I made a video to explain my answers to the most-asked questions.
It’s December 22, 2016. I’ve just written my mom an email.
The contents of this email include me breaking her heart. I’ve thought of a dozen reasons not to write it and fought with myself about it for over two months but at the end of this day, I will go to sleep knowing she knows the truth. The peace I feel from that thought engulfs me and I hit send.
I’m eight. I was just baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I’ve been waiting for this day because ever since I can remember, I’ve been promised that on this day, the day I am baptized, I will feel 100% sinless and clean. It will be the most beautiful day I can imagine, I’m told, and I’m so lucky to be in a family that is LDS because being baptized by immersion is the only *true* way to have your sins washed away. I’ve contemplated the near disaster I avoided many times over the past year leading up to my eighth birthday. What if I had been born to another family? Or in another country where Mormons didn’t exist? What if? This thought has kept me up at night because I know I’ve done nothing to deserve this life, which means it’s completely out of my control.
As I’m raised from the water, the white zippered suit clings to me in annoying ways. I feel naked in this completely wet suit in front of several dozen people, mostly parents and family members of all the eight-year-olds getting baptized today. A tiny bit of water got up my nose, but I was careful to pinch it tightly so I wouldn’t feel like I was drowning. This is another fear that has kept me up nights for many months. What if my hand slipped off and I got water up my nose? I would cough and probably come up too soon which would require them to dunk me again, and if that happened, I for sure wouldn’t get clean enough.
I look out at the smiling faces as the water beads down my face and neck. I feel no different but maybe it just hasn’t had a chance to work yet, I think. Maybe my sins are like rubber cement and don’t come off so easy and it will take until I get dressed and then confirmed with a prayer from my dad and THEN it will take. THEN I’ll feel clean. I walk up the steps and out of the font and feel sins clinging to my ankles, trailing behind me like shadows. The things that have happened to me will never leave.
After I’ve changed into my dress, after I’ve been confirmed, after I give my dad a hug of thanks, my primary teacher asks me, Leah, don’t you feel wonderful? Don’t you feel clean? Don’t you feel the Spirit? Yes, I say, and nod my head and in that moment I realize two things. I am a liar and will always be a liar, and if I don’t feel clean right after I was baptized I won’t ever feel clean and that’s just who I am. I feel further away from God and the people in my family than ever before.
I’m fifteen. I’ve been to several parties on a weekend night where most of the young men and some of the adult men in this chapel have been partying and engaging in debauchery, some of the time with my own person. It makes it very, very hard to take it seriously when I’m told these men hold the only true priesthood directly from God, the only true source on the earth today.
Hypocrites, I think. Everyone in this room including me is pretending to be something they aren’t.
It’s been a fight to get me to church for years, but now I stop going at all. I stop pretending to be good. I embrace who I am like never before. I cause trouble. I hurt my parents. I choose to be Real, no matter the cost.
I’m attracted to one of my best girlfriends and have dreams about her, but in real life I have sex with my boyfriend repeatedly and my parents send me in to talk to the Bishop. He tells me to repent and I tell him I will try. I don’t really try. My parents are beyond hurt. I’m messing up the entire family in an eternal sense. It’s too much pressure for a teenager. They send me to live with various family members to get me away from the situation. I find trouble no matter where I’m sent because that’s what I believe I am and like seeks out like. I am trouble. I will always be trouble.
I meet a guy my high school junior year that seems like a straight-laced good Mormon boy. A few months later I get pregnant. A few weeks after that I get married and six months later, our son is born. On the day he makes his debut, I am seven days away from turning eighteen. I am a baby raising a baby married to a guy who is determined to be an adult. He is alone in his ability to do that.
The pressure from the church to get sealed in the temple is non-stop. My husband and I finally agree and are rushed through two weekend classes with missionaries to prepare us. Our son is one and I’m pregnant with our daughter. We live in Germany and my husband is in the Air Force. Everything about our lives is new and stressful to me.
My sister and her husband fly out to be with us for the temple sealing. Everyone in my family is so excited we’re taking this next step. I’m hoping and praying that I will feel something while I’m in the temple. I’m hoping God will finally answer my prayers and bless me to feel the Spirit.
We begin in the temple by doing the Initiatory and I immediately feel violated by hands touching my naked skin. The rest of the time in the temple is a blur as the feelings of violation continue and I can’t figure out how to act right. So many memories of being abused from my childhood are swirling around in my head. I feel angry that everyone has been telling me to come and do this and I feel bewildered by every else’s lack of concern by what happens inside the temple.
I don’t go back.
I drift in and out of mental stability, birthing three more children, weathering the mostly downs of a marriage created of necessity. Most of the time it takes too much will power on my part to buy into the idea that there is a God who would approve of how my life has gone down.
During one of my active church phases in 1995, I sit in the bishop’s office and listen to him tell me that I should forgive my husband his indiscretions again and if I don’t, the sin is with me. Forgive, forget, and move on, he tells me. That’s what Jesus wants you to do. Do it for your family.
I think about what he said as we drive home and I realize I won’t be able to and I literally have no idea what that means for my future. The idea of divorce doesn’t move in my circles. This is an unknown world. I will again be the person in my family who is completely different than everyone else. This isn’t a new feeling, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier as the years go on.
Joe and I have been unofficially dating for two weeks. It’s October 2002 and neither of us wants to date anyone but neither of us wants to not spend time with the other person. This leads to lots of hanging out and doing nothing remotely date-like while at the same time totally dating.
It’s a Sunday and LDS conference is airing. We’re watching it together and I’m explaining that I’ve been thinking about going back to church after years away. Joe tells me he’s never going to be a Church Person. I tell him I want to be with someone who is religious. He shakes his head, no, he doesn’t think he ever will be. I start to cry. And then he starts to cry, because it’s possible we just identified a Deal Breaker even though we most certainly aren’t dating.
I’ve recently come out of a second mental hospital stay and the urge to try and fit in with my family is insistent. It’s exhausting to always be different. If I found someone religious, maybe I’d be like all of them.
Instead, I listen to my gut and start to really date Joe on the record.
Joe and I are married. Our parents all come to our home for a weekend to meet. I’m struck by how vehemently his mother, Phyllis, argues in favor of Catholicism straight to my mother’s face. It’s like she believes it as much as my own mother believes in the LDS religion! My mind is blown. In all my travels, I just assumed Mormons were the only ones that truly believed theirs was the real truth or cared that much. Other people seemed to take their religion with a grain of salt. To realize that most religions believe they are also The One True Religion is information I wasn’t prepared for.
My thinking about religion and churches begins to change. I attend mass with Phyllis and get blessed by a priest. I ask one of my Catholic friends if she truly believes her church is the only true one. Of course, she says, why else would I attend?
Why else, indeed, I think. And when I extrapolate this thought to the millions of people around the world who are alive now or who have ever lived, religions begin to seem much more like tribes of people who need rules to keep them similar and give them structure than they do divine institutions created by God.
All the churches can’t be true, can they? Wouldn’t that make none of them true? And what does “true” mean, anyway? There are parallels to country patriotism here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but the negative feelings I have when people go super-mongo USA! USA! USA!!!! and how I feel when someone says their church is the only true church begin to converge.
