Thursday, October 22, 2009

My, My, My, It's a Beautiful World

Saturday evening, we took eight Utah children (kind of like Kobe beef, somewhat sweet and largely untouched; submitting picture of Julia and Alli, to the right, into the record as evidence to support this proposition) to an other way of life.

Ocean Beach, California is a surfing town that, when time ran across it, time crossed over to the other side of the street. Squatting on the wrong side of Mission Bay, it’s home to the homeless with pitbulls, the goth, the vegan skateboarders and tattoo parlors, the longest concrete municipal pier in California, and Hodads.

We found out about Hodads from Guy, on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Channel—Adam’s favorite show along with Landscape Smarts. It’s a burger joint on Newport Avenue that plays heavy metal so loud your crowns vibrate on their posts. If you’re lucky (or unlucky, according to Austin, a seventeen-year old senior, “how embarrassing”)), you sit in the front seat of a VW bus that sticks out of the eastern wall and eat off the table propped on the dashboard. The blurb under the name says, “Under 95 gazillion served” and “Open 24 hours, just not in a row.” It’s hands down, the best burger we have ever eaten.

Hot ground beef, slightly pink in the middle; cold, cold thickly sliced white onions; chopped lettuce; tomatoes cut rough like Aunt Lorraine cuts them, in the palm of her hand with a jagged knife at the family reunion; bacon strips hanging like tongues over the edge of the melting cheese slices; all this wedged into a toasted bun, and wrapped firmly in wax paper. I think they serve within ten seconds of taking the patty off the grill. The heat of the burger sizzles your tongue until your teeth crunch down into cold onion and toasted bread. Divine! The shakes are served in tall, frosty metal shake containers, with a scoop of the hard ice-cream from which they were made propped on the brim. I think perhaps a teaspoon of milk had adulterated the pure ice-cream. Brilliant!

Picture this: Six children, ranging in age from 18 to 11, perched on the surfboard bench of the long middle table. They’re mostly blonde—like most Utah children. The two eighteen-year old college freshmen have styled their hair for the football game, straightening their bangs with the Chi straightener, and wear silver hoop earrings. One’s got on a lime green BYU Cougars T-shirt with Hawaiian flowers; the other a sun dress with a white, sleeved, t-shirt underneath. The boys, to a man, wear basketball shorts and t-shirts with Nike Athletics or Basketball Camp Champion 2007 across the chest. Across from them sit their parents, and two other boys, age 10 and 12, similarly attired. The man wears a navy blue collared shirt with BYU embroidered on the left chest, as does one of the women.

Around the BYU blue, the walls are covered floor to ceiling in black paint and license plates, devised by those brilliant minds that make me laugh as I drive down the freeway. Surfboards hang from the ceiling. Van Halen’s jumping out of the stereo system, soon to be followed by Nickelback (Latest song: Burn It to the Ground). The homeless guy outside is playing his two songs on his portable keyboard, one about Sierra Vista, and the other about Saturday night. The servers wear black, not by mandate, but by choice. The black is alleviated with designs that resemble skeletons, or halfpipes, or retro Kiss concert Ts. Little goatees, fluff under the lower lip, which I have subsequently found out is called a “soul patch,” are de rigueur, as are chains from back belt loop to front button. Some sport Mutton Chops, the reverse goatee. The chef has a Mohawk and spreads, at the very most, 170 pounds over his 6 foot 4 frame. Gauges seems to be the most common, visible piercing (I had to ask the college freshman on the name for that one)—some at least the size of a dollar coin.

I love it. I love that Adam is watching, with his mouth slightly open and drool beginning to gather in the corners, as he watches the shake man, with multiple piercings, dancing at his machine. If I could see myself, I know I have a crooked half-smile on my face. You see, I love to watch my kids around things they don’t know; and more than that, things they perhaps even fear slightly. Love to see them watch “different” people doing something well. In this case, running a restaurant, serving killer food in complicated orders without a hitch, schmoozing at all the tables that include families, young couples, students from UCSD, surfers and boarders, and moving diners through their restaurant with a casual aplomb that belies the speed with which the tables turn over. (Kevin and I had come earlier in the year, just us, and the service was just as charming and efficient. The music was also just as loud at three o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon in February. Consistency—the sign of a good business.)

