Growing up, I had the quintessential Mormon childhood. I saw my two older sisters rebel in their own ways. I watched my parents struggle with both of them, and never wanted to disappoint them in the same way. At a very young age I dedicated myself to living The Gospel to the fullest and making my parents proud. The truth claims of The LDS Church were my reality. In my mind, there was no way it wasn’t true. In fact, my go to phrase for uplifting my friends and peers was “something this good couldn’t be a lie.” My parents often told me (on multiple occasions) my sisters were just like Lamen and Lemuel, and that I was the Nephi of our family. It was my duty to set an example, and be courageous and valiant while holding fast to the iron rod. I took that to an extreme level. I recall a time when I was around the age of 13 or 14 when my siblings were watching a rated R movie in the family room outside my bedroom. I was worried it would “leak” under the door crack and get into my bedroom. I “took courage” and went and stood in front of the TV and read scriptures to them. The yelled at me calling me “the church police” and threw pillows at me until I would move. I went in my room and cried because of how disobedient they were being, and wrote in my journal about how much it broke my heart that they wouldn’t be in the Celestial Kingdom with the rest of our family.
Throughout my teenage years, I was someone who was excited to be a Mormon. I loved the church. I loved the relationships I had in my ward. All of my best friends were “wardies.” I loved the Seminary program. I was on Seminary Council and couldn’t get enough. I would sit with different Seminary instructors and talk for hours about doctrine and fill my spiritual well. At times during those years, I saw different adults that I deeply admired leave the church. It was devastating and I couldn’t wrap my mind around how that could happen. It would leave me confused and depressed. How could the “Mighty” fall? I would receive answers like “faith has a short shelf life” and “your testimony is an escalator – always moving in one direction, so decide which direction that shall be.” After high school, I went on to be an Oakcrest counselor. It was one of the best summers of my life and a dream come true. I had dreamed of that calling since I attended as a Beehive. I felt like it was part of my patriarchal blessing being realized. Sharing the Gospel felt like such a blessing and a joy. Seeing these girls’ lives change was incredible.
The summer of Oakcrest, 2009, I began to work on my mission papers. If teaching and sharing the Gospel was this great for a summer, imagine how great it could be out in the world and for 18 months! Right before submitting my papers, I was strongly discouraged to do so, by my missionary-boyfriend’s mother. “You need to be here for him when he gets home.” “You guys need to just go straight to the temple and get married when he’s back.” So I discarded my application and carried on.
After Oakcrest, some devastating things happened in my relationship with my missionary-boyfriend. It evoked so much hurt and I became very angry. I was angry with God. I followed His plan. I did everything right. This wasn’t supposed to happen. How could He let it? Why was He letting these things happen to me if He really loved me? Was I not His daughter with divine nature? That anger drove me into a rebellion. “If being good didn’t matter to God, then why bother? I will be ‘bad’ instead.” That exhausting lifestyle only lasted about 3 months, and in my heart I still believed the church was true, and I knew I would come back. The guilt for my “sins” was unbearable. It did a number on my mental health. It took me to an all-time low. I was told, “This is what happens when the Spirit leaves you. Wickedness can never be happiness. The bigger the sins=the bigger the depression.” My depression was blamed on my choices to break the commandments of God. If only I had not sinned, I would not be experiencing such sorrow. I was mad at God and didn’t have a healthy way of coping with what that relationship had done to me.
