Guns in America: Can We Do Anything? (My Story)

Regardless of where you land on the gun debate, in America the phrase, “gun violence” is a huge trigger. Historically when I write about guns, I get hassled. Better, traditionally, if you hassle me, my go to was to shut up, run or redact.

Nevertheless, the fact that people are dying as a result of mass shootings is far more important than my own discomfort. Gun control is personal (for all of us). In my case, I have these two beautiful and amazing sons. They are (obviously) impacted by the world around them, including gun culture. In fact, neither of them has known anything other than a culture in which school shootings are the norm, gun debates are common, and their friends encourage them to buy a gun, “for safety.” Recently, one of my sons was even considering purchasing a gun “for protection,” (when he is traveling alone). Of course my mind races to all of the terrible conclusions: I am worried about him getting in over his head, unintentionally shooting someone, or in a fit of uncertainty, using a gun to kill himself.

Because my sons are under the age of twenty-five, which means their brains are not fully developed, I imagine it would not be possible for them have completely reasoned through the consequences of owning a gun. Instead, they have been forced to navigate the intense gun culture they are surrounded by. Recently, in fact, a boy my son knew was shot to death in Salt Lake City. He was sixteen. That is when we learned that “Utah has no waiting period, no magazine capacity limit, no limit on number of firearms per purchase, no restrictions on the type or features on a firearm, ie, flash hider, bayonet lug, pistol grip, detachable magazines, collapsing stocks, etc…”

In addition to growing up in a gun-loving state, as a result of the more 311,000 students who have died as a result of gun violence in schools since Columbine, my sons have also been required to learn what to do in case of a school shooting, practicing active shooter drills more than I practiced Tornado drills as a child. (*I grew up in the Midwest.)  Moreover, my sons have seen that not only can anyone, stable or not, easily purchase assault rifles (at age 18, even when they are not allowed to purchase handguns until they are 21), they have witnessed a disturbing school-shooter phenomenon (perpetuated on social media):

Considering other people (predominantly young white men) have gained infamy shooting up a school, “unhinged” (*not necessarily mentally ill, only 11% are), school shootings are contagious, and shooters have a playbook: “Here is what I do when I am upset: “I log on to a social media platform and begin live streaming the massacre or I text peers to share my plan (and after it is too late for them to do anything to stop it), then I take my gun to school and kill as many people as possible.” 

Iraq War Memorial, Santa Barbara, California

On April 19, 1999, Dave and I were in a bad car accident. At the hospital, and after totaling our brand new and very first “adult” car [an Audi A4 wagon], not knowing if my neck was broken (it was bad whiplash and nerve damage . . .), before being x-rayed and even though I was certain that I was not, the nurses insisted on giving me a pregnancy test. 

“I have been so crabby. I am sure it is PMS.” I insisted. 

They insisted more fervently. The hospital staff did not want to wait for blood test results. Alternately, they opted for a urine pregnancy test. With the nurse’s help, somehow Dave and I wiggled my panties off. Another nurse quickly pushed a hospital barf receptacle under my bottom. While being strapped to a big yellow stability board, I peed into the barf receptacle as best as I could. Less than a minute and they announced that I was ABSOLUTELY NOT PREGNANT! Dave and I felt relieved as we waited for the x-ray technician. A few minutes passed. Rather than an x-ray tech, the ER doctor, accompanied by a nurse, returned to my room. The doctor sat quietly and grabbed my hand. Gently, he said:

“Beth, actually, you are pregnant (with Kyle, our firstborn)! We just did not wait long enough to see the results.”

Our world was changing. Dave and I cried. No. We sobbed, like hyperventilating sobs.

The next day, April 20, 1999, two students entered Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing twelve fellow students and one teacher. Then they killed themselves. I remember being fixed to the twenty-four hour news cycle. I could not imagine how this shooting could happen, or how it could ever be worse. It is now 2022. The United States has had twenty-three years to figure out how these mass shootings can be prevented.

Things are not better, and our son, Kyle, is finishing college.

Here it is. I am not anti gun. I do not like guns. I do not own a gun. I think guns cause more harm than good. I worry about the quick and irrevocable consequences of using a gun when angry or upset. I had a close family member suicide by shotgun after their girlfriend suicided by shotgun the year before. Once I had a gun pulled on me by a car full of men. I was alone. I thought I was going to die. As a young man pointed the gun at me, I really believed he would shoot. In college, in my friend’s bedroom, I shot a 22 caliber handgun into a telephone book (remember telephone books).

