Solstice: Light and Dark

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On the last winter solstice, the longest night of the year, I sat in a car at the mouth of Rock Canyon with my best friend and cried until my eyes were salty and stinging and dry and my chest ached from the heaving and my lips were cracked. Then I stepped out into the cold mouth of the canyon, cried some more, and yelled at God—a long string of angry sorrow and curse words. I stood outside in the dark and yelled until my voice was hoarse and my fingertips were numb. I stood in the cold and felt like a wisp, a shell, such a fragile thing. I was fighting for my life right then, holding on to the edge of a cliff and constantly working to convince myself that I could survive the pain, that I could find happiness, that I was worthy of love. So often I felt that my pesky needs for love and emotional safety and authenticity were making everyone around me miserable, that life would be better for others without me around. Tightly tucked into the dark and cold of the longest winter I’ve ever known, I didn’t know if I’d ever make my way out. I just kept waking up to one more minute of light each day, watched as the day’s light lengthened, hurt and hoped. 

Today was summer solstice, the longest day of the year. I slept in until 11, went to lunch with new friends at my favorite park, washed my quilt at the laundromat, rode the train to Murray to visit my Aunt Gwen who reminded me how loved and supported I am, how grateful she is for me, how she admires me. Just past sunset I drove to Rock Canyon again. I walked into the mouth of the canyon to sit on a boulder and cry. There is still so much pain (and more and different pain) but it is softer around the edges, and I am stronger. I talked to my little brother, told him how much I miss his sparkly eyes and his mischievous giggle. The warm breeze blew through my hair as crickets sang their night song. Orange light beyond the lake faded as the stars peeked out through clouds that moved softly through the darkening blue. I talked to God, whispered a dozen thank yous for the beauty of this world, for this life and the labyrinthine journey I’m taking. After the crying and the whispered prayer, I found the tiny stage of an amphitheater and danced to Regina Spektor, sang, bowed to the applauding stars.

Tonight I held myself tight in love and compassion, reveling in the treasure that is me—that beautiful and imperfect person who is always here at the end of each day and each grief, the friend I’m learning to cherish with each waking. As sorrow and anger and loss have ravaged me this year, as so many of the outer trappings of my identity have fallen away, I’ve finally learned to love myself without condition. It is new love: fierce and soft and open and grateful. Tonight there is such light, such light, such light shining through the cracks and the flaws of my wandering soul. 

The Cold Pulse of Sorrow: In Praise of Sadness

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This winter is cold and hard. And my endless search for a story where I’m perfect enough or wise enough to avoid pain is met in my mind with a friend’s soft voice: I’m sorry, darling, but you’re human. 

Tonight I walked in black clogs along the river trail, my ankles bare and bitten by icy air beneath my long, gray skirt. The bare trees jutted their limbs and sticks into the chill of river and sky, and mallards’ burnished backs and green heads floated on the running water, their quacks and taunts floating up to join the smell of wispy woodsmoke.

The cold pulse of sorrow enclosed me; one warm tear fell down my face. I don’t cry often these winter days. More than one tear and I am drowning in a deep and endless well, surrounded by stones of choices and stories and impossibles, things done and undone, words said and left unsaid, all that is aching and unsustainable.

Why must this be a world of sadness and sorrow?

The river flows on. The sky fades gray, then orange, deepens to cerulean and indigo. Here, even here, I am grateful—not for how I’m filled, but for how I’m emptied. Sorrow is the gift of being hollowed out for hope and future joys. This jagged joy of being human is more than joy. It is also joy’s counterpoint—sadness, sorrow. All of it is a call to gratitude. All. All. All.

This moment. Even this.

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Stark and Beautiful

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Today I feel grateful for barren winter trees and how they feel like sisters and kindred spirits right now. They look so bare, so stark and lonely. And yet… And yet… What green does spring have in store? I think they are so beautiful, just as they are, but also beautiful because of their promise of spring.

Also, grateful for this poem by Carol Lynn Pearson that has been coming to me a lot the last few days.

My Season
by Carol Lynn Pearson

Seeing the tree
Beneath a baptism of snow,
You may call her barren.
But is it so?
And for all your watchings
On a March night
When the twigs seem dark
And the bark
Feels cold to your hand —
Can you call her fruitless
And so leave?

She smiles,
Calm in the station
Of seasons
And in the ordination
Of sun, and sap, and spring.

As for me?
You turn away,
Impatient with the promises you’ve seen.
But — inside I fill
And pulse and flow
With the urgency of green.