I started meeting with my bishop to make right with God and the church, and get clean. My living arrangements were confusing at this time. I began this process with the ward I belonged to in downtown Salt Lake. Then I moved to Orem, but would spend half the time at my parents’ house in West Jordan, and would attend their home ward. I met with 3 different bishops at this time of repentance. I began to have some red flags raised when the things I was being told were all so wildly different. I had a liberal bishop in Salt Lake, the bishop of a student ward in Orem, and a very old school Bishop in the home ward. One told me that the sins I committed weren’t that bad, and just gave me a verbal warning that I should not do it again. One told me the sins were very serious and that I should not take the sacrament for a month, as a slap on the wrist, but that because of my age and circumstance it easy to understand why I did what I did. The other was more serious and said full repentance would take a year. I’ve always been taught that the repentance process relied solely on the Spirit letting the bishop know what was right for the individual. Since he had stewardship over me, he was entitled to personal revelation for my salvation. How was it that 3 different approaches were right for me? This was my first experience with “Local Leader Roulette.” However, I continued along my path of repentance. Since my records were officially moved to the home ward, it was the long and painful “year” approach I would have to follow.
Shortly after meeting with my bishop I met my husband, a returned missionary ready to get married in the temple. He was understanding of my situation. We didn’t do things the expected way. When he learned about my current situation, it made staying ‘clean’ quite difficult, since he knew I already had that year-long repentance path ahead of me. We were honest about not keeping the law of chastity, and thus were punished with a civil marriage. It was very disappointing to his family. We didn’t have a lot of support from them. My parents were very loving and understanding, although I did feel a tremendous amount of guilt for not getting married in the temple. Neither of my sisters got married in the temple (although both got sealed down the road, however both are remarried and no longer members of the church). I felt like I was their last hope of having at least one of their children married in the temple. After getting engaged, the first question ALWAYS asked was “So what temple are you getting married in?” I felt so much pain, guilt, and shame every time I had to explain we weren’t getting married in the temple. Our wedding wasn’t the Mormon dream, we followed the church handbook to a tee, as instructed. We got married in the Relief Society room at my parents’ ward house. No wedding procession or march (that’s not allowed according to the church handbook of instruction). It was very much like any other church meeting. It started with an opening prayer. We were sitting down, in the rows of cushioned chairs, listening to the Bishop give an uplifting spiritual message. Stood up, said our Earthly vows, kissed, sat back down and had a closing prayer. It wasn’t the romantic or celebratory day I dreamed of. It was disappointing. It was embarrassing. It was not what I wanted. I wanted to get married in an orchard. Surrounded by nature and beauty, in the fresh air. There was so much pressure to do things “the right way.” It snowed anyway, so everyone told me, “see, aren’t you glad you weren’t in an orchard?!” No. I really wasn’t.
Four months later, I went through the temple for the first time. I didn’t have the ‘shock factor’ that I feel so many other people have their first time through the temple. I just felt compelled to really try my hardest to learn and understand it all. So much of it didn’t make sense to me. I loved sitting in the celestial room. The air felt clear there. I hated the rest of it though. I always felt so much anxiety. I have a bad short term memory. I couldn’t remember all the words and tokens. I would need so much help getting the words in the right order. I would be so stressed out. I would put so much effort into trying to memorize it so I could do it right, without help. I couldn’t really think about anything else, other than trying to memorize it. I was disappointed. I thought going through the temple would be what finally got me back to the level of spirituality I once felt.
We struggled going to church. I never felt like I fit into the church as an adult. I couldn’t understand what it was so easy as a teenager, and such a struggle as an adult. I didn’t want it to be a struggle. I wanted it to be as natural as it was when I was a gung-ho youth. It was hard for us to be an active-in-the-church newlywed couple. “What Temple did you guys get married in?” came up a lot. It always made me feel sad and 2nd rate. I struggled fitting into the Church for the first time in my life. It felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough. It felt like there were things I needed to change. It felt like I still wasn’t “fully repentant” of my previous sins. But I tried. I tried so hard. Why was I falling short?
We were sealed in the temple upon our year anniversary. Our family and best friends were all there. I was so grateful to finally have hit that check box item. I finally had my temple marriage. (But not really. It wasn’t a temple wedding. It was a temple sealing. And it would always be remembered by everyone that we didn’t get it right the first time.) I finally had the approval of my in-laws, sort of. We were finally recognized as being FULLY back into the fold, sort of. We were finally the same as everyone else who got married in the temple, sort of. But not really.
