Finding My Voice in a Faith Crisis

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

Last night I couldn’t sleep and I started reading old blog posts.  I realized that it has been a couple of months since I posted.  I’ve written a lot in my journals, but haven’t felt able to post anything.  Honestly, the faith crisis I’ve been going through over the last six months has been brutal on my self-esteem.  I didn’t realize how much of my faith in myself came from my church membership.  The card I was carrying in my wallet that told me I was a good member of my church meant more to me than I realized until that was gone.  Now I have to stand before my Savior without any of that and somehow believe that he still loves me; that I still have work to do for him just not in the way I thought.  

So I’ve been tepidly attending a protestant church of some kind called Lakeside Church of Christ.  It’s the church that runs the preschool that my sons attended.  One of the weeks I attended I looked around at the congregation.  The gathered people looked so different from the ward I used to attend.  They weren’t just unfamiliar, they were different.  There is a look to Mormons.  That look isn’t at Lakeside.  I felt the spirit whisper to me, “They are my people too.”  I knew that it was true.  I haven’t wanted to look outside of my tribe to find his people.  I was too busy serving my kids and my ward and looking within the church to take the time to see that there are his people everywhere.  My neighbors.  My son’s classmates.  The server at the restaurant.  They are looking for his love.  They are known by him, but not by me.  My eyes have been opened.

It isn’t that I want to start preaching the Book of Mormon to them.  I have no desire to make anyone into a Mormon.  I want to listen to their stories.  I want to learn from them.  I want to see them the way my Savior sees them.  My Lord knows there is a time to listen and a time to talk; a time for questions and a time for answers.  I feel so humbled.  I came to Texas thinking I knew so much.  Now I feel full of questions.  

As for my blog, I’ve been afraid.  I’m worried I’m going to say something that will hurt someone or influence someone to leave the church or to judge me for leaving.  I’ve been distracted by the need to please everyone who reads my words.  Me posting again is me accepting that you are responsible for what you do with my words.  This is me remembering that God knows you.  He will guide you on your path just as he is guiding me.  This is me finding my faith again.

The growth I have experienced in the past six months has astounded me.  The pain of loss has been torturous.  It has been not just in my mind but in my body.  In my neck and left shoulder; in my hips and legs, in my head most of all.  The struggle to manage the responsibilities of my home and family while enduring constant pain has been intense.  I had an injection in my neck, but it didn’t help.  Thankfully, my orthopedic pain specialist prescribed me some medication that is helping me.  I also started going to the gym again which has reduced my anxiety and helped my self esteem.  Better times are ahead.  

I started a new book called The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a pastor in the Lutheran church and an early vocal opponent of Adolf Hitler in Germany.  He was arrested by the Gestapo and killed by order of Himmler only days before the concentration camp he was imprisoned in was freed.  This book is part of his journey of discipleship in which he became conscious of his own heroic path to become a martyr for Christ; a testimony to what Christ would have done in Nazi Germany during the rise of Hitler.  He was a brave and honorable German whose faith and sacrifice inspires me.  During a dark time when Germany lost it’s soul to darkness, there were people like Bonhoeffer that stood firmly for humanity and truth.  Germany and the German people are no longer in the grips of a madman thirsting for the blood of the Jewish people.  They have taken their place in the world as an example of humanitarian aid during the refugee crisis.  Somehow, I feel certain that were it not for those brave few who kept their integrity, Germany would not be the place it is today.  I know the days ahead will be dark.  As my nation becomes more radicalized and demagogues lie and inspire violence, who knows what the future will bring?

One thing that is certain to me, we are headed down a dark path and there doesn’t appear to be any course correction coming any time soon.  Anyone who refuses to be drawn into a tribe right now is going to be left exposed to the persecution of those who belong.  I am ready to take on that role.  The testimony of my Savior, his courage, his teachings, his love will be my only creed.  I will have faith that it will be enough.  His tribe is the only tribe I want to belong to. 

There isn’t only darkness.  There is also an increasing awareness of human suffering.  The subject of mental health is on the cover of magazines as I stand in the checkout at the grocery store, it is the topic of discussions at church, it is on everyone’s mind in a way I have never seen before.  I feel like standing up and saying, “I was talking about mental health BEFORE it was cool!!”  I spent a few hours watching the documentary The Me You Can’t See that was put together by Harry the Duke of Sussex and Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime TV.  It was excellent.  I wish so many people didn’t have to suffer and die before we got to this place, but I’m glad we are here.  If the pandemic leads us to better understand our own minds and what we need to be happy, that can only lead to a more mentally healthy society.  

