Monday, March 17, 2014

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day



Ah, the drunken display of mock-Irishness is upon us.

The man many people think they are celebrating wasn't actually Irish. He blasted down Ireland's doors to shove his religion onto the native folk.  Maybe not literally, but I envision it was very Mormon-esque. Elder Patrick went door by door, with his companion, asking the gentle Pagan folk if they would like to change their religion; he had a free book written by Jesus.

I have spoken before about why an atheist would ever celebrate a religious holiday. So the fact that my family celebrates something like St. Patrick's Day isn't too big of an announcement. We just do it a little differently. A little background on the holiday that I double checked with the Catholics via their website-o-saints.

We will start off with Mr. Saint Patrick's story:

He was born in Scotland in 387. At fourteen he was kidnapped during a raiding party and taken to Ireland to herd sheep. At twenty he escaped and made it back to Britain by sailors, where he was reunited with his family.

At home, he started in the priesthood of Catholicism. His father was a Catholic deacon and his grandfather was a Catholic priest. So he was following in the footsteps of his family.  He spent about 40 years in Ireland, converting the Irish from Paganism to Catholicism.

Pretty basic. 

We all know that the only way a mere mortal can become a saint is through documented miracles. I am not going to break them down. But I do want to touch on one that may not be a legit miracle, but one that he is known for nonetheless.

Snakes.

Rumor has it that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. The only problem with that is that there were never snakes in Ireland.  Snakes are not native to the island and at the time of Patrick, they hadn't been introduced. There were literally no snakes for him to banish after they allegedly attacked him during a 40 day fast on top of a hill.

Some people may offer a different interpretation of the story of the snakes. Snakes have been a long standing symbol for the Pagans, specifically the Celts. So Patrick never drove out serpents, he drove out the Pagans.

Now, what is wrong with that? For what seems like eons people have been bringing their religious beliefs to the people they have conquered, or people who are different or people who are poor. Funny thing about religious beliefs is that people aren't usually so quick to give theirs up. Usually it takes force, persuasion or syncretism. And even though Patrick himself didn't subjugate an entire race of people, the many missionaries that followed in his name did.

It's important to remember that Patrick himself didn't walk around the Emerald Isle with his mighty walking stick, slaying dragons and Druids and anyone else he didn't agree with. Saint Patrick has fallen prey to the mythos that comes with being more of a symbol than the person you once were.

So today is the day where I make sure my children have some kind of green on, as to prevent the mean children at school from pinching them. I smile as my children bring home colored sheets of rainbows, pots of gold, and three leaf clovers. And I try to plan a meal at home, as to not deal with the college kids who are one green beer away from vomiting.

I also take it as an opportunity to teach my children a few important things.

We learn about Ireland.  We learn about different beliefs and why pushing beliefs that have no backing is wrong. We learn about the Celts and Pagans and their rich history and tales. We learn about the symbolism of the snakes. We learn about accepting others for who they are and doing our best not to cast judgement on others. We learn about Irish folklore. We learn about leprechauns and the little people. We learn about fae folk and banshees.

Today my girls and I are going to make snake wreaths to celebrate the real snakes of Ireland, and enjoy the Pagan stories that were almost forgotten due to the way Christianity tries to snuff out every other religious practice.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Worst Christmas Pageant. Ever.



My children attend a public elementary school in the Midwest.

So each Winter Concert there has always been at least one Christian Holiday song.  That might bother some atheist parents. Surprisingly enough, it hasn't really bothered me. Maybe because I once loved and cherished those songs. The two that seem to appear each year is "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger". Usually the kindergarten children play the hand bells along to them. I think it's sweet and they are rather easy songs. I can see why the music teacher selected those two songs for the youngest students in the school.

This year, their music program was called, 'Paint the Town December'. For the past two months, I heard my children sing the songs they were learning at school while they played at home. Based on the songs they were singing, it was going to be a wonderfully diverse program.

We arrived at the auditorium and took our seats. The 5th grade band played "Jingle Bells" and the older children sang some songs. Then the kindergarten children took the stage and played "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Away in a Manger" on the hand bells.

So far, it had matched each Concert that the school had put on since my children started attending there three years ago.

The first through fifth graders started walking down the aisle towards the stage and were looking around for their parents and waving when they found them. Parents were standing up trying to get their students attention. I was trying to locate each of my children so I knew where to look during the performance.

