I am writing this blog post because many of you follow me because of my faith. You know me through my painting of Christ’s eyes and my church leadership in every community I’ve lived in throughout my life.
Some of you have noticed changes in me throughout the year and I’m ready to talk about it.
For anyone who doesn’t know, I was born and raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or “Mormon” for short. I was born into a great home with loving parents. And while we weren’t perfect, we sure tried to be! My book Becoming Whole tells of my story more in-depth, but for now, I will say that my faith has saved me. Like every other person who’s walked this earth, I’ve seen some dark days. It is my faith in God that pulled me through. The example of my parents and grandparents and the religion that we all believed in meant everything to me. It was my beam of light to navigate this “dark night.” This faith and the people in it have been an incredibly beautiful part of my life.
When my parent’s divorced at age 15 I felt for the first time in my life what it was to live without my religion and full faith in God. It sent me to a dark place. Deep in the trenches of addiction and loss of direction. I spiraled and I spiraled hard. I was consumed not only in my poor decisions but also in the guilt of ‘losing my way’. This was one of the lowest points in my life.
It was The Book of Mormon and its passages got me up off the ground all those years ago. It loosened my grip on alcohol, and eventually got me headed in the right direction. (Again the early part of my story is much more in-depth in Becoming Whole.) I ended up serving a faithful, full-time mission at age 21 in Halifax, Canada, married in the temple, and have served faithfully in leadership callings (including the stake level) since then. I considered myself to be a “gospel scholar” and spend hours dedicated to studying my religion every day. I studied more than anyone I knew because of my love for the religion, God, and because I was born with an insatiable hunger to know more. To say my religion was a big deal in my life was an understatement. If you have ever known me at all on a personal level, you know it was EVERYTHING. I was not a “Sunday Mormon”! My faith oozed through every pore of my body and still does. I do things with my entire heart. It is who I am…
If you’ve been following me for a while you’ve read some of my deepest thoughts throughout this past year and they’ve only gotten deeper as time went on. But social media only holds so much in its little squares and there has been so much I wasn’t willing to share until now…
Many of you know last year our family sold the home that we were building, what you don’t know is that shortly after that my husband left, both of us convinced that our marriage was over. What had come between us, I didn’t entirely know, but in one final attempt to save what was left, we began to open up. Trav shared his struggles with his faith. He said he had wondered about Joseph Smith for a while and in an attempt to strengthen his testimony he decided to learn more. He bought a book from Deseret Book called Rough Stone Rolling and rough it was! It didn’t help… He dug deeper into history, everything he read only made it worse. Bit by bit, piece by piece, learning about the things they never told us of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdrey, Brigham Young, The Book of Mormon, the priesthood, the temple, and its history... He lost his faith in Joseph and the entire storyline of our religion. He couldn’t pretend anymore…. I’ll admit that the day he finally opened up and told me what was going on, I was HORRIFIED. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking “That’s all I need to know. This is a deal-breaker for me.” I couldn’t see how it was going to work…
I sat for days and painfully listened to the things he had to say. One ear closed, trying not to let anything sink-in that he said. And while I loved to finally see his heart open up and spill out his true thoughts and feelings (something that was hard for him to do) I’ll admit, while I sat and listened patiently, I was wrestling with one objective: that I needed to protect myself from “being deceived” 🤢
On the second or third day of listening to his concerns, I finally asked if he would go upstairs and go to bed. “I need to be alone with God,” I said. He went to bed and I wept. From the depths of my soul, I wept. I cried out to God pleading, “WHAT DO I DO?” My answer came that night with a whisper. It was an echo from earlier that day. “Heather, You’ll never know unless you read both sides. Once you hear both sides, you will know what to do.”
Earlier that day I had heard these same words from spirit. I was in a conversation with friends. We were all talking about The lockdown and whether or not we were going to send our kids back to school in the fall. I could tell that every one of us had differing opinions. Each opinion seemed to echo whatever we had been reading. I thought to myself “How does anyone ever know the truth? If we all believe whatever we hear, how will we ever know?” And the reply from heaven was, “You have to read both sides, then you make the decision that is right for you.”