I hope all of you are surviving the end of the pandemic.  I hope and pray that outbreaks around the world will begin to fade and that everyone who needs treatment, both mental and physical,  can get it soon.  The suffering of so many for so long is hard to comprehend.  I’m sure that more people are hurting than even what we know, and what we know is overwhelming.   

It is hard to get a sense of where we are post pandemic, but I have a feeling that the secularization of our society is only going to accelerate.  As mental health takes the stage of our consciousness, we will likely see the influence of social science swell.  This trend was already happening, but will likely accelerate.  This secularization will accelerate the diminishing influence of the church as new social norms are established around social science.  There will be a focus on childhood trauma and perhaps an even more intense pressure on parents to be perfect.  This will result in lower birth rates as people avoid parenthood and the increase in social judgement.  More young people will choose not to have children.  Social services to children will take priority, largely in the federal government as the Democratic Party holds increasing power in the federal government.

Radicalization of the Christian church in response to their increasingly diminishing influence will continue as we have seen with the rise of Donald Trump and other populist leaders.  This radicalization and preoccupation with political influence will accelerate the loss of credibility with the rising generation who will see frantic and fearful defenders of the church with increasing disgust.  

The questions we must ask ourselves are: what are the consequences of the centralization of political power into a single political party in the United States?  The government is the most likely vehicle by which social justice priorities will find expression.  How will society change when government becomes the primary source of moral and spiritual guidance?  What form will religious worship take now that it is no longer a conscious practice?  Because religion has evolved with mankind for thousands of years, is it possible for us to supplant it with modern studies, statistics, and scientific analysis that spans only a century?  If religion is to remain an influence in society, what ways does it need to change?  How can it prove its worth to a generation of young people who find it antiquated and irrelevant?

These are not easy questions to answer.  I wish I were more certain about the future or more able to influence it.  I feel like a cork floating down a stream.  I hear the coming waterfall, but I’m powerless to fight the current.  Trust in the Savior and faith that he hasn’t abandoned humanity is my only hope.  

During a faith crisis, it’s hard to know what I even believe anymore.  Sometimes I feel pretty cynical.  Most of the time I understand that everything that is happening has a plan and a purpose even if I don’t see what it is right now.  

Shame Dreams

“If people knew who I really was, they wouldn’t like me,” I remember telling my mom in high school. What I meant was that the only way I could be accepted was hiding behind choir dresses, drama masks, memorized lines, and stage makeup. The real naked me was flawed and broken and something to hide.  This is shame.

In the scriptures, Adam and Eve only understood shame after they ate the fruit and the first thing they did was make clothing to hide their nakedness.  Nakedness is a powerful symbol for shame; a concrete way my brain chose to show me last night that my battle with shame is far from over.

Nakedness. I had three naked dreams last night. I dreamed I was staying in an apartment in a sky rise. I was getting ready for bed and was totally naked before I realized that my blinds were open exposing me to the whole city. I walked to the large window to close the blinds and saw that a woman was laughing at me, pointing and taking pictures. Of course, I couldn’t get the blinds closed before she got a few shots of my humiliation.

The next dream I went to church and realized I had worn a see through dress. It was clearly inappropriate for church, but I insisted on staying at the meetings.  I needed to be there regardless of how uncomfortable I was or others were with what I had worn.

The third dream, I was riding a bike. I looked down and realized I was dressed in a babydoll lingerie outfit. The wind was exposing my bare legs that were covered in thick black hair.  I tried to pull the sheer fabric around my legs while balancing on the bike and I wove dangerously around the busy city road I was navigating.

Clothing hides our nakedness. It shields our vulnerability. We chose what we wear, we don’t choose how our naked body looks. We can appear to be thinner and more attractive depending on what we wear. In the scriptures the prideful wear clothing to show their wealth and put themselves above others.  Clothing is also a symbol of our fallen natures.  Adam and Eve didn’t wear clothes until they had transgressed.  Only then were they ashamed.  Only then did they need to hide.