My youngest son is nine. He has not yet been baptized into the LDS church. This is causing concern for many people, none of the least being my own parents. My son isn’t sure if he believes what his teachers have been teaching him. He is a slow and methodical adopter and will not be rushed. He has gone to church sporadically over the years as I’ve ping-ponged between believer and doubter, resulting in stretches of months of non-attendance. His three older siblings have all been baptized. Eventually, he decides what the heck. Might as well. I attend the service with my husband. My ex-husband is the one who is baptizing our son. I know for a fact that he isn’t “worthy” to do it because he drinks alcohol. No one seems to care. The LDS church is full of people just like him and it no longer surprises me that so many are lying and pretending.
Instead of getting divorced when things start to fall apart between us, we radically change our lives by selling all our stuff and making a plan to travel the United States. Our first stop is to visit Joe’s parents in Virginia and instead of leaving right after Thanksgiving, we move in and I become his mom’s companion for the next year.
I watch Phyllis get weaker day by day physically, but her spirit just gets stronger. She’s a beautiful example to me and I grow to love her deeply. Joe’s dad is what I would describe as agnostic and pokes a little fun at religion in general, but Phyllis never apologizes for having her beliefs. She never tries to convince anyone else she’s right. When I’m with her, I can believe, too. She just simply Is and Believes until the very end.
My dad is getting older and continues to remember less and less. I go home to spend some time with them while he can still remember my name.
I’m with my mom in the basement going through boxes of old family photos. She asks me how I know Joe is faithful to me after my first marriage ended so poorly. I tell her it’s because one day early on, Joe called me from work to tell me a redheaded woman had just walked in and he was suddenly smitten with a crush. In that moment I realized he would always tell me. He wasn’t into secrets. He didn’t get off on constructing an alternate life while married to me. He immediately called me to include me. I was on the inside. He would never cheat on me and lie.
Mom asked me if I had ever had the experience in reverse. I told her about a woman I had fallen for during the period Joe and I were separated in our fifth year of marriage. I heard myself saying the words but I couldn’t believe I was actually telling my mom I had had extremely deep feelings for someone the same gender as myself. Her face was turned away from me as she bent over the box to grab another album.
But that was then, she said into the box, now you and Joe are fine. And that was true.
I’m becoming Reiki certified. I finally feel things– energy and movement–and it is a type of spirituality and I embrace it. I start to understand what everyone has been talking about all these years. There is a warmth you get in your chest or a melting in your gut. I can sense movement in my hands and denseness or clearing as I work on someone else. It’s amazing. I am thankful and enamored with finally being able to talk about Feelings and know what I’ve been missing. This is a connection to my family that I’ve longed for. I can talk of spiritual things and fit in. I’m a part of It and it is delicious and satisfying.
I find God or He finds me. I’m determined to get to know Him better. I embrace the concept of being a Church Person.
It’s October 2014. I’m in my quest of Reclaiming the Divine. I decide that I don’t know what I’m saying no to, so I better go back and try the LDS church back on to see if it fits me now, or if I fit within it, now that I’m older and can feel things.
I decide that if I’m going to do it, I’m going to Do It. I’ll become temple-worthy and say yes to callings and get involved in every way. Immerse myself as completely as I can.
I keep the Word of Wisdom. I throw out my inappropriate clothing. I attend church meetings. I tell my mom I’m going back to church. She is astonished. She does not believe it. She is unbelievably happy. Her prayers are literally being answered. The missionaries tell me that the rituals inside the temple have changed since I went in so many years ago. They tell me I have nothing to worry about.
On Halloween, late in the afternoon, tattoos carefully covered, I sit across from my mom on a beautiful couch in a heavenly, white room inside the St. George LDS temple and she still looks as if she can’t believe it. I smile at her. She leans forward and whispers, I didn’t think this day would ever come. Tears glisten in her eyes. Where is your faith, Mom, I whisper back jokingly to her in hushed tones. My brother, sister, and niece are beaming. I feel like I finally, truly fit in with my family.
In the temple it’s quiet. For a person like me who is sensitive to mental energy, it’s such a relief from everything. White and calmness are everywhere. I step inside, and it’s peaceful. I step outside and it all comes landing back on my shoulders again. I am relieved that what the missionaries told me is true. The way things are done in the temple has changed. I don’t ever feel uncomfortable and no old, painful memories are triggered when I go. I make a goal to go weekly to enjoy the peace and freedom I feel inside.
The rituals and prayers in the temple are beautiful. There is a sense of the Sacred all around you. I sit in rooms quietly and contemplate God. I can’t seem to rectify how I believe He is with how my church describes Him. As usual, I’m quick to believe the fault must be with me and my understanding.
My God is welcoming and non-exclusionary. I don’t believe God requires special words or handshakes that only some people know to come into his presence. I push away my questions about why I continue coming and working in the temple because I fit in with my family and because I assume I must be missing something. I just don’t get It. I continue to focus on the parts I love and appreciate and not look at the parts that don’t make sense. This isn’t hard for me because I have lots of conflicting beliefs at the same time.
I simultaneously hold and believe the following two concepts: 1. Everything matters and everything I choose to say and do, or not say and not do, impacts everything else in large and small ways. I am responsible for everything I experience so if I’m frustrated and disappointed by the world, I need to fix things inside of myself. 2. I am insignificant and nothing I say or do matters in the big scheme of things because Almighty God is in control of all things and His plans won’t be thwarted by someone so insignificant as me.
It crosses my mind that this entire thing is privilege. I have the opportunity and time to sit inside holy buildings and have these philosophical thoughts when others are outside these walls simply trying to survive. That in and of itself is something I can’t make sense of.
The attack in the Orlando, Florida nightclub happens. I’m devastated. I feel it inside my bones. I weep. I see posts on social media declaring that these people brought it upon themselves because they are gay. I’m sick to my stomach when I realize some of them are LDS.
In grief, I brandish my keyboard like a sword and write a Facebook post declaring that it’s no secret I’ve been in relationships with women in the past and if you believe it’s a sin then you should unfriend me immediately.
But, then I find out it has been a secret to a lot of people that I am Bisexual and I realize I haven’t been true to myself or others in my community because I Pass.
An LDS friend send me a message telling me I’m not sinning because I’m not acting on those feelings and I’m married to a man. No one would ever know if I didn’t tell them, so why tell them? I’m hurt and angry by this note but I can’t put into words exactly why because she’s right. No one would ever know if I didn’t tell them.
Someone asks me if it hurts Joe’s feelings when I talk about being in relationships with women and I have to think about it. I realize what she’s asking is if it hurts him MORE than it would if all my past loves were men. Like, me being Bi is against him somehow. Insulting to him, maybe.
I visit my brother and his wife. It’s the 4th of July. We’re talking about politics, which is historically a no-no given that we are on diametrically opposite ends for most things. The LDS church has recently come out with additional policy statements for how the Gay community is to be treated. Love the sinner, hate the sin remains the mandate, but now we’re going to love the sinner even better and harder and with more intensity so they really feel it. But their kids can’t be baptized until they are over eighteen to save the families from fighting and even though it’s the law of the land, if you’re in a same-sex marriage, you are apostate and will be disciplined and probably excommunicated from the church.
