The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

 - The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. – Anna Quindlen

Loving Myself Open

opening bud

“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.

  • AbinadiBruns

    I enjoyed this. Sounds like you’ve learned to let go and live your life outside of the church. I have a really hard time with it. Most of the time I feel cheated like I was robbed of some of the best years of my life and I can’t seem to get past it. It’s not so easy to move on and not dwell on the past; to let go of the mormon mindset.

    • InconvenientRuth

      It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves….letting go of our past. It keeps us from enjoying the present moments and gifts around us and steals energy from creating the life we would want.

  • kaylayale

    When I had my first sexual experience after leaving the church, I had no guilt whatsoever. I realized that the guilt the church places on sex is manufactured. When we do harm to another person, then the guilt we feel is genuine, but when two people express sexual pleasure between themselves, they are not harming anyone, as long as it is between two consenting adults. No harm, no guilt.

    • InconvenientRuth

      We were truly lied to….but I give the Brethren the benefit of the doubt that they don’t know any different….either because they have never experimented with it, or if they did, they felt guilty and would not let go out of the gate….

  • Koloborbust

    Beautiful!

  • pinkhedgehog

    Wow, this is incredible. Thank you for opening your soul and letting us take a peek; such bravery!

    • InconvenientRuth

      Yeah….I tend to do that…no filter…put it out there….it gets published and then I realize….wtf did I just do?

      • pinkhedgehog

        Some things just need to be said. It takes courageous women to say these things, and I’m glad you are one of them.

  • Miss O

    The title says it all for me: Loving Myself Open. I love this experience (thank you for sharing it with us) where you were able to realize that an opportunity for growth was at your table and you took it. Learning to be vulnerable takes trust in ourselves that we can make it through anything that comes from it. This story is very relatable for me. And I love the phrase a choiceless choice – isn’t that how most choices in the church feel? Once leaving the church I shook this from my tool box and now realize there’s no repentance to be had, only experiences to draw from – both good and bad. Love this, InconvenientRuth!

  • Suzanne C.

    I was baptised aged 20 into the LDS church in a time when I was confused & vulnerable. I had just escaped from a violent relationship & was single mum to a beautiful little girl. I was a survivor of child abuse & rape, was a suicidal teen & suffered from depression on & off. The church offered me a place I felt I could belong. I had the discussions with the Missionaries &, even though I didn’t feel ready, they told me I was ready to be baptised. Everyone told me that when you are baptised you are filled with the holy spirit & that it is an amazing, spiritual experience, the like of which you will never have again. That morning, I was so excited. Here was my chance to be accepted by god, to become his child & be saved from the nightmares that plagued my every waking moment. As I was laid back in the water & brought back up, I expected to feel something flow into me, I expected to feel peace, feel god touch my spirit or whisper to me that I was now cleansed and free, but I felt nothing. I was shocked & I felt cheated. Why did I feel nothing? Wasn’t I worthy? I felt abandoned & lied to. I felt guilty & I felt angry, but I was too ashamed to tell anyone. I spent yrs trying to become ‘perfect’ in the eyes of heavenly father but, feeling suffocated at times, and being afraid to speak about the horrific childhood that still plagued me, I became inactive, time and time again. I had a couple of relationships & more children in those times & would come back to church when I was feeling lonely or when the sisters badgered me enough that I went back just to make them happy. I went to temple to receive my endowments & was frustrated at the lack of spiritual enlightenment I got there too. I did not feel god’s presence there either & just found it all a bit strange, but still I didn’t tell anyone how I felt. Any faith I had started to ebb away & I left the church 6 yrs ago. I felt guilt for a long time, & fear, because I was told that if I took my children out of church they would lose their place in the celestial kingdom & I would be held accountable. I believed that. I cried many nights because of that. I realise now that it was fear & guilt that kept me at church but there is nothing to fear any more. With my horrible past & my failed relationships, I have become a stronger woman. I do not need a church to help me find my place in this world & I have found the love of my life to share it with.

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