My Words. My Story.


Preface. I wrote this post last night.  I told Dave that I would not post it online, and would keep it with all my other working-out-my-religion posts.  Please know I never want to offend. That is why I try to leave my beliefs offline.  Also know that I am posting because this post is not about beliefs or doctrine. It is about community. Earlier today my friend, Amy in Texas, reminded me that maybe we can have a productive conversation about building community when she posted this Salt Lake Tribune article. It  was written two years ago. I think the author Paul Malan says it way better than I do:

Each time a non-traditional Mormon lets her neighbor see her unique beliefs, she makes it easier for everyone in the congregation to be true to themselves. One respectful voice at a time, the silent minority will begin to understand that they aren’t alone in their doubts and beliefs. Power will shift away from the monoculture and toward the productive edges  — to the ecotones where opportunity and challenges await, where ideas and opinions and personalities can blend together to create something like an ideological wetland: hard to define, hard to cling to, and infinitely more valuable to the world than anything Mormonism has been able to offer so far.”

My Words: I have been told that if I (a.) did not live in Utah, ground zero of Mormonism and (b.) had never been a Mormon that things would be different. I tend to agree. And in truth, this post is not about doctrinal discrepancies or our political differences. It is about community and my quest to find it here. And I know a big part of our community is measured (on both sides) then based on LDS church attendance and activity. Out of the gate, let me complicate that measurement. See, if I did not feel such a bizarre expectation when you see me at church, I would probably go. And in the interest of full transparency, yes, I would not attend full-time, but I would definitely go when I was feeling nostalgic, or wanted to connect with a very big part of who I am. Hold up. And to my non-Mormon, or former Mormon friends, you may ask,

“Beth, why are you bringing this up? This is not healthy. Draw a line. Make a boundary. Let it go and move on.”

To which I would respond, “You may be right, but why do you care?  This is my story and my experience. And I seem to recall that you were able to have your experience too.”

And to everyone on all sides: Obviously you may think I am crazy for feeling the way I do. Instead of crazy, I would suggest I am grey. Meaning I sit on fences, and fence-sitters are hard to measure or box in. I suffer way too much empathy (for all the sides). Mostly and for real, I love, respect and care deeply about my mom. I know how completely sad it makes her that I do not go. I take her seriously and reconciling her sorrow is hard. That is my uncomfortable truth.

Dave & I at the Natural History Museum, Salt Lake City, Utah
Dave & I at the Natural History Museum, Salt Lake City, Utah

I want all people to feel safe being their authentic selves. That is why I chose to be transparent. And the truth is, because I was raised LDS, and because I live in Utah, Mormonism is and will always be an inescapable part of my reality. I have very fond memories of the LDS community I was raised in. I met my best friend, Marianne, at church, and I met Dave at BYU. It was not all bad.  Eventually after fighting every single Sunday, Dave asked that we do something he wanted to do, which was to stop attending church.  I love him. I support him. I heard him and we stopped. At the time I wrote my local bishop a letter and asked him to include our family in activities. Then the Mormon bishop and I met in person. We had a friendly conversation and I never heard from him or really that ward again.  On a summer evening in a previous ward another Mormon bishop saw Dave and me out on a walk.  He hesitated. Then he stopped and approached. His words:

“I was told not to talk to your family. I was told that you did not want any contact.”

“I am glad you said something now.” I kindly responded as I held my ice tea by my side.

We assured him that he had been misinformed. I pushed further and reassured him that whether we went to church, sat in the halls at church (which we did a lot at that time), or did not go at all, we would would always be nice and open. I said,

“You are our neighbors. I do not think it needs to be so black and white. I hope we can all be friends.” To his credit, he and his wife have remained our friends.

Having a friendly conversation with these bishops are not isolated incidents. If I had a dollar for every Mormon church leader I have reached out to, I could buy a really nice outfit. It is awkward. Because I hope things can be different, every time we move into a new place, I (preemptively) reach out.

“No, we are not drug dealers or pedophiles. And sure, I only have 2 kids, but that was infertility not choice.”

They reach back in an an excessive flurry, usually offering to take our kids to church if we don’t want to take them ourselves.

“Beth, it takes a village. The whole neighborhood is raising my kids.” One man texted me.

I responded, “Hey, if my sons want to go to church, I am happy to take them.” I am certain his intentions were good. I am also certain he does not understand the divisive implications of what he is suggesting: Church is good, Inactive parents are bad (not worthy) = Mormon Ward Members (neighbors) will save Kyle and Eli.

Sure, I wish I could say that my very assertive and sincere, we-can-still-be-friends public relations approach works. It sort of works. Like for a minute. Then when people do not see us at church, or because church responsibilities demand so much attention, we are forgotten, excluded, or awkwardly included. I left my anger and resentment behind years ago. Each time I sincerely thank them and ask them to include me in neighborhood texts, activities, or service. I usually do not hear back. Remember, I know the culture. They are busy.  They are insulated and eventually, they drop off.  So when we do see them, they usually overly share, look down or pretend they do not see us.  It does not matter how many times I reassure them we are more like them then we are not. It does not matter how much I promise not to talk about doctrine, nor does it matter how many times I say nice things about their beliefs.  We are never part of the community.

I am also human. So when we do get invited to a church activities, my memories of how Mormons feel about outsiders kicks in.  I let my anxiety and preconceived judgements get the best of me and I act a little shy. Truth be told, I also persevere and force myself to engage:

“Hi neighbor. I am Beth. Our kids go to school with each other. Both of my boys are on the cross country team.”