Hearing this for the second time that day, I felt I needed to know. I decided to open up the ‘locked door’ and dive into the part of church history that wasn’t “approved” for me to read. It was eye-opening to realize how afraid I felt… Here I was, a full-grown adult shaking, worried that she was doing something wrong, afraid to read both sides…
My fear alone was the first noticeable sign of something very wrong with my faith and instead of giving in to it, I recognized the fear for what it was—someone else’s fear placed upon me. I also wondered how I had gotten to this place—as a full-grown adult—how had I placed an authority figure above me to “approve” or disapprove of what I read? What was I not allowed to know? I wanted to know…
With a rush of faith, I threw open the door! For the first time, I followed the impression from God instead of my religion’s expectation of me and I began a letter that would take me well into the night. From that night forward, I began a focused study of the origins of our religion from a strictly historical standpoint, everything backed by journals, history, and facts (as we can ever truly know them). I was so surprised that this was the first time I had done this. Previously I had loved reading anything I could about Christ, and I’ll be honest, I never really cared to know much about Joseph… I spent most of my adult life reading extensively the things produced by the religion (Come Follow Me, the Book of Mormon, conference talks, books from Deseret Book, etc.) these studies consumed my life and I based everything I did on them. I realized at this moment that I had never fully dove into the details of how it all came about and especially not the details that were written in their journals; things that have never been spoken of before at a pulpit. Needless to say, what I read shook me to the core. It took me very little time to receive the answer I had cried out for that night…
2020… The year of awakening. Open vision. Seeing in 20/20. It was the year of opening my eyes to all I would not see… I’ll admit though, It wasn’t Rough Stone Rolling, the CES letter, facts about the priesthood or early temple practices that woke me up… it was SO much more than that. It was all the impressions from God along the way, showing me day by day, bit by bit, what I already knew was wrong. It was how deeply it all resonated with the truth I knew in my heart and what I had already been feeling for years, only I was too afraid to admit it to myself.
Throwing open the door that night gave me permission to think for myself, take out the middle-man, and make my faith between me and God again. Once I began this practice of one-on-one communion, thinking with my own mind, and listening with my own heart, there was no going back…
This process of opening my eyes has been long, painful, and full of incredible amounts of grief. I have mourned in ways I never thought I would mourn. It has taken its toll on my heart, mind, body, and soul. But ultimately I have been in this fire with my Savior by my side and the entire process has set me free.
I’m not entirely sure how, when, or if I will share all the things I have personally struggled with inside this religion. I love and respect those people in my life who still believe and I would never want to change that for them. I wouldn’t wish what I have been through on anyone. At the same time, if I were given the chance I would never go back to the girl I was before 2020. I am different now. I feel differently and believe differently. This is something I’m very proud of. And although this year has been a walk through hell, I have not walked it alone. Piece by piece God has unraveled what I thought I knew and showed me another way. My heart has exploded with a love that I never knew, and I know this is only the beginning…
The only thing I really do want to touch on right now is that I can see now how I made my religion make sense because of my strong relationship with I had with God, and my ability to feel and understand spiritual things, but I will say that the stronger my relationship grew and more clear these feelings got, the less my religion made sense.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around how we could justify doing all these things...
Christ came for one reason: LOVE.
And yet so much of what we did in our religion goes against that. We built giant buildings and shut people out, we made circles of men to judge our members at their worst, we had punishments beyond the natural consequence that intensify guilt and shame, we had rankings for each other, we had to “earn” our way to making covenants with God; secret covenants, covenants that are scripted, prayers that are scripted and even after years of intensive study still make very little sense to most of us (believe me, I’ve asked all the hard questions to all the right people.)
I have thought repeatedly about the interview process to enter these temples and how different we would all be if they touched on the one thing Christ came for- Love.
Questions have flooded my mind like this year. Where is the question in the temple interview process, “Do you love?” Where is the question “Do you reach out even when someone is different than you? Do you sit by them, do you care about them, do you invite them into your home?” These questions, in my opinion, are all Christ cares about. And yet the entire process (if one makes it through) only leaves one feeling separate, better, higher, and more qualified somehow to shut the ‘lesser’ out.
Honestly, the temple is beautiful, yes. It’s peaceful and it feels nice sometimes to be there. I have received many answers to questions there because I was asking them, and God loves His children, so of course, He's going to answer! But I will say that beyond that, the temple makes little to no sense to me and Joseph Smith’s ideas of what qualify a person to be there do not resonate with what I know about Christ. It’s taken me a long time to actually admit that to myself, let alone anyone else… I knew when I was going through for the first time that something was not right. Multiple times in my life the same feeling returned, but because the people that were there were so beautiful, and everyone that I knew and looked up to was so smiley and sure that it was all right, I washed away any sign of doubt. I let it be weird and got used to the fact that it was weird thinking that “one day I’ll understand”. Learning the origins of how these temple ceremonies came about cleared these feelings up in an instant for me. The truth was startling, but it had a resounding familiarity to it. It all made sense.
I now believe that it is not these secret actions that will “save” me or my family, It has and always been LOVE. It is love that binds us for eternity, and so many families who aren’t Mormon believe that their love binds them as well, both here and in the afterlife…
Throughout my participation in this religion, I was taught to be afraid and to only question myself, never the organization. I was taught the word “Anti” for any differing opinion. I was told to avoid these thoughts, opinions, and people like the plague. I always had this feeling of being one step away from falling off the cliff into the “mists of darkness” to be lost and never return again. Hidden subliminal messages of fear, embedding themselves deep into my being from a young age.
Because of this, I made sure to fit the mold. I spent years in the depths of scrupulosity, crushing under the weight of perfection and presenting myself in every way that was expected of me. I did this so happily. Smiling, assuming the best, and doing whatever was asked, no matter the cost. And while I don’t regret any of my service in any way, I do now understand that this was man’s request for me and not my God’s.
