exmormon, LDS, mormonism

Perfectly Imperfect…

I have been dreading writing this weeks blog.  Last week was a rough week and I wasn’t a very good Christian, and in all reality, part of me didn’t care. I was rude to people, said and did things I shouldn’t have, and wasn’t the follower of Christ I usually strive to be on a daily basis.  THANK GOD FOR GRACE!grace-blue

I was reminded this week that I am a sinner.  No matter how good of a person I am, I still sin. I know very well I am far from perfect, but most of the time I like to think I’m a pretty good person and am picking up my cross and following Christ.  I make mistakes here and there, but overall I’m a good person. And yet I still have that sin nature inside of me.  I’ve come a long way in my Christian walk and I know I still have a long way to go.  But I am so grateful for God’s grace and that I don’t have to earn it, because I would fail miserably!!  Without the knowledge and gift of grace I would still be living in a depressed, lonely, miserable world.

I’m also very grateful that I have a direct line to God and I don’t have to ask anyone but Him to forgive my sin.  Growing up in Mormonism, when you sin, you are supposed to confess to your bishop.  Most things don’t really matter it’s just the “big sins”.  When you turn 12 and enter into the young men and women groups you have an interview with the bishop every year around your birthday.  I remember this was always nerve racking.  I’ve discussed many times how I struggled with not feeling good enough.  I think this added to it a lot!  Imagine, sitting in an office as a 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 year old girl, knowing that you had your own inner secrets such as cutting, swearing, and depression, that you are expected to confess to some man.  In the office it was just the bishop and I.   I would sit in front of this man whom my parents knew well, and he would ask me all sorts of questions. The questions were centered around if I was keeping my baptismal covenants (that,at 8 years old, I don’t really remember making).  I would be asked about friends, drugs, alcohol, sex, basically if I was keeping my self worthy of a temple marriage.  The LDS.org website has an article that listed the following in regards to baptismal covenants: “Strive always to remember and keep the Lord’s commandments. Keep your thoughts, language, and actions pure. When you seek entertainment such as movies, television, the Internet, music, books, magazines, and newspapers, be careful to watch, listen to, and read only those things that are uplifting. Dress modestly. Choose friends who encourage you to reach your eternal goals. Stay away from immorality, pornography, gambling, tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs. Keep yourself worthy to enter the temple.”  I was a teenage girl!! I didn’t strive to always keep the Lord’s commandments.  I just stated at the beginning of this blog, I don’t always do this as an adult!  Imagine the guilt, shame, and frustration, that consumed me as a teenage girl already feeling inadequate, already feeling like I wasn’t enough, I could never measure up, and the only way to receive forgiveness was to confess to this man I was sitting in front of, the things I had done wrong, and hope that he would grant that forgiveness to me.

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When Brian and I were dating we became very “passionate” several times. We both knew we were doing things we shouldn’t and I believed I wanted to “be worthy” to go to the temple some day. The summer before my senior year of high school Brian moved to another state to live with family and go to college.  I was, of course, heartbroken he was so far away.  He came home to visit in September and signed up to take the missionary discussions from the LDS missionaries.  He took the missionary discussions while he was away at college and I mustered up the courage to go to my bishop and confess about our “passionate” rendezvous.  The bishop told me I need to break up with Brian and not see him any more.  I didn’t tell the bishop at the time that Brian was away at college.  I just told him OK.  I tried to be honest, tried to confess, and again I lied.  Brian was the love of my life, the bishop didn’t even take any of that into consideration.  Again shame, guilt, depression.  Hopelessness.

You all know that so far, Brian and I are living happily ever after  (I don’t listen to authority figures very well).

As a Christian, I am no longer bound by the chains of a religion that forces me to seek forgiveness for my sin from man.  My sin is forgiven.  Debt 100% paid. I take my transgressions and wrong doings directly to Christ.  The Message Bible 1 John 8-10 says “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves.  A claim like that is errant nonsense.  On the other hand, if we admit our sins- make a clean breast of them- He won’t let us down, He’ll be true to Himself.  He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing.”  If we claim that we never sinned, we out and out contradict God- make a liar out of Him.  A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God. Verse 9 is the key, “On the other hand, if we admit our sins- make a clean breast of them- He won’t let us down, He’ll be true to Himself.  He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing”.   We need to confess our sins to God, not man, not a bishop.

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Although my behavior this week most likely wouldn’t have called for me to meet with my bishop and confess anything, I wouldn’t have passed the interview that I would have  been required to have with my bishop as a teenager.  My language and how I treated others wasn’t very Christlike, but I confessed my sins to God.  I am forgiven in Christ Jesus. I am always grateful for the gift of grace and today and am also grateful for mercy.

So often I fall short.  I am a perfect sinner.  I fall short every day and yet my loving God is quick to forgive me.  I am a perfectly imperfect human, made perfect by a loving and faithful God.  perfectly-imperfect-2-stg

I am glad last week is over and I get to start over this week.  But the thing that has been on my mind most this week is how grateful I am that I don’t have to sit in front of someone who I go to church with every week and confess my shortcomings to them and ask them to give me the forgiveness that God already promised me in His Word.  I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about the shame and fear that would rise up in me when I would walk into the bishops office.

I see my pastor several times a week.  There is never fear of judgement, shame, or worry.  I know he is a human, just as I am.  I know he makes mistakes at times.  I know he is also covered by grace.

The biggest struggle this week is that I was focused more on myself and was trying to take control of situations that I have no control over.  When I take my eyes off of God I very quickly fall back my sinful self and do things that I later regret.

I’m just small town girl… living in a sinful world.  Praying for a better week.