The conversation always falls flat when they realize who I am and then they stare blankly. That is when I sense they are simply fulfilling an awkward responsibility to engage with the “inactive” lady. Check. I think you know the difference between a sincere and insincere response. Just in case you don’t I will give you an example:  It is like when your mom forces you to talk to the dorky kid, that kid you would never invite to your party or a ski weekend. It feels just like that. Weird, not normal.

I also get it. I am sensitive to their position. And of course, I have many Mormon friends who accept me no matter what.  Unfortunately, here in Utah, there is no separation of church and state so their better-ness and exclusivity bleeds into the culture. Mormon moms make the best PTA presidents and organize the best running groups.  Again. I get it. To them, I am an unknown. Consequently, I am not safe. I am an outsider. They are human and maybe saying hi to a stranger is really hard.  I imagine they could be gun-shy, because when they do reach out, they are are met with confrontation and frustration. My whole point is I do not need to be a stranger. I literally know and understand your culture. We literally live next to each other. Our kids go to school with each other. I can help you with your PTA stuff.  I am probably more like you than I am like my non-Mormon friends. Don’t you see that? That is why I keep trying to connect. I realize that I may not fit the mold of someone who does not go to church. I am grey.  In truth, who really fits into that mold? I know many of my close LDS friends do not.  I think there are more grays. And #protip, grays usually exist on the fringes. And I would actually argue that the fringes are getting even bigger.  If it helps, do you realize one of the reasons people exist on the fringe is their desire to bridge differences? The grays, or people on the fringes, will always be the first line of people willing to consider other perspectives.

But because I am (peculiarly) determined in my belief that all bridges can be crossed, I keep trying. I am honest and I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I ignore the truth adjustments, weird excuses, or blatant deflections. Nevertheless, being excluded or labeled, “outsider” sucks. It is no longer about religion, but about tribe and belonging. I think I need help or advice or understanding or to finally find some consistent healing. Does it really need to be black and white? Do I really need to pretend my Mormon neighbor is not there when she is standing right in front of me? I keep writing, talking, and yes, even praying and meditating, in hopes of figuring out and resolving my weird relationship with Mormonism and the Utah Mormon community. Sometimes I think I have figured it out.  In those moments, I feel relief. Something happens and another layer peels away. Then I am reminded about  the incongruities between the inclusive Mormon teachings and reality.

Rest assured. At times, I  too, think I am crazy, brainwashed, or super weird for trying to resolve these disconnects between myself and my faith. I was raised in Minnetonka, Minnesota, where the LDS members clung tightly together in a place where Mormonism was considered a curiosity, and Mormons were definitely held at arm’s length. After feeling the culture exclusion, I swore I would never exclude or do anything to make someone feel less than.  And as fate would have it, I now live in opposite land:  Salt Lake City, Utah, a place where the predominant culture is Mormonism.  And now in this bizarre twist of fate, because Dave, the boys and I do not go to church, we are the peculiarity. We are definitely held at arm’s length, especially in our Mormon neighborhood. The disconnect kind of drives me crazy.  

My question: Why can’t people be normal (or in fairness, how normal like I see normal)? Why is it hard to embrace people on the fringes? Don’t they remember the persecution and rejection their religion suffered?  And really, why do they act so weird around me and my family once they realize we do not go to church?  It makes no sense. Wherever we live, the ward boundary dynamic is always the same. They are fine with us until they realize we are not exactly like them. And when a friend finally connects that we are different, they reflexively close the door (usually along with their friendship). It is so strange.  

Marianne and I, Red Iguana 2, Salt Lake City, Utah
Marianne and I, Red Iguana 2, Salt Lake City, Utah

Instead of the norm, I want things to be different. In some ways they are (actually). I want Kyle & Eli’s friends to consistently treat them equally, even though they do not attend Mormon seminary or attend Young Men’s activities. I want the neighbor ladies to include me in neighborhood text chats and group walks, even though I do not go to church. I want the dudes to include Dave on the fun stuff not just the awkward neighborhood football fellowshipping activity.  I want the dads to know that even though we do not go to church, and that my sons are not the LDS sons you want your daughters to date, my boys will always be respectful. I promise. Please know that we are strict. We talk to our boys about consent and we even follow Mormon cultural norms about dating and courtship.

Selfishly, I want to shake them and say,

“Come on. It is us, Beth, Dave, Kyle and Eli. We are respectful and we will not bite.We do not care that you go to church. Why do you care that we don’t?”

Am I asking too much? I do not expect perfection. How could I? We are not perfect. And really, I can be such a dork.  We know and understand you are super busy with all of your church commitments, obligations, and are most likely unaware of your commitment-based isolation (monoculture). Nevertheless it is clear you that unless we do it your way we will never fit in. We will remain the pariahs, which sucks,  by the way, because remember, we are nice. This could be an opportunity to heal or to bridge? And when you do connect, or when you do allow your children around Kyle and Eli, I do not understand why you get a pass and why we always feel like we have to present you with a personal worthiness resume, which includes, but is not limited to, a mention of our prominent LDS friends, our service experience, our Mormon history (yes, Dave & I went to BYU and all 4 years of seminary), and then why do we further need to assure you that we do not have amnesia regarding the Mormon church, its doctrine or values? And then there is this, why do we need to remain in compliance with Mormon dietary restrictions, especially when you are addicted to Diet Coke, secretly buying frappuccinos in the Starbuck’s drive-through line, binge eating desserts, hyper gossiping, Netflix binging, or drinking mass quantities of Red Bull? Finally, I want to shout (so it penetrates):

“None of this makes sense!”

