I guess I would call myself the gray sheep of my family. My mom was the perfect Mormon woman–all of her time, talents, and life was given to the church. I don’t remember a time she wasn’t serving in the RElief Society or Young Women’s presidency, or working tirelessly to bring souls into the kingdom of God. Me? I read at least a few verses of the Book of Mormon every day,made sure I held a current temple recommend, and was the picture of moral goodness. But I walked the line and teetered in a “dangerous” direction now and then. I had a boyfriend at 16. I liked to wear long earrings and colorful bras and dresses that didn’t quite cover my knees–at least until Mom made me throw them away. Even though I always felt like I was doing pretty well, I knew I was a disappointment to her, and probably to God.
As I moved on to college at BYU, the greasy of my proverbial wool got a little darker. I got a steady boyfriend before my mission–oh no! We kept all the rules, but I was sure God was disappointed in us for kissing so much. I went through the temple after getting my mission call. We did the prayer circle, and I covered my face with the veil. I looked around me and through the white haze saw all the other veils and white clothes, and I thought, “I’ve joined the KKK.” I kept that little black thought hidden deep, and didn’t touch it for a long time.
I left on my mission and struggled for two and a half months in the MTC. I cried when I confided to a member of the branch presidency that I struggled in my companionship because the other sisters never let me talk. He told me the reason for the veil in the temple was to signify that there can only be one voice in a companionship. I needed to let my companions be that voice. He told me he could tell we’d both felt the Spirit as tears rant down my face. It wasn’t the Spirit that made me cry.
I left for my mission field and struggled for weeks with companions that hated me. I begged God to tell me how to fix it. The feeling came that I was on the wrong mission– I needed to go home and marry my boyfriend (the same one I started dating when I was at BYU). My mission president was furious. My parents were mortified. After a lot of extremely difficult conversations and subsequent anxiety-induced weight loss at the prospect of not being able to leave my mission, I was allowed to go home “for medical reasons.” I wasn’t exactly welcomed home. I wasn’t given the chance to explain myself in a homecoming talk. They “lost” my missionary plaque. My wool got another several shades darker.
I got married in the temple. I was given five callings simultaneously in my first married ward. My husband was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. I struggled through my teaching practicum. I prayed for patience and charity, and God gave me brutal opportunities to practice patience and charity with people who were manipulative and unkind. I began to wonder what other horrors he had in store to teach me spiritual lessons and put me through the refiner’s fire. I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder after eight months of fear and nausea. I just couldn’t seem to handle all the things God wanted me to learn and do. Darker gray.
We moved to a different apartment in a different ward because I couldn’t bring myself to ask to be released from my callings. I was the Relief Society secretary in our new ward. I felt special. It was better.
COVID happened, and we did at-home church. I procrastinated reaching out to a new ward when we moved, and stopped doing online church until we found somewhere more permanent to live after graduation. Gray, gray, gray.
We moved to Pittsburgh, and we started church again. Come Follow Me, scriptures, prayer, callings. Pregnancy. Constant throwing up for six months. Then fainting. It was a surprise, and now I was failing at being a woman because I didn’t want a baby. I wanted to die. Dark dark gray. The baby came and it almost killed me. Physically I was fine, but I wished I was lying flat under the tires of a semi-truck. Bad sheep.
Three or four months, and I loved that baby more than life. Things were better. He was special. But I knew I’d have to turn him over to the church–his baby blessing would probably promise that he would grow up honorably as a priesthood holder, serve a mission, have a wife and kids, and lead his family to God’s kingdom. Wait. Mission? No. I couldn’t do that to my son. Not my baby. Maybe if missions were optional, or different, or something. “Please God, give me an answer at General Conference. I’ll realign myself with your will, I’ll do anything, if you can help me see a way through this.”
General Conference: “Missions are a priesthood responsibility and a requirement for all young men.”
Well, that was it. Couldn’t deny that answer. Or could I? Maybe the next talk would be different. Nope. The next one? Nope. I cried as the answer came clear that I didn’t belong, and my world crumbled. I was a lost sheep.
For weeks I searched and studied to figure out what, if anything, was true. Okay, the church wasn’t great, but it wasn’t all that bad. I’d heard all the criticisms before. Until I found out about the blood oath sacrifices. I realized my ancestors had joined a cult, and I was the product of their devotion to said cult. Off came the garments. “Mom, Dad, I’m leaving the church, and my husband and son are coming with me.”
Thing was, I never wanted to be a sheep.
About a year before all of this, I wrote in my journal, “No one deserves to be made to feel small. Your soul is infinite, barely squeezing into the confines of fingertips and toes. It needs room to spread, reach out, and explore. Don’t let it get squished and squeezed even tighter by people who don’t care about you.” I had no idea how deeply that applied to my life – how much I needed to listen to myself and my heart at the time.
But now I’m free. I can follow my heart to its fullest extent, trusting love to guide me. I am infinite. I’m a flower, blooming beautifully on this earth for a short time, then fading and crumbling back into dirt. I don’t have to worry about pleasing a God who may or may not exist in order to preserve some eternal salvation that may or may not exist. No one is out to get me, to try and teach me moral lessons or refine me in a fire.
My panic attacks are gone.
My son is safe.
I am safe.
In the last few months since I’ve started reconstructing my worldview, I have experienced freedom, peace, growth, and joy unparalleled by anything I felt in the church. They told me I could only ever find joy in Christ and in his church. Their church. They told me that if I wandered from the church, I would wander lost in darkness where only Jesus could find me. Well, no one is coming to find or save me because I am not lost. Let the other ninety and nine huddle in the wilderness.
I am a flower, not a sheep. And this flower happens to like lattes, sleeveless shirts, and shorts shorts, dammit.