I kept struggling. I didn’t love the culture of the Church. I kept trying to remind myself that “The Church is perfect, the members aren’t.” But it was hard. We went through periods of inactivity. I would feel so guilty. I still believed the Church was true. I wanted so badly to get back to the level I was at in high school. Why wasn’t it happening? That question would trigger guilt and shame and feelings of inadequacies. Constantly falling short.
Questions started arising. The first was one of the bigger problems people struggle with. Polygamy. Unanswered questions. “Why did we have to do it?” “Why did it stop?” “Why is there no information about it?” “How were no records kept?” “Why don’t we talk about it?” “Why is it never portrayed in any of the Church movies about Joseph Smith?” “Why do people say it doesn’t matter now; it’s in the past.” I would have conversations with my husband which would always end with, “We don’t know why God does what He does, but that’s why we have faith. We will have the answers someday, and these things will all be worked out.” It was good enough at the time. But not really.
When I was pregnant in the summer of 2013, I was on bedrest. I sincerely love documentaries. One day I was watching a documentary on the Freemasons. I was shocked and incredibly uncomfortable when I saw that some of their symbols were the same as the markings on the garments, and represented the same thing. I remembered hearing that Joseph Smith was a freemason. Again, I took my concerns to my husband (as I had been instructed to do in the temple). He gave me the apologetic answer that it was part of the great apostasy, and that the masons had bits of truth, but that Joseph Smith restored the FULL truth. However, this answer didn’t sit well with me. We didn’t talk more about it, but I also couldn’t let that sick feeling go. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t a good enough answer.
I remember one of the times when we were having a discussion about my faith crisis saying, “I know exactly where I can go look to find information about these things. But I also know that as I soon as I do, it will be game over.” I knew that if I looked more into these issues, my testimony would completely burn out. It was on its way out, but I wasn’t ready for that to happen yet. Too scary. I kept pushing through.
I became more and more uncomfortable in the church. I would cringe at the words being said over the pulpit. I could never make it through the whole 3 hour block. Every Sunday would be an anxiety attack. I knew I didn’t believe the church was true anymore, but I also had not researched the history fully. I would learn bits and pieces here and there. I would learn more and more from the church’s own essays. Then one day, I had enough. I fell down the rabbit hole. I couldn’t stop researching. I was heartbroken at the facts and truth of the church’s history. Polyandry. Seer stones. Different First Vision accounts. Book of Mormon anarchisms. Book of Mormon plagiarism. Native American/Israelite DNA testing. The Book of Abraham. Kinderhook plates. Joseph Smith’s overall character and the events surrounding his death. And so much more. I felt betrayed and lied to. Why was I taught things in such a manipulated and sanitized way? Why was I lied to? If the church were true, why were there so many lies? Obviously stated, lies do not equal truth. I felt my whole identity slipping away.
I was so private with my feelings. One day my husband asked me “so where are you standing with the church these days?” He knew I struggled. He knew I didn’t love going to church on Sundays. He didn’t know that I was completely out, mentally. I kept saying, “We don’t need to talk about this now.” or, “You don’t want to know.” He did want to know though. It was a hard conversation to have. I told him, “I can no longer believe the church is true. I do not believe Joseph Smith was ever a prophet. I would like to believe the beautiful doctrine like eternal families is real, but if Joseph Smith wasn’t a real prophet, unfortunately none of it is true.” I asked him to please just read the CES letter. I said, “Please just read it. If you still have a testimony at the end, I’ll never bother you about the church again.” He was really concerned about me prefacing it like that. But I assured him, “If the church is really as true as you believe it is, you have nothing to be afraid of. It will still be true when you are done reading it.” He read it. He went into it with the mind-set of defending the church. He gave many apologetic statements while reading it, all in support of the church. However, it planted seeds and raised many questions for him. He began doing his own research. It was a springboard.
