Trek: One of the Worst Experiences of My Life

In honor of Pioneer Day, I thought I would post about that lovely experience that so many youth in the church are forced to endure every summer. So let me take you back to the deep south, circa 1996-ish.

I was a pretty good little Mormon girl in my YW days. But I didn’t always love the activities. So when I heard about Trek, I was not thrilled. I realize now, after hearing stories of other Treks, we had it pretty easy in comparison. Our stake only did a 1 day trek and we did not have to dress in costumes. But we did have a dress code, as is usual with church functions and we did it smack in the middle of summer, to coincide with Pioneer Day. For those of you who have never experienced summer in the south, the word “hot” does not quite describe it accurately. 95 degree weather with 100% humidity is not just “hot.” You know that burning burst of steam that comes out of the oven when you’re baking something and accidentally get your face too close to the opening? That’s what its like every time you open your front door here in the summer. Then once you step out into that oven, imagine walking around in that heat with a blanket draped over your head so your hot breath is trapped against your face. That’s what the humidity feels like.

The heat was my first reason for not wanting to go. The dress code was my second reason. But my parents were adamant that I participate so I grouchily showed up at the butt crack of dawn to carpool out to the middle of nowhere so I could walk around all day and have a magical spiritual experience and gain a deeper respect for my ancestors. The dress code was long pants and shirts with sleeves. The only long pants I owned as a teenager were jeans. I’m pretty sure those were the only stylishly acceptable long pants to wear back in the mid 90’s, or at least I thought so because that is all I had. So I showed up in my wide-leg jeans, a t-shirt and my trusty Jansport backpack with all the gear I needed for the day.

So we started walking. We walked and walked and walked, just like the song says, pushing our handcarts as we went. Porta potties were set up along the way and I quickly realized that they were not set up close enough. I happened to be on my period that day and being a newly menstruating girl who knew nothing about my own body, I hadn’t quite mastered the use of tampons yet, so I got to make the trek while wearing a maxi pad that needed frequent changing. Not something a teenage girl ever wants to have to deal with, but especially not while walking for miles and miles in blistering heat with porta potties as the only restrooms in sight. So as I walked I realized that I was starting to leak. I know all my female readers feel my pain and embarrassment here. I cleaned up the best I could in the first port potty we come across and my mood soured even more.

We took a break for lunch and then got back to the walking just in time for a summer rain shower downpour to drench us all. At first we were all excited for the momentary feeling of refreshment. Then we realized that we had to continue to walk in the rain. So I was hot, sweaty, bloody, and now drenched as well. Have you ever tried walking for an extended period of time in wet jeans? I don’t recommend it because after about an hour I was hot, sweaty, bloody, drenched and now chaffing horribly. The rest of the whole experience is a blur but I vaguely remember that they had a dance at the end of the day. I can’t remember if the leaders just gave up and called it off or if I just refused to participate because I don’t think there was any way I would have let anyone of the opposite sex come remotely close to touching me after that day from hell.

So that was Trek.  No magical spiritual experience. No respect or reverence for my ancestors. Just anger, exhaustion, humiliation and a vow to never participate in any such ridiculousness ever again.

To Tell or Not to Tell: Coming Out as a Nonbeliever to My Mom

About a month or so ago, my husband posted a link to my blog on reddit and I went from zero page views to hundreds of page views within a few hours. It was really exciting and intimidating all at the same time and somehow the adrenaline of that moment gave me the last push I needed to finally call my extremely devout Mormon Mom and tell her my story (well, not my whole story.  I’m not that brave/crazy!).

Over the past 3 years I played this conversation out in my head hundreds of times. I’ve written letters that never got sent, I’ve agonized over what to say, and anytime I saw “Mom” come up on my caller id my heart would start racing because what if this would be the time she would finally ask. I live a few hours from my parents and we only see each other a few times a year, but I knew she had noticed my lack of garments (even though I’ve been very careful about not being obvious about it) or at least suspected something was up. The anxiety I was loading on myself over this inevitable conversation was getting to be too much.

I am a list maker. If I know something needs to get done, I make a list and I have a very hard time having things on my list that are not crossed off. That’s how I get things done. Telling my mom about my nonbelief had been on my imaginary to do list for far too long, and for me, I felt like I needed to cross that off my list in order to move on with my life in a more healthy, less anxiety-filled way.