Representing my people wearing my color: gray
Representing my people wearing my color: gray

In the end, I know the idea that we can all get along is my hope and really a fantasy. I know you have been taught a certain way and ultimately, I know I do not fit into any of those safe and acceptable boxes. Let me assure you again. I do not expect anyone to see the world like we do. I also know that our neighborhood is deeply rutted in cultural norms, traditions and expectations. From our perspective, you guys can seem a little cult-y and exclusive. We are willing to look beyond. We know we are the outsiders. Nevertheless, we are your neighbors. I walk the same sidewalks. Our kids go to the same schools. And sure, we may not be doing things the same as you anymore, but we are probably much more similar than you think. Bottom line is this:  You are a huge part of who we have always been.

How Can I Stop Time?

The top of Rob's Trail, Park City, Ut
The top of Rob’s Trail, Park City, Utah

Forward: This has been week filled with heartbreaking news. Monday evening, February 1, I began this post.  At the time I did not know that our most awesome friend Steve had died, or about the sudden illness and passing of my mom’s and Harvey’s sweet and beloved, grandson, Nick.

Dave, Kyle, Eli and I wish both of their families much peace now as they move through their grief.

…I also  want to thank Melissa, Steve’s wife. You have graciously allowed us all to share our feelings, photos and thoughts. Thank you, my friend!

xo Jeff

Melissa’s words: “I say share away if it makes you feel any less pain.”

Rob's Trail, the back side of the canyons Ski Resort, Park City, Utah
Rob’s Trail, the back side of the canyons Ski Resort, Park City, Utah

The following was written Monday, February 1, 2016

Right now my thoughts are an anxiety-induced brain-coma of disconnects, intentional denials and lost trains of thoughts.  I am certain my brain coma is a result of our current living reality:  Our new home is covered in a mish-mash of unpacked boxes, unfinished construction, doors that need paint and door hardware and a toilet that need installing. I am certain my circuits persist in shorting because of things like the large, bright green, trash-filled dumpster in our driveway. Each and every time I go to back up, I literally forget how to back up.

“Do I turn the wheel to the left or to the right?” I ask and yes, out loud.

As I inch my way past that green monster, I am certain I will smash into it, or at least rip off my side mirror. Adding to my brain dumpster-PTSD is the part where I feel completely and totally emotionally exposed. Of course we are in a new neighborhood. It is a place where houses are close together and there are new people to meet and new people who will judge me.  Vulnerable indeed. Facilitating  this exposed vulnerability is the fact that our giant windows need blinds!  And here is why: Often it is only until I am well into our well-lit kitchen, which houses a very large, uncovered  picture window, that I look out at the dark outside while standing in the bright inside that I connect the dots.


No. It never occurs to me to turn off the lights.

In truth, new-house living is a gift, and the fact that we have this giant trash can at our disposal is super cool. Why I think (know) my brain is in a painful fog is the reality that  as each moment passes, my time raising these amazing boys is growing way too short.

Consequently, whether a moment is soul-crushing, over-exposing, disconnected, boring, or ultimate glee, I always, always, always want to push the pause button.

I plead,

“Why can’t I hold all the moments a little longer? Why?”  

Ok. I know the answer. If we stop time for me, we have to stop it for everyone, and if we stop time for people living now, it would not be fair to all those who have lived before us, (and yes) or those who will live after us, or some other inequity I have not considered.

Nevertheless, damn you, Time! I want you to stop, at least pause long enough for me to catch my breath (or back out of the driveway without smashing my car).

And Time, if you will not stop, or even pause, perhaps you will slow down long enough so I can find a way to hold on.

Kyle and our dinner ;)
Kyle and our dinner 😉

Here is the moment I am now in: I need to go grocery shopping – bad. In fact, I just placed two bags of frozen corn in the microwave.  Yes, I am calling two bags of frozen corn dinner. As I type, I am sitting at our new kitchen island. Music is playing. The boys are milling around me.  I ask Dave about my new ski boots. I bought them earlier today.  

“Are they in the car?” I say.

“No. I brought them into the garage.” Dave responds.

We eat our frozen corn (dinner). I read out loud what I have written so far. As I read, Dave walks to the refrigerator, pulls out a package of tortillas, grabs the cast iron pan, turns on a burner and says,

“Anyone want a burrito?”

The boys start watching YouTube.  I say,  “Is that a Fail video?”

In unison (and by unison I include Dave), they respond, “It’s a Win video.”

Eli does not want beans in his burrito.

Dave, Kyle and Eli eating dinner and watching YouTube
Dave, Kyle and Eli eating dinner and watching YouTube

As the boys watch their video, Eli says,

“I want to do that,” followed by Kyle, “I so want to do that.” (Because I am writing this, I have no idea what “that” is.)

They turn down the volume so I can listen to my music on my new…

“What kind of speaker is it?” I ask Dave.

Both Kyle and Dave answer,

“It’s a UE Boom.”

Kyle sings along with the Avett Brothers, “January Wedding.”

Dave affirms, “Ok, Eli, I am giving you a minimal amount of beans.”

Eli protests, “I want zero amount of beans!”

To which Dave insists, “You won’t even notice the beans.”

All this bean talk takes place as Kyle sings,

“In January, we’re getting married.”

Then he flips his burrito-dilla.

Dave asks,  “Eli, do you want tomatoes on yours?”

Eli demands,  “No, I want cheese!”

Quesadilla-crisis averted, I hear Dave say something. It takes a few seconds to realize that he is actually talking to me:

“Do you want to go to the grocery store tonight?” He repeats himself — this time talking a little louder, “Beth, do you want to go to the grocery store tonight?”

Before I can answer, Kyle looks at Dave and says,  

“Ok. Dad. I am going to make the ultimate, ultimate burrito.”

