On Finding Fault and Taking Blame

I really try to write when I’m having a good day, and there is a reason for that. Growth is messy, and it is rarely pretty down in the trenches. It can look fatal. (It can feel fatal.) Writing about my struggles with religion and mixed-faith marriage wouldn’t be very inspiring or hope-promoting if I got stuck in the mess of it. It would be a lot of finger pointing and blame. It is true that my change in perspective has thrown a huge wrench in our life, and it was my need to understand the dynamics we were living with that led to that change. It is also true that my husband’s perspective can be very black and white, and that doesn’t always lead to happy and productive conversations. I’ve spoken to a lot of people this month that have asked how we are and gotten a honest answer – it’s day-to-day, sometimes. It’s hard. These things are all very true. But, they’re a myopic view of what is really a much broader dynamic.

Human nature leads us to want to understand what we’re seeing. (Thank God for that!) When we recognize struggle, we pick it apart, look at the parties and try to assign blame where it fits the most comfortably within our own experience. I’ve been there. But, the one thing I’ve learned from life if I’ve learned anything is that it is C.O.M.P.L.I.C.A.T.E.D. Trying to fit things into a neat, little box is rarely genuine to any person or perspective. Speaking from my own pain and perspective only, though this is my platform, would be woefully unfair. I struggle with this when it comes to my own kids. My adult children find it easier to relate to where I’m at, and I think it leads them to unfairly judge their believing father. They see the struggle and just want him to be different or think differently or change to fix things. They think I’m the one holding this marriage together.

I’m not. It’s not me. There are certainly qualities that I bring to this table that are helping this work. My husband will tell you that I’m a precise communicator, and it is incredibly hard to debate me. (If you don’t come prepared, you’ll find yourself in trouble.) This is true. I have an unwavering commitment to my family, and I make it a point to understand what is happening behind the scenes with history, people and dynamics. (I also take damn good care of him which helps us to ride the waves when it gets choppy.) Still, NONE of this would matter if it wasn’t for his own integrity, strengths and commitment. At the end of the day, his flexibility, genuine desire for growth and ability to see nuance and step back from the emotions of the hard stuff in order to gain objectivity carries us. We are challenging to one another (I honestly think it’s why we picked each other,) but that is where the growth is. Truly. I would not be who I am without him, and he would be a very different person had he married someone else.

I posted this on my Facebook page today, and ruminating on the depth of what is said here is what prompted this train of thought. The tagline to this blog is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.” I think the more life I live, the more I recognize that the mess IS beautiful. It IS where you find the silver lining, the joy, the excruciating love that pushes and pulls at you and makes the entire journey worthwhile. Without mess and struggle, we would be stagnant and, frankly, probably bored.

“It’s not about what’s ‘right and wrong’, it’s about understanding. And once you understand somebody and how they are feeling and what their view is, you can move on with more ease because you have that understanding. Those are the steps toward building love.

It’s so freaking difficult, and so freaking excruciating, and sometimes you think it’s not love, but it is.

Is it worth it? At the end of the day, to have someone who can love you for ALL that you are. And say, __________ has loved me through the worst of myself, and I have done the same. When somebody can love in that way, lay down the expectations and rules, it makes your faith in the world come together in a way which is like ‘I Am, This Is, and All Is Well.’

It’s like climbing a mountain–do the work and see the beauty. It’s worth it.”

-Red Table Talk

I think what I would most like to communicate today is that there isn’t really any fault or blame here. The way that I relate to the world contributes to what we have to navigate, and the way he relates to the world does as well. But, I’m not “making us struggle” and neither is he. It just is. It’s just life. It’s a complicated situation, but we are undoubtedly living it. Sometimes you think it’s not love, but it is. The mindfulness I approach this with helps us win the day, and his ability to see a bigger picture and love me like most women will never experience carries us through. We’re winning together, and I absolutely would not be if it wasn’t for him.


