It’s been forever since I’ve written. Just so much going on. We’re in the middle of preparing our house for sale. After years of back and forth, Frank and I are going to bite the bullet and buy my/our dream house — Richmond American’s Seth model over in Crystal Valley (for those of you who live in Castle Rock)…it’s a lot of work to prep for sale — even with all the work we’ve done throughout the years…we’re not going for perfection, but there are things we really did need to do. We’re making progress, it’s just a lot slower than you think it will be…isn’t that always the case?
Still working towards WL surgery. May 17th is my final class, the “BINDER” class — I was given a huge binder of information when I first met with Dr. Long. Now I will actually go to a class on what is contained in the binder. After that, we can submit my case to insurance for final approval and hopefully a surgery date. I’m thinking now more like mid-June. Mostly because we have so much left to do on the house…
I’ve had some pretty amazing things occurring on the spiritual front lately as well. Most of which has brought me great peace. Those of you close to me know I’ve been on a serious faith journey the last three or so years. Even those closest to me haven’t known that for the entire three years — but that’s how long it’s been going on. I left the LDS church give or take two years ago after 20 years of membership. There were a lot of reasons I made the decision, some harder to articulate than others. But suffice to say, the common question I get is: Were you offended by someone? Nope — I don’t get easily offended. No one’s actions had anything to do with why I started this journey. But I will tell you — having a “faith crisis” and going through all the stages from beginning questions to reaching the point of peace is a lot like a death, or a divorce…most people, me included, go through all the stages of grief en route to figuring things out.
In the beginning I think I was feeling overwhelmed and less than perfect and that felt like I was a little less than worthy of God’s approval because I wasn’t measuring up. All I ever wanted was to be close to God. To know His plans for me. What I was feeling three years ago was the polar opposite of that. So, I took a break from “church” — I stepped away from my calling(s) — visiting teaching, my formal calling, attending extra activities. I was struggling. I mean really struggling. I took a break from going to Sunday meetings. But I didn’t take a step back from praying and reading my scriptures. I probably spent more time on my knees during this period then ever before.
Taking a break was a double-edged sword really. I felt less “stress”, but felt like I was failing. Like I wasn’t holding up my end of the “relationship”. During my years with the church I had picked up the lesson, “…if we endure to the end we will receive blessings beyond our comprehension.” My endurance was running short.
During the time in prayer I kept coming back to the same thing. I needed to spend some serious time in the bible going back to basics. And by basics, I mean the basics of my childhood. Regain some of my childhood, and child-like, faith. I was in search of simplicity. The pure love of God. I kept coming back to the same call. I needed a fresh bible. One that I hadn’t marked in so I could gain a fresh perspective. So, I found a Christian bookstore and went on in. Low and behold I was super overwhelmed. I had no idea that there were so many versions of the bible. I wanted something that spoke plainly. I had spent the last 20 years in the KJV, and though I had gotten really good at reading through the poetry of old world English, I was seeking a simplified version. The lady at the store directed me to the NIV version. Simple, straight forward, perfect. I took home my new purchase and then let it sit for two weeks untouched. I felt guilty having bought it. I had a beautiful set of scriptures already. Worn and loved with years of my notes and impressions inside. I had come to believe the version I had was the “most correctly translated version” which I then began to substitute as the “truest” version. Why would I want to study something “less than?” In the end, the answer to my prayers never changed. This is where I needed to start, guilt aside.
So I did. I started rising early in the morning and reading a little each day. And as I did that, peace came over me. I mean real, stillness in the night, kind of peace. In this beautiful book I found what I think I was missing all along. The story of Grace. Through the stories and parables I found such unwavering love. For His people, for their situations, for me. Christ wasn’t sitting with the perfect. He wasn’t condemning those that were coming up short. He was sharing meals with them, He was using them as examples of kindness and sacrifice and faith. And He was pleased with them. He was nailed to a cross and He spent His time begging for Grace on behalf of those who hung Him there. Grace with no “rules”, no expectations. Faith in Him. Faith in God. In those quiet moments I came to understand His love for me in a way I don’t think I ever had. I was worthy, just because I existed and He loved me. Not because of anything I did or did not do. Not because I was enduring anything. Just because I was. And in those moments, I found my savior. I came to feel and understand in a real way what it meant to know Him, to believe in Him, to take on His name. In those precious moments, I came to understand what it was to be born again and to be born in Him.
But now I had, in some ways, a bigger quandary. I no longer felt in line with many of the principles taught in the LDS religion. They no longer fit for me. And I thought I was in crisis before! I knew where I was headed without having it all written out before me. I was leaving the church.
The one consistent thing about me is that I am not an idle person. I do not stumble upon truth and then hang out. I have always been an active seeker of things and when called to do things, I have a pattern, a history, of moving through, not around challenges. This time there was just a lot more at stake. Frank had followed me into the church. And that was a long journey for him. Our kids had been raised in the church, though both had come to their own conclusion that this was not the path for them. Jake had long moved away from the church, and Kenzie, though still close to her belief in God, did not agree with the tenants of the religion. But at the same time, it’s all they had ever known. And my friendships. So many intertwined with our membership. It’s how we made our first friends when moving to Castle Rock so many years ago. We were literally one of the oldest families in the Castle Rock ward. My best friend and I shared our beliefs as a common foundation. How did I not throw the baby out with the bath water? So, here’s where the mourning period ensued. Literally.
