I have had a few people asking me questions about my story and why I believe what I believe. I’ve been asked by several how I can justify being a Christian and stand up for many of today’s social justice issues (which in my opinion, those two should never be separated). I’ve been accused of being “progressive,” a “heretic,” and a “Jezebel” among other names. In any case, I wrote out the process and the factors that have accumulated to my odd sort of amalgam of beliefs. Bear with me while I attempt to guide you on this journey.
Step one: Make sure you are born into a Mormon fundamentalist sect that practices polygamy, hidden away in the Rocky Mountains of Montana. You are the third oldest, of eleven children, the oldest daughter.
Step two: You lose your baby sister. She is born three months premature with a tumor in her lungs. She lives exactly 48hrs. You are five years old. Set aside for processing.
Step three: Trace back your bloodline to the founder of the town you grow up in, and nearly all of the 900 people living there as well. The founder is your great grandfather and the prophet of the United Apostolic Brethren.
Step four: Begin attending a public school in third grade because another of your sisters has been diagnosed with ADD. The private Mormon school you attended in your small little town doesn’t have the appropriate training or resources to give her a proper education and Mom refuses to split the kids up.
Step five: Become friends with a Christian girl who says that she can’t be friends with Mormons causing you to question your entire world and existence— everything you’ve ever known up to this point.
Six: You are molested by your oldest brother. You can’t talk about it with anyone. Thankfully, this only happens once… at least to you.
Seven: Begin struggling with self-worth, prone to suicidal tendencies and self-injury.
Eight: Receive a diagnosis for Manic Depressive Disorder. Begin taking Antidepressants. Realize that drugs make you feel like a zombie and you decide feeling depressed is better than feeling fake. Stop taking meds.
Nine: Try to cope with various instances of your mother not being present and your father’s anger outbursts, which often result in physical violence and verbal abuse.
Ten: Your brother ends up in jail, tries to straighten his life out but gives up. He begins to study the Wiccan religion.
Your parents force you to go on a trip with the Mormon youth group from the little town you grew up in, to the key historical locations where the Mormon faith was birthed. You begin seeing parallels between Mormonism and the Wiccan religion. Because of the hypocrisy and double-standards you witness in your community growing up and on the trip, you become agnostic and give up on the religion you grew up knowing.
As a junior in high school, you have a friend hospitalized due to an overdose/suicide attempt. Another friend had shot herself only months prior and ended her life.
At the same time, your friend is hospitalized, your brother has a drug overdose at a party and nearly dies. He ends up back in jail for a short period for violating his probation. You have no one to talk to or process these events with, at least no one safe. You begin seriously contemplating suicide because you can’t handle the pain.
Add a bottle of pills and a prayer that leaves you passed out in your own tears. Let it sit overnight. Come morning you wake up with a choice.
You take your life out of the pit it has been in and put it into a church, one that your brother convinced you to begin attending with him once he is released from jail. His cellmate has led him to Jesus—a Native American man who explains his faith in terms of spirituality that overrides his previous Wiccan beliefs. Once in a Christian church, you feel like you have found a place where you feel free, you feel loved. You belong. The church is Pentecostal non-denominational. They teach you about the Holy Spirit and the gifts. They pray for you to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. You want to believe but nothing happens so you pretend because you’re getting tired and you know if something doesn’t happen the prayers will never stop.
You continue to go to church but this causes tension in your family. They believe that you have left the one true church and unless you turn back around and come back to their Mormon church, you will condemn yourself to hell. Doubts and questions frequently surface from the doctrine and old ways of life that you were raised with, this makes you simultaneously doubt the how trustworthy the Christian faith is in all aspects as well.
You move in with your older brother as soon as you turn eighteen, in order to keep some sense of peace and sanity, for freedom to attend church and worship the way you want to–the way that your new church has taught you.
Three months after moving in with your brother, your mother is diagnosed with cervical cancer. As the oldest daughter, you move home to help her with the other children and keeping up the household as she undergoes treatment. She receives laser surgery and visits a naturopath who encourages her to change her diet. She does so. She remains cancer free.
Two months after moving back home, you are kicked out because your brother shared about the community’s teachings and practice of polygamy with a church in a nearby town. Your mother panics. She tells you that if you are going to choose to be a Christian and go along with your brother, then you have to get the hell out. You leave with a trash bag full of belongings and a vague idea of where you will spend the night.
