Sexual Abuse Did Not Start In A Vacuum

Me in France

[Trigger Warning: authority abuse, brief mention of sexual abuse]

I specifically chose not to include the more profound abuse I have experienced. Unfortunately the experiences I included here are quietly commonplace. When I am all alone and safe, the phrase I think of are “culturally insidious, misuse of power and epidemic abuses.” In fact, I think the small acts of petty domination, verbal threatening, and entitled abuses of power have become (almost) ordinary. As a society we are not just guilty of re-victimizing women who have suffered horrific sexual assault. We are guilty of letting casual dominance slide until it is commonplace. My guess is most men who commit sexual misconduct do not start off by raping women. In fact, I would argue that sexual assault may actually be an outgrowth of entitled people throwing their weight around and misusing their power.

…There I was.
In a Brigham Young University classroom.

After the professor asked for feedback and promised he was open to whatever we had to say, I spoke up. Class finished. Two classmates and I stood in the hallway talking. My professor walked up. I asked him a question about my upcoming paper. Instead of answering, he asked me to follow him onto the elevator — alone. Obediently I followed. The doors shut. We stood in silence. Several long seconds later, we arrived on his floor. He stepped out and I followed him into his office. He shut the door behind me. I sat down across from him. Before I could ask my question, he interrupted. Assuming he forgot why we were there, I gave him the benefit when he began berating me for speaking up in class. Nevertheless, I was blindsided. He told me it was not my place to give feedback and that I should know better than to challenge him. Several times he admonished making claims such as,  “Beth, your words are unacceptable. Do not embarrass me in public again.” On and on he went until his words blurred into one powerful message:

“Beth, you are bad. I am good. Do not challenge my power!”

With my sense of right and wrong knocked off its axis, tears screamed down my face. I needed this to end. Defending myself only incited him further. I was breathless, frustrated and needed him to stop telling me how bad I was. I needed to get out of the room. Instead of realizing I could just get up and leave, I found myself apologizing. My apologies only made things worse. I was trapped. He was angry. I don’t know if it was my wet face or my silence. Eventually he finished. I left. We never talked about my assignment. A month or so later, I sent him an apology.

…Years earlier I was working on the very same Brigham Young University campus at a job I loved. My boss at the time was giving a tour to some outside visitors. I had no idea I was in his way. Regardless, he forcefully grabbed me by the upper arm and held it tight. Then he abruptly yanked me from where I was standing. As I stood there stunned, he looked back and admonished:

“Next, time you are in my way. I need you to move.”

I knew what he did was not right, but I had no idea what he did was criminal battery. I did nothing. Later that semester I withdrew from some of my classes. The secretary at the time asked me to fill in for her for a few hours when her father-in-law passed away. Of course I said yes. A week or so later that same boss sat me down in his office. He asked me not to speak. Here is what he said,

“Beth, by working for the secretary you were deceitful and are unworthy. I could fire you. Instead, I will ask you not to return next semester.”

I make no excuses, yet had no idea that I could not work if I was not a full time student.

…Around the same time, I was dating someone I thought I would marry. Even though we were not having sex, we crossed a lot of lines. According to Brigham Young University professor Brian Willoghby, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ stance on premarital sex is the following:

“Although the church discourages ‘any kind of sexual behavior’ before marriage, sex is considered a ‘bonding experience’ once the couple has entered a committed union.”

As a practicing Mormon (at the time), I understandably felt guilty, so I did what LDS members are encouraged to do: I went to my ecclesiastical leader to confess. My Mormon bishop said it would not be easy and that he may excommunicate me. He asked me to make a chart of my repentance progress and then to show him my chart progress during our weekly visits. He said my forgiveness was contingent on how I filled out my chart. He also said that under no uncertain terms that my forgiveness was also contingent on me NOT SEEING my boyfriend, (which he asked me to keep track of on my progress chart). That bishop and I met for several months. One week I was five minutes late for my appointment. He stated, and I quote,

“Because you are late, you are showing God that you do not want to be forgiven. Do you even want to repent? I need to know! I need to know now!” I assured him that I did want to repent. He paused for what seemed like forever. He continued, “Beth, I am not sure. I will have to think about your behavior today. Honestly, I can see you are not taking your repentance process seriously. You may need to be disfellowshipped. When I figure it out, I will let you know what I decide.”

(In Mormonism, “disfellowship” means a disciplinary action less severe than excommunication.) We continued our visits for a few months. I was terrified and began to think I was evil.

After my boyfriend and I broke up I was casually dating a few people. One of them was very well liked member of the Provo, Utah community. One day I stopped by his work to say hello. He said,

“Beth, sit here. I will be right back.”

I was a little confused when he asked the few remaining customers to leave. Then he locked the door. I tried to leave. He insisted I remain where I was sitting. He walked up to the table and sat across from me. As the abuse started, a sort of twisted negotiation began. If I let him do what he wanted to do and told him it I liked it, then he would let me leave. I was frozen, afraid to move. This man is much bigger than I am. I am not comfortable saying what happened next. At the time, I also did not want to upset the community by getting this very well liked individual in trouble. Consequently, I did not go to the police. Instead, I told a couple of our mutual friends. One of those friends told some of this man’s co-workers. Instead of offering me help, validation, or just staying out of it, these co-workers told me I was no longer welcome at their place of business, and if they saw me, they would ask me to leave.

Upon reflection, I can say I noticed red flags in all of these situations. I asked for help and was often asked what I had done to mislead these men. I was also told that I should let it go or just go along with it. As a result, I kept my head down and thought if I were a better person, these things would not happen. After many years and many experiences, it finally hit me: I did not cause the abuse or cause someone to misuse their authority. It was not my fault. Nevertheless, I remained silent.

Regarding the news of: this moments sexual abuse issue, why did it take so much effort to bring awareness, and ultimately action, to the situation? Is it because of silence? Or is it that popular, powerful or even patriarchal people get a pass? Are we the enablers? Is that why pleas for help fall on deaf ears? Because of the sorrow my own silence has caused, I would suggest that our collective conversation can help break these culturally baked-in patterns.

