You and Me

I am gone.

I am you, or at least I was.

You are new.

I am the one people remember.

You are the one they meet.

I am the one old friends understand.

You confuse them.

They miss me.

You do not.

I embarrass you sometimes.

You scare me sometimes.

We are different.

Yet somehow, we are still the same.

I am lost.

But you know where to find me.

Remember me.

But be you.

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Truth

Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Ever since I was a young child I was taught to dedicate my life to the cause of truth. Truth would bring me happiness, freedom, and peace. It was not until my early thirties when I started to question the truths I had been taught my whole life that I realized the world is full of gray areas, not just the black and white I was taught as a child. This realization led me to search out truth with more fervor than ever before. Slowly, the fervor melted away into acceptance that I would not be able to find the truth I longed for, ready-made and waiting for me. I would have to create it myself.

I grew up in an extremely devout and conservative Mormon family. Heavenly Father was the source of all truth and we could learn this truth from the Book of Mormon and the prophets. Priesthood authority came straight from God and could be trusted to solve any troubles that came into my life according to Heavenly Father’s will. There was no need for me to question any of the truths taught in church or in our home. I trusted my parents and church leaders completely. Their authority in my life combined with my positive emotions and experiences associated with church were all the convincing I needed of the truthfulness of their teachings.

“True to the faith that our parents have cherished,

True to the truth for which martyrs have perished,

To God’s command,

Soul, heart, and hand,

Faithful and true we will ever stand.”

 I was born in the early 1980’s. My elementary school days were spent learning how to use the card catalog at the library. The ultimate source of academic truth was the set of World Book Encyclopedias. If you could not find the information you were searching for in one of the books in your local library, your textbooks, or the encyclopedia, you changed your research topic. For a young school kid, there was nowhere else to turn for information. Growing up, my family owned our own set of encyclopedias. They were prominently displayed on our entertainment center, a decorative collection, status symbol, and invaluable homework aid. On the shelf next to them sat our church books. All the information we could ever need was all neatly displayed in the heart of our home.

“Choose the right! Let no spirit of digression

Overcome you in the evil hour.

There’s the right and the wrong to ev’ry question;

Be safe thru inspiration’s pow’r.”

 My generation experienced the shift into the Information Age in a significant way. As technology evolved, so did our ways of finding information, and searching out truth. By my middle school years, the gold foil embellished encyclopedia set on our entertainment center had become outdated and purely decorative. We were originally taught to trust authority, mostly because we had no other options. But as more and more information became readily available to us, we were encouraged to question our sources and think more critically about the information we found.

I remember these latter lessons coming from two main sources; my high school and college writing classes and my church classes. The academic lessons cautioned against using information that was unverifiable and encouraged us to research the reliability of our sources while the religion classes warned against any religious information that did not come from the church’s official website or publishing company and outright taught us to never even consider any other sources as truthful.

“Yes, say, what is truth? ‘Tis the brightest prize

To which mortals or Gods can aspire.

Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,

Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies:

‘Tis an aim for the noblest desire.”

As a faithful Mormon, coming across any Internet article on Mormonism caught my attention. Curiosity to see what my Mormon and non-Mormon friends might be reading about my religion, I was eager and excited to read them. That is, until I came across an article that contradicted many of the things I had been taught my whole life. At first, I turned to my religious teachings that warned me that these sources were not to be trusted. But the contradictions were so troubling that I returned to my academic teachings which encouraged further research to confirm my faith. Instead of the confirmation that the claims of this particular article were false, I found multiple sources that confirmed these troubling accusations. My life was thrown into total confusion. For the first time in 30 years I questioned the truths that had been deeply ingrained in me since my earliest memories. It was terrifying.

“Where can I turn for peace?

Where is my solace

When other sources cease to make me whole?

When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,

I draw myself apart,

Searching my soul?”

This experience led me to deeply ponder the question of whether or not there is a source of universal truth—a source that could always be trusted. My first instincts were to turn to religion and God as this source of truth, as I had been taught my whole life. The problem with this perspective was that amid all the troubling accusations I had come across against my religion, I could no longer feel the emotional connection with the God I was taught to know. My trust in religious authority had been betrayed and not even God could help me reconcile this betrayal. With my faith on shaky ground, I could no longer justify my previously held convictions of truth.

“The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true,

And tells me it is true.”

If personal religious convictions are evidence of truth, then who am I to say that my religious convictions were more true than those of someone of another faith? How could I know that my religious convictions were truth when extremist Muslims have been willing to give their lives in suicide missions for the cause of their own truth?