I ask my brother if he understands how it feels to be the person who is “the sinner” being loved, despite the sin. He tells me of course he does because we’re all sinners.
I tell my brother that I’ve been in relationships with women and been in love with women and to me, loving a woman or loving a man is the same thing. He reminds me that I was like that “before” and that those sins don’t apply to me anymore, thank goodness. I struggle with how to tell him that I’m still the same person. I’m Bisexual. That’s how I’m made. I’m married to a man who I love deeply and can’t imagine being with anyone else. But that’s not because he’s a man. It’s because he’s Joe. I “pass” because Joe is a man. No one who knows me from church would think of me as Bisexual.
I explain to my brother that there are countless people who are in relationships with someone who is the same sex as them and they are in love, married, having families. They are happy. I watch his face as he starts to understand what I’m saying. I’m telling him those people don’t feel like they are sinning. I’m telling him those people are just like me. Up until this point he has assumed that people who engaged in same-sex love and relationships knew they were sinning and doing the wrong thing. It’s almost beyond comprehension to consider that they just feel like regular people.
Later that night as I fall asleep I pray to God and ask Him how this all works. How can I know so strongly that I’m ok, that all these people who are like me are ok, and at the same time belong to a church where people like me are thought of as being wrong and sinners when they choose to be with someone who they love who is the same sex? There are no answers as I lay in bed, but I feel the string that makes me fit in with my family begin to go slack and become tenuous. I’ve tried so hard to fit in, but there is the slightest fragrance of relief I sense just outside my field of consciousness as I drift to sleep.
It’s October 2016. I go in to talk to my bishop and renew my temple commitment. He asks me questions, which I recall answering two years ago, and answer the same way. I pass.
I meet with the stake president and he asks me the same questions. I answer the same way. I pass.
It’s November 9, 2016. I feel hungover even though I haven’t been on a bender in many years. I’m devastated by the election results. I slept terribly. I feel crushed and worried and I’m in mourning.
Most of the people at church that next Sunday are curiously quiet. It takes me way too long to realize that’s because so many of them voted for Trump. The message is unification and moving forward. I am heartbroken and alone. I realize I haven’t done my job in declaring who I am and what I believe and decide going forward I will be different. I consider how that will work when I teach the women’s class and the lesson talks about the Proclamation to the Family and I realize this is going to be even harder than I thought it would be. How will I fit in with them and still say what I need to say? How will I bring their white privilege to their attention and help them understand how voting for Trump put so many at risk? How will I pass as a good Mormon, Relief Society Education Counselor, Temple Ordinance Worker, and still be who I feel like I need to be?
But then I realize, I don’t want to pass anymore. I’m not straight and I don’t agree with some church policies. I plan to publicly protest for the rights of marginalized people, including the gay community. It feels vitally important post-election to do whatever I can and to use my voice however I can.
I set up an appointment to speak to my bishop again and explain how upon further reflection, I can’t answer the questions the way I did originally. I need to change some of my answers. After some consideration, he asks me if there’s any way I could have my own private beliefs and support groups as I see fit, but not protest publicly, and teach the lessons as outlined in the handbook. I tell him I cannot. What seems to him to be privacy, feels to me like hypocrisy. I cannot be one thing but pretend to be another. I won’t.
My husband tries to get me to reconsider and move slower as I extract myself from my church commitments for reasons I think even he doesn’t understand. He’s seen me have a lot of joy these past two years. He’s helped me pay my tithing and made sure I got to the temple. He’s gone to church with me and sat through uncomfortable fast and testimony meetings where people of all ages speak to the congregation about why our church is the one and only true church. He’s never made fun of the sacred underwear or changes to my wardrobe. I literally can’t imagine a more supportive person. I listen to his worries and I take them to heart because he’s seen how happy I’ve been.
We eventually find our way into a tense discussion where I have to ask him to stand down. I tell him that no amount of fitting in with my family is worth living a lie that I don’t believe, and they wouldn’t want me to do that, anyway. I tell him that I don’t believe there is one true church and that the very exclusive nature of the phrase “One True Church” has the narrow-minded sticky fingers of man, not God, all over it. I reject it. My heart tells me all churches are good that bring people closer to God. That in the scriptures it talks about the Body of Christ and that’s everyone who identifies as a Christian. We all have to work together. We need to stick together. We need to accept each other. God lives in my heart and I take Him with me no matter where I go. I fit in with God and it no longer matters if I fit in with my family or not.
Life feels so incredibly short and precious to spend any of it worrying about if I’m fitting in the right way or belonging to the right church. What spectacular wastes of time those things are and what a significant amount of energy I’ve been spending on them. I renew my commitment to God to be the best person I can be and to be His hands wherever and whenever I possibly can.
I feel a weight being lifted off my shoulders. I feel a warmth in my chest. I feel a confirmation that I’m doing what’s best for me and I’m immediately engulfed in gratitude to my God.
I start writing an email to my mom.
Buckle up. It’s a long one.
Since the day of the election, I have been looking for prominent LDS people who are speaking out against what’s happening as Trump puts highly questionable people in his cabinet and violence has erupted around the country in his name. I feel pretty alone in being an LDS member and wanting to speak out about what’s happening. And with the exception of an absolutely beautiful piece by my new friend Jennifer Borget, who is a Mormon and also a Black woman, I can only find very few talking about it.
The church put out its official statement, just like they do every election year, where they remind the members of the church that we believe in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law (AOF #12). The LDS church doesn’t pick sides. I get that, although I’m not comfortable with it in all circumstances.
I’m no John Pavlovitz, but I’ll do my best.
Not everyone has been quiet. Some Mormons, like C. Jane Kendrick, voted for Hillary for the same reasons I liked her better than Trump. Some are speaking up about what they see happening now that’s similar to other regimes that went bad quickly, like this piece by Allison Czarnecki which contains this gem, “Initially when Hitler ran for office, people laughed at him. He was totally unqualified, he was crazy, and he wasn’t even considered to be a viable contender. Sound familiar?” The similarities are something to notice. Take it from this Holocaust survivor.
As I’ve asked those around me WHY don’t we talk about what’s happening right now, the bulk of responses I’ve received from loved ones have been some variations of these: “Focus on the good because what you focus on expands, This is all part of God’s plan so have faith in Him, Article of Faith #12, It’s time to come together and pray for the best, In our church we just go do the work quietly and don’t invite contention or anger (because that invites the devil), Some Mormons feel about Hillary like you do about Trump, and WWJD.”
I don’t really buy it. I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about. I know we aren’t used to it. In theory I agree with some of those things. But in practice, do they hold up?
FOCUS ON THE GOOD BECAUSE WHAT YOU FOCUS ON EXPANDS
From an energy perspective, this is true. If you focus on bringing joy into your life, you will bring more joy in your life. This will be personal joy – for you. That’s wonderful and a natural law of the universe. If you’re a negative person that focuses on the negative aspects of life, you will start to notice more negative things and you’ll feel more negative in general. This will be a personal sadness – for you.
