“I have it on good authority that Spirit does not belong to any particular church, but resides in the deepest part of your very own heart every time you love.” ~David Deida
It was 2002. I was 39, a Republican, Mormon single mom of 4 kids, ages 17-6. I was preparing for what was my first big road trip alone with the kids since my divorce. In my newfound moments of quiet when the kids were with their father, I was allowed some time for dreaming and I’d decided that I wanted to see Crater Lake. I was a little nervous about being the only driver and taking many unfamiliar roads but I didn’t let it stop me. We were all excited. Little did I know the unfamiliar roads and changes I’d be exploring internally.
I was looking forward to some time out of town, away from a man who had recently appeared and who offered me a previously unexperienced level of sexual attraction if I was within shouting distance. He was heartbreak in a bottle and I knew it. I was in a very satisfying time in my personal life and he was not in my plan. I liked neat and tidy and was determined to be smart with my heart and keep the covenants I had made in the LDS temple, namely “no sexual intercourse except with someone to whom I was legally and lawfully married.” I was discovering my own head. Realizing that I actually had my own thoughts and opinions about things and I was taking time to contemplate, read the thoughts of different authors whose voices seemed to be meant just for me. They were stimulating a new paradigm which seemed to be quickly emerging. I wasn’t dating because this pursuit had me otherwise occupied. The only reason I had even been out socially that Saturday night was that we were celebrating my friend’s birthday. She brought along her second cousin once-removed, or something like that, who she hadn’t seen in over a decade. To be honest, I wasn’t even paying attention at the introduction.
After dinner we all moved to a monthly Single’s Dance our church was holding. I used to go regularly, hoping that this just might be the night I would be blessed with a temple-worthy love. Over the years I’d become mostly disillusioned at the prospects and had taken to making jokes about the overall patheticness of the music and the men. If they were playing the song “Love Shack,” it must be 10:10pm. I looked up at the clock. It was.
I honestly hadn’t given this guy at the birthday party a second look. Then he asked me to slow dance. We chit chatted about nothing I can recall until he asked me something about dating to which I half-sarcasticly and half-seriously replied, “Oh, I don’t date men who know Mary.” I had had a string of small train wrecks with men Mary (his cousin) had introduced me to, including a broken engagement. He seemed undaunted and replied, “Not even me?” with eyes that pierced multiple parts of me. If cupid actually owns arrows I was shot multiple times in that moment.
It’s been over 10 years so parts of my story are growing foggy, but I do remember he showed up regularly after I got off work, he was wickedly funny and I melted when he kissed me. He was fire to my shivering cold body but I was afraid of getting burned. It didn’t take me long to realize he was not a good idea, on multiple levels. He had a history of bipolar disorder that left him ever-prone to impromptu major life changes, a good job in an unstable company in the process of a long, slow layoff, an ex-wife with 3 of his children and he was only months separated from a current wife who had discovered she was pregnant within a month of their separation. He was not proceeding with a divorce to keep her on his insurance until the pregnancy was over. Ending the marriage was not her choice. He had parked himself in Portland, to get away from their relationship, at a satellite office and slept between his office, his car and Mary’s couch. Get the picture?
I looked at this roadtrip with my kids as a way to wash him out of my hair. But all I could do was think of him. I could not understand what was happening to me. I didn’t want any part of this and yet I couldn’t seem to break my heart or body free.
The last few days of our roadtrip were on the southern Oregon coast and found me with a few spare moments alone at the beach sitting cross legged in the sand, contemplating my deep predicament. I had recently returned to doing some meditation and in my torn state decided to just close my eyes and concentrate on my breath and see if I could just get him out of my head. It wasn’t helping, so in exasperation I silently said these words to nothing or no one in particular, “What is he doing here and what am I supposed to do with this?”
What happened in the next moment was completely unexpected, out of my paradigm of possibility, and yet shook every cell of my spiritual shelf at once. It made absolutely no sense in the Mormon world view. It’s difficult to put into words because what happened was an instant, but telling it to someone else in words takes much longer. Perhaps it was some sort of download? In the past, I’ve described it as a message to my soul and my soul understood it completely.
The words trickled down through my brain clearly: “You know, you’ve always been so safe in love. Always held your heart so close and careful, lived so protected. And really…look at your life. What good has it really done you? (Enter stage left images of a lifetime of healing my disappointed, broken heart). The last few years of your life have been about learning to love others unconditionally. And you’ve got that. Now…(there was a slight pause in the thoughtstream) it’s time to let yourself learn to be loved unconditionally. And he is here (another pause, perhaps for effect), and he loves you. It’s time to let him love you.”
I’m not sure in earth time how long it actually took to soak in the truth of that message, but I knew that it was 100% true. I HAD safely locked my heart away and only bared it in moments when it had seemed safe. I did NOT, in the slightest way know how to open up and be vulnerable. And this man offered raw, exposed nakedness on a platter of inevitable heartbreak, not to mention the likely Mormon consequences. I also understood that this was not really about him at all. This was about me learning to open my heart in the face of uncertainty, and I knew this would be a sexual relationship. I contemplated my options. I realized taking this path could and likely would deprive me of my membership, through excommunication, and thus I would my children’s weddings and endowments.
It was a choice point. There was no middle road. I soothed myself with the fact that there was always the repentance process and conveniently failed to entertain the idea I might never return. That was probably best. It really was the choiceless choice.
It was the first time I began to grasp the possibility that the world was not black and white and that all the lessons and growth I was here to experience could not be found within the small box of carefully divided right and wrong. Fate had intervened and stirred its finger in my carefully separated colors. My black and white turned gray.
I returned home with a quiet knowing that it was time. Time to learn to be vulnerable, with an imperfect man with a messy life and more chaos than I could handle. I did let him love me and I will never regret it. My heart will never be the same—my body will never be the same. I relaxed into a satisfying sensuality that every cell in my body knew was not a sin. I had been told my whole life that we had to be worthy to have the Holy Ghost with us. I was determined to use that as my benchmark, and that most of all I would take care of myself and not betray myself. That, I had to figure out as I went, but this I can say: What I had come to know as the Holy Ghost was with me more strongly and consistently than ever. I felt led and loved in every step in the process. My entire life became an experience of God in all her forms and flavors. I learned that love and its expression, whether given or received, is never sinful or wrong if we are freely giving and receiving. The sin is, perhaps, in the taking in selfishness or the giving only for what’s in it for us.
“The Holy Longing”
Tell a wise person or else keep silent
For the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive
And what longs to be burned to death.
In the calm waters of the nights of love
Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
In this obsession with darkness
And a desire for higher love-making sweeps you up.
Distance does not make you falter.
And now, arriving in wonder, flying,
And, finally, insane for the light,
You are the butterfly,
And you are gone.
And so long as you haven’t
Experienced this—to die
And so to grow—you are only
Another troubled guest darkening the earth.
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As the story goes, we did go our separate ways in about a year. I was only slightly heartbroken but mostly so grateful that this man came to me all messy and oozing with a passionately open heart and let me play on the stage of life with him. I did learn to let myself be loved wide open. I came to believe that there is a reason people cry out, “Oh God!” in the height of their greatest sexual experiences. Never are we more open and alive and in the presence of God and the Divine than in our emotional and physical nakedness with another.