“Let us all press on in the work of the Lord,

That when life is o’er we may gain a reward;

In the fight for right let us wield a sword,

The mighty sword of truth.”

A Pentecostal experience of someone of a Christian faith may lead them to believe that they know God’s will just as strongly as the Muslim. A Christian and a Muslim’s beliefs about the will of God are completely conflicting in many cases but each strongly believe based on their own spiritual convictions that they know the truth. The contradictory nature of religious truth claims seemed to negate them all as reliable sources of truth.

“Thus on to eternal perfection

The honest and faithful will go,

While they who reject this glad message

Shall never such happiness know.”

Since religious authority and convictions could not be my source of universal truth, I turned to science and evidence to lead me to truth. However, scientific findings are constantly evolving as new discoveries, tests, experiments and studies are being conducted. Science has proven itself wrong uncountable times throughout the history of the world. This can make many people wary of scientific evidence and words like “truth,” “causation,” and “proof” are used extremely cautiously in this field. While my trust in scientific evidence has always been strong, I have found that in today’s age of information, even experts with the most respected credentials publish opposing scientific findings, and these opposing viewpoints are easy to find. It can be extremely time consuming to try to find the truth about such things as global warming, childhood vaccinations, or the efficacy of fad diets or pharmaceuticals, particularly if you have not been previously trained in these fields of study. Knowing which side of the argument is more trustworthy can be very difficult to decipher, especially if you start your research with preconceived views about the topic. Our tendency to follow our own confirmation biases can often diminish the reliability of our findings, making universal truth an unstable element of invention.

Without religious authority or scientific authority as reliable sources of truth, I turned to faith. My ideas on faith have evolved throughout my truth-seeking process. I refer to a secular view of faith here. I have come to see faith as the act of moving forward in life with confidence that comes from any source that resonates with your life. It is being willing to experiment and try something differently. It is to be actively progressive in your own life, seeking out your own truths based on the things that you value. Faith is choosing to listen to and trust yourself and those who make the most sense to you when you come across authoritative contradictions. It is living life the best way that you know how, even when these inconsistencies in truth confront you.

“Do what is right; let the consequence follow.

Battle for freedom in spirit and might;

And with stout hearts look ye forth till tomorrow.”

After much consideration, I came to the conclusion that there is no reliable source for universal truth, and therefore, no use for universal truth. If we choose to seek truth in our lives we have to be willing to make our own personal truths and recognize that others are entitled to make their own truths as well. What we hold true may not fit the paradigm of another’s truths and we need the humility to not put ourselves above others. Personal truth is the only truth that I believe will bring happiness, freedom and peace.

A Confession

Don’t get too excited pervs of the post Mormon internet out there, this confession will not be like that time the 16-year-old me told my 40-something-year-old bishop about how I let my boyfriend touch my boobs…again. I’m keeping that story in my back pocket for a juicier post.

Here’s my confession for today: I really like being a Mormon housewife. And I’m pretty damn good at it too.

When I stumbled upon Mormon feminism, I loved it. But I kinda felt like a fraud at first. You see, I am a stay-at-home mom of 3 kids (and I’m even homeschooling them just for extra supermom points). I love to cook. I enjoy sewing and crafting and watching HGTV until my eyes go numb from staring at the screen. I love hosting playdates with cute little themed snacks and crafts and I have planned (and am currently planning) kids birthday parties that rival the best pinterest party pins you’ve ever seen. I’m THAT Mormon woman. (Except that I wear a little less makeup and definitely do not have the trendily coiffed hair or perfectly jamberried nails so commonly seen in the Morridor. Oh, and I’m an atheist…) Anyway, I still love the ideas and opinions of the Mormon feminists, so I wore pants to church one day. I was a little nervous at first, but didn’t think too much of it. My TBM in-laws who are in our ward were probably mortified, but I did get a few comments from a couple girlfriends who told me I looked hot and applauded my progressiveness. However, while the one pair of pants I own that are nice enough for church do make my butt look super hot, I find that I genuinely prefer to wear a dress or skirt to church. I like to dress up and look girly. I’m striking out quickly as a feminist here. Luckily, I realized that I don’t need to feel embarrassed by my mad domestic skills to fit in with the feminists, but rather I should embrace what makes me who I am, and what makes me happy.

So here’s to the new feminism—being proud of who you are, even if it is the typical Mormon housewife, aka the arch-nemesis of the feminists.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bake some cookies.