Is pointing out that horrible things are happening, to the tune of an astonishing 400+ *reported* hate crimes since the evening of the election done in Trump’s name, focusing on the negative? I’ve been posting and reposting things from others on my Facebook wall that no one wants to look at and I get that no one wants to look at them, but some people have no choice. How do things change if you don’t shine a light on them? If no one speaks about what’s happening to the minorities, immigrants, and people of color in our country, does that make them just disappear because we aren’t noticing them? I’ll tell you what, I haven’t been talking about them for over 20 years because I didn’t need to because I’m white and it didn’t affect me, and they haven’t gone away, so if that would have worked, maybe I’d agree with you, but the result of millions of people not talking about something has made it worse, not better. There isn’t more joy for everyone, even if there is for us personally, because we focused on our joy.
What I hear when you say this now is – I’m white and this does not affect me. If I don’t look at it, it doesn’t change anything in my life, so why would I care? I’ll focus on the stuff that is joyful because I can. This is white privilege wrapped in a Universal Truth, so it feels ok. If you are a Black person or Muslim person today, you aren’t saying this. Sure, you’re trying to find your joy. Sure, you’re trying to bring light and laughter into your homes. Sure, you’re hoping your children are having some fun and that everything isn’t pressing down on them 24/7 and trying to have the best attitude. But you don’t have the luxury to NOT LOOK. You know what’s happening politically. You know who Trump is putting in his cabinet. You have to look at who is being hurt and where and how. You must look, or you might die. You might be next.
THIS IS ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN, SO HAVE FAITH
I might have a unique perspective on this, or at least a different one than many members I know, being someone who left the LDS church for many years and then came back. Usually what this means in the church is: just accept what is happening because we don’t have all the answers and we don’t pretend to know better than God. If it’s happening, it’s because He wants it to be.
Here’s the truth – God can turn everything around to be good because He is a mighty and fearsome and awesome Being. Someone rapes me? He can turn it to good years later. You lose someone you love in a horrible death? He can turn it for good. You make mistake after mistake after mistake? He will turn it to good. There is literally nothing God can’t eventually turn to good for you.
This does not mean it is all part of His plan. That’s the “free will” part of the LDS gospel. I don’t for a second think that the guy who molested me when I was a toddler was part of God’s plan for me. I don’t think He and that dude created this little event where I would get traumatized and damaged from being sexually violated. That guy had free will and he used it to hurt me. And then, years later, God turned it for good for me. Same for every insult and injury I’ve sustained to my person and all I have accidentally and intentionally perpetrated on others in this life. That’s the beautiful part of having faith in the gift of the atonement. We make mistakes and we have a way to find Grace.
What I hear when you say this now is – Thinking about how our actions affect each other is harder than just accepting that everything is going how God planned. Having faith that God is taking care of everything means I don’t have to worry too much about what’s happening around me. If you’re an immigrant who is being spit on or roughed up or yelled at to leave, if you’re a Black person who has for YEARS been looked at as less than when they didn’t even want to be here, or if you’re any person in this country who is not white and straight who has had to endure persecution, or if you’re a person of any color that horrible things have happened to, then what you’re telling them is that these things are what God wants to have happen to them. Is that really what you want to say to them? I don’t think you do. I think you simply don’t understand what you’re saying. We’re responsible to do better as we understand better.
ARTICLE OF FAITH #12
AOF #12 states: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” As one of my brothers pointed out, this doesn’t say we’re “obeying, honoring, and sustaining” the kings, presidents, rulers, or magistrates. It says we are subject to them, the same way we are subject to the laws of the land. This one feels like an easy fix to me. You live where there is a king? He’s your king. You live where there’s a president? He’s your president.
As a church, we don’t believe in breaking the law. We believe in living by and upholding the law of the land. We uphold honesty. Somewhere there has to be a line where if the laws are unjust or oppressive or wicked we no longer uphold them. I don’t know where that line is. I imagine we’ll soon get to see it in action, though. If there is a registry for Muslims, which is a religion, and they are forced to register and face possible deportation, detainment, imprisonment, or unfair practices of being watched by police because of that religion, that seems like a pretty unfair and unjust law. You wouldn’t want your religion to be next.
Now is when we need to stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters. We need to try and make sure laws like this don’t get created. And that might mean stopping white supremacists from being placed in the White House so they can’t help create them. So when you see me posting on Facebook links showing you how awful Steve Bannon is, that’s why. That dude is a racist and is personally giddy that so many terrible things are happening in our country right now. He thinks Satan is a good role model. He likes the darkness. And he’s not the only scary person being put in White House positions.
IT’S TIME TO COME TOGETHER AND PRAY FOR THE BEST
Here’s my short answer: Let’s pray, never ceasing, and let’s back our prayers up with some good works that show where our hearts are.
DO THE WORK QUIETLY, DON’T INVITE THE DEVIL WITH CONTENTION
If your goal is to educate and have a discussion but that makes someone uncomfortable with what you said and then you get in an argument because they got defensive about what you said, did you bring the contention or did they? Who invited the devil in? When we try to work through our disagreements, does that mean we’re bringing in contention and anger?
I agree with what it says here about the difference between disagreeing and contending. Most of the time, people don’t like to hear how they need to change. There is discomfort in change and tempers flare. And some of these conversations have been going on for years because we don’t want to hurt each others feelings and risk contention, so we back on down and say, It’s ok. At least we’re good people.
This is especially true when we start to talk about race. Calling someone a racist is rarely a good beginning, middle, or ending to any discussion. We all feel like we’re good people and good people aren’t racist. I mean, we all know that, right?
If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that it’s the Good People of the world who do the most damage. This is because Good People don’t think they are hurting anyone and they don’t need to see if they are because their internal gauge is always hitting the sweet spot of God-Fearing Good Person.
This is a huge blind spot. Being a Good Person doesn’t mean very much if you hurt people on accident. You have to mean NOT to hurt them. And right now, millions of people in the USA are hurting. They’re telling us they’re hurting and scared. They tell us they don’t understand why we, mostly white people, voted Trump, who with his own mouth has proven to be a racist, misogynist, xenophobe, and sexist person, the president elect of this country that they also call home. And we did that because as Good White People, it didn’t hurt us. We had no reason to worry (unless you’re a woman, like me).
What I hear when you say this now is – Don’t make me think about this. I don’t want to feel bad. I’m a Good Person so stop bringing up anything that makes me have to reevaluate that.
SOME MORMONS FELT ABOUT HILLARY LIKE YOU DO ABOUT TRUMP
Here’s something I’ll admit – I have no idea what’s true about Clinton. The media spin machine has been on overdrive this election and I’ve heard all kinds of things that she was accused of. I’ve read explanations of Benghazi from both sides and I have no idea what’s real. It’s probably somewhere in the middle. I suspect the majority of Mormons wouldn’t vote for Clinton because she supports a woman’s right to choose and they see abortion as murder. So, if you’re a one issue voter, you’d have to vote against her. (But, do you know Trump’s true stance on abortion?)
I get that you’re not going to vote for what you consider murder of innocent babies (but you know that 9-month term abortions aren’t real, right?) but I don’t understand how when you’re so invested in the lives of fetuses, you fail to then be invested in the lives of millions of people that are walking around in our country right now, this minute, in danger. Where is your compassion for them? They were once in someone’s womb. Surely you still care about them after they are born?
