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.

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…)

A Conversation: My Story, part 2

“Hey babe?” the husband says in an insecure tone as if he’s asking my permission to speak, unsure of how I will respond.

I look up from my phone at my husband sitting in the chair across the room.

“There’s something that has been bothering me the past couple days and I really need to talk to you about it.”

I don’t immediately grasp the level of seriousness this conversation will hold. I’m waiting for a response such as “I’m not sure about the path I want to take in my career,” or “I’m having a hard time dealing with the pressures of work.” Of course these would be serious topics, but they would not be out of the blue or life-shattering.

“What is it?” I ask, ready to console my husband and tell him everything will be okay.

“Did you know Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and some of his wives were as young as 14 years old?” he blurts out as if the words have been swelling up in the back of his throat like vomit he could no longer hold back.

I am still calm, not sure where this conversation is going yet. “No. Where did you hear that?” I ask in disbelief.

“There’s this article that popped up in my newsfeed the other day. Of course I was curious because it was about Mormons. It said some pretty crazy stuff. But the scary part is, I think a lot of it might be true.”

“Like what?” I am sitting up straight now, my mind and body on high alert. My internal defense system has been triggered.

“Well, Joseph Smith’s polygamy, for starters. And some other stuff. Like, did you know that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by looking at a stone inside a hat?”

“I thought he used the Urim and Thumim. I’ve never heard of a stone in a hat. I don’t believe that.”

“I can send you the article. But what is really bothering me is that I need to know the truth. I can’t believe I’m 33 and I’ve never heard of this stuff. I feel like I’ve been lied to my whole life. I need to do some research and get to the bottom of this.” The husband moves from the chair to the couch and holds my hands in his. “I don’t want to live a lie.”

I am now in panic mode. I wonder if he is really saying what I think he’s saying.

“What do you mean?” I ask, not sure whether I want him to answer that.

“I mean, if the church wasn’t true, would you want to know?” he asks.

My mind says yes but my gut says no. My logic wins out and I hesitantly say “yeah, I…I would want to know the truth.” The words hang in the air as my shoulders fall and my body slumps down along with the sinking feeling in my gut. A voice inside me cries “No, no! Don’t let things change.” But that voice is stifled by the curiosity and reason in me. I know I gave the right answer, even if I didn’t want to.

“Me too,” the husband whispers as he pulls me into an embrace that hides the tears streaming down his face, and mine.

********************************************************************************************

After reading this post, my husband claims that I make it seem all very abrupt, as if he went from one question about polygamy to total disbelief in no time at all.  He assures me that is not how it happened.  But this is MY story and how I saw it.  Obviously, its not the exact words we said and was written long after the actual conversation so I may have mis-represented him, but I can verify that it accurately portrays how I felt.  Maybe I can convince him to tell his side of the story at some point!

Damn You, Mitt Romney: My Story, part 1

It’s all your fault. I blame you, Mitt. I was totally innocent in all of this!  You see, Mitt just had to run for president, sparking “the Mormon moment.”  And that’s where my story begins.

At the time I was a good Mormon girl. I went to church every week, held callings, held a temple recommend, and even occasionally read my scriptures. I wasn’t a spiritual giant, but I was going through the motions with full belief in it all. No doubts. I knew the church was true.

The election of 2012 was the first time I had really decided to get politically involved–thanks to Mitt. I didn’t want to be that Mormon who unquestioningly voted for a guy just because we knew the same secret handshakes. I wanted to be sure I voted for the person that had the same political beliefs as I did. I didn’t have anything against the guy, I just wanted to be objective. See, I was just trying to be a responsible citizen here. Who could blame me?

At the time, I lived in a state where the Republican candidates campaigned heavily for the primaries. This afforded me a unique opportunity to attend quite a few rallies and town hall meetings.  I even got a picture with the man whose campaign caused my spiritual dominos to fall.

It turns out that questioning your political beliefs is a great way to practice critical thinking skills. It’s also a great way to open your mind to different perspectives. Before this I was lazy about controversial things, mostly because the Mormon church (or at the very least, Mormon culture) tells you exactly how you are supposed to believe when it comes to controversial topics. But now my brain welcomed the exercise. I enjoyed the high that came from forming my own opinions and owning them.  Even if (or possibly because) they were a little scandalous by Mormon standards!  I said I was a good Mormon girl, which is true, but I liked to think I was on the fringe.  I laugh now when I look back at the little things that I thought were so edgy…I had no clue!

At this same time, the husband and I started to talk about our hopes for our children. Our oldest daughter was only three, but her personality was really starting to show. She was so curious and creative and the thought of putting her in school to sit at a desk and be forced to conform the rest of her life made us sad so we started to research homeschooling and non-traditional schools. Another step in the direction of thinking for ourselves.  Little did I know I was caught in the perfect storm for a faith transition. All the ingredients were coming together and I was ripe for the journey that lay unseen ahead.