Rea’s Story (Mom)

Mom and Marinne

For nearly 50 years, I loved the LDS Church.  I loved and love the friends I have gained and am gaining within the church.  I found peace in certain doctrines I was sure could be found nowhere else, and which deeply resonated within me.  Working with teenagers and children was sometimes drudgery, and sometimes exhilarating.  As a single Mother for a few years, I always, always took my children to church, and spoke with them daily of God’s love and the perfection of what I had learned to be his plan for us as his children.

But what I did not share freely were the questions and concerns, the frustration that built within me over conflicts and decades of changes within the church.  I knew there were only two reasons for a member of the church (especially one who found happiness within it) to have doubts:  that person (me, in this case) was either a) unworthy (aka” sinning”, like that was such an unusual happening), or b) not studying the scriptures enough.  Or not praying… paying… attending church… serving… holding family home evening…  enough.  Heck, this begins to sound like a works-based religion… which is exactly what was presented to me by the church itself, during my growing-up years.

I did not grow up hearing about or understanding the doctrine of atonement.  Instead, I felt (because I’d been told) that I might be a board with nails in it.  The nails (sins) might be removed, but the holes would still be there (probably one for each time I’d been “bad” after age 8).  Or, more likely, because I’d allowed a boy to kiss me at age 13, I was a white rose that had been touched and was now wilted and brown, never to be pure again.  Do you hear anything about healing, about redemption, in those little object lessons/metaphors?  Neither did I.

Things change… big things… within the LDS Church.  The older people (like me) can often be counted on to forget; and the younger people and new converts may never even become aware of the changes.  But they are real, and they have been serious.  It eventually became impossible for me to trust that the church is anything more than a corporation run by (mostly loving and well-intentioned) old men.

In addition, despite many attempts to receive a clear and undeniable answer (if not the actual “knowledge” claimed by so many), I never did.  But that was just the unworthiness thing again….

I met my amazing, believing husband at church in 1998.  He would be beside me throughout this journey and he would see me as I studied, prayed, and sometimes wanted to scream throughout the years.  He has listened with all his might and tried to assist me in seeing through his eyes.  He knows how difficult this has been, and you can find his story under “Stayers” and the name “Daddio.”

If indeed I have had issues with the church throughout my adult life, why did I stay?  Here is why:

First:  My very young parents joined the church in 1959, elated to have discovered what they believed to be the greatest gift possible: the Truth.  God still spoke to mankind through a living prophet, his mouthpiece.  We could count on being guided, spiritually, and upon knowing God’s will!  This was so precious to them, and it made me really happy when they quit smoking.

Second:  I did NOT, until now, have the courage which my children would display at much younger ages.  I would not outwardly question the religion which my parents had taught me.  Also, I loved God and could not imagine living without some sort of explanation for why we are on the planet.

When I became a mother, I determined that I would give to my children the same gift my parents had given me.   They would be smarter and better than I and thus able to receive the revelation I had not.  They would be capable of treasuring the gift more than I had (though not for lack of trying).

It didn’t work.

Two months after returning from a mission honorably served, Jefferson – my youngest birth child – announced that he was leaving the church.  I was devastated, and yet… honestly… also amazed.  My child… MY child… whom I knew to be a committed seeker of truth and to have worked diligently to gain a testimony — had found the courage to be honest about his failure to receive the sure answer I’d been seeking for decades.

Leaving cost Jefferson a lot, more than most will ever know.  Over the year which followed his announcement, unexpected visits on my part often caught him with the remnants of tears on his face.  He suffered, but he was determined to follow the only path that felt honest to him.

Jefferson’s courage gave me the strength to finally face my own testimony-blocking demons.  I bargained with myself : I didn’t have the right to change the game in my marriage to a wonderful, believing man who, by the way, I met in church 14 years ago.  So I’d stay.  I would just accept the fact that I was one to whom it was not given to know, but rather to believe on the words of those who know.  But finally, I saw that these solutions would require me to sacrifice integrity, and ultimately myself.  There was no bargain that would make untruth, true.

My second-eldest child, Marinne, had rejected religion by 1994, at age 16.  She was weary, and angry, at the constant judgment levied against “outsiders” by a few of our relatives, and by seminary and Sunday School teachers who, I felt, were too insensitive to be entrusted with young, forming minds in the first place.  On top of that, she fell in love with a boy who smoked!  She left the church, and then left our home.  I was devastated, and I missed her very much.  I understood her reasons, but I couldn’t tell her so.  It was my job – I thought – to remain stalwart and stoic, to model the Believing Mormon Mother so that my daughter would one day return to the fold… both folds.  To do this was unnatural to me, but openness with her would have required me to look too closely at what was right before my face, and I was not yet ready for that.

