Changing Moralities: Did I Lose My Morals When I Lost My Religion?

I’ve been wrestling with my conscience lately and I’ve decided its time to hash out my feelings and thoughts in writing.  Throughout this whole journey of losing my faith and coming to terms with life outside of Mormonism writing has been my therapy.  For me, putting my thoughts on paper gives them credence.  It helps me solidify my views and helps me gain confidence that my opinions are valid.  So today I am tackling the extremely controversial topic of abortion.  

I think it is important to start with the disclaimer that I am not 100% set in my opinions on this topic, or really any topic for that matter.  One benefit of leaving religion is that you learn to be more open to being wrong.  I have not researched abortion at all so I’m going from my gut feelings right now.  There may be arguments that could still change my mind either way.

While I was a believing Mormon, and blindly agreed with any church teaching, I had no moral dilemmas when it came to the topic of abortion.  I was okay with it in cases of incest or rape or when the mother’s life was in danger, but otherwise I was completely against it.  When someone would argue that a woman should have the right to choose because it is her body I just fell back to the usual excuse of “unless she was raped, she should have made her choice before she had sex.”  I still agree with this partially.  I do believe that if you are not prepared to be responsible about sex, you shouldn’t be having it.  (But my opinion on the matter is not stopping anyone from having irresponsible sex…)  If you are irresponsible about sex, are you really going to be responsible about raising a child?  But the more I’ve thought about the whole abortion issue, the more I’ve realized that abortion is not all about irresponsibility like I had previously assumed.  In my mind, the only people having abortions were young, unwed, sexually promiscuous women.  And maybe that is the majority.  But its not the whole story.

I probably wouldn’t have given the issue too much more thought except that I just recently had my third child.  Having a third child was a big decision for me and my husband.  The hardest decision we had with our first two was when we wanted to have them.  We already knew we wanted at least 2 kids.  When the decision became not when to have another kid, but if we should have another kid, the narrative changed.  And when we no longer believed God wanted us to have lots of kids or that any pregnancy that might have happened was part of the divine plan for our family, the narrative drastically changed.

No more belief that there are spirits waiting to come to our family.  No more eternal family dynasties to be built.  No more prescribed stance on issues to keep me from thinking for myself.

So my husband and I finally decided that another child was something we actually did both want.  We were slightly hesitant, because as anyone with at least one child can relate to, we were still struggling to keep up with the kids we already had.

My first two pregnancies were fairly easy, but this last pregnancy was definitely the hardest. By the end of it, I undeniably appreciated the argument that a woman should have a choice about what she wants to put her body through more than I had before.  You see, even an “easy” pregnancy is not easy.  The physical and mental things a woman’s body goes through during and after pregnancy are not pleasant.  So when someone argues that a woman with an unwanted pregnancy should “just” carry the child and give it up for adoption, here’s what they should keep in mind: morning sickness (from nausea to vomiting to food aversions to smell aversions, etc), headaches, heartburn, sore back, sore feet, sore breasts, sore everything, exhaustion, constipation, gas and bloating, swelling everywhere, feet growing out of your shoes, acne, gagging when you brush your teeth or wear a shirt whose collar even brushes against your throat—these are totally normal and MILD side effects of pregnancy.  Then comes the labor and delivery.  I’m sure most people are familiar with the horror stories here, so I won’t go into the details.  But don’t forget the after-birth issues like post partum depression, breast engorgement and mastitis, bleeding for weeks and even months after delivery, stiches, hair loss, uncontrollable emotional outbursts, stretch marks, weight problems, more acne, more constipation, sore vagina and butt, etc.  9+ months is a long time to be miserable.  (I know it is not miserable for all women.  I know a few crazy ladies who say they love being pregnant.  But from my experience, that is the exception, not the rule!)

I knowingly chose to put myself through these things.  I knew it would be a huge sacrifice and I knew it would be worth it for my family.  But a woman who is not prepared to make this huge sacrifice should not be vilified.  It is not selfish or vain to say “no, I don’t want to have to go through that.”  I think women who do put their children up for adoption are true heroes.  But that doesn’t mean that the women who choose a different route are weaker or less brave or don’t care about others.  Having a say in what happens to you and your body is something that should be respected.  You should have a choice.

