Monday, February 7, 2011

Waking Up in California

In response to this.

San Francisco 2002

Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.

I discovered it was all a lie the summer I got divorced.

In an attempt to catch my breath I flew from Salt Lake to San Francisco to spend a month living with my sister Page's family. I hoped a dalliance in the sunshine and an atmosphere of ocean would cure my beaten spirit. If not, my red-headed, freckled nieces and nephews would surely do the trick.

I found purpose in taking over my sister's daily laundry mission. When it was nap time and the house was quiet, I'd remove damp clothes from an over-stuffed washer, wrap them over the balcony facing west and let the California lazy sun do the drying. Then I'd fall into a lawn chair, cock my head toward the light and meditate on what was left of my life.

In that month my sister Page and I had intense conversations about the energy crisis in California. We debated whether her constant stream of laundry was part of the problem and, if so, would we do better to ease the burden with large loads of slow cycles or small batches with a shorter wash time.

And we talked about love.

"All my life," I explained to her one day, sitting a slate-colored wooden bench in the front yard, "I thought the ultimate experience as a human was to find love and feel loved. I lived my whole life to this point thinking it was all about this."

It was a conversation that silenced my strongly-opinionated sister. I remember her clad in comfy Birkenstocks, her sharp, pixie-cut hair throwing little rocks into the landscaped rock pile as we talked. She was the mother of five babies, my sister who had married a passionate newly returned missionary with auburn hair when she was just twenty years old. They were beyond fortunate, living in a beautiful home off a secluded street in the heart of the peninsula. Her kids would romp around in the surrounding foliage and find all sorts of bugs and snakes. There was dutch crunch bread and breezy dinners on the deck.

I was twenty-four years old, living back at home with my parents after leaving my nine-month old marriage. I graduated from college that spring and was at a loss for what to do next. I wasn't hopeless, but I was resentful about the culture I came from that had told me my problems would be resolved once I was attached to a man.

"If getting married is all there is to this life, if sex is the ultimate reward, then I have failed and there isn't hope for me. But I don't believe this message anymore. I see now that the reason we are here on this earth is to achieve a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That is our true path, and only lasting ecstasy. Anything else is just a cherry on the top."

The lie wasn't being fed to me in the doctrines of Mormonism. This was a cultural deception, full attack on all sides. It told me sex was all there was and if it came with a price--a bad marriage stuffed into a small apartment--it was worth the cost. It told me that no man would care about intelligence when there was a warm body to touch. It told me that a woman was only as good as her successful husband and children. I was disillusioned--in attempting "the dream," I discovered the tragedy.

If being loved by a man--physically, emotionally--was all there was to this life, it disturbingly short changed the capacity of womanhood. Sex is stationed to enhance our understanding of God--a ritual celebrating who we are, where we're from and who we can become. It is a means of communication, procreation and repentance but sex is not all there is, there is so much more.

Page looked at me and nodded her head. In her personal cornucopia of blessings--spilling over into a giant vat of life experience--her belief in our religion was soul-consuming. Here she had everything I wanted, everything our culture promised as perfection and yet, she was good enough to agree with me. All of this could be taken away and she'd still have Jesus.

Mormonism teaches that we are on the earth for two main reasons, to get a body and to learn to be like God. In the process we seek out knowledge, agency, good works, faith, repentance, charity and hope. We celebrate family because we believe it is the safest place to learn these virtues. And at a time in my life when I should have felt alone, I turned to these truths and instead felt alive. I was bruised, embarrassed and angry about believing the wrong message, but could not deny a gorgeous hope swelling around inside of me.

Being without both marriage and sex wasn't as bad as I thought it would be--I had power I never knew existed. But I understood God wanted me to marry again.

A year later I brought back my tall, kind, soon-to-be husband. We decided to celebrate our engagement with a trip to the bay.There were a couple days spent at the beach with the Page and the kids (now six!) combing though the sand for snippets of beach glass and watery shells. I imaged a family--from us--to take to the beach with sand castle plans and sandy freeze tag. It was much easier the second time to believe in marriage because I didn't feel like it was my defining success. I was a woman who knew God loved her--and that would always be my greatest accomplishment.

Sex is powerful, my religion is true. Sex without my religion isn't worth it to me, and sex with my religion is divine. A woman can seek after her heart--ample laundry, a house full of  children, a husband to kiss home each day, success, power, poetry, beauty, but there will never be any woman more alluring than she who knows she's a daughter of God.

Page with her family, San Mateo, Ca. 2002

See Emily Dyer's response Mormon & Single: science projects, lunch money & picking teams go here.