When I began to realize that it didn’t seem that God had taken my intention to sacrifice my life literally (meaning, that I hadn’t yet contracted any terminal illnesses, despite my previous willingness to suffer such if it would help John return to the fold), I became uber-Mormon–even more orthodox than before.
I made it a priority to attend the temple frequently. I would go with a ‘prayer in my heart,’ hoping to get some insight into how I could re-convert John. One memorable occasion, I drove down to the San Diego temple by myself on a weekday while the kids were in school. I knew I would have just enough time to make the drive down, perform a session, and then drive back before they were dismissed. As I drove I was alone with my thoughts and I agonized, pouring out my heart to God. Wanting so much for the heavens to open and a revelation to ensue. Specifically, a revelation that would change my husband’s heart.
As the temple session concluded and I prepared to pass through the veil into the celestial room, my heart was particularly heavy. This was the part of the ceremony that ritually enacted my own death and entry into heaven. The man who would lead me through the veil that symbolically separated the two areas of the temple was a stand-in for my husband, and this only reinforced my sadness that I was at the temple alone. Generally, this person would be an elderly grandfather-type of man. I wouldn’t see his face until the very last part of the ceremony when he would take hold of my hand from a parting in the opaque curtains. However, this particular time I was caught off guard by the face that greeted me as I stepped beyond the veil. It was a young-ish man, tall, with sandy blond hair and a rugged-looking face. I did a double-take as he drew me through the curtains. This guy was pretty hot.
Our interaction lasted only a moment, not even long enough for me to scan his hand for a wedding ring. I found myself standing alone in the celestial room, only a small cluster of temple workers conversing quietly in a far corner. I sat down on a chair and proceeded to begin my typical plea/prayer about John. But as I did so, the thought of the man who led me through the veil kept returning. My mind went down a new track. Maybe I was wrong for worrying so much about John and his righteousness. Perhaps God had other plans for me? Perhaps I would be given a new husband, a ‘worthy priesthood holder’ to be my husband for the eternities? Perhaps my tie to John was only an earthly one, and I no longer needed to fret about the consequences of John’s beliefs and choices?
This seemed a more productive paradigm. I only needed to worry about my own choices and not John’s. What I needed to do was to make sure that _I_ was celestial material. Whether John followed or not was up to him. Yes, this was God’s plan after all—-that each of us had our agency to choose right from wrong. And I would choose right and receive the eternal rewards for doing so. In one part of my mind I was dreaming about the man that God would hook me up with later. Did he know of my fondness for men who were tall, dark, and Asian?
So I returned from the temple with a new resolve: to be a more righteous, more worthy Mormon. With renewed energy I poured my efforts into building the kingdom. Not long afterward I accepted a church calling with greater responsibilities, which frequently kept me from home as I had numerous meetings and activities to attend. I began attending Institute classes regularly again and renewed my interest in daily scripture study. Not long afterwards, I returned to school at UCI, determined to use my intellectual gifts to support the LDS church. And within a year I also sought a position as an early-morning seminary teacher. I was waking at 4:30 every morning to teach religion classes to Mormon high school students. Every sacrifice seemed worth it, as I knew I was ensuring my own salvation.
In the meanwhile, though, things were pretty rocky between John and I. Exhausted from assembling lesson plans, daily teaching, a full-time school load, and the normal duties of motherhood, I rarely had time for emotional and/or physical intimacy. I became more and more judgmental of John. I refused to really listen to him, or to give sympathy for his continued struggles. It seemed there was no need to continue to invest in our relationship, anyways. More important, in my mind, was my relationship with God and my endeavor to live my temple covenants.
So, what happened? When and how did my religious zealousness turn to apathy for Mormonism? That’s a question that’s difficult to answer (and I will expand on the answer to this question in future posts, too). Several events converged at this point in my life. First, with reluctance I stopped teaching seminary after a year–on John’s advice. I conceded when I saw how it affected our family–I was alienated from John and the kids (and I was tired of putting on pantyhose at 5am every morning anyways). Secondly, an expanded understanding of church history made it increasingly difficult for me to teach from church manuals. I could see the ‘whitewashing’ of many of the stories and I grew uncomfortable with the truths that the folklore obscured. Third, as I immersed myself in my graduate studies, I began to feel more an anthropological observer of church ritual and less a believing participant. For example: in an Ensign article about womanhood I saw inscribed gender roles, rather than feeling evidence of divine revelation. I began to question everything. Additionally, the violence on the scriptures that had always troubled me became more visible as I considered the centrality of violence in Christ’s atonement and crucifixion. Both literally and metaphorically, this salvific violence was difficult for me to believe. Finally, I felt a resurgence of love for John. I realized that I didn’t want a marriage of alienation, or dreaming about the spouse who would someday replace my own.
I thought deeply about the inscription on each of our wedding bands: vous et nul autre, it reads. And I knew that I meant it when I married, and I still meant it. It was “John and no other for me” and I didn’t want it any other way. It seemed that John was the greatest gift in my life, and I could no longer accept a religious paradigm that would separate me from my husband in the afterlife. I embraced a kind of ‘carpe diem’ (and ‘carpe noctem‘) mentality, as I resolved to enjoy each moment with John and our children. I couldn’t imagine a deity who would penalize me for this great love that swelled inside me each time I thought of John.
And as each day passes and this love grows it is a testimony to me that it is what really matters. That this love is the legacy that I will leave after I die–no matter what happens as John and I step through that veil and beyond.