I’ve a season,
Like the tree.
And all your
Faithless doubts
Will not destroy
The rising spring
In me.

Then the Full Moon Rose Soft and Small

A few days ago my best friend reminded me that keeping a gratitude journal has been shown by science to increase a person’s happiness. So I’ll be keeping a gratitude journal, because who can argue with science? And I could use a little Polyanna in my life right now, a little playing of the glad game. Here’s my first entry. 

I woke this morning grieving, still fully dressed in slacks and bra and cardigan; last night I let my children see me cry. For just a minute or two I sobbed at the weight of sorrow and doubt that blanket my heart in this, the longest winter of my life. And my teenage son held me and I marveled at his growth. He’s grown in all ways and all directions; his hands are now small man hands, bigger than mine. The tiny body I held for years is now big enough to hold his mother, and his heart and his spirit—so grown, such marvels. I am grateful for all of this: the grief, the tears, the beautiful and forgiving children, the boy whose heart’s natural response to sadness is to nurture.

I am also grateful for what came next. As I was pinning my four-year-old Ammon down to brush his teeth, there was a knock on my door. I’d forgotten that I’d invited my visiting teachers to come over at nine o’clock. I’m Mormon, see, so we have people specifically assigned to come visit us and make sure we’re doing okay. It’s one thing I love about Mormonism. I’m grateful for visiting teachers and the chance to be one. There’s this thing I’m going through, though. My relationship with Mormonism and faith and religion in general is…complicated. Jamie gets this. Instead of sharing the standard religious messages, she brings me Hopkins sonnets and an article from The New Yorker about Pope Francis that says things like “Truth is a relationship.” She listens without judgement as I tell her about loss and sadness and difficult choices. And she gives me hope that I can keep searching and growing and learning and seeking truth, helps me know that I am good and loved and important. For all of this I am grateful: toothpaste and toothbrush and tiny teeth and a boy in a body that doesn’t like staying still, the chaos of children, a woman who is a kindred spirit and a tender caretaker of my heart and my hope.

Today. Up early for family prayer. Carpool. And more sadness, so much sadness this morning. Then, my sweet boy Jack won a first grade spelling bee and I got a speeding ticket while taking Ammon to preschool. Then therapy with Tess, who managed to help me cry today for past and present and future versions of me, helped me quiet some of the self-pummeling I do. In class today, we talked of Heidegger and Being, of what it means to live and be present in the deepest questions of our lives, to live the answers and the questions that call to us without words and spark inside our bodies. Today I got to live the question and answer of love and connection. On campus I saw so many loved ones, school friends who have become family—Laura, Tom, Rob, Bonnie, Ammon, Brooke, Emerson. Then, as I picked up my Ammon, I got to talk to Trishelle, one of my dearest friends, the girl I introduced myself to twenty-one years ago at a church dance. Tonight my witty Kaitlyn teased her dad about hair loss and shared her chocolate with me. Tonight I chatted with Matthew about his fears for our family’s future and he told me about his friends Amy and Mamie and I decided I need to write a children’s book with characters named Amy and Mamie. For all of this I am grateful: Prayer and carpool. Sadness and spelling bees. Speeding tickets and cops who reduce the speed I’m charged with from 16 over to 9 over. Crying and therapy, deep questions of love and connection and Being, friends and family I’ve chosen. A daughter. And wit and chocolate and long talks and fear and writing. 

Today was not an easy day, but even in the not-so-easy days there is such joy and gratitude. Tonight as Ammon and I got home we gazed at the light shining above Mount Timpanogos—the herald light of moonrise. Tonight is a full moon at apogee, a full moon gazing at our planet in its farthest point away from us, tiny in the sky above mountain peaks. And still tonight there is so much light.

Wearing My Pants and My Broken Heart to Church

(For a quick primer on why Mormon women wearing pants to church is a big deal, read this article, or visit the official Pants to Church website.)

Confession: I didn’t wear pants to church last year on December 16. I wanted to stand with my brothers and sisters who often feel marginalized in our church, who are hurt by the harmful gender inequality we see in the workings of a church we’ve loved. I couldn’t do it. Instead, twenty minutes before church was supposed to start I sat on my bedroom floor sobbing, staring at the lovely brown dress pants laid out on my bed. I chose a purple skirt instead, told myself that this was not the way I wanted to engage in the discussion about Mormon feminism. I told myself that I was choosing not to cause a stir so that I’d have better opportunities to build bridges and talk to my church family about my concerns.

