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.

I Went To An Art Party and Ended Up Getting Baptized. Again.

 

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There is a certain feeling you get when you are around a person that is self-possessed and fully expressed.  A person who is not arrogant or tightened inside, but open and fluid.  They have a different energy about them, a softened look behind their eyes.  They  lack  self-conscious defensiveness that others carry when  afraid to be fully seen, fully themselves.

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Photo Credit: Gardner Edmunds

 

I adore these people.

 

I think most of us do… they are the ones that make you feel instantly more at ease, safe in their presence to unwind a few notches and take a breath.  They attract people like a light bulb surrounded by moths, clamoring to be near.  Sometimes, they are hard to find.   Most of us are wound up and covered in armor, desperate to be seen but not seen.  We are busy trying to impress, trying to hide, trying to find the perfect balance of control that will make us not appear to be total asshats.

 

Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a party called  Creative Cocktail Hour with a lovely friend, a local artist.  Rick and I both adore Stefanie and her husband Carl,  because they both have this light presence, and when they are together it is even more inspiring to witness.

 

We went to Creative Cocktail Hour with a friend of hers… both of them attend these monthly parties faithfully… It is a  gathering of local artists and art-lovers at Real Art Ways, a space designed to showcase and support local art and the art community in Hartford.

 

I was scared.

 

My inner introvert shrinks like cojones in an ice bath at the thought of meeting and chit-chatting and mingling at a large party of “cool” people.  People who probably know how to talk about art.  I am not sure that unused Elementary Education degree I earned was going to come to my rescue when I needed to find an intelligent contribution to the small talk.  Unless somebody wants to talk about making homemade playdough sculptures.

 

That scared, uptight, insecure voice inside me was worried about being seen as a scared, insecure, uptight gal in a sea of self-expression.

And that is exactly what happened… at first.

 

We were greeted at the door by a huge, barrel chested  man named Tito, whom Stefanie and Greg hugged first.  When I extended my hand in introduction, he swallowed me in a hug, declaring,   “No one shakes hands here!” in a deep bellow.  A tall thin man rode up on a bicycle with a spatula taped to the back end of his helmet and dismounted.  He also hugged Tito, and then we all made our way into the building, passing an older couple in their late 60’s wearing hats made of disposable picnicware.

 

There was no visible commonality in this gathering.  The variety of ages, clothing style, hair style,  gender expression, sexual expression …was astonishing.  It appeared that every kind of person from all walks of life had come out to hug and chat and dance.  There was one golden thread of detectable similarity there, and after softening into the night I began to see it.  I wanted to belong there too.

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So I was baptized that night.

 

It was my second time being baptized, in fact.

 

The first was a religious affair… one of the most important moments of my life as an LDS child remains a gauzy, soupy memory I can’t quite access.  But this I know:  I was eight, I wore a white dress and people hugged me and shook my hand and told me how proud they were of me for making the only right decision there was to make… to be baptized by immersion for the remission of my sins.  So I could belong.  When I came up out of those waters, I emerged fully committed to do my best to become the person God wanted.

 

At Real Art Ways, I was baptized by immersion again.

 

Immersion in a scene filled with people who were all unapologetically themselves.

 

To be exposed and immersed in this unadulterated authenticity was not for the remission of my sins, but a remission of my armor.  The crowd pulsed with this free energy, the acceptance of people as they are.  Simple.  In a gathering of people all devoted to becoming, every day, more freely self expressed, the beauty of humanity is a palpable force.  It existed in the art on the walls, in the music the brass band was gifting to us, in the  air that surrounded us.  It entered me with each breath, and then right through the pores of my skin.   I felt it move to open the hardest places inside me… this collective energy has one message:

 

You are supposed to Be exactly what you are.

