Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Faith Journey

It's been a while. I really needed the space from this place. I needed time to live life and think hard and  not have to write it all down every step of the way. But it's time I check in, not with my blog, but with myself-and the two did quickly become synonymous in some important, reflective ways.



A faith journey.

I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but we were far from the typical church members. Both my parents were converts several years and one child into their marriage. They saw light and a good way to live, they had spiritual experiences and they made the plunge into Mormonism. Skip forward 15 years and there is a major schism resulting in divorce. At this time I was 8 years old. I was baptized and raised as a Mormon. The Church was never a major part of our home consciousness, but rather a large part of our societal consciousness. I attended church, young women's, EFY and seminary. I even ended up at BYU.

Those are the facts, here are the thoughts.

I remember making the distinction between the Gospel and the people operating it very early on. This was a natural course of events for a child from a broken family to take. When you are told divorced people are not as righteous by your mistaken and thoughtless Sunday School teacher, the distinction must be made for you to keep coming.

I had mostly good experiences with young women's, though I fought tooth and nail against the norms of their view of women and what they were meant to be. This likely had more to do with my personality and need to live outside of expectations than any real disconnect with the things I was being taught. I was told that sexuality in any form outside of marriage was a sin and would ruin my self esteem and also value as a woman unless I repented and forsook all those behaviors, etc. You can imagine my dismay when I realized I really wanted to be sexual. Due to daddy issues and self esteem issues, coupled with a resilient teenage need to rebel against the norm, I landed myself in some pretty bad situations with men over the years. I also landed myself in some pretty good situations with men over the years. It all looked different and usually had to do with my view of self at any given moment. Sometimes 'crossing the line' didn't seem to affect me, spiritually or otherwise. Other times, it was consuming and destructive. In hindsight the difference came from  my motives for the act and sometimes societal guilt.

All the while the church and spirituality were somewhat of a factor. As I've grown older and cultivated what spirituality is to me, all of this makes much better sense. I see it this way: the "spirit" is a real thing, but rather than some outward influence, it is merely our connection to our innate selves. The spirit then, does become a guide for action and when you've lost it, you ought to re-evaluate, because that's means  you've lost connection to self and being outside your own body is truly the most dangerous place to be. In that sense, many of those acts did take away 'the spirit' and my ability to make good decisions. Then when I would get it back, when I would reconnect, I felt better and my actions automatically lined up again with my true self. This has looked a lot of different ways over the years and it gets really tricky when you add moms and bishops and friends and boyfriends into your equation. I found a pretty good balance that ranged from straight up lies in order to maintain appearances to honest break downs and cries for help, from genuine regret and remorse to confident action. I found myself in a bad way several times, but learned eons of truth from the darkness.

I never really had a falling out with the Church, because I never really had a falling in with the church. I knew from a very young age that I didn't fit in the mold. I wasn't going to be what they had shown me I should be and that was going to be OK. I was always into Christ, he just seemed to have it all figured out and I loved the idea of a heavenly brother that understood everything I was going through, I still do! It never really mattered to me that the Church had a spotty history or that the BOM may or may not have literally happened the way it claims to have. I cared what all that meant to me, now, today, in my very life. And insofar that it was going to tell nice stories that helped reaffirm good behaviors in me, I was into it. Sure, the answer of women in the Church having the gift to bear children instead of the priesthood never really sufficed. But I also never really wanted the priesthood so that was OK. The gay thing didn't come up till much later when I had actual personal contact with people in that situation, and then the answer was a no brainer-of course they're loved and not broken and should be able to get married. I liked the idea of marriage in the temple because it meant I could be with someone forever. But my thoughts never went beyond that. To be honest, garments freaked me out and I didn't want to do it. The ceremonies and the clothes and the rituals were just not something I could mentally tackle. So I didn't. I told myself I would shoot for the temple and cross that bridge when I got there.

I want to acknowledge the many many times that church situations fostered beautiful experiences for me. My adherence to the main ideas of being loving and kind, generous and accepting served and continue to serve me well. The fact that my parents had the maint tenets of the gospel to help them raise me really helped them to teach us kids to be good people and do good things. My connection to the idea of Christ was tied to an experience at EFY. Some of the most influential women in my life were YW leaders, and I did feel nice inside the temple doing baptisms. I don't want to discount any of that. I'm just not convinced it is what I thought it was.

Dating was a problem. It seemed like you were either in the church and square and the worst, or you were out and making really poor decisions. When you go through late adolescence with two drug addict brothers in Utah Valley, it's hard to understand that there is a third option. I would get discouraged and my mom would promise me there was a third option. She promised me that at a school like BYU, there were certainly other people that felt like me. There were people who liked the Church insofar as it served them, but stayed quite liberal in their views and actions. Oh-and who hated FHE as much as me. The first few years of BYU I did not believe it. I dated two wonderful men that were so great and righteous, etc. The problem was that I could not tell them my whole truth and I could not be my whole self, and ultimately both relationships failed. I also dated some bad news, generally as a pendulum swing after the squares. They served their purpose too. All in all I tried a lot in order to 'find myself'-in the way college students do. What did I want? What did I believe?

I guess the answer came in getting really confortable with the question. I found yoga at 17. It is not, and has never been my religion. Instead it is a philosophy to help me live a sane life. Yoga explained that it was OK to say 'I don't know' and be happy to just be on the journey, no where near any type of finish line. It taught me to love and respect my body. It was the same summer I started to practice that I began my long and painful journey of creating healthy boundaries with the men in my life- because somehow my worth made so much more sense that summer than at any other time in my life.

