The Painful Distinction of Doing and Being

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*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.

Creative Therapy

I haven’t been writing.  I mentioned that in my last post, The Wound, as well.  People ask why, and I have to be truthful… I have been immersed in serious, soul-searching, life-renewing therapy.  It’s intensive.

My therapist:

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The truth is, my writing is deeply rooted is some pretty painful places… I don’t know how to do it without connecting to the very center of that raw ache, and without naked honesty.  And for so many reasons, I just haven’t been capable of it for a large part of 2014.  But when it is simply too much to write the words down, I run straight into the waiting hum of my Pfaff. I have been holed up in my attic, cutting up beautiful fabrics into small pieces, and putting it back together to create something new, born of something else.

There is something so safe and so true in this act, I have found myself spending most of my time here.  Making dolls.  And purses.  And quilts.  And little snack bags.

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Often, with the meditative act of pairing one scrap of fabric to the next, I feel as if I may be stitching my own self back together.

It is amazing how finding the perfect fabric for the perfect head of doll hair can be a method of reconnecting myself.  And in that, I have had experiences in the last six months I never could have imagined.  Joining artist groups, sewing banners for a parade, painting rocks for a town wide treasure hunt, trading owl bags and quilts for facial cream and artwork, selling at holiday shows, being on TV.

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I used to believe that being creative was the same as being blonde.  Or green-eyed.  Or tall.  Some of us got dished out a whole lot more than others in the genetic pool we sprung from.  I must have waited in the tall girl line, and forgot about creativity….

Not so.

We have all been born out of creative energy… it is our life force.  Spirit.  God.  The very essence of who we are is this creative source.  Some were born with a deep sense of that energy within, and some have not fostered that connection.  Somewhere in their childhood, that place was snipped free, and we “uncreative” ones became untethered from the source.  Its tragic, and not without repercussions in our lives, to feel separate from the source of our humanity.

This may sound a little woo-woo to you all… and don’t worry.  Me too.  It’s coming from a woman who has spent a larger part of 10 years trying to scrub all things “spiritual” from my world.  More likely to spell out the word G-O-D than any choice four-lettered expletive.  And I have spent most of my childhood as well as adulthood actively rejecting all things Martha Stewart… including dyed wool felt and cotton batting and quilting thread.

Those eye rolls and f-yous are a part of my spiritual crisis now, and some of the reasons I am sewing up piles of little dolls and snack sacks. IMG_6769IMG_6770

I can revisit that later.  For now, I am relieved to just be writing a few hundred words.  And to feel that some part of my Self was stitched back together in the piles of fabrics and spools of thread.

So check out my goods… what has sprung from the therapist’s chair.

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Message me if you want any, or check me out at

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.302818606570850&type=1

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My 180 on Gay Marriage

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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.

What Can You Know for Sure?

know

verb (used with object), knew, known, know·ing.

1.  to perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty

2.to have established or fixed in the mind or memory

3.to be cognizant or aware of

4.be acquainted with, as by sight, experience, or report

5.to understand from experience or attainment

What do you know for sure?

My entire life has been driven by this question.   KNOW… the most powerful word that exists in mormon culture.  When I say or even think this word, I hear the definitive crack of a slamming of a gavel.   It is done.

I left my faith because of the misuse and abuse of this word.

As a mormon girl, I ached to know.   I wanted it so much, the need swirled, undefined and cloudy within me until unmet, it settled itself into my bones.  Infused itself into my muscles and fibers and tissues.

“I know the church is true.”

“I know the scriptures are true.”

“I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God.”

 These declarations of truth are scratched into my psyche. Imprinted.  The desire to make those words my own drove me to the brink of despair.  I followed all of the mormon formulas, but the words were not mine to profess.  To be surrounded by people with such concrete proclamations burrowed a deep well of failure inside me.

Once a month, mormon worship includes  holding an open mic testimony meeting, where members of the congregation go up the pulpit and declare what they know is true.

tes·ti·mo·ny

 [tes-tuh-moh-nee, or, esp. British, -muh-nee]  Show IPA

noun, plural tes·ti·mo·nies.