The Struggle is Good, and It’s Ours

It’s hard for me to address subjects that are so broad and meaningful and close to my heart. I rarely can express it adequately. People freak out when I open my figurative mouth in this forum and come to my husband in a flat panic thinking our world is falling apart. While I wish they wouldn’t due to the sheer unaffordable distraction of it, the thing is that they aren’t wrong.

It is. Our world is in pieces. It’s hard. Brutal. Filled with fear and an unknowing uneasiness. I know it looks like a flat disaster from the outside. And, there is no context for where we walk. It is, at the most base level, completely uncharted territory. I don’t like the raw and the ugly and the unpredictable. And, it has unpacked and moved in. I like certainty and peace and security ever so much, and I’ve had so little of it in my life.

However, that’s not the fight we’re in. And, we are in it. We’re here for the growth and for the challenge and for the struggle. Mostly, we’re here for each other, and the dance is both brutal and beautiful. My biggest fears are other people telling my husband who I am and whether I’m worth it or not, and my biggest gifts are the assurance that he is in this wilderness with me, 100% committed to the new and bold and hard. For me. For our children. Because he values me as a unique person, gives me room to move in the world how I need to and deeply appreciates what I bring into his life after 25 years together.

We had a conversation the other night. While my husband doesn’t read my blog, he says with some frequency that I should write about certain things we talk about, and this was one of them. In exploring the idea of having healthy relationships with institutions, we lamented the fact that there seems to be so little useful support for people trying to navigate hard and unconventional things. Wouldn’t it be transformative if dogma could be set aside, and we could all live by the Hippocratic oath of first, do no harm? It would still be hard here, but it would be hard in a way that didn’t leave me looking over my shoulder for other people’s priorities to unpack in my bedroom. Let people succeed. Cheer them on. Get out of their way, and let them get to work.

We have significant disagreements at this point about life and philosophy, but our greatest strength, I think, is our willingness to be present and engaged in them together. In hard ways. In meaningful ways. In ways that lead to the lowest lows swinging wildly into the highest highs of my life. If I could have looked into the future and seen how this would all play out, I would have ran, no doubt. I would not choose it with my eyes open. But, I like to believe that there was a time and a place and a knowing that led me here, and that it is what we both need. We are exactly where we should be.

As first-world humans, our relationship with struggle has become soft and privileged, and like most people, I seek to dodge, avoid and deflect. We both miss the quietness we had when everything lived in a dark corner of our closet, but we both draw from an ever-deepening well of love and commitment that allows us to pick up the sword and keep fighting the good fight, back-to-back, every day, to protect our home and family. The words of Jordan Peterson resonate with both my husband and I, and we’ve come to see the struggle as a necessary component to a meaningful life. We regularly find these on YouTube and share them with each other, and this was today’s gem.

Our success is never a sure thing – it would be counterproductive to think otherwise. It is volatile and painful many days. However, your success isn’t any more sure than ours, though it looks so much quieter over so many other fences. But, we’re alive here, engaged, wrestling, sometimes “drawing blood,” doing the work and loving with every fiber that we can muster. I’ll take that as a pretty good sign for us. I hope you can, too.

What (Not) to Say When People Leave the Church

aisle-altar-arches-40783.jpg

I made the decision almost one year ago not to return to church. It’s been a challenge in many ways and amazing in many others. I’m much more at peace. I know myself better. I feel like I live my life now on my own terms. I miss people and some aspects of community, but I don’t miss church. Still, things happen that affect me because I’m in a mixed-faith marriage, and my husband still attends periodically. People say things and do things that end up in the middle of my life. I understand that navigating a loved one leaving the church can be really difficult because I’ve been on that side of the fence as well, and sometimes people just don’t know what to say and do. Here’s my suggestions for people who genuinely want to facilitate healthy relationships and be helpful.

1. Let’s get together!

Just invite me to spend time with you without preaching or conditions or reminding me how forlorn you are that you didn’t see me in relief society. (Just kidding. I didn’t attend before.) Talk to me about the things that are going on in your life that you are excited about whether that’s your family, work or church. Ask me about my life. Don’t feel like you have to censor your conversations. I’m not going to make anything awkward if you don’t, and I truly want to know how you are. I just love you and still want our relationship to be important.