Once the students were settled and ready to go, they started with a non-religious song called "Paint the Town December", and it was really sweet.

From that point on, the Winter Concert became something other than what it should have been. I couldn't believe how many racist stereotypes were blended into something that I was expecting to be so very diverse.

As the children with speaking parts took the stage dressed in berets, white painter smocks and thin mustaches, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Their role in the Concert/Play was the painters. They were walking from store front to store front offering to paint the windows in the town with holiday themes. (Paint the town December, ah, I get it.)  But every time one of the students opened their mouths to speak, a thick, stereotypical French accent came out. I glanced at my husband and he gave me a look that said, "Give it time, maybe they just missed the mark on this part."

I wish it had stopped there. I really do. But every time they represented any culture or people who weren't Caucasian Christians, their portrayals were steeped in stereotypes.

The next song was a Hanukkah song. The children with speaking parts came out with yarmulkes and side curls. They spoke with heavy Yiddish/Hebrew accents. 

Then it was time for Kwanzaa... Same deal. Offensive stereotypical accents and garb. 

Even the secular song, "Up on the Roof Top" ended with a little boy yelling, "God bless us, everyone." You would think that would have been the only moment to offend someone who is atheist. Nope. They kept going.

Next, they had a little girl in a hijab walk out on stage. She spoke briefly about Ramadan. They didn't make her speak in a heavy accent. But they also had no song. Granted, Ramadan was celebrated in July this past year, and only rarely falls in December, (last time was in 1999 and the next time will be 2030), but I could see how they were trying to touch on as many religious holidays as possible, even if it meant leaving out a few that actually are celebrated every December. (Chalica, Human Light, Saturnalia...)

I am from Southern California, an area that is alive with the wonderful Hispanic Culture of so many different races. So when the children were setting up for the song, "Las Posadas", I was cringing before they even opened their mouths to speak.

The children were wearing over sized sombreros and ponchos that were made from small area rugs with holes cut in them for their heads to fit through. The fake accents were sloppy and offensive and I couldn't believe how the entire performance was riddled with pigeonholing and stereotypes.

Well, almost the entire performance. The one song that wasn't misconstrued by ignorant backwards thinking was the song that represented Christmas. The song was 'Shepherd Boy' and the children spoke in their normal accents, which weren't as 'country' or 'Southern' as they could have been. Or even should have been considering the running theme. They were reverent, soft and respectful. Did the store owner come out in a wife beater holding a shotgun? Nope. Did the children with speaking parts have bright white teeth and tans or speak like Valley Girls? Nope. They were just average, normal sounding children. There were a lot of American accents and stereotypes they could have chosen from. But because it represented THEM (mostly the person in charge of the performance, considering these are primary school children). It was something she could relate to, something that seemed 'normal' to her.

By the end of the performance, I was racking my brain for ways to un-educate my children who were obviously miseducated about so many wonderful cultures and so many different religions. We had already been celebrating Hanukkah, so I know that would be something that I had already, recently, put the foundations for in place.

I was so disappointed. I went in with such high expectations of diversity and well represented cultures and religions and I walked away with such a bitter taste from the pigeonholing that only stopped for a brief moment when the children sang a song that represented the majority of the school, and the music teacher.

I wanted to write a letter to the school, but I don't even know where to start. I loved the premise, I hated the execution.  I wasn't planning on making my children's Winter Concert into a huge learning lesson at home, but now I know I must.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our Atheist Hanukkah

Neither my husband nor I were raised in a Jewish home. I had never considered celebrating Hanukkah until after I had children. As a child I was always curious about my friends who celebrated the holiday.

The past few years we have lit our Menorah, read Hanukkah stories and played dreidel. This year they even sang a Hanukkah song for their December Concert at school. (More on that later.)

This year we focused on the story of the Maccabees, the Jewish rebel army who fought back to take control of Judea. We spoke about how the temple had been taken over and Judaism was outlawed. We learned about the re-dedication of the second temple and the oil in the lamp.  We spoke about religious freedom. We spoke about standing up for what we believe in.

We discussed the point of what a 'miracle' is. What defines magic, what defines logic and what we can conclude from our discussion.