The immersion will not be an experience I will soon forget.  It was a moment of experiencing the possibility of being free from sin.  And, I am coming to more fully understand what sin really is.  Sin is the armor of self-protection we wear… to make ourselves appear formidable and fierce and brave.  We put on this armor so that we can go out and be seen, without exposing our most tender places, without being vulnerable to the pain of rejection or loss.

 

We cover ourselves up and hide in the open so we do not have to hear the message we dread:

 

Be ashamed.  You are not enough.

 

Stefanie, the friend who brought me,  is less covered by this armor, and by being more freely expressed, more authentically her, I sense the safety in being me.  I realize, where they gather, these people who are figuring out how to move through it and lay down the armor –  love is less diluted.  It is more easily accessed and felt… it is the golden thread that binds us.    We ALL belong already, we just have to take off the protection and express who we are… and others will see that golden thread too.

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Photo provided by Stefanie Marco, KiNDSPIN DESIGN

So go out and find those people, the ones that carry themselves with that spark of authentic presence.  It is not hard to recognize the lightness they possess, their loving energy is more free to flow.  Immerse yourself in their authentic lightness, in the generosity of spirit that surrounds them… in that spirit, there is no fear.  Only love.

 

When I emerged from this second baptism,  I came away not committed to becoming… that commitment is the sin.  The armor.

 

I emerged more willing to Be.

 

Unapologetically, just as

 

I am.

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Photo Credit: Gardner Edmunds

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.

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

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.

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.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA 

Skivvies and Damnation

“Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into [God’s] presence. To worthily receive them is the quest of a lifetime; to keep them thereafter is the challenge of mortality.” –   LDS President Boyd K. Packer

I better just get the underwear thing out of the way.  I am not sure that the necessity of special  underwear in order to find eternal salvation is something I can just zip on past.   It’s a topic that needs addressing.  Not just because people in general are fascinated with the idea that mormons wear secret underwear, (they do) but also because it was certainly a huge part of my overwhelming unhappiness as a mormon woman,  and a painful hurdle to overcome.

 But.

I dread it….writing about this part.   Because it’s absolutely sacred to the mormon population.  And while I will poke fun, be irreverent, and unafraid to talk about the church’s darker, more damaging side… it is not my intention to hurt or disrespect LDS people.

I don’t believe in the church anymore.  And the secrecy surrounding many of the beliefs and teachings were damaging and hurtful to me, and many others. There is so much secrecy, and so much fear in talking honestly and openly about real experience.  There is no safe forum for mormon people to express their feelings of doubt or fear or disagreement.   I have been filled with much hesitation to share some of these more sacred elements out of respect for the LDS people, out of my desire to not feel hated and condemned by them, my own family members especially. I squirm in my seat as I write this.   It has taken me a long time to arrive here, to this moment when I believe that I deserve to share it, to own it, to call it out, just as they will spread their message and try to find people to blindly follow their faith.

 I will share the sacred parts…  the temple, the underwear, with intention…not to desecrate something holy, but to own my story and shed the shame and propensity to hide behind propriety at the cost of my soul, my spirit.  It is all I can do.

 l love mormons.

I was one.  I am married to someone who was molded and shaped into an incredible father and husband by the LDS faith.  I was a fifth generation mormon, and almost all of my ancestors and living relatives are still faithful LDS people.   Mormons are some of the most generous, caring, loving, and thoughtful people you will meet.  They are resourceful and energetic and loving and they will bring you a casserole and a pan of brownies, help you move, jump your dead battery on the side of the road, or visit you when you are sick  without pause or reciprocation.

So.  Deep breath.

To start with the basics, yes, mormons do in fact wear special underwear.  Mitt Romney?  He wears the undies.  So does his wife.  Any faithful, active adult member of the LDS community with a church resume like the Romney’s must wear the garments, or they would be deemed unworthy of holding those important church positions.  Children do not wear garments…you must be 18, found worthy, and go through sacred and very secret rituals and ceremonies in an LDS temple in order to purchase and wear garments.

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-Denver, Colorado Temple.  The temple I first received my garments.