Mikelle, my eldest, left the church gradually and without fanfare.  She had not expressed any depth of belief since childhood.  She proved to be a changeling, mirroring whatever beliefs were prevalent in whatever company she kept.  I was certain that this quality, dangerous for a teenager, would be a blessing to her later on; that her faithful siblings would be able to influence her back into the church.

I began to panic when my third child, Emily, left the church four years after being married in the temple.  Emily was a spiritually-minded girl, but as a teen she began, privately, to judge herself very harshly for her imperfections as measured against the standards of the church.  I did not, and do not (in looking back) know why this would be.  She was beautiful and intelligent, and did not deserve to be so miserable within.

I did not support Emily in her divorce, judging (too much judging!!!) that she had not tried hard enough to make her marriage work.  I, who had been her closest spiritual confidante, abandoned her when she did not conform.  Years later, as I tearfully told her of the pain I felt at losing all faith in the church, Emily would look at me with sad eyes and say, “Mom, I know!!!  That is exactly what I was feeling when you left me all alone.”

My daughters and I are long-reconciled and very close.  I cannot understand how I thought my Mormon Mama behavior then was serving any positive end.

Jefferson left the church right after his mission, as I’ve earlier described.  I would be next, though mine was a fairly secret struggle.  My husband and I have always openly shared our feelings about the church and its’ doctrines; but now, in addition, we each worked to understand the other’s perspective.  Though we learned so much, we each found it impossible to see through the other’s eyes.  Which of us is right and which of us is wrong?  Is that what matters, or is it the fact that we now love each other more than ever?

Perhaps the greatest pain I have felt in seeing my children leave the church came as Nathan, my child-soulmate and eldest birth son, began to face his own questions in 2010, as I was midway through the process of leaving.  All of his siblings had already left.  I couldn’t bear the thought of, in effect, abandoning the vision we’d shared, during younger years, of church activity together throughout our lives.  As we danced together on the evening of his temple wedding in 2009, he leaned down to me and said, “Momma, I promise I will never give up until Jefferson and the others return to the church.”  His sweetness and sincerity melted my heart, even as his words stabbed clear through it.

When, after many months, Nathan told me that he, too, was leaving, it brought me no happiness.  What would he do without the framework of the gospel?  It seemed so knitted into his very nature.

Truthfully, I am less than overjoyed about some of the decisions my children, religion-free, now make.  It more than bothers me when they drink alcohol, or even swear, and it probably always will.  But they are free agents, and I am thankful that they trust me – and you – enough to be open regarding their beliefs.  I know my children.  Their motives are good, and they are moral individuals who will leave the world a better place.  They will find happiness… probably more quickly than has their stalwart, stoic, Formerly Believing Mormon Mother.

As for Daddio and I…  what he knows, it seems that I cannot.  I believe that 10 years of serious, constant effort on the heels of all the church activity and study that went before, is enough.  The answer I sought is not coming… to me.  But I am so happy now.  In these last few, challenging years, my values – what matters most to me – have come into much greater harmony with my behavior.  This is how I define integrity, and it brings me peace.

And  that… is how I felt when I, as a Stayer, saw each of my children leave the church.  And it is also how I became a Leaver.

My mom just started her own blog, called Mormon Girl Undone – check it out by clicking here.

Read more stories or add your own by clicking here.

Comment on Rea’s story by clicking here.

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25 thoughts on “Rea’s Story (Mom)

  1. Momma, I sure wish you had let me know that you weren’t completely believing the things you were telling me as a teen. You seemed very confident in what you were saying at that time. I think you KNEW what you had been taught to say, KNEW how you were supposed to respond to a child acting against what they had been taught in church, and so you responded as Mormon Mom. I wish you had responded just as Mom. That would have been a lot easier! That is all past now, though, and I am glad that you can now feel the happiness you have been seeking for so long. You definitely deserve it! I am so happy that you and David are in a good place. I was worried what effect you leaving may have on your marriage. All of us are finding our own way through life, but I do know some good things that came out of you staying in the church for so long: I think we all have good morals and values, we spent a lot of family time together- way more than any other family I knew! We also learned the importance of service and community. Actually, those are just a few of the good things. They kind of level out the bad things, like, intense, unfounded guilt and stuff like that! I sure do love you and my family!

    • Our relationship is so important to my happiness, Marinne. I was determined that you and your siblings would never experience what you have described as “intense, unfounded guilt”! My own experience with same affected EVERY life-changing decision I made during my early years, and I was determined you would have a far happier experience.