The pastor of the church your brother spoke at invites you to stay at his home for the week until his family has to leave in order to facilitate a church camp. The family models Jesus with their support and provision. You call your mother the next morning to tell her that you are safe. She yells at you over the phone. You hang up on her because your throat has closed off so tightly that you can’t speak. The pastor’s wife embraces you and holds you until you stop crying. When you realize you’ve forgotten your toothbrush, they readily offer one.
When you leave their home, you spend the entire summer moving from place to place, staying with friends and you even spend a handful of nights sleeping in your car. Towards the end of the summer, a friend gives you a book explaining the Mormon doctrine of blood atonement and apostasy. Apostasy is the sin of turning your back on the church and speaking against it, a crime deemed as punishable by death. Blood atonement is the name of a sin paid for in your own blood. You are angry and confused. You feel as if your whole life has been a lie. Like the earth itself has been yanked out from beneath your feet. You wonder who else knows it. You wonder if your parents know. It would explain them kicking you out. If they did know, how they could stay with their church? You spend weeks feeling sad and angry, but thankful that God has gotten you out. You haven’t spoken to anyone in your family since leaving.
The youth pastor at your church tells you about a discipleship school about seventy miles away that would provide a home and help you to gain a solid foundation for your beliefs. You’ve been a Christian not quite two years at this point.
You move into the discipleship school about a month later. The couple that runs the small school takes discipleship to heart. They meet with you weekly one on one and encourage you in your walk with Jesus. The couple models Jesus well. They are real and do not hide their struggles and doubts. It helps that the students live in their home with them so you see everything. You are thankful for their example.
Three months after moving, your brother goes back to jail. This time he tells you that he feels like God wants him to confess that He had molested you and your sister. You are afraid because you know that this means he will go to prison. You also know that this means that there is no hiding the shame you have felt for nearly ten years. You try to talk him out of it, but he is sure.
You get a phone call from your mother the day of his sentencing. She is broken and you can no longer hold yourself together either. Through heavy sobs, you beg her and your father not to be angry. You forgave him after it happened. You don’t know why, except that you know your brother and you know that it wasn’t him that night. It’s been ten years and you’re okay. Your brother will hopefully be getting help. This causes a crisis of faith, where you consider throwing away everything and going back to your old life but you have nothing there. You already know where that path leads. Still you are hurt and angry with God and begin to question his goodness.
Your mentor at the bible school walks you through your pain as you wrestle with God and suicidal thoughts again. One night as she prays with you in your room, she encourages you to ask God where He was when everything happened. You see a picture in your mind of Jesus fighting off demons as your brother makes his choice to hurt you, and you’ve made a choice to keep silent. You realize that Jesus has always been fighting for you.
Your brother spends the next eight years in prison. There are some days when you almost forget he exists. You have forgiven him, and your heart has received a lot of healing, but he is far away and not present in your life… you learn to live without him there but feel guilty when you forget about him because in prior years you were close.
In the process of this healing, you have numerous relationships with men, many who take advantage of you and use you. You begin going to college to study to be a teacher. All your baggage goes with you, you are nearly assaulted your first few weeks there. You don’t tell anyone except your roommate at the time you tries to encourage you to report it. You fought him off so nothing happened. You convince yourself that there is no need.
Your professors encourage you to pursue writing because they believe that you are skilled but also have a story to tell. You change your major to Creative Writing, and a second degree/emphasis in Literature in case you need something to fall back on.
The church you have been attending since moving to the discipleship school begins to manipulate your time, energy and emotions. You witness the ways they take advantage of people on a regular basis and no longer believe the sermons spoken on Sunday mornings. After everything you’ve walked through with Jesus personally, you know he is not the enemy… you begin to hate the church.
You end up leaving your church after having an emotional breakdown. Shortly after, the church closes it’s doors. At your new church and through your campus ministry involvement, you become close friends with a couple of people that also take advantage of you and use you, eventually cutting you out of their lives when you need them. One was a narcissist who was also your best friend for three years. You got incredibly close without realizing the damage that was being done. The campus ministry leader also models similar behavior as your old pastor and manipulates you, puts you down and doesn’t not respect your time or when you say no to helping with events. You step down from your role as a staff member, burnt out, frustrated, and hurt. All of this only drives a further wedge between you and the church.
