Who’d Have Ever Believed?!

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, marked exactly one year, since I began re-attending church.  I’ve kept my return very quiet, even among my friends, because even I have been unsure where it might lead or even if it would last.  After a year, I guess it’s time to be a bit more open.  Since sharing this story does identify some of my family, and I haven’t asked their permission to do so, I’ll only identify them by an initial – our of respect for their privacy.

I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the LDS or Mormon church – as many know it.  My mother came over from Scotland to Los Angeles on a green card, and converted to LDS.  I don’t know her exact conversion story, only the rough time period and where.  We attended church fairly regularly through my Primary years.  I do know that when we were struggling a great deal, when I was just a toddler, the church helped us a great deal.  Those struggles ended when we rented a home with my godmother (the rent on our apartment and my godmothers apartment had gone up at the same time, and it was thought a handy way to save money if we could make it work.)

I can remember once waiting for her in a kind of lobby with a kind woman while she was in the temple (I couldn’t have been more than four years old – if that).  Although I only have the one memory.  I’m not sure when she stopped attending the temple or why.

Near the time of my baptism, I found out that a friend of mine, the daughter of the then bishop of our ward, had been molested by the husband of one the primary teachers.  I told my mother, as I’d been taught to do.  She talked to the Bishop.  The man was kept under watch by two other elders during church services.  To my mother’s knowledge that was the extent of anything being done.  The man in question had a long record with the local police for …troubles.  My mother did not feel that she could trust me to be safe while she was away from me, and after my confirmation we stopped attending.  (This is the official reason, though in a moment of unusual bluntness a few years later, she also admitted to “not liking who you were becoming” – meaning me.  I’m not sure if it was because of her vehement feminist views, or that my behavior smacked to much of indoctrination – she’d call it brain washing.)

You might imagine that life in Utah, as inactive members is not exactly…easy.  Couple this with my changing schools the next year to a private Catholic school.  The only Mormon in a school filled with kids that felt they were discriminated against daily.  I was the “whipping boy.”  Fortunately for me, my godmother is Catholic.  She was the Mother Superior of her convent before she left.  This meant that in the majority of cases, I understood their beliefs better than they themselves did.  I never pulled less than an A in religion class, and even read in the mass that was held every thursday.  My final solution was to tell any of my taunters that when they could understand their own religion as well as I understood theirs, then, maybe I would discuss mine with them.

Two years at a Catholic private school, and a year at a Lutheran private school, and many….difficulties later, I was back in public school.  The friends I’d once had, no longer had the time of day for me.  I’d been gone to long – and besides, we weren’t active – so we were horrible people, they didn’t want to associate with me.  My friends became the other misfits and the wedge between myself and the church widened.  I chastised a girl who was saying how bad another girl was for skipping seminary one day, by exclaiming that by that rule I must be the devil himself – I hadn’t been to church since my confirmation and leaving the lunch room.  I’m told she shut up pretty quickly after I left.

By the time I graduated high school, I was also no longer identifying myself as Mormon.  It was a gradual thing.  At first, in middle school,  I only claimed to be Christian and would not identify which denomination.  By the end of high school I no longer even claimed that.  If asked, I self identified as Pagan.  I was sick of the discrimination, the double standards and the hypocrisy that had run rampant through my life.  I wanted nothing to do with the Mormon church as I knew it.  You couldn’t pay me to admit to being Mormon.  Mind you, my beliefs on Christ himself, never left…but I wanted nothing to do with any man made construct around him.

I was able to blend my beliefs about Christ quite easily with what I learned about paganism in all it’s various forms.  I did not jump directly to paganism.  I explored and learned about every religion I could get my hands on.  Attending Catholic mass with my godmother, attending the Protestant church, learning of the BaHai, Buddism, Hindu, Judaism, Islam – you name it…if I could find information, I read it.

Understandably, my self cobbled belief system set me apart as an outsider, never mind being lesbian or bi.  I joined the LDS sorority in University, because the majority of my friends were there, and you were not required to be LDS to join.  Lambda Delta Sigma, Delta Omega Chapter.  I was even an officer in my chapter, and received an award for best exemplifying the ideal of Scholarship.  I enjoyed my time with them.

I removed myself from the the chapter however, when I was appointed an officer of the campus lesbian/gay/bi/transgendered/straight student alliance.  I had already experienced prejudice in high school because I’d identified as Bi, when asked.  My reasoning being I hadn’t dated anyone, so wasn’t going to rule anything out until I had reason to.  I didn’t want to make my sorority sisters uncomfortable and chose to leave before they could reject me.  At this time it was not uncommon to send gays to reprogramming camps.  I was all too familiar with those horror stories and would do anything to avoid having to experience them.