      After years of seeing, though, that the same shame-based thought processes and judgment-ality lived on and was creating the same pain for you, I began to wonder…

      Was it possible that, despite (what were probably) good motives on the part of EVERYONE involved — including teachers and leaders who were just struggling human beings like me, your mom — we were trying to construct something beautiful from a flawed FRAMEWORK?

      The definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, each time hoping for a different result.”

      I’m not willing to do that anymore. Love you, and thanks for responding.

  2. Mom, thank you (again) for writing this. There has already been a tremendous response from readers – many people connect with your experience and gain meaning from it. Thanks for telling us your story in a way that let us see what it was like to be you – by doing so you have opened yourself and made yourself vulnerable, but in that vulnerability many others will find strength and courage. I hope you’ll continue to write – if you do, others will read, and they’ll be affected.

    There are a couple of things I want to comment on. First – your unexpected visits to me and the recent tears in my eyes. Let me say that the hard part of leaving the church was done before I left. Once I made the decision I had such a huge weight lifted from me because I could now believe whatever I found to be true, rather than try to force so many things I wanted to believe to be true. But it was the relationships lost – an engagement, a known future, the idea and vision of serving with my brother – that caused me to still struggle emotionally for a while afterwards. Quite a while.

    I hope readers will pick up on something in this article – the lesson you learned that you are fine, you ARE worthy, you ARE smart, you ARE good enough to tell if something is true. Two quotes – “They would be smarter and better than I…” and “To do this was unnatural to me…” both display your trust in others over yourself. You believed people who said if you didn’t do or believe A, B, and C, there is something wrong with you, and you need to trust others who DO do and believe those things. That is a lie, a pernicious, harmful, devastating lie. I love that you now trust yourself, and believe yourself.

    The fact that you denied yourself for so long, though, shows something about your character – that you would sacrifice yourself for your children. Though you may have wanted to respond to Marinne as a mother, you believed the best thing for her would be a Mormon-mother response, so you suppressed what you wanted in order to give Marinne the best thing you knew. You have always shown that love, even if your faith in a religion caused you to express it in the wrong way.

    Thanks again – and I love you 🙂

    • You are good at seeing the positive in my behavior, Jefferson. Thank you for linking this, and thank you for all your love and for being you.

    • Directly above, folks, are the words of the last of my five children, the one who came at the last possible moment in my first marriage (see my post as MormonGirlUndone).

      Jefferson has strong feelings about what our family has experienced, as you may have gathered! He also really “gets,” and is borderline enraged-by, some of the things I went through as I worked from a flawed understanding of what was, in my life at least, a flawed framework. I trust you can respect his desire, and ability, to be an agent for change by encouraging all of us to be more clear about whatever framework we are choosing.

      Thank you, Jefferson.

  3. I read your family reasons about why they left the church. I respect the decision you and your children have made. I still look up to you guys! I think you guys are amazing people and I always will!

  4. Rea Mom, I am so proud that despite what anyone may feel and despite any resistance you could have potentially felt from a member presence in a mormon heavy region that you have pursued your happiness. Taking the reigns of your own choices can be scary especially if we have a fear of what making them may result in. You have displayed such bravery and like Marinne told David, I am so happy you feel even more in love and understanding of one another. I worried too, if religious differences could lead to strains in your marriage and love you both so dearly I didn’t want to see anything happen, but you are both 2 people who have such amazing insight and love for those around you that it doesn’t suprise me that it bled over to love and understanding of your own beliefs. I love you and am happy for your happiness! thank you for always making me feel welcome, accepted and loved. I have always treasured our talks and am glad we have been able to share some experiences we both never imagined others to have had. 🙂

    • Hey, Natalie! Is it because you lived 22+ years before joining the church, that you are so open, understanding, and kind-hearted toward me and your Cloward siblings even as we (by the church’s definition) “wander”? Maybe it’s just who you are. Thank you for being that person. You are a beloved and admired part of our family.

  5. rea. good read! honest! marrine and i are good friends! she is a great person beacuse she shas a good mom! i love david too!

    • Thanks, Jared! Yes, Marinne IS a great person, and most of it is because… Marinne is a great person. Thanks for reading and commenting! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you can, in the future, read even more juicy details about Marinne and her David! (I am married to a David, too, you know.)

  6. Momma! Thanks for sharing this. Very touching, and while we’ve discussed your leaving in length, it was nice to see the journey in writing. I am very grateful for the refiner’s fire we all went through, in order to get to the place we are now. Your strength as a mother, and person, has always been and now will get to be recognized by the world. Love you with all my heart!

  7. Very nice.

    Don’t judge your kids regarding the drinking and swearing. These are merely LDS cultural taboos and have nothing to do whatsoever with the integrity of a human being.