At the end of the day, I’m willing to look at both Clinton and Trump against each other because I know that what I stated previously is true for so many, even if I believe in my heart it is a total false equivalency because one of them was a person qualified to run for president, who has spent her life in public service, and the other person has never held public office and has no idea how our government works.
Let’s look over the worst of what they themselves said over this election cycle:
|“I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president.” — Hillary Clinton, said during the first presidential debate.||“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you,” Trump gestured toward members of the audience at his June 16 announcement speech from Trump Tower. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Donald Trump, on Mexico, at a June 16, 2015, speech announcing his candidacy. Trump stood by his comments in the weeks that followed, asking CNN’s Don Lemon to explain to him “who is doing the raping?”|
|“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.” — Hillary Clinton, said at a fundraiser.||“He’s not a war hero,” Trump said at the Family Leadership Summit, during a discussion. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Speaking about John McCain.|
|“You may have seen I recently launched a Snapchat account. I love it. I love it,” she told an adoring crowd at Iowa’s annual Wing Ding dinner in August. “Those messages disappear all by themselves.”||“I got him to give the birth certificate,” he said about President Barack Obama, bragging about the birther movement.|
|“Many of you are well enough off that the tax cuts may have helped you. We’re saying that for America to get back on track, we’re probably going to cut that short and not give it to you. We’re going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.”||“Look at all the cameras. This is like the Academy Awards.” Trump, at an event for veterans on Jan. 28, that he staged to counter the Fox News debate, which he boycotted.|
|“There are rich people everywhere. And yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries…..They don’t invest in public schools, in public hospitals, in other kinds of development internally.”||“I alone can fix it.” Trump, in his July 21 acceptance speech at the GOP convention, on how he will reform the system.|
|“If you have guns in your home, tell your parents to keep them away from you and your friends and your little brothers and sisters.” — Hillary Clinton to middle school students.||“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” Trump, about Megyn Kelly, in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon the night after first GOP debate.|
|“Maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is … There is something he’s hiding … Who does he owe money to?” Clinton speculating on why Trump hasn’t released his tax returns.||“Such a nasty woman.” — Donald Trump, said of Clinton during the third presidential debate.|
|“We’re going to build a wall.” — Donald Trump, said numerous times throughout the election.|
|“But we have some bad hombres here and we’re going to get them out.” — Donald Trump, said during the third presidential debate.|
|“Wrong!” — Donald Trump, said multiple times during the debates.|
|“Look at that face!” Trump said, according to the report. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” He continued: “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”|
|‘I would bomb the sh– out of them’ Trump has made no effort to tone down his fiery rhetoric when it comes to fighting the Islamic State, remarking a day before deadly terrorist attacks in France just how far he would go to defeat the group. “ISIS is making a tremendous amount of money because of the oil that they took away, they have some in Syria, they have some in Iraq, I would bomb the sh– out of them,” Trump told a Fort Dodge, Iowa, rally on Nov. 12.|
|“I would just bomb those suckers, and that’s right, I’d blow up the pipes, I’d blow up the refineries, I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left.”
Trump on taxes.
|“That makes me smart,” Trump said in response to Clinton saying he might not pay federal income taxes. (Which he doesn’t.)|
And then we have what he said to Billy Bush about women. There is no interchangeability with Hillary Clinton in this. You can watch it here. You can read the transcript here. It wasn’t “locker room talk.” It was sexual assault talk and let’s not talk about it like it’s normal, unless that’s the kind of world you want to live in.
All in all, there are about 20 women accusing him of sexual assault and there are over 3,500 lawsuits and legal actions against him or involving him, because he likes to try and eviscerate whoever crosses him.
Let’s talk about their experience to be President of the USA:
No matter how you slice it, one of those people has ample experience in public service and government work and one of them has none.
Here’s what Trump has done since we elected him.
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO
Jesus said Love Everyone.
Jesus was also a protester. “Protesting is the antithesis of being apathetic, complicit, callous, and passive, and Christians should take comfort in the fact that Jesus — the son of God — was very good at it.”
I’m guessing Jesus would be listening to people so they feel heard, and in that, He’d be doing a way better job than I have been. I feel an urgency to help white people understand how their privilege affects our country and our world and I confess to not being as understanding and empathetic as I want to be.
I’m starting to understand the deep frustration people of color have at white people trying to tell them how they should be talking about things. “If you would just say it nicer.” “You’ll get more flies with honey.” “If you’d stop being so angry, I could hear you.” It is not up to the witness/listener to police the tone of the oppressed. I am not a person of color, so I truly don’t understand the depths of this, but based on the responses I’ve received about my “angry tone” on Facebook or in my posts, I’m starting to understand it. I’m hearing that you’d like someone to serve these things to you with more grace than I have, but I’m doing my best to talk about really challenging subjects. Are you listening with empathy in your heart or judgement of the delivery? Some of these things are just ugly and there’s no way to soften them up for you, but they still have to be said.
Here are some places you can learn on your own. Pick anything and read it. You can’t go wrong.
Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves
Toni Morrison – Mourning for Whiteness
Faiqa Khan – Somewhere In Between
Morgan Parker – How to Stay Sane While Black
George Takei – They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims.
Rhon Manigault-Bryant – An Open Letter to White Liberal Feminists
Sarah Kendzior – We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump
Jonathan Korman – How fascism accumulates power by testing people
Elizabeth Gilbert – I cannot throw you away
John Pavlovitz – Freeing Christians From Americhristianity
N Lamar Soutter – To My Republican Brothers and Sisters: A Thank You
Tobias Rose-Stockwell – How We Broke Democracy
Liel Leibovitz – What to Do About Trump? The Same Thing My Grandfather Did in 1930s Vienna.
John Scalzi – The Cinemax Theory of Racism
Rembert Browne – How Trump Made Hate Intersectional
Leonard Pitts Jr. – Time to take OUR country back
Courtney E. Martin – Questions I’m Asking Myself in Our New Present
Alexis Okeowo – Hate on the Rise After Trump’s Election
Robert W. Wood – Trump Gets $25 Million Tax Write-Off For Trump University Settlement
How Did Hitler Rise To Power?
Andy Borowitz – Many in Nation Tired of Explaining Things to Idiots
Patrick Thornton – I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America
Dan Evon – Make the World Great Again
Charles M. Blow – America Elects a Bigot
David E. Sanger – Harry Reid Cites Evidence of Russian Tampering in U.S. Vote, and Seeks F.B.I. Inquiry
Let me end this epistle by saying that I love my family and friends that voted for Trump or support him now and I love those that are currently asking me to stop talking about the things I’m talking about or to change the way I’m talking about it to make it nicer. I hope by sharing my experiences and thoughts I can help people understand why I’m talking and writing the way that I am. <3 _______ Sources for quotes above: 1, 2, 3, 4.
