On Kind Of Being Mormon

Earlier today, somewhere between Elk Mountain and Laramie, we stopped at a gas station. Out front sat a well-loved mobile home surrounded by nothing but caramel-colored earth stretching for miles and miles in all directions.

WY

As the wind ushered me through the front door, I noticed a handful of mounted elk heads on the back wall and a cashier dressed in clashing camo.  He looked my way as I quietly debated the candy aisle:

“So… where you from?”
“Chicago.”
He looked shocked.
“What are you doing all the way out here?”
“We had a show in Vegas.”
“Well, how was it?”
“It was Vegas,” I responded as he nodded in agreement. “But at least we spent a few days in Salt Lake on the way there.”
“Are you LDS then?”
“I am.” Kind of. 
“Did you go to the Temple?”
“I did.”
Then I saw a smile stretch across his sunburned face.
“Wow! You’re so lucky!”

I wasn’t prepared for his last comment. And almost didn’t give it the attention it deserved.

Later at the counter, with Twizzlers in hand, I noticed a familiar scene on his television screen. It was from The Passion of the Christ.

“My missionaries told me I should watch this,” he said.
Those words struck a chord.
My. Missionaries.
I’d used those same words about 17 years ago. And I’d said them with the same tenderness and reverence that this man did.

My. Missionaries.

 

My religious background is interesting. Mom was Catholic, Dad was Agnostic, and Kat and I floated in between. We were “Catholic” with a flicker of faith, but little belief in rote practices and memorized speech. In truth, we were more interested in the dried gum art on the underside of our pew, than the homilies and the weight of the Apostles’ Creed.

We knew of God, but had no relationship with God. We didn’t go to Him. Not in joy. Not in hardship. Not ever. For all intents and purposes, He was a whisper of a thought, a being just out of reach.

Christ

Looking back, I think we were waiting to be…
Chased.
Charmed.
And Convinced.
But that didn’t happen. Not there.

I liked Father Shields and Father Jack, the latter of which was charismatic and accessible, two adjectives I never associated with priests or church hierarchy. Be even he, with all his passion, couldn’t imprint my heart with things seen and heard on Sundays too few and far between.  So, I wore pretty dresses, tried not to giggle during mass (which is harder than you think), and looked past odd CCD teachers, especially the one who scraped her nails across the chalkboard every week.  But I never felt what you’re “supposed” to feel at church. That lightening of heart and spirit. That sense that you’re not alone. That feeling that God…

Really. Is. God.

I never felt any of that.  Not until I attended the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Temple
Their teachings were different. Their scriptures were too. They had another book, called The Book of Mormon.

Books of Mormon
And believed in modern-day prophets and apostles, continuing revelation, and eternal families.

 
It was all a lot to take in, especially considering it all began with a fourteen year old boy, a grove of trees, and a vision.

first-vision
But I believed.
Despite my parents and friends’ objections.
Despite having mainly poor examples of what an LDS family looked like.
And despite my own fears of my future as an LDS convert.

I believed.

And so, on November 30, 1997, in the absence of my blood family and the presence of my Church family, I was baptized.

It was beautiful. Bittersweet. And beyond words.

Fast-forward 17 years. I’m at the Salt Lake City Temple. And it’s lovely. Lovelier than I remember.

Me_temple facade

Me_the Law

Tulips_Me and Ren

But my heart is heavy.
And I finally let it say the words that my lips won’t:

I am inactive.
I have been inactive for longer than I can remember.

I remember reaching out to people like me. People who fell through the cracks. People who were offended by church members or disappointed by church culture. People who were wronged by church leaders or folded under the weight of expectations. Who couldn’t be that good. That kind. That selfless. That obedient.

I remember what I’d tell them and that look they’d get. That look that said, you don’t understand. And honestly, I didn’t.  I was 18 years old telling people, who’d lived and loved longer and harder than I, that I understood. But I didn’t. I didn’t understand losing a spouse, a home or a child. I didn’t understand rape or same-sex attraction, incest or depression.  I didn’t understand the struggle to stay faithful. Because I was faithful. And it was a pleasure and privilege to be so.

I didn’t understand until I moved to Atlanta and left my friends, my ward and my comfort zone behind. In the beginning, I attended church regularly and even worked at the church bookstore, but I didn’t quite fit like I had in Illinois. There was no draw. I was no longer the golden investigator worthy of attention and praise. I was simply a member (which should have been enough, but wasn’t).

And slowly doubt started creeping in.

I moved to Utah thinking that would help, but I hated it. The place was not what I thought it would be. The people weren’t either. So, I blamed my unhappiness on that. But in reality I was different.

had changed.