 

exmormon, LDS, mormonism

Laughing Out Loud

So today we went on an adventure to find a Christmas tree.  We piled my 2 daughters, who are still at home, and the dog in our trusty old suburban and traveled about an hour into the mountains.  We got to the point where the roads were no longer maintained and almost got stuck.  At one point, the girls, a kind stranger, and I were pushing the suburban to keep it from sliding into the gutter and getting stuck in the snow.  It was fun and although it was stressful for my loving, amazing, husband, who entertains my crazy ideas, the girls and I laughed and had a fun time.  I’m still smiling from the experience.

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In the past, an experience like this would have sent me into a  complete melt down.  I would have been in tears blaming myself and feeling like a failure for having such a stupid idea to go into the mountains to get a Christmas tree. Or, I would have blamed Brian and been frustrated and angry with him and the rest of our day would have been ruined.  We ended up buying a Christmas tree at a local store and won’t put it up until tomorrow or Tuesday but that’s ok. It was still a fun adventure!

I love to laugh!  I spent so much of my life not even knowing how to smile, let alone laugh.  E.E. Cummings once said, “The most wasted of days is one without laughter”.  I completely agree with him.  I’m not sure why I struggled so hard to be happy.  There were times that I experienced happiness, moments that I can look back on, and I was happy in that moment.

I remember spending time with my cousins and the fun games we played.  I have 2 girl cousins that are close to my age and we spent a lot of time together.  In the summer when we were together we lived in my grandparents camp trailer.  It was our house, we liked to pretend we were in college. Those are some of my most cherished memories.  I remember birthdays and holidays, family get-togethers and celebrations, and yet, no matter the memory, the happiness was only for the moment.

As I got into jr. high and high school, the happy times faded even more.  I struggled to even feel happiness.  My smiles were fake, and laughter was rare if it ever happened.  I felt like I was living in a fog.  There were so many things that happened that I didn’t understand.  I felt confused about my world.  I felt like I was just floating along.

It’s easy to look back now and understand that I was struggling from depression.  I had a deep emptiness that I didn’t know how to fill.  I felt nothing.  I can’t even find words to describe it.  I just felt like a black hole, void, empty, nothingness.

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I tried many things to fill that void over the years. I tried beer for the first time when I was in jr. high.  It was nasty.  I had no desire to try it again. Not long after that, I tried my first wine cooler, and that I loved!  I liked it a lot.  The fortunate thing about living in a Mormon community and having a dad who knew the kids in the community, they didn’t let me go too many places that might get me in trouble.  If they had been more lenient with me I may have ended up in a lot more trouble than I did.  When I was in jr. high, my group of friends got in trouble for drinking on the bus.  I wasn’t on the bus because I had older siblings who could drive.  I think in a lot of ways, God was looking out for me.

I was never exposed to drugs, although I probably could have gotten them if I had really wanted them.  I was scared of using drugs because I already felt dumb and I didn’t want to be any dumber.  I did take some of my mom’s blood pressure medicine.  It made me really sick.  I’m not sure what my motive was other than I knew it wasn’t something I was supposed to do.

I really think I tried to find ways to rebel or do things that would go against my core values and beliefs.  I did this because I knew I would never be enough.  I remember thinking about every little thing I did wrong and how I could never do enough to make up for the sins I had already committed, so what was the point.

By the time I got into high school I had a new resolve to at least try and do better.  I had better friends but I still struggled with the void in my heart.  I continued to try and fill that void with everything other than the one thing that was meant to fill it.  I believed that if I found a boyfriend I would feel better about myself.  I had a few.  And then I met Brian, and although he brought me more happiness, he didn’t fill the void.  I believed if I focused more on the Mormon teachings and tried harder to be a good person that would help. Again I fell short.  I thought if Brian became Mormon and we got married then I would be happy and the emptiness would be gone.  Brian got baptized and that summer we got married and, although I was happy, it was only a temporary fix.

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Everything I did, it was only temporary, having a baby, moving closer to family, moving into a house.  It didn’t matter. In the moments when things did seem to be going right I would find a way to sabotage the happiness because I didn’t know how to handle happiness. I don’t think I ever did this intentionally, but I would do this because I was afraid of having anything good because I knew it would only be temporary.  I was looking for the missing piece to the puzzle inside my heart in all the wrong places.  It wasn’t until the dark moment in my life when I was tired and ready to give up on life that I finally figured out where to look for the piece I was missing.

Once I gave my life to Christ, things were different.  The void was filled and I no longer struggled to find something to fit into that hole.  It was truly an amazing difference.  As I’ve stated in previous blogs, through all of this struggle I was cutting, binging and purging, and had constant suicidal ideation.  That all stopped when I gave my life to Christ.  I work in mental health and I understand mental illness.  I know there is a time and a purpose for medication and time and a purpose for counseling.  That wasn’t the path God set for me.  When I gave my life to Christ, it’s like I woke up.  The fog I lived in was lifted, I was no longer living in a black hole.  I began to see the world in a different way than I ever had before.  I began to understand things that seemed so confusing before.  And the best thing, I learned to smile, and with smiling came laughter. Not just a giggle or a small ha ha, genuine belly laughter, laugh out loud laughter.  I had not genuinely laughed or smiled in so long the muscles in my neck were sore.

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I don’t remember exactly when it was or what happened, but I remember I laughed out loud at something and Brian just looked at me, almost stunned.  I asked him what was wrong and he said something about me not ever laughing, he was a little unsure.  I think there may have been some uneasiness about me sabotaging the situation.

Even today, we talk about how far I have come.  I know my happiness and laughter is a direct result of accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I am still amazed that I can see humor and laugh at things.  I have not only learned to be happy, but I have found joy.  One of my co-workers told me my laugh is contagious, he loves to hear me laugh.  For a girl who didn’t even to know how to laugh that is one of the greatest compliments.  I laugh on a daily basis and can’t imagine a life where I can’t laugh, at least laugh at myself. I think laughter is contagious, it can be a universal language, it can diffuse tension and bring people together.