Tears, Tears, and More Tears: My Story, part 3

Somehow, I was able to sleep that night after the infamous conversation, but the fear returned the next day when I was left alone with my thoughts and reflections of the previous night. It is in this moment that I recognized my spouse’s frustration with the organization that I held so dear. I thought of my marriage and wondered if it could survive that one simple question. My marriage that I thought was so strong, that I prided myself on and even imagined caused envy among my friends; where was it headed? I collapsed to the ground in tears. So this is what betrayal feels like. Would my husband betray me and our children out of the eternal family we promised each other? Would he choose an easier lifestyle over eternity with me? Tears turned to uncontrollable sobs. I gasped for breath. My chest tightened. My throat closed off and I wondered if this is what a panic attack was. My fears completely took over and I could no longer think clearly. The only thing I could think was what if, what if, what if…

After about 15 minutes of uncontrollable aching, I dragged myself up off the floor, knowing that I had things that needed to be done. I blew my nose, wiped away at the tears that were still silently streaming down my face and finally caught my breath. I told myself that I was overreacting and slowly I was able to calm my runaway thoughts. I got dressed for the day, feeling slightly guilty for judging my husband unfairly and letting my fears blind me against the wonderful person I share my life with. I resolved to listen to and trust my husband before jumping to anymore conclusions.

My day went by in a blur with errands to run, children to take care of, and chores to do. I wondered how everything could just go on as usual when everything in my heart and mind was so confused. Finally a free moment opened up in the afternoon and I jumped at the chance to find answers. I got on the computer and immediately searched lds.org for information about Joseph Smith and polygamy. The day before was the first time I had ever heard that he had any other wives besides Emma. My search brought up nothing and I didn’t know what to do. (This was before the church published the polygamy gospel topics essays.)  I was sure that if I googled the topic I would only find anti-Mormon sources and I didn’t know what to trust. I decided to search for primary source material only and make my own conclusions. I quickly found that there are primary sources that confirm Joseph’s polygamy, but things were still vague and could be interpreted in different ways. The confusion only deepened and the frustration of not knowing the truth brought me to tears again. I faintly wondered how I still had tears left to cry.

By the time my husband got home I was emotionally drained. He had been researching as well and we compared notes. He was more adventurous in the websites he was willing to read than I was, so he had more information to share. None of it was promising. He told me about 14 year old wives and women who were already married to other men. I was reaching for explanations and hoping that he was wrong. I found it hard to trust his judgment, even though he’s never given me reason to question his analyses. He usually won’t even buy a simple product without first extensively researching it. But maybe his mind was clouded by anger. He was definitely angry, no matter how hard he tried to hide it. He wasn’t himself.

That night before bed we decided to start reading the Doctrine and Covenants together. We pulled up the church institute manuals and read those as we went so we could get the “real” facts. Together we prayed and asked God to help us understand, to find the truth, and to know what was true and what was not. We asked him to strengthen our testimonies and help us work together to find the answers. We read together and waited for a feeling, any feeling. I got nothing and felt guilty, as if just by entertaining the idea that the church hadn’t been completely truthful I had cut myself off from the spirit. Each night we prayed together, read together, studied together and felt nothing but more uneasiness and frustration. I didn’t understand why the search, ponder, and pray formula was not working for us. Fast Sundays took on stronger meaning as I begged for answers, understanding and comfort, and fasted more fervently than ever before. Every time I tried to research further, beyond church authorized sources, I ended up in tears. My whole world was crumbling and I was desperately trying to hold the pieces together.

My husband remembered that he has a relative who dabbled in church apologetics. I’d never heard the term, but it intrigued and excited me. Maybe this is where I would find the answers I had been looking for! I vaguely remembered the FARMS building at BYU. I used to walk past it on the way to campus each morning. I figured that if they were associated with BYU then they had to be trustworthy. Finally, a source of information that I felt was safe. I immediately immersed myself in the website, looking for information on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. I quickly found many articles on the topic an devoured them. However, they were not as satisfying as I had hoped. They confirmed many of the most troubling things I had heard and this frightened me. Some of the apologist arguments made sense to me, but some seemed to be a far stretch. I now had confirmation that the church has been dishonest about this part of its history. Maybe not outright dishonesty, but definitely “lies of omission,” a term I’ve heard many times in church lessons throughout my life. To make things even worse, I found other articles on the apologist website about things like multiple versions of the first vision, anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, translation problems with the Book of Abraham, inconsistencies in the restoration of the priesthood, and many other troubling topics that I had never heard about before. I was torn—intrigued, confused, angry, sad, excited, curious, and distraught all at the same time.