And yes, what the news of  [insert latest Sexual Abuse issue here] has done this week is (again) open a dialog. And now we have an opportunity to be different. We can chose to stop reacting off of sound bytes and social media outbursts. In contrast, I think we need talk and keep talking. We need all the voices. (I also recognize that getting people to listen is not always easy.) As I mentioned, I have tried a thousand different ways to begin this conversation myself. Something always stops me. Usually that something is my fear of embarrassing those closest to me. Ultimately, I stop talking, slow down my own healing, and pretend that everything is ok. Usually I realize that my need not to embarrass those I love only serves to enable the abuser. Then something like [insert current Sexual Abuse issue here], wakes me up and I ask myself,

“Why did it take so long for people to speak up?”

Obviously I have already internalized the answer: Embarrassment, shame, fear, or complacency. All of these things kept me silent. I also know that my silence perpetuates the abuse cycle.

I have a lot of rationalizations. I live in a culture where a man is the man and for me to scream is a sign of disrespect, which again enables the cycle: silence. And to fight the silence, I know I need to keep talking, but then the fear of upsetting my loved ones takes over. Even though I know that talking will protect us and that our conversations will teach us balance and discernment. Why I am speaking up now is that I recognize that words are also power. Our conversations will only serve to help us teach our children that they deserve respect; that our daughters do not have to compromise their integrity; and that our sons must be good men, even when society is telling men that they have a role: predator, (a.k.a. teenage boy who wants to touch a teenage girl’s boobs).

I also recognize that patterns are hard to break. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter and a sister. I want to be better. I want to do better. I think we all do. I want my boys to be transparent. I want to model boundaries and I want my boys to have boundaries. And that is why we dialog. I drill consent and talk about the things that are uncomfortable. I think it is also fair to mention that parenting alongside other parents can be muddy. We have dealt with other parents and their reactions to my sons, like the dad who asserted,

“I know how teenage boys think. I was one.”

As a mother, I wanted to disagree (because I do) and scream,

“Why can’t we do better?”

I remained silent. And really I am not always sure how, but I think we can do better. My initial step was to get comfortable with me (not easy still) and next to have a healthy relationship (with a man). And that is why I cannonballed myself into the deep end and dated a lot top notch guys [insert heavy sarcasm here].  First, there was the guy from church who told me I would never get married if I didn’t marry him (I was 19). At some point there was the “upstanding guy” who wanted me to reimburse his expenses after the date because I would not have sex with him; the dude who took his clothes off while I was not looking and insisted on walking to the car naked (even after I insisted he put his clothes back on); oh and the guy who said,

“Beth, you would be so much more comfortable if you took your pants off.”

Then there was the guy who dated me while engaged (he lied to both of us), the guy who liked to come to the door in a towel. As soon as I walked into his apartment, his towel would drop to the floor, and the guy I had a huge crush on. When we finally were alone. He asked me to give him a hand job, but not kiss him. He told me.

“I just broke up with my girlfriend. Kissing you is too intimate and makes me think of her.”

At least he eventually apologized — I guess [insert me shrugging my shoulders]. Finally, there was the seemingly gentle guy who in a firm voice said there was something wrong with me because I did not like Disney movies. What? (He also freaked out and berated me when I tried to end our relationship).

“You will not find anyone better than me.” he insisted.

Dave and I in Castres, France

Thank goodness he was wrong and double thank goodness for Dave. I chose him specifically because he was different than the others. He had boundaries and he respected mine. And here is the good nudge: I chose. I did not sell myself or settle (even though I was encouraged to settle every single day). Instead, I literally decided that I was tired of dating men who treated me poorly. And seriously, by the time Dave and I found one another, most people thought I was not worth someone like Dave (and told me as much). I found my worth from within. And that is what I want to say out loud:

“Learn from me. You get to chose who you love. You deserve a healthy relationship. You get to hold your boundaries. You are not bad if you say no.”

Society does not make self worth easy either. Ultimately, I told myself that I was worthy of a healthy relationship. And maybe that is a first. Consequently, I deliberately turned a corner and there he was. It was not magic. It was so fucking hard. I  reminded myself that I was not Dave’s property. Our relationship was not solely based on our sexual connection or manipulation. I did not have to entice him sexually to get him to like me, nor did he ever coerce me to do anything I did not want to do. He did not humiliate me. He respected my boundaries. He liked me, and was delightfully amused that I did not want to watch “The Little Mermaid,” or any Disney animated film, for that matter. Dave talked to me. He held my hand, and he was honest (even when he wanted to break up with me — like all the time).

Even though our marriage can help stop the cycle of abuse, Dave cannot heal my pain or break the patterns, and sometimes he even crosses them. (He is learning.) He also supports me speaking up and healing. As a parent, he does not want to perpetuate unhealthy societal patterns either. That is why he wants his sons to treat others with the respect he treats me with. Again, learn from me, even though you speak up, the pain may remain close and awkward. It is ok. Mine does. I think it always will. Maybe I can use my pain to effect change in a culture that patterns abuse. That is what I am (trying) to do now.

And what happens when we take our conversation beyond this moment?
Answer: a lot

Such as, what if your abuser is a relative, a close friend, an ecclesiastical leader, a professor, or your boss? What if the abuser is someone in a position of power or authority? What if he or she is someone you have been taught to respect or revere? What about people who are wrongly accused of abuse? Does that happen? What about the under-reactions, over-reactions, misdirections and inappropriate responses? I know how people freak out over minor issues and how others will take the secret of being raped to their death. I also know that people who actually have been abused do not trust they will be heard. How do we make it stop?

I do not have a perfect answer. Nevertheless, and from whatever lens you are viewing my words, I think the conversation is key to healing. So maybe the answer is to keep it simple. Trust that we will figure it out. Know that you are not alone. Just keep opening your mouth and using your voice. The more we use it, the easier it will become.