As a result of living in the pro-gun state of Utah, I believe I am more understanding about people who hunt. I get it, even though I don’t want to do it myself. I know. I know. We can use guns to protect ourselves during the zombie apocalypse. Don’t worry. Dave and I have already crafted a plan with our gun-owning friends: 

“You provide the guns. We will provide the gold from the Dream Mine [wink wink].”

Dave often tells the story about his father:

“My dad was twelve. His dad took him hunting. My dad accidentally shot his dad in the leg with a shotgun. Somehow they got my grandpa into the car. Then my dad, who did not have a driver’s license, drove my grandpa over an hour and a half to the hospital. Dave’s dad never went hunting after that.”

A few years ago Kyle discovered that his high school classroom doors did not lock from the inside. Because active shooter drills and mass shootings appear to be our norm, Kyle approached the school regarding the no-locks issue and suggested,

“In case of a school shooting, we should put locks on the inside of all of our classroom doors.”

Consequently, Kyle wrote about the door locks for the school newspaper. 

Here is an excerpt from Kyle’s article:

Picture this: a typical day at Highland High School. The halls are quiet. Students and teachers are busily working in their classrooms. Suddenly a voice rings over the intercom: ‘Students and teachers, there is an armed intruder in the building. Please lock your doors and go into your rooms.’ A charged sensation washes over the school faster than a rumor spreads. At once, teachers go check to see if their doors are locked. A few moments later they comprehend that they cannot lock their doors — not from the inside anyway. Throughout the school, in horror they realize: every classroom has to send someone outside of their room to lock the door. Who would be willing to risk their life over a poorly positioned lock?”

Not long enough after Kyle’s door-lock story was published, and before his story was a faded memory, locks in his school were changed (Go, KYLE!), and a family member invited Kyle and Eli to spend the summer at their home. 

“Why don’t you and Dave send them up for the whole summer and we will put them to work?”

Part of the sales pitch for this summer adventure opportunity was,

“We have a shooting range.” I paused to reread the words. In essence: “I own a bunch of guns, so both boys can shoot. The shooting range is right on our property! So we can walk outside and shoot guns. How awesome is that?”

With much trepidation, I asked Dave if he noticed the invitation. He had. As I listened to Dave, my heart sank at the following realization: what seemed like a super cool and obvious sales pitch to one, in contrast, felt to me like a vivid warning of danger.

Why do we see the world so differently? How can we express our position and not offend them?

I wish I had been more brave and told this family that our answer was no before I ever considered a yes. I hope to this day they know the love and care we have for them. Alas, I was a chicken. Here is what I did instead: I asked the boys how they felt about visiting and left out the part about the guns. I regret my approach. Thankfully before the guns were mentioned, the boys informed me that they were both too busy with required school extracurriculars. At that, Gun Camp was a bust. I took a deep breath and felt like I dodged many bullets – like the two bullets ending our sons’ lives (Oh thank God)!

Then at lunch last week, my eighty-one year old mother blurted out, “If your kids were school age, after what happened in Uvalde, Texas, would you send your kids to school?” She followed with, “I have never liked guns.” Eli, my youngest, piped in and said something about how guns and bad tempers do not mix. To which I said, “that is why I don’t own a gun.” 

It has been eight days. Are we still troubled by the Uvalde, Texas school and Buffalo, New, York grocery store shootings? Or has the twenty-four hour news cycle gotten the best of us? I imagine that most of us are not okay living in a country that makes it easy for citizens to walk into a grocery store, a church, a music venue or a school and slaughter innocent people. I also think we are at a crossroads regarding solutions to gun violence in America. Some want to melt all the guns. Others believe that arming teachers will save the day. Many of us want common sense gun reform. It is my impression that those of us who hope for safer gun legislation are worn down and feeling hopeless.

This is our American cycle: A shooting happens. We cry. People offer thoughts and prayers. We speak up. We demand, “Enough is enough!” The cycle continues. Then, as soon as gun right’s people hear triggering phrases such as, “background checks,” or, “gun control,” they, armed with prepackaged answers, become laser focused, and with expert-sniper precision, they hit back and they are good. They use high impact words, such as God and freedom. In fact, I am certain we have heard or have personally made the arguments:

“We need more guns to protect ourselves,” “We need to arm teachers,” or, “if we regulate guns, you are taking away our Second Amendment rights, and only the criminals will have the guns.”