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I think one of the hardest things in this world is letting go of control, especially to God, who you can’t see.  But one of the best most amazing things I did was quit trying to fill the hole in my heart by myself and let the God of the Universe who crated everything take control of my life, and it brought me happiness, laughter, and joy.

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I’m just a small town girl… living in a gleeful world.

Just for laughs!!

exmormon, LDS, mormonism

Family, Football, & Heaven

The holidays are always a difficult time for me.  I struggle with wanting to spend time with my family and knowing that being around my family only makes me irritable and depressed. Thanksgiving was just that, we time spent with my family and when I left I spent at least an hour after I got home having to de-stress.

Growing up Mormon, I was taught family is everything.  It is the end goal of life.  It is the  reason to live.  It is the point of salvation. Mormons teach, family’s can be together forever.  They believe that if you are good enough and do enough to make it to Heaven, and your family does the same, you can all be in Heaven together.

As a Christian this was one the of the hardest things for me to reconcile.  It was hard for me to let go of.  I love my family and although we don’t get along all of the time, and some of them drive me absolutely crazy, they are my family.  But the reason I have a difficult time is because of the man God put in my life.  How could God put someone like Brian in my life and not let me be with him in the next life.  I want to be married to him forever!  I know for some that may be a crazy thought but Brian and I have been married for over 22 years.  We have been a couple for over 24 and best friends for over 25.  That’s more than half our lives!!  I really don’t know what I would do without him.  He is my rock.  I also want to know I will be able to be with my kids forever.  So this promise the Mormon’s make, of forever families, is hard to let go of.

We spent Thanksgiving day with my family.  One of the first things I did was walk into the living room.  I had to make sure the picture frame was still empty, because like I’ve said before, this is the real picture of my family.  As we spent the day eating and playing games there was, as always, a heaviness in my heart. I want my family to know Christ like I do.  I want them to experience the freedom that comes with the knowledge and understanding of true grace.  As I sat there and watched, I could see the sadness, the depression in my sisters and sister-in-law’s eyes.  It’s exhausting to try and be enough.  It’s hard to try and fit into the cookie cutter mold of what you are supposed to be when you are created for so much more!  I wouldn’t say they aren’t happy, they have moments of happiness, but they are lacking joy and freedom.  They aren’t able to be who God has created them to be. It’s so hard when you know just one small change in their mindset would truly set them free.

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One of the hardest things I struggle with is the fun times we always had as a family growing up and the fun times my kids have when they get together with their cousins.  We have such fun family traditions and fun things we do together. One of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions is our family Turkey Bowl.  The whole family gets together and plays a game of flag football.  We have a family of athletes many of the kids have played sports in high school and all of my siblings played sports in high school.  So it is a fun event.  It’s also common in the summer time for my family to get a game of basketball going on the cement slab in the back yard, or a game of “ennie inne over head”, a game where you have 2 teams, one on each side of the house. One team throws a Nerf football over the house and if the other team catches it they run around to the other side and try to hit as many people on the other team with the football as they can. It’s a fun game we have played ever since I can remember.  We have played tennis together and an endless number of board games and card games. We are a competitive family, but always have a good time.  We know how to celebrate a win but have also learned how to lose.

We also know how to eat, and no one ever goes hungry when we are together.  We come from a family of good cooks, there is always something cooking or something that just came out of the oven.  Never say you are hungry around my family because they will offer to make you something to eat, even when the kitchen counter is full of food. It’s been fun to watch my kids grow up with many of the same traditions.  I love that they get to spend time with their cousins and have good friendships with them.

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This is what makes the family struggle, so hard.  There is a part of me that thinks, at times, it would be easier to just go back to being a Mormon because maybe there wouldn’t be the tension that now exists in my family.  But then I look at my life and I know there is no way I could ever go back to the struggle of having to be, “good enough”.  Wondering and doubting myself.  Trying to fit into a cookie cutter that I was never created to fit into.

The hard part about the forever family in Mormonism, is that there is no way to determine if you’ve done enough.  And even if you manage to do enough, that’s only you.  How do you have a forever family if you all have to do enough?

When I first became a Christian one of the songs I fell in love with was Audio Adrenalin’s Big House.  I love it.  I describes what I think Heaven will be like.  It is what I imagine a forever family to be.  The chorus says:

“It’s a big big house
With lots and lots a room
A big big table
With lots and lots of food
A big big yard
Where we can play football
A big big house
It’s my Father’s house”

How can you not love that!  I think that sounds just like my family.  I love the thought of a good game of football and Jesus is the quarterback.  Or us sitting around a big table full of the most delicious food you can imagine sharing a meal with Jesus.  Being in Heaven and spending time doing the things we enjoy as a family, but all in worship! I don’t know if that’s what Heaven will really be like, but I think it would be amazing.

As I’ve grown in my Christian walk, I have realized one of the biggest differences between Mormonism and Christianity is, the focus.  Mormons focus so much on the effort of man and man made things they forget about God. The difference between Heaven in Mormonism verses Christianity is, in Mormonism you continue to learn and work and try to gain your way to the different levels of heaven, even after death.  In Christianity, Heaven is continuous worship of God.  You are in Heaven to worship God, there is no more.

I also know, as I have grown in my Christian walk, the only way to be with my family forever is through grace.  I will never be good enough on my own, neither will Brian, my kids, or my family.  So accepting God’s grace, though the sacrifice of Christ, and teaching my kids and family about grace, that is the only way to be with family forever.

I know I have no control over the future.  I have no control over whether or not my family ever accepts grace and truly comes to Christ.  But I trust my God.  I know he has a plan for my life and he has a plan for my kids and my family.  I know that if I keep my focus on God, he will direct me in everything I do, and that’s all I can do.  I know most days I’m not the greatest example to my family.  I avoid them because I have a hard time with the negativity and the stress when I am around them.  But I hope and pray, that someday they will see the difference Christ has made in my life and they will have a desire to at least explore what made that difference.

