My mother's mother's mother's father joined the LDS church in Sweden in the 1860's. He came to the States, sending for his young daughter after he had settled in Utah. She grew up to marry another Swedish immigrant, and they were called to pioneer to southern Alberta. 6 weeks in a handcart, struggling with rivers, babies, angry natives and inadequate food, did not deter my great-grandparents from what they believed was a holy calling. As a founding family of Cardston, they worked on the construction of the temple and served in numerous capacities in the new settlement. I grew up hearing miraculous stories about this family, told and retold lovingly by my grandmother, one of 10 children. She had married a dashing and charismatic gentleman 10 years older than herself. Although he was not LDS, they made a home for themselves that was full of love and laughter (or so I've been told.)
After her husband died quite young, my grandma moved into town where she could resume church life, something she had sacrificed for many years (apparently to appease her husband, although this is somewhat debatable.) After her father died, my mom turned to the LDS church with a zeal born of one who desperately wanted to be reunited with her father in the next life. She became involved in the Institute at her university and has been very active ever since. This could have been wonderful, if she had married someone who shared her love of the Mormon church. Instead, after 10 years of courtship, she finally agreed to marry my dad. He was a pretty typical cowboy: he drank, fought, rode, and loved his boyhood sweetheart. However, to convince her to marry him, he had to promise that he'd go to church with her and that drinking wouldn't be a problem. (This should have been a bit better defined. What wasn't a problem for him was definitely a problem for HER.) Anyway, with the best of intentions, they married in 1959.
I recently found out that my dad wrote several letters to different prominent people, investigating the LDS church and its claims. He gave me the replies from Margaret Mead, Fawn Brodie, and a professor at the University of Chicago. While he was quite convinced of the invalidity of the church, he believed that "love conquers all" so he mistakenly assumed that the church wouldn't have that much of an effect on his marriage. My mother, on the other hand, had been assured in her patriarchal blessing that if she did her part, she would be sealed to her husband for "time and all eternity". Thus began the original "COLD WAR". Dad never stopped us 4 kids from going to church with mom, and he never once tried to tell us we were wrong or misled or ill-informed. He was, however, almost constantly miserable. I truly believed he was bound for Hell. There are no words to express the anguish of "knowing" that your father is being deceived by the Devil, that he is full of evil spirits, that he is hard-hearted and wicked. I grew up in a completely "us and them" mentality. "Us", those on the inside track, those who had God's ear, those who were Celestial kingdom-bound, were Latter-Day Saints. Everyone else who had ever existed on this planet, including my father and his parents, were "them", not as valiant in the pre-existence, not as blessed in this life, certainly not aware of Heavenly Father's great plan for us. Despite the amazing things this knowledge did for my ego, it also tortured me at my very core. I remember sitting on Dad's lap, as a 4 or 5 year old, asking him if he would baptize me. (This was at Mom's prompting.) I wanted him to go to church with us, because I hated how unhappy Mom was, driving the 4 of us by herself. I'd look at all the other perfect Mormon families, with the dad sitting with his arm around his wife's shoulders, the children spread amongst them. I hated my dad for not being with us.
In the late '70's, "Latter-Day Warrior" fever swept through our ward. My mom organized a youth choir about 40 strong, which included several non-Mormon local kids. They toured all around southern Alberta, receiving rave reviews wherever they performed. My 2 older brothers were so privileged to be in the choir (or so I thought). I was still in Primary, not old enough to participate, but old enough to stay home many nights alone with my little sister. As I matured, I poured my energy and talents into the LDS church. I was Beehives president, Laurel president, ward Seminary president. I played piano for the Primary. I bore my testimony almost every Fast Sunday. I paid tithing from my baby-sitting and 4-H earnings. I read the Book of Mormon many times, memorizing dozens of scriptures. I knew church history (sanitized version) inside out. I attended Especially For Youth at BYU twice. I went to church camp and church dances. My brother served a mission, and we wrote each other faithfully. When he went to BYU and told me of its glories, I knew that was the school for me. (Unfortunately, my other brother became inactive. I believed it would have been better for him to never have been born.) I applied to BYU and was given an scholarship based on my ACT scores. I was at the pinnacle of a young Mormon girl's dream. Being the only LDS girl in my rough and tough community, BYU beckoned to me like an oasis in a desert of heathens. I attributed the small nagging doubts I had to the extreme unhappiness in my family, blaming my father's Catholicism.
