In Light

The day the missionaries came to our house in 1988 a rainbow fell across the sky in our neighborhood on the hill.  I stood on the ledge of the bathtub and curled my fingers on the windowsill to pull my scrawny body up to see.  I could hear their voices, fresh as orange juice, through the open window.  The way I see it now, the rainbow is brighter than any rainbow I’ve seen since.  The sky more orange and small. The fresh puddles on asphalt reflect two shimmering missionaries, pressed shirts and black pants, my mom, my dad, my little white haired brother between them, and somewhere in the background, me, watching it all.  Documenting the magic, cataloguing it for some future time.  Surely they all came in to eat dinner then, and I reached up on tiptoes and pulled down my best dress, because I always did when the missionaries came, and we must have all celebrated my mom. After so long, she’d decided to be baptized.

The other image that has come back to me recently, and replayed itself like a marionette show, or a little puppet on a string moving forward across the stage, then backwards to start again is this:  I am running to the church two blocks away and across a street.  My grandparents, who pulled an RV full of poker cards and whiskey into our driveway, were visiting Provo, Utah for the week. They had no idea where they’d come to.  My mom said I didn’t need to go to church that week, that it was okay, but as I stood at the front window watching my neighbors click past in heels, swinging scripture bags, something compelled my whole body to the church building.  I don’t know if I told my parents, or at this point, how much of this story is actually true, but I remember so distinctly the feeling of running a few minutes behind everyone to get where I was supposed to be.  I picture my dress to be yellow.  And so I am forever running with blonde hair and a yellow dress. A miniature body housing a gigantic child heart that just wanted to do the right.  Whether I stopped to put on my shoes in the hurry to love God is something I can’t remember.  I am still compelled to love God in this inexplicable, even irrational way.

It makes even the thought of leaving then, a heavy, sorrowful weight. 

The most difficult words to write are the ones that are my compass.  For so long they have been the direction, the movement, however subtle, I trusted.  So what to do when you have to step back and articulate north? 

I go to church every Sunday because I love the people and I love the things I grew up knowing.  So much of my heart believes what Mormons believe. I practice it.  I am awed by it. I am faithful in almost every sense and duty.  I love the unintentional community that brings me lasagna when I have a baby and watches my children when I am sick.  I love that I can do the same for them.  I started to tell my son about Joseph Smith and then stopped at least a dozen times because I didn’t know how to rectify the contradictions in my head into a story for a 3-year old.  I felt that I should though, not rectify, but tell my son as I could.  I did tell him the story of Joseph Smith, as much as he needed to know.  I told him because I believe that he deserves a space in this wild world where he can ask for miracles and know they are his for the taking.  I will tell my daughter the same. 

Leaving the church I grew up in is almost an indigestible thought, it gets caught up somewhere in the space between my ribs and stays there heavy. I don’t want to go, and I don't plan to. I love this gospel.  Not because I believe everything detail within the Mormon context, and I don’t believe with every fiber of my being, or beyond a shadow of a doubt, but my children, my children, my children.  If you were sitting next to me, those words would accompany near tears glistening on the rims of my tired mother eyes.  If I did leave, I'd miss it terribly.  I would feel sorrow because I believe in promises between myself and a God that I cannot un-know. But I'd find my place because I have thirty years to build from. But my children, how will they know the sacred space that belongs only to a form of consecration,  the belief in the impractical and spiritual that serves one so well in all other things,  the specialness that comes from a concrete God who knows you, a prayer on your knees in the deep night, the chance to be obedient because you love someone more than yourself.  I know these things surely exist in similar forms elsewhere, but I’m too old, and not sure where to find them. 

As a 21-year-old missionary in Uruguay, for 18 months I was positive that every family I saw on the street, or in a front yard, or on a bus, was the golden family I’d been called to Uruguay to teach the gospel to.  So I stopped them, doggedly, and asked if we could come over and share a message, or cut their lawn, or anything, please.  I never converted a family to the church and most often they gave me a wrong house number or pretended they didn’t hear me.  For so long I wondered why I’d felt strongly to talk to each of them, partially looking nothing more than a naive child for a year and a half, but the more I look back on it, the more I realize what a glorious thing to have the chance to love and love and love again with a heart maybe more pure and hopeful than I’ll ever have again. 

In Sweden we ride the subway, and then the train an hour across town to get to the church.  We are greeted by old men with firm handshakes warbling around the lobby.  Some of them pull my husband aside later and ask how he reconciles his work as a geologist with the fact that the earth is only 7,000 years old.  Absurd stories are sometimes told at testimony meeting and once, in Uruguay, a woman got so worked up, she fainted and fell backwards into the arms of the bishop who’d jumped up to catch her.  I am tired of the mystification of motherhood and the priesthood and I want to talk about Heavenly Mother. I think there is room for improvement in the way we live the gospel.  But none of these things seem to matter much when I see my little boy perched on his metal folding chair near the window in his primary class.  He is beaming and his legs are swinging and Jesus is there. 

When I find him again he has drawn a picture of me, dad, him and Thea and one figure I don’t know.  We have tall lines for legs, big round heads and more circles for ears.  At the top of the page his teacher has written, I have an eternal family.  And so this world is rife with contradictions of the heart and mind.  I am out, then I am in, and so on for weeks, months and now years.  Though I never speak much of this to anyone but my husband because I love these people, and I love singing hymns together, and playing the prelude music in relief society.  I love the missionaries coming for dinner and the deep rich space for divine thought.  I’m so grateful to these people I would cry if I stood up to talk about it.