2. You look happy!

These messages are some of the kindest things I’ve heard since I left. I have a dear friend that is VERY devout and active. She is also one of the most nonjudgmental people I’ve ever met. We were walking around the track one day and got to talking about everything that went down with my rift with the church, and I made the statement that, you know, I really haven’t changed all that much. I’m the same person. She turned to me and said, “You know, I see more light in you. You look happier.” I literally stopped in my tracks in stunned silence because I was so moved by that statement. She saw a LOT of my mess and knows just how much I struggled to make it all work. To have someone acknowledge that I was coming from a place of peace and that moving in the world that way was a visibly positive thing was a true gift that I will forever cherish.

3. Hi! You’re loved and missed.

Tell me hi when you see me. It can be super awkward to know how to approach people, so I sometimes just ignore you so I don’t have to figure it out. I’m not trying to be stuck up, it’s just easier to avoid it. Tell me that you love and miss me without guilt or shame. I was at the gas station a few months ago just minding my own business when someone opened their truck door behind me and called my name. When I turned around, a man that I know from church got my attention. He walked right up to me and just told me he hadn’t seen me in a long time and that he missed me and could he give me a hug? I have so much love and respect for this genuinely caring person. I don’t think he’s ever said anything to my husband except that he was glad to see him and that he missed seeing me. If this was everyone’s religion, I would probably want to be sitting on that bench.

4. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I understand why this was the right choice for you.

Understanding is such a valuable way to build a relationship. You don’t have to agree with someone’s experience to understand and validate it. Having someone say that they understand where I’m coming from and why I’ve made the decisions I have literally brings tears to my eyes. I can’t even put into words how much it means to me and how it keeps me going to know that people understand and respect my path. Not every environment is healthy for every person; let people walk away with grace and dignity when it’s not.

5. We’re worried about you!!

Just don’t with this. This is passive-aggressive and, in my experience, is about 90 percent more likely to come from someone who is nosy and meddling over someone that is genuinely concerned. If my decision to step outside your box to live a healthy life is threatening or uncomfortable, kindly work that out in your life and keep it out of mine. If you miss me, come see me. If you have questions and don’t understand, come ask, but stop with the platitudes. I don’t want them and, for God’s sake, I don’t want you to leave them with my husband. He has enough of his own anxiety about everything; he doesn’t need yours.

6. Where is your spouse?

This is, again, passive-aggressive. Y’all know what happened and where I went. My husband is acutely aware that he attends church without me. It saddens us both. You don’t need to remind him and pour salt in that wound. We are vulnerable in this area and people who truly love us will protect that vulnerable spot not poke at it. Help him feel valued and welcomed without making him feel pathetic and a project. Do not take the eternal family doctrines that make Mormonism so appealing to so many people and turn them into a weapon. That comes home with him, and we get to unpack that in the (dis)comfort of our own bedroom. Believe me, it’s suuuuuper fun. Do you want me and my dogmatic opinions in the middle of your marriage? Likewise.

There’s a dozen other things I could probably address from all the misguided things that people say about why people leave to how you’re sure my life would improve if I could just shove it all back in the box. But, these points will suffice today as the things that have both particularly helped me and been particularly harmful. While I can’t make anyone use them responsibly, I would hope that would be the goal. Be kind or be quiet.

P.S. I know I haven’t blogged in months. I’m so sorry. I’ve had a lot going on with work and family life, and this project takes a lot of mental energy that I haven’t had. Thanks for being here with me. I deeply appreciate every view and comment from my readers. ❤

By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know

apple-apple-tree-apples-6035.jpg

There is another sex abuse scandal in the LDS church right now. (Who am I kidding? I know of several, but this one is national news/a Big Deal.) You would think, with my background, hearing about this kind of thing would sting, or hit home, or something. Sadly, it doesn’t really. I have thoughts and feelings about the principles of it, but I don’t have super intense emotional responses to this kind of thing because it’s just so damn common and so damn familiar. Thinking that – writing it – does elicit sadness in me, and I guess that is where my heart sits in it. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. It’s broken and selfish and wrong.