I left Utah and moved to Michigan, in October of 1998.  Shortly after moving there, my Aunt R, who I’d managed to get back in touch with (a far longer story), told me that I had family in California and put me in touch with a cousin I hadn’t known I had – L.  Life being what it is, our correspondence would continue in sporadic bursts for the next 13 years.  L knew of my, unconventional beliefs.  Yet, despite what I would come to realize her beliefs and understanding were of what I believed (far different from my actual beliefs) she was always kind to me and treated me with compassion and acceptance.  Never asking me to change or pressing the church on me in any way.

Circumstances conspired in such a way that in the fall of 2011, we wound up talking a great deal more than was usual.  Among other things, I explained better just what it was that I believed at the time.  In a discussion one night of one of the novels I’m working on, I was discussing some of the behind-the-scenes information on the book – what the setting was, what the rules of the universe the book was set in were, how I envisioned things playing out in the story in an overarching sense.  L commented that a part of the of what I was describing was remarkably akin to Mormon doctrine.  Her comment caught me up short.

I was not completely oblivious to Mormon beliefs.  But I had reason to question the validity of some of what I’d been told about doctrine.  However, I’d had no one I trusted to be able to discuss it with.  For one, no one around me was Mormon.  And trying to have such a discussion with anyone who wasn’t – by the time you finished explaining Mormonism 101, you were too tired to launch into your own questionings and likely had even lost the thread of what your original thought had been at the beginning of the discussion.  In short, if you didn’t already understand mormonism, there was no point in even trying to have the conversation.

I had never had reason not to trust L, but the circumstances that lent themselves to our getting to know one another on a far deeper than surface level, had increased my sense of safety.  I tentatively explained that I knew the correlation to mormon doctrine that I thought was veiled in the story.  Certainly no one before her had caughtened on to it.  I asked if she would mind if I occasionally discussed the church and my frustrations and confusions with her.  That I meant no disrespect to the church or her beliefs, but there were things I was unsure about – and I had no one else I felt safe to discuss them with.  She very kindly agreed.

My cousin is a dear woman, one of the kindest I’ve ever known.  She gave me a new way of being able to see the church.  Not only that, she gave me a new way to view being a member of the church.  She redeemed it for me, made it safe again, and even helped me heal and reconcile many of my differences with the church.  This was not a quick process.

A few months of many discussions later, I had not only confessed my secret (that I had still hidden deep within, a small but scared and scarred belief in the church that had not been beaten out of me) but had also started to reread scriptures on my ipad.  A few chapters a day.  The inevitability of these many discussions, that I can not begin to do justice to the otherworldly essence of, culminated in my watching General Conference, and steeling all of my courage to walk back in the doors of my assigned ward on Easter Sunday of last year.

I had never requested my name to be removed from the books.  It took the church a long time to find me after I moved to Michigan – over ten years – but they did.  And when they had, I was assigned a ward and received a handful of mailings from them.  I knew where I was assigned.

Even though I felt at the time, that I was literally risking everything, I felt the need to return to church.  If I felt unwelcome there, so be it, I could choose not to return again.  I prayed that my wife would not leave me for it – a serious fear at the time – and I returned.

The conversations with my cousin didn’t stop with my going back to church.  Heck, even now, while they’ve tapered down a great deal, they haven’t stopped. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and advocates through this journey, and always with the unasked for reassurance that if I couldn’t continue down this path – she would still support and love me 100%.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express just how grateful I am to her for that, among so many other things.

I wasn’t alone in my fears when I returned.  My cousin was very protective and terrified for me, the day I walked back through church doors.  Afraid that someone might be unkind or openly homophobic towards me.  My wife was terrified that my return would lead me to leave her.

All our fears, it turns out, were for naught.  I was more than blessed in the ward I was assigned to.  They have been nothing but accepting and welcoming of me – even of my wife the handful of times she’s attended sacrament meeting or an activity with me.  My wife has not left me, and there is no danger of her leaving me either, nor I leaving her.  Rather, we have in some ways grown even closer, even as we have made some sacrifices for my beliefs.  This Easter Sunday, marked a year from my return to being an active member, and my life has changed in some ways I could never have foreseen and would never have believed.

Indeed, even a year and a half ago I never would have believed any  of the above would have ever happened.  And if you’d told me I’d return to church – I’d have laughed at you.  What a difference a year can make!  It’s been a year of risks, of fear, of courage and of blessings.  And while it’s been far from easy, it’s definitely been worth it.  I’ve become a better person, a more authentic person, for it.  And yes, even though I still get scared, I still push through the fear and more often than not – find the fears were unfounded.

That is the short version of the story, anyway. 🙂

 

 

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