It is very real, and most honest, this well of feeling and thought from which I pull both glorious senses about this world and what lies beyond, and things I once felt sure of but no longer do.  I know, this is no surprise for organized religion, we all go through our dismantling, our terrifying and liberating deconstruction, but then things become real, and people are leaving, and asking if you will stay.  And you are left standing in a beautiful meadow, staring at your children, praying what is it you would have me do?  And then a warm rain starts to fall and you stand still because you remember vibrant rainbows from so long ago.  You believe in them still, that they were so bright.  And the rain falls down your hair, and into your eyes until the whole world shimmers and dances.  You stand, thinking of your children and waiting for an answer. 


Analiesa Leonhardt said...

Dear Ashley, thank you for finding the words. Gosh I wish I could sit on a couch with you right now and talk.

KTE said...

Ashley, this is beautiful and full of holy mystery. I wish you joy, luck, and hope as you continue in your journey of faith (and doubt).

Kristine said...

This is so beautiful, and I needed it so much today. Thank you.

tallia said...

I love this. And I share your feelings in every way. Thank you so much for writing this, it is something I really really needed to read,

April said...

Gorgeous words and balm of Gilead to this wounded heart.

Nina said...

Such beautiful words. Thank you.

The Wigginton Family said...

Oh my gosh Ash. Your gift of expression is unreal and oh so beautiful. What a lovely way to end my day. Love you.

Aimee said...

What a blessing it was to read this today. Thank you.

miss said...


Kory said...

Ashley, thank you for your honesty. You are a great writer and a deep thinker. It's hard to have questions like these. I know you're not looking for advice, but seek until you find answers. All too often I see people seek until they give up and the heaviness comes back. Regardless of your answer, I how you find peace.

Beth said...

Beautiful words and insight. I went through this too about 2 years ago and found it terrifying. The answers came though, peace was found, and I've been able to progress again and know in my heart what is true. The hardest is when people we know and love leave, it makes us question everything. After talking with others, I realized I wasn't the only one struggling/had struggled and that somehow eased the pain/guilt/confusion of it all. I think for me, I went back to the basics--prayer. what could I not deny? Experimenting on the word. I still don't always get a lot out of church--I am running around with babies and get bored with the basic topics explored sometimes, but rays of light burst through some meetings and I bask in those moments and ponder so much. And my perspective has changed, and I am growing again, and I trust again. Each journey here is so personal, I find it so beautiful that you have shared yours. I will add my prayers to your own that you might know your path and feel peace. ~un abrazo~

Renaissance Girl said...

God bless you, dear friend.

Ashley Thalman said...

I am weeping. Feeling the same hurt. I'm in, I'm weighted, I'm hurting, heavy, happy, burdened, supported. It's an insane ride and I want peace too. God bless you and keep sharing.

Andy said...

So beautifully expressed. Feeling confused and saddened tonight too.

darcie said...

wish i could hug you and be with ye. i admire you and love love love you ashy.

Rachel said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. I'm right there with you. On the fence, inside, outside, upside-down. I'll be on the lookout for my rainbows.

Kirk Schleiffarth said...

I really enjoyed this, thanks.

Lindy said...

It's surreal when someone puts to words the exact feelings of your heart. You expressed my same thoughts to eloquently--thank you for sharing. You are not alone in that meadow...

Taylor said...

Ashley, we haven't spoken in a long time, but I wanted to thank you for this beautiful post. Life can be so challenging sometimes. Thank you for your wisdom.

Katt said...

Your courage is admirable. Your honesty is beautiful. Your words are soothing. Thank you so much for this post. I'm sure I'll be revisiting soon to read it again. xoxo

Sofia Hoiland said...

Ashley, I love this. I too like you and Rachel, Tallia, and many others am going through the same spectrum of doubt and faith, all with the central focus being on integrity, what's right for our children.... And how to balance the questions, history, and things that don't add up into our individual faith journey. So much love right now for you and gratitude for your willingness to share. In sharing words we are all uplifted and edified.

Wil said...

Ashley, thanks for sharing your feelings and thoughts. I have heard a lot of thoughts about the apostles on the boat amid the raging storm while the Savior slept. I relate to your internal struggle, your love for your children, and your desire to understand. I wish I had the faith to walk on water or to even to calm the storm, but I don't. I'm the one in the boat yelling at the Master, "Carest thou not that we perish?!!!" It's not in a bouncy musical tone either, it's usually with feelings of anger and embarrassment. Although the times are turbulent and things happen that are hard to understand, you have perfectly identified that there is more than a silver lining. There are good fruits, and as we learn in the scriptures, "by their fruits ye shall know them." I believe the church yields good fruit. You are amazing. Thanks for being you.

Lindsey Rendon & Lindsey Woods said...

Ashley I am so glad to know you.

Kelsea Brinton said...

Ash you are amazing! Thank you for your honest and heartfelt words. I feel so lucky to know you. I thought of you as I read this quote: [“We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ.” —Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, (2011), 407–15] Your love and devotion to your children is as a Savior on Mount Zion.

Kim McCall said...

Thank you, Ashley, for laying yourself so bare, for the beauty of your honesty. By the end, I, too, had the tears of journey, of empathy, of soul-recognition swelling in my eyes. Thank you for opening a door into your life for me.

Alice said...

Thank you for this. I appreciate your honesty and there are parts where I feel exactly the same...for the children!

Natalie. said...

Sweet, beautiful, wonderful cousin. Oh how I love you.

K + J said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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