This past year or so I’ve been trying to find the gifts in whatever life hands me. When I’m stuck in traffic, maybe it’s that I got to hear something really great on NPR before I reached my destination. If I dropped and shattered a favorite heirloom glass serving bowl, maybe it’s that when I swept the floor I found the missing earring I’ve been looking for under the fridge. You get the idea. The game is thus: can I find the gift no matter how deeply it’s hidden, because I really and truly have to believe in a God that cares about me so much, He would only give me a trauma wherein a gift is hidden just for me. Otherwise, I don’t think I could do this Life.
When I meditate in the mornings, I frequently have an old trauma come forward in my consciousness. It will be something from when I was young and vulnerable. Abuse of all kinds. Situations where I’ve been holding on to guilt and shame and anger. Most of them I felt like I’d already dealt with and let go, but I stopped being surprised to see them months ago. And what I’m learning is that I can’t really fully release them until I find the gift, even if I’ve dealt with the trauma. And with some of the stuff? It’s hard. HARD. Finding a gift when someone has sexually assaulted you is a tall order, my friend. But so far, in my own experience, it can be done. It may not be fast. It is definitely not easy. And who knows, I may run into one in the future that takes the rest of my life, but it won’t stop me from trying because the pay off is worth it. And just in case it’s not clear, this gift is NOT in any way from the person who perpetrated the crime. That person did not do me any favors in harming me. No. It’s just that my God is so powerful, He can turn anything for good on my behalf.
Which brings me to this election cycle and this past few months in particular. In case you don’t know who I am, I’ll sketch it for you.
I’m the most white woman possible coming in at 100% European octane, who has been in relationships previously with women and believes in marriage equality and safe living for all, and who fell in love with a half-Mexican man. I was abused and assaulted by those I knew and some I didn’t starting before age four. I went through most of my life challenged with mental health issues like bipolar and DID [ I was a consultant for the Showtime series, United States of Tara ] and I am a passionate mental health advocate. I have physical issues like Lupus. I’m a mother to four children and have two grandchildren. I was raised in an LDS family, left the church for about twenty years, and then came back to it about two years ago. I live in California in a warm seat of liberals with a local economy that does alright and even though I was raised by an ultra-conservative father who sent me to John Birch camp one summer, I lean more left than center in most things. My husband has a full-time job with benefits which makes it possible for me to work from home on a part-time basis mentoring and doing energy work for others who have compound physical and mental challenges. I also write, shoot photos, make jewelry, paint, and do pretty much any craft that exists.
Between my husband and myself, we have a lot of family, including many minority and gay family members and friends who live all across the country. We mostly live paycheck to paycheck but have modest 401Ks. We have three month’s food storage smack dab in my bedroom requiring me to get in bed by crawling over canned goods because we live in a tiny condo and there’s no other place to put it. We will not have a gun in our home. Neither of us has a Bachelor’s degree but two of our kids do and one will soon and the other one doesn’t seem to need one because he’s already making more per year than we do by a very large margin. We don’t care about material things and are usually late adopters. The largest TV we’ve ever owned is so small you can’t read the questions on the screen when you watch The Chase.
I volunteer for my church on a weekly basis and can’t imagine my life now without it, although I’m also deeply conflicted about multiple beliefs that are held by most members. I hate crowds and having conversations that mean nothing. I’d prefer an afternoon on my couch reading, snuggled up to Joe instead of heading to a fancy party. I’ve been known to be awkward in public settings because I have a hard time regulating my language if someone says or does something that rubs up against what I consider imperative like protecting the underdog or exhibiting blatant racism, misogyny, xenophobia, or anything that implies that person thinks they are better than any other person on the planet. I’m getting better at picking it up when it’s not so blatant.
That means that this past year I’ve been repeatedly hit by Donald Trump and his words and promises. I’ve been in fear. I’ve been angry. I’ve been confused. I’ve been worried about my friends and family that aren’t white and straight. I’ve been worried about the future and what it means for someone like me with preexisting health issues and how protected I need to be walking down the street alone because my body is now not my own and is open season for leering men who want to grab me and assault me (which is how minority people have felt for, oh, ever.). And I’ve been wondering how to just forget all the things Trump said he’d do now that he’s going to be the president like so many people suggest because of course HE’S NOT REALLY GOING TO DO any of those things (but I don’t believe that) and I’ve been wondering how it’s possible to expect all the people who are now committing violence in his name to just stop because he says to, IF he says to.
These are not hypothetical worries I have. They are very real. And I’m that 100% creamy mayo white lady living in the lap of liberal territory. I can’t imagine how my Muslim immigrant friends feel or my Mexican and Black family and friends in red states feel or my LGBTQ and Latinx friends feel who married someone of the same gender or simply hope to use a bathroom in a public place without getting beaten up. And what keeps me up at night are the thoughts about how this is trickling down into our youth. The stories of what the kids are doing to the other kids at school. I mean, you remember school, right? It’s a nightmare even when you’re popular and the going is good. Imagine how those kids are feeling. (And then donate to Kelly‘s Being Black at School because they are doing the work.)
Circling back to the beginning of my post –> where is the gift? That’s what I go to sleep asking my God. Where is the gift in this? And He didn’t answer. For months I’ve been asking and frustrated and angry because it felt like He wasn’t playing by the rules.
Wait on the Lord, I’d hear. Wait.
Election night, as Joe and our son, Tony, and I watched the election results come in, it was about the time Florida kept going back and forth that I realized, I mean, it HIT me, Trump could win this. The only hope I’d had for months was that Trump was about to get his hat handed to him with a thorough trouncing and then things would go back to normal. I needed that so bad.
Normal is not coming. It’s not happening. Normal doesn’t exist anymore and I don’t think it ever did but I didn’t know that in my bubble. All my worst fears came true. Trump won and reports of violence started pouring in. It was like someone took the cap off the slow leak of terrible things that had been happening and everything burst out. Conservatives pretty much across the board had one of three things to say: 1. Stop complaining. 2. Things are not that bad. 3. Voting for Trump doesn’t make me racist. Minority liberals had one thing to say: 1. I’m terrified.
Over the past three days I’ve been in a crash course of learning what I didn’t know. Normal for me looked like living in a bubble of information that I already knew. It meant not having important conversations with the conservative members of my family to see how they felt. It meant not looking deeply into why so many people in the middle states were hurting. It meant discounting the importance of listening to my minority friends who had been worried for MONTHS that this was going to turn out bad. It meant looking at everything through a simplistic telescope. It meant being slightly smug that I was smarter or “got it” and those in the red states didn’t. It meant being able to lie to myself that I knew everything would turn out how I wanted it to. Needed it to.
And then, that is not how it went down.
Joe and I wept that night and off and on the next day and the next day and even today. We listen to someone elses story, witness their pain and grief, and feel that connection that only comes from surviving trauma. Make no mistake about it, this has been a PTSD experience for thousands. This is severe trauma that taps into survival fears. The Flight/Fight response. People are fighting for their lives.
But there’s been a gradation of grief that has begun to dissipate from time to time and every now and again something extraordinary happens. I find a gift. I realized today that I had a few I could list and as I started listing, more and more came. It was as if my God was saying, “Hey there. Here’s your gifts. You thought you would just get one or two? Sillyhead.”
That’s often how it goes. He gives me way more than I was expecting.
- I had to dig deep to find out what I believed about the world and in doing so, I know myself better.