We try to reason and talk about other countries and how they handle their guns. These interactions usually lead to vitriolic arguments, unproductive impasses, and eventually toward our own silence.

I definitely fall into this pattern.

Consider this: In Uvalde, Texas, trained police, who were literally “armed with guns” and were onsite, did not protect the twenty-one people who lost their lives. During the Buffalo, New York shooting, Aaron Salter Jr., a retired police officer and the store’s security guard, fired multiple shots at the gunman, and was then shot and killed. Good people armed with guns didn’t stop people from being killed.

If the argument with good people and guns really holds up, then why are these good people armed with guns killed? First and foremost, the gunmen were using AR-15 assault rifles. How on earth can one quickly defend themselves from a gun that shoots three times faster and with twice the force? Secondly, I would assert that someone going about their day is not mentally prepared to be shot. On the other hand, I would offer that just as the gun rights’ people are prepared with their argument-blunting answers, a mass shooter is prepared. A person caught off guard is no match for a prepared person. Regarding school shooters, for instance, Professor Jillian Petersen suggests

“I don’t think most people realize that these are suicides, in addition to homicides. Mass shooters design these to be their final acts. When you realize this, it completely flips the idea that someone with a gun on the scene is going to deter this. If anything, that’s an incentive for these individuals. They are going in to be killed.”

(If my words have not already chased you away), thank you. I am spelling things out in an attempt to be prepared myself and to be part of the solution.

Yet, at the end of the day all I have are my words, my actions my choice. Often the right choice is not always comfortable or convenient. In fact, after the Gun Camp failure, even though I know the right choice was keeping our boys home, unfortunately, our relationship with these family members deteriorated. Interestingly enough, what would have made a difference is if I had faced that awkward moment immediately and head-on. Perhaps what I can do is learn to be more uncomfortable. If I need to say, “no,” when no is the right thing to say then I should be less afraid of you rejecting me because I do not feel safe with your guns, or whatever else puts me in harm’s way.

I will end with this: If you are also feeling lost, numb or helpless, like the United States Gun Control issue is a Sisyphean task that resides in a bottomless pit of sorrow, may I offer a sparkle of hope (a gentle shove out of your comfort zone). I culled the internet and found a lot of useful resources, which I have included below. Feel free to copy, paste and share this information liberally.

Of course, please also demand our legislators, lobbyists and business people push to enact common sense gun laws. Tell them how you feel about gun control, background checks and assault rifle bans (AR 15s). Thank you!


  • PBS News Hour: PBS Newshour every current US senator was asked what action should be taken on guns.
  • Here is a Letter to Senator template, source, Please feel free to copy & paste.

Dear Senator,

As your constituent, I am urging you to vote yes on strong gun safety legislation and to confirm Steve Dettelbach as Director of ATF.

The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, in which 19 children and two adults were murdered, is another instance of the tragic gun violence we witness in America all too often.

As an elected official, it is your job to take action to prevent these senseless tragedies from happening. It is past time that the Senate take bold action to protect our communities. That starts with urgently passing common-sense gun safety legislation and confirming Steve Dettelbach as director of ATF to ensure the agency has the leadership needed to fully enforce our country’s gun laws.

We cannot wait for more lives to be lost to take action. Please do the right thing and pass gun safety legislation.

Sign off with name & contact information

  1. Introduction.
    ○ My name is _____ and I live in _____.
  2. A statement expressing your concern.
    ○ I am very concerned about gun violence in our country.
    ○ We are the only developed nation to suffer from staggering numbers of gun deaths every year.
    ○ I am alarmed by how common gun violence has become in the US and Michigan.
  3. A personal statement.
    ○ I do not want my children to be raised in such violence.
    ○ I want to feel safe in my city/workplace.
    ○ Gun violence has touched my life personally. (Explain.)
    ○ My family should feel free to go to work and school and to the movies without worrying that someone will shoot us on purpose or by accident.
  4. What you see as the solution.
    ○ We should be working to strengthen gun laws, not loosen them.
    ○ We need to keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible and troubled people.
    ○ We can maintain the right to own guns while implementing laws to protect public safety.
  5. What you are asking your legislator to do.
    ○ I would like you to vote for public safety and against gun extremism.
    ○ I would like you to work for strong gun laws that will protect my family and me.
    ○ We do not need more guns in under-trained hands, and I would like you to stand up for common sense gun laws.
  6. Sign off with name and contact info.
    About Wear Orange
  • Save the date! This year’s WEAR ORANGE is June 3-5, 2022, During National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange Weekend, join us as we honor survivors of gun violence.