After dinner, the kids strolled down to the pier, admittedly under duress at first. (Adam: “Mom, you’re not the boss here. Nobody wants to go to that stupid pier. Seven people don’t want to go. Why do you get to decide?) To get to the steps, they had to maneuver by the homeless man in his twenties with a massive trench coat and an even bigger pit bull tethered by a rope leash to his waist. Pitbull Man was being soundly chastised by another man who was bothered that his behavior, at some previous occasion, was aggressive and had bothered somebody who had taken offense. Pitbull Man took his talking to with a penitently lowered head and muttered, “Dude, dude . . . I know, I know.” I had to drag Adam away who stood glued to the spot, his eyes wide.

Up onto the pier, and into the Saturday night fishing village that probably blossoms at dusk on every pier in California. Each side of the 1,971 feet of the pier, as well as the two wings that form a T-shape at the ocean end, was dotted with fishing groups. Judging from the languages, mostly Spanish-speaking and Asian, the fishers were largely Hispanic and Hmong. Fathers, mothers and babies in strollers; kids on scooters; preteens throwing nerf footballs to each other; teenagers in circled camp chairs texting and chatting while their lines bobbed in the inky water below; young children played in little pop-up tents that, if we could have seen, were probably decorated with My Little Pony decals. Dinner in coolers, live bait and the fresh catch in buckets, green glow-in-the-dark lures attached to the end of the lines so that they don’t get tangled on the cast. I’m walking next to Kevin with the weight of Adam tucked into the crook of my arm as he twists backwards and forwards, trying to see whether he is brave enough to let go completely.

Again, I love it. I love the wafting scents of salt water, French fries from the restaurant/bait shop perched halfway down the pier, tobacco, kelp rotting on the shore and barnacles smashed under foot that float by. I love that our group breaks into groups: parents and little, bigs and inbetweens. I love the self-centered chatter that stills as they walk further and further onto the pier. As we get to the T, I roll my eyes at the “OK, mother, we’ve walked the pier, can we now get out of here before we get raped” that comes from the older group. “No, we’ve got to walk down both sides.” I love the silence that follows, while they take it all in—the tents, the coolers, the chatter, the fish, the lures.

I love that, though they will not admit it, the thoughts process through their brains that for some teenagers, it was considered a fun thing to gather on the pier with their camp chairs, cell phones, Big Gulps and fishing rods to catch fish on a Friday night. Judging from the hair styles, the girls had taken just as long to get ready, and the boymen were sporting their most potent aftershave. I love the questions that follow: Why do people fish? (Have I really raised such city slickers?) What do they do with it? Why would they need it? What followed, while we strolled, was an explanation of fishing licenses, free fish, cheap food, and possibly the benefits of sitting on a late fall night under the San Diego sky with the waves crashing beneath you, and the moon rising while waiting for your lobster pots to fill up.

For ten-year old Adam, the Pitbull Man figured foremost on his brain that night. But not the questions I thought he would ask like, how does he feed that huge dog, where does he sleep, and what do you think he did to become homeless. What Adam was most concerned about was that Pitbull Man had been smoking. “Mom, why do you think he would do that when he just knows that smoking is bad for you?”

I tried to explain that smoking actually kills the hunger pains, that maybe it helped him not be so hungry, that sometimes you are so addicted to something that even though you know it’s wrong you do it anyway. “So, Adam, when you hit Seth, you know it’s wrong but you do it anyway.” “Yes, well, that’s not going to affect me in the long run; that’s not going to make me die.” For the life of him, I couldn’t get him to see that smoking might not be as bad as deliberately choosing to hit your brother. He wouldn’t even budge from his certainty that he would never do something that he knew was wrong AND that would have a long term effect. He just knew that if he were homeless he wouldn’t smoke. (I think he also remains convinced that hitting Seth will have no effect on his eternal salvation. Funny how the things we do are never worse than the things done by someone else. )

After about 30 minutes, we headed back to Newport Avenue, passed Pitbull Man (who was still smoking), passed the all-night taco stand, and the pawn shops, and climbed into our cars. As we pulled out of the parking space and headed back to Mission Beach, Julia sank into the seat behind us. “Thanks,” she breathed out, “that was really fun.” I smiled again. Chalk one up on the “enlarge thy borders” quest. For me, at least, I left Ocean Beach reminded that other is just another way, that our family’s way is not the only way, and thinking to rearrange my life so that I can spend a few Friday nights under that California moon atop a concrete pier with the swell sulking beneath me as I waited for the queenfish to bite.