So I paced around the house with my phone in hand rehearsing phrases like “I just want you to know that this was not a decision I came to lightly”, and “I have never prayed and fasted more sincerely than I did after I came across these difficult things”, and anything else I could think of that would help her understand that I’m not just lazy. I kept rehearsing and pacing, stalling more and more as I psyched myself up to actually make the call. Finally I just closed my eyes and pushed call.

Unfortunately, the conversation went just as I expected it would. I said what I wanted to say, but I didn’t feel like she really heard me. She went on and on about how she had to study and pray a lot to get a testimony of Joseph Smith as if I hadn’t just told her that I did the same thing just with different results. She pulled the “I can’t help but feel like a failure” card and “this is so hard for me because I believe in eternity” and “are you still keeping the standards?” (btw, what does that even mean/matter as long as I’m still a good person…which I had to explain to her that I still am…). I told her I would answer any questions that she had, but I also would understand if she would rather not talk about it. I wish she didn’t actually take me up on the questions thing. When my mom asked me if I still believe in Heavenly Father and my real answer is “no” but I knew that would break her heart I ended up saying  “I don’t know, but I’m okay with not knowing.”  After lots of tears (mostly on her part) and mutual assurances that we still love each other (this should be a red flag about your religion if these assurances as necessary…), the call ended amicably with an unspoken deal to agree to disagree and pretend like nothing had changed–we don’t like to draw attention to anything awkward or unpleasant in my family.

Even though I had expected these responses all along and had braced myself for them, when I hung up the phone I was so angry with my mom. I was physically sick to my stomach and I definitely didn’t feel that weight lifted off my shoulders like I was hoping to feel. Isn’t everyone on the ex Mormon internet always so relieved to be open about finally being able to “live an authentic life”? The only relief I got was that I could finally cross this off of my to do list, but mostly, I just felt sick.

It’s a strange feeling to be so angry with someone and know you shouldn’t be. I was in her shoes once. I believed it all at one point. I can’t blame her for her reaction. In her mind, she no longer has the perfect family that she used to have, that she worked so hard for. She has done everything she was supposed to do. She dragged us all the church every week. We rarely missed FHE, family scripture study, or family prayers. She did it all by the book and I am the first one of her children to stop believing. But my lack of belief has no validity in her world. She cannot understand it. Its not her fault that she has been indoctrinated and programmed her whole life to feel this way. So why am I digging up all of these resentful and angry feelings towards her when I know its not her fault?

I don’t know if I’m glad I came out and told her the truth or not. Part of me wishes I had just left it unsaid and let her think what she wanted. Then I wouldn’t have to feel this anger towards her and then the guilt for being angry at her. But I’m also the kind of person that still cares what other people think of me, and I felt like I needed to let her know it wasn’t just me being lured away by an easier lifestyle. There was nothing easy about losing my belief in Mormonism and I want her to know that. I can’t take it back now, so I just have to hope that she heard me even a little bit and be thankful it wasn’t worse. It definitely could have been.

Jane of the Nobility: An Allegorical Fairytale of Leaving My Religion

Once upon a time there was a young girl named Jane. Jane was the daughter of a very wealthy nobleman. She lived with her family in a great estate on a beautiful hillside in the country. Many other noble families lived on the hillside as well and Jane grew up surrounded by the wealthiest and most elite group of citizens in all the land. She was raised with the expectation that she would be presented at the king’s court when the time came. From birth she was taught the rules and the proper behavior of a royal. She was given daily tasks, exercises, and lessons to prepare herself for life at court. Jane was being groomed to become a queen. When she was a girl of just eight years old, she was betrothed to a prince.

Below the hillside where she lived there was a village where the commoners lived. Jane had been warned of the dangers of the village since she was a small girl. She had been taught about the great sorcerer who lived in the village. He was a wicked sorcerer and controlled the people of the village with his dark magic. He would put the people under his magic spells and turn them to beasts. The nobles knew the secrets to blocking the sorcerer’s magic. They washed themselves in magic potions made from lily petals, juniper berries and grasses every morning. They lived by strict diets to keep their bodies pure and strong. And most importantly, whenever they went into the village, they would wear special covers over their heads that would shield them from seeing or hearing anything wicked. This way they were sure to be protected from the sorcerer’s power.

As a young girl, Jane was rarely allowed to go into the village. Although she had never seen them herself, she had been taught that the villagers were too lazy to try to protect themselves against the sorcerer and therefore had allowed themselves to gradually turn to beasts. She heard stories of people who had the faces of animals but the bodies of humans and just looking at them could cause you to start growing beastly features yourself. She was told that they despised the nobles and because of their jealousy they would find ways to trick the wealthy people into taking off their covers. So when they needed to venture into the village, the nobles took great precautions. Finding her way through the village without sight or sound was awkward, but she learned to keep close to her known routes and rely on the experience of her mother, father, and other noble adults who had grown more accustomed to navigating the village without sight.