Delighted Dave responds,

 “Maybe it’s the penultimate burrito. Maybe it is the last before the last.”

Instead of giving Dave an answer about the grocery store I say,

“A penultimate burrito? What? What?  What?”

Because Eli is still watching YouTube “win” videos, he offers this most excellent non sequitur,

“He duct-taped it to his feet.”

Dave follows with an equally non-connected response,


Kyle's pent-ultimate burrito
Kyle’s penultimate burrito

Kyle is finishes cooking what is now a burrito, walks over to Dave and says,

“Dad. Dad. Look. Cheese in between.”

Eli walks to the freezer and asks,

“Mom, can I have a fruit bar?”

Dave implores,

“Let me know if you want to go to the grocery store, Beth.”

I say,

“Let’s go now. I want to be back to put the boys to bed.”

Now at the store, together, we walk the aisles. Then we separate — me, for butter and yogurt, and Dave for ice cream. We reconnect, pay and leave.

Dave and I, The Canyons Ski Resort. One of the last times I went skiing.
Dave and me, The Canyons Ski Resort. One of the last times I went skiing.

On the way home we talk about my new ski boots.  I am certain Dave does not realize how terrified I am to ski now.

Ok here is the background: Years ago I tore (nearly severed) this muscle in my leg/foot called the Peronus Longus.  The muscle runs down the calf, wraps around your foot and connects in between the big toe and whatever you call the toe next to the big toe. And if you ski, you know that you need to be able to work your big toe and that toe next to it to turn your boot in your ski. I healed and even got special ski boots that were supposed to make it easier.

I remember the moment. I was in my new ski boots, and was on the steepest part of Saddleback (Canyons Ski Resort Blue run).  It was the end of the day and the run was hard ice.  I kept slipping and sliding as my boys skied past me and urged,

“Mom, Mom, come on!”

It was then that I  realized that in those slick conditions, I could only turn to the right. I was confused and trying to work out how I could get down the mountain on right-turns only. I made my way to the edge. I stopped and began taking my skis off. I was convinced that I could just walk down. When Dave realized what I was doing, he emphatically stated,

“Beth, you cannot walk down! It is not safe. You need to ski!”

I stood there — immobile. It was cold, dark and the mountain was closing for the day. My friend, Jodi, whisked by and offered to ski all the kids down, (her three and my two –yes, she is a saint).  Dave remained, steadfast in his resolve.

“Dave, my foot will not turn my ski!” I cried (yes, real tears).

I was embarrassed. I was terrified. After many painful moments, Dave slowly coaxed me down that mountain.

I have not been back, skiing, that is.

Now years later, with my special ski boots stolen (which I have used as a reason not to ski), and my crazy foot rehabbed, Dave sensed it was time.  So on Monday morning, February 1, Dave declared,

“I am taking you to buy new ski boots today!”

My new ski boots. I will call them Steve.
My new ski boots. I will call them Steve.

I will admit had no interest in buying new ski boots. Come on, I have better things to do, right? There is a house to unpack and a toilet to install!

Dave would not accept my excuses. We made our way to our local Level Nine Sports,  spent hours trying on ski boots with Christian, the very cool former ski racer from New England. Apparently the Fishers with an insole stabilize my foot. It felt like a Christmas miracle. My fear washed away and my trust came back because as I stood in my new boots, I connected.

“Dave, I can turn my foot!” I exclaimed!

There is Steve hanging with the kids (like he always did). We love this photo because Eli is so excited to talk to him.
There is Steve hanging with the kids (like he always did). We love this photo because Eli is so excited to talk to him.

Afterward:  Of course I did not know Steve was killed in an avalanche on Sunday, January 30. Search and Rescue would not find his body until Tuesday, February 2. It was not out of the ordinary that as I tried on my boots my thoughts and our conversation leaned in the direction of our friend, Stephen Jones.  Steve impacted a lot of us. He was bold, outspoken and fearless. He loved the snow, winter and skiing.  Most people had no idea that I was so afraid of the snow. Steve noticed. So way back when I injured my foot, he repeatedly insisted I contacted Alan, Miss Diane’s magic carpet guy so I could rehab my foot and  “safely” get my confidence back.  His caring was also married with a lot of opinion. Consequently, for years, Steve pestered me about not loving the snow. I honestly think he got a thrill out of harassing me.  Mostly, I am certain he was convinced that he could win bring me to the snow-loving side.

On Monday, February 1, 2016, he came very close.

Today I struggle with how to articulate moments, time, loss, and the impact others have on us. Oddly I was struggling a lot Monday (before I knew about Steve or Nick).  Loss, time-stopping, and moment catching consumed my thoughts.  During the week, my friend Beth (who also knows Steve) and I were talking about the impact others have on us. She mentioned tapestries and threads; and how each of us are threads that are woven together. Once connected, we ripple through each other’s lives. These ripples create things like the need to buy new ski boots out of the blue.  As we talked I started thinking that maybe these ripples are the way we stop time.

Monday, February 1, is the day I stopped worrying about boxes, giant dumpsters and uninstalled toilets. It was the day I took a break,  spent hours talking the upside of snow, and gratefully found ski boots that fit properly. Mostly, Monday, February 1, is the day I stopped being afraid, afraid to ski, that is.

So right now, and after a very sad week,  I would like to think that as Steve left this world, the moment he left me is February 1, 2016, the day I bought my new ski boots. Of course I am grateful!

Stephen Jones
Stephen Jones



Lying Beside Me

Ah, you gotta love some Journey


Here in the dark.
Hearing our laptops hum
At night.

Not so softly
I ask you,
what I should write.
You say,
“Um, I do not know.”