When you make a major decision. When you are making a radical change in life, I have come to intimately understand that there is a mourning period. The same as you experience when dealing with the death of someone close to you. Things are not the same as they were yesterday when that person was there in your life, today has brought a new reality. There’s anger, denial, bargaining, sadness, and finally, acceptance. And everyone of those stages suck, and yet serve a purpose, in their own way.
So, in the beginning I was feeling angry. Angry that I ever had to come to a point where I felt unworthy, or bad, or imperfect. I struggled with that a LOT for a long time. Was that me? Was that through the things I had been taught? Was that through my interactions or my perception of those interactions? And then there was a more basic thing. I had been super active and visible in church for years. I’m not the quiet type. I am not a wall flower. And then I just.wasn’t.there. And no one, not one person when seeing me ever asked where I had been. Not a “hey, noticed you’ve been away for a while…where you been?” Not a “hey, everything good?” I stopped caring about the reaction from people I wasn’t close to, but the lack of reaction from people who I was super close to? That began to bother me.
Now, let me say before going further…I probably sound harsh here. I also probably sound childish. I completely own that I could have reached out at any point along the way to talk. My bishop was one of our best friends, still is today. I served for years with his wife, also a best and treasured friend. But in these moments when I felt so small, so scared, so frail, I wanted to be reached. Not to reach out. And I kept thinking that I was the one lost sheep and no one had noticed. I had gone on a 3-day cross-state motorcycle trip with my “crew” alone – no Frank – no kids – and still nothing. I had had lunches, dinners as couples, time along the way and still no one said a word. Sometimes I felt invisible. I certainly felt lonely. Today I feel as if I was being protected — God knew where he was leading me, and through his love, He was offering me a protection of sorts, allowing me to take my journey unencumbered.
I was angry as well for some of the lessons I’d picked up along the way. It was like there was a thread hanging there on the tenants of the religion and I couldn’t help myself once I started questioning things but to pull on it. And once I did, things started to unravel in heaps. I will not go into detail here. I don’t think it’s important or necessary at this point in my journey to lay down every single morsel of what I came to see as different or not true. I love and respect my friends and have come to a place where I can just agree to disagree on doctrine without having to be in anyone’s face or pointing fingers. That’s the beauty of the stages of grief. It’s how things look and feel when you get to the other side, and I am in a place of deep peace these days. All I’m trying to do in these pages is help those who wonder where I went off to, or what changed, but don’t feel like they can, or should, ask me, to understand.
I moved through my anger – straight into denial. I floated there for a long time. Not making any changes. I was in limbo really. I wasn’t following anything specifically or anyone for that matter, but I also wasn’t dealing with what was going on. Like if I just sat there reading my bible and praying nothing would have to change. I didn’t have to admit anything to anyone. Not Frank, not the kids, not Melanie, no one. I would just keep along the way I had been. But that became really uncomfortable. I was probably a year into “inactivity” at this point. And I started to feel super lost. I literally started to bargain. Maybe I could just keep on like this. I wasn’t hurting anyone. Maybe if I don’t talk about it nothing has to change. If I don’t tell Frank what’s going on, then he’ll just think things are fine, we’re just lazy about going to church. I’m sure I’ll be just fine. But I wasn’t.
I spent a lot of time in sadness through this period and beyond. I didn’t feel like I really fit anywhere. I could no longer attend the LDS church because I felt inauthentic, and quite frankly, angry when I was there. I didn’t have another church to attend, but I felt empty — I was missing the fellowship that comes with having a church. Things were becoming more obvious at home besides the fact we just stopped going to church. I finally broke down and shared with Frank what I was feeling. I was at about the 18-month mark by this time. There were a lot of tears and long conversations, but he knew something was brewing all along. Through sharing this with him, my best friend, I started to feel less alone. Then there was a defining moment.
I have a friend, Alison, who lives across the street from me. We met years ago when her sweet family moved into the neighborhood. We were fast friends that came together over our love of all things HGTV. We painted our cabinets together (the first time), our girls played together when they were little, before the age difference made any difference at all. We struggled together as couples when our sons experienced the loss of a close friend to suicide their sophomore year of high school. We had talked about our respective faiths over the years, but there was always a wall. A tall wall at times, and a pony wall at others. I had spent some of the years correcting some of the mis-truths she had been given about the LDS tenants and she had tried to share her heart for Christianity. I just wasn’t very receptive over the years. Because I believed I knew more, better, deeper than she did. But through our differences and our similarities, we found a deep love for each other. And I’m so thankful. Because now, I was being pushed across the street to share something that was super scary. I felt prompted to go to Alison this summer day like I had felt prompted to drop everything I knew to move across country for no good reason at 22 with no plan or money for that matter. Having listened to that first prompting all those years ago and knowing all the blessings that came from it (Frank, our kids, our first home, etc.) it was hard to ignore the one before me now.