(I am including Gun Rights Advocacy Organizations to help you know what we are up against & to better understand their position to help inform your own counter position.)
Gun Rights Advocacy Organizations

  • National Rifle Association (NRA): The National Rifle Association seeks to educate the public about firearms, defend US citizens’ second amendment rights, and lobbies for gun rights legislation.
  • Gun Owners of America: Gun Owners of America (GOA) is a non-profit lobbying organization formed in 1975 to preserve and defend the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
  • Second Amendment Foundation :The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) is dedicated to promoting the right of U.S. citizens to privately own and possess firearms. They carry on many educational and legal action programs designed to inform the public about the gun control debate.

Gun Control Advocacy Organizations (*sourced from Shippensburg University)

  • Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: The Brady Campaign works to pass and enforce federal and state gun laws, regulations, and public policies through grassroots activism, electing public officials who support gun control legislation, and increasing public awareness of gun violence.
  • Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) seeks to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy. CSGV comprises 47 national organizations working to reduce gun violence. Its coalition members include religious organizations, child welfare advocates, public health professionals, and social justice organizations.
  • Everytown for Gun Safety: An umbrella organization coordinating the activities of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors against Illegal Guns.
  • Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America:  Link to Moms Demand Action Chapters in Every State: Important grassroots activist organization formed by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
  • Mayors Against Illegal GunsMayors Against Illegal Guns is a coalition of over 1000 current and former mayors across the country who have joined together to prevent criminals from possessing guns illegally.

Additional Gun Control Advocacy Groups

  • Giffords: Giffords is an organization dedicated to saving lives from gun violence.
  • Gun Owners For Gun Safety
  • Sandy Hook Promise:  Protecting Children From Gun Violence. Sandy Hook Promise envisions a future where children are free from shootings and acts of violence in their schools, homes, and communities.

(*Please feel free to contact me with any additional advice, corrections or information. ❤️ )

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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What History Can Teach Us: United We Stand Divided We Fall

I meant to post this post last night and really I have been meaning to post this for days. The world keeps moving so fast. In this moment, I am devastated that I have to add this preface. Please know that my sentiment does not change. It is actually stronger.

Most of you know the news. The United States experienced the worst mass shooting in US history. Here is how I received the news:  I awoke to a text from Kyle. He had gone to school early for a chemistry lab.  He wanted to let me know there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas, and that 50 (now 59) people were killed and over 500 injured by a lone gunman, a Mesquite, Utah resident. The man was shooting from his hotel room on the 32 floor.  Then Kyle sent me this link with the following comment:

“it’s relevant to the mass shooting in Vegas.”

As a mom, I need to listen to what my children are saying and what they are saying is that they are confused. They do not understand why all the gun violence. They do not understand why people fight so hard to keep their guns. They think things are worse and they want it to stop. As a parent, what can I do? First, I can open my mouth and support them. I can show them that I agree. All these gun deaths are not ok.

Because we travel often overseas, people often warn us to be safe and to make sure we are not going to be in spots near “terrorists.”  When we traveled to the UK earlier this summer, we received the same admonition. That same week here in Utah, a mother and her two children were gunned down by a crazy ex boyfriend as the woman walked her children home from school. Before another one of our family overseas trips, a dad, who lives just a few short miles from us, was shot and killed as he chase a burglar down the street. Recently on a beautiful summer evening, we were at a park with friends. In the distance we saw random teenagers loudly playing basketball.  At one, a dad of one of Kyle’s friends, looked at us,  pointed at his gun and said,

“Don’t  worry. I am packing heat. I always pack heat and I am not afraid to use it.”

This dad was not joking.

Because these warning signs often seep into our psyche, such as a dad flashing a gun in a safe, suburban park, Dave, the boys and I maintain a consistent dialog regarding violence and what we think our response to it should be. That night, we tried to deescalate the fears of the dad flashing his gun. What Dave & I have concluded is that ultimately we do not want our boys to become afraid of this beautiful world.

Nevertheless, I cannot ignore that we live in Utah, a state with a large gun lobby and a huge gun-supporting population. Many of our friends love their guns. They confidently proclaim that everyone should own a gun because guns save lives. I am sure they think I am crazy because guns terrify me. I try to understand their perspective. We try to understand each other (I think). I have asked them why they feel this way? I am always hearted to hear that most of them want a ban on assault rifles. We both know that I do not feel the same way they do. As a result,  we often agree to disagree.

