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Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
Carmen Herbert's boys find the sun at Laguna Beach in California.

It’s my birthday month, and a few weeks ago I begged my husband to take me to St. George. I was tired of all the gray skies and snow. My mood was starting to match the weather.

“Say it’s my birthday present,” I said. “Just please take me to find the sun.”

Because my parents recently moved to St. George, finding a place to stay is never a problem. So I thought it would be a no-brainer, a quick weekend getaway to visit family and relax.

My husband said no.

“I don’t think I can make it happen, sweetheart,” he said apologetically on the phone. “I have too much going on right now. I’m sorry.”

I was fuming.

That night when he walked in, I was prepared to give him all the reasons why he was being unreasonable, but then I noticed the bag in his hand. Not just any bag — a Disney bag.

“We can’t go to St. George this weekend, because we’re going to Disneyland,” he said with a grin. “Tomorrow.”

I screamed with joy.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
Playing in the waves at Laguna Beach, California.

The next two days were a whirlwind of laughter, churros, stroller switches, crowds of people and pure happiness. It was so much fun. It was exactly what we all needed, despite the last-minute craziness.

But despite the incredible memories we were making, I had a heavy thought on my mind. Shortly before our trip, one of my dear friends told me she was leaving the church. And not just leaving the church, but also making the decision to stop being a follower of Jesus Christ.

We had been talking back and forth on the Marco Polo app, asking hard questions, crying, laying out the pieces and trying to figure out how to re-arrange them. She told me she was at peace with her decision. I was in turmoil. I didn’t know what she wanted me to say, what she needed me to say. I walked the line of sounding too preachy, too worried, too confused and just letting it be. Letting her be. What was the best thing to do? How could I help her? Should I? She made it very clear that she didn’t want me to think of her as a lost sheep to rescue or a project to take on.

“Let me ask you something,” she said on one of our chats. “Do you think I can still be just as enlightened, and centered, and good of a person as someone who follows Jesus Christ?” I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I wanted to be honest with how I felt and share my testimony and beliefs with her in a way that still honored the choices she was making.

It was that question I was pondering on when my son Beckham suddenly broke through my thoughts.

“Mom,” he said, bringing me back to the present where we sat eating at a little picnic table, taking a break from all the rides. “Someone is smoking.”

Indeed, the air smelled like smoke, but not from a cigarette. It was from an outside barbecue that was wafting toward us.

“That’s just someone cooking on a grill,” I told him.

“Oh,” he said. Then, my 5-year-old spoke up.

“Beckham. Even if that person was smoking, it doesn’t make them bad. Like, we choose not to smoke but if they want to, they can decide that. Everyone can choose their own choices.”

Everyone can choose their own choices.

I thought about my dear friend, and the choices and decisions she’s made in the last year. Some are choices I wouldn’t make. She told me her decisions were years in the making, accompanied by more loneliness and heartache than most of us can imagine. Besides leaving her faith, she left a very difficult marriage and chose to raise her incredible boys and angelic special-needs daughter the way she felt was most healthy and beneficial for them. She is doing the very best she can, with a resilient smile on her face, as she faces a sea of opposition.

In answer to her question, my response is this: I do think anyone can be enlightened, centered and good. I think whether you call it enlightenment, revelation, inspiration, a stroke of genius, a light-bulb moment, a thought that enhances and brings understanding, feelings of peace, being grounded, humble, wanting to do kind things for others, having an inclination to serve and love regardless of religion or race or gender or whatever — we are all saying the same thing.

I call it the Light of Christ. He is light. He is goodness. He is the center of it all. He is the love that binds up the brokenhearted. He is the shepherd that searches out his sheep. He is the lighthouse guiding us home. That is what I call it. That is what I believe.

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Regardless of what happens in the future, I hope my friend knows that I will never leave her in the deep waters by herself. I may throw one too many life jackets her way. I may come speeding by in a rescue boat, choking her with its wake, and screaming at her to please, get in.

But she may choose not to. She may choose to explore the ocean, to swim, to ride out the waves and find her own way. And I will love, love, love my mermaid friend, even as I pray for a lighthouse that will guide her back into the warmth of the Son.