Title: Colin Hay, from "Beautiful World."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Set All The Beacons Blazing

Have you ever thought about those conversations that have changed your life? In other words, once the piece of information slotted itself into place in your brain, you couldn't look at the world the same way. Here are mine that I was thinking about this morning . . . three of my most recent, and so precious that I am grateful for the people who were in my life to have those conversations with me.

Conversation #1
I'm sitting in a car in Camps Bay, South Africa talking to my high school friend Tracy last summer. I have spent the past twenty years in America, living life on the family fast track. Marriage, children (within about twenty seconds of each other, if the timing of Julia's birth is anything to go by), degrees, homes, business, career, pets, soccer teams etc., etc., etc. I have returned, alone, to my homeland, which I left in 1984 as a college freshman. The teenage ties I had before I left Cape Town and which had suffered the inevitable severance have been resurrected through cheap long distance phone calls, Internet, email and Facebook.

In the early 80s, Tracy and I played netball and waterpolo together. We wore the school uniforms and, even at seventeen, kept our hair up high in pigtails. In 2009, she is a physical therapist with her own practice; I am an attorney. We are both wives to American husbands, and mothers to children. We're in our early forties, but her face is the same, her staccato speech delivery the same, her hunger for a good life still the same. I recognize her--her laugh, her grin, her accentuated hand movements--from decades ago and she is as familiar to me as the Westerford maroon plaid dress with notched collar.

We're sitting in her car after an evening at the beach, I think, talking about choices, about her experiences in Texas, and mine in Utah; about raising kids, about what guidelines she lives by; about how she deals with a cross-cultural marriage and the assumptions that each culture brings to the marriage. The conversation veers to children, about how to raise them, about the kind of discipline, about what standards are appropriate. I am eager to talk to somebody from the outside. Somebody who knew me before, when I was still young and eager and naive and cocksure about life. She's talking about disciplining her son, who is, from my meetings with him, a delightful, well-mannered, talented high school senior. "You know, Tess," she says, "sometimes, I see him do things, and I'll say: 'Uh-huh, no . . . we are not those kinds of people. We do not do those kinds of things.' It's important for me to a good person, to do good things, to help, to be kind. I want my children to be those kinds of people as well."

The words seem quite mundane now that I write them out in full conversation. But, when I heard Tracy say, "We are not those kinds of people," the light bulb flickered on in my brain. There was no language about what kind of "people" she should or shouldn't be. I felt no sense that she was aligning herself with an imposed notion of goodness or of appropriate behavior. Neither was she waiting for the memo from the Vatican City to tell her what kind of person she should be. Rather, Tracy was speaking about what she was choosing to be, about the life she was choosing to create for herself and for her family. I sat there in the front seat of her car and thought to myself, "I will choose for myself the kind of people I will be."

In the past eighteen months, I have asked myself this question quite often: What kind of person do I want to be? I have come to some realizations.
  • I choose to pray, not because I should, but because I want to be the kind of person who knows how to speak to deity and to hear its voice. I also want to be the kind of person who teachers her children how to listen to and recognize God's voice.
  • I pay tithing not because I want open heavenly windows but because I want to be the kind of person who contributes to the organization to which she belongs. I want to pay my dues.
  • I attend church every week and teach in its organizations because I want to be part of a faith community, and I want to be a person willing and able to work beside and love those I would not have chosen for my own company.
  • I take my children to church, not because I should, but because I want to be the kind of parent who shows their children that personal comfort is not always as significant as service for the greater community. I also take my children to church because I want them to know that there, in this place, there is time set aside to know their God and a redeemer.
  • I am married, not because being married is the only way to salvation, but because I love this man, and together we make great children and find great places to eat, and he makes me laugh and think. I stay married to him because, even though there are times I have consciously chosen to walk back through the door, I want to be the kind of person who, after forty years, smiles across the table at the same man I promised to love four decades before.
  • I tell the truth not because my soul will burn in hell if I don't but because a truthful way is a peaceful way. I would like to be known as an honest person.
These are my choosings. I see them as such now--actions chosen by me. Not shoulds, not musts, but my choosings. Perhaps the outside of me doesn't look much different than I did before, but the inside feels so much more genuine.

Conversation #2
(Written with permission of my husband, who's flinching a little at the kitchen counter).