Over the following years, I waxed and waned.
Bad things happened. Good things happened. I was strong. I was weak.
And God continued to chase me.
To charm me.
To convince me.

And He still does.

Despite identifying as LDS, I don’t attend the LDS church.

I’m the one the missionaries seek out and check up on. I’m the one who receives visiting teaching messages by mail which almost always end with, “I’d love to meet you.” I’m the one who fell (or jumped) through the cracks.

I still love the church.

I really do.

I just don’t know if I fit there.

And that is bittersweet.

  One thought on “On Kind Of Being Mormon

  1. May 5, 2014 at 3:03 am

    I just read through a couple of your posts and I stinkin love that nook! I don’t have any space for a place like that, but maybe one day. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the feedback.

    • May 16, 2014 at 1:33 pm

      I’m so glad you like it. I never realized what peace your own space brings. Not until now, of course.

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope to read you around soon 🙂

  2. May 5, 2014 at 6:31 am

    I am sure that “your missionaries” would love to hear from you. I have lost contact with every one of “my converts” and have no idea how to find them because, well, Southern California is no easy place to find people. I am sure I could make tons more excuses but that would be what they are, just excuses. I am sure that I could go back to those missionary journals and glean enough information to try to us the resources in SLC to find them but then again, not everyone wants to be found or contacted either.

    You are still your missionaries golden contact, still the girl that you used to be to them. It wouldn’t matter how far you think you might have drifted; they still see you where you were because they won’t see the outside change because they know the potential that you had then and still have now. An interesting concept that I hadn’t realized until I thought about my own golden contacts. I would even say that I see all of them as I did at the waters of baptism, believers. Your missionaries are going to be just like your new bishop or branch president, seeing you for the potential that you have. Don’t give up on yourself because you think you have changed too much or gone too far, that is never the case and that is what makes the gospel so beautiful in the first place.

    • May 16, 2014 at 1:40 pm

      This was beautiful. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and for your ever-so-kind response.

      I especially loved this:

      “Don’t give up on yourself because you think you have changed too much or gone too far, that is never the case and that is what makes the gospel so beautiful in the first place.”

      So. True.

  3. May 5, 2014 at 10:58 am

    This post really spoke to me. I am not Mormon, but I know what the yearning feels like, to want to return to the mode of being where you experienced “lightening of heart and spirit” through God. I have faith that God is trying to show us both the place where we fit.

    -aniko

    • May 16, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      I’m so glad it did, Aniko ❤

      Sometimes the "showing" just takes longer than we think it ought to, but that's where faith comes in.

      That's. where, faith. comes. in.

  4. May 5, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I appreciate your sincerity in this post. I’m LDS but have had a few different periods of several years in my life where I wasn’t active at all in church. I can relate to moving to Utah for a while and feeling like I didn’t fit in there. I’ve been in some wards where I felt really different and just couldn’t do it. But I guess my recent return to the church taught me something that I hadn’t fully understood before– it isn’t just that I need the gospel as a guiding force in my life and so that I can feel closer to God, but also I realized that God needs me in his church. That there are many others who feel like I do, that they aren’t perfect, that in some ways they don’t fit in, don’t conform to all the stereotypes or simply don’t understand everything, and I realized that I could help them because of my background and experiences. Anyway those are my thoughts, thanks for commenting on my blog!

    • May 16, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      Brent, I do agree. God needs us all in His church. But feeling like a very square peg in a very round hole is hard.

      Really, hard.

      And I never thought I’d be “square”. Ever.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. It is much appreciated.

  5. May 5, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Beautiful writing as usual. Interesting topic, religion, and I assume it always will be. You spoke your truth, which does not come easy to more people than not. I still haven’t figured out my truth. I was raised Jewish, but am very much an existentialist. I look to the universe in my spiritual way. If ever I feel like praying, I pray to the universe. And no, I am not a hippy, though my 14 year old daughter is a definite hippy chick. Once again I love reading about you. I hope you are feeling well!

    • May 16, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Sherry, thank you so much for reading. And you’re right, religion will always be a topic that pushes and pulls hearts and hands. Always.

      Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything hippy-esque about praying to the universe. She lives, breathes and holds us all safely in her embrace. Keep doing it. And keep seeking out your truth.

      I’m sure you’ll find it.

  6. May 6, 2014 at 1:05 am

    Well said –, and refreshing honesty,
    Interesting, I just finished a novel that came out in 2013, Dance from Deep Within, by Dina Sleiman about three women, You could be a fourth woman in that story,,,

    • May 16, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Thank you, Jane. Sometimes it’s hard to walk in our truth, especially when it’s scary…

      especially when it hurts.

      But there’s nothing more liberating than saying, “This is who I am. And this is where I am.”