I began meeting with our bishop. We were meeting every other week to discuss my doctrinal issues. He never could answer any of my questions. He had opinions. But those opinions were different than opinions I heard from the mouths of apostles and other unofficial Mormon apologetics. All of the opinions were always different. Speculation, really. My meetings with the bishop ended up with me being called to a disciplinary council. It originated around a personal experience, but mostly dealt with the attempt of restoring my testimony and rebuilding my faith. I had openly admitted and discussed my opinion that the church was no longer true. I had shared it with my husband, therefore making me an apostate according to the church handbook of instruction. Formal probation. The repentance prescription was long. “Go to the temple grounds twice a month. Attend sacrament meeting EVERY week for a year (even on vacation) and don’t take the sacrament. Keep a daily journal. Write every day 1 blessing/miracle from the Lord that you witnessed that day. Meet with the bishop twice a month. Pay a full tithing. Keep Word of Wisdom. Meet with visiting teachers once a month.” I couldn’t commit to that. I was told in that council by the bishop, “By doing these things, you will be worthy of feeling Heavenly Father’s love again.” I told the bishop, “I don’t believe in a God whose love is conditional.” I checked out. At this point, I knew I was never going to be back.
We silently took this journey together. Never sharing it with any of our friends or family. It was lonely. It felt like a lie, not being able to be ourselves. Always making up excuses for why we weren’t at church. I couldn’t take it. I wanted to be authentic. I wanted to be honest about who I was. I was scared. Scared of rejection. Scared of disappointing my family. Scared of losing business. Scared of losing credibility. Scared of losing friends. Scared of being judged. Scared of being gossiped about. Scared of hurting the people I love. Scared the neighborhood kids would exclude my kids. Scared of the unknown.
Completely unplanned, I told my mom one day at lunch. I just blurted it out. It was a relief. She wasn’t upset- to my face. She was nothing but loving. A few weeks later, my husband was cornered by his brother about being reactivated so we could attend his temple wedding. He lives in our ward and is aware that we aren’t sitting in pews most Sundays. (Having young children is a great excuse for that.) My husband wasn’t ready to talk about it with his family, but the time had come. It was ugly on all fronts. No love. Just anger. The dust settled, and now they don’t bring it up. However, there’s a definite air of disapproval and tension when we are around.
Official resignation letters were submitted. There were nasty and damaging experiences that happened with fellow ward members. As I have slowly come out, friendships have been dissolved. Relationships damaged. Clients lost. Still not everyone knows. The general social media public does not know. Having the “conversation” over and over is exhausting and anxiety inducing. It is often easier to isolate myself instead of facing the honest truth and being open about who I am now. That’s the short term answer. I know that it’s not a sustainable way to live a happy life. I believe whole-heartedly that it will get better with time, and once we are fully on the other side we will be truly free of the guilt, shame, and fear placed so heavily on us by this culture we have belonged to our entire lives. I believe that this transition will force me to discover who I really am, and that I can grow into something beautiful and whole. I believe that this is the refiner’s fire (and no, the refiner is not god or trials that he gives us on purpose to grow). The refiner’s fire is life’s experiences, and as a result I am learning real empathy and compassion. I feel a true sense of humanity. I am learning to be compassionate and loving to all people, not just an elect few. I am learning to shed the skin of elitism; something I was so proud to feel for so much of my life (and something I am completely embarrassed by now). I am learning to truly listen to and be in-tune with my moral compass, not someone else’s. I am learning to be proud of who I am, and not guilty for the ‘natural man’ that lives within me. I am learning that you can be a good person without being attached to god. I am learning that I don’t have to force a square peg into a round hole. It’s okay to be a square peg. I’m learning to transition away from doing works for an unknown future, but instead I am focusing on making the best of the here and now and being present. I have learned that I value truth more than loyalty to tradition.
This has been the scariest thing I have ever gone through, and perhaps one of the most painful experiences of my life. However, the future has never looked brighter because it belongs to me now.