And, so familiar.

My semi-public abuse confrontation was just wrapping up about a year ago, and I was in the middle of it when McKenna Denson released her audio of the confrontation with her perpetrator, former MTC president Joseph Bishop. I sat in bed with my husband one night and we listened to the entire thing. We had already walked through a good part of the process we engaged in at that point. I had (still do – maybe one day I’ll feel free to make those available, but I have concerns that make that not possible at this time) my own recordings from various meetings we had been in with different people, including my perpetrator and my mother (not the same individual, just to be entirely clear.) The thing that really struck me the most as we were in the middle of all this trauma is how familiar this all sounded. The professed regret coupled with quite half-hearted remorse and excuse making. I heard that again today when listening to the audio confession of Sterling Van Wagenen. (Seriously, at one point in this interview, Sean is talking to Van Wagenen about his motivations, with him saying how sorry he was for what he had done. This dude calmly talks about his sex addiction, business struggles and marital problems, discussing how it was all falling apart the night of the abuse and his wife wanted a divorce. He says how he was so distraught and so depressed and he knelt down and said this heartfelt prayer. And, then the story hangs there in mid-air with this pregnant pause. Because what he isn’t saying is the rest of it. “I knelt down and said a heartfelt prayer…………………………………. and then I got up and decided to abuse a child as a way to cope.” Guys, this what religious trauma looks like. This, right here, is where it’s born.) It is disconcerting, but it is not even close to surprising.

I felt very positive when I left the first meeting I had with my ecclesiastical leader. I felt (and still do) that he was genuinely alarmed and intended to do the right thing. I wasn’t completely bulldozed in the meeting with my perpetrator. There was some acknowledgement, and to this day he is very deferent to me, my husband, my sister, anyone he thinks may have the “upper hand”… However, I also experienced his absolute inability to be completely honest with himself let alone me or anyone else. He would tell different stories and different parts of the story to different people depending on what they already knew. When his wife found out and separated from him, he very bitterly exclaimed to her how I had ruined his life. (A bit ironic there, yea, but I have a pretty thick skin at this point. Being consciously healthy under pressure will do that.)

You know, you can say what you want, I guess, about what is and isn’t the case, what did or didn’t happen, or what anyone’s motivations may be, but let’s just go right back to the Mormon constructs we know so well : by their fruits shall you know them. I continue to be honest and open and as frank as I know how with anyone I communicate with about it, and I sleep very well at night knowing what my motivations were and are. It’s up to them and God, I suppose, to decide if they can say the same. I did everything I could, and I feel free from any further responsibility in that.

One of the most eye-opening experiences when confronting abuse in a religious construct is the discernible inability of the religious institutions involved to really have any concept of justice and morality in facing these issues. It is so apparent to me that both myself, McKenna and now Sean Escobar are also intimately acquainted with this. It’s not a fun club, but there is a certain comradery of knowing in it that I think is what drives us all to use our voice to educate, inform and advocate for healthier communities, families and churches, if possible. It’s a hard fight. It feels very up hill. However, something that Sean said in his podcast really struck me, enough so that I posted it on my Facebook page. “You are as sick as your secrets.” (If it’s not this episode, it’s the next.)