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We are not friends and that is ok.  

Hands down, Dave is a my Best Friend. Here we are at Dyrham Park National Trust Site, Gloucestershire, England
Hands down, Dave is a my Best Friend. Here we are at Dyrham Park National Trust Site, Gloucestershire, England

Please do not take it personally. First, and foremost, I LOVE people and my relationships with them. Through years of practice, I have also learned that friendship is not an exact science. Thankfully, I have awesome friends; friends who are cool with who I am (or are super awesome at pretending).  And because I am a huge sucker for connection, especially the connection that the word “friendship” or “best friend” implies, I take my role as friend very seriously (like in a for-real blood oath kind of way).  I sincerely believe (again, in like in a freakish, overachiever sort of way) that love, loyalty, honesty, transparency, responsibility, integrity and follow-through are friendship’s core values. And like some sort of super-earnest, albeit a little sarcastic, Joan-of-Arc (or just like a very devoted pet) I completely commit to my friends.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I also commit to those who insist I am their friend, even those who literally have no clue how to be a friend, like those “friends” who are only “friendly” when they need a favor. And of course I have also found myself sucked into the blackhole of friendship with the occasional narcissist, stridently co-dependent, gaslight-er, sociopath and life-bloodsucker.

Hey and most relationship are cool and balanced, right?  It does not take much for me to heed the charge or enable an imbalanced connection.  Whereas, when the plane is going down and I should be putting my oxygen mask on first, all you have to do is show me your tangled cord and in the name of “friendship,” I will suffocate. If it means you can breathe, I will lose consciousness. All the while ignoring the fact that had I actually put my mask on first we both would be breathing. My dysfunction is on me.  And believe me, the dysfunction goes deep and is probably baked right into my DNA. I love the rush of helping others — sometimes even conflating help (being used) with true and connection friendship. I get it. Feeling needed feels good. Feeling needed, or better, helping is a great avoidance technique.  

I really like my kids. And yes, I will go against so conventions and say that I am so glad they are my friends. This is Kyle & I at Levant Mine and Beam Engine National Trust Site, Trewellard, Cornwall, England
I really like my kids. And yes, I will go against so conventions and say that I am so glad they are my friends. This is Kyle & I at Levant Mine and Beam Engine National Trust Site, Trewellard, Penzance, England
I love these boys! Land's End, Cornwall, England
I love these boys! Land’s End, Cornwall, England

The other day I needed to put my oxygen mask on. I was trying to sleep. I should have been sleeping. I was very tired. My back hurt. I was exhausted and catching a cold. The night before I was up past 1AM and then up again at 6AM. I wanted to say goodbye to Kyle. He was leaving for his Varsity Cross Country team run. As luck would have it, Kyle left his cellphone on the kitchen counter. And so it began… Every nine minutes I heard the beep, beep, beep of his cell phone alarm. Because I could not figure out his password, the only thing I could do is hit snooze, which meant I was also up every nine minutes. It never occurred to me to bring his phone into my room, hide it outside, or guess the password (which I actually knew). I was supposed to go walking with my friend Rita shortly.  Because I trusted she would kind and empathetic, I knew she would be cool if I canceled. She was. In her text filled with a bunch of heart emojis she said,

“No problem. Let’s go Friday.”

My friend, Rita & I after we finished the SLC Half Marathon. (It was epic.)
My friend, Rita & I after we finished the SLC Half Marathon. (It was epic.)

Feeling relieved, I went back to sleep. Within minutes I heard my phone beep. I was mad at myself for not putting my phone on “do not disturb.” I felt the obligation to look. Someone did need me.  I felt compelled to “be a friend.” It was only going to be a few minutes, but those few minutes also meant I needed to get up, brush my teeth, brush my hair and locate what this person needed. It also meant that I was up. So, Instead of sleeping I said,

“Sure. Come on over.”

Me & Easy E. He puts up with me & is a super considerate human. Man, I love this kid! Snowdownia National Park, Wales
Me & Easy E. He puts up with me & is a super considerate human. Man, I love this kid! Snowdownia National Park, Wales

I do not think I am the only one who feels compelled to be a “good friend.” I do not think it is bad to help someone in need either. What I am truly suggesting is balance.

Culturally, I think women are taught to put everyone’s needs before their own, especially in the culture I was raised in. I think this baked-in, I-must-serve behavior complicates true, bonded friendship even further. Many people feel such an urge to please others, even their own friends, that they forget to take care of themselves, or to have boundaries, like I did that morning.  Sure, our commitments and obligations are distracting. Time is short. Oh yes, and then there is the whole part about having our “me” time versus our guilt about being a good friend, or at least being seen as a good friend.  What complicates the concept of friendship even more is that from my experience, we are all different. And because we are different, there is a no roadmap to perfect friendship.

My friends, Emily, Andi & I, Galilee Grill & Bakery, Lindon, Utah
My friends, Emily, Andi & I, Galilee Grill & Bakery, Lindon, Utah
Moe & I, Red Iguana, Salt Lake City, Utah
Moe & I, Red Iguana, Salt Lake City, Utah

Because I have made many wrong turns, I hope I can help you avoid the detour by offering you a few directions.  I will start with the idea that friendship is not a one-sided service project. Meaning, friends are not a box to check or a badge to earn, someone to possess or a crazy, co-dependent feedback loop. Friendship should definitely not be a status or hierarchical-based relationship. (You can save that relationship for your boss, as a super-fan, or when you move to North Korea.)

In contrast, I would suggest that friendship really is mutual affection. Meaning, we both get to equally dictate the terms of our relationship (high fives to that). Friendship is boundaries and support (even when either is uncomfortable). We do not have to text everyday, talk every week, or even see each other every year. And because we stand by each other’s side, when we are together, our friendship has integrity. We mean what we say. We apologize when we are wrong. We are honest, (even when truth adjusting would be way more comfortable). We are loyal (even when it is not cool). Mostly, we forgive.