My children are in first and second grade. So our discussion didn't get too deep, they were focused on the dreidel playing they knew would be taking place after mommy stopped talking. But I know that if we use this holiday as a way to have an open discussion each year about religious freedoms, and discussions about what makes a miracle, I know that the holiday I spent time wondering about as a child, will become a sweet family tradition.

Our Menorah on the 8th night of Hanukkah 12/2013

Each night of Hanukkah this year, they received a small gift. This was our first time doing more than the candles, stories and dreidels. My husband and I felt that it was time for us to make this our main holiday for the year, instead of focusing so heavily on Christmas. It felt really awesome seeing how much fun the girls had celebrating something so foreign and different to my husband and I.  To me, it proved that there were already so many awesome holidays in place, that I didn't need to create any of our own.

I am hoping to celebrate Chalica next year alongside Hanukkah and maybe Christmas. I want my children to learn more about the origins of Saturnalia and we may end up nixing Christmas altogether next year. I am hoping to find a way to mix all of the December holidays together, but I am thinking it may just evolve into a month long celebration of Thankfulness and lessons in religious freedom, science and history. As soon as I figure it out, I will let you know!


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Taking the Christ out of Christmas

One of the most difficult things to learn about while I was unknowingly shedding myself of religion was that Christmas wasn't originally Christmas. It was a Pagan holiday called Saturnalia.  I know what you are thinking, that I just made that up. (I totally thought someone out there on the internet was messing with my mind.) But I assure you, the entire December birth in Jerusalem is probably not even true. Which is also something I read on the internet that I had originally thought was anti-Mormon propaganda.

Now, maybe it wasn't a shock to you to learn that the holiday we celebrate as Christmas used to be celebrated for a similar, yet entirely different reason.  They celebrated the birth of a son as well, but it was the Sun God. Christians snagged the holiday for their own and totally ruined it. I really wish they would have let it be. (Actually, there is a ton of things I wish Christianity hadn't tainted.)

This Pagan story is totally cool and equally fictitious, but I like how it's more about family and the days getting longer after solstice. It is the re-birth of the sun. And nothing makes a holiday more enjoyable for little ones than faeries and woodland critters do.

I don't think the story of Christmas is harmful to children. (Avoiding the part where Zeus God has sex with a mortal to get a demi-god son, per Mormonism.) I have taught my children the birthing story of the Christian god, as to give them knowledge they may need at school. But I didn't tell them it was fact, mostly because biblical scholars will tell you that Jesus was born in March or maybe early April. We even have a Matryoshka doll with Joseph, Mary, a sheep and Jesus that serves as the Christian Nativity in our home. This year we will have a Pagan Nativity as well.  It's important to me to give my children as much knowledge as possible, and the Winter Holidays are perfect for teaching various wonderful lessons that have nothing to do with the supernatural. (And some that do.)

It was difficult to find Humanist or Atheist holiday traditions on-line. When I went looking during my first holiday free of religion, I couldn't find much of anything. The first thing that I came across that really made me feel like I may actually find usable ideas was this:

http://www.nukees.com/d/20071214.html
Instructions for an atom snowflake.

I know that may seem trite, but when you feel like you are starting something steeped in tradition from scratch, little things can really mean a lot. And that little snowflake got the snowball rolling for me. I found it difficult to truly blend my love for science with the religious muck that seemed to be everywhere at first. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important for traditions that are not ours, to be respected, understood and cherished; to me, that is important in raising children with character and compassion. Sometimes people are going to believe crazy things, that doesn't mean we can't love them. I just wanted something of my own, something of great importance to me and my family to become part of December.  It took me a while to realize that I didn't have to start from scratch, a lot of the religious traditions I grew up with could be tweaked to fit our family and my new beliefs.

Besides the atom snowflake, I have collected little ideas here and there and I figured I would share them here.

 There are a lot of things that I want for my children. I want them to be understanding, compassionate and loving. And I know that in order for me to give them the best chance at understanding those around them, is to expose them to many traditions and cultures, as well as teaching them about why science is the most awesomest thing in the entire whole of existence, not forgetting, of course, about teaching them about human rights and what truth really means.


Picture of the Fellowship Baptist Church we passed on the way home one night.






Monday, November 11, 2013

Life After Mormonism



The further away from 'that' time in my life, the harder it is for me to identify with any part of it.

It was a piece of who I was for so long, too long, but now it seems so far away.