I had dated a bit during high school, and discovered much to my surprise that I really enjoyed being a bit more intimate than I figured a righteous young woman should be. On the night of my high school graduation, I did some truly wicked things (petting) and felt enormously guilty. With BYU just around the corner, I resolved to put all this immorality behind me and start my new life with a clean slate. I asked for an interview with my Bishop. In retrospect, this is what ultimately lead to me leaving the church, but that wouldn't happen for another 3 years.
I went to BYU in the fall of 1985, as enthusiastic and keen as a colt let out of the barn. Things did not turn out like I'd expected. I lived in residence the first year, and I admit I had a great time. I loved the whole ambiance of dorm life, and I was eager to sample all that life at the "Y" had to offer. My grades were dismal, (I'd never learned how to study in high school) but my social life was soaring. The only thing that was missing was a calling in my ward. I thought I'd be able to contribute some of my glowing enthusiasm to a Sunday School class or maybe as a Visiting Teacher. I waited all of September to be given an assignment, and when at last I was called to speak to the Bishop, I was really pleased. When I sat down, he greeted me and then said, "I understand you had some problems with chastity in your home ward." I was floored. I was devastated. I felt I had put all that behind me, and yet here it was, rising before me like a demonic nightmare! Head lowered, I muttered that yes, I'd spoken to my Bishop about it, but everything was fine now. He assured me he just wanted to let me know he was praying for me, and that I could talk to him anytime. I felt so ashamed! This man I'd never even spoken to privately before, knowing Lord knows what about me! Needless to say, I was not given a calling. Looking back, I realize that I was under a boulder that I could never push off, no matter how often I read the Book of Mormon, no matter how much I prayed, no matter how fervently I bore my testimony. As the months went by, I struggled to maintain my image of myself as a worthy daughter of Heavenly Father. When I went to church, I felt inadequate and guilty. I stopped taking the sacrament. I went on lots of dates, just to prove that I was ok. My reasoning was that if some guy wants to spend money on me, I must be worth something. Thinking of those months still makes me feel miserable.
I left the residence at the end of the winter semester and moved into an apartment off campus. My room mate accepted nonchalantly. I really liked to drink because I didn't care about what Heavenly Father thought of me when I was drunk. The rest of the time, I was consumed with self-loathing. Finally, after several weeks of partying, I decided I had to sober up. I really wanted to be a good Mormon girl, deep down inside, because that's the only place I'd ever felt special and accepted. So, off I went to the Bishop, once again. I was in a new ward since I'd moved, and I wasn't even sure who the Bishop was. I made an appointment nonetheless and spilled my marinated guts. I don't remember much about that except that he was very interested in the names of my fellow fornicators. He told me we'd need to have a Bishop's court as soon as possible, and I left. The next night, I returned to his office, where I met his counselors and the ward clerk, if I recall properly. Once again, I had to tell my sordid stories, and again they seemed more worried about those boys than they were about me. I was dismissed after much emotion on my part and some prayers on theirs. I couldn't believe what had happened to me. The Bishop said I'd have to leave BYU. He gave me a piece of paper saying I'd been disfellowshipped and that he prayed I would be faithful enough to come back to full membership soon. I packed my bags and left Utah that night, heartbroken and sick with myself. How had I fallen so far, so fast?