I honestly don’t feel that most of the people involved in these situations want to do wrong or cover up or sweep things under the rug. I may have said this on the blog before, and I know I’ve said it in conversations with probably a dozen people. Good people want to do good, but when institutional priorities (traditions, dogmatic structures, reputation) are at odds with priorities and needs of individual people, the priorities of the institution win every. single. time. It’s not even close to a competition. If we want to improve these statistics and protect children, we have to have institutional priorities that people can embrace and feel safe with. If that’s not possible, we collectively have to vote with our feet and walk away until they get enough of a message to be compelled to change. At least that’s how I see it.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Truth and openness and honesty and frank conversations slowly move the needle. I feel like what I did in my community was a pretty small thing. What Sean Escobar and McKenna Denson have done is most assuredly much bigger. (I almost feel embarrassed to speak about this like my platform is equivalent to these two rockstars of abuse advocacy.) But, I think what we would all likely agree on is the value that we find in taking pain and doing something good with it. One voice is very small, but adding each voice can eventually make enough noise to make a difference. We’ve all been given a different burden to carry. Take those bruised pieces, plant them in beautiful ground and go do good in the world with the power your knowledge gives you. By their fruits.

I’ve Had Four Marriages

couple-hands-holding-hands-271177

Last Saturday was our 23rd anniversary. While it may seem that this fact and the title of this post are incongruous, they aren’t really. If you are lucky, like I have been, these marriages will all be with the same person. This is a concept I first heard attributed to the marriage therapist, Esther Perel. While I’m not sure I’m all in with her entire philosophy, this idea does ring true to me. It is inevitable that people will change, and carrying a marriage through these changes in one (relative) piece is a trick that many people fail to achieve and for good reason. Even when you do, I think it’s a feat, an effort, a gift of ebbing and flowing that is never entirely finished.

My first marriage was immature – full of wild ups and downs but infused with hope and naivety. My third marriage was incredibly painful – it felt out of control, and I was uncertain whether we would walk out together. I often felt lost in the valleys of it without perspective or support that could reach me. I remember sitting in our home that was almost completed, with my red master bedroom wall reflecting off the white cabinets that were waiting to be installed and wondering with all sincerity if I would ever sleep a night in this room or if it would all fly apart before we got to that point. We were mired in hurt and trauma that was eating us alive. I deeply missed my second marriage, with its years of peace, predictability and easiness.

To be honest, I still do, even though I know the victory that my current and fourth marriage is and has been. It isn’t as easy, but it is grown up. I am a woman in this relationship – an adult that makes adult decisions in a way that makes a concerted effort to respect those around me. However, it’s also new – we’re newlyweds in this place, and there are things that are still up in the air, not negotiated, unknown. It is disconcerting when I remember how easy it was 10, 15 years ago. But, while I remember that and feel nostalgic, I couldn’t go back there, not even if I tried. I’m not that woman anymore. That woman was naive, compartmentalized and not entirely honest with herself let alone her husband. It was soft there and so safe, but I couldn’t stay and grow. Had I known what I was walking into to get from there to here, I would have put my head in the sand and answered, “No, thank you!”

I can’t say because, blessedly, that is not how life works, and you don’t get a heads up or a preview of what is coming. While this fourth marriage isn’t what either of us expected and certainly not what we signed up for, I like to think that it is what we need. Things are not as peaceful here as that “happy, easy marriage,” but my soul is quiet, confident, *at peace* for the first time in all our years together. I know who lives in this place, most especially myself, but even my husband is a more transparent and understandable entity. He naturally prefers predictability and tradition and sameness, but that is not what lives in the house we dwell in together, and he stretches and grows and loves more because of this fact. I know I challenge him – I always have – but it comes in more profound ways at this point in our lives, in a way that requires the deep love cultivated over time to make palatable. Our immature beginning couldn’t have supported this.

I remember a moment when my youngest was a baby, and it was very hard. I saw an older couple walking down the road holding hands, and I wanted that, so very badly. Today I am able to find perspective in that moment because I realize that you see what you look at and, often, that’s what you lack. The truth was that I have had stability and security in all four phases of my marriage that I’m sure many people saw and longed for. I value those things but I don’t really notice them to be remarkable because, well, for me, they aren’t.

Perspective and insight are incredible gifts, but they are never, never free. We have been through a lot. But, we are still here, together, in the same space, after 23 years and four distinct stages of our marriage. I feel humbled to have lived with and learned from this man and our marriage. And, that, in itself, is worth celebrating. Here’s to many, many more!