1. Law. the statement or declaration of a witness under oath or affirmation, usually in court.

2. evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof.

3. open declaration or profession, as of faith.

4. Usually, testimonies. the precepts of God.

Although there is no script, the conditioning that begins in the preschool years leads to the inclusion of certain key phrases that most people use while “bearing their testimony.”  It almost always begins with

“I’d like to bear my testimony…I know the church is true.”

There is no age restriction, so usually the open mic hour will begin with children in the congregation.   Parents will lead their toddlers and preschoolers up to the mic, hoist them onto their hips, or let them stand invisible behind the thick wooden lectern.  They whisper the words to their tiny children.  The little ones must hold their breath with the strain of listening to their mom or dad’s sentences, which they repeat in a breathy burst.

I know this church is true…

I know the scriptures are the words of God…

I know Heavenly Father loves me.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Then the adults get up.  They will often tell a story to illustrate their “knowing.”  They often cry.  I remember my mother’s soft hands, twisting tissues around her fingers, dabbing her eyes.  She is moved to tears with ease.  My father, sitting straight and attentive, was less emotive.   Neither of my parents brought me to the pulpit.  I never felt their lips and their breath tickling my ear, feeding me their words to declare.  They did not pressure me as I got older to participate in this public ritual.  I felt weak with relief that they never required it of me.  But, the opportunity to “bear your testimony” was presented with great regularity throughout my upbringing.  Sunday school, scripture studies, youth activities, church camp, and family gatherings.  I have witnessed my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, mentors and friends all tearfully bear their testimony throughout my life.

My best friend through middle school and high school was not a mormon girl.  She was delightfully agnostic, and her life was not an internal storm of powerful statements and concepts  (God, testimony, truth, sacred, salvation, purity, modesty, worthiness).   She came with me to a youth overnight camp for teens ages 14 + when we were juniors in high school.   It was one of the few times I ever invited her to a church activity.  At the end of the overnight trip, there was a testimony meeting.  I sat next to her, feeling as if I might erupt with expectation, as one by one, my peers and friends got up and declared their testimony.  My friend began elbowing me, urging me to get up and do it.  “Go.  Go.”  She prodded after each teenager sniffled their way back their seat.  She wanted me to do it, she wanted to hear what it was that I knew.  I shook my head in refusal, and finally,  I turned in my seat and caught her eyes.  I let her see it, for just a brief flash…the devastation I felt in not knowing.

I decided to give the mormon church one last chance when I was a young student teacher, writing to a mormon missionary whom I felt I was falling in love with.  I wanted the door to be opened to me… the door that seemed to close me off from the knowing that my family and peers all spoke of so reverently… I had been knocking until my knuckles bled, and the mantle of shame, being shut out of this special place, was crushing.

I read the Book of Mormon.  It took a while, because every few verses I would be overcome by doubt.  I would read a passage and feel resistance.  I would drop to my knees every few minutes and plead with Heavenly Father to release me from the doubts, to open my heart.  To let me in.  A steady stream of tears dripped from the end of my nose onto the flimsy pages of text.  I finished the whole book this way, reading, weeping, pleading, praying.

I waited for the affirmation that what I read was “true.”  I waited for the burning in my heart, the warmth and knowledge that had been declared to me by everyone I loved.   It was a knowing I would not be granted.

It could not be formed out of my desire.

Over the weekend, Rick and I  watched the fifth Harry Potter movie with my girls.  In the story, Harry has to write “I must not tell lies”  on a sheet of paper with a magic quill.  As he does this, the words are painfully etched into his flesh.  When he asks how many times he must write the words, the professor responds, “Until it leaves a mark.”

There did not need to be a magic quill like Harry’s to wound me, only the continual and absolute declaration of truth and knowledge by everyone important to me…and their insistence that my inability to join them was my own retched failings.  The etched over words “I know this church is true” were not a delicious imprint, but a searing scar I carried.

They had left their mark.