The truth: The vulnerability of being the only woman showing up to church in pants was too frightening for me. The vulnerability of standing out, showing on the outside the deep ways I felt alienated on the inside, was just too much for me. I wanted my brown, hounds-tooth dress pants to wave on my legs like a flag—a symbol of my broken heart. I wanted to go to church in pants and say to the people I’d loved with and worshiped with and served with: Please see me. Please see how much I’m hurting, how much I wish our church were more Christlike, how much I wish I were better than I am, how deeply I wish to believe that there’s a place for me here, even with all my doubts and frailties. I wasn’t brave enough.

Since that day, I’ve worn pants to church a number of times. At first it was an act of bravery. I felt different, felt strange and stared-at. Another woman in my ward thanked me for wearing pants and began to do so also. I’ve heard gossip that others in our congregation have seen our pants-wearing as a sign that we don’t have firm testimonies. Trust me, though, these pants-wearing days had little to do with any lack of conviction on my part. It’s become more pragmatic than that. I find it utterly silly that a bunch of fabric that would be perfectly suitable as a dress somehow becomes inappropriate church attire when it’s sewn together between my legs. Also, I find it much easier to focus on worshipping God when I feel secure and comfortable—wrestling two little boys through church is much easier to do in pants. I’ve come to love being the weirdo woman who wears pants to church. The whole unspoken, unofficial dress-code of our happy-valley culture is not something I agree with or feel a need to abide by. When I show up to church I wear my best, and I’m there for reasons much deeper than signaling faith or lack of faith through my outward appearance.

I don’t wear pants to church because my testimony is hurting or because I lack faith and have doubts. I come to church, whether in pants or a skirt, because my testimony is hurting, because I lack faith and have deep, serious doubts. This is a bit of a coming-out post, because even some of my closest family members and friends have no idea how much I’ve struggled and questioned over the last few years. I’ve questioned everything, spending months at a time feeling solidly agnostic even about the existence of God. I have serious concerns about the ways the LDS church functions, the way our Mormon culture deeply harms individuals who don’t fit the mold. I have honest, probing questions about the truth and value of certain practices and doctrines. I have good and beautiful homosexual friends who have left the church because they could not embrace their sexuality, stay Mormon, and stay alive. This deeply troubles me. Though the official church stance on LGBQT people has changed in positive ways, I think, there are not enough answers yet for me to feel satisfied with them.

My heart, my good and loving heart that still wants to be like Jesus like it has since I was a little girl, cannot always square the reality of my church and its imperfect people with the goodness and love of the Jesus Christ that is its namesake. So I struggle. I hurt. I try. And I keep coming to church, because if there is a God in heaven (and I do believe there is, want to believe in a father god and a mother god who are our heavenly parents and love us) then I want to keep giving God the opportunity to touch and soften and mold my heart.

Perhaps it is wrong to live like I do, to believe as I do. I am, admittedly, better at living the second great commandment—love your neighbor as yourself—than I am at loving a God that I can’t always find a way to access. Perhaps that is pride on my part, I don’t know. But I just can’t believe that God would make the two great commandments mutually exclusive. I believe in loving God by loving his people here on earth, by loving and accepting and welcoming those around me—my atheist friends, my gay friends, my drug-addicted friends, my Molly Mormon friends, my Buddhist friends, all of the people around me whose goodness could never be contained in a label. I love them all. And though there is much I am struggling to believe right now, there’s one thing I will likely always believe in. I believe in Jesus, I believe in the Jesus who loved the sinner, who reached out to the outcast and pulled her in with his love and his tenderness. I believe in the Jesus who asked us to do likewise, and I am earnestly trying my best to follow that example.

So today I’m wearing pants to church. Not just that, I’m wearing pants to church in the congregation I grew up in, with the people who first taught me about Jesus, who taught me to believe and watched me grow up so sure of my faith. Today I feel brave enough to be honest about who I am. I want to believe, I’m hanging on to the core of my faith, but I’m not always sure about the rest of it. I want to believe, but I also want to be part of a world that is kinder, more inclusive, more Christlike. So today my pants are more than pragmatism. Today my faith and my doubts and my struggles and my compassion will be worn on the outside. Today I stand in support of all those who could use a bit more love and welcoming. I believe in making the circle wider. I believe we all have the capacity to love more, to see each others’ broken hearts and find room for all kinds of people, for many different people with many different ways of finding truth.