Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ten years after becoming a member of the LDS church, I have officially decided to leave it.

* Making this decision has been a long and painful process, but one I have carefully considered. As such, I hope you will respect my decision and me by refraining from attempting to convince me to change my mind or making any sympathetic comments/calls/emails regarding my decision or my well-being (to me or to Michael). I assure you they will do more harm than good, even those sincerely motivated. I am posting this to publicly for the purpose of being true to myself and for no other purpose.

** Similarly, and more importantly, many of my dearest friends and most loved ones are faithful members of the LDS church. I ask you to please respect them as you write any comments. 

Any teenager feels at least a little uncertain about herself, about life and the future, but when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and my sister in poor health, my world seemed to be coming apart. I watched it age my father at rapid speed. I watched, helpless as cancer took the strong and energetic mother I knew and turned her to someone I felt I hardly recognized, and she often didn’t remember us either. The days felt long and unbearable, yet time seemed so short. It was all happening before I could process it. I would imagine people that lose their house in a fire feel much the same way. I felt like I was standing out on the front lawn, with only what I had on my body at the time, watching my home swallowed in billowing flames.

At some point, someone saw my need for help and offered what they could to a young girl standing in the cold – A large, wool sweater and a seat inside, out of the cold. I graciously accepted. I threw it on. It itched a little and seemed awkward on my small frame, but it kept me warm and it was a pretty color. Beggars can’t be choosers.

The next day, others made fun of my oversized sweater. It wasn’t in fashion and it was obviously second-hand. I didn’t mind not being popular or trendy. I was barely hanging on, so being at school in anything at all was enough for me. I eventually grew attached to it and started buying skirts, shoes and accessories to match it. I felt a bit odd when people commented on the sweater because it wasn’t really mine. I grew into it bit as time went on, but I still had to pull it away from my neck whenever it started to itch. I found ways to adapt, like wearing a shirt underneath to protect my skin or washing it with extra fabric softener.

I heard about a beautiful mountain town far away. Always one for an adventure, I decided to go see it for myself. It seemed like the perfect place to put my sweater to good use. The weather was really cold, so bulky sweaters were common. In fact, they were in style and anyone who didn’t have one stuck out. I climbed the mountains and loved the spectacular views. I had never seen anything like it, and the uphill climb was worth the summit-scape. But, I became aware of the fact that the sweater wasn’t warm enough for the frigid temperatures, especially for my thin Georgia blood and the altitude often made me sick.  Still, I loved the view. As I travelled more, I recognized that there are other equally beautiful mountain ranges.

I was often tired after climbing mountains. Sometimes, I liked that the sweater was so big because I could wrap around myself and snuggle in for a nap. Soon, however, the sweater started to fade. I took it to the dry cleaner, after all, that is the supreme source of clean clothes and the tag says, “dry clean only.” Not only did that not help, but also when I picked it up, there was a gigantic hole right on the sleeve. I really hate dry cleaning. Some people love it and see it as a marker of being a full-fledged adult. They look forward to it all their lives, but not me. I think it is expensive and impractical. I tried to mend the hole myself, but failed. I wasn’t a skilled seamstress. I decided to just roll up the sleeves to hide it.

Yet, it no longer matched my favorite pairs of pants, sweatpants or shorts, and I found myself struggling to find anything to wear with it. It was still a bit chilly though, so I wore it anyway.

I felt self-conscious about my mismatched wardrobe, but couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. It was the only sweater I had and it had helped me through so many winters. I had worn it the first day I met my husband and on our first date. He loved that sweater. How could I throw out something so sentimental? It was more complicated too though. I began to worry. What if he wanted me to make sweaters for our future kids? It doesn’t seem right to make a little kid wear wool – It is really itchy. Besides, we both had long arms and in interest in running fast, so we knew we couldn’t buy our kids’ sweaters from any old store. They would need a special fabric. I don’t know how to knit, nor do I want to. We decided to cross that bridge when we get to it, and we moved to California, where the weather is always warm to bide our time.

Finally, I realized that sweater of mine had been washed so many times that it was now way too small on me. My arms and stomach were now exposed and it looked ridiculous on me. It just didn’t fit. The poor sizing and the itchiness no longer seemed worth the warmth. The sleeves were tattered from wear and stained with tears. It sat in the back of my closet for a few years. I cleaned out the closet and would look at it from time to time.

Eventually, the temperatures rose, and I would find myself drenched in sweat whenever I wore the sweater. It became my own personal hell. I looked around and realized that some people prefer to wear windbreakers or parkas or cardigans or rain jackets or layers. Some people live in tropical climates and have no use for outerwear at all. Some people love big, wooly sweaters. And that is all okay. I discovered that layering felt more adaptable and much more natural to me. I remembered that I am more of a layering kind of girl, just like my parents had taught me. I decided I will not wear not wear anything that makes me so uncomfortable, and I won’t ask anyone else to either. I decided to toss out the sweater for good. I belong at the beach anyway.