Imagine those words sung to the melody of Journey’s “Open Arms.” Sadly, Dave did not sing it to me that way. That would have been awesome, though! Seriously! It would. He is busy working and has no idea that while I was thinking about what I should write about, I looked over at him and of course the phrase, “Lying beside me, here in the dark…” popped in my head. And then I saw myself riding in that  early 1980s paneled-side-station wagon (or weigh-gun as we say it in Minnesota), to the Journey/Brian Adams concert. I was only thirteen years old. True story. This older kid we knew from church had his driver’s license (obviously). We talked him in to driving us from the Minneapolis Suburbs all the way to St. Paul. I believe Melanie, my BFF, her boyfriend, Mike and this other dude went along. We sung in our hairbrushes all the wat as we listened to the awesomely awesome words of “Open Arms” during the forty-five minute drive to the show. Now that I think of it I, swear my brother Bill was there too. Were you, Bill? Maybe there were more people. Wait. Maybe it was Anna Oelkers not Melanie. I cannot remember. Mel or Ann, you must tell me, please! [UPDATE 12:48 PM MST, I just heard from Anna. She was there, but went with others. It was Melanie. I should have gone with me first instincts.] They both dated Mike.  I was young, naive and was really focused on one thing. I needed to hear MY song, Journey’s, “Lights.” “Faithfully” was for the masses and I was (am) an Outlier. I still remember standing there, swaying along with my imaginary lighter. I did not smoke and it was eons before the fake-lighter-iPhone App arrived. And when the song began playing live, well, I burst. I could scream now. I would scream just thinking about it, but I think I might scare Dave. Please, please do not tell thirteen-year-old me that I have moved on in my musical taste. Fourteen-year-old me found U2’s Unforgettable Fire and sixteen-year-old me fully immersed herself into The Cure. Please. Thirteen-year-old me was earnest, eager and hopeful. She had her moment and I will never take that away.

Music was a big deal in my house. My sister loved Led Zepplin. My brother loved STYX. My mom adored Johnny Mathis and I was determined to find not only my own band, but my favorite song. Take that, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Babe” and “Chances Are.” I found Journey and I had “Lights.”

Feeling like I have been so intense I needed to lighten it up. My day-to-day is currently routine except for this pounding headache I have been carrying around. My friend Teresa says it is because, “Um Beth, you lost a lot of blood and you are not drinking enough water.” Ok. She is correct. It is hot. It reached over one hundred degrees in this high desert heat today and I could stand to hydrate. Instead of running to the kitchen for another giant glass of water I am heating my abdomen with this laptop and remembering days when I was way too young to think about hospital bills, wanting to punch pregnant ladies, soccer camps, husbands who work all night or even know that people really do lose their babies. All I had to worry about is convincing my parents that this teenage boy could safely drive me far away so I could hear my dream. And until tonight I never realized how simple that song really is, with its few and repeating lyrics, it didn’t matter, it was my song and that was my night.

Tagged :

Another Reason We Travel: I like to move.

The boys in motion

I don’t know if it is hormones, onion layers or simply human nature. There is no question that I feel more resolved and more peaceful today than I ever have. And now, even in those crazy moments, I know I can talk myself off the ledge and find my way through those moments of deep despair. Yet as much as I feel healed, the more layers I peel away, the more I see how deep my wounds really are.

To the bone they go.

And as I read back on the words I have written, I read through years of patterns, patterns and cycles. I read years of hurt and I read years of hope. Somewhere along the way, I figured all of my many written and processed words would eventually heal me. I know the moment. It was during college. It was warm, sunny and I was walking north on University Avenue, really far north, way past campus, and because I did not have a car and because I liked to walk, I was walking the three miles each way to my therapist’s office. As I walked and in a warm and sunny moment, I really believed that if I worked hard enough to get to those moments, that when I arrived, magically I would be healed forever.

Not so.

Sure, I most definitely feel better. I also feel older and yes, I feel like my experiences have taught me a thing or two. I know by now that loud fidgeting done by others will always bug the crap out of me. Dave says my intense irritation is because I have this one condition where the affected cannot tolerate certain repetitive sounds. He is correct. Repetitive noises do annoy me, diagnosed condition or not. I also know that if I see a piece of cake, especially cake that I am not allergic too, I will be hard pressed not to eat the entire piece and if I do not eat it, I will think about that yummy piece of deliciousness until the moment it is gone or in the freezer. Seriously! I will.

Sadly, or maybe it is just life’s journey, I now realize that my words will repeat, my stories will change, yet will really mean the same as my feelings travel deeper, each time something or someone pulls the trigger. I know this because I believe my relationships, specifically the relationships with the family I was raised in and possibly the family I married into has a way to go before they are healed. And because these families are so much a part of who I am and who I want to be, until we heal, my words, their words, private, texted, blogged about, written or spoken out loud will ooze through the rotten flesh of our hidden sorrow. Until we learn to let go, forgive and allow ourselves to heal, we will be stuck. I believe we will feel hurt, assume the worst and see the worst until we accept the best. It’s just how it goes.