I've long maintained that it would do our community a whole lot of good if we had a version of the village pub. You know, a place where you can go at the end of a day, or in the middle when it's five o'clock somewhere, to find your mates and have a chat. After a beer or two, or a shandy if you're an Englishwoman from the novels I've read, conversation starts to flow. I imagine it's the kind of conversation where you tell stories about yourself that make others laugh, and they reciprocate in turn. You share your troubles, your everydays, your regulars, your normals, your ups, whatever comes to mind. (Perhaps the scrapbooking allnighters that go on out there approximate the village pub, but I've never attended and don't know a curling iron from a die cut). So, I long for a village pub. You see, I want to know about married sex.

I know one couple that schedule Tuesday and Thursday, and alternate Saturdays for sex. That way he gets taken care of and she doesn't have to be bothered by him on the other days. They say no feelings get hurt that way. But what about, if on Friday, they go out, and she's looking striking and she makes funny conversation, and her hair's just been colored with low lights around her face, and their hands brush under the table, and they share the Great Chocolate Wall of China at P.F. Changs. What if, after all that, they go home and because it's Friday night, there's nothing going on. I'm telling you, he's not going to feel taken care of. And she'll feel just fine with Roast Almond Fudge out of the carton and the Secret Lives of Women on WE.

You see, it's hard, when you've only had one real sex partner i.e., all the way, to know what exactly is normal, average, regular, married sex. What's normal? Factor in a little history of sexual abuse, and there's a whole lot of "normals" for me and Kevin to get to. How often and how long? And where do you go to find out? The scrapbooking allnighter doesn't work because that's from a woman's perspective. From all accounts and personal experience, the male perspective is different. How exactly does that conversation start, in Utah, in the most LDS town in the known universe? Do you ask the church elders who visit once a month, "So, Brother Bullock, I know you're 93 and your wife died seven years ago, but what do you think is normal for married sex?" Might hasten his longed-for demise.

So, about eighteen months ago, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine. The kind of friend that knew me when my knees were the widest part of my legs, and I wore pigtails, brown lace-ups, and longed for a Walkman. He's married, with six kids. But, more importantly, lives a continent and a complete culture away.

"So, how do you get your team to attack through the wings without making the center redundant?" He replies.
"So, can I ask you something else?"
"Go ahead"
"If you had your way, how often would you make love?"
"Aah, go on . . . ."
"No really . . . how often?"
"Every day."

You mean wanting everyday is normal. Everyday isn't perverted, oversexed, or insatiable. Everyday is just male, just different from me. Oh!

Now that was a thing I never before had supposed. And just knowing that changed everything for us.

Conversation #3
About three weeks ago, I sat again in a car talking to a friend--a twenty-something version of me (except I was never a concert pianist). Just graduated from law school, mother of two small girls, wife of a student, dealing with all those issues that go with being female, intelligent, in your early twenties, and LDS. We'd been walking through the foothills talking about polygamy and guilt, and veiling your face, and polygamy and guilt, and in-law issues, and polygamy and guilt, and eating issues, and polygamy and guilt.

Her: I don't want to live in polygamy in order to receive the highest degree of exaltation.
Me: You don't have to. Do you really think the God you worship and know will make you live in a situation that turns your stomach? Has he ever forced you to do anything? Why would he start then?

Her: I don't know whether I believe it all.
Me: You don't have to. Just believe what you feel to believe. Let the rest lie until you need it or want to know. There's nothing that says you have to believe it all, lock, stock and barrel, right now.

Her: I don't want to live in polygamy.
Me: You're not now . . . and now is all there is.

Her: I just don't know. There are so many holes in things. So many ideas I wish we had . . . like a heavenly mother.
Me: Where is it written that the theology contained in the four books available for public consumption is all there is? Borrow ideas. Start with the Virgin Mary. Feel to connect with Mother Earth. You want a heavenly mother . . . go find her. If she's all the mother she is supposed to be, she'll make herself known to you. Why, I wonder (and this is where time slowed for me, like I was Cameron Diaz in Charlies Angels doing her roundhouse kick.), do we wait to be fed what it is we individually need to know? If the general theology doesn't yet have it, it doesn't mean it's unavailable, or out of print. Perhaps this is where we get to know, just for ourselves, our personal mysteries of heaven.

As I drove away, I felt as if I had swallowed a pearl.


Those are some of my crucial conversations. What are yours?

Title: David Gray, from "Flesh"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Standing Outside the Fire

Question: Does God really prompt to inaction?