Next comes the argument of when does life begin.  As a Mormon, that was easy.  I believed in the pre-existence.  I believed that all people lived as spirits before being born into this world to receive a body.  There was no question in my mind that abortion meant you were killing a child.  A child that was meant to be a part of your life.  Without belief in the pre-existence, I don’t know when I think life begins.  From my experiences bearing children, here is how I personally see it. I didn’t feel anything for at least the first 5 weeks of pregnancy.  There could have been a baby growing or there could have been nothing.  I was not emotionally attached to anything more than the idea of a child.  Once I did feel something, it was not a child I felt.  It was nausea and headaches.  By this point, I had gone to the OB and had seen the initial ultrasound that yes, there was actually “something” growing inside me.  But with the first two kids, all I saw was a speck.  With my last child however, I had my first ultrasound at 11 weeks.  I was very surprised to see that the thing growing inside me actually looked like a baby already.  I never felt any of my children move until about 20 weeks.  So for me personally, I guess I feel like “life” started somewhere around 10 weeks.  But I had planned for and wanted these children, so I can’t say if I would feel differently if my pregnancies were not conceived under the same hopeful circumstances.

Then came the OB appointments were we needed to decide which tests we wanted to have done that could show certain genetic conditions.  I decided I didn’t want to know.  I really respect my husband supporting my decision on this.  I never really opened the topic up to much discussion, because honestly, I didn’t want to have to think about it or deal with the hard questions at the time.  In hindsight, I hate to think of the pain and internal struggle that less-than-ideal test results would have caused.  I have had the experience of knowing and loving children with severe disabilities.  But even in my ultra religious days I struggled with the idea that God would purposefully allow people to be born this way.  I’ve seen some of the struggles that their parents face and I can’t even imagine how hard that life would be.  Right now, as I am writing this, I feel extremely guilty.  I don’t want to even write the words.  But here goes.  If I had known I was carrying a child with a severe genetic disorder or birth defects, I would have very seriously considered terminating the pregnancy. (Please don’t hate me!)

The last experience that really caused me to question my stance on abortion is the experience that I am living right now.  Having three children has been a really hard change for me.  The thought of accidentally getting pregnant right now scares me to death.  Yes, we use birth control.  But the thought that we could be the .001% is enough to make me panicky.  So while I’m waking up at all hours of the night to feed my precious sweet baby who I love dearly, I’m wrestling with my opinions about abortion.  While I’m screaming at the other two children who I have loved and adored everyday of their lives to please, for the love of God, just do one thing I’ve asked them to do, I’m struggling with my morality.  While I’m listening to another mother say how she can’t imagine life without her new baby and I feel guilty because I can imagine my life with just 2 kids, I’m troubled about what my principles should be.  Raising children is hard.  More specifically, being a mother is hard.  Being the primary care giver for little humans who suck the energy out of you in direct correlation to the amount of joy they bring to your life is hard.  It is a lifetime commitment.  Every day.  You don’t get a day off.  Ever.  Even if you are not physically with your children, you worry about them, wonder about them, think about them, love them.  This is no small thing.  You should be able to choose this.

I guess the conclusion I’ve come to, for now, as I’ve guilted myself back and forth over my beliefs on abortion is this:

Politically, I am pro-choice.  Personally, I am conflicted.

When I came to the realization that I no longer believe in a higher power who is concerned with my moral choices, I was adamant that I would not be what my Mormon friends and family expect me to be: a person who wanted to “sin” and has left all morals behind.  I now consciously try to be a better person than I was before.  But I also try to think more critically and examine different points of view than I would have considered before.  My religious friends would probably read this and think I’ve lost my morals and turned into a baby-killing, ethically-delinquent sinner.  That is not me.  It has taken personal courage to allow myself this internal debate and I hope that can be respected.

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.

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.

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…)

Why Am I So Sad?