Is nakedness a sin?  It can be a crime.  Indecent exposure is illegal in many places.  There is almost no social taboo quite as universal as nakedness.  But…..is it a sin?  I don’t think there is any scriptural evidence for it being a sin.  Nakedness in the scriptures is associated with poverty and profound grief.  There are commandments regarding sexual interactions, but usually our fears about nakedness and dreams about nakedness are not about sexual sin, they are about shame.  It isn’t doing wrong, it’s being wrong.  It isn’t disobeying God’s commandments, it is about disobeying social conventions and facing the disdain and judgement of others.

So what do my shame dreams mean?  I read this excellent article this morning that analyzes naked dreams with the Jungian method.  Jung happens to be one of my favorite people ever, so it had to be good!  You can read it here.  Basically, the naked or semi-naked me in my dreams is symbolic of the vulnerability I feel at showing my authentic self on this blog.  The real me.  No masks, degrees, costumes, or stage lighting.  No memorized lines, scripts, or coaches to correct me. 

For the people reading this, I don’t think you have any idea how difficult this is for me to do.  I am a fairly good writer, but what I have to say is so profoundly naked.  Each time I write I find that I care a little bit less about how people see me.  Each time I bring my messages back to the Savior I remember that only as I transform my fear into faith and fear only Him, I become free.  Free to be the woman he wants me to be and His true handmaid.

I wish I could tell my dream self to blow that woman a kiss out of my apartment window.  Let her post my unashamed face on her instagram if she wants!  Better than feeling humiliated for doing something stupid that everyone does sometimes.  I wish that I could tell my dream self to wear that transparent dress like a boss.  It is going to be the new fashion in Relief Society soon.  I wish I could tell my dream self to own those hairy legs.  Eve’s legs were most likely hairy and Adam didn’t care.  Neither did God.

In the end it isn’t going to matter whether or not I pleased other people.  It will matter whether or not I please my Master.  He once said in the scriptures, you can’t serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or hold to the one and despise the other.  You can’t serve God and mammon.  He’s saying, you can’t please both.  You can’t serve both.  In this life, you have to choose.  This is me choosing Him and writing my testimony another day, owning my nakedness and brokenness before God.

I know that He lives.  I know that His power is real.  There is nothing that is impossible to Him and I will praise his name all the days of my life.  I fear not what man can do, for in Him is my trust.  He is my rock and my salvation and through Him I will be saved.  Though I be naked, yet He has put a royal robe around my shoulders and in Him I am not ashamed.

This is called "The Shame Tree."  It was drawn on my trip to New York last month.
This is called, “The Shame Tree.”  I drew it last month on a trip to New York City.  

Pearls Before Swine

“It’s all my fault,” I explained, tears running down my face.  I could hardly open my mouth.  It took too much effort.  Laying in bed, I couldn’t even wipe the tears from  my face as they dripped from my catatonic eyes to the pillow.  “I’ll never write on my blog again.  All I do is hurt people.  I’m broken.”  And I believed it.  I wouldn’t be able to care for my kids.  I wouldn’t be able to feed myself.  The world lay on top of my chest.

“That makes me so mad,” Ben said calmly.  He is always calm.  I love and hate that about him.  My mind is a tempest and his is a calm summer’s day.  I listened to him talk about the good I do and how beautiful I am.  It seemed as though he was talking about someone else.  “The Savior hurt people too,” he said.  “Yeah, but he was the Savior.  I’m just broken me,” I said despondently.  I thought for a few moments.  I am just broken me.  Am I better than he was?  Can I live my life without hurting anyone when even the Son of God could not?  He knows I am broken.  He knows my limitations.  He also knows that I’m not to blame for the problems of a fallen world.  The weight on my chest is not fair.  The words I speak are mine and I speak the truth.  If the truth hurts someone, I am not to blame.  And so I got out of bed.  I’m here to write again.  My truth and my testimony from my broken mouth.

Last night I said the words I thought I would never say.  “I think I need to go to the mental hospital.”  Suicidal thoughts were swirling in my brain like sharp razor blades in a clothes dryer.  For hours and hours I had batted them away, distracted myself, used self-care, and read uplifting material.  Nothing helped.  I knew if something didn’t change I would act on my thoughts.  I sat on the couch with hardly the energy to blink my eyes as I watched my Austin play happily with his brothers. I wrote a piece, but I haven’t posted it yet.  It is about what happens to children when they loose their mothers.  What would he do without me?  How could I do that to him, knowing what it would do to him?  And yet a person can only hold up under torture for so long.  Everyone has their limits.