A Few of My Favorite Things

board-game-cubes-design-267355

I have a lot of thoughts jumbling around my head. We just got back from celebrating our 23rd anniversary in San Antonio (such a fun city!), my middle daughter turned 18 AND got engaged last week, and I got some great news from a friend. However, none of it is coalescing to make a profound post, so I’m going with something light and giving you a list of some of my favorite things – things I enjoy in general, stuff that makes my mom life easier and items that I find it hard to live without.

Once a Month Meals

I don’t always meal plan, but when I do, this is the service I prefer. (I tried the emeals app, and it drove me crazy.) Once a Month Meals allows you to use either premade menus in a dozen categories or build your own (that’s how I use it.) You get a shopping list that you can link to delivery services, all the recipes that you can customize to your family size and a prep and cooking list so you can prepare them as freezer meals. You can pay $18/month or a discounted price if you pay for a year. I usually subscribe for a few months, print off a variety of menus and then unsub until I’m ready for more variety.

Cutco Knives

I went on a girl’s trip earlier this year and our hostess had her kitchen stocked with these. I’m a total knife snob, and I was pretty impressed. So much so that I came home and bought some at a discounted rate on Ebay because, you know, budgeting. The company sharpens/refurbishes/replaces their knives for free, so don’t be afraid to buy an older set or single pieces that are deeply discounted. Just send them in, and they’ll come back sharp and pretty.

So Sew English

I sew as one of my primary hobbies, and I like quality fabric without going broke. My most consistent and favorite supplier is So Sew English. They have a ton of super soft “legging” fabric (aka double brushed poly) as well as a wide variety of other knits. If I’m sewing a lot, I get multiple boxes from these guys a week, and I almost always have at least a few a month. Wait until the end of the month, and Bundle Chicken codes let you buy bundles up to 40% off. (Bundles are the best!) They also have an active Facebook page to show your makes and talk sewing.

PDF Patterns

I haven’t sewn with a commercial pattern for years because PDF patterns are so much more accessible and reliable for me. While small designers can be hit and miss, some of my favorites that work really well for me are Patterns for Pirates, New Horizons Designs and Halla Patterns. I print my patterns at home and transfer them onto tracing cloth, but I know a lot of people like to use PDF Plotting. If you want to see what I’m up to with my sewing, follow me on Instagram.

Diva Cup

I pretty much think that any woman not using cups for their monthly visitor is missing out on comfort and convenience. I mean, not all my readers are females, but my Diva cup legit makes my life easier. Get one. If you’re a guy, tell your wife about them. She’ll thank you. (I also have a generic brand that was 2/$10, and they’re just as good. Just look for the medical grade silicone.)

French Press

I have coffee every morning, and I love my French press. This manual coffee maker is quick and easy to use, and makes a great brew. You get a full-bodied cup with a great depth of flavor and less bitterness. I went through several coffee makers before getting this which my hard water handily clogged and killed despite careful maintenance.

Meal Delivery Services

This isn’t something I use as part of my regular meal planning or grocery budgeting, but I have tried several meal delivery services for just the reduced price trial weeks, and they’re great. It’s super convenient to have all the ingredients premeasured and packaged for your meal and delivered to your door. When I get these, I can stretch a 2-person meal to feed me and my 3 youngest kids for a lunch. We’ve tried Home Fresh, Every Plate and Hello Fresh and enjoyed them all.

Instant Pot

I’ve had a crockpot since I was married and pretty much never used it, so I was a tad skeptical about the Instant Pot. That turned out to be unfounded. I use it several times a week. It’s fast and super easy to clean. I have both the 6- and 8-quart sizes, though I use my 6 quart the most. You can throw frozen ingredients in the pot and have a hot meal within the hour – best thing ever. It’s fabulous for soup, roast and potato salad/boiled eggs.

I have a lot more I could list, I’m sure, but this is my list for this week. I’ll have to do this again in the future.

P.S. Um, I like food. Clearly.