Then my husband started working the night shift and I found myself with even more time alone with my thoughts. My thirst for truth was unquenchable. I scoured the internet for any information on Mormon history I could find until 2 or 3 in the morning, night after night. Reading new things I never knew about the church before was exciting and exhilarating. Church history had always been boring to me in the past and I realized that is because I was never taught the real history. I found the real history fascinating. Which also made me feel guilty because the real history is not faith promoting. When I finally pulled myself from the computer and collapsed into bed, I’d cry and cry. I’d let out all the ugly emotions that were pent up inside me while I laid there in my bed alone.

I went to church, unusually prepared for the lessons, and looked at everyone and wondered if they knew what I knew. I listened to the lessons more closely than before and I noticed inconsistencies. It irritated me. Part of me wanted to stand up and blurt out the things I had learned, to tell everyone so I wouldn’t have to be alone in my confusion and frustration. So I could feel like maybe someone else out there might understand what my husband and I were going through. But I knew that they would not believe me. I didn’t believe it at first either. I thought my husband had been influenced by Satan’s powers when he first came to me. If I thought that about the person I know and love most in this world, what would these mere acquaintances think of me? I couldn’t tell anyone. I didn’t think anyone would understand.

I wondered if I was a bad person. It didn’t make sense though because I had never prayed more, fasted more fervently, studied more intently and read my scriptures and lessons more carefully than I had been these past few months. I kept all the commandments, yet I still couldn’t get the one answer I had been searching for, begging for. Is the church true? I prayed and God was silent. My studies left me in shock. The thought of losing my eternal family still sent me into panicky sobs. But there was no warm feeling. No burning of my bosom. No still small voice. No peace.

The only comfort I found was in talking to my husband. He was the only one who knew my deep, dark secret. He was the only one who understood. He was feeling it all too, right along side me. We spent hours and hours in deep conversation. I never realized the lines of communication in my marriage had been so closed until we started to share your deepest fears and hopes. Faith and religion were the gateways that opened communication to all other aspects of our marriage and life. We learned how to really talk to and listen to each other and now everything was easier to discuss. We grew closer than we ever imagined. We learned things about each other that we hadn’t known in our previous ten years of marriage. The marriage that I was so worried about that morning a few months ago had become stronger than ever.

One day my husband sent me a link to a Mormon Stories youtube video he had come across entitled “Why Mormons Question.” I watched the video and once again, my conflicting emotions get the best of me. I finally realized that we were not alone in our questions. I was no longer alone. I was not crazy. There were many other people going through some of the exact same experiences I was facing. There were people out there who understood my pain. They were real people and their intentions were genuine, just like mine. I finally felt the weight of guilt drop from my shoulders. Again, I found myself sitting on the kitchen floor sobbing. Sobs of relief. Sobs of sadness. Sobs of joy. Sobs of pain. Sobs of frustration. Sobs of anger. Sobs of loss. The weight of my questions and doubts was the heaviest trauma I had experienced in my whole life and this video had finally given me confirmation that it was not my fault.

Through the video I learned about podcasts and communities of people on the internet who discuss the issues and experiences that had been tormenting me for the past few months. I listened to podcasts every moment I got and was fascinated by the history and personal stories I heard. Some podcasts made me angry, some gave me hope, some were reassuring and others were offensive. I devoured them all, hearing as may perspectives as I could.

I was now focused on a new goal—to find out the truth for myself. This had been my goal all along, but I really decided to focus on myself. I was extremely worried that my husband’s conclusions would influence my own so I spent enormous amounts of energy digging into my own soul. I formed my own opinions and studied the resources that spoke to my heart. I continued to pray, yearning for God to just give me the answers so I could feel sure again. I was determined to make up my own mind so that no one could accuse me of just going along with my husband and so no one could accuse him of leading me astray. But there had been no divine support since that fateful night and that fateful question; “If the church were not true, would you want to know?”

One night as I was praying I finally got the courage to ask the question I had known for a while that I should be asking. Maybe I was not getting answers because maybe no one was there. The mere thought that God could have been in my imagination this whole time opened the flood gates in my eyes and the tears that I had become so accustomed to these past few months were again streaming down my face. But I needed answers so I asked. “Please God, if you are real, let me know. I need to know if you are there. If there has ever been a time in my entire life that I need to feel your presence, it is now.” Then I waited, still on my knees by the side of my bed. I waited and waited. I asked again. I waited some more. The tears of sadness were uncontrollable. I was begging now. One simple question. No answer. Suddenly my concerns and questions about Mormonism seemed naive in comparison.

A few weeks after this, I found this song on my pandora station, and I’ve never felt a deeper connection with a song in all my life.  Needless to say, there were more tears, lots more. (And maybe even a few more tears as I listened to the song now, a couple years later, while writing this post…)