It took me a long time to fully digest the concept that for me to be a good and committed friend I cannot possibly be friends with everyone. Ok. Wait. I will push back here to say that Facebook and Facebook friendship is not what I am referring too. So in the Facebook realm, yes, I believe you and Mark Zuckerberg can friend the entire world. In support of my friend-the-world claim, Dave often observes:

“You have a super liberal Facebook friend policy.”

“Yes. Yes I do. I love people.” I respond.

Me & Big Daddy at Levant Mine and Beam Engine, National Trust Site, Trewellard, Penzance , England
Me & Big Daddy at Levant Mine and Beam Engine, National Trust Site, Trewellard, Penzance, England

Alas, Dave is correct and also proves the fact that the people you acquaint with are not all friends. See, a few years ago, a high-profile-on-the-internet guy friended me. Obviously liberal-Facebook-friend-policy-me accepted his request, even though (once again), we had not met. Of course, like I suspect many people do, I checked out his Facebook page before I actually accepted his request. When I saw his friend total, the smart-ass in me was like,

“Seriously, you 4,999 personal friends? You mean to tell me you know every single one of these people — by name?”  And because I am bubbling with dry sarcasm, I continued my internal discussion and said, “How do you have time for all of those relationships [long pause] and your family [even longer pause] especially your wife?”

Well, you don’t. For example, I saw this same dude recently at a Cross Country meet. I literally ran into him. By his long, perplexed stare, I assumed he thought he knew me. His wife looked similarly bewildered.  Dave was half way across the race course, so alone, I said “Hello.”

He paused and stared at me for a really long time. That is when I impatiently thought (because I needed to find Kyle & Eli),

“Wait for it. Wait for it.”

“Hi Barb.” He said.

Ok. I am kidding.  In truth he said, “Hi Beth,” as I began to lift my hand to give him a high five. Realizing he was not going to make the connection, I quickly & nervously brushed my hand into my hair as if I meant to do that.

Alas, even though he remembered my name, the uncomfortable moment would not end. As I answered, his wife, in sort of a stunned and freaked out way quickly asked,

“well, how do you know him?”

And that is when I gave her the name of one our mutual real-life friends.  I know they are real friends because tagged pictures of them spending time together always roll through my Facebook feed. His wife seemed to relax, which was good.

Easy E, Pre-Region Cross Country Meet, Cottonwood Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah
Easy E, Pre-Region Cross Country Meet, Cottonwood Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah
Kyle a t the Pre-Region Cross Country Meet, Cottonwood Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah
Kyle a t the Pre-Region Cross Country Meet, Cottonwood Complex, Salt Lake City, Utah

Here is the deal. This dude (bless his heart), despite having met me in person a dozen times since we became Facebook friends, never knows my name. When he stumbles with any sort of recognition, I wonder if he thinks I am a super-fan or a stalker.  And because he is the one who friended me, his incongruous reaction always fascinates me.  Obviously we are not friends. We are barely acquaintances.

Doug, Dave & Easy E, Buffalo Bayou Walk, Houston, Texas, January, 2017
Doug, Dave & Easy E, Buffalo Bayou Walk, Houston, Texas, January, 2017
Dave & Ryan Raddon, SLC, Utah
Dave & Ryan Raddon, SLC, Utah

His incongruous reaction, like many others, got me thinking. Has Facebook eviscerated the connection of real friendship? Do we know some people way more than we should? And is there any real-life correlation between Facebook friend totals, real world relationships and imbalanced obligation?  I do not know. I think we all Facebook friend differently. Nevertheless, I do belive Facebook and social media are influencing how we friend. Just last week, because a woman who friended me seemed so cool and is a friend of a friend, I accepted her friend request.  And guess what? She is cool. And yes, you read that correctly. I accepted the friend request of someone I have never met, or at least do not remember meeting. I know I am not the only one. And because she now owns the title of my friend, should I give her the same friend benefits? Am I obligated to wake up for her when I should be sleeping?  I was friended by my friend Letti after knowing her for twenty minutes (and I really like her in real life). (Fun Fact:  twenty minutes was the same amount of time I knew my friend Mike’s brother before making out with him.) Moving way beyond my fun fact, I also have friends who I have met once (in person), only to become really great friends via Facebook. Doug Vandiford, we are talking to you. On the other hand, Dave Facebook friends only those he really really knows. In contrast to my interaction, Dave actually knew Doug Vandiford way back when they were in the BYU dorms together (with Ryan Raddon (DJ Kaskade namedrop). And guess what? These three dudes are still real life friends. Ok. I would also argue that there are many sides to non-discriminatory Facebook friend requests (which have absolutely nothing to do with the concept of friendship I began with).  That is why I would suggest is that bonded friendship goes well beyond today’s Facebook friendship friending rituals, and that the mutual affection of friendship actually takes effort. I would also suggest that having only a handful of friends is a very good thing.  Considering the effort it takes to be a friend, I would like to offer that we may only have healthy space for a handful of friends. Meaning, that the other 4,988 relationships may fall into the category of acquaintance. (I think that is ok, by the way.)

Me & Big Daddy, Venice Beach, California
Me & Big Daddy, Venice Beach, California

Think of it this way.  An acquaintance can be an ally without all the strings or obligations.  I would also argue that if you put most people into the acquaintance category, your disappointment will decrease, your awkward moments at your boys’ cross country meet will not feel like rejection, and that your expectations of reciprocity may soften. And if you see relationships through the acquaintance lens I would argue that your relationships with these people may actually be healthier, more fun, and more fulfilling (or even an serendipitous networking opportunity).  I would to think about it this way: An acquaintance is a friend without the loyalty and expectation. Do I care if an acquaintance blows off dinner plans? Do I care if an acquaintance makes up a lame ass excuse for not including me? Do I care if an acquaintance tells everyone I am high maintenance (dude, I have food allergies, get over it). Do I mind if an acquaintance tells everyone I  have social anxiety, or that I am too religious, or that I am not religious enough? Nope. Do I care if an acquaintance needs a favor, even though I have not heard from them in years? No. I am happy to help — always (even when I would rather be sleeping).

