Monday, October 24, 2016

My Faith Journey: The Beautiful In Between - Part 2 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

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THE BEAUTIFUL IN BETWEEN

At the age of 20, I became a Mormon.

If you know much about me, you know that I'm Type-A, maybe a little bit of a perfectionist, a worrier, and a serious rule follower. I like to make lists and check off tasks; it makes me happy. That aspect of my personality allowed me to continue my headlong dive into becoming a fantastic Mormon woman. If I'm going to do something, gosh-darn-it, I'm going to do it well! So I did.

I went to three hours of church every Sunday. I went to many hours of Institute classes throughout the week. I went to firesides, learned from incredible people, made enduring friendships, read my scriptures, prayed often, took out my extra earrings, got a Patriarchal Blessing, kept quiet about my love and acceptance of LGBTQ people, didn't mention my uncertainty about certain pieces of the gospel, watched Church movies, went to the temple, fasted once each month, and attended weekly "Family Home Evening" activities. I did all the things. I became Type-A Super Mormon. I out-Mormoned my Mormon boyfriend. Finally, when he decided to serve a full-time mission for the church (to my great relief!) he also decided we should break up for real (to my horror!) and stay that way.

Yes, a little over a year after my baptism, the boy who was my impetus for joining the LDS Church was no longer MY boy. By then, the church had become MY church, so I stayed in and stayed strong. I found peace in faith. I prayed to God frequently, we became close friends, it was beautiful. I dated other Mormon boys, I did all the Mormon things, and learned as much as I could. I attended General Conference in Salt Lake City, twice. I dragged my father and aging grandpa around church historical sites in Kirtland, Ohio. I believed it, and lived it, and loved my religion.

I graduated college (I received my BS in Biological Science with honors, because YAY! Science! AND because I'm a good kid!) and moved home to live with my family while I went to school to earn a teaching credential. Attending church and institute in this town was new and different because I didn't have my support system of amazing Mormon friends or even more amazing Mormon roommates. Still, I pushed through my initial shyness and found a lovely LDS community here, made new enduring friendships, and found a new space for my faith to grow. I continued to do and believe all of the Mormon things, dated other Mormon boys, and I was happy.

Then I met a young man at church who asked me on a date and thoroughly confused me. He didn't walk the walk, talk the talk, or wear the right clothes. He was raised LDS, went to church sometimes, but wasn't fully-believing or fully-practicing. I called him The Cowboy, but he wasn't really a cowboy either. We fell in love, like young people do, and I suddenly found myself in an old situation with the roles reversed.

How could I marry this man since I was Mormon and he was not? We broke up many times and it drove me batty. (Does this all sound familiar? If not, go back an entry and read Part 1.) Then, finally, I decided if he meant so much to me, God would understand and sort everything out. So I loved this Cowboy fiercely with all of my heart, and we got engaged. I still believed in my religion and did all of the Mormon things. I went through the temple to be endowed (It's a sacred rite in the LDS church that involves wearing white clothes and making covenants.) because I wanted that for myself, whether my future husband ever wanted it for himself or not. Meanwhile, The Cowboy started to do some of the Mormon things too. I watched with curiosity and pure delight as he began participating more at church.

Two years after we officially began dating, we were married civilly, in a church building surrounded by all of our friends and family. It was fabulous! The following morning we attended church so that my brand new husband could be ordained an Elder in the Melchizedek priesthood. We were serious about our faith. We went to church every Sunday, we read scriptures together, we prayed, and we were sealed together for eternity in the Oakland Temple a few days after our first anniversary. Life was good. I was happy.

The one picture from our rainy sealing day.
I believed all of the Mormon things, and did all of the Mormon things, but those things changed after we were married. The LDS church wards I went to when I was single were congregations of young, single people. It was socially and mentally stimulating to be surrounded by peers of the same age group. The leaders that presided over us were older, married men, but they always made sure to have fun, spiritual, and exciting activities planned for us congregants. Once The Cowboy and I were married, we started attending a local family ward, designated by the area where we lived, and church was different. Gone were the fun, uplifting weekly activities. Now we were supposed to do those at home with our families. Gone were the evening Institute classes where I could learn more about the history of the church, the scriptures, and the doctrine. Now we were supposed to get all of our study done at home with our families. I'll tell you what that did for this Type-A Mormon, checklist loving girl - It put the pressure on me and my husband, and it was not pretty. To be more clear, I put the pressure on my husband, and it was not pretty.

I loved my religion. I believed in the teachings of the LDS church, and at church we are taught that our feelings reveal truth. I felt spiritually moved many times at church, in the temple, studying scriptures, and praying. Therefore, I KNEW my church was true. One teaching within the church is that we always must be growing our religious testimonies, or they will falter. It was important to me to always be learning more, reading more, praying more, studying more, and trying more in my effort to do Mormonism right, but I kept feeling like I was falling short. I kept nagging my husband to help me, lead me, inspire me, read with me. He kept feeling nagged. I found it odd that my effort to be more perfectly religious, in a church that focuses on family unity, actually drove a wedge in my marriage, but I brushed it aside and added it to my shelf.

Do you remember my shelf? It was the space in my mind where I tucked away little things about the church that didn't sit well with me. It started with a few items: The church's teachings on homosexuality, earrings, the ONE and ONLY true church, Joseph Smith's First Vision, evolution, and the literal interpretation of scripture. Married life, parenthood, and some of my experiences in my family ward caused my shelf to grow more crowded with things like Prop 8 in CA, patriarchy and sexism, the lack of opportunities for learning and growth, marital wedges about who should plan Family Home Evening, and the fact that God NEVER answered my prayers for more sleep as the mother of young children.

Still, I loved the church. I knew it was true. I loved my relationship with God and the faith I felt. I believed it and did all of the Mormon things, I just felt bland and dull. I missed the luster of my early days as a Latter-Day Saint, when learning about the church was a continuous emotional and spiritual high. I longed to bring that high back into my life, and I had a plan to do just that.

TO BE CONTINUED...


1 comment:

  1. I'm very intrigued with your faith journey and look forward to reading the next two installments! Also, great writing!

    ReplyDelete