You begin to struggle with chronic pain due to reproductive health issues. You spend months trying different medications and different doctors in hopes of definitive answers. After a year, you decide to stop taking medication because it only seems to make the pain worse. Your body doesn’t function as it normally should, but it’s better than feeling like your life is restricted due to the pain.
In the middle of this, your sister leaves her husband and begins talking about divorce. He is emotionally, and sexually abusive. Sexually because he does not respect her body and pushes her to have children in spite of the nine miscarriages in five years of marriage. He refuses to see a doctor or look into adoption for help. During the first five years of their marriage, her husband has controlled her diet and distanced her from family. Your sister ends up going back to him after four months. You still struggle to show Christ to your brother in law.
In the process of the chronic pain and frustrations with the doctors, your best friend severs all ties with you. You try to salvage some part of the friendship but after a while, he refuses to acknowledge your existence. You attend the same church. He refuses to speak to you or look at you when you are talking in a circle of friends. You begin to avoid church and any interactions with him for a while.
A few months later, another of your closest friends severs ties with you, behaving in similar fashion. Shortly after, she begins attending a new church. Thankfully, one friend has been as loyal as the sunrise in the midst of all this and stays with you for over three years in spite of the messes and pain and wanting to give up. This friend has shown Jesus in his genuine heart and giving grace and love to everyone he knows. He too has had doubts and at times has not known how to be a supportive friend as you’ve struggled with pain and depression and grieving the losses in your life, but he never stops showing up and you are thankful. This friend, and those like him that you have been lucky enough to have in your life, are what keep you going.
Mix this all up and you have a beautifully broken and skeptical young woman who doubts people and their intentions, doubts society as a whole. You have a girl who doubts the church and religion, who doubts God and often times even doubts her friends as well as herself.
Nevertheless, in the midst of the hardest seasons, this life has been glazed with a sweet understanding of the love of Jesus due to some moments of irreversible light that she has experienced along the way. Her faith is not the same “giddy, throw up your hands and dance” faith that it used to be when she first accepted Jesus, but there are still those moments. Rather, it is now a seasoned faith, more like a deep, rich red wine. Sweet and perhaps still a little bitter, but they say all the best wines get sweeter with time. So she can hope. She can always hope.
I have watched doors open for provision when I haven’t known how I was going to pay my rent, I have seen my relationship with my family not only restored over the years, but we’ve grown even closer. It is still hard and it still takes a lot of work. I am still viewed as a liberal “Jesus Freak” who may or may not go to hell by my family, and a liberal borderline heretic by many in the church, but they have watched me cling to Jesus in the moments when I had almost nothing else, and I have risen from the dust time and time again. I am determined to still keep rising.
I continue to try to see God’s heart for people around me because I have caught a glimpse of His heart for me. I try to believe that He can use a broken and flawed church in spite of the ways I have been hurt by it and most days want to throw the towel in—because I too am broken and want to believe that God will use me. My life is nothing if my experiences do not help make someone else’s burdens a little easier to carry. I am more prone to deconstruction because if my faith cannot withstand the weight of these experiences, then it is not a faith worth having. I am prone to questions because when all hell breaks loose, those questions are sure to surface. If there is anything in my foundation that is not secure, I will feel it, and I will see it, and I will run in shaky circles until I have something I can stand on.
But one thing I know for certain: I want to live like the Jesus I have seen in my own personal walk and hope that others will see it too and do likewise. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I have to believe it will make a difference. I have nothing if I have not hope
*Note: These are the MAIN bullet points of my life. I realize that all of this could be a book in and of itself. Believe me, I am working on that. There are stories of short-term missions and being a youth leader and singing on worship teams, and campus ministry and children’s church and women’s ministry, and even being rejected by churches and church circles scattered throughout as well. The things that have been most defining have been when I have felt the most broken and/or when God’s voice and presence has come through. Those two facets have at times been exclusive from one another, and at other times overlapped. I have learned that you have to take the good in with the bad sometimes and keep believing and working for a better world. You have to take it all in stride, knowing that the hardest moments have made you stronger, yet simultaneously more empathetic because you know what it feels like to be inherently broken and in need of hope, and so I try to share that hope in any way that I can. If you have any questions about all of this, just ask. I am happy to answer them in any way I can.
If you have any questions about any of this, just ask. I am an open book and would be happy to answer them in any way I can.