Our feet, Venice Beach, California
Our feet, Venice Beach, California

Bottom line: I say learn from me.  Figure out how you want to friend, and then trust it — (as long as you are not being a tool and are being transparent).

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I Was Blind But Now I See — Literally

Near Interlaken, Switzerland
Near Interlaken, Switzerland
Kyle, Bern-Gurten Park, Bern, Switzerland with the Alps in the background
Kyle, Bern-Gurten Park, Bern, Switzerland with the Alps in the background

I had no idea. Sure, I kind of knew I was depressed. I just thought it was my typical Seasonal Affected Disorder. Winter grey is no fun every single year. As a result of my malaise, I was not correlating that the darkness I was feeling was because of my eyes. And because I am pretty farsighted, I figured my bad eyesight was a result of my inability to read tiny ingredient labels. And for some reason I attached my tiny label issue to my utter inability to read larger font restaurant menus. I gave up and Dave always pitched in. I neglected the constant blur in the center of my vision field and we adjusted. Still, I was not connecting that not being able to read up close had nothing to do with my world going dark. Again, I adjusted. I turned all my electronic screens to their brightest setting, read under very vibrant lights, and dealt with the daily fact that I literally could not see my left eyelid as I tried to apply mascara and eyeshadow (even with a magnifying mirror in the morning sun). Further, I did not think twice that my freckles were fading out of view.

“I am getting older and that is what happens.”

Me and Big Daddy, The Moran Eye Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me and Big Daddy, The Moran Eye Center, Salt Lake City, Utah

I also thought that the infamous Utah winter smog caused by temperature inversions is what caused the mountains and my background to blur, and it never occurred to me that writing was becoming a task and that images are not supposed to disappear when you look toward the light. It all seemed normal. In all truth, in spite of the profound loss of my once very clear vision, I had no idea I was going blind.

Snowbird Ski Resort, Park City, Utah
Eli after his crash, Snowbird Ski Resort, Salt Lake City, Utah

The only reason I did something is because we met our deductible. In January Eli had a horrible ski accident, which resulted in a seriously fractured jaw, which required a titanium plate, tooth extraction, and having his jaw wired shut. He could not chew food for two months and lost thirty-five pounds. With our deductible met, Dave suggested we see the doctor for anything we thought we might want to take care of. I knew I had not had my eyes tested in a while and the blur was a little bothersome. With risk of pre-existing conditions soon counting against me, I decided to get my eyes checked out. Mind blown. I have a traumatic cataract. And understandably, my diagnosis caused some confusion, especially with me. See, several years ago I thought it was strange when a cornea specialist said that I had cataracts, or better, said that he could see my cataracts. He suggested it would be a several years before I needed to address “them.” Herein lies the confusion. The specialist was expert in corneas, not cataracts. There is not a “them.” There is a,  “one.” And one blinding cataract may have a different diagnosis. In my case, it does. Still I was caught off guard, he explained my scans and explained my diagnosis. Still did not make sense.

“Don’t cataracts come in two?” I thought.

Thankfully the surgeon realized that my processing speed needed a minute as I absorbed the shock. That is when he asked me to come back before surgery.

“Seriously. Look it up. Think of questions. Research. I can answer any of your concerns. And yes, the diagnosis is a classic traumatic cataract. Oh and by the way, when did you hit your head?”

Information on Traumatic Cataract from Google
Information on Traumatic Cataract from Google

I did hit my head, and hard. Nearly ten years ago I went airborne and fell down my friend’s stairs. It was an unfamiliar house and completely dark. I went over a baby gate and landed on my face. I broke my nose, ruptured a cyst in my wrist, and damaged my optic nerve. In fact, even now the skin sensation on the left side of my forehead feels different than the right. And no, I was not drinking. Crazy!

Easy E long boarding at the house where I broke my nose, Park City, Utah, November, 2007
Easy E long boarding at the house where I broke my nose, Park City, Utah, November, 2007

You still may doubt or have questions. I did too. So before I go any further, let me clear some things up. Yes. It is true: everyone will eventually develop cataracts. If you’re reading this, you probably have them this very minute, and if you live long enough, you’ll probably need surgery to address them. Normal cataracts tend to affect both eyes. When vision is bad enough, surgery is performed on one eye and after that eye heals, surgery is performed on the other. My mom recently had cataract surgery and her mom, mom grandma, had cataract surgery too. And it is possible that one eye may need surgery a year or two before the other, but they are close.

The boys and Wawa (my mom), May, 2017, Salt Lake City, Utah
The boys and Wawa (my mom), May, 2017, Salt Lake City, Utah

It is my understanding the cataracts are a natural product of the aging eye. My doctor put it this way:

“It is like every year someone puts a dropper of milk in a glass of water. Eventually the water becomes too foggy. And because the glass is yours, you get to decide when has become too foggy.”

Ultimately, it is our ability to see through foggy-water combined with the speed in which the fogginess impedes our vision that dictates when we are ready. As a result of these factors, not all of us will have surgery. We may die first (for real).

In my case, my left eye has a barely noticeable and typical cataract. It will probably be many years before it gets bad enough to fix. On the other hand, my right eye looked like a firework exploded in my lens. When given a glare test, I was completely blind. I would get my questions answered, yet surgery needed to happen regardless. Deep breath!

Even though it was confirmed that I could not see, I was crazy terrified the week before surgery. I was anxious. The risk of losing my eyesight altogether weighed heavily on me. I tried talking myself out of the surgery so many times, and I tried to cancel the day of. I convinced myself that I needed to be at the boys’ track meet. I even told the nurse,

“I should reschedule. They both run today. I do not want to be a bad mom.”