      For those who really loved, will still love. And those who didn’t…well…

      Didn’t.

      Anyway, I’ll have to check out the novel, it sounds quite interesting. Thanks for the tip.

      Blessings.

  7. May 6, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Sorry for the weird punctuation. I have one hand in a cast and find typing challenging!

    • May 16, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      It’s okay. I remembered.

      And thank you for commenting despite the cast. I appreciate it ❤

  8. Jodi W
    May 8, 2014 at 1:38 am

    I love getting the email announcing your most recent posts. I love that you are sharing your thoughts with us. Always so honest and raw and kind. So I am still kind of Catholic, kind of agnostic, and kind of Mormon… I would love to be kind of Quaker so maybe that is the next chapter. It is truly a journey. All my love to you in your journey.

    • May 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Jodi, I love knowing that you’re reading. And that you enjoy discovering the corners of my heart. With me.

      And, believe me, I get your “kind of” and your journey.

      I truly do.

      You are missed, dear friend.

      Forever. missed.

  9. Doreen Bench
    May 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    I can relate with your feelings and Im still active. Especially with bipolar disorder I don’t know that I will ever quite find my ” place”, but I’m there because I need to be and it keeps me up and going. And I believe it. Best wishes to you in your journey. Thanks for your comment on my blog.

    • May 19, 2014 at 2:42 pm

      Love this:

      ” I’m there because I need to be…”

      Thank you for the blessings on my journey.

  10. liamiman
    May 19, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    Although your post speaks about being a Mormon, some of the things you referenced could apply to any religion. Like the feeling of not belonging, or being “offended by church members or disappointed by church culture”. That’s why I suppose some people prefer spirituality as opposed to religion.

    • May 19, 2014 at 7:26 pm

      I agree. Othering happens in every religion. And among the spiritual and not-so-spiritual.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      Blessings.

  11. Aaron
    June 6, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    Each person thakes their own journey. There are times we head in the right direction and times that we are distracted and divert from our course. Know that your missionaries pray for your regularly. We want the very best for you in your life and hope and pray for your happiness in the here and now and in the long run.

    • June 18, 2014 at 2:39 am

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Aaron. But more than that…thank you for your prayers.

      Your friendship is missed.
      Much missed.

  12. June 21, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    I know what it’s like to not fit in, especially in church. I’ve been thinking recently that if I didn’t know it was true, there’s no way I’d be in this church.
    I’ve been to other Christian churches that have welcomed me like I was their best friend. I enjoy the Christian music radio stations and I probably listen to them more than I listen to LDS stuff. But I haven’t switched churches because as much as I may not fit in to the culture of the LDS church, I know it’s true. I have the blessing and curse to know and not believe anymore. And when you know something is true, you just can’t choose to do something else because it’d feel better or be easier. So, I keep going to church and I’m trying to start going to try to help others feel welcome instead of feeling welcome myself.
    I hope you still feel loved even if you never go to church. Feeling God’s love is more important than fitting in at church and that’s the one thing I hold onto in all the loneliness and disappointments.
    And I hope none of this post comes off as lecturing or offensive, I just wanted to share my thoughts and say that you’re not alone in trying to find a place to belong.

    • June 22, 2014 at 12:26 am

      Not “lecturing or offensive” at all. I love hearing from others and generally always take something away from what they’ve been open enough to share.

      I do feel God’s love.
      And I do love the Church.
      I’m glad you do too.

      Blessings,
      Dani

      • June 22, 2014 at 5:09 am

        I’m glad. 🙂 I tend to put a disclaimer on what I say because there’s no way to put a tone of voice on comments and I never know when someone will take things the wrong way.

  13. July 15, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.
    In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again very soon!

    • July 15, 2014 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to peruse and comment, Jeanne. And I’m glad you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far. Generally, I post every other weekend, so I’m overdue at this point. But keep your eyes peeled this weekend. I’m sure I’ll have something to share 🙂

      Blessings,
      Dani

  14. July 25, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    I always say that my favorite six to eight inches of this world are right here above the ears– the world I create in my thinking space. The pen is my window. You have a beautiful view as well. You and I have so much in common.

  15. July 28, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Oh, Angela, I’d love to hear more about our commonalities. I truly would.

    I’m glad you’re a part of my story and I yours.

    With heart-laced blessings,
    Dani

  16. Kris Hall
    August 19, 2014 at 12:53 am

    Hey, Dani!
    I just saw & read this post for the first time. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experience. I’m sure that there are many people who can relate on some level– myself included.

    • September 24, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to read, love. It’s a process, as you know, but I’m glad I’m learning more about myself and feeling more content about not fitting in That box I willingly climbed into years ago.

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