- I have an opportunity to shore up my boundaries about what I believe is acceptable and think up strategies for what to do when I see them being crossed.
- My own capacity for being there for others has increased. I can be more present.
- I have to open my eyes to see where I failed and what my own part is in this, which creates room for me to change, grow, and improve.
- I’ve been shown where I dropped the ball in relationships, giving me a chance to reconnect and do better.
- I’ve been brought closer to members of my family who I haven’t had any serious conversations with in quite some time.
- I realize I’ve made it through terrible, horrible things in my life and no matter what happens now, I’ll find a way to be ok and I take it upon myself to help everyone I can to find that peace also.
- I reaffirmed my determination to not be a victim in my own story. No one gets to decide but me what kind of person I am or how I will respond to a situation.
- I see more ways to be emotionally useful to others.
- The training I’ve had in energy work repeatedly comes in handy in supporting others.
- Joe and I had conversations about emergency preparedness and survival that we should have had long ago.
- The potential for growth and important learning is happening right now. Like, RIGHT NOW.
- It’s ok if I don’t know how to do everything right the first time around. I can always learn if I stay open to it and don’t get defensive.
- I’m more ok with other people feeling uncomfortable while they’re learning. It’s part of the process.
- I’ve had a sneak peak into my own soul and I pretty much liked who I saw.
- To Do:
- Learn Spanish.
- Take a Self-Defense class.
- Learn how to peacefully protest.
- Learn the art of agreeing to disagree so conversations can continue.
- Choose even more deliberately where to spend my energy and which direction I want to go.
- Try to get more “in-between” moments with the kids where the real connections happen.
- Tell everyone I love them
None of these things changes the situation at large. Nothing I’ve learned makes it easier for anyone else. It only changes what’s happening inside me, but with those changes I can come from a place of peace and that might be helpful to others while they navigate this tricky and deeply upsetting terrain.
I believe real conversations are the only ones worth having, and I intend to make as many of them go as deep as I possibly can. It’s going to take a long time to release all the trauma that’s happened, not just for me but for so many this past year, especially because it’s ongoing. I have hope I can do my part now because of receiving so many gifts with which to process it all. I’ll keep waiting on the Lord, but I’m also going to do everything within my power to help those around me. It’s a sacred responsibility.
Like many people, I was raised in a religious home. And like many people, I then grew up, made choices for myself, and decided I didn’t want to be a part of that religion any longer.
This story is not unique by any means. A byproduct of growing up in a highly religious environment is that it can feel too confining as you’re growing older and testing your limits. You can’t wait to get away from it, shedding it like a too-small winter coat.
I’ve spent the last 20-ish years floating somewhere in between agnostic and Crunchy-Universal-Love-Hippie on the spirituality scale. I’ve said a lot of things about God or God(s) or No-God(s) that I don’t even know where they came from. That’s because they weren’t founded in anything but my imagination and whatever I could suss out that felt kinda ok. I was making-do.
I’ve spent the last few months evaluating and reevaluating what I think, feel and believe to be true. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time dissecting how the Mind/Body connection of health flows into this because there is a spirituality component of health. The three pillars of fantastic combined health are Energy (both physical and polarity), Nutrition, and Mind/Body Connection (including tools). Those tools include supplements, self-care, and essential oils and other ways that bring the Mind/Body connection closer. And Energy includes your connection to the Divine, whatever you deem that to be and however it’s the most healing for you.
If you’ve seen me this past year or so and thought (or said to me, as many of you have), “Man, Leah! You glow! You really look great!” then you’ve seen the change good health can bring. And like I mentioned above, having spirituality in my life and being able to feel is a big part of good health.
When we talk about reiki and energy clearings/healings and cranial sacral work, it’s really all the same thing. You’re pulling Universal Love & Light from your Source, which then flows through you to help others and yourself. Understanding this was the door that opened me back up to looking at my own spirituality.
Along this journey I’ve identified five main points of my own story that I feel might be helpful to others. These are the looming questions and long unidentified non-positive feelings I carried around with me for years, not understanding what they were or how they fit. Perhaps you’ll see yourself in some of these and be inspired to look into your own Self to see where spirituality fits in with you. Most of what I have to say is based around the LDS church because that’s what I was raised in, but I’m willing to bet that however you were raised, you might find similar things. If you’ve felt something missing, it might be your connection to the Divine.
5. I Was Hurt and Confused
Organized religions are full of people. Those people make mistakes. Many of the people in an organized church are fine people who are really trying to do their best each and every day. Others are kind of along for the ride, not coming from a place of love, perhaps not sure why they are members of a church to begin with. Maybe they attend because that’s just what they’ve been doing for a long time. Those people can do a lot of harm in their ignorance. I came into contact with many of those.
From a very young age, depending on my teachers at church, I spent a lot of time in the hall. What that really meant was I was asking too many questions or being silly and distracting my neighbors from listening to the teacher, so I was sent out of the class.
I remember on more than one occasion asking what must have been yet another question and having the teacher roll their eyes at me. But here’s the thing. I was being sincere. I really didn’t understand what they were teaching and I wanted answers. The problem being that in a class setting where you have 12 or so little wiggly kids trying to sit in their chairs through a 45 minute lesson, you really just want to get the lesson done, not keep answering the Whys.
My teachers were probably doing the best they could in the situation and I’ve come to understand that they probably didn’t know the answers to tell me, which must have made them uncomfortable. But when they brushed me off and moved on, leaving me with a gaping misunderstanding, I got bored or sad or irritated and started talking to or teasing those next to me, which ended with me out in the hallway until class ended.
I left Primary and went to Young Women’s for ages 12-17 but at that point, I’d spent so much time not getting my questions answered, I figured no one really knew or I didn’t belong there. I spent those ages really struggling to stay active in the church with weeks where my parents insisted I go and me sneaking out and walking home as soon as their backs were turned. Needless to say, church was not a spiritually uplifting or soul-filling experience for me.
I would occasionally have a good teacher and those few stick out in my mind. I didn’t ever really feel a part of the class but I could see them sincerely trying and that meant a lot.
4. I Misunderstood Gospel Principles
Piggybacking onto number 5 above, because I didn’t actually learn things at church I misunderstood a lot of basic gospel principles. This is kind of fascinating to me because you have to understand that I wasn’t only getting teachings for three hours on Sundays, I was getting taught daily at home.
My family had scripture study nightly at 5:30pm every, single, solitary day where we would read a chapter from the scriptures, memorize a monthly scripture passage, sing, and pray together. We also met on Monday night for Family Home Evening where more doctrine was discussed. Plus as a teen I met mid-week for an additional youth meeting at church.
As a family we probably read through the Book of Mormon together 8-10 times and the Bible 4-5 times during my youth. That’s a lot of scripture reading and not understanding going on. I remember spending the time while we were reading daydreaming or having conversations in my head, basically doing my time until I got to leave the room.
There were a lot of small things like why we fast or keep the sabbath day holy or why we pay tithing, but my biggest misunderstanding was the Atonement (basic definition here, and Mormon explanation).