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I’m just a small town girl…. living in a world of grace.

exmormon, mormonism

Believing Isn’t Enough…

After Brian and I went through the temple, we began to pull away from the Mormon church.  There were so many things that just didn’t seem right to us.  We were so tired of the hypocrisy and double standard that existed.  I am grateful for the fact that I never doubted that God was real or that I believed in Him.  So many people, when they walk away from Mormonism, are angry and hurt and they become atheist or agnostic. They don’t just walk away from Mormonism, they walk away from God altogether. My heart hurts most for the people who walk away from God completely.

Brian and I didn’t immediately start attending a Christian church.  In fact, we didn’t even really know why we were walking away.  There were just some things we didn’t like and didn’t agree with; and honestly, we just didn’t want to spend our Sunday filled with church.  I had a desire to teach our kids about God and I had a plan to teach them what I wanted them to know, someday.

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At the point we were done with the Mormon belief system, God put us back in the thick of my Mormon world. I had just given birth to my 2nd child and Brian was in the hiring process for his dream job that would eventually become his career. We moved back home to our small town and lived with my parents for a month until the house we were going to rent was ready for us to move into.  This was a difficult transition.  Brain had stopped wearing his garment top the previous summer, it was hot wearing 2 shirts and he just didn’t want to do it any more. When his bottoms wore out we just bought him regular underwear.  My decision to stop wearing them came while I was pregnant, they were uncomfortable and expensive.  I couldn’t afford to buy extra maternity sets.  When my pregnancy was over, it was a lot cheaper to just buy a pack of underwear at Wal-mart than to buy even 1 set of garments.   I don’t remember the exact cost but it was just over $3.00 for 1 top and $3.00 for one pair of bottoms. We were young and still trying to figure out life and we didn’t really believe it anyway, so we just stopped wearing them.  I must not have realized the impact this would have when my mom found out. I remember my mom offering to do our laundry, being grateful for the offer because I had a 19 month old, rambunctious boy, and a newborn baby. She came to me extremely upset that she wasn’t washing any garments.  I think that was the first time I said anything to anyone in my family that we didn’t really believe Mormonism anymore. Needless to say, my mom was extremely concerned about us. She lectured me, with a hushed voice, about the repercussions of taking off our garments.  I’m not sure why she was whispering, it’s not like the neighbors would hear.  Maybe she was worried about my little brother or sister hearing.  We had been going to the Mormon church while we lived there because we felt it was easier than having the fight or discussion, I think this gave my mom some hope that we weren’t completely lost.  We moved out a few weeks later and never attended church, a Mormon church or any other church, other than for special occasions again.

I always had a plan to sit down and teach my kids about God.  I thought I would teach them the Bible stories I loved so much.  I thought I would teach them about Noah and the flood, David and Goliath, Samson and his hair.  Every week I planned that Sunday mornings we could do this over breakfast.  Sunday morning would come and I would lay in bed or I would get up and spend hours on the internet in chat rooms.  Teaching my kids about God always turned into next week.  I bought them some books that talked about God.  We sang songs.  They knew, and probably still do know, I Am a Child of God.  They knew some Christian songs because I bought them some CD’s that had songs like This Little Light of Mine, Jesus Loves Me, and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.  But I didn’t even know what it meant to believe in God or what I believed.  I just knew that I didn’t want to be Mormon any more.
This transition was really hard.  Brian and I were growing apart at this time.  Brian had started a new job and I left a full time job and started working part time and being more of a full time mom.  I worked from 7 am until 11 am.  I was able to be home most of the day.  It’s a good thing social media didn’t exist back then.  I would have had a complete melt down.  I already felt so inadequate about myself, still struggled with not feeling good enough, still cutting a few days a week, social media and the “super mom’s” that you see on Facebook and Pintrest would have made me feel even worse about myself.  I realize now  I have other skills and talents, they just aren’t able to be highlighted on social media. 😉
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Part of the reason I decided to start attending a church was because I realized I couldn’t teach my kids how to follow Christ or what I believed because I didn’t know myself.  For the first 2 years of my Christian walk I went to church faithfully.  I listened to Christian radio and I would swear that every Pastor I listened to knew my story and knew exactly what I needed to hear.  I learned a lot about God during that time and I learned, somewhat, about the Christian walk.  But I didn’t learn much about how it applied to me.  I learned that God loved me and accepted me.  I learned that I am a sinner saved by grace and grace only.  I learned that Christians believe that you need to say a prayer to accept Christ and I understood where that belief came from.  I said that prayer every week for a long time because I didn’t understand what it meant to accept the gift of grace.  I had such a hard time believing that I was really “saved” or that I could ever be good enough to make it to Heaven.  One of the hardest things about transitioning from Mormonism to Christianity is learning to let go of all the misconceptions that are ingrained from growing up in a Mormon world.

Brian and I have been out of Mormonism for about 18 1/2 years.  We have been Christians for about 16 years and in so many ways I would still call myself a “baby Christian”.  In 2009 God led us to a church where we actually started, not just hearing His word, but truly growing and learning what we believe and why we believe it.  In the past my family would ask my why I left Mormonism and I would get upset and defensive.  There were many times I got mad a just walked away because I didn’t know how to talk or have a discussion with them.  In the past 7 years I have learned so much. I haven’t learned just why Mormonism is wrong, I have learned what I believe, and why I believe it.  I have learned that the Bible is a historically accurate source. I have learned that there is one God, existent in 3 beings, called the Trinity.  I learned that the old laws of the Old Testament are no longer valid today.  They have been covered by the blood of Christ.  I know why Christ died on the cross for my sins.  I realize that his death on the cross is just as important to my salvation as his resurrection.