Brenda and me

Thankfully my sister, Brenda (my biological sister), and I have been taking tiny steps year after year phone call after phone call, visit after visit to arrive at this very cool place, a place where we can disagree, love, listen, and a place where I know she always has my back. Brenda believes in me. Truth be told, even when things were rocky, Brenda believed in me. She always has. Brenda knows my heart and accepts the fact that I am very different than the rest of my family (except my grandma Koener). And oddly, I am different because I have always been the one who cannot sit still. Even crazier, I really think I am the one in Dave’s family who cannot sit still either. I cannot believe how long his family can sleep, when given a chance, or how they can read for hours and hours on end. I envy their ability to be still. Sadly, my inability to sit still has caused a lot of pain and misunderstanding. It is often assumed that I would rather be anywhere else than with my family. Maybe true [wink wink], but really it is the simple fact that I need to move. As soon as stir craziness sets in during a visit to my in-laws, nothing calms my soul like a quick trip to Whole Foods. When I visit my mom, I often try to talk her into a lunchdate or to meet me at Target, where we can walk the aisles together. I like to walk. I like to hike. I like to talk. I like to move. When one sister is content to spend endless hours and days in my kitchen dicing, slicing and blending raw food after raw food, I think my head may just explode. I know my kitchen is large and if I am in my kitchen, I do not want to be there long. When family comes to visit and wants to sit and admire the beautiful aspens, I have about five minutes before I want to admire something else. It is not personal. I like to move. Thank goodness my mother-in-law likes to get out and walk too. I want to move and even from far away, Brenda (and my mom) know I am probably walking up and down our stairs as we talk. Thank God she loves me for who I happened to be.

When Kyle was in the hospital, every waking and when-I-was-supposed-to-be-sleeping millisecond was spent caring for him. Caring for him so intensely distracted selfish-me from that small, dark and very sad hospital room. There were so many moments I felt like a deer in headlights, trapped and suffocated. If it were not for my deep, extremely deep love for that boy, I would have bolted. Ask Dave. Ask my mom. Ask Brenda. They know me. They know how hard it is for me to sit still. When I am backed against a wall, I want to scream. When I am trapped in a small room, I want to claw out my eyes. When the world fights to take away my little boy, I want kick someone’s ass, I want to throw something. And after spending hour after hour, day after day, second after second in the hospital and then at home with my very sick boy, my very sad and confused boy, my boy who was tethered like a Kevlar chord to my soul, I realize that I am still not breathing.


Sure, I am alive and I am breathing, but it has been a very long time since I breathed one of those really deep cleansing breaths. If I were to attempt a Yoga Breath, I promise you would hear me fail. After my Gallbladder surgery, the surgeon chastised me. “I hear crackling noises in your lungs. Your breaths are not deep. That is not good. You will get Pneumonia.” I do not breathe and this new, shallow, breathless healing is an added and thick, deep-fried crust to my already full and layered onion. Seriously, how many layers must one peel before they get there? And why? Why is it that once we have peeled so many of those layers, does some terrible crisis send us right back to start, back to a fresh new, layer-filled onion, Why?

On a day like today, when, for no reason, I feel mad and like I was sent back to “Start”, it seems like my healing is so far. It makes no sense.

So today, I am doing what I keep reminding my boys to do. “Boys, when you feel ripped off, mad or like life is not fair, instead of acting crabby, why don’t you feel grateful?” I really do say this and we have been talking gratitude all week long. So, thank God for Dave. Thank God he gives me space and lets me breathe. Thank God my relationship with Brenda gives me hope. My relationship with my sister makes me believe that one day my family can actually be in a room with each other and that we can be there together without the room imploding in on itself.

And right now when I need them most, thank God for old friends that become new. Thank God these same friends get it, and thank God they get it, because these same friends have experienced layers so similar to my own. Thank God for Happy Hollow Road, for giant marshmallows, kind words from Melbourne, splinter removers, flip flops in winter, Ann at Top Nails, sunshine and Summertime. Thank God for gold teeth, dream catchers, and those who care enough to save the gecko. Thank God for owls, last minute lunches at Rubios, and for every single park. Thank God for bike rides to Coldstone, gifted memberships to the Natural History Museum, Pogo Sticks, Red Butte Garden, Wawa and Harvs, and for badass young men. Thank God for summer art classes, talented architects, generous photographers, long drives, walk talks, homemade Ugly dolls and dreams of Bear Lake.

Thank God for the sisters of friends. Thank God these same sisters point me in the perfect direction. Thank God for open hearts, gardens, tree houses, homemade concoctions, buckets full of sand, beautiful paintings, and for the 1-2-3-wee-swing-you-high-in-the-air walks down Center Street. Thank God, a God I don’t even know is there, well, Thank God, I am able to move and that some of you realize that I have too.

Walking Down Center Street

The Flammulated Owl & having a voice that carries

At the park with Markus, Teresa and little S. with the Flammulated Owl.

There we were, with our friend, Markus. He had driven up from Salt Lake City and was looking for a good Flammulated Owl calling spot. He thought the trails behind our house would work well. He began to explain, “I took a group here last year. It was late in the season so it was hard to hear the owls. There were at least forty-five people. And because there were, there were too many voices to hear the sounds. This year I kept it at twenty.”

Markus arrived first and once Dave was home, our owl adventure started with a hike before sunset. We walked up the trail and when Markus found a good spot, he logged it in on his handheld GPS. Moments later while Markus, Dave and Kyle were looking for the perfect amount of dead aspens, combined with live and thick trunked aspens combined with enough openness, I noticed that Eli was not feeling well. He was barely hanging in and about every seventeen steps from his pale face and raspy voice I heard these words,

“MOM, I am dying of thirst. I cannot breathe. I cannot walk another step.”

We coaxed Eli along and listened while Markus talked owls. Dave was more compassionate than I and let Eli stop and wait as we walked on. Personally, I think (know) I was paranoid to leave Eli alone. Come on, a moose may get him or a rogue mountain biker, or, perhaps a bobcat? We live in the mountains, people!

This week Markus is speaking at our local Nature Center and wanted to be prepared. “I want to have a few spots where I can call.” I could tell as Kyle listened to Markus that he was also formulating. Finally and after we hiked down the steep terrain of a side trail he said, “Markus, I would really like to help you Thursday. Do you think that would be ok?”

