Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Long time, no see!

I feel like the girl who moved to Utah and was never heard from again.


Darren and I moved to Utah at the beginning of June and lived happily ever after. The end.

Wouldn't life be boring if that were how life actually worked out? I mean, if it did, I wouldn't complain about it being boring, but that is never how it happens.

When we first moved to Utah, we moved to a part of Salt Lake City (which is very spread out, kind of like St. Louis, with different sections, just as Soulard, Delmar, and St. Charles are all considered St. Louis) called West Valley.

When we first came out to Utah in April to find a place to live, West Valley was pretty much all we could afford. We, like many generations before us, were moving in hope of a better life and more economic opportunities. So, even though people told us that West Valley was a little sketchy, we figured, hey, it's Utah, how sketch can it be?

Pretty sketch, as it turns out. There were always police in the parking lot of our apartment complex. Nobody was friendly, and every time we got home and our balcony furniture was still there, I was shocked. We later found out that there is a lot of gang activity there. Super.

There do seem to be many jobs in Salt Lake City advertised, but the competition is also fierce. That wasn't the most challenging part of the move though. I had often wondered whether living in small towns since I was 11 would impact my ability to live in a city. It turns out the answer was yes.

The traffic alone is overwhelming. And every time we wanted to go anywhere, it meant at least twenty minutes in the car one way, if we were lucky. My mother was in an assisted living facility about a half hour drive away, so when we went to see her, it took an hour round trip just to drive. Not only was the traffic maddening and overwhelming, but we had to fill up the car constantly.

It wasn't just the traffic though. We didn't feel safe walking anywhere in West Valley-- not that there were many sidewalks to walk on. We used to take walks every day in Kirksville, and always felt safe. We began to entertain the idea of getting a gun. I found out that one of my best friends from college carries one in her purse. So, even though I never felt directly in danger, I didn't feel safe either, and that is an exhausting feeling. You have to be constantly on alert, and the first thing we did when we got back to our apartment was bolt the door.

We had found a church in Salt Lake City that we were excited about when we visited in April. But our excitement turned to frustration. It wasn't really a church, it turns out, so much as a group of people gathering every week to listen to one person talk about the scriptures. We had hoped to be able to be part of a ministry, because we had believed before coming to Utah that this was an active ministry. But we were mistaken, and our offers to volunteer to help with ministry were met with bewilderment and almost derision. It was a severe disappointment because we are not really mainstream Christians. We struggle with finding a congregation we feel comfortable in because we are pretty politically liberal. The Episcopalian Church in Kirksville was probably one of the most liberal we have found.

I have already been pretty gun-shy about organized religion because of my experiences growing up in the LDS church. And I have been kind of hit in the face with it here in Utah (shocking, right?) as I struggle to be true to my beliefs and not alienate every member of my extended family. For many years after I left the LDS church, I went "scorched earth" and rejected God and religion wholeheartedly. But I have believed in God since I was very young-- since before I started school. So, then I started to explore religions extensively, reading primarily about Orthodoxy Christianity and Conservative Judaism (which means you try to keep kosher and like the services to be in Hebrew, not that you are politically conservative). I wanted to start back at the beginnings of Western religion-- but not paganism. I have a pretty large collection of Orthodox icons, and crosses from my travels. My friend Liza took my icons down to the Orthodox church with her and they were blessed on the altar there.

When I began studying Judaism, someone remarked to me that I'd have to take down all those crosses and icons, and I balked right then and there.

I never found a "true" church in my searches. My search consumed me for a couple of years, and then I just sort of woke up one morning and didn't care anymore. So, my spirituality went completely dormant.

Having grown up in academia and having tried many times to enter the academic world wholeheartedly with college teaching and never quite making it past being an adjunct, I was happy to let intellectual vanity put to bed any spiritual leanings. I could never embrace atheism, but I pretty much stopped thinking about God at all.

I laugh now when I think that with all the searching and reading I did, I never once picked up a Bible.

When I met Darren, he told me right away that he was a Christian-- in fact, right before I gave him my phone number. At the time, I didn't think it really mattered, even though I had had a pretty strict no-Christians dating policy up to that point. But the previous year, I had stopped dating altogether, and there was something I liked about Darren from talking to him for several months before we started dating. So, I kind of brushed off the fact that he was reading about Christianity and had an, "Isn't that cute that you're a Christian" attitude toward it. I told him immediately about my own issues with religion and spirituality, specifically Mormonism, and he laughed and said he had his own issues. I didn't know at the time that he had his own story about Mormonism.

So, we started dating, and immediately I pulled Darren into my den of iniquity that involved some pretty heavy drinking. But it was a world that I had been trying to figure out my way out of, and when I realized that I was sucking Darren into it with me, I realized there was a good chance that we'd be sitting there ten years from now, drinking wine, and going nowhere with our lives. So, we sat down and had a long talk. And we both decided to try stopping drinking. That was in early January.

His friends did not like me because I wasn't a Christian and because I taught college. There is such a high skepticism of intelligence and education among Christians that it's really off-putting. But it is certainly true that a lot of people who start getting a college education leave their childhood faith behind. And that's not a bad thing. I am glad that I had a chance to completely re-evaluate my spirituality as an adult and that I have experienced both living with and without it, and I can consciously choose which life I prefer, and in which life I am happier.

But I still wasn't a Christian, nor very interested in it at all.

One evening, Darren and I were talking to his parents, and he was very frustrated with Christianity and God and told them that he was giving up and that he was just going to chuck it all.

When we got into the car, I told him I thought it was a mistake to give up on something that was very important to him and that was part of who he is. And I suggested that we start praying together. That night, for the first time, we did. I prayed, and he looked kind of shocked that I knew how to do it, which I thought was pretty funny. I am pretty sure anyone who went to high school with me and had to endure my constant proselytizing about Mormonism would find that funny too.

I thought it was surprising myself that I felt this way, because in many ways, it would certainly have been convenient to drag Darren into my world. I was not sure at the time why I encouraged him that night not to put away his faith. But I am now.

After a bit, we started reading the scriptures together. I think it started because I was writing our wedding ceremony, and I wanted to include some things about the nature of love from the Bible, in part because of Darren's faith and his parents' faith, because I wanted to combine us in the ceremony. But I was pretty unfamiliar with the New Testament, because the Book of Mormon had always been emphasized over the Bible when I was raised. So we started looking things up and sort of following cross references, and I thought it was very interesting. So, we started at the beginning of the New Testament and started to read it together.

At some point along the way, I realized that I believe it. I believe Jesus is God. I read Cold-Case Christianity, and kept reading the New Testament. And I am comfortable saying that Jesus is my Savior and that I believe through His sacrifice, we are saved. Through grace, not works. And I am happier with this faith than I have been since I was a very young adult.

Right now, Darren is struggling with his own faith. I am sort of leading the charge with nightly prayer and scripture study. He is re-visiting Eckhart Tolle and The Power of Now. We are talking about exploring some meditation.

Both of us struggle with the label of Christian. There are so many Christians who practice hate, who are so closed-minded, that it is embarrassing sometimes to stand up and say I am one. I am acutely aware of the damage that has been done in the world in the name of Christianity. But I also believe Jesus is God. So, there you have it. Maybe I'll start calling myself a Nazarene.

I have to stop for now and go to work, but this is just the beginning of our adventures in Utah.