    • Oh, Fred, I know that those behaviors have nothing to do with the integrity of a human being. Some of the people I admire most in life drink alcoholic beverages.

      In my mind, a person who drinks alcohol risks becoming addicted, someting that could never happen if they never took that first drink. To hear my children swearing… well… Spencer Kimball said that “Profanity is the effort of a feeble brain to express itself forcibly.” Seems harsh, judgmental, and unproven to me now, but still, that quote, hand-in-hand with how unnatural it feels to me when swear words escape my own mouth, has clearly had impact on my thinking.

      Those are the thoughts that created my concern for my children… but by darn, I’m open to your thoughts as well!

  8. Thanks, Aunt Jo, that was fantastic. I am very grateful to have such an open and understanding Auntie. You’re the best!

    • Buddy, I swear (no, actually, I really don’t, much!) that you are one of the most faithful and light-filled young men I know. Whatever you are doing and believing, it’s working beautifully for you. I love you with all my heart and miss you, too.

  9. Beautiful. And as hard as it was to deal with, I remember the Mormon mindset very well. I understand why my mother (she was mainly heartbroken when I left) acted the way she did. And to her credit, although she is still a devout Mormon, she still treats me with all of her old love and affection.

    • How long ago did you become a postmormongirl? Your mother, like my parents and most of my relatives and friends, knows that the most important things in life aren’t things, but people. To me, it’s especially poignant when a loved one offers that consistent love even when we “leavers” may have hurt them deeply and even, to some extent, crushed their religious dreams in the present.

      I recently read a talk given in GC years ago, in which the maintaining of family relationships was stressed as the most important consideration in deciding how to behave when a loved one departs from the family belief system. Surely, this includes loved ones who reveal that they are gay, or even that they’ve become a Democrat! I’ll find that talk and link it on my blog. The thoughts there expressed might have been helpful to me in the early years, as my children began to leave the church.

      Thank you for responding, and for subscribing to my blog!

  10. Rea yours is not a singular experience. I have always admired you and enjoyed association over the years. you are an amazing woman.

    having spent 35 years teaching, one of my goals has been to make sure that no student in my classes ever felt the cultural guilt and misunderstanding that comes from teachers who’s understanding of the atonement does not emphasize include understanding and acceptance of others no matter what their choices. Improper judgement is i think an outcropping of almost all organized anythings religion, anti-religionists, politics and race included. A sad statement on the human condition.

    I appreciate you’re acceptance of those of us who still choose to believe despite the inadequacies and foilbles of leaders, people and inadequate explanations of doctrines.

    Hopefully, i never did or said anything that would qualify me as anything but a free thinking non-judgemental member.

    For years one of my teaching mantra’s is that membership in the church does NOT determine the amount of love or value God has for any person.

    I have just really enjoy observing you grow through the years, no matter where it takes you. You are and have always been one of my al-time favorite people.

    (hope this all came out of my fingers ok it wa meant to be a compliment)

    rb

  11. In my mind’s eye, Roy, and though we’ve not been in each other’s presence for decades, I can see you interacting with your institute “kids” as an outstanding teacher and mentor. I believe that you come from love. When we spoke last year, I came to see that your view of the gospel and church is much like that of my husband: it simply takes place on a wavelength to which I am not subscribed. This presents quite a challenge in communication!

    At first, in seeking to find an explanation for this difference, I accepted that it was a function of a person having faith, or not having faith. As one who actively demonstrated faith as a member of the church, I have come to realize that my true faith lies elsewhere. I haven’t been able to change that. I wondered if this difference between people could be explained by their being more left-brained (logic-driven) or more right-brained (visionary), and more recently considered whether it might be comparable to synesthesia (see my recent blog post by that title).

    My observation is that when a person follows their own inner voice — which is, after all and as taught by the LDS Church — the voice of a child of God, we experience greater happiness. That is what I’m doing. That is what I hope you are doing. Perhaps religion is one of the great choice-tests of life. Perhaps we will pass beyond and see that the only thing that truly mattered — since we can’t claim to “know” much of anything in a literal, tangible sense — is whether we had the faith to act on our true beliefs. Period. How could it matter whether those beliefs are the result of brain-quirks, or our childhood environment, or anything else?

    I invite any and all responses to the above comments, which may be the product of a convoluted thinking process! But it’s MY thinking process, and it won’t change, so I respectfully embrace it.

    And Roy, if you ever were judgmental at any time in your life… I fully trust that you have, long ago, done your best to compensate and heal whatever wounds may have been inflicted. You are a good man.

    I hope you will subscribe to my blog so we and others can continue this conversation. Thanks for writing!

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