Ben knew how bad it would have to be for me to be willing to go back to that place.  I wouldn’t go back to Sundance.  I would find a better place.  Maybe they could help me.  Maybe I wouldn’t feel this pain anymore.  Ben gave me a priesthood blessing.  He cast out Satan.  He did what I didn’t have the strength to do.  I have had such blessings many times before.  It is like waves of power, like a nuclear blast of light.  Satan was gone.  I was blessed to have the robe of peace around my shoulders, and I felt it warm around my frigid body.  I took a sedative and went to sleep.  Satan is gone, but his lies still have to be refuted.  No one can do that but me.  That’s why I’m here.

“You shouldn’t write these things.  They are sacred.  A blog is not the place for such things,” Satan whispers.  The day is coming when all blogs will be silent.  The day is not far distant when cell phones and google searches and Facebook posts will vanish away.  Until that day, I will testify to as many people as I can.  Satan is real. His power is real.  All is not well in Zion.  Our houses need to be set in order.  The prophecies of his holy prophets are coming to pass.  The sins we hide will not be hidden forever.  It is up to us to find the Savior. The sorrow I feel and the enemy I fight will be yours to fight before he comes.  Do you have what you need?  There is a time when sacred things must be shared.  We must help one another find the Master before it is too late.

The Master said, “Do men light a candle and put it under a bushel?  No, but on a candlestick that it giveth light to all that are in the house.”  Do I know that perhaps by putting these things on a public blog that I risk casting pearls before swine?  Yes. Even the Son of God was judged by men to “have a devil” which I take to mean a mental illness.  They judged his wisdom as foolishness and they tortured and murdered him.  God the Father still sent him.  Was he casting his pearl before the swine?  I do what I do and I say what I say because I am His handmaid.  He tells me to write and I will write.  He tells me to testify and I will testify.  I am not to blame for your pain at my words.  Learn from them.  Find the Savior, for he is Mighty to Save. 

Being a Dandelion

Sometimes the pain is so intense that words just can’t describe.  Sometimes the yuck just keeps coming and tears and tissues won’t wash it away.  This kind of pain doesn’t yield to pills or clever maxims.  Prayers don’t make it go away.

Wesley came down from playing his Wii game to find me drowning in my tears. His face screwed up in anger and pain, he said, “I don’t want anybody hurting my mommy!!”  I hugged him and told him it would be okay.  I told him I had been reading about Jesus.  He went around doing good.  He healed people like me, forgotten, broken people that no one could help.  He can help me.  He will help me.

I know that he suffered in the garden.  He bled for me.  He cared for me enough to die for me.  He knows my burden and he feels my pain with me.  I can’t write what happened or the source of my pain.  I’ll just tell a story, like the Savior used to do.

Once upon a time there was a gardener who only liked roses.  One day in her garden, a dandelion grew.  She thought it was a rose until one day it bloomed and it was a bright yellow flower.  It was different and she didn’t like it.

The gardener said, “Go away, you don’t fit in the garden box.”

The dandelion said, “I’m a flower, God made me like this.”

The gardener said, “Only roses can live here. Be a rose, then you can stay.”

“Roses are big and beautiful and expensive,” the dandelion insisted, “They
have thorns.  I am free.  I have no thorns.  I am yours, God sent me to you.  I have many petals like the rose.  Look at me and see.  I’m beautiful too, God sent me to you.”

“You aren’t beautiful,” scolds the gardener, “You are a weed, and no one
likes you.”

“Look at the children,” the dandelion said sadly.  “They love me.”  Tears dropped like dew.

“Children don’t count,” the gardener said impatiently.  “Only important people matter. And important flowers.  You can change,” insisted the gardener.  “If you become a rose, you can stay and I will love you.”

The dandelion died of shame and a broken heart that day, but God had mercy
on her.  He turned her yellow petals into white flying seeds that the gardener’s children blew all around and now they grow in the grass and the fields and the roadsides where unimportant people can love them. 

Someday I hope in heaven that I have a garden full of dandelions.  I’ve always loved them.  They are beautiful to everyone until they grow up to learn that they aren’t supposed to be beautiful.  Because I never grew up, they will always be beautiful to me.  I see myself in them.