I’ve been an atheist for about 2.5 years now and I’ve gone to church through it all. I’ve been weaning myself away very slowly. I was thrilled when our third child was born a few months ago and I didn’t even have to try to come up with any excuses for not going to church for about 6 weeks straight! There are 2 major reasons I still go to church.

The first major reason is family. My in-laws are in our ward. We only very recently told them that we have issues with the Mormon church (although they noticed the lack of garments a long time ago and expected this all along). My family has their suspicions about us, but no one has had the guts to ask (or maybe the lack of guts is on me…). We don’t live near any of my family members, so going to church for their sakes is harder to articulate and I won’t take the time to try to hash that one out on this post.

The second major reason is my calling. I’ve been the Relief Society activities leader for a couple years now and I generally like my calling. But since we plan monthly activities, we usually have a planning meeting once a month during church. So once a month, I’m expected to be there. I don’t like to let people down. I’m a Mormon, the kind of person that if I commit to help out, you can count on me to do my part. So I go to the meetings.

A few weeks ago we had one such meeting. My husband was working so he couldn’t be there, and to be honest, I needed the 2 hour primary babysitting break from my older 2 kids. The husband has been working a lot of weekends lately and with the new baby, I’ll take any break I can get. Even if it means my kids get a little indoctrination in the process.

Well, after this particular week I don’t think even the 2 hours of free babysitting is worth it. Here’s how my Sunday went.

Sacrament meeting consisted of me holding the baby in the hall the whole time while the 2 older kids sat with grandma. Not terrible, but the whole time I was thinking about how I could have been at home letting the baby play/swing/nap NOT in my arms.

So then the Sunday School hour rolls around and we have a very quick meeting about our upcoming activity, a meeting which definitely could have occurred through email. The baby is getting pretty squirmy by now so afterwards I sneak off to the nursing room to feed the baby and rock in the big chairs and read Mormon Stories Facebook group posts. There’s no way I’m going to Sunday School.

When Relief Society starts I find a seat and get a lot of comments about how big the baby is getting (we’ve only taken her to church 3 times in her life so they haven’t seen her much) and the lesson starts and I zone out. The lesson is on the sacrament. Sacrament doesn’t mean much to me as an atheist so I am bored.

Finally the 3 hours is over (why do I put myself through this!?!?) and I go to pick up my primary kids. As we are walking to the car I ask them what they talked about in class. My son said they learned about the word of wisdom and the teacher told them that coffee is bad for you and then he asked why Daddy drinks it. My response was “Why do you eat donuts?” (Later I told him that coffee is not bad for you unless you drink a whole ton of it and that his teacher was wrong…let the deprogramming begin). My daughter tells me that they also talked about the word of wisdom and she ate 5 packs of fruit snacks and a bunch of pretzels in class because those are healthy snacks. I don’t think I can take them back to primary ever again…

That was my breaking point.   So fast forward a few weeks to now and I haven’t been back to church. I know we’ll go back at least a few more times for various reasons, but I’m hoping we’re done with primary. I want to be done with it all. But that thought makes me sad. I want to ask to be released from my calling, but I feel like if I am, I won’t have any excuses left to see my church friends. I don’t live in Utah where all my neighbors go to church with me. The family in the ward that lives closest to us is still a 10 minute drive away. I’m not particularly close with anyone in the ward, but I still consider them my friends. And I will miss them.

It was hard to skip church on Mother’s day.  I knew the kids wanted to sing on the stage but the husband was working once again and I just didn’t have it in me to get 3 kids up and ready for church on my own so we could drive 25 minutes to sit through an little over an hour of boring sacrament meeting just so they could sing. And then drive the 25 minutes back home because I wasn’t about to stay for the whole thing. So I stayed home and felt sad. Sad that the church isn’t what I want it to be. Friendly, open, accepting, uplifting, inspiring (I used to think church was all of these things).  Instead I find it boring, superficial, judgey, annoying, and dishonest.  If we took away all the doctrine and just taught each other how to be good people instead of how to be good Mormons, I would be happy. But that will never happen in my lifetime and so I mourn the loss of my spiritual home. Sometimes atheism is so freeing and awesome, and sometimes it just sucks.