Monday, April 7, 2014

On religion...and other things.

 This is a long story that may help you understand how I got to where I am in my faith journey today. You may find its contents "anti-Mormon."  As you read, please recognize the words as my thoughts, emotions, and personal experiences and not as personal attacks.  

Twenty years ago, I was a little snot-faced little brown-haired girl.  Freckles all over my face.  I was seven years old, and I was sad.  I was so sad.  Most of the time, I didn't know why I was sad.  There was the obvious-my mom had been dead for almost a year.  My papaw was gone too.  My best friend moved away.  We moved across town.  The kids in the new school didn't like me very much.  I was weird, but more than anything, I was sad. 

One afternoon, I was playing "Beauty Shop" in the garage with my Barbies.  I'd taken a metal bowl from the kitchen and filled it with soapy water, and was washing all their hair.  (Side note: this is a terrible idea.  If you ever want to wash Barbie hair, this is not the way to do it.)  In an instant, I noticed a hammer in my peripheral vision.  I picked it up, and began to slam it into the bone on the inside of my ankle.  I didn't understand why I was doing it, but something about the pain made me feel alive.  Later that year, I threw myself down the steps.  I must have gotten too scared to really go through with anything, because I caught myself enough that there was no real injury.

Years went by, and these inclinations to self-harm never left me.  Freshman year of high school, I used my fists to bruise my hipbones by hitting myself over and over again.  I knew in the deepest darkest corners of my mind that I was the most terrible person who ever lived, and that bruising my hips would help me remember how terrible I was in that I could feel the pain each time I took a step.  I went to the school counselor and told her I was worried about what I was doing, what I was feeling, and what I was thinking, and that I was sure I needed help.

She told me that if I was cutting myself, she'd do something, but I wasn't, so she wouldn't.  Then she sent me to class.

I walked from her office numb, sore, and confused.  Maybe it was normal.  So I carried the pain with me.

In the several weeks leading up to September 2005, I cried non-stop.  I cut my wrists.  I died a little more every day.  Finally, in a moment of desperation, I opened a bottle of pills, and I swallowed a handful of them.  I was sure I would die that day.  I wanted to.  But I didn't.

In all the years between 1994, 2005, and now, I wanted to hurt myself.  Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn't.  The postpartum depression brought those urges closer to the surface than they'd been in nine years. 

So I decided, once and for all, I was going to get a tattoo on the inside of my wrist to remind me that I always come through on the other side of that pain.  That things always get better.

There was just one little hangup.  The church.  My faith told me that I must follow the prophet, and that the prophet had told me the answer to tattoos was no.  Period.  No questions asked.  At least that's what I'd been told.  In a moment when I decided something had to change, I decided to look up what had been said about tattoos.  I found this.

"It is sad and regrettable that some young men and women have their bodies tattooed. What do they hope to gain by this painful process? Is there “anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” in having unseemly so-called art impregnated into the skin to be carried throughout life, all the way down to old age and death? They must be counseled to shun it. They must be warned to avoid it. The time will come that they will regret it but will have no escape from the constant reminder of their foolishness except through another costly and painful procedure."

 A few of the words in this quote gave me pause.  
so-called art

These all struck me as words that marked an opinion.  Later in the same talk, President Hinckley referred to body piercings as "absurd." Another opinion word.  I didn't recognize these as words that marked a commandment from God.  I tucked these realizations away, and tried to maintain faith that this prophet had been inspired of God and that God's ways wouldn't change, so this decision wasn't mine to make. After all, "When the prophet speaks, the debate is over," right? I willed the desire to get a tattoo out of my mind.  It held for a while. 

You see, I was a faithful garment wearer.  I put them on the moment I stepped out of the shower, and only removed them for approved activities.  I hated every moment.  They didn't fit me.  They made my clothes fit awkwardly.  [Insert about a dozen other reasons I hated wearing them here.  Elaboration is unnecessary at this juncture.] One afternoon, I was trying to get dressed, and fighting with all the places where my clothes wouldn't fit.  I was in tears, and Christopher looked at me and said, "Maybe you could write a letter to someone.  Find out if you can alter them, or make your own, or something.  It shouldn't have to be this way." In a moment of exasperation, I retorted, "Who would I write to?  And who would respond to me?  I'm a woman!" I gasped.  Surely those words hadn't just escaped me.  How could I raise my daughter in this place if I truly believed that she'd never be heard as a woman?  I closed my eyes and knew what I had to do.

A couple of weeks before this outburst, we had an opportunity to attend another church for an event.  We had a great time, and didn't think much about it until late that night as I lay in bed searching desperately for sleep.  Finally I woke Christopher to tell him what was on my mind, "Christopher?  I felt really good at that church today.  REALLY good.  I couldn't rest until I told you." There wasn't much conversation that night,  I mean, was like 3am, but finally I could rest.  

The next morning, after hours and hours of prayer, I determined that the best next step to take would be to study the New Testament.  "Surely if the Church is true, the New Testament will point me right toward it," I thought.  So I went to the bookstore and bought a few copies of the Bible in different translations.  I wanted to approach the words of Jesus with a fresh perspective, so I needed to remove all of the footnotes and chapter headings and read the gospels with only God's guidance. 

This is not the place where I will spell out  what I learned.  I can do that at a later time, but if you're curious, I'd urge you to pick up a copy of the bible in a different translation.  I enjoy the HCSB and the NLT.  (And a shout-out for the NKJV if going too far from the KJV freaks you out.) 

Each time I sit down to read, another gasp emerges from my throat as I read something that I never saw before.  After I read it, I go to the KJV, and sure enough, it's right there.  No idea how I missed it all those times. 

Furthermore, the history of the Church brought out some painful realizations.  I tried hard to be fair, but there were some things that I simply couldn't look past.  

This quote from Joseph Smith was the last straw:

“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam... Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.”  (History of the Church, 6:408-409) 

In this same sermon, Joseph Smith claimed to have only one wife.  At the time, he had 34. That can be verified on 

At the moment, I'm not completely sure where I stand.  I think I'm a Christian.  Not the kind you believe yourself to be if you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The biblical kind.  We'll see where this path leads, but what I do know for sure, is that I have seen more prayers answered, more peace in my home, and more love in my life since making this decision.  God has guided my path thus far, and I have no doubt about that.