Image from
Image from the 1985 movie, “Cocoon.”

The nurse was kind and accommodating and told me that I had until 1PM to let them know. I waited until 12:50 PM to give them go ahead and I needed to be at the hospital by 2:15 PM. At that time, I walked onto the set of the 1980s movie, “Cocoon.” That is, I walked into the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. In a sea of delightful old people facing the same surgery, I waited. Because I barf 100 percent of the time after having morphine, the anesthesiologist opted not to give me pain medicine. Instead she used topical numbing and anti-nausea medicine. Of course they give you anti-anxiety medicine too, considering the fact that you’ll be awake while they poke your eye with sharp things. At approximately 3:30 PM MST, the surgeon began. He and the male nurse covered my head in a big white sheet with a hole. As the sticky parts around the eyehole adhered to my top lashes, I heard the doctor say,

“Let’s do this again. We don’t want to hurt those lashes.”

They lifted the sheet off of my face and repositioned the big white cover. Then they attached something to hold my eye open.

“How are you doing?” the doctor asked.

“I am good. This is so weird. Really weird.” I responded.

He cut into my right eye. I was awake. No. Really. I was awake for the entire surgery. And I remember it. About five minutes in, the doctor asked me,

“Beth, can you feel anything?”
“Yes.” I said and followed, “Is it supposed to hurt like this?”
“No.” he responded and then asked the anesthesiologist to give me more numbing medicine.

I could see colors. I heard the surgeon as he worked my busted cataract out of my eye.

“We are ready to put the new lens in.” the doctor said.

As he placed in my new lens it became stuck at the edge. “
“We need to fix this part. It is getting stuck on the edge.”

We were at minute ten. The doctor asked again, “Beth, can you feel that?”
As I looked at the bright whites, reds, blacks and blues reflected in the mirror above I said, “Really, is it still supposed to hurt?”
“No. It is not.” He responded and continued. “Please give her more medicine.” He instructed.

Me, post surgery, wearing my "Hannibal Lecter" Eye Mask, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me, post surgery, wearing my “Hannibal Lecter” Eye Mask, Salt Lake City, Utah

In twelve minutes my surgery was complete. The average time for cataract surgery is ten minutes. I’ll give the extra two minutes to the snag in my lens. When I came back for a follow-up the next day the doctor asked me about my experience. I asked him,

“Is it normal that I remember the surgery?”
“Yes.” He responded.
“Even all that pain.” I asked.

“The numbing medicine is supposed to last 15 – 20 minutes. Yours lasted five. Some people metabolize medicine really fast. You are one of those people.”

After surgery I was traumatized. I could remember the pain and remember the procedure. I could not get over the fact that I was awake while the doctor sliced into my eye. As a result of my processing overload, I asked Dave to drop me off at home so I could catch my breath. I assured him I would be ready to go to the boys’ track meet after he returned with my prescriptions. Yes, I was still trying to make the track meet. Three hours later I woke up. The track meet was over and the boys were on their way home.

Me, post surgery, May, 2017, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me, post surgery, May, 2017, Salt Lake City, Utah

As I kept opening and closing my right eye, my blind spot was gone. My vision is crystal clear in my right eye and a bit duller in my left. The boys were back home. They were kind and grateful I was ok.

Before I left for my check up appointment the next day, after about half of the way in, I realized as I put on my eyeshadow that I could actually see my left eyelid. I looked closer and kept thinking about all the freckles on my face.

“Wow! I love my freckles. Man, I have a lot of them.” It honestly took me a few minutes to connect the dots as I thought to myself, “It is my new robot eye. It is allowing me to see. My freckles have always been this bright. Wow!”

The boys and I on our Mothers Day Adventure, Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, Utah
The boys and I on our Mothers Day Adventure, Liberty Park, Salt Lake City, Uta

Later that day Kyle and I went on a walk. I kept staring at the mountains to the east. I saw contrast. I saw peaks. I saw canyons. I have not seen the mountains like this in years. Then I saw the leaves on the trees. No longer were they a blend of greens. In high contrast I saw each leaf. From blur to high definition in twelve minutes, I still cannot believe it. By the way, I also noticed my bathroom is much dustier than I imagined and that I have a lot of wrinkles. Nevertheless, I am grateful.

Trust Me Travels
Us, Citadel of Besançon, Besançon, France


A friend recently suggested I listen to Brené Brown’s talk entitled, “The Anatomy of Trust.” I was like,

“Who is Brené Brown? And why do you always refer to her?”

Apparently I am nearly the last people on Earth who has not heard of or listened to Brené Brown, or at least, I am the last of the subset of those who listen of those who watch Oprah, listen to the Ted Radio hour, and/or read transcendent personal essays, such as the ones found in The Atlantic Monthly.  In truth, I was listening to another podcast recently (Amanda Palmer on Design Matters) when Amanda Palmer, formerly of the cabaret-punk duo, “The Dresden Dolls,” quoted Brené Brown. I figured if cabaret-punk can coexist with Dallas mom, then well, I can listen to Brené Brown. Travels
Me and the boys, Liberty Park Salt Lake City, Utah

So, between avoiding my online French class and booking summer travel I decided it was time. Immediately Brené encoded the definition of trust into a most awesome mnemonic device. Yes, awesome, because I still remember the word: BRAVING. I will not break it down for you now. I suggest you listen to her entire podcast.  Right now I want to focus on the “v” in her memory acronym.  No. The “v” is not referring to a 1980’s alien invasion reboot, or to lady parts. The “v” in BRAVING refers to the trust concept of a Vault, which by Brené Brown’s definition means: “what I share with you, you will hold in confidence. And what you share with me, I will hold in confidence.”  Feeling confident with my ability to keep confidences, I almost missed the next crucial advice Brené gave, which is the idea that we are not trustworthy when we participate in salacious behavior. Meaning that “in our relationship I need to see that you acknowledge confidentiality and I need to do the same.” Nevertheless, in an attempt to “hotwire connections,” simply put, we gossip.