But guess what? I do not think any of us should be ok with what happened in Las Vegas. Why can’t we stop blaming and simply work to make things better? And really, how bad does our world have to get for things to change? Mostly, we need to pay attention to each other. We need to love each other. We need to get along.

Dave & I Castillo San Cristóbal National Historic Site, San Juan, Puerto Rico, December, 2016


A cord of three united strands is stronger than a single strand. Three strands bound together is also more complex. The strands can braid together in various configurations. If one strand breaks, the other two fill in as support. I think like the cord, the same goes for us humans, when we unite, we are also stronger. Ultimately, I would suggest that as humans our backstory, or better, our identity, our politics, our religion, or lack therefore only increases the strength of our bond. 

Dave, Castillo San Cristóbal National Historic Site, San Juan, Puerto Rico, December 2016

I want to be fair. I realize that if I am going to sound a little preachy or pull the “pay attention to history” card, I should actually know where the phrase, “united we stand, divided we fall,” comes from. In truth, I always thought, “united we stand, divided we fall” was synonymous with the birth of United States of America. I imagined it went something like this: During a profound battle, Revolutionary War soldiers standing their ground. When all hope was lost, one of the soldiers would rise from the battle fog, repeatedly shouting, “united we stand, divided we fall.” Can you hear the soundtrack now? Yes. It is also true that the phrase was used at various times in early American history. Patrick Henry used it. He was very vocal in his political views as a public orator. In fact, he was the guy who, in 1775, literally uttered that famous phrase, “give me liberty, or give me death.” It was in March 1799, two months before his death, when he speaking publicly, he proclaimed,

“Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”

Yes, it would (obviously) make sense why he used those words, “united we stand divided we fall.” And if Patrick Henry can us anything now, I think he wanted us to know what happens when we “split into factions:” Our “union” is destroyed, and as a result our very “existence” is threatened. Ok. But then do we unite with you, or do you unite with me? Better, whose opinions do we follow? That is why I realized what history is trying to teach me: it is not about opinions it is about strength.

Dave, Castillo San Cristóbal National Historic Site, San Juan Puerto Rico, December, 2016

I think I get the point and as a result,  I want to attribute the incarnation of those words right into the bold and thoughtful speeches of our founding fathers. I can’t. In reality,  the phrase, “united we stand, divided we fall,” actually traces to the Greek storyteller Aesop, who used them in his fable The Four Oxen and the Lion,” and indirectly in another, “The Bundle of Sticks.”

Here is how “The Four Oxen and the Lion” goes: A lion was stalking four oxen. Each time the lion would approach one of the oxen, as a warning sign to the others, another oxen would turn and wag its tail. When the lion reached the oxen, it was always met by their protective horns. One day the oxen started arguing among themselves. Frustrated with their contrasting opinions, each oxen fled and went to a separate area of the field. Then, one by one, the lion attacked and eventually killed all four oxen. The story ends: “United we stand, divided we fall.” (Ouch! I am seeing a pattern.)

Looking at San Juan in the distance at Castillo San Cristóbal National Historic Site, Puerto Rico

And that is why I keep asking myself,

“Why does it take repeating history, or until we are on the brink of death and or extreme catastrophe for humanity to face the reality that we are better together than we are apart?”

Let me slow down the life lesson and push back on myself. First, I think our separateness, better, our identity is extremely important. I also recognize that I cannot adequately deconstruct all aspects of identity here. Simply put, I like who I am (a little left of moderate). Broadly put, I am reminded of my return to college. As an English major I was introduced to colonialism and postcolonial literature. “Colonialism is the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.” In his book, “Decolonizing the Mind,” Kenyan author, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o eloquently states,

“In colonial conquest, language did to the mind what the sword did to the bodies of the colonized.”

That is why I wonder if in our contemporary world if Facebook, Social Media, or 24-hour cable news have similar effects. I wonder if it would help to correlate, say, social media’s influence to colonialism? Would it help to know that as a result of colonialism, the colonized nation’s language and culture were often wiped out? At least with social media we still have a choice what culture we want to be a part of(?) It was my well-intended professor who again reminded us how learning about history, such as the consequences colonialism, can actually teach us how not to repeat its same mistakes.  