I was never allowed to shape my own personal testimony.  There is only one answer to  arrive at… the church is true. How is a child supposed to explore and come to their own ideas about God, spirit, worthiness, sacrifice, scripture, and prayer, when the answers are whispered into their ears, etched into their souls since infancy, and kept there with the fear of losing their culture, their identity, the acceptance of their people?  The notion that what one knows to be personal truth should also be accepted or can be experienced as universal truth is limiting, damaging, and confining.  People need opportunity to explore who they are free of shame and fear.  Children must not be spoon fed what we feel is our truth.  It is our job to be witnesses to the unfolding of their own knowing. To present all the possibilities we can and watch with fascination as the differences and similarities emerge.

What do you know? What IS knowing?

I have known things.  That knowing came in a flash of recognition, the way a deep breath fills your lungs and then is carried into every organ, every tissue, every cell, through your beating heart.

When I comb through my life for the most significant moments, KNOWING are the shimmering stones on my pathway.  The moments I KNEW.   They vibrate with tension and energy….  The moment I knew I would marry Rick.  The moment I knew I was pregnant.  The moment I knew the force of a mother’s love.  The moment I knew that I must look for my own knowing.   The moment I knew I must reclaim myself.

The only thing that we can truly know is ourselves.  Knowing oneself is a work that spans a lifetime of inquiry and analysis and forgiveness and fortitude, and what I believe, is the purpose of our life.

To know oneself, is to know God.

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”  – Laozi

Clotheslined

I felt high after my last post.

It actually worked, this E-Squared business, and I couldn’t wait to try the next experiment.  I spent a day just BE-ing and it felt amazing.  I was ready to call up a tattoo shop and get’er done.  I felt more present and open.  I felt free from the long list of things that I had felt splitting me apart… the to-do list still existed, but I had really only one assignment.

Be.  In each moment.

I was like Maria in the Sound of Music.  Heart full, skipping down a path with my guitar in one hand and carpet bag in the other, singing with gusto…

Unknown-1

I have confidence in sunshine!
I have confidence in rain!
I have confidence that spring will come again!
Besides which you see I have confidence in me!

Strength doesn’t lie in numbers!
Strength doesn’t lie in wealth!
Strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers!
When you wake up — Wake Up!

Butterflies fluttered and birds sang.  I was super happy, people.

I quickly ate up the next chapter or Pam Grout’s book, E-squared…. ready for my next experiment!

And that is when I was clotheslined.  Hardcore TKO.  Maria, sprawled in the dirt unconscious.    I don’t remember that part of the movie, but that is what happened.  Yeow.  Just typing the words, my heart beats painfully in my deeply bruised chest.

So the last few days I have had to regain consciousness, and access the injuries.   When life clotheslines you, it is natural to ask, why?  I didn’t have the words at first.  But yesterday, and today, the why has come.

“WHY!!!!??????”  (Shakes fist at the sky)

I forgot about E-Squared.  I forgot about almost everything but the hurt.  Just Be.  In the hurt.  It has taken all of me to not curl into a ball and turn this hurt into a hard nugget of anger, a stone that I would carry with me forever.  That was my old pattern.  And I am trying so hard to stop that.  But what do I do with this hurt?  How do we deal with grief?

I found this on my Facebook page, posted by Cheryl Richardson on Sunday.

“Today I invite grief in. I welcome its teachings, its benevolence, and its ability to connect me with my vulnerable, tender heart.  After all, that tenderness is important. It’s the aliveness we all secretly long for every single day of our lives…”

Then, I decided to listen to a good, uplifting radio show.  Something to boost me up, hold me a tiny bit higher than the lowest vibration.  A caller called in with a question for the guest doctor on the show that could have come right out of my own mouth.  About being clotheslined.  About my hurt.  The answer was so uncanny, so exactly what I needed to hear that my husband, who walked into the kitchen as the host was giving the answer turned to me and asked if I manifested this radio program.

Huh…. did I?

We went to meet an incredibly inspiring woman, Colleen Alexander, and her husband on Sunday.  It was the first time we have met, and she brought me a book…an unexpected gift… Your True Home by Thich Nhat Hanh.  I was touched by her story and bravery and sensitivity.  I tucked it in my bag after we said our goodbyes.