I already knew it would be. See, Markus and Kyle have this super strong, Superglue-type connection. When Kyle was sick with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Markus was there. Markus was always there for Kyle. He came nearly every day. If he could not make it, he would always call Kyle. One night he even brought us a pizza. Here’s what happened. I could not leave the hospital. Dave was home with Eli and Kyle wanted a good pizza, “not one of those awful hospital pizzas,” Kyle sadly suggested. I did what a desperate and modern woman would do. I posted a request on Facebook. “Kyle really needs a pizza. Is there anyone out there willing to bring him one?” I never did it before and have not done it since, but am convinced posting this very request on Facebook was the right thing to do. Of course I posted this request because I did not feel like I could ask Markus for one more piece of his precious time. Teresa (Markus’s wife & also our very good friend) and their son, Sammy, happened to be living in Las Vegas at the time so Teresa could finish her doctorate while Markus, who had just accepted a new job, was living alone in SLC. Teresa, upon reading my request, immediately call and then texted Markus something like this: Markus, you need to bring Kyle a pizza now!

Moments later my phone rang. “I hear you need a pizza?” The person on the other end said. “You heard correctly.” I responded and a very short time later Markus arrived at the hospital with an awesome Este Pizza in hand. Thank you Mika family!

So when Kyle asked Markus if he could help him with his owl presentation, I knew Markus would find a way. “Kyle, of course you can come. I would love it!”

Markus had found enough calling spots and we made our way back down the mountain. We settled Eli and hours later when the sky was dark and the air was cold, Markus, Kyle and I hiked through our back yard. We stopped and decided it would be a good place to call. We weren’t that far from the house, and from out of Eli’s window, we heard a, “Hello? I hear you guys.” To which I responded, “Is that what your owl sounds like, Markus?” “Hello. Hello.” Eli continued. “Hi Eli!” we all said. (I love that kid!) Eli went back to sleep and we continued on, up past our tree house and off to the right over Dave’s homemade, left-over-dark-brown-wood-patterned-Trex bridge. We walked on. “Isn’t this one of your spots?” I asked.

“Yes. Let’s give it a try,” Markus said as he pulled out his GPS and looked up the owl-calling coordinates.

We stood silently in the very dark night and before Markus turned on his owl sound recorder, we heard them. One hoo-ing to the right and one to the left. “Let’s see if we can get them to come any closer. Do you hear them? Do you hear the sound they make?” The sound our owl was making was the one he makes when he feels threatened, a small sound followed by a hoo.

I thought the owl was far away on the other side of the yard, when Markus, who by now, was foraging through the crazy brush said, “He is really close. Really close.”

Markus shined his bright flashlight, adjusted his owl sounds and climbed through the brush. “Be careful,” I urged, “There is a waterless creek bed just below you. Kyle followed Markus, but first waited to make sure I made it through the brush. We listened and listened. Markus shined his flashlight up and down the trees. We heard our owl and listened some more. Markus adjusted the sound and played more owl recordings. We listened and shined the flashlight some more. “He really is close. Their voice carries so far. Do you hear how deep it is?” We heard the owl. He was strong and he continued, “hooah hoo hooah hoo.”

Finally, it was Kyle who said, “I think he is a little to the right. See. He’s in those aspen trees.” Markus shined his flashlight high, played some sounds, we looked and we could not see the owl. “I hear him. I hear him. He has to be close.” Markus insisted as Kyle and I were swept away in his owl passion.

We turned off all of our lights. Quietly we listened. Our owl was responding to the recorded sounds, “Hooah hoo. Hooah hoo.” “He makes these sounds when he feels threatened. It’s not the hoo hoo, but a little sound before the hoo. Do you hear it?” It was invigorating listening to Markus explain. We could hear it.

“Markus, shine your light lower. Shine it on that tree. I think it’s there.” Kyle suggested.

Markus shined his flashlight half way down the aspen tree. There, on the tiniest broken branch, was our Flammulated Owl. They saw him before me. “Do you see him? Do see him there?” They both whisper-shouted with glee. I didn’t see him. Kyle grabbed my hand and we walked a little closer. Markus pointed his flashlight directly at him. There he was. I only wish Dave and Eli were there to see him too. He was tiny and his feathers appeared light. I saw his adorable big eyes and heard his enormous sound. “He is so cute.” I couldn’t help myself. He was so darn cute. “Now do you see why I love my job? I have the best job ever!” Markus exclaimed in delight. Then he held his flashlight while I took camera phone pictures. I would have brought my camera, but I did not believe. I did not believe we would see this beautiful little bird.

Flammulated Owl in our Aspen Tree

As we walked back to the house we were all pumped up and talking. “You do have the coolest job ever,” Kyle and I both insisted. As we approached the house, instead of going in through the garage we went in through our front door. Kyle slipped in and I stood there thinking about that tiny bird. Markus waited and I started thinking about size. I am not very tall and if I were an owl I probably would be small like this tiny owl. For some reason this little owl reminded me of the times I have had to stand up for my own children. I know. Weird. I started telling Markus about having to go to bat for Eli recently and how scary it was. “The dude was big and tall. As he got up in my face, I told him no. I was the only thing that stood between the kids and this man. What is it with people using their size to intimidate others? It really bothers me!”

And then Markus, as wise as the owls he loves, (yes, play on words), said this, “You know the Flammulated Owl is small, but did you notice its voice? The owl’s voice is deep. It’s deep and it carries far. It uses its deep voice to warn off predators. It uses its deep voice to keep other owls away. It is always much closer than it appears. It uses its voice to protect itself. Its voice is deep and it travels far.”