P.P.S. None of these are affiliate links. I would have to, I don’t know, have my life organized to have that all in place. Ha!

 

Faith, Fear and Fundamentalism

art-artist-card-1898256

I spent a good deal of my adult life being motivated by fear. I have always been a thoughtful person, someone who questioned and looked for context and nuance and meaning. However, I was raised in a social structure that had very prescribed ways to do, think and be. This was a conundrum for me for many, many years, and it created a dichotomy that I found very difficult to reconcile. In fact, I never have.

Polygamy has been a real spectre in my life. It’s not something I discuss an awful lot because it’s a real part of the real lives of people I really know and deeply care about, and, in reality, it is a very complex issue. However, I have strong opinions about it, and, while I do try to be fair in my assessment, I wouldn’t call them particularly positive. I still look at the influence that this belief has in my everyday life as the “other woman” in my marriage, even though there is really no one else. It is the thing that to this day makes me feel never quite worthy, never quite good enough. I guess that the easiest and kindest way to communicate this is that I fought very hard for several decades to find a way to fit into this box that was so necessary to my religious tradition. One of the scariest steps I ever took was to let myself admit that it wasn’t healthy for me, and I had to just say no to living that lifestyle. I vividly remember that day and the fear that accompanied it.

“What if I’m wrong?”
“What if I really will lose everything?”
“What if I have completely missed the boat here, and I will be alone forever?”

And, that’s the day that fear stopped holding the rudder of my life. Because once I faced those questions and contrasted them with the price I would pay for continuing to ignore my own heart in favor of messages whose sources I wasn’t confident in – because, hey, what if? – it became abundantly clear that I must take the risk. I would rather live in a way that felt true to my spirit and be potentially alone than to follow someone else’s agenda out of fear. I ugly cried for an entire day and half the next, afraid that my husband would leave me, but I have had peace in that decision from that day forward. (I wish that I could say that I haven’t succumbed to the fear again, but I have. The difficulty this causes in my marriage can overwhelm me on bad days.)

I’ve heard people talk about the Mormon traditions surrounding the afterlife as “sad heaven” because the fear message of separation from friends and loved ones if you go off-script is so prevalent. (In fact, it was strongly reiterated from the pulpit of LDS General Conference just this last weekend.) Mormonism is built upon the principles of agency and personal responsibility as well as a strong emphasis on knowing the truth for yourself. Yet, if you don’t follow the herd in lock step or your revelations aren’t the right ones, we’re told that you will be not only damaging yourself but damning your family unit. I find these messages difficult to reconcile. I think, in fact, that they are quite contradictory and it’s not really possible for religious people to have it both ways. Is God’s priority our heart even if he has to wander the wilderness to find it? Or, is God’s priority following the rules even if our heart isn’t really in it?

I talked last week about how we teach each other how to be better and how grace and connection are the currency of persuasion. I am really not sure why this approach often seems to not translate in religious structures because human nature doesn’t change based upon our environments – it’s quite universal and consistent. I get that motivating with fear works, at least for some people and for a time – it did for me. But, it was temporary. It was an empty faith that owned me more than me embracing it. It wasn’t authentic let alone powerful.

I don’t know what it takes to bring people back to religion because I’m not there. I would imagine that it is unique to each individual and that, for some, a different path will always be more healthy for them. I can say that it isn’t fear and judgment and shame. Those things brought me to my faith crisis, and when I put them down by the roadside, it was a blessed and blissful relief. When I recognize them around me, I shy away in concern that they will overwhelm my life again. What I can say is that, if I ever do change my perspective and decide to participate in religion again, it will not be motivated by fear. You cannot be bludgeoned back into the fold, but I think you can be loved back into the fold.

I am under no illusion about the certainty of my position – I know I could be wrong. However, I believe in a God that knows my heart and knows that my life choices continue to be made in integrity. I am doing the best I can with the knowledge, information and resources that I have. I believe that God wants my heart above all else and that the wilderness is likely the only place we can meet. I no longer fear that.