So I did. I pulled up my boot straps, went across the street to my friend’s house and began to enjoy a beautiful day with her. We moved to her garden where we were just having a typical conversation, only she didn’t know my heart was pounding out of my chest. Finally I took a deep breath, “Alison, I’m leaving the church.” Now, Ali could have reacted in any number of ways. Knowing her heart, she probably wanted to jump for joy in the moment, but instead, a look of deep concern came over her face. A sincerity in her eyes. She expressed her shock, of course, but she simply asked if she could pray for me because she understood what a big thing that was. I have never been more thankful. I needed all the prayers I could get.
In that moment, things became real. I can still hear the sound of my words to this day. The weight of what that meant. I was leaving behind something I knew for what? Of that I was unsure. I had no idea what lay ahead in my journey. I only knew I had to move forward, and that I was ready for what God had in store. Give it another few months forward, and I felt a new longing. A longing to try church again. I knew Alison’s family attended Plum Creek church. But so did another friend of mine who left the church ahead of me. I thought that was as good as any place to start. So, one Sunday, I got up, got dressed, and went to church. I thought I would surprise Ali and Brian and just show up. That backfired a bit when I realized they weren’t there that Sunday. I found myself in a building that was unfamiliar with people I didn’t know. And that was weird.
At the LDS building, I knew everyone. Here, I was a stranger. I was so raw that day. Plum Creek has greeters, volunteers who literally stand in the doorways and throughout the church building to do nothing but greet you and make you feel welcome. The first person at the door extended their hand, wished me a good morning, and that did it. I started crying. I was overwhelmed from the start. I felt the Spirit fill me and I was overcome by it. I went into the chapel, found a seat and waited; I had no idea what to expect, which is probably why I was so caught off guard by the music. Worship music. A live band, everyone on their feet…SINGING…I saw the words on the screen — all celebrating God and Christ and His sacrifice for us. I bawled. Like uncontrollably bawled. I couldn’t stop. It was like a leak had sprung in my heart and the water just poured out. I felt like an idiot. But no one seemed put off by my reaction. The lady next to me put her arm around me. I never did find out her name. But I felt comforted (albeit a little silly in the moment). Then the pastor spoke. I couldn’t tell you what was said that day, but I will never forget the feeling. What I heard was a message of hope and love coupled with practical application in my life. I felt peace wash over me. Though there were still some bumps in the road ahead, I felt like I had come home.
There’s so much more to the story from this point, but I don’t know how important it is to my goal here. My goal here was to help those that have been wondering about my journey to have some answers. I realized along the way I was talking about my church experiences or posting pictures of my NLV (I switched from NIV to NLV and I really love this version for my personal understanding) bible without any explanation and that was probably confusing for some because I didn’t start at the beginning.
What I will say, is that since that time of my anger, or telling Ali, or finding a new church to call home, I have had the opportunity to reach out to those friends who I share a bond with. I of course brought Melanie into the loop some time ago (not long after I started attending Plum Creek) and no, she had no idea I was going through my struggle much before that time. Mel and I aren’t in the same ward and I never brought anything up to her during the journey. I have few regrets, but this one I do have. She’s my best friend, more my sister really, and I didn’t include her along the way. Not for my benefit, but for hers. I was two years along working through my own stages of grief never having given her the chance to go through her own journey along side of me. And so now we play catch up and some days that’s harder than others. And it was unfair of me. So, don’t do that if you are struggling. Reach out. Especially to those closest to you. I think things might have been easier all around…but I didn’t…and that’s part of my story, too.
In the end, if you’ve stuck with me this far, I can tell you I have found peace. I know God in a way I never have before. I have an intimate relationship with my Savior and I pray a LOT. But now it’s more conversational than formal. My heart feels filled at church, and Frank and I participate with several other couples in a weekly small group that’s kind of like a bible study, but it’s really a group of people doing life together, which I love. Jake is still trying to find his way, but we talk about God and where he’s at in life, and for that I am thankful. Kenzie has started attending church with us along the way and is also feeling more grounded in her faith. Frank and I are back on the same page and that is a blessing I am thankful for everyday.
Being on the other side of grieving is not perfection. I still have days where I wonder how I got here. But in finding peace, I also have left behind regret. I do not regret my time in the LDS church. It entered my life at a time when I needed structure around my faith. I needed a path to follow that was specific because I was just starting out. I didn’t know how to pray or what that looked like. I had a lot of wonderful people influence me in so many great ways along the journey. And in the end, it is part of my story. A time, a season, a reason. I try to remember that. I am in a new season now and God is at the helm. I don’t profess to have all the answers. I don’t need to. I have discovered a whole new level of faith by not thinking I have all the answers. And because of it, everyday is an adventure in discovery. I am more open to His direction than I think I have ever been, and I love where He is leading me. So that’s it, that’s my story. I welcome conversation and questions. Thanks for hearing me out. I hope for you to know Him and to know peace as well, whoever you may be.
Gal 3:23 – Before the way of faith in Christ was available to me, I was placed under guard by the law. I was kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed. (emphasis added where I changed the wording to make it more personal; NLV Bible)