If we do not want to repeat the past, if we do not want another World War then how can we be better now? I do not think the answer is easy. I think it will take a lot of humility and empathy from all sides. Honestly, I wonder if we can. For starters, we all seem to think we are either victims, or we are better, more worthy, more entitled, more patriotic or maybe just afraid. Entitled behavior is reflected in our conversations. Often discussion are centered on our response instead of our listening. We get so caught up in speaking our truth that I think we forget to hear — myself included.  And maybe that is why I worry.  If we cannot communicate on this basic level, how are we going to better the world around us? Recently there have been two deadly hurricanes. I am confused. Why are people persisting to talk about the American flag while people are dying in Puerto Rico? Similarly, I think the people talking about the flag must think I am unpatriotic because I want to talk about Puerto Rico. Does that make sense? As a result, the vast communication divide terrifies me. See, as I studied colonialism I was also able to correlate patterns of control. I learned how slowly division and disrespect seep in. Then one day we are justifying the eradication of entire societies. Ultimately, identity shaming fed the fire that ruined these societies. And that is why respecting cultural identity (as long as you are not hurting anyone) is imperative to our survival.  

Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant, Conwy County Borough, North Wales

Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant, Conwy County Borough, North Wales

In fact, I saw identity preservation first hand this past summer. Dave, the boys and I we were able to visit Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant, which is a house located in the Wybrnant Valley, in the community of Bro Machno, near Betws-y-Coed in Conwy County Borough, North Wales (yes, a mouthful). Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant is the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, first translator of the whole Bible into Welsh. Because Bishop William Morgan translated the bible into Welsh, he was able to preserve the Welsh language. As such, he was also able to preserve the Welsh identity against the strong colonial influence of the English. I found it interesting that a man who works for the National Trust actually lives full time at the Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant barn. After we toured the property, Kyle and I went back to speak with him. He shared with me that until recently, kids in school were single out and punished for speaking Welsh. He said,

“It was this bible translation that saved our people. And I will fight to save us too.”  

He explained that Welsh is actually his first language and that he also recognizes the importance of speaking English. And yes, his relationship with his neighbor to the east is tense, but also necessary. He makes it work and wants to make it work.

The boys & I at Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant, Conwy County Borough, North Wales

Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant, Conwy County Borough, North Wales

That is when it occurred to me, identity does not have to mean divided. Dropping our barriers does not mean losing our identity either. In fact, I would argue that the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” implies that remaining true to ourselves is imperative for a society’s survival. 

This is our moment. This is our history to make. What will we do? Will we focus on how we are all different or will we extend a hand?   Some suggest unity is about learning how to disagree with each other. I think that is a great start. I would also argue that a person needing rescue in Puerto Rico this week would not care if an aid worker is someone who stands, kneels or sits during the National Anthem. My guess is that someone who has gone without fresh drinking water for several days really does not care what color the skin is on the hand handing them the cup. Further, I do not think the people who were being plucked off of their rooftops in Houston quizzed the helicopter pilot before boarding:

“Did you vote for Clinton or Trump? Oh you voted for Clinton, well, I am not getting on your aircraft.”

I would imagine that they were just grateful for these lifesaving efforts.

 In truth, dropping personal biases and barriers is actually what creates unity. So what if Kyle mixes the bananas more fervently than I would.  Does it mean his banana bread will suck?  Absolutely not. It means I need to let go of my control. I may think you are insane for watching 24-hour cable news and you make think I am a crazy “Obamacare”-loving liberal.  Setting bias aside, my guess is that we both care about people who are suffering. And maybe it is time to take a deep breath, start assuming the best in others, and unite just because people are hurting and need our help. And you know what? History has also shown us this: when we stand together we are strong. So let’s not be those oxen who could not figure out how to get along. Because what did the lion teach us: that had they remained united, he would not have been able to eat them. 

Dave & I, Puerto Rico, December, 2016

And as humans, I just hope death and destruction is not what it takes to get us there.

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.

Will Black Lives Matter Next Week?

Me and Big Daddy, Salt Lake City, Utah
Me and Big Daddy, Salt Lake City, Utah

Recently it was #humantrafficking in response to sexual violence and literal human trafficking. Then it was it was #Orlando and everyone became #LGBT strong. Of course then everyone had a gay friend! Now, after the horrific and unjust deaths of two black men, and some crazy dude going on an anti-cop rampage, it is about black people because #blacklivesmatter. What I realize is that in my safe (white) neighborhood (including my Facebook community), it is easy to say #blacklivesmatter. It is easy to jump into a cause. See, sex-traffickers, gay people, and black people are not directly interfering with our very white world. And in our very white world, how will black lives actually always matter instead of becoming this week’s convenient and self-glorifying upper-middle-class-white-person #CauseOfTheWeek?