Yes, a metaphor, and yes, a metaphor that I really needed. I needed to be reminded that I may be small (whether literally or figuratively), but I can be mighty. It is all in how I use my voice. Will my voice stand on its own? Will it carry far? Will I be able to stand strong? It has never been easy to stand up for myself. Usually when confronted by something scary or uncomfortable I say something inane or fall into several shameful pieces. This little Flammulated Owl reminded me that when I do use my voice, even the big birds will back off and they may even fly away!

Thursday Evening:

Markus & Kyle talking owls at our local nature center
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Thank you Mr. Borgerding!

Red Crested Cardnial, Kauai, HI, 2010

In high school and then again in college I always managed to get myself into the Creative Writing classes. And thanks to Roman Borgerding, my twelfth grade Creative Writing/Poetry teacher, I learned to love writing and reading poetry. In fact, I can singlehandedly thank Mr. Borgerding for giving me my love of writing. I thank him for recognizing my writing voice after I had ignored it for so long. I thank him for reminding me not to run from the very loud sound of my words. I thank him now this very second for remaining that very loud, strong, and brave voice that sings in my head. His voice sings when my Little-Engine-That-Could thinks it can’t. I tear up as I think of him. I smile as I think of him fighting for me, fighting for every single teenage soul that stepped into his class. I did not see it. Writing for creative purposes and making a career out of doing such a thing was something people like Anne Lamott, Tom Robbins, John Irving, Gabriel García Márquez and Judith Guest did. I was just some super-confused suburban teenager, transformed into a confused teenager who loved to write.

Nevertheless, Mr. Borgerding did that thing I think we all hope to do. He waved his crazy magic wand and gave me this big, giant spark. He believed in me. He believed in all of us! We were assigned to bring a spiral notebook, and then he told us to write and write and write some more. “Just keep on writing. Write out all of that garbage, and then write out even more garbage,” he would say, “Eventually you will find the beauty.” Guess what? He was absolutely correct! I had no idea the life lesson he was giving me. Move through the pain and garbage. Don’t skip or cheat the steps. Work it out and then work it out some more. Eventually, if you hold tight, stay strong, keep moving forward, take out the trash, you will come out on the other side. Hey and guess what? The other side is pretty amazing. It is filled with College degrees, well edited papers, rainbows, lollipops, healthy marriage, and grounded self esteem. Thank you, Mr. Borgerding. Your process really is the key.

In that Creative Writing class all those years ago we learned Ars Poetica and tried to be. He was right and it was not easy. I can tell you that most of the words I wrote, as Mr. Borgerding said, were complete and utter rubbish. I can still hear him now, as he stood there my notebook in hand, reading, “Garbage. Garbage,” [insert turning page sound here], “Garbage. Oh. Wait. Look. I think you may be getting closer. Keep on writing.” [insert a few of my teenage-girl-angst-filled-eye-rolls here] And then, I started to get it. He showed me how to find the beauty. Wow! Seriously, wow! It did not matter. I absolutely bought it. I believed I could write out the garbage, and that is what I started to do, and have continued to do ever since. Come on, some of us have really large trash cans.

Back then at Hopkins High School on Lindbergh Drive, tenacious me kept on writing and prayed for some beauty.

And then one day, somewhere between getting the trash out, and having a breakthrough, I was working my after school job at the Ridgedale Dayton’s. This particular evening I was working with my friend Ian in the Stationery, Luggage and Sporting Goods Department. Bored as we often were in that hidden corner of neglected Mont Blanc pens and Tumi luggage, I found myself looking through a clearance book display when I happened upon a Marilyn Monroe coffee table book. I was horrified when, flipping through the pages, I saw a picture of Marilyn Monroe in her casket. The picture was creepy and unexpected. “Hey Ian, you have to see this,” I said as I made him look.

And somehow during my after-school-job in a quiet corner of Dayton’s, the beginnings of my very frist poem were born. I had written out enough garbage, at least to get to this place. Oh, thank God!

(I have always had a soft spot for this little poem and yes, after the build up, here it is.)

Marilyn Monroe
I saw her dead.
Her face purple
and caved in.
She wasn’t beautiful.

My grandpa lay,
in his coffin relaxed.
With a smile on his face.

Na Pali Coast Hike, Kauai, HI, 2010


Self-portrait: Kyle & I. Maui, HI, 2010. He was out of the hospital and still quite sick with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. This trip was a blessing.

Note on today’s pictures: In my Google search I found that Mr. Borgerding is quite an accomplished photographer and bird watcher. I also found that he moved to the mountains years ago; a place he loves. My pictures are to honor him; a beautiful bird, a beautiful Hawaiian mountaintop and my sweet son (yes, I love Dave and Eli too, of course); all places, people and even a bird that I love.
PS (I had to include this.) I am not the only one who LOVES Mr. Borgerding. Thank you, Google. Thought you would all enjoy this:


From, ROMAN BORGERDING, on March 26, 2009:

Cathy and Julie, what a pleasant surprise to reconnect with you via the Google page. Of course i remember both of you, how you immersed yourselves in the vigorous discussions of poems and stories. My memories of those classroom days are more than nostalgia; they very often enrich me with vivid details — visual and linguistic. My wife died 20 years ago; five years later I bought three acres and a “house” in Colorado, elevation 7700′, where I have lived alone for 15 years in solitude and gratitude, spending much time gathering digital images of the details of my world — from this Arkansas River Valley to the 14,000′ summits of the many mountains nearby. Hike out sometime for another discussion of “Ars Poetica.”

And then of course I Googled some more and found a blog post circa 2006. One life really does make a difference.

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