This is how I feel about my experience in the LDS church. I feel it was much like an itchy, wooly donated sweater that I wore through harsh winters as a child, but it no longer fits. I am grateful for the warmth it provided me. I met some really wonderful people. I had deep conversations with people and was inspired to stretch and think in new ways. I believe it kept me out of other bad situations where I might have gotten mixed up in drugs or other dangerous behaviors. I do not think it was the only way to keep warm, but it was an effective one, for the time being.

Ten years later, I realize that the sweater doesn’t fit me anymore. It doesn’t fit my personality, my values or my beliefs. I hit a growth spurt, and when I matured more fully, I realized who I am, and more often who I am not. I am retiring the sweater with no hard feelings. I hope to move on taking only fond memories, lessons learned, a solid education, plenty of friends who climbed mountains with me, a wonderful husband and a strong set of lungs.

In my mind, I often go back to that cold night on my old front lawn. I wish I had done things differently. I had run out of the house just like I had been taught, but I left my baby sister inside. She survived, of course, but she had inhaled a lot of the smoke. She is smart and strong, but I wish I had run in after her. I sometimes wish I would have sat in the grass with my family and used the ambulance blankets and oxygen masks to get through the shock together, instead of following (relative) strangers and the whims of my bereft teenage self. I don’t think the recovery would have been as quick, however.

The truth is, I don’t know how my life would have turned out, and there is no use in rewriting history. I can’t go back. We don’t even own that house anymore, someone else lives there, and I don’t need anything to burn down in order to start over anyway. I made it out alive. I miss my mother desperately, but I am closer with every other family member now. New ones have come along too! I have learned more about myself and about humans. I have loved and hated. I have travelled the world and I have left my heart in many places. I both gained and lost so much, but I now know what matters most to me. I know who am, who I am not, and who I want to become. I am better equipped this time around, and I am grateful for that.

I don’t like definitive statements because life changes, so I will not say that I will never return. But, as things currently exist, I feel the LDS church and I have irreconcilable differences, and it no longer brings me any joy or comfort. I do believe it brings those things to others, but that is not the case for me.

******Following my post from yesterday, I would like to clarify a few things:******

·      WHY DID I DECIDE TO ANNOUNCE SOMETHING SO PERSONAL SO PUBLICLY? As I mentioned, I have lived in many places. My friends and acquaintances are very spread out and this was the best way I could think of to reach everyone. Additionally, I know this will be a very difficult thing for many to hear. I wanted the chance to tell people myself instead of allowing it to be gossip. I also lack the emotional stamina to have the “Wait, but I thought you were Mormon…” conversation repeatedly and/or in public. I express myself best through writing and I wanted to do that and move back to life as smoothly as possible. I wanted to get this all over with in one push rather than rehash it over various occasions. I understand it might not have been the most ideal way to handle it, but it is what I believed would work best for me. In the end, I decided the benefits outweighed the risks.

·      WHAT ABOUT MICHAEL? I did not make this decision yesterday; I only chose to announce it yesterday. Michael and I have been dealing with this issue for years. He has been kind, strong and supportive throughout it. It has been difficult, but we are on the same team. For those of you that have not been fortunate enough to meet him, he is wonderful and loving person. We know we have more struggles in the future, but we love each other and have decided our marriage is worth the inevitable tears and long nights to come.

·      I DO NOT VIEW MY TIME IN THE LDS CHURCH AS MERELY A MISTAKE OR BLEMISH IN MY PAST. Rather, I view it as me taking the scenic route to figuring out who I am. In fact, in many ways, I don’t think I would be who I am today. I became a woman on the trail. I know I would not have met Michael under any other circumstances. I would not have met many of the people who mean the most to me and I would not have had many of the opportunities that have shaped my life. I likely would not be as confident in my self as I am today. At times, I do wonder how things would have been different, but don’t we all? I don’t think it was the wrong decision, it was just one of a few options.

·      I DO NOT FEEL I WAS DUPED INTO RELIGION. I think several people in my life, who happened to be Mormon, saw I was going through a really hard time in my life and they were first to see my need and try to fill it. They were brave enough to talk to someone about their religion and to reach out a hand to a very scared girl. I was starving and they offered what they had. It turns out, I have a peanut allergy I didn’t know about.

·      I AM NOT ATTACKING MORMONS OR MORMONISM. I have known both intimately. I think this church produces many wonderful, sincere, hard-working, deeply reflective people. If you have the chance to become friends with a Mormon, don’t let your fear of the unknown make you miss out on the opportunity to make some of the most loyal friends you could ever have. I know many, many Mormons, and the majority of them will be willing to answer any questions you have openly and honestly, and contrary to popular media, they will not wrestle you into a baptismal font.

·      THE DISCLAIMER ABOUT COMMENTS. I do want to read your comments; I just don’t want to see any negativity or attempts to be dissuaded. I was not afraid of being attacked for my decision. Religion is a touchy subject. I did not want to be put on the defensive. My intention was not to offend anyone, but I know that it happens sometimes, especially with such a sensitive subject. Avoiding any of that was what I was aiming to avoid with my disclaimer.

·      SO, WHAT NOW? I am still figuring that out and trying to find a balance.