquer all, the naive mantra of so many twenty-somethings…Rick would be in there to share this experience with me, support me as I went through my initiatory and endowment ceremony.

When I came out, my heart thunked slowly and heavy in my chest. One clammy hand held tightly to Rick’s, the other to a sack of new underwear.  I strained to feel the spiritual aliveness, the glow I had been promised.  I was terrified.  I could not process the experience quickly enough to match the lightness in Rick’s stride.

 It was just a week before we were to return to a mormon temple to be sealed for time and all eternity.  I fought the sting of tears in my eyes as we climbed into the car, and I positioned my new purchases, small plastic packages filled with white bottoms and capped sleeve tops that would be my new normal, a reminder of this night’s covenants with God. I rubbed the rolled edge of the garment bottoms through my jeans as Rick started the car.  My parents waved proudly, big smiles on their faces, as they drove out of the parking lot.

“So!  You did it Meg! How do you feel?”  He looked imploringly into my eyes, as he had done in the celestial room of the temple, trying to read me, feel out my reaction.  He knew I was scared.

He knew.

I knew that as a mormon couple, we would live with a constant expectation to return to the temple regularly and perform the same rituals, over and over, in the stead of all the people who had died without the glorious privilege of participating in the ceremonies on earth.  I knew that my zealous, return missionary, soon to be husband, would want to do what was expected.

“I never want to do that again,” I whispered quietly into my lap, tears pooling in my eyes.  I stared at my hands, concentrating on not blinking them out.  Rick squeezed my leg.  I could feel his desperate searching for inspired words.

“Ok.  Meg.  It’s ok.  I know it’s new.  We are going to be married.  You are going to be my wife.  That’s all we need to think about.  Pray about it.  It will be ok.  I love you.”

“I love you, too.”  I squeezed his hand and kissed him quickly. I wanted to grab him and tell him how scared I was, how terrified.  I did not want to let him down.

 I wanted to be filled with spiritual fulfillment.  The disappointment and distaste for my first temple experience after a lifetime of being told it was the most amazing, uplifting, magical experience was a crushing blow to my delicate faith.  But I took some big breaths. I held my love’s hand in mine.  I stared at the golden angel Moroni, glowing in the cold January air at the top of the temple’s highest spire.  He was blowing his horn, announcing his truth.

 I watched him in the rearview mirror as we drove away, becoming tiny and distant in the night sky.

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