Written By Claudine Foudray
Nowadays, I choose to define myself as a resilient, compassionate, badass; however, it took me decades to be able to claim this identity.
Sometimes I joke that I've bounced back from hardship so many times that I only know one thing for certain: I'll never run out of stories to tell.
I've had two faith transitions—one that brought me into Mormonism and another one that took me out. Both transitions were instigated by trauma.
Here's a bit of what happened:
I grew up in a home where religion was never discussed. Though I loved spending time with my parents, some of my best childhood experiences were with my grandma. It was grandma who taught me the abc's, grandma who put bacon in my eggs, and grandma who lit up every time she heard my voice. Grandma loved me no matter what and I knew it.
When I was 15, grandma died in my arms. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. More than anything, I wanted to be able to see her again; I wanted to feel her love!
Then about a year after I lost grandma, I attended a Mormon funeral where everyone claimed to know exactly what happened to people after they die. When missionaries knocked on my door a few months later, I had questions for them.
I wasn't an easy convert. I debated with several sets of elders over a period of years.
But when I was 19—at a time I was feeling extraordinarily lonely—I spontaneously decided to join the church. Less than 24 hours later, I was baptized. The next year I transfered to BYU, fully immersing myself in the Mormon way of life.
For quite some time, I could easily tell which parts of Mormonism I loved and which parts my soul cried out against. But over and over again, I discovered that Mormonism was an all-or-nothing religion. I was supposed to put the things I didn't understand on a shelf—even ignore my own conscience if it ever conflicted with the policies or doctrines of the church. So when I got engaged, I knew there was only one choice: I had to be married in the temple while my non-member parents waited outside. This was just one of many times where I chose what I felt was wrong because the church had to be right.
Eventually, I became a stay-at-home mom to two sons and a daughter. I served as counselor in two relief society presidencies and held a variety of other callings. Line upon line, I internalized the messages of Mormonism. Repeatedly, I did my duty in the church so that the church would protect my dream of having a forever family.
But when my oldest son went to college—everything changed.
While living away from home, Ian became so severely depressed that he was sleeping up to 20 hours a day. As soon as I found out, I brought him home, determined to get him medical care.
Oddly, whenever I mentioned church, Ian shut down. I’d lived long enough to recognize that he was having a trauma reaction. For a while, I wondered if he might have been assaulted.
What I didn't know was that he'd read the CES letter, lost his belief in the church, and was too terrified to tell his parents.
In Ian's mind, there wasn't any possibility for a positive outcome. He worried we might be horribly disappointed in him. He thought he might even break our hearts. He worried we might discount his ideas or invalidate his pain. He didn't think he could cope if we didn't believe him, but that it might be even worse if we did. Then, we might lose our faith —our friends, our rituals, our purpose for life—and it would be his fault!
On top of this, Ian had no idea what to say to his brother who was preparing for a two-year mission. Ian felt completely trapped.
But I didn't know any of this at the time. I knew that I wanted to help him, but I also believed that Ian needed to come back to church so that he could feel better.
Besides, I couldn't bear to consider that we might not ever go to church again as a family. I worried I may have failed as a mom. In any case, I didn't know how to move forward, especially since Ian wouldn't tell me why he didn't want to go to church.
Shortly after Ian's brother left on his mission, I had an experience I didn’t expect.
I don’t care if you call it god, the universe, or my authentic self, but I clearly heard a voice that "Mormon me" would have called "the spirit."
The voice said, Ian won’t be able to heal until you let go of your desire that he ever come back to church.
At the time I heard the message, all I could do was cry tears of despair. I didn't know how to do that.
But as I let myself see Ian's pain, my internal walls began to crack. I began feeling a love that had no barriers, the type of love I'd always felt at my grandma's house. I knew this love was safe—for Ian and for me.
What’s still amazing to me is that the moment I could look Ian in the eye and tell him that I wanted him to heal more than I wanted anything else, Ian immediately relaxed.
Sitting in our car parked outside a fast food restaurant, he told me he wanted to take his name off the records of the church. As I took a deep breath, I told him I'd support him no matter what. Then, I made a heart-felt request.
I asked him if he'd be willing to wait for two months so that I could do some research and emotionally prepare myself for such a big change.
"Of course, Mom!" he said without hesitation. "Of course." Then he added, " I don't think I'm wrong about the church, but if you find answers to my questions, I'll listen. I trust you, Mom."
This was the beginning of a new relationship for the two of us.
Not much later, my Mormon shelf came crashing down.
I was sitting at the kitchen counter of our California home, reading a first-presidency approved "gospel topic" essay about the various accounts of the First Vision. After reading several paragraphs, I clicked on a link which took me to the papers of Joseph Smith so that I could read the earliest account. As I read words written by Joseph's own hand, I quickly realized that Joseph had already determined that every church was false before he went to the grove to pray. In other words, Joseph didn't go to that grove in order to ask God which of all the churches was true. According to Joseph, he went to the grove to ask for forgiveness of his sins. Joseph didn't mention seeing Heavenly Father at all.
Stunned, I went back to the "gospel topic" essay I'd originally been reading. The essay claimed that what Joseph had written —what I had just read— was "consistent" with the other accounts of the first vision.
But what I'd just read was clearly NOT "consistent" in the very details the church had always claimed matter the most: why Joseph went to the grove and what happened after he prayed. I remember thinking, "not only is the church lying, the church is purposefully trying to deceive its own people!"
As I stood up, the ground beneath me began swaying. I literally could not walk in a straight line. When I reached my husband's home office, I held tight to the door frame to keep myself from falling over. Then, I managed to say, "Help. I can't do this alone".
I call my experience a "realiquake" (re-al-i-quake) because in one moment, the foundation for my trust in the church split open and everything I thought I knew came crashing down. For a while, I didn't know who I was or which way was up.
This big quake was followed by many, many aftershocks—including the fact that my husband, a 4th generation Mormon and counselor in the bishopric of our ward, lost his testimony within 24 hours after reading a different "gospel topic" essay than the one that blew my world apart.
While the shocks kept coming, what was most on my mind and tearing at my heart was my missionary son. How I coped with that will have to be part of another story.
As I said when I started, I won't run out of stories to tell.
I'm honored to be among the countless, courageous ex-Mormons who broke out of a system that bound parts of themselves that needed to be set free. We are the badasses who've chosen to rescue ourselves.