Easy E and Me, tonight, Salt Lake City, Utah
Easy E and Me, tonight, Salt Lake City, Utah

As a result, instead of healthy, trusting connections, Brené Brown suggests that “our closeness is built on hating the same people.” She calls this, “Common Enemy Intimacy.”  Ouch! I get it. How many times am I silent, ultimately complicit, as I listen to the rumors. My excuse: I want to feel a part, especially when it comes to the other moms. Why can’t I be brave?

With thoughts simmering, I finished the twenty-four minute podcast (of course I took notes). And I continue to simmer. I am trying to process the concept that an aspect of trust is our ability to keep our mouths shut, or better, “not sharing something that is not mine to share.”  As I think, I want  push further and suggest that Common Enemy Intimacy is a pervasive societal condition. For instance, socially we reject those who do not act like us. Religiously we fear those who do not believe like us. Politically we hate those who do not think like us. Deep breath. I am not going to talk politics or religion. I am going to speak to the social component, specifically regarding parenting as it relates to my relationships with other moms. And here is my conundrum:  How do I quickly engage you without betraying trust? I need help.

First, I could totally rationalize.  I agree.  Gossip does hotwire a connection. Sure, telling you about a bitchy mom may build closeness with you, but at what cost? I would even argue that talking about someone else in an attempt to heal is a form of gossip. In defense of healing, my story includes other people and my opinions of them. I know if you understood the details you would gain greater perspective. As a result, I am sure my full disclosure would allow for better advice. At what cost? What about trust? Where is the line? Is it worth breaking someone’s trust? Ah! What do I do?

Kyle & I, Salt Lake City, Utah
Kyle & I, Salt Lake City, Utah

Here is a thought. I would like to push further on the concept of trust.  In what we share with others, I would like to consider a line of thought, which is that women (in general) are culturally taught to accommodate.  As a result, I would suggest that our society does not enable us to ground ourselves in our own space or our own stories. Because we are taught to tether to our relationships to an exterior world, we become dependent on the opinions of others. And as accommodators, I would argue that gossip is a natural form of this exterior connection (intimacy). Sure, I could also have an entire conversation regarding the idea that patriarchy and how women treat one another is because they feel the only power they have is within their own gender and that creates inequitable trust, but I won’t, at least not right now. Ultimately, women who try to break the societal cycle and who are “grounded” in their own narrative can actually be viewed as self-absorbed or narcissistic. Because we do not want to appear self-centered or self-absorbed, the accommodating feedback loop persists. That is why I push back. I may not like or condone gossip. In fact I pretty much hate gossip in all its mean-girl forms. Nevertheless, I have compassion for the women who do.  And maybe it is because women who gossip are not trying to break trust. Perhaps they gossip because they are not comfortable standing in their own space, or they do not feel they can. (By the way, self trust is half of the equation:  You “can’t ask people to give you something you don’t think you are worthy of receiving.”) In the end, we become more of the wind and less of the tree. And as the wind, it is not about trust, it becomes about fitting in and holding on.


Us, Alsace Region, Riquewihr, France
Us, Alsace Region, Riquewihr, France

Alas, all this exposition simply to ask,

“How do I stand in my space and tell my story while holding everyone’s trust, including my own?”


I feel like a poorly made Gluten Free waffle.

My gluten free waffle
My gluten free waffle, Salt Lake City, Utah

Yes. I have photographic evidence of said waffle. I made it this morning. Each Sunday morning, for our family breakfast, I follow the exact same recipe, which is located on the back of the gluten free Bisquick baking mix. I measure. I stir. I blend. I pour the batter in and then I wait. Gently I nudge open the waffle iron. If I feel any sort of tension, I wait some more. Today I was able to open the iron. As I urged my waffle out, I noticed it was sticking.

When I see my waffle fall apart, silence escapes me. I am loud.  No. I do not need anyone to fix it. I just need to vent.

Like the boys say,

“Mom speaks out because she does not want to feel so alone. She wants you to know she is having a hard time…That is all.” (Pro Tip: raise your children to speak and translate Mom.)

They continue to reassure,

“Dad, mom is really ok.”    

The boys, Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland, April 2017
The boys, Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland, April 2017


The boys, Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April, 2017
The boys, Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April, 2017

By the way, I always vent. My vent is often packed with colorful feelings. I vent for the waffle crumbles. I vent because extricating a gluten free waffle from any pan is a pain in the ass. I vent for my jealous heart, because come on, we all know that eggs and white flour make everything easier. Mostly, I vent because I feel like a character in  the Sesame Street skit, “One of These Things is not Like the Other.”  

Dave is standing over the waffle iron now. He insists:

“Stop using a fork to get it out.” [insert short pause here], “You are ruining the waffle iron!” [now insert a long pause] Dave continues, “You just need a new waffle iron.”

This is our routine: I perfect my waffles as Dave successfully makes fancy European pancakes (with eggs and whole wheat flour, of course). I often tell him that it is not the waffle iron, but the “stupid” waffles. It is not lost on any of us that my waffles are without gluten, which means they will not have the stick-togetherness of Dave’s beautiful pancakes. Nevertheless, I am a fighter. When presented with failure, I will always make another batch. It the next batch fails, I will persist.  At times I feel like a failure as I watch them as they eat their high-achiever-styled pancakes. Then I remember it really is apples and oranges, or better, glue vs. acetone. Then I cover my my waffle crumbs with perfectly sliced strawberries (that is another story) and whipped cream.

Some might suggest I pack it in or give up. Nope. Please know that my complicated gluten free waffles are always worth it. They allow me to feel like one of the others. Even when they are a disembodied mess, they taste really good. Mostly I know that once in a while I am able to produce a gluten free waffle masterpiece. In those moments, I gently open the waffle iron. As I marvel, I swear I hear a choir of angels sing. Then I easily remove my beautiful creation.

Today I said nothing when my waffle fell apart. Then I extracted it with a fork.

