I took a deep cleansing breathe as I approached the Christian bookstore. I had never been into a religious bookstore other than Deseret Book. I had recently found myself at odds with the religion of my youth and was desperately trying to build a foundation that was crumbling. At times I felt like I was free falling and losing my spiritual footings. I thought that if I could replace or repair the religious foundation, then I would be OK. I was not prepared, nor ready to give up on God or Christ or my faith. I believed I could replace my entire 40-plus years of religious indoctrination with something… anything…else. I felt like a criminal as I walked through the doors of the local Christian bookstore. I felt like an impostor as I wandered through the store searching and looking for something that would touch my desperate, aching spirit. I found a book entitled, No Perfect People Allowed: Creating a Come as You Are Culture in the Church, by John Burke.
I liked the title and as I read some I decided that to buy it. I loved almost everything he had to say. He discussed the importance of creating a church or community of people who defied traditional cultural mores. His premise was that no one was perfect and that acceptance was the foundation for change. This message resonated with me. I felt like I had spent a lifetime trying to fit into a specific mold that was predestined for me. This book, this message, was another catalyst that precipitated my exodus from the Mormon Church. I was learning that outside of my Mormon roots, my Mormon religion, there was an entire world of communities, beliefs, ideologies, that I had never been exposed to. I was like a sponge absorbing different points of view that felt like home to me. I began to distance myself from the religion from which I was moving away.
Growing up Mormon meant that I embraced and accepted the idea that I was destined for perfection. I built a life, albeit, a dysfunctional life, around the idea that perfection was attainable in my mortal life. If I could only fit all the pieces into the ridiculously impossible puzzle that I was desperately trying to put together, then I would understand what God wanted from me. I spent most of my life trying to be perfect according to God’s standards, or more specifically, Mormon standards. The task was too big. It was simply a gigantic, enormous, ridiculous exercise in futility. No matter what I did, which calling I accepted, or how awesome a mother and wife I was, I was a failure because I struggled to be a perfect Mormon. I simply could not reconcile my imperfections with who I thought God wanted me to be. That disconnect lead me to that Christian bookstore. I wanted to know what other Christian’s, thought. I wanted, no needed to know what other Christian’s believed. Unfortunately, John Burke eventually let me down too. As much as he embraced No Perfect People, he really didn’t. His attitude about homosexuality was not accepting and left me wondering if any religion embraced homosexuality with love and acceptance.
I have since realized that no person is allowed to tell me or preach to me anything that absolutely contradicts my own personal divine intuition.
At that point I came to the conclusion that I did not need a person, mediator, or intercessory divine being to tell me what resonated within my soul. Deconstructing all religious dogma was painful and eventually liberating. I stumbled upon a book called The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. It is a book that blends both eastern and western philosophies with the Dalai Lama as the central author. I felt like I had found the secret to life. I had been free falling for so long and I had finally found peace in the sweet, sincere, simple, words that came from the pages of that book. The Dalai Lama’s message did not seem that different from Christ’s “pure message.” I felt like I had been walking around in a fog and I was beginning to understand who I was. I had pretended for so long to be someone, anyone, other than myself. I was beginning to build a foundation on something solid, something that finally resonated with my soul. Doing it proved difficult but imperative.
From that time until now has been a series of painstakingly moments of rebuilding a foundation from which I can lean that does not diminish my spirit, but rather enriches it. The process has been heartbreaking but rewarding. As I ponder why I write and document this journey, I am buoyed by and grateful for other Ex Mormons, especially Ex Mormon women. I am grateful to a therapist who helped me find the lost girl who desperately wanted to reclaim her life. My departure from the Mormon Church tested my tenuous marriage to its ultimate limits. As much as I tried to bridge the gap, my lack of faith was eventually a deal breaker.
The foundation with which I built my life failed my children, my spouse, and ultimately me. Rebuilding has been a painful, yet rewarding process. I was a stay-at-home mom for 22 years. I recently began working again and have found that I enjoy the challenges that come with working. I also applied to and was accepted into graduate school at Purdue University. I am grateful for this opportunity to be a student again. I have come full circle as I look back at the arduous task of reclaiming myself. I have found a space for gratitude as I reflect on the day many years ago when I walked into a Christian bookstore.