I think the biggest thing that I have learned in all of this time is that I can’t do this on my own.  I can’t live my life without God at the center.  When my life isn’t focused on Christ, I struggle.  I drift away and life seems so much more difficult.  When I am rooted in Christ I grow.  I can manage life.  I have also learned that the best way to keep me rooted in Christ is to keep people around me who are rooted in Christ.  I have learned the importance of having a church family, Christian friends, and a Pastor who you can connect with.

Believing in God isn’t enough.  In James 2:19 (NLT) it says, “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.  Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.”  The church we attend started out as a group of friends who struggled to find a church they wanted to attend locally.  They got together and it has grown into an amazing group of genuine believers who able to connect and grow in God’s word.  One thing I didn’t realize as a Mormon, that I’ve since learned as a Christian is, all Christian denominations are the same.  We are all the same body of Christ.  The difference is, in preferences in worship.

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I think I say this every week but I am amazed that Brian and I were able to make it through all that we went through on our own.  We didn’t have people to surround us and help us through.  We made it because, I believe, it was God’s desire for us to make it.  If you are a believer but don’t have a place you are connected, go find one!  One of my favorite authors is Brene Brown, PhD.  She is a research professor at the University of Huston.  She studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.  She talks a lot about connection and the importance of connection.  We are made for connection, we aren’t made to do life alone, we are made to do life together.  “Connection along with love and belonging, is why we are here, and is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives”- Brene Brown. 

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I don’t know if my walk and journey as a Christian would have been easier if we would have been connected to other believers, but I know it would have been a little lighter.  I wouldn’t have had to walk through all of the confusion and struggles I had by myself.  I would have had a group of people willing to wrap their arms around me and help me where ever I needed.

Just the rants and ravings of a small town girl… living in a connected world.

 

exmormon, mormonism

God is My Oxygen…

I work with people who struggle with mental illness and addiction.  In one of my groups this week, one of my clients who has struggled with addiction for most of her life was talking about the difficulty of trying to stay sober everyday.  She has almost 30 days clean and she talked about how sometimes she will go into the place where they hold AA and NA meetings and she won’t leave all day long because if she walks out the door she will use. She has come a long way in the short time she’s been in our program and she said something that really stuck with me this week. She said, “My worst days sober are still so much better than my best days using”.  I think that I could relate to that because, although I have never been addicted to drugs, I have lived in a world where I had an addiction and I was filled with despair and hopelessness. My addiction was cutting, and the despair and hopelessness was fueled by the knowledge that I would never be good enough.

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I cut for the first time when I was in 6th grade.  I remember the day very clearly.  It was a Saturday, I had a friend who had spent the night on Friday night and sometime late Saturday morning she went home.  I had gotten in a fight with my mom, I don’t remember what we fought about but this wasn’t an uncommon thing.  I was stubborn (still am) and liked to do things my own way (still do).  After the fight with my mom, I called and talked on the phone with my friend about wanting to kill myself, she didn’t believe me.  I don’t think I believed me either.  I had to clean the kitchen that day, I was cleaning the kitchen and washing dishes, I took an kitchen knife and slid it across my wrist.  It hurt.  It was just a scratch.  I did it again, another scratch.  The cuts were very superficial, barely breaking the skin, but it was my secret, something I had control over.  When I went to school on Monday I showed my friends.  They were worried and scared. They showed me a lot of attention and told me how important I was to them.  I liked the attention. It fueled my desire to do it more.

It didn’t take long for this to be how I coped with everything.  My mom used a straight razor to cut my dad’s hair.  I conveniently would take 1 or 2 out of the box and keep them with me or hide them in my dresser drawers.  I had one with me at all times.  When something would go wrong in my life, no matter how small, it became an excuse to cut. Bad grade on a test, cut; fight with friends, cut; woke up in a bad mood, cut.  It wasn’t long before it became old with my friends and they weren’t giving me that attention I wanted, so I kept cutting and didn’t say anything.  It still felt like it gave me a sense of power and control in my life I didn’t have anywhere else.

At times when I felt like things were really bad, fights with my mom, fights with my friends, I couldn’t wait to get home and get out my razor blade and cut. I craved putting the razor to my skin.  I craved the sens of release that would come when the blood would start flowing.  I would have times I would black out and not remember cutting. I rarely cut in nice uniform rows, most often they were chaotic.  I would just run the razor blade over my skin over and over every which way, no order, not caring, it was a release of emotion.  And then, I would have an emotional crash, and I would sleep.

This was my life day in and day out.  The smallest things would push my buttons and I would have a reason to cut and I would find a reason or make a reason.  I would manipulate situations and people so I would have a reason to cut. I didn’t know any other way to cope and I didn’t understand the emotions I was feeling.  As I got older and into high school I became more and more hopeless.  The secret I was hiding about my cutting, ugly scars that were materializing all over my body, and the shame and guilt that was building within was fueled by daily seminary lessons on living a life of morality.  Weekly Sunday school lessons and young women’s teachings about integrity, faith, accountability, living by church standards, and dying inside because I really didn’t know how to do these things.  I wasn’t made to be this way.  I knew with every fiber of my being I would NEVER measure up to the standards that were set for me.

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I tired and tried every day to be the person I was “supposed” to be.  I tried so hard, I read the Book of Mormon, and tried to understand and feel something.  I didn’t, I thought “There must be something wrong with me.”  Every time I tried harder it would drive me deeper and deeper into depression.

I was so lost and alone.  I was so broken, I had no sense of who I was or where I belonged.  The harder I tried to draw near to this god that my religion taught me about the more broken and hurt I felt.  Who was I? Why would God want me?  I had no desire to be the person that the Mormon church taught me I should be. I remember being in high school and laying in my bed and truly feeling hopeless.  I remember thinking “I will never be enough.  I can never do enough, so why even try?”  I know that it is only by the grace of God that I made it to where I am today.  If God had not put Brian in my life in high school I’m not sure I would have made it.