My poor parents had no idea what had happened to me. They'd sent away this lovely little girl and got back a complete basket case. I got a job in a city close to where I'd grown up and moved in with a high school friend. Here I was, 1 year after graduating with scholarships coming out of my ears, working for minimum wage with no plans of attending any school, never mind BYU. I struggled to fit into the student ward in my area. I went to all the basketball games, attended Institute, prayed, paid tithing, fasted and had regular meetings with my bishop. During these encounters, I would list all my activities, and valiantly ask what else I could be doing to regain my testimony. (Funny thing about testimonies. How come they're so elusive? If something is TRUE, it doesn't matter what you do, it will always BE true. Can you imagine the law of gravity depending upon the activities of the inhabitants of this planet? You can disbelieve it all you want, but you'll still fall DOWN when you jump out of a window! I never lost my testimony...I just felt totally worthless.) Anyway, I was eventually reinstated in the church, but I didn't FEEL anything. I was expecting a choir of angels, at least, proclaiming to all the ward that I was now worthy of their esteem. That of course didn't happen. I really believe that if I'd been shown the least bit of love and support by the members of that ward that I would have stayed in the church. (Or left for different reasons.) I was not LOVED back into the church. I tried so hard to fit myself into a perfect Mormon girl mold, and when I had no response from my ward, I was sure it was because of my own inadequacies and basic unworthiness. (I didn't date anyone for over a year. I felt I had at least conquered that aspect of my sinfulness.) I did go back to school eventually, but I was still so messed up that I couldn't study or even attend classes regularly. I had no idea what was wrong with me. Over time, I drifted farther away from church activities. I started going to the bars and pubs with new friends who I never felt judged by or inferior to. And I met a really great guy. (We all knew that was coming, didn't we?)
My roommate had been dating this guy, and one night she brought him home for supper. I fell for him really hard. However, he wasn't exactly a R.M. (which is whom I wanted to fall in love with.) I tried to convince myself, and him, that he was way beneath a Mormon girl like myself. But I was so attracted to him that after a year and a half, I finally stopped fighting "destiny". (My roommate and he lasted for only a few weeks.) We had supper together one evening, and 10 years later, we're still sharing suppers. In the beginning of our relationship, I was trying, albeit half-heartedly, to re-connect myself to the LDS church. I took him to sacrament meeting with me, once. It was Fast Sunday, and needless to say, he was a bit surprised at all the tears. He quite firmly refused to attend anymore. I made what now seems like an obvious choice: John over church. I remember thinking that if I was throwing away my eternal life for "Heaven on Earth", that was okay by me. I'd watched my family go through living Hell, banking on some vague future happiness, and I very consciously decided to go with what (who) made me happy now. I still believed that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the Book of Mormon was inspired. I just didn't know how to reconcile that knowledge with what I felt at church and with my relationship with John. This ambiguity produced incredible guilt. The first year we lived together, I was ill continually. I would pass out at work. I lost weight. I abused myself with prescription drugs. And yet, somehow, miraculously, our relationship evolved to the point of marriage. My mom, mortified that I wasn't getting married in the temple, had encouraged us to just elope. However, we decided on a small church wedding, attended by a few friends and some of our family. Our 4 parents, members of 4 different religions, had some major apprehensions about our union. The wedding video shows some rather strained expressions throughout the day. Anyway, we all survived.
At the time, John and I were both in university. Within 2 months of our wedding, I got pregnant. I am quite convinced that nothing else could have jolted me into reality quite like knowing I was having a baby. I immediately began to care for my health, eating properly, cutting back on caffeine, Tylenol, codeine, alcohol, etc. I felt that what I did to myself was one thing, but I couldn't subject another person, innocent and fresh, to such abuses. And once I sobered up, I began to deal with my guilt. This has taken years to resolve. John has been so supportive throughout, but most of it I've done on my own. Since he's not a Mormon, he can't understand what it feels like to leave the church. As is obvious from my story, I didn't leave because of any intellectual investigation. I left because I wanted to be happy with my partner, period. And yet, ironically, the guilt I carried about leaving threatened my life with John. So, I was at an impasse, seeking to balance my thirst for a spiritual life with my love for my husband. I have never really understood this part of my life til I started writing it out for this site. Mostly I just ignored it. Thanks again for the opportunity to resolve this!