By the time she was grown, Jane was allowed to go to the village on her own, but she was still extremely cautious. Jane was still preparing herself to be ready to marry the prince. She led a very regimented life full of lessons, practice, study and meditation. Everything in her life was in order for her to join the royal family. She just had to wait for the day when her marriage would come. She didn’t know when the marriage would take place, but she had been assured it would be soon.

One day Jane was sent to the village to buy food for her family. As usual, she covered her face before she left the hillside and carefully followed the known route to the market. She collected the food and paid the villager who sold her the items, the transaction taking place without words. She carefully felt each piece of food to be assured of its quality and then turned back towards the hillside to head home. As she turned around, she bumped into another person, tripped and fell to the ground. Her head cover fell off her face and she could see her food spilled in the dirt. As she hurried to pick up the produce off the ground she saw 2 other people kneeling in the dirt beside her. At first she worried that they were trying to steal her food, but quickly realized they were helping her collect it and returning it to her basket. She could not stop her curiosity and took a quick glance at their faces, bracing herself to see the hideous beast faces she had always heard stories of. To her surprise, she saw no beasts, but friendly faces, smiling and apologizing for the accident.  She thanked the villagers and took one last quick peek around the village before putting her cover back on her head and continuing her walk back to her home.

For the entire walk home she could not get the image of the kind faces of the villagers out of her mind. She wondered how her experience could be true when she had known about the dangers of the village and evil spells cast on the people who lived there. She lingered on the pathway up the hillside, trying to understand what she had seen and heard before returning to the house. She was sure that no one in her family would believe her story if she told them, and she was embarrassed that she had been so clumsy to let her head cover fall off. She decided that she couldn’t tell anyone what had happened, not yet at least.

When she got to the house she quickly put the food away and avoided anyone who might be around. She was scared that they would ask her what had taken her so long and she knew she would have to lie, something that she knew was an evil act. She could feel their eyes on her as she tried to look calm while walking back to her bedroom. But once the door closed to her room, panic set in. She ran to her mirror to check for signs that she was under the sorcerer’s spell. Everything seemed normal. She saw no signs that she was becoming a beast. Just to be sure, she grabbed her magic potions and washed her body many times. She pulled out her books and began pouring over them, trying to find out more about the sorcerer and his powers, about the villagers, and the beasts they had become. All day she stayed locked in her room, reading, washing, and pondering, but the more she studied, the more confused she got. She realized that the only way to know the truth, was to go back to the village and take another look.

The next day she went back into the village. She wore her head cover, but this time she cut a small slit near each eye, just enough to let in the smallest bit of light and give her a tiny window to the outside world. As she entered the village she pretended to walk blindly, but found this hard to do when she could in fact see a bit of what was around her. She searched the faces of the villagers for any resemblance of the beasts she had expected to see, but she saw none. She saw people going about their day, shopping in the market, washing clothes in the stream, children running and playing. Nothing was as she had expected based on what she had been taught to believe. Feeling more confused than ever and more guilty than ever, she decided to return to the safety of her home. The confusion and guilt she felt upon arriving home was again too much for her to hide so she locked herself in her room once more and spent the rest of the day washing, studying and meditating. Trying to make sense of what she had seen and wash away any traces of it at the same time.

She struggled between her desire to go back to the village and see more and her fear of turning to a beast. Her curiosity got the best of her and each day she would find excuses to go to the village and each day she would see more and more of the world that had been invisible to her for so long. She eventually stopped covering her ears and she could hear the sounds of laughter, singing, talking and arguing. She found her way down new streets. She started to learn that indeed, there were parts of the village that were dangerous, where she saw people acting cruel and vicious. She was surprised at how close some of these parts of town were to the paths she had stuck to her whole life and wondered at how she could feel comfortable walking those same paths now knowing their true danger.

The more she visited the village, the less trust she had in the things she had been taught about it her whole life. She knew the village was not full of evil beasts and began to resent the people who had always taught her otherwise. She began to grow weary of waiting for her marriage to the prince. She had been waiting for and preparing for this event her whole life and she started to doubt weather or not her betrothal was real. She tried to send messages to the royal family to get any news she could about the upcoming marriage, but her messages went unanswered. She wondered if they somehow knew her secrets and were avoiding her on purpose.