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Just after Brian and I started attending a Christian church, God began to do a lot of healing in our lives.  We became pregnant with child 3.  This was one of the points that was leading us to divorce.  Brian didn’t want any more kids.  I did.  It was a topic that wasn’t even up for discussion, and although I became pregnant earlier than we had planed, we were excited.  When I was 7 months pregnant I tore my meniscus. In high school I had torn my ACL and never had it repaired.  So at 8 months pregnant, I had knee surgery.  Before Christ this would have caused me to have a mental break down and sent me into a tail spin. I would have felt worthless and hopeless and that I couldn’t do anything right.  Kassidy was 3 1/2 weeks early but completely healthy.  My knee surgery went well. I didn’t cut.  When Kassidy was about a year old we found out we were pregnant again. I did go into a bit of a tail spin with that.  We didn’t plan to have any more children.  Being pregnant with Kassidy was hard on my body and I had toxemia.  But Brian was my rock and reminded me that God was in control and we just needed to trust Him.  I became very sick, my blood pressure was so high they had to deliver Aspen 2 months early.  I didn’t blame myself or have a break down.  I handled this time in my life well.  Especially for being someone who struggled with depression and coped with life by cutting.

Within the next 4 years there were many more struggles and major life changes that in the past would send me into a compete mental break down.  It is only by the true grace of God that I am alive today.  Things sill go wrong.  I still have struggles.  Sometimes it is the smallest things that I struggle with but I always remember that God is in control, I am already forgiven, and I am enough.  If I keep my focus on Christ then no matter what is thrown my way I can manage.  John 10:10 NLT says “The thief’s purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”  It is Satan that fuels my fire when I am having struggles.   When I trust in God and remember He is in control it doesn’t make the hard times go away but it makes them a lot easier to manage.

Every time I think back to where I came from and where I am today, I am truly in awe.  God’s hand print is on my life.  There is no way I would be here if it weren’t for God wanting me here. I still get overwhelmed with life sometimes.  This week the littlest of things have been my struggle.  I dropped my phone in the toilet.  I have lost my wallet. I have some things at work I’m struggling with and some things in my personal life I’m working through.  And this week God took my Love, My rock the thing that is tangible away from me and I had to stop and really pause and rely on God.  Brian had training out of town this week and although I talked to him on the phone, it was hard.  Remember, I threw my phone in the toilet, my communication with Brian was limited because I didn’t have MY phone.  We couldn’t text or talk like we normally do.  What amazes me is the same thing 15 years ago would have caused me to have a complete break down.  I would have cut, binged and purged, and made him feel guilty about being out of town for his job and having a good time. I am so grateful that God has brought me to place where HE is my rock, my sanctuary, my refuge.  God is my safe place.

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I’m just a small town girl… Living in the world.  My hardest days with Christ are far better than my best days with out Him!

exmormon, LDS, mormonism

Why do you check your box?

One of my favorite quotes states “The essences of a lie isn’t the words you choose but the intent behind it.” Unknown.  I feel like this can be applied to many things in life.  What is your intent behind the things you do?

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Growing up in my small town Mormon world, I was always asked, reminded, and told, to “make the right choices” and “what will people think”. Of course there were always different variations of those statements.  But my motivation and intention in life was to live according to LDS standards and because my dad was a prominent member of the community, I had to always be aware that people were watching and judging what I did.

I was very good at playing the role, putting on the mask, and saying the right things.  I would complain and whine about having to go to church on Sunday, for all 3 hours.  I would try to find excuses not to go to mutual or any of the other church activities they would have.  It wasn’t very often that I was able to get out of it.  And so, I would show up, I would put on the face, and go through the motions.  All the while, the intent behind my actions was because, I had to.

I feel like this is a common practice in the Mormon church.  They often talk about service and doing things for others.  They boast about the service they do.  Yet the service that is done, is often out of requirement to earn their position in Heaven, and not out of a desire to worship God.

When Brian and I had our first born and I was in the hospital, the Relief Society President showed up, unexpectedly.  We had lived in the ward for several months but we hadn’t been to church yet.  She decided showing up at the hospital was a good time to stop by and introduce herself to me.  I had no clue who she was. My labor was long and difficult and I wasn’t up for meeting new people.  I don’t believe she was there for me.  She was there to check the box off of her list,  “did her good deed for the day”,  “met her obligation as Relief Society President”.  Needless to say, I don’t remember her name, what she looked like, or even what we talked about.  I’m not sure if I even ever saw her again.  We lived in the same ward for about 2 years.  We were still living there when we had our 2nd child.  Did she come to meet with me out of true care and concern for me as a human being that she wanted to get to know, or out of obligation to her role in her church?  I believe it was completely out of obligation.

Sadly, this was a very common theme in my adult experience as  Mormon.  Wherever Brian and I lived, it was common for us to have a knock on the door and there would be our home or visiting teachers.  They would come in for their brief visit and then they were gone again until next month.  We were always welcoming and friendly.  Sometimes they would bring cookies or little gifts and I was always kind.  We would let them share their messages and never argued or contradicted their teachings.

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When we moved back to our home town, things were a little different.  By this time we had started attending a Christian Church. We weren’t outspoken about our Christian faith but we weren’t open to Mormonism at all, and weren’t willing to have that discussion.  We were what is considered an “inactive” Mormon.  We were still on the list, so the check mark still had to be made.  We still had to have visiting teachers and home teachers, but because we were going to a different church, the rules must have been a little different.  At this point our son was starting be involved in community sports because of this we were more involved in the community than we had been in other places that we lived.Every month at a game or practice the same guy would come up and talk to us.  Ask us about the family how things were going.  We would engage him in conversation for a few minutes and then he would go back to his side of the field and go back to his life.  It didn’t take long to figure out he was our home teacher and this was his way of being able to check the box off the list.  “Did you meet with the Johnson’s this month?”  check-mark

One of our neighbors, was a guy I went to high school with and I soon realized his wife was one of my visiting teachers.  Every month at the beginning of the month she would stop by for some reason or another.   She stopped by with a catalog of something she was selling.  She stopped by with cookies.  She would stop by just to say hi.  But it was never to get to know me.  It was never to see if I needed anything.  What was her intent? check-markTo check that off her to do list.