By this I don’t mean those warning voices that stop eight-year olds from hopping onto wild stallions, or a mother of nine from driving her minivan onto a canyon road where an avalanche will overtake her the minute she turns up the south fork. By inaction, I the state I find myself in when I fail to act, even though I had been fully meaning to until filled by a cloud of negative energy that I interpret to mean God does not want me to go that particular way. Mostly, it is the inaction that follows the uneasy, unsettling feeling that seems to come over me (sometimes accompanied by a desire to repeatedly throw up if the activity contemplated is my first, unassisted jury trial) when the moment of reckoning draws nigh, that moment when I have to walk through the airport doors, or step out onto the college field and play third base, or say “yes.”

When I was seventeen, I spent a year in Australia as an exchange student with Rotary International. Ever since I was in eighth grade, and had seen my first exchange student (an American boy named Tim with wavy, golden hair just a little longer than the regulation South African school cut) at my high school, I had wanted to participate in the program. After a series of interviews, weekend selection camps, and waiting, waiting, waiting, I found out I was selected for the year long program. I was to leave in January 1984, about five weeks after writing my final state exams to matriculate from Westerford High School. The night before I left, I couldn’t sleep. Fear and anxiety filled the bedroom, pushing against my years of dreaming and hoping. The photos at the airport show me smiling, but my eyes are as round as half-dollars. I spent the first three nights in Dubbo, Australia, sobbing myself very quietly to sleep (I shared a room with my host sister). It was my first time away from home and I was realizing I wouldn’t see my family for a year. I experienced aching, aching night time loneliness, a deep ache that I had never felt before. But, it didn’t kill me. And when the sun came up, things were better and continued to improve, until, upon leaving a year later, I cried for three days solid on my return to South Africa. In between those book-ended six days of sobbing . . . so much more than I had ever imagined.

A few mornings ago, I pulled into my sister’s driveway a few mornings ago to pick up Adam’s backpack before school. She lives on a street I used to live on, before I traded a jacuzzi tub, easy glide kitchen drawers, and water pressure for fifty-year old maple trees, irrigation canals, and deer that eat my roses to twigs. In the driveway of another home, I see him. He’s cleaning the ice off the windshield. I do a double-take. I thought he was in Hawaii, starting his first year of university. I shout out the window, “I thought you were in Hawaii . . . Are you home for fall break?” After all, he was in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops. Perhaps he was just refusing to temperature adjust in honor of the islands. “No,” he replies, “I never went.” “Why?” I ask. “Well, I already graduated with my associates when I graduated from high school.” “So, what are you doing now?” I ask. “Nothing,” he replies. I drove away.

A young man lies in his childhood bed in his parent’s basement. He’s about 22, recently returned from his missionary service. He still lives at home. His friends, who are going to Vegas, about six hours away, invite him along for the ride. They suggest they can drop him off in St. George so that he can meet up with one of his missionary companions. His mother does not want him to go. She cannot explain her rationale other than to say she doesn’t feel good about him going down all that way, driving on those dangerous roads. He’s a naturally obedient, compliant soul but he wants to go. At the same time, he’s afraid of his mother’s words. He lies in bed thinking. He imagines the worst that can happen to him if he goes. Perhaps he will die a fiery death on I-15 between Parowan and Paragonah. What’s the worst that will happen to him if he stays? He would never go anywhere. He would stay right where he was–in the bed he grew up in, his parents’ basement. Safe.

She speaks over the pulpit about the Spirit and how it works. She mentions the regulars. It’s a still, small voice. It’s a feeling. It’s a flood of impressions. It’s a thought that doesn’t leave. Then she gets to, it’s a warning voice. “For example,” she says, “I remember driving a road with my friends. We were going to take a certain route, but when we got to the turn off, we felt we shouldn’t. So, we went a different way. I don’t know what would have happened if we went that way. But we just felt like that was a way we shouldn’t go.” I read another account of a warning voice that seems similar: two people walking a country road with which they were familiar at night. Suddenly, they both had an impression that they should go no farther in that direction. They retraced their steps and took another way home. The next day, they wondered why they had felt constrained to stop. They went back, this time in daylight, and found that, within a few feet of where they had stopped, a bridge had washed out.

I wanted that woman who spoke to us that Sunday to finish her story: “So, we went back to that intersection the next morning, and saw that . . . there was police crime tape stretched across the road; there was a sinkhole that had just opened up; there was a tree that had fallen across the path; there was an ax murderer at the door with the three Nephites/guardian angels standing behind him (oh, wait, that’s a different story).” I didn’t want her to finish that story with a witness of the unknown and the unknowable, “I don’t know what danger we missed by not going that way but I’m sure we did miss something bad and I’m sure we were blessed for listening to that feeling.”