Last night, Lydia woke with a terrible nightmare.  She was out of sorts this morning, being sassy and angry, over reacting, and was in tears by the time she got into the car to go to school.  I tried wrapping her in love as I pulled up to the curb, sending it back to her from the drivers seat.  But  she jumped out of the car and slammed the door, and took a few angry steps to walk away, looking dark and sad.  And then she ran to me, and I opened the car door and pulled her to my lap and held her.  I suddenly asked her about her nightmare.  It felt relevant in this moment.  She said she dreamt that someone took me… stole me. Her fear was real and still present in her eyes.  I hugged it away, reassured her that I would kick anyone’s butt that tried to take me away.  I pulled away from her, and said it again, but this time I gave her a delicious pebble of emphasis… “I would kick their ASSES Lydia.”  She smiled then, and went to school.  Lydia has always been the mirror, reflecting me…

Then it was off to work, and I exchanged a smile with the kind cashier as she expressed concern for me, saying I didn’t seem like myself.  Am I really this transparent?  So I sat with my coffee and the book Colleen gave me and asked the FP  (the field of infinite possibilities) to give me a healing message from the book to help me.  I opened it, and this is what it said:

#158

Come Back To Yourself

“Most people are afraid to come back to themselves, because that means having to face the pain inside of them.  With the practice of mindfulness, the situation changes.  We come back to our pain, but now we are well equipped with the energy of mindfulness that has been generated by mindful  breathing and by meditation.  We use that source of energy to recognize and embrace our pain.”

Ok.  So I was clotheslined.  It happened.  And then I brought a whole slew of healing messages and moments into my life to help me hold the hurt.  I am going to choose differently than I have before, when feeling broken by something in my life.  I think I am realizing how powerful we all are.  In the sense that I called in these healing moments, I also called in the branch that knocked me out…left my inner Maria reeling from a lesson that needed to play out.  But, oh LORD how it can hurt, this business of reaching for wholeness.

I just re-read the second experiment in E-Squared.  The Volkswagon Jetta Principle.  This is what it claims:

You Impact the Field and Draw from It According to Your Beliefs and Expectations

I read this for the first time last thursday,  just an hour before I hit that branch.  And reading it now, it is funny how the incident, the pain, the clothesline… it demonstrates this principle in the most absolute possible terms.  It exposed to me in no uncertain terms how powerful we are…when we are looking for messages of love and support and healing, they come.  When we are looking for messages to confirm our deepest fears and insecurities, betrayal and rejection… they come too.  And our intention can not direct what others are manifesting in their own lives.

Because of the seriousness of the injury and the obvious way I feel this principle was shown to me, the actual experiment seems funny.  But I will participate in it, if only to give me more time to breathe and come back to myself.

If you missed the first experiment, The Dude Abides, you can see the set up here and the results here.

So here it is, the Lab Report Sheet.  Once again, for clarification, the words in red come from Pam Grout’s book, E-Squared.  The words  in black, are mine.

LAB REPORT SHEET

 

The Principle:  The Volkswagon Jetta Principle

 

The Theory:  You impact the field and draw from it according to your beliefs and expectations. 

The Question:  Do I really see only what I expect to see?

 

The Hypothesis:  If I decide to look for sunset beige cars and butterflies, I will find them.  

 

Time Required:  48 hours

 

Today’s Date:  Tuesday, November 12, 2013          Time:  10:25 am

  

The Approach: According to this crazy Pam Grout girl, the world out there reflects what I want to see.  She says that it’s nothing but my own illusions that keep me from experiencing peace, joy and love.  So even though I suspect she’s cracked, today I’m going to look for orange cars.  Tomorrow, I will look for purple hats.

       a.  Number of orange cars observed _________

       b.  Number of purple hats observed _________

Here we go.  Breathe.  Be.  And play seek and find.

“You will not break loose until you realize that you yourself forge the chains that bind you.”

                      -Arten in The Disappearance of the Universe, by Gary Renard

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.