Mormons believe the underwear is absolutely sacred and is not supposed to be shown to others or spoken about to outsiders.  The underwear is worn to keep one modest, serve as a reminder of the promises made to God, and when worn faithfully and correctly can be protective.  There are hundreds of stories floating in mormonland and even shared over the pulpit about people who were physically protected in accidents or fire by wearing the garments.  These are the stories that confirm the notion to outsiders that mormons wear “magical underwear.”


Mormon underwear is all white, a symbol of purity.  The men wear a basic white shirt, and the bottoms look like white boxer briefs but the legs are lengthened to a few inches above the knee.  There are secret symbolic markings embroidered into various places on the bottoms and tops.  The markings are small, white and not very noticeable.  The women wear tops that look like tank tops with capped sleeves.  They come in a variety of neck lines, but they all come up high enough to modestly cover indecent cleavage exposure.  For women with bigger breasts, the tops are sewn with boob pouches, of sorts, so that the top will fit smoothly over all the skin.  The catch is, women must wear the sacred garment under the bra.  Ladies will understand the supreme discomfort that this may cause the well endowed LDS.  I don’t care how smooth you try to make those boob pouches, they are simply not good enough to prevent bunching, puckering, and movement of the bra in all the wrong places.  The bottoms look like white spandex, that go down to a few inches above the knee, to prevent scandalous immodest flashing of the upper thigh.  The female garments have the same markings as the men…  a strange phenomenon of equality within the faith, not often replicated.

Thankfully, the design has changed over time, as they used to be one-piece numbers, with long sleeves, long pants…and a crotch flap. These beauties may still be available for worthy purchasers. Awesome.  The one-piecers were a piece of history my mother loved to remind me of as we commiserated about the hot misery of those boob pouches. And despite our shared discomfort, the sacred power of those garments held tremendous control over our lives.  The influence the underwear has in daily LDS life is hard to articulate, and the guilt and perceived wickedness over letting them go was immense.  The decision to slip on a pair of good ol’fashioned bikini briefs caused almost paralyzing anxiety at times, paralleled only in my emotions now, as I let go to the fears associated with writing about the underwear.

Releasing that fear was a challenge, when I am going to burn in hell for writing about this.  Actually, I don’t think most mormons believe in “burning in hell.”  Hell is called outer darkness, and is rarely spoken of.

I have come far enough to have let go of that belief, the idea that the kind of skivvies I wear is important to God, or a measure of my worthiness as a human being.  Can there be a heavier weight, a more taxing exercise, than a continual critical measuring of self worth?  The memory of that measurement still makes it hard for me to breathe, it presses in on my throat, my voice disappears.

Floating out here in the “outer darkness,” I feel so much lighter.  And I marinate in this idea:

We are all worthy.

Always.

The worthiness is brilliant and it’s still flowering within me.

The projection of strength, faith, and sacrifice is paramount in the mormon community, and even within the family circle there can be a thick communication barrier.  It’s a barrier that still snakes it’s way through me, coiling around my darkest places, the most raw fears.  I know that LDS people will feel disrespected and offended by the things I write here, about my own personal experience as a mormon woman.   I see the fear in my mother and father’s eyes when I tell them about the things  I will write here, for the world to read.  For their family members to read. But their discomfort it is unavoidable,…inevitable, if I am to accomplish what I have set out to do…to find my voice and be unafraid to use it.  That voice has been bound and gagged for too long by the remaining vestiges of mormon unmentionables.   I have set out to peel away the layers of my self, to discover what is underneath, and scrape that away too.

When all the layers are gone, the only thing remaining will be what is at the core of us all.

God.  Love.

My hope is that my willingness to be raw, naked and condemned by people I love will help someone else find the God within themselves too.

I will send this small nugget of release into the blog-iverse with the promise of more details to come.  The next layer must come off.  I’m just going to catch my breath first.

To be continued.