I never thought I would get to this point when I was first losing my religion. At first it seemed like it would always be there, haunting me. Hovering over me like a paranoid parent. But 5 years after my first big step away from life as I knew it, it seems so silly, so small and very much not who I am.

It's hard to think back to who I was when I was Mormon. I still know the tenets of the religion. I still know how to pray, how to worship, and how to dress if I were ever to end up in the middle of a Sacrament Meeting. But I feel so distant from the girl I once was.

I don't normally try to focus on the past, it only brings me down or causes me to focus on regrets, but I have been stuck in a circle of thoughts focusing around my eldest child. She will be turning 8 years old this coming February. Not normally a big stepping stone in the eyes of most, but in Mormonism, that is the age of accountability and the year children are baptized.

My daughter will not be baptized (I know, it's shocking); but I can't stop feeling like it's a big birthday. It is one of those things that I never thought would matter now that I walked away from Mormonism. It was a small thing that I didn't think of when I was stressing out and debating with myself and researching. But here I am, definitely not Mormon, but wanting this birthday to 'be' something.

I definitely don't believe that 8 year old children are old enough to truly to be accountable for much. She has been accountable for her actions for years now. So that doesn't really apply. She is too young to be accountable in financial or worldly ways, so I don't believe that truly applies.

A part of me wants to push these weird, inapplicable thoughts to the back of my mind. Back where I keep things I can never remember, like the social security numbers for my daughters or the reasons why I dated certain guys. But that quirky part of me wants to have a celebration, but make it secular. How do I make a strictly religious thing secular without it becoming a mockery of Mormonism as a whole? (As much as I can and do mock Mormonism, it's not my goal in life.)

As I was browsing the internet for some meaningful ideas, I happened across some posts about unbaptisms. You can even get a certificate. I smiled for a second thinking how cute she would look in a white unbaptism dress... but that wouldn't be something for her. That would just be for me. She has never been baptized, nor was she blessed into the church. (Mormons bless their babies within the first few months after birth. They give it a name and a blessing in front of the entire congregation.) Katelyn wasn't blessed into the church because my husband didn't have the correct 'level' of the priesthood to do so.  A lot of my Mormon friends have pictures of their beautiful 8 year old daughters in their baptism dresses. I think I entertained that thought just to feel like I thought I one day would, if I had stayed Mormon.

As of today, I haven't truly decided what, if anything, I will do when my eldest hits the big 0-8, but I know that even if I decide to let it roll by like the 2-7 years did, it will be a birthday that will remain in my memory as the year she would have been baptized.  And I will be happy with the thought that I saved her from it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A God Shaped Hole



I grew up being taught that the worst type of people on Earth were not the rapists, nor the murderers, but the atheists. My uncle on my father's side was an atheist and every flaw he naturally had as a human, was automatically blamed on his atheism.

He gambled.
He drank.
He didn't volunteer.
He never bought us birthday cards.
He got a divorce.
He wasn't loyal to his wife and married the lady he was rumored to have left her for.

::Gasp::

As a rational adult, I don't see how any of those things on their own or as a whole immediately call him out as atheist. I think those traits can apply to any human, even a Mormon one.

But I was taught that my uncle did those things because he had a god shaped hole that he was trying to fill.  He tried to fill it with vices and he would never fill them until he found the truth of the gospel.

My uncle was raised by Catholic parents. Italian Catholics. They didn't go to church the same way I did growing up. They went on Christmas and Easter. And possibly Ash Wednesday, if I recall correctly. That was it, short of a Communion, or wedding.

And, as a child, I almost felt like my grandparents must have failed him if the belief in god didn't even stick with him. My aunt was still Catholic and my father had been converted to Mormonism.  But they knew god was real, even if my aunt had everything else all wrong.

But not my uncle. He was a lost sheep. And because of that, my mother did not want me to get too close to him. Atheists are the worst, they can use their logic, reasoning and anti-Mormon propaganda to pull even the most devout of Christ's followers away from the gospel.

So I never got to know my uncle the same way I was able to get close to my Mormon family members. I saw him every Sunday night at my grandmother's house for our weekly spaghetti dinner.

My aunt would buy us gifts for Christmas and birthdays, and write his name on the card beside hers. My mom made sure to tell us that they weren't really from him, our aunt was just trying to be nice to him.

