I had a friend announce on LinkedIn the other day that he accepted a job offer that will bring he and his wife here to the Carolinas. I didn’t hesitate in offering my congratulations and letting him know he should reach out once they land so we can all do dinner and Frank and I can show them around town a bit. I didn’t expect a response right away — he had so many well-wishers to acknowledge.
When I logged back on the next day, I had a notice of a reply to that message. So, imagine my surprise when I logged on and the reply was from someone totally different. Someone who doesn’t know my friend who is moving. The message was a blast from the past. He saw my note on the general feed and decided to reach out. We’ll call him Jim.
Jim and his wife, Lynn, were dear friends from what now seems like a lifetime ago. We lived in the same area back in Castle Rock and were both members of the LDS church. Jim and Lynn also had a passion for motorcycles and what makes the story even more interesting is about the time that Jim was reaching out, my Facebook memories was highlighting a motorcycle trip a small group of us all took together to the Colorado state Harley rally six years ago. Six years — it seems more like a lifetime ago.
Anyway — Jim simply said “Hi” and that Lynn was saying “Hi” as well. So I replied back with a warm greeting. I was sincerely happy to hear from them. I’ve mentioned before that when you leave a high demand religion, a cult, like the Mormon church, you tend to lose the friends you made there. So to have one of those friends reach out after a long time is not the norm, and it put a smile on my face.
Then Jim direct messaged me. He wanted to connect. He recalled my story of leaving the church and he wanted to share that he and Lynn had recently done the same.
There are very few people, sharing the same news with me, that would have shocked me more.
Last night Frank and I sat down over Zoom with Jim and Lynn and listened to their story. We answered questions, shared our insights and some resources I have found helpful along the way.
At one point, Jim apologized for having unfriended me on FB a few years back when I had posted in support of someone else who had left the church behind and was being called out on social media for posting something against the church. Because when you are a TBM (True Believing Mormon) you are taught to stay away from anti-Mormons — anyone who speaks out against the church, anyone who leaves the church (known as an apostate), any materials that might point out deficits or deceits within the church (called anti-Mormon literature).
The thing is, when you are in a cult, you don’t know you are in a cult. And I don’t use that terminology lightly. When an organization goes beyond influencing how you think – it governs your thoughts, your behaviors, your actions, your choices, informs an “us” or “them” mentality – it’s a cult. At the time, I was a “them” in Jim and Lynn’s world.
And even though Jim unfriended me, before walking away, he’d read what I wrote. And something about it stuck with him over these few years. And when he set the Kool-Aid down for a moment and decided to walk away, he knew he could reach out and find support in this new and unchartered world he and Lynn had entered into.
Sharing our stories is important.
When I left the church officially in 2015, I only knew one other person who had. I asked him if we could chat and I was so thankful for the time he gave me. I was asking a question that’s pretty standard for those who leave a high demand religion (“HDR”) — if everything I’ve been told and taught turned out to be bullshit, how can I ever trust any religion, religious organization, or really God — that God exists at all?
Jim and Lynn touched on that question last night.
See, HDRs tend to have an answer for everything. Creation, life on earth, and the eternities. There’s a neat and tidy answer for everything — and a guidebook to navigate through all of it. But the truth is there aren’t answers for everything. No one really knows the answers to the great cosmic questions.
My answer to them? I have found deep joy in the not knowing.
Based on my life, and experiences I’ve had throughout, I believe there is something more than myself. Something divine. When I sit here typing while watching the sunrise and listen to the birds sing their loud songs, I am moved by the divinity around me and I chose to identify that divinity as God.
I haven’t met God face-to-face, eye-to-eye, but I see Him in all the beauty and the supernatural things in the world. I have faith He exists.
Faith is not a guarantee — it’s a hope. And hope is beautiful ting.
I thought I had hope as a TBM, but what I had was assurance. When you have all the answers and you have a game plan, a checklist of things you need to do to earn your worth and stay on plan, it gives you confidence. A+B=C.
When you have no guarantees and come to a struggle, you cast a prayer, make the best decision you can, and you have hope for the outcome – that’s faith. And it’s a very different walk.
I am thankful for my story — like your story — it has built me into who I am. And I am thankful that through sharing my story, someone else knew they could reach out and not journey through unchartered territory alone. And I am thankful for those that have shared their stories that helped me heal and brought me through my own personal storms.
Sharing our stories creates community – and as humans, we crave community; a sense of belonging. Next time you think of sharing your story, but you stop short because you think, “Who cares?” or “What does it matter anyway?”
Be brave – share your story – because you never know who is listening.