When this neighbor moved, every month I started getting a letter in the mail with no return address that had the visiting teaching message for the month in it.  And I guess that counted as the check mark too.  Because at least they were sending me the message.  This was more insulting to me than than anything else.  I would have preferred someone to say, “Hey, I’m your visiting teacher and I know you’re not Mormon anymore but can I stop by once a month and say hi to you so I can do my calling?”

Another great example is when I had my youngest daughter, I was very sick and she was born 2 months early.  I was in the hospital 40 minutes away from home.  At this point, Brian and I had not been attending the Mormon church for 3 years.  Due to the problems I was having, they kept me on the surgical floor for 3 days and I don’t remember much during that time.  They had finally moved me up to the maternity ward and I was starting to feel better and become more stable.  One day, I was sitting in the bed, in my hospital gown, I hadn’t been able to shower for several days, and I was pumping some breast milk. I had a double breast pump and in walk the whole bishopric from our ward.  I of course looked horrified.  We had never been to church.  I only knew them from my childhood.  I’m still not sure why they were there.  I don’t remember much about the conversation.  I was focused on making sure my blankets stayed up so I didn’t reveal myself to these men that I only knew from when I was a kid. It still mortifies me to think about.  Why did they drive 40 minutes without calling to see if it would be OK if they stopped in?  I don’t believe there was any intent to worship or connect with Brian and I out of true care and concern.  I believe it was to,check-markcheck the box.

Since becoming Christian and finding our home church, I have learned a lot about service and the intent behind what you do.  When we started attending Journey Church, I was just finishing my bachelors degree.  I started my Masters program shortly after, which was only a 1 year program.  When I was done I need to come up with $300.00 to take my licensure exam.  My church family organized a fund raiser to help me pay for my exam.  I was blown away.  They raised enough money for my exam and gas to drive to Utah where the testing center was.  I felt so unworthy of such a blessing.  What was their intent? To be of service and worship God by helping others.  There was no box to check off.

The other thing that changed in the aspect of worship as a Christian at our home church is, when people talked to us and interacted with us, it was authentic and genuine.  We have friends who reach out to us during the week and we also reach out to them.  We know their struggles and they know ours. We have people we pray with and read the Bible with and truly share our lives with.  This is the truest form of worship.  Not who we are on Sunday or at a church activity, but who we are in our daily lives and our willingness to accept and connect with people regardless of where they are at.

I have seen my church family come together and build a tree house, paint a house, bring meals to families, and to raise money for medical needs. We have come together for weddings and funerals, for Sunday service, and Bible study.  The intent of coming together at these times isn’t out of obligation to earn our salvation.  It isn’t to make sure we are trying hard enough or doing enough.  It is completely, 100%, because we have a desire to worship our God!

The most telling part, to me, of the intent behind the actions of the Mormon church, at least here in this small town, is… When the ward bishop came to us and told us we needed to remove our records or face disciplinary action. When I was in grad school, the ward bishop approached Brian and I about removing our records, honestly I was a little surprised.  I was unsure why he felt it necessary for that to happen.  I had thought about it, but never felt it was that big of a deal.  I didn’t care what they did with the paperwork they had on me.  Brian and I spoke with our pastor about it, and he advised us that removing our records would be the right thing to do.  Just a way of “playing nice”.  It would create less struggle and problems for us and our kids since we planned to continue living in the community. The bishop came to our house several times to ask us about this.  He had never spoke to us ever.  But for some reason it seemed like it was his personal mission to make sure we had our records removed on his watch as bishop.   The bishop told us, “You’ll still be part of the community, you’ll still be invited to do things with the ward”.

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We of course removed our records, not out of fear of disciplinary action, but because we felt it was the right thing to do.  Just a few weeks before his time as bishop was completed, he stopped by to verify when he would have our letter.  We turned it over just a week before he completed his calling.  When I asked Mormon friends why he would do this, the only answer I have gotten is that for some reason he feels some sort of obligation for our salvation. Since then, many people from the ward who would at least say hi to us won’t even acknowledge us.  And that bishop won’t even make eye contact.  The motivation and intent behind doing any thing in Mormonism is because they have to do it, not because they want to. It’s all about making sure they are trying hard enough and has nothing to do with God.

I’m just a small town girl… living in a checkbox world.check-mark

 

LDS, mormonism

An Empty Frame is Also Worth 1,000 Words…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGYjKR69M6U

I gave my blog a new look this week!  I’m pretty excited about the look because I feel like it’s more me.  You can now find me by googling justasmalltowngirldotdotdot.com.  I also made some changes, you no longer need to login or have an account on WordPress to leave a comment or like my blog.  I also made it so it can also be anonymous. You can leave a comment without leaving a name or email.  I’d love to hear from you.

This week I want to give a shout out to my Journey Family!!  I couldn’t do this without your love and support.  I also want to give a shout out to the friends I have in the community who support me despite our differences.  Your love and support mean more than you’ll ever know!

Since walking away from Mormonism, I have talked to many people, some from childhood and some I’ve met along my journey who have thanked me for speaking out, for having the courage to do what they didn’t.  I have also spoken to many who don’t really believe in Mormonism but it’s easier to stay and live a lie than to walk away and live with the shame and disappointment from family and friends. To most,happiness doesn’t matter.  I’ve had many people tell me, “You must’ve just had some bad experiences”.  And while that may be true, those bad experiences set me on a path to find truth, which lead me to true happiness and contentment I would have never found in the Mormon church.