The birth of our daughter was a turning point in my life. It was the most spiritual experience I'd had. Completely on my own, I brought the most beautiful creature into the world. As I held her, and nursed her, I knew God loved me. I knew I was strong and brave and oh so blessed. I was worthy to be the mother of this precious child, and I had birthed her gloriously! For the first time, I felt a connection with the Divine.
After the birth of my daughter, I became somewhat uneasy about religion. While I knew that I didn't want to cause any divisions in our family, I also had a yearning to impart some sort of religious instruction to my kids. However, I dealt with this mostly by ignoring it. My husband had no intention of going to church, of any denomination, and I didn't want to go by myself. I did have a few lively discussions with door-to-door Jehovah's Witnesses, and once with a pair of elders (they couldn't believe I just wasn't interested.) I read about Judaism, and a bit about Islam. I still believed in Christ, but I didn't have a very good grasp of just who He was. (Funny thing, considering I was still a member of the church of JESUS CHRIST of latter-day saints.) When I was about 24, I met a woman who was a Bahai, a faith I'd never heard of before. Over the years, our friendship deepened, and she began to share teachings from her beliefs with me. The first thing I remember her telling me is that if a family can only afford to educate some of it's children, it should be the girls, since they are the major influence on the children of the next generation. That caught my attention. Other ideas included the elimination of racism, progressive revelation, and the necessity of unity. I was very drawn to these philosophies, but I quite actively tried to deny it. She offered me literature, but I refused because I was so scared that I might get myself into something that I'd regret. When she told me that, according to the founder of the Bahai Faith, if religion was the cause of disunity among people, it would be better to have no religion, I was truly intrigued. What sort of a prophet would say such a bizarre thing?!? I'd never heard anything like that before, so I agreed to read some of his Writings. Gradually, over a period of 3 years, I came to accept this Faith, and it has lead me to a peace I never imagined. I won't get into a detailed account of the teachings of Baha ullah (literally, the "Glory of God" in P I will say that I have been healed of the scars inflicted during my years as a Mormon. I have also been able to acknowledge the good qualities I developed as a youth going through the various programs of the church. I now believe that we are all on our way back to God, but each of us takes the path best suited to our current stage of development.
We can outgrow certain belief systems, and occasionally need to expand our awareness. The LDS church suits many thousands of people just fine. Those who question the teachings are bound for great difficulty, as there are no answers within the church, and certain Hell if you leave (or so you are taught). I don't envy anyone who is in this uncomfortable situation, but I do pray for you. Until very recently, I had believed that Joseph Smith most likely did have a vision, but things got a little out of hand afterwards. Since my discovery of this site, and reading "No Man Knows My History", I think I was pretty much duped. While I can forgive myself for this, I have a much harder time with how this deception has destroyed my family. I know that my mom is the best LDS woman that she knows how to be. She is so bewildered as to where she went wrong, since she followed all the counsel so wisely imparted by several "inspired" bishops. Somewhere, somehow, someone will be called to account for the damage. To me, that is the scariest part of the LDS church: men actually believe they have this amazing authority that goes right back to Christ. What a huge responsibility to assume. It strikes me as pretentious at best, immoral at worst. Anyway, I will continue to deal with these issues, as I still have family involved in the church. I try to encourage them to QUESTION, QUESTION, QUESTION. And I'd say the same to whoever happens to read this.
Thanks for the space and time, Eric.
p.s. I wouldn't mind getting e-mail from anyone who wants to correspond about their experiences.
The Mail to: Kathryn - author of this story