Sunday, August 07, 2011


I find myself terribly discontent when I visit "home." Utah, that is. I'm not sure why. I can never decide if it is that I still miss this place that really is home to me in many ways, or if I wish to move back here to see family more often so that we don't feel like such outsiders when we come. Or is it that the houses are bigger, the hair bleachier and the women prettier? Maybe the discontent stems less from a desire to come to "Zion" and more from the overwhelming feeling of being unsuccessful, at least by a certain standard. After church today, Plantboy, one of the best-looking men I've ever met, said, "I don't think we are good-looking enough to live in Utah."

Whatever it is, this vacation has not been revitalizing in the least. I have loved seeing so much family, but we've been non-stop in the car for three days and really aren't done yet. The longer we stay away from family, however, the stronger the sense of being an outsider fills me. Yet, at the same time, I cannot shake the solid truth that this community in which my parents have been a part for 40 years helped to form exactly the person I have become.

The mission for which I departed 15 years ago today is largely responsible too.

I think the mission might be part of the conflict. For twenty-one years I lived in the same community, surrounded by people who did the same. Even at college I was close to my extended family. Generation after generation with little alteration from the ones before. I suppose that I expected to do the same. Settle close to parents. Visit on Sundays. Have my own children grow up around their cousins doing the things that kids in a certain social strata are expected to do. Dance lessons. Sports. Church. I suppose. Though I think even from a young age I felt vaguely dissatisfied and restless with the cliche.

Enter Australia.

Exit a woman no longer content with the ordinary.

In the next few years it will be important for us to make some decisions because Jedi Knight is getting older, and if Utah has taught me anything this time around, it is that putting down some roots is important. Will we stay put, accepting the economic downturn and the spiritual knowledge given to Plantboy just a few weeks before taking his job in Eugene that the Church in Oregon needed us? Will we trust the Lord enough that our unique little boys will be able to make it in schools where there are the merest handful of LDS kids? Am I willing to sacrifice the kind of childhood I had for one of greater opposition that might make them powerful men? Or will we move closer to family for an idyllic support system that might only be in my head? Will we start over again, economically speaking, in our forties, and be strong enough not to care that we live in a small house that is decidedly in the valley and not on the hill? Do we move where there are more members of the church so that we can slip into blissful anonymity because couples like us abound? Do we stay put because we have a much greater capacity to serve where we are?

I feel so weak right now, and not at all up to the task of navigating my dear little mannies through the next phase we are now entering. But I have to be. There is no one else.

Tonight I was driving straight west from my brother's house to get back to my parents' house when I saw the most gorgeous sunset I've seen for years. My emotions were full as I looked at the scene. My heart was touched at the impression of the Spirit reminding me that God loves me immensely, but that most of my own human accomplishments will be weak and frail compared to what God can do. I felt enormously loved and properly humbled at the same time.

O God, Thou hast always shown us the way forward now. Please see fit to do so again. And if it is the direction I begin to think it will be, then please, O Lord, grant us the strength to hold our family together and to sacrifice cheerfully whatever Thou asks.


Erin said...

Your thoughts in this post echo my own struggles during our recent visit to "Zion". Thank you for so eloquently expressing thoughts, concerns, and surprises we felt during our visit and discussed our trip "home" to the Lonestar state. Be Thou Humble has been a great comfort to me throughout similar struggles. :) Hugs.

Kimberly Bluestocking said...

I hear you on the family issue. We currently live close to both sets of parents, but when my husband completes his PhD in a couple years, who knows? We may end up in a different time zone.

Part of me looks forward to the adventure of settling in a new region, but I dread the idea of being so far from family. I grew up seeing my dad's side of the family every few weeks, and we're very close. I barely knew my mom's side until we started having regular family reunions (we never had an "outsider" issue, because no family lived in the same state as another).

I hope my kids will grow up with the close family ties I was blessed with as a child, but if the Lord has something else in mind for us, I'm sure we'll find things to love about wherever He sends us. I'll miss my family, especially at holidays, but we have eternity to hang out together.

Janssen said...

This is an interesting topic for me both because it's a matter of much discussion in our home and also because we also just returned from vacation to Utah.

Bart is from Provo and would desperately like to return there to live, and yet. . .I am not from Utah and my parents have never lived in Utah except for when they attended BYU and I have so many reasons why I do not wish to live there.

Oh, it's a difficult thing, isn't it?

simple easy and quick said...

I understand what you are saying. Every time we go home to Utah, I feel the tug. The life I had growing up and remember revolves around life-long friends, visits to Grandma's house on Sunday's and playing with cousins.

Hang in there, it will all work out in the end.