This conundrum, of witnessing about the unknowable, reminds me of a logical fallacy: Arguing from Ignorance. The proof goes something like this: It cannot be proven that God does not exist. Therefore he does exist. Arguments from ignorance infer that a proposition is true from the fact that it is not known to be false. In other words, “I don’t know what danger we missed by not going that way but I’m sure we did miss something and I’m sure we were blessed for listening to that feeling.” Or, “Please don’t go. I don’t feel good about you driving that road. So many things could happen.” Because it cannot be proven that harm will fall, it feels as if by not moving, harm is averted.

I know there are times when a warning voice operates to constrain certain actions. But there are more times, more often than not, when in our desire to live unruffled, peaceful, even sedate lives, we run from the anxiety that growth and experience and agency require. When we feel the upswelling of anxiety and distress that accompanies a step into the unknown, whether it’s college or a road trip or a new paint color, we choose to interpret that mix of emotions as a sign that we should not be pursuing that course of action. Of course, when the anxiety-producing choice is gone because we’ve taken it out of the picture, then we feel just fine. All our emotions are under control; the hormones levels are back to normal; the adrenalin rush has subsided. This relatively peaceful, stable state, we interpret then as a sign that we made the right choice and that God approves of our inaction. It could also be just the cessation of the flow of adrenalin and the feelings of anxiety about facing the unknown and the new. But that would make our decision so much more mundane, not as blessed. Far better to think that God’s in play and calling the shots.

This thought process brings to mind another logical fallacy I learned about in Philosophy 305–Affirming the Consequent. This logical fallacy is set up like this: The first two premises are 1) If A then B; 2) B; and the conclusion drawn is 3) Therefore A. In words, it looks something like this: If Kevin wanted to really bug me, he would wear his sandals with his Sunday socks. Kevin’s wearing his sandals with his Sunday socks. Therefore, Kevin really wanted to bug me. So, I see Kevin walk out of the bedroom with those sexy, black Costco gold toe socks on and his brown sandals. Because of my logical errors firing in my brain, I think, “I know he’s just doing that to bug me.”Realistically, there could be a myriad of reasons why he’s wearing that particularly unappealing combination: He was too tired to take off his socks. It’s comfortable. He couldn’t find a pair of clean white socks. The sandals were the closest shoes to hand when he took off his wingtips. He didn’t even think about it. All of those are good candidates to explain his behavior. Any one of these reasons is probably more accurate than my inference of him wanting to bug me royally judging by the puzzled expression on his face when he hears me fire off, “You are so not getting some tonight.” (Churching until early evening and black Sunday socks and sandals on the same day is more than any woman should have to bear.)

About twenty years ago on a warm July morning, I sat next to my mother. I was dressed in white, the white hastily chosen between graduate seminars on a hot June day. It was about fifteen minutes before I married Kevin. After the rush of the morning (I was late arriving), it was the first time I had sat to contemplate. In the quiet, I was filled with the overwhelming sense of what I was doing. Feelings of uncertainty, of the unknown, of the horror of making a mistake filled me. To be honest, you could say I was filled with dread. I looked over at this man I was to bind myself to and wondered, “How on earth can I possibly be doing this? What am I thinking?” I leaned over to my mother and said, “Oh, Mom, I don’t know. Should I do this?” I suppose I was looking for some steadfast, immoveable reassurance that getting married to this man in this place was absolutely, without doubt the right thing to do. But I didn’t get that from my mother. She whispered back, “Oh, it’s not so bad. Give it try.” I took a deep breathe . . . and did just that.

Because I said “yes” in the face of fear and anxiety, I am utterly changed in ways I could not have imagined. Imagine if I had felt that dread, and, interpreting it as God’s sign that I should not get married, had done the Julia Roberts and run down Temple Hill, past the cemetery, onto Highway 89, and headed for Ephraim. Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it. How could a theology that proposes agency as its ultimate mode support a God that prompts to inactivity and approves of the static? It cannot. When we assign the blame to God for our own inability to act and to push through the anxiety attached to the unknown, it's akin to taking God's name in vain.

Incidentally, that young man who lay in his childhood bedroom went to St. George. He didn’t die in a crash on I-15. He’s still alive. In fact, today is his 45th birthday. He’s traveled I-15 hundreds of times since then (he’s even left the country) and has learned that the first time, for anything, is always, as it should be, tinged with fear and colored by faith.

Title: Garth Brooks, "Outside the Fire."