Alcohol and coffee were just side notes. Once I started taking care of my body at 18, it made sense to use all things in moderation, including sugar. It was at this time that I cut out meat entirely because I felt so much better for doing so. At 19, Utah Valley began to feel small and I had fallen in with the restaurant crowd (i.e. the rough crowd in Provo, haha). I made the decision to get out. I sent dozens of resumes all over the world and 18 days later found myself in Taghazout, Morocco teaching yoga for a surf resort. I was running away from the difficulties of being 19. It didn't work. Nonetheless, my experiences in Morocco were invaluable and I don't regret my time there in the least. I met people from all across Europe and even the world. I lived and worked with people who had never even heard of Mormonism-I was free to make my own decisions because nobody expected anything from me in that way. So I drank and smoked hash, I hooked up with sexy Swedish men and learned to surf with the Moroccans. It was escapism and numbing, but I grew there. For the first time, no one was pre-supposing how I ought to behave. I ran myself into the ground with the freedom and after leaving in the middle of the night and then couch serving around England for a few weeks, I came crawling home to my Mom. She took care of me and I got back on my feet.

But then I was raped, and everything changed. God became a concept I was incapable of touching, alcohol and promiscuous behavior became coping mechanisms and I landed in a psyche ward after trying to commit suicide. It was there, as I lay in bed with the worst hangover of my life, listening to my mentally-ill roommate pray out loud for me, that I knew this was not working. From there it was a slow crawl. Rediscovering my self worth after that year was a task, and I am so lucky to have had the people around me that I did. I spent a lot of time alone, writing and reading, thinking and praying. It was during this darkness that I got most in touch with the inner light I had learned to call God.

A yoga trip to Southern California was my first foray back into the sunshine and it felt so good, I really didn't go back (in the spirit of full disclosure, I was still a 21 yr old girl, and exploration is an inherent and crucial part of that). I went back to BYU and finally found people there with whom I could be open and honest. I began getting involved with groups and events. It was then that I met the love of my life. I had been thinking of publishing a piece in a new, free-forum student publication about the motto of BYU and the phrases used to describe football efforts and their suspicious connection to church propaganda ("rise up", "raise the bar") did you have to subscribe to BYU football to get into heaven? I was confused. Isaac was an editor on the paper and we talked about my idea for an hour at our local coffee shop. We ran into each other a few days later while I was on a date, and we have been together ever since.

It was with my new community that I was finally able to articulate my feelings towards the church. My ambivalence wasn't unrighteous to them. They were searching for truth and goodness in spite of the institutional church and all of its damaging ways. I began to see a way that I could fit inside the church. I started talking about God and how I was much more comfortable with the idea that we are all God and we all connected and that is beautiful, than with some idea of a scolding, yet loving father figure out in the cosmos. I remember the relief I felt upon realizing that I didn't have to do the temple, or wear garments, and I could still be a worthwhile, good human being. I felt good. I feel good.

I still don't have any interest in being antagonistic towards the church or religious people in general, although the more time that goes on, the less I understand it. Instead, I am in the process (and hope to always be) of creating my own Gospel, of finding ways to connect to myself as a person and as a woman, of finding ways to connect and serve other people. I am in process, I am living in my questions. And I am very happy. 

9 comments:

  1. You're beautiful Kelsey! I'm so glad you've found love, you deserve every moment of happiness!!

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  2. you are so inspiring! I really appreciate your braveness, openness, and honesty. Love you girl!

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  3. So much wisdom here. I'm blessed to know you. <3

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  4. I wish I felt brave enough to be as open and honest as you are. Well Done Kelsey.

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  5. I feel sad for the things you had to go through and grateful for the peace you are finding. It really is a journey. Marta

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  6. "I started talking about God and how I was much more comfortable with the idea that we are all God and we all connected and that is beautiful," I think this is wisdom. I think we were all made powerful and that, yes, the spirit is a guide, perhaps a part of ourselves still connected to pure light, our deepest self that we should never lose touch with. Thanks, Kels.

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  7. Ive come across your blog after reading your post on "girls in a tight place" I feel like I was somehow ment to come across it, you are so strong, and I love how honest and open you are. I went through something very simialar and its so comforting to read how strong you are after everything you went through :)

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  8. 50 years from now, I predict that the prophet of the Mormon church will be more like a yogi shaman than some retired Republican businessman. 70 years from now, there will be the first prophetess. New-age hippy dippy crap is great! And it's contagious. It can't be stopped from leaking into the most conservative of bubbles. I feel like a lot of people in our generation who have been raised to think of God as a man are starting to consider that the god-concept is a very large tapestry with lots of room for interpretation. Many of these interpretations seem to be supported by the Book of Mormon, too. The "God is a man" part is still a bit confusing.

    I enjoyed reading about your interaction with the LDS church. It seems very similar to my own. Our stories diverge a little as I've chosen a different path but I love to hear successes like these. I've always thought the ideas were better than the execution and I love to hear of people like you who can tap into that as well.

    POWER TO YA SISTA!

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  9. kelsey,

    ive been searching for this for 4 years. ive tried talking about this (and i actually mean THIS...this whole post youv'e so beautifully written that I have never had the brain, or strength, or bravery to quite articulate as perfectly as you have) and i either get a) shot down after the first sentence, and walk away feeling like the anti-christ, or b) I am then expected bash and hate on mormonism entirely.

    This was for me. Thank you so much for sharing and making me believe im not alone.

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