“For I, the Lord God, created all things . . . spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” (Moses 3:5)
Almost exactly ten years ago I was endowed in one of the many temples of the LDS Church. The very first day I went through the temple was all joy and good feeling and . . . well, feeling, that’s the best way to describe it. I had just spent a solid year in a temple preparation class (a story for another day) thinking about everything, so it was a wonderful experience to just feel for awhile.
But the second time I went, I launched into a textual analysis of the creation as depicted in Genesis 1, Moses 2, Abraham 4, and the temple endowment session, just as I’d been trained to do in college literature classes. Spreadsheets were made, my friends, in order to identify every minute difference in language or imagery and garner whatever insight I could from it. For several weeks, I would spend my non-working hours reading and re-reading those creation accounts, refining my spreadsheets as I did. By the time I was done, I knew the language and sequence of the creation account like the back of my hand (don’t ask for a recitation now, however). But surprisingly, the most significant element for me was just seeing the stages of the creation depicted visually. It gave new meaning to the concept of a spiritual or mental creation preceding any physical creation. (I suddenly wished I could go back to a previous philosophy test and interpret Plato’s theory of Forms with some new-found clarity.)
When I first started writing this, my intent was to share the single greatest piece of inspiration I have ever had at the temple. It was only in the starting, and stopping, and being unsure how to proceed, that I realized how foundational all that study of the creation was, a necessary prologue to that most significant experience I had when I went by myself one day in early 2011. I was seeking some comfort and direction for all that ailed me: namely, chronic illness, the last remnants of my postpartum depression, an insanely stressful work situation, a stalled thesis, family issues, marital discord. Things were looking grim.
Ever since Addison had been born, I’d had these passing thoughts of leaving her and Neal (or just Neal, or just her) and going to Canada (or Denny’s).* Those thoughts had always seemed like the insane rantings of a lunatic, but right around the beginning of 2011, I thought maybe they had been sane all along. Maybe our family just wasn’t going to pull through this rough patch.
So, I’m sitting in the temple alone, waiting for something, anything to help. The creation film starts: they’re separating the light from the darkness, and calling it good, and ending the first day, and BAM!
This is the end of the first day of your marriage.
It’s kind of electric just typing that. The impression came so clearly, strongly, undoubtedly from God (and in case you don’t know, I’m a doubter, so that undoubtedly is a BIG-freaking-DEAL to me). On the one hand, you don’t like to hear “end” and “marriage” in the same sentence. On the other hand, it was as if this simple metaphor flooded my mind with understanding. This is the end of the first day of your marriage. There will be more. Most of the first day (4 years) of our marriage was wonderful. It was good. Most of it was almost effortless, separating light from darkness and helping me to choose light instead of the darkness I had been so fond of in my earlier years. But there are six creative periods, and the first day has to end if you want to create something more beautiful and complex.
I went to the temple perplexed and sorrowful. But I came out resolute. BRING IT, second day. But after I get us a therapist, obviously.
Over the days that followed, I went to the creation accounts again and again. It was only through this lens that I noticed that one of my many angsty, middle-of-the-night blog posts was actually the beginning of the spiritual creation of the second day of our marriage. When I wrote about becoming strong, a theme that obviously remained with me for the few years afterward, I had glimpsed a teeny, tiny vision of what my life could look like in the future if I was willing to face some hard realities and put my blood, sweat, and tears into making changes.
Off to marriage counseling we went to talk about abstract concepts like the meaning of the word love and minuscule details like who would clean up Addison’s high chair after dinner and how long an acceptable goodnight kiss should last (no, I’m not kidding; I’m sure our therapist wishes I were). All the while we were engaged in a spiritual creation, mentally deciding how our future should look and what we would have to do to get there. Although we never quite agreed on the length of goodnight kisses, we did make some big decisions then: No more big consulting contracts. No full-time jobs after graduation (up to this point, we had been considering Neal pursuing a teaching career). More hours of babysitting for Addison and more dinners out for us.
The week after we had our last therapy session, we moved to California to live with my parents (because what else are you gonna do when you’ve decided on no full-time jobs?). During the subsequent two years, we continued this spiritual creation, trying to sketch out the vision I had glimpsed. In our future life, we would cook and eat dinner as a family every night at 6:00; read scriptures and have prayer with Addison just before her bedtime, couple prayer before ours; do chores together on Saturdays; have family reading time every Sunday after church; eliminate TV (not movies, of course; heaven forbid we have nothing to keep Addison from talking to us for at least two minutes at a time!).
Once we got our house in the National Forest, the vision started to take even clearer shape: we would walk to the park or library every day, sometimes hike “the mountain;” Neal would paint in his new studio (the garage) while Addison played in the dirt; when the snow came, she could sled down the small hill in our backyard; while Addison brushed her teeth at night, I would write a growth-mindset message on her whiteboard for us to read together.
Sometimes the level of specificity of the life that we have been mentally creating feels downright ridiculous to me, coming from a more free-flowing, often unscheduled (vacuuming at midnight, why not?) household and having a natural affinity for novelty and surprises. But I’ve come to accept that if I want that vision, especially with Neal, lover of routine, I have to be intentional and vigilant. I’m just glad that after two and half years of the spiritual creation, we’ve finally moved on to the physical creation (which Neal is doing a better job chronicling than I am) and that it looks like this:
(Although Addison sliding into a hole in the ground wasn’t necessarily my vision.)
Just as Plato taught that the physical manifestation will never perfectly match the Form, we’re finding that our physical creation doesn’t yet match our mental vision. Our leisurely 6 o’ clock family dinners often start with “Crap, it’s 6:20, what do you want to have for dinner?” and end with Addison in time-out for once again scaling the kitchen table, but we’re all starting to get into our new habits. In fact the other day Addison told us that in exchange for trying to stay seated through the entire meal, she wanted to create a “new habit too, that we are going to eat food every day!” (Clearly, this hasn’t been our strong suit as parents — who can remember lunch every day?) Despite these imperfections, the second day of our marriage has proven wonderful. Every once in a while, I feel wistful for the first day, but it had to end if we were going to create something even more complex and beautiful.
* You should know that it was very hard for me to write that sentence. Thinking about leaving my little girl, a defenseless infant, is probably the most shame-inducing thing I’ve ever experienced. How could I even contemplate that after spending so long dreaming of her existence, not to mention the difficulty of getting her here? But I wanted to say it because my friend Rachel once told me that she thought about doing that too and it made me feel so much better.