I recall having a conversation not too many years ago with someone about how I didn’t want to be a part of why Christ suffered on the cross, if He was indeed real, so I was choosing not to participate. That statement shows just how much I didn’t understand. There is no choosing. If you believe Christ is real and that He died on the cross, it was for you.
Due to the many misunderstandings I’ve had over the years and my lack of knowledge, I made up my own version of what I thought Mormons believed. Many of these were in fact false.
To overcome this, I started inviting the missionaries over to our home. You’ve probably seen them around town where you live. (They are adorable.) I’m taking the discussions, as they’re called. Our current missionaries, Elders Felix and Jennings, are two of the most passionate young men when it comes to the gospel as I’ve ever seen. I’m talking, exuberant fist pumps in the air about teaching lesson 2, The Plan of Salvation. “This is one of my favorites!” exclaims Elder Jennings. And he means it. Every time.
It’s hard not to be enthused about something when the young men in the room are so clearly full of joy about teaching it. I’m learning a lot about how many misconceptions I’ve held onto over the years and for the first time in my life, I’m enjoying reading the scriptures.
It sometimes works out that the Elders are here for dinner. The time we had roast, mashed potatoes and sliced carrots, there were no left-overs. The time I made spaghetti squash with bolognese sauce, Elder Felix mentioned he’d never seen spaghetti sauce with kidney beans or olives in it or ever eaten what-was-the-name-of-that-squash-again. Joe and I had those leftovers the next day. Those poor guys. They have to eat whatever you put in front of them. If you want to see their eyes light up, say, “Cheesecake.” (I hope my nieces and nephews that have been out on missions have had a little cheesecake now and then.)
3. I Saw a Church Full of Hypocrites
Organized religions are full of people. Those people make mistakes. (I feel like I’ve said that somewhere before…) But in no way more than in this way was I more confused and understood less.
I looked around at the people that attended church and saw sinners. Men who drank alcohol or did drugs and then went to church and blessed and passed the sacrament. Women who talked about other women in some of the most ugly ways imaginable but then went to church and pretended they were friends. People cheating on their spouses. Liars. People who were into porn. People cheating on their tithing and taxes and making justifications for paying less. So much sin but then so much pretending to be perfect on Sunday. These were the people I was supposed to aspire to be like? These were the people I was supposed to be friends with and who were supposedly representing God’s church?
And here’s where my new understanding finally caught up to my reality. Every organized church is filled with people who are making mistakes and doing wrong. Also true is that they are trying their best, because if there is one thing I do know now, it’s that every person on the face of the planet is doing the best they can, every day of their lives. When they can do better, they do do better. (I said do do.) (Sorry.) (<--See? Repentance in action.)
And now that I understand the Atonement better, I see how it fits in with all of these sinners, of which I am one. Could there have ever been a more judgmental person than I was? Highly unlikely. Could that have been more hypocritical of me to be judging each of them and not looking at myself? Nope. (Am I done asking and answering my own questions in this annoying way? Yes.)
2. I Didn’t Feel I Fit In
So. Not fitting in is a theme of my life. Not as a child in church or with my family in general and not as an adult with people my own age. Not with my first husband. Not in elementary, middle, high school or college class settings. Not with Americans sometimes. Not even with the human race occasionally because of our brutality and chilling indifference with each other all around the world but especially in our own backyards.
Having mental and physical illnesses had a way of always keeping me separate from others, if not in reality then at least that’s how I perceived it. But beyond that, I’ve just always felt, well, different. Like I was watching life from inside my head. There was a buffer layer, like a blanket, all around me like insulation. From inside that place I watched people being happy and being sad and having lives like it was a play happening and I wasn’t really a part of it.
When considering becoming more spiritual and attending a church with real other human people, this crossed my mind. If I’m going to go to a church, whatever church I decide to go to, I’ll have to be sitting near other people for meetings and interacting with them afterwards. All that shaking hands and nodding and smiling and such. Could I do it? Could I do it and be genuine or would I be hating every second and watching the clock, waiting to leave? What if someone asks me what I do for a living? The horror.
I have tattoos. I can be a little crass and loud. My sense of humor can include body-humor (see above: do do) much to the chagrin of more refined people (like my husband). I don’t like being put on the spot, read: called on to say a prayer or read a scripture or answer a theoretical spiritual question posed by a teacher when I’m not ready for it. Don’t ask me to be smart or witty on the spot. Don’t ask me to wear a funny hat.
And what about my political views? I support gay marriage and there’s nothing you run into faster like a brick wall than churches that don’t. I also support social programs and clean, legal abortions for women. Could there even be a church out there that would accept me?
The answer is, yes. Pretty much every church I would want to attend would accept me if I’m going to church to connect to the Divine and to people who are just like me in that they are trying their best every day to be good people and do what they’re supposed to do. Getting caught up in the details of what every person who attends that church believes in can be a distraction. And part of keeping my focus on coming to understand the Divine better is not being distracted. If I believe that God knows me, loves me, wants the best for me, and has a plan for me, anything that keeps me from that plan is a distraction, including getting caught up in those details. My job is to check in with the Divine, ask what I’m supposed to be doing, and then go do that thing.
Part of looking around this life with new, spiritual eyes is trying to understand that I just don’t know everything. I’m limited by the confines of my physical-ness and my small understanding of What Is. And I’m ok with that because this life is a journey and I’m finally enjoying it.
1. I Couldn’t Feel
This is perhaps the single most damaging thing I experienced. If you can’t feel, you can’t really be in touch with the Divine. You can only get hints and shadows of what real “Feeling” feels like.
Members of the LDS church believe the Book of Mormon to be holy scripture and another testament of Jesus Christ along with the Bible. There is a promise contained in the BOM (Moroni 10:4) that if you read it and then ask of God if it’s true, God will tell you and confirm it is true and you’ll know it by the confirmation of the Holy Spirit. I tried this experiment probably four times growing up and never felt anything. I also didn’t feel anything when I was baptized at age 8, which for everyone I talked to was a very spiritual experience for them. Likewise, you are told to pray and ask when big decisions arise in your life and you’ll be told which way to turn and how to choose. But, for me? Nope. Nothing.
From a young age I surmised that one (or both) of two things must be true. 1. Everyone around me from the people in my family to everyone in the town where I grew up, nay, the entire state of Utah must be crazy or lying and/or, 2. God did exist but I was broken and/or beneath God’s notice.
Because I’d never felt any confirmation or peaceful feeling in my chest, I had no idea what they were talking about. It wasn’t until this past year that my body was in a state where I could feel anything. But when it happened, it was amazing. (I’ll share that story another time because this is already so long.)
We’re all seeking connection in our lives. We tell our stories and interact with each other moment to moment and connect. The energy we have around us and running through us is what connects us to each other. Sometimes we meet someone new and feel a strong pull, like something cosmic is happening. Sometimes we come into contact with someone and instinctively know that nope, that person is not someone we want in our circle. Becoming familiar with how your energy (and the energy of others around you) works for you or against you is important.
And beyond that, finding your connection to the Divine will be life-changing. Tap into whatever you believe in. Figure out why you believe in it separate from any old thinking patterns from your childhood or those around you. Chart a new, clean course with your Higher Power and it will bring the peace, joy, inspiration and connection you’ve been lacking.