It was a warm summer day, about a year after her accident in the village that opened her eyes. Jane was again wandering through the village trying to learn for herself what was good and what was evil when she saw a small pathway into the forest that she had longed to go down many times before. It was on this day that she decided to venture down this new path.   Once she was well enough into the forest that the village was out of sight she removed her head cover. It was a feeling of freedom she had never felt before. Even though she was always uncovered at home, this was the first time she had ever fully removed the cover from her head outside of the safety of the hillside. She immediately realized the weight that the cover had been exerting on her and she naturally jumped to her feet and began to dance around. She danced and danced and laughed and sang, no longer worried about the sorcerer and his powers.

As she was dancing she didn’t even notice the young woman watching her from the edge of the forest. Jane finally ended her song and dropped down onto the warm ground to catch her breath. She was startled to hear the woman come up behind her and she was immediately afraid. But the woman was kind and friendly and after the initial fear faded, Jane asked the woman to join her. They talked and laughed as if they had been long time friends. Jane was curious to know all about the woman and her life in the village and the woman in turn was curious and about Jane’s life on the hillside. After hours of talking Jane knew she was expected to be at home and walked with the woman out of the forest, carrying her head covering, but not worrying to put it back on even when they reached the village. The new friends said their goodbyes and Jane walked through the village with her eyes and ears wide open for the first time in her life. She smiled and waved to the villagers as she passed them and was happy to be among them.

As she was walking home she saw a couple of the nobles walking home from the market, covered as usual. Jane quickly hid in an alley-way until they had passed, worried that they had seen her uncovered. She quickly realized that they could not have seen her, being covered as they were. She felt relief and sadness both that her secret was still safe, but also that her friends could not see the truth of what the village really was.

At home she was still trying to get word from the royal family about the marriage, but each day she was more and more convinced that even if the marriage were to happen, it was not what she really wanted. Jane loved her time in the village and the freedom she felt while she was there. She had a true friend in the village who opened her eyes to even more than she could see herself. She knew her future husband, the prince would never marry her if he knew what she had done. To break the engagement would be devastating to her family and their place in the social structure of the nobility. She would be shunned and possibly cast out from her home if she did not do continue her daily preparation for the marriage that she was not even sure would ever come. Jane was torn between two worlds, with a secret that was becoming too heavy to bear.

She could no longer pretend to believe in the sorcerer’s magic as she had been taught. She felt let down by all the deceptions she had been led to believe and sad for all the beauty she had unknowingly shielded herself from all these years. She still loved her family and friends on the hillside, but pretending had become too exhausting. After a few years of living in limbo, Jane finally decided to move out of the estate on the hillside and into the village. She found that the preparation to become royal had taught her many useful skills that were needed in the village and she found work right away. She made new friends, but still longed to be with her family.

One day as she was shopping in the market she saw her parents shopping for food. Jane called out to her mother and father and waved her arms. But they could not see or hear her. They would not see her smile or hear her story. They assumed she and anyone else in the village had become beasts, but their protective covers isolated them from the truth. Jane considered running up to them and pulling their covers off, forcing them to see her as she was, not as a beast, but as a happy woman. She knew this would be offensive to her parents though so she waited day after day for anyone from her family to come looking for her, to lift their covers and see her for themselves. Every now and then she would see a familiar face from the hillside, uncovered as she was and felt an instant connection to them. But her family was always covered, day after day. So she continued to wait and to this day she is still waiting.

The 3-Letter 4-Letter Word

Shy.  The label I have had since my earliest memories. It was an apology for my socially unacceptable behavior. You know, when as a small child I was sent into a new situation with people I didn’t know or feel comfortable with and was expected to exhibit social skills beyond my developmental capabilities?

“Sorry, she’s just a little bit shy.”

The condescending nature of the word was apparent to me then and has haunted me ever since. I knew it was not a quality I should be proud of. I have carried that label with me my whole life. I tried to fight it. I tried to pretend. But there was no escaping it, I was shy. Painfully shy.

But did it need to be so painful?

As I have grown older my shyness has not left me. I have learned to hide it better, fake it better, control it better, accept it better. But now, I am learning to love it better.

Maybe I could have embraced my personality better at a younger age had I been labeled thoughtful instead of shy. Unpretentious instead of insecure. Practical instead of nervous. Discerning instead of scared.

I am who I am. My ideas, my opinions, my contributions, and my experiences are worthy. My voice is worth listening to. My friendship is worth sharing. I am learning to love myself.