Living in a small town where 99.8% of the kids in school are LDS, where 95% of the people you work with are LDS, where in every aspect of your world you are surrounded by Mormon people, and in order to feel like you are a part of the community, you conform. And on top of it all your family is Mormon.  You do what everyone else is doing because it is easier, and Mormon’s aren’t bad people, they have good morals, and do a lot of good things. I have heard this many times.  It is a more common theme than you would ever realize. It’s so easy to justify.

To me it is so sad that people who don’t believe in Mormonism choose to stay.  They are willing to sacrifice themselves to fit in, to not be judged.  I completely understand this.  When Brian and I walked away, we weren’t broadcasting our new found beliefs.  I often struggled.  I would look around the church we were attending at the time and see families.  I would see Mom’s with their grown daughters and sisters worshiping God together.  It was so sad to me because I felt this would never happen for me. But I knew that I was happier, life was better, and I was doing what God wanted me to do.  At some point I felt God told me I would have a family that would worship with me.  He has delivered on his promise and I enjoy worshiping with my family and knowing my children walk in truth.

 

When you grow up in a Mormon family and live in a Mormon community, it’s hard to know that there is anything else out there.  Growing up I thought there were basically 2 religions, Mormon because that was the world I lived in, and Catholic because that’s what I saw on TV.  I have a lot of frustration toward my parents at times because I had the amazing blessing of growing up within 1 mile of both sets of my grandparents.  I had one set of grandparents who were LDS and one set who weren’t.  We spent a lot of time at my Mormon grandparents home and with that side of the family.  I remember thinking that my other set of grandparents must not be very good people because, “they drink coffee.”  I struggle with this because it wasn’t until a few years after we left Mormonism that we ran into them at the grocery store one Sunday and we told them we had left the Mormon church.  My grandma told me they had been praying for all of us our whole lives and they were grateful that we had found the truth.  It wasn’t until then that I realized that they were Christian.  I spent all of my childhood not knowing my grandparents who lived less than a mile from my home, mostly because they had a different belief system.   Shortly after we became believers in the true Christ, my grandparents sold their home and began traveling the country.  My grandpa became one of my biggest supporters, biggest prayer warriors and I knew I could count on him to support me when it came to the struggles I had with my family.  My grandpa passed away in 2012, but during the time that he was alive I truly learned what a man of God was by his example.  It’s hard to think that I thought he might be a bad person because he drank coffee (I now love coffee).

But I think the biggest kicker is, Mormon’s believe in family.  It is one of their best promises.  They teach that families can be “together forever”.  This is one of the hardest things I struggled with.  Growing up I was taught that family is important.  I spent a lot of time with cousins, aunts & uncles, and my LDS grandparents.  We celebrated every event and occasion.  I am grateful for those memories and the traditions that came along with those experiences.  I have tried to carry on the importance of family with my own children.  When my kids were little it was important to me that they were able to spend time with their grandparents and family on both sides.  My side of the family continues the tradition of finding a reason to celebrate anything and everything. But the idea of a “forever family” is a facade.  In my parents home hangs a picture of the local temple and surrounding the temple are family pictures of all of my siblings.  There is an empty picture frame on the wall for my family. That is by my choice.  When my sister asked me for a family picture, she didn’t tell me what it was for.  When I saw what she wanted my picture for I told her I wasn’t comfortable with that because it was portraying a picture that wasn’t real.  So, the picture fame still sits on the wall, empty.  I feel like this is very representative of my relationship with my family and the LDS church.

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Because Brain and I have walked away from the LDS church, and we have raised our children up as Christians, there is a disconnect with my family.  It took many years before I was comfortable to even talk about that I believed something different, and when they would ask me about it, I would get upset and defensive.  I believe that’s because I was still a new Christian and didn’t know how to express or defend my beliefs.  My kids have always enjoyed spending time with their cousins and have never felt “less than” around them and I appreciate that.  But it’s a struggle for me to spend time with my family.  We can’t have a conversation about God.  I see them struggle with things and my heart breaks because I know if they would just accept the gift of grace. as it is with no strings attached, it would be life changing.  And yet, I continue to watch them struggle and hurt.

I have lost a lot over the years because I walked away from the core belief system of my childhood.  But I have gained so much more.  Back when I was a new Christian and I struggled watching families worship together, God told me I would have a family that worships with me. I have seen that.  I have an amazing husband and 4 amazing kids who know and believe in God and know the true message of the Gospel of Christ.  They don’t live a life where they believe they have to do enough or be good enough for me or for God.  They understand they are already there.  The biggest thing I have gained is GRACE,  I have done so many things wrong in my life.  I continue to have days when I struggle, or am not the person God wants me to be.  But at the end of the day, when I talk with my Creator, with God, My Father, I know that I am already forgiven.  I don’t have to do anything, except try again tomorrow.  The gift of grace has lead to so many other things, joy, peace, and contentment.  I have a church family that I wouldn’t be able to survive without.  It is a true blessing to call them family.  I have a marriage that has been healed and restored.  And I have me.  The true, raw, 100% version of me that God created.  I don’t have to pretend.  I don’t have to put on a mask or be fake.  I get to be real.  And I know no matter what God loves me and accepts me just the way He created me.

Why do people stay in Mormonism even when they don’t believe it?  They stay because they want to belong, and they don’t, the Mormon church does a great job at making you feel like you can’t belong with out them.  Recently, one of the leaders of the LDS asked, “If you leave the church where will you go?”  The answer is simple.  Jesus!! Jesus offers everything you need and He is enough. You don’t have to believe the lie that no one will accept you, you won’t be happy, or that there isn’t a God.

I walked away from Mormonism and I did receive backlash from former friends and family at times.  Walking away has created a strain on family relationships, friendships, and at times made things difficult for my kids.  But I wouldn’t trade any of it for my relationship with Jesus.  A picture may be worth 1,000 words but so is an empty picture frame.  I’m just a small town girl…living in a Mormon world.

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