Granted, my uncle was only about 12 years older than I was. So when he didn't buy me a gift for my 8th birthday, I don't truly believe it was because he was a heartless, soulless atheist. I believe it was more than likely because he was a 20 year old college student, focusing on mid-terms and girls. But you wouldn't have received that answer had you asked my 8 year old self.

My mother did her best to make sure myself and three younger half brothers knew that everything wrong with my non-Mormon family was due to them not being Mormon.

Grandpa smoked because he didn't have the gospel.

Grandma drank coffee because she didn't know the truth.

Our uncle gambled because he didn't have the light of Christ.

Our aunt lived with her boyfriend because she wasn't Mormon.

Any good traits or strong examples they set for us, were swept under the rug. As though everything 'bad' thing should be attributed to them not having the gospel of Christ, and every good thing was just a silly coincidence, they were acting as a follower of the gospel and unaware, or was because they were trying to showboat.

But my uncle was always the worst offender. I sometimes thing that it was because being an atheist prevented him from having a way to repent. Did my mother feel like he couldn't truly be sorry for any wrong doing because he never repented? Or did the option of repentance being non-existent, make him come across as a narcissistic asshole?  I am not sure. But I do know that he was the example of the type of person that was definitely going to hell.

Was he a rapist? Nope. (You can repent for that.)
Was he a murderer? Nope. (You can repent for that too.)
Was he a pathological liar? Nope. (Another 'repentable' offense.)

He was an atheist. And all my opinions of atheists were formed at a rather young age, all based on my mother's biases. All of which made it so much more difficult for me to come to terms with facing my own cognitive dissonance.  And made it damn near impossible to utter the words aloud, that I am an atheist.

My uncle is an awesome man. He is an awesome father and an awesome person. I hate how I was raised to see him in such a negative light, all because he didn't believe in a god or gods. I hate how I was raised to look at my Catholic family with such disdain for their beliefs. I hate that I wasn't raised to love them as purely as I loved my Mormon relatives. I don't understand how my mother thought that would be a wonderful idea. It only hurt me, disabled me, and stunted my growth as a good person.

Judging people, even people you love, based on something so trivial, is mind boggling to me.

I hope that I can raise my daughters to love freely, without having to view people through a kaleidoscope of labels.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Is my Marriage Recorded in Heaven?

10 years ago today, my best friend and I eloped to Las Vegas.



We had decided 4 days prior to get married and, for a brief moment, I had visions of wedding plans and bridal showers. Then I remembered who my mother was and I realized that those things I'd been dreaming about since I was a little girl were not going to happen for me.

The problem? I still identified as a Mormon, and my best friend was not.

So my options were to get him baptized immediately, then wait the mandatory year before we could be sealed in the temple, or marry him outside of the temple and hope he would join the church eventually, so then after he accepted the gospel, and a year had passed after his baptism, we could be sealed in the temple.

I knew that the first option was not going to happen. It takes time for someone to accept the gospel. And Mormons aren't about baptizing people without making sure they were going to be committed tithing payers the rest of their lives.

The second option didn't look good either. I didn't want to end up paying for two 'weddings'. I also wasn't sure that my buddy would ever want to be Mormon. Funny thing about that was that I didn't really care. I had been a Jack-Mormon for the three years prior and had already started to lose the foundation of my belief system. I loved him and I wanted to be married to him.  Sucks, huh?

I realized shortly after we decided to get married that my love for him and my simple want to be his wife was going to cause drama and 'hurt' between my mother and I. (She would pretend to be the victim and end up hurting my heart.)

I had know him since we were 12. He and I went to Junior High School together. We were both in High School Marching Band and Color Guard. We were both in Concert Band. We would walk home together after school and he would carry my overstuffed backpack for me. We never dated then, but we were always really good friends. He was trust worthy, loyal, funny and kind, and I had fallen in love with him. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.

After we decided to get married, I started to get excited, but that quickly turned into concern about my mother's reaction.  Her capability to be truly happy for me was clouded by her belief in certain principles of her (our) religion.

I didn't tell her about my plans when I returned home that night. I started to think that not telling our parents would be best. Instead of setting a date for the next year, I figured we would 'sneak out' on Saturday and call our parents after the fact, as to beg forgiveness instead of seeking permission.