The remains of my gluten free waffle, Salt Lake City, Utah
The remains of my gluten free waffle, Salt Lake City, Utah

I am sure I remained quiet because even though a crumbly waffle has nothing to do with my birthday, my birthday is tomorrow, and crumbly is definitely how I feel. I dread my birthday. Like I told Dave,

“I do not want to be remembered, yet I do not want to be forgotten.”

“I get it.” he responded.

As my birthday rounds the bend, I ponder, I loop. I always loop.  My failures amplify and wasted moments shout,

“Beth, live in the now!”

See, for as long as I can remember, I have become consumed with reflection the closer the calendar nears. When the week hits (because yes, it is a week), I always hope things will be different. Unfortunately, this year is no different. It is April 23. I am at the beginning of a tailspin. I am still in the place where every single resentful, shameful and angry I-thought-I-had-resolved-this-already feeling is screaming its way to the surface. My self doubt is obliterating every cognitive behavioral therapy technique I have been taught. Doubt is crushing my empathy, and fear is suffocating my voice. Finally I scream,  

“CINNAMON!” (which is our family safe word, by the way).

No one hears me.

Me, Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland, April, 2017
Me, Chillon Castle, Montreux, Switzerland, April, 2017

Feeling both worked up and defeated, my despair paints the air I breathe. I always see the times I stepped aside, stepped back and was afraid. Usually, and for no real reason, I get frustrated with my mom for placing so much value on birthdays while simultaneously becoming irritated that my mother-in-law is not naturally considerate. I wonder if these two amazing women realize they are part of my birthday psychosis. (Shh. Maybe it is better if we left them out of this.) And speaking of Dave, he is never off the hook. Pre-any-holiday, he always gets on my nerves. We always fight. We most often misunderstand. Nevertheless, he does not throttle me. Instead he stands by my side.  

Alas, I am no a victim. I own my pre-holiday moodiness and I am lucky that I can indulge and work through it. In fairness, I also give Dave a clear heads-up and say things like,

“Seriously dude, if you do not order me a gluten free birthday cake, I will lose my mind.” (ha ha, irony. I am already losing my mind.)

Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April, 2017
Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April, 2017

I would argue that together Dave and I are our best hope for surviving these dark moments. Instead, my despair crushes him too. I have an idea for both of us.  I am starting to think that to survive these moments Dave and I should go all “Freaky Friday” on each other.  In fact, I think we would be better off if flip flopped our strengths. He could “Beth” me all up while I “Dave’d” him.

In truth, with my hopes high, our weekend began well.  Dave and I ran errands Friday night. Then we binge-watched season 6 of “Homeland.”   Before we started our binge watch and errands, Dave had a plan. He sweetly wanted suggested we do something for my “birthday weekend,”  and that is when he said,

“Hey, let’s leave town tomorrow morning…Just grab a change of clothes and go.”

Kyle is currently out of town and off the grid with his environmental science class. I thought it would be too much to get us ready and be back before Kyle returned so I said,

“Let’s just spend Saturday together doing fun stuff.”

I happily assumed we would. I also happily assumed Dave would cheerlead us out the door. Meaning he would not wait for me to make the plans. We ran our errands and that is when it happened. As we walked in the door Dave said something like,

“I was talking to the bike guys. Tomorrow afternoon we are talking about a ride.”

There was no asking. With jaw agape, I said,

“I think I am going to be upset.”

“Really?” he responded — indignant.

I walked away.

Big Daddy at Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April, 2017
Big Daddy at Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April, 2017

Aside from asking Eli and Dave to have lunch with me, (when they already were full), the weekend took a nosedive. And really, since Dave told me about the bike ride, I have waffled. And by waffled, I mean, waffle like my poorly made, finesse-less, gluten free waffle.

Anyway, the weekend moves forward. I have completely bailed on my self-worth and my parenting. When Dave and I do engage, I vomit my feelings, which are of course, riddled with barf-y explanations. I know. Feelings talks are hard on anyone. At one point I used the following, yet “gentle” (not gentle) metaphorical experience:

“Dave, you know how when I make a really good dessert and I can’t stop eating it, so I just put it down the garbage disposal?  That is how I feel about this weekend.”

At this point Dave is somewhere working on house projects. I am sure he is looping, or I secretly hope he is. To me that would imply he also wants things to be better. Do not worry.  I am a long processor. Usually by the end of said holiday, I get over myself. I stop being mad at my mom and mother-in-law. They have done nothing wrong. My mom is the most thoughtful human I know. I am forever grateful she taught me to compassionately think of others. My mother-in-law is a bit harder. As she often tells me, “we are nothing alike.”  Regardless, she is the reason for Dave, and well, Dave is my world. Eventually  I forgive Dave for being Dave. (I did last night.) He forgives me. And ultimately it is Dave who swims by my side and helps me come up for air. Please know that after this weekend Dave totally earns extra good-husband points. (And yes, there is a great big jar where all those good-husband points go. When Dave fills the jar, he can use his accumulated points pick from several prizes)

Me and Big Daddy, Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April 2017
Me and Big Daddy, Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April 2017

[insert robust and thoughtful conclusion here]

Here it is. Dave thinks my ending is too abrupt.  I am not sure. When I ask, he suggests I sum it all up more completely. I honestly thought I did, but can see his point. I guess if I were to add anything, I would conclude this conclusion by saying that things like birthdays, or better, expectations, are not a waffle fail. And if we can move beyond the said birthday anxiety or waffle fail, we might see the is beauty. See, crumbly or not, each Sunday morning our family makes and then sits down for breakfast together. Dave and the boys always wait until my waffle is ready. And when we are done, we do the dishes — together. Sure, Eli may all of a sudden need to use the bathroom and yes, I may remind them to push their chairs in. In the end, we are team, and being a team is pretty awesome.  I am lucky

Us, Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April, 2017
Us, Gruyères Castle, Gruyères, Switzerland, April, 2017


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.