This year I have come to know Christ on levels I’ve never known. The way he fed everyone on the mount. No one excluded with plenty of food for more. The way he taught openly. No secrets, No buildings, no closed doors. There was no interview process to come and sit at his feet. He connected with people one on one, without a script, without judgment, without secret promises He knew they wouldn’t understand. He didn’t care what they had done. He met them where they were at. If they wanted to be with him they were invited there. No questions asked. The way He washed the feet of ALL his apostles, broke bread, and drank wine with them. Knowing full well what one was about to do, Judas was invited anyway… Christ’s heart and his table had room for him and all his sins anyway. He washed his feet anyway. The sacrament was offered to ALL anyway.
While I personally had no sins that would disqualify me from Mormon things, even in the “highest leader’s” opinion, knowing what I knew, I could no longer sit and sip my water, eat my bread, and worship in my temple while others, including the majority of my family, were shut out. It isn’t right and I couldn't pretend it was any longer.
Throughout this past year, Christ has consistently reassured me of His love for me, that everything is going to be okay, and that religion is not His way of determining anyone’s place with Him. His way of gathering his sheep is entirely different than I was taught. It is one by one. Heart and mind. Soul to soul.
And while I will admit that buildings and gatherings of people were helpful during phases of my spirituality. These things were a helpful tool in bringing me back to my God, but now that I am with Him. It feels entirely unnecessary. I am in a place now where the quiet chambers of my heart, alone, with my Savior, is the only place I want to be.
Despite what many might say, I have not lost my faith, I have only realized what faith truly is. In the beginning, a friend graciously listened to my concerns recently and then replied, “Well, I guess this is where faith steps in.” I’m sorry but, no it isn’t! True faith is to trust in something you feel in your heart is RIGHT, even though you can’t prove it; Faith is not to keep on believing in something you feel is wrong, just because people you admire say it is so…
There is so much more I wish I could talk about here, about the priesthood, the modern-day leaders, and their revealing actions during this last year and a half when we have needed them the most. If I had never read anything about church history at all, what is happening right in front of me would startling enough to know that following them does not resonate with me anymore. They are men just as easily deceived as you and I. Letting them be humans and not the voice of Christ has been incredibly healing for me. It’s almost startling to me that I ever let them be that in the first place.
So where is my faith now? It is centered back on God and Christ. It was very eye-opening to me to see how disoriented I was without a religion that established every part of my life for me. They told me what to wear, what to read, how often to read, when to read, what to do with my free time, what to teach my kids, when and how to do so many things. I had assignments and obligations and schedules. Honestly, the expectations were too much. The disorientation I had while stepping away from this religion opened my eyes to the reality that I had been worshiping a religion, not God all along.
Now… I spend time with my God. My life has simplified immensely. I feel into my own heart and communicate with the heavens in a very raw and vulnerable way. I place my trust in being with God in the unknown and I've centered my heart back on the one thing I think that matters: LOVE. I have told Travis repeatedly, "I want to be a gatherer of the good." I want to soak up every ounce of good that I can from my experiences within this religion. I thank God for what it has done and been for me. I thank God for the good friends that I have in my life because of it. I thank God that through it I found Trav and an incredibly beautiful foundation for my spirituality. There is still good there. I won't deny that. I also thank God for setting me free from it, for showing me another way... There is good and bad in every organization, every religion, and every human being, including myself. I want to be a gatherer of the good. I want to stand for love. (but not the weak "love", who smiles and sugar-coats things to not rock the boat. This was never love to me. I'm talking about REAL love. Powerful, raw, vulnerable HONEST love, the kind of Love God shows me... The love that stands firm in truth and integrity, even if it hurts. Even if the whole crowd is uncomfortable about it. This is the Love I'm asking Him to help me embody.) I'll admit, some days I'm sucking at loving like this. But I'm in it for the long haul. I'll also admit I'm still doing the work of grief and finding forgiveness for some of these leaders. It's taken me almost the entire year to sort through the rubble of what I thought it was, but the fog is lifting and I feel stronger in my faith than I've ever felt.
Despite what I was told was impossible, (or what any of you might assume) I am still on God's side. I still have the spirit (Go figure!) I still have a strong connection with God (or the universe, or whatever it is out there.) This connection and love touches me every day. Despite what I was told, I have an incredible amount of peace and happiness in my life after giving myself the distance I need from these teachings.
I will end this by saying, to those of you who are members of this church and disagree with all of my feelings entirely, I want to say it's OKAY! You do you! You are exactly where you are meant to be on your journey and we can still be friends if you'll have me. You may very well have had different impressions than me. If you have, trust them! Our paths do not need to match to be legitimate. I know what it is like to love this religion and love these people so I am in no way looking to persuade anyone to leave. I only want to throw open the doors to let you know where I'm at. I thought this was only fair after sharing so much of my faith with so many of you already...
And finally, to those of you who are questioning your faith right now, please know you are not alone. God is shaking the earth. The heavens are waking us up. Trust God and your own heart over any man or men. If you continue forward in true faith, you will undergo the biggest internal revolution of your life. One where GOD, LOVE, and FREEDOM reign supreme.
I love you guys,
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