I knew my mother would rather me marry a lying, cheating ass of a man, as long as he was Mormon over a wonderful non-Mormon. I tried my mom's plan for me; I had dated Mormon guys, Return Missionaries, and boys about to leave for their missions. I was not impressed.

My plan to keep my big mouth shut was going swimmingly for an entire day, until my future husband told me that he had told his mother and she was so excited and wanted to come along. I felt like a deer in headlights.  I didn't know what my next move should be. Should I avoid drama now and invite my parents? Or should I continue with my plan and just never, ever tell them? The latter choice was still looking like the best option.

My future husband, being the loving guy he is, strongly recommended that I tell my parents and invite them to come too. So I did.  I could see the disappointment on my mother's face. My dad seemed taken aback. Almost like he couldn't believe it.  My mom kept asking if I was sure. She was truly concerned about him not being Mormon. She kept telling me that even though he was willing to marry me that wasn't a guarantee that he would get baptized for me. (You know, after you give him the milk, there was no guarantee he would join your cult.) I kept telling her I was sure and she ended up pouting the rest of the evening in her room.

They avoided the question of joining us on Saturday the rest of the night. It wasn't until the next evening, two days before I was hoping to elope in peace, that my mother told me that they weren't going to be able to go. She wanted me to delay the wedding day, she wanted me to pray about it longer. She wanted me to give god more time to talk me out of it or something. I started to wish I hadn't told her. I didn't want to keep living my life around her.

She was still a champ about it. Even though she wasn't going to go, and even though I wasn't marrying a Mormon boy, she still took me out to buy a wedding dress. Of course, it had to be temple appropriate, so it wasn't the one I wanted. But it was still better than the simple white blouse I had purchased for myself.

My future husband and his mother picked me up from my parents house that Saturday morning and we headed to Las Vegas. My mother spent the morning crying and refusing to take any pictures for me.  I left the house trying to shake off the guilt my mother piled on me for making one of the best decisions of my life.

My future husband's mother paid for the entire weekend. She even made sure we had our pictures taken so we would have that keepsake.  I guess she wasn't as upset that her son was marrying outside their non-denominational Christianity as my mother was that I was marrying outside of my cult.

We were married at 11:45 pm that night. Just myself, my new husband and his mother were present for our wedding. (We opted out of having an Elvis.)

I wish I could have had a wedding like most of my friends had. One I could have planned out, stressed about and had wedding showers for. I wish my family would have supported that. But I know that if I had planned out a wedding, my mother would have spent everyday trying to talk me out of my decision. She would have argued and debated me on every choice that was made. Just like she did with my dress and my choice of husband.

My mother-in-law mentioned that she wanted to throw us a reception for family and friends after we eloped. My mother seemed excited about it. Then the topic of alcohol arose. My mother-in-law wanted wine, beer and champagne at the reception; and my mother lost her shit. She wasn't going to help plan and pay for a party where alcohol would be offered. For a moment I thought my husband and I were going to have one 'dry' and one 'fun' reception. But no. We ended up not only with two mothers who wouldn't speak to each other, but also ended up without a reception. My mom then held the idea of a reception hostage. She said when we decided to 'really get married' (she meant in the temple), then she would invest in a reception.

I had to take a step back and refocus myself. I was legally bound to my love and I now shared his name. That was all I really wanted and everything else would have been a bonus.  And having to deal with my mother and her guilt for anything else wasn't worth it.

For the next few years, my mom would ask when my husband and I were going to get sealed in the temple. You know, because our 'Earthly Marriage' wouldn't count in heaven. If I wanted to be married in the after life, we were going to need to get sealed in a temple. It was the only way a marriage survives death. And for a while, my husband and I spoke about possibly getting sealed one day. We debated going to the Las Vegas Temple, to add some sentimentality to it all. But before we even got close to that, everything that was once important to me, became a bunch of silliness.

So a decade has passed. I am still married to my best friend. And it is okay that we never had a celebration of our love with our family and friends. We have each other, we have made it through so much together and I know we can make it through anything. And it's okay that we are only married until 'death do us part', mostly because death has the final say in every relationship anyway, no matter what anyone says about it here on Earth. And I know that we are going to cram every wonderful thing we can into the life we have here and now.

Happy Anniversary Dustin. I love you more than I thought was humanly possible.