Sure, among the better-intentioned of my peers, black lives, really all lives, are not a cause. To my well-intentioned peers all lives sincerely matter today, tomorrow and forever. For the rest of us, I think we need to face our own reality. What about when no one is looking, will black lives matter then? Will a black life matter when, say, a loud and out-of-control homeless man, a man who happens to be black, approaches your very white child?

Here it is. I am no expert on humanity. I have no degrees in psychology, sociology, or even biology. I am not paid clergy. I am not gay. I am not Muslim. I am not a person of color.

Makeda, Eli, Kyle & Dima, Mound, Minnesota, November, 2006
Makeda, Eli, Kyle & Dima, Mound, Minnesota, November, 2006

I am white.

In fact, I am a woman who lives around a lot of other LuluLemon-wearing, upper middle class white people. The demographic of my neighborhood consists almost entirely of well-educated white folk: lawyers, MBA graduates, high-tech VP’s, dentists, doctors and University of Utah professors. Here in the Country Club neighborhood (yes, that is literally the name of my neighborhood), we do not often see people who look different than us. Because I also live in a high-density white, Mormon, upper middle class area, different and shocking around here is akin to seeing the occasional inactive (fallen), and also white, Mormon out in public, holding a Starbucks cup filled with actual coffee. If we are really lucky, we may see a tattoo or a tasteful nose piercing. As such, I am certain platforms like my Facebook feed, my local retailers, and my sons’ school community are all reflections of my white, upper middle class world.

The best I can offer is my very limited perspective. My family and I travel often and throughout the world. We make a point to walk and learn a community. We seek out neighborhood grocery stores and love to talk to the locals. We love to see a world different than our own. I also grew up lower middle class, often on the brink of teetering out of the middle class. I knew what it was like to have no food in the fridge, to have the electricity shut off, have my father out of work, and to not have enough money to buy the clothes I needed to fit in socially. I began working when I was eleven, babysitting full time during the summers. I needed to babysit so I could afford the “right” clothes and have spending money. I continued working all throughout high school.

Now I am a wife and a mother. I do not work. Moments ago my two sons left to hang out with their friends. Eli is going longboarding. He and his friends will be looking for Pokemon. Kyle is going to a birthday party. He will spend the afternoon hanging out and swimming. Kyle and Eli do not have summer jobs. In fact, they do not need summer jobs. We want them to focus their efforts on getting good grades and participating in extracurricular activities. Next year Kyle will have a summer internship, followed by Eli two years later. Of course these internships are so they can bolster their college applications. Kyle leaves later this week for a Student Body Officer camp. After that, he will go to an ACT Prep Camp and a Peer Court Camp.

Marianne and her kids, Shady Oak Lake, Minnetonka, MN
Marianne and her kids, Shady Oak Lake, Minnetonka, MN

Eli and Dima, Shady Oak Lake, Minnetonka, MN
Eli and Dima, Shady Oak Lake, Minnetonka, MN

All of this to say that I am deeply concerned that hashtag black lives matter does not really touch my world. Instead, among people in my demographic, at best #blacklivesmatter really is the self-congratulatory cause of the week. At worst, it’s something to be annoyed or even outraged by. Further, I am worried that the following and very serious issue will be completely missed: we live in a world where people are separate and NOT EQUAL.

Somewhere we have been taught to fear those who are different than we are. And because we have been taught to fear difference, I think we struggle to see anyone different equally? It is a fact. Black people look different than white people. Orthodox Muslims dress differently than we do and homeless people often look shabby enough that we cannot recognize them at a distance. How can we see black people equally when we simply cannot? How can we have compassion when one black man decides to kill five police officers? How can we see people equally when we assume the veiled and robed lady is a terrorist — or at least knows one? How can we all matter when one of our presidential contenders is all about the divide, suggesting we ban all the Muslims and have the Mexicans build a wall *(directly from his website, by the way) between them and us? Ok. Let me simplify and bring it closer to my own neighborhood. How can black lives matter when even the sight of a white homeless person makes you fear for your child’s life?