Z. Marie said...

Oh, Nan, I feel for you. Not that I've ever thought about moving to Utah, but every time something big happens -- I have to decide where to go in the U.S. to give birth, my dad dies, Kevin's dad tells us he has lung cancer, Kevin's grandmother dies -- I wonder whether the path we've taken makes sense. Not that I doubt personal revelation and other blessings, but sometimes big decisions and events can be so, so hard.

mstanger said...

As a current resident of Utah who has done my fair share of wandering in order to be where the Lord guided me, I feel compelled to sound in.

I think you know where I stand on the preeminence of personal revelation—if the Lord has told the two of you that Oregon is where you need to be for now, I am the last to second guess you. If your revelatory process is anything like mine, the fact that I’ve been lead to a particular place for a chapter in my life certainly doesn’t foreclose later revelation for a different chapter. It could well be that the Lord will bless you with later guidance along the lines of “You are no longer needed in Oregon; instead I need you in Utah/Saskatchewan/Hong Kong.”

Let me also add that the fact gathering process of personal revelation is extremely important, and that I think you might have a few factual misperceptions about what life in Utah might look like for you and your family.

You must be attending a different ward than I attend if “not good-looking enough to live in Utah” is a real concern. People here can be pretty ordinary looking (I offer myself as Exhibit A). Granted, my high council calling has given me occasion to wander up the hill a bit to visit some of the wards up there, and with more money come more whited selphuchres, whether we’re talking bleached blondes or expanses of stucco. However, large portions of the Utah population don’t fit that mold.

The part of your post that I take the biggest issue with, though, is your assessment of the spiritual health of the church here vs. outside, along with the corresponding opportunities to serve that you will find here vs. there. This was one of my biggest concerns as we have made our various moves, and in retrospect, completely unjustified. Yes, you could find wards here where you would be relatively superfluous. However, there are wards all over Utah that desperately need people just like you, and even more importantly, fellow Saints who stand in need of service. I baptized more people as a Ward Mission Leader in North Salt Lake than in two years of full time service, and it is incredibly rewarding to continue to see the progress of those who were baptized on my watch. You and I have a high school classmate who, immediately after graduating from college, became the Bishop of an inner city SLC ward with no shortage of welfare needs. That service was incredibly taxing, and he did not feel any kind of “blissful anonymity” or that he would have had a “greater capacity” to serve elsewhere. There are areas where you guys could move in and be put to work immediately in the trenches. I know of many west-side bishops and Relief Society Presidents of our vintage or younger.

mstanger said...

Utah church demographics are such that many of the members of our generation and those younger are faltering, and have need of strengthening. Struggling couples need models of activity to help them through the temple and teach them how to raise children in a righteous home. The youth of the church here need leaders that “get it” and will help equip them with the spiritual strength to meet life’s challenges.

Speaking of the youth of the Utah Church, while there are some who believe growing up here automatically gives them a group of worthy peers that will guarantee them safe passage into spiritual adulthood, I reject that concept. I’m getting more and more scared as my kids get older about the perils they face. I should acknowledge we had a testimony last fast Sunday from a dear sister who recently moved away from her family back east, after resisting spiritual impulses for a few years that Utah was where her family should be, only to finally comply when the clear message came: “If you don’t move to Utah, you will lose your children.” But that anecdote is also balanced against one from a co-worker of mine, who recently sent his daughter to Girl’s Camp for the first time, where three older girls lead a lengthy and detailed discussion one night in the tent about the finer points of performing oral sex. Not exactly virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy (and, in my experience, something you would be less likely to encounter from youth outside the Zion Curtain).

Anyway, not sure I’ve said anything of value, but thought that two cents on my experiences inside and outside of Utah might have some relevance.

heidikins said...

The concept of Utah as this idyllic "Zion" is so laughable to me. Drugs, alcohol and sex amongst teenagers is rampant. Prescription drug abuse among adults is almost normal. There are ridiculously high percentages of rape and white-collar crime (especially if you look at it per capita instead of as a total number). The divorce rate is just as high here as anywhere else. While I'll agree that there are a lot of "First World Problems" here that yes, are annoying or trite; there are also a lot of real problems under that bleached-blonde surface that you completely missed in your cursory glance.


emandtrev said...

I could probably say I concur with almost all of the previous comments to one extent or another. I live in Utah and am from Utah, but did leave for awhile to live in Houston. I always knew I wanted to come back--not because of the "Zion" mentality or anything to do with the church, really. I just really missed my extended family and the climate (including four seasons). Absence definitely made my heart grow fonder...

I've heard people say that it's hard to move to Utah and some of the wards/neighborhoods here. I can see that and was a bit nervous myself about moving back, but I probably felt more of that "wanting to fit in" feeling in my ward in Houston. I think it is just so totally dependant on the person, their experiences, the people around them, and maybe where their heart really is.