Complicating the matter, I wonder, how can #blacklivesmatter, or even any life matter, when we live in a country that was founded on the basis of separating itself from another? Consequently, we separate to differentiate, feel safe and feel comfortable. We surround ourselves with sameness — even black people do that. Nevertheless, when it comes to the fundamental American concept of equality, there is mostly lip service. People of color consistently get the extremely short end of the stick – no question. Beyond hashtag, how can we live in and maintain a world where we we are treated equally?

Marianne and I, Shady Oak Lake, Minnetonka, MN
Marianne and I, Shady Oak Lake, Minnetonka, MN

I was born and raised in Minnesota right outside of Minneapolis. As a result, I must admit that the Philando Castile murder caught my attention more than Alton Sterling’s did two days prior. Falcon Heights, Minnesota, the place of Philando Castile’s murder, is also a predominantly white (*73.3%), middle class urban neighborhood situated next to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus. I imagine it is similar to where I live now. A few days ago my best friend Marianne called me. She currently lives in Minnesota. She has four children. Three are biracial (dad from Africa and white Marianne). She recently gained custody of her fourth, a gorgeous African-American teenage girl. Marianne called as she was driving through Falcon Heights. She called just to tell me how “eerie” and “white” Falcon Heights is.

“I cannot believe what happened here.” She said and then paused. “It’s so quiet.”

Then right before I went to sleep last night Dave shared what he had just been reading:

“Beth.” He said and continued, “Did you know that Philando Castile had been pulled over fifty-two times for minor infractions before he was shot on the fifty-third?”

“Are you serious?” I asked and then kept asking.

My eyes widened and I contemplated how it would be to be pulled over by the police fifty-three times. I thought of the already-prepared statement I would have in my head. As I imagined the police officer approaching, I would want to get it all out there,

“Look officer. I am a good person. I am with my family. Now I am going to reach for my license and registration….”

I imagined Philando saying those same things. I felt physically ill. That is when I lost it. I kept saying.

“How can we change? Can we change?”

The other day I walked into my local Walmart. Right behind me was a well-dressed, clean cut, suburban-looking, middle-aged African American woman. She was wearing a purse-styled backpack. Walking next to her was her adorable tween daughter. The adorable tween gave me a sweet smile, and held the door for me, as we walked in. Right behind us was a Walmart security guard. I did not notice him until I saw him frantically running up to the woman. I assumed he was going to say something helpful such as,

“Ma’am I noticed you left your car door open.”

Nope. Here is what he said,

“Ma’am you cannot take that in here.”

I was completely confused.

“What in here?” I thought.

I come to find that the security guard would not allow her to take her not-large backpack purse into the store. I wanted to say something, but feared I would make it worse for her. I watched the security guard walk her over to a little area all-the-while explaining how “here at Walmart it’s against the rules to wear a backpack into the store.” She was filled with grace and pleasantly placed her backpack into a locker.

Ok. The Walmart security guard was not telling the whole truth. If I had a dollar for every time I have been wearing my very backpack-y-looking and not all all purse-like backpack and walked right past that very same security guard into that very same Walmart, I could buy you lunch. I have never been asked to place my bright green nylon backpack in a locker — ever. (ok. once Dave was after I wrote this post.)

Eli, Makeda, Kyle, Minnetonka, MN, July, 2009
Eli, Makeda, Kyle, Minnetonka, MN, July, 2009

I have driven my Volvo SUV in cities and suburbs all over this country, in nice neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, Potomac, Palo Alto, and oue Country Club neighborhood , and also South Central LA, Oakland, Southeast DC, and west Salt Lake. Never once have I been pulled over for a broken tail light (though I’ve had one) or an expired registration (though I’ve had one — now once) or any other trivial infraction. I asked Dave and he said he’s been pulled over for a registration, but was let off with a warning.

In America, white soccer moms in Volvos don’t get pulled over by cops in Beverly Hills, and they don’t get pulled over in South Central. Black men like Philando Castile get pulled over 53 times for driving in nice white neighborhoods. According to from article in NPR, Black folks in not-so-nice neighborhoods like Ferguson Missouri have it just as bad or worse: the 21,135 people who live there were issued 32,975 arrest warrants for nonviolent offenses, mostly driving violations, in a single year.

Us, Moab, Utah
Us, Moab, Utah (yes, in our Volvo)

Yes, I realize that I’m such a Volvo-driving soccer mom that I just cited an NPR story. Case closed.


–This piece was written by David and Beth Adams