Thursday, September 30, 2010

A letter of love from my Aunt Brenda

On September 21, 2009, I signed into my facebook account and noticed that I had a message. I love receiving correspondence, even if it is electronic and through a social networking site. It was from my cousin Kris. He and I were close as children and grew up as friends. We grew apart over the years, mostly because his family moved to Oklahoma when I was 12, though I can't deny that his blatant drug abuse did contribute to the lull in communication.

It took me a moment to realize that the message was actually penned by his mother, my Aunt Brenda, who is my mother's older sister. She had written and sent it to me, through his account the night before.

It read:

Stop telling lies about my sister. I have contacted everyone in the family and told them the truth about you. You are a big fat liar. And you are to stop talking about Ramona and making up such horrible lies. You are no longer in our family. You have chosen your gross, fat, lying and creepy husband over your sweet, innocent, truth telling mother. This shows we were all right about you. We told Ramona, when she found out she was pregnant by that sleazy, lying, bastard who RAPED her, to get an abortion. Because her child would turn out to be just like the evil man who RAPED her. You are living proof we were right!!!! You are incapable of telling the truth and the whole family knows it. He CONFESSED to the police when Ramona filed criminal charges against him right in front of grandma and grandpa, so he wouldn't have to face a judge- he was such a coward. You never met him- I did! You have no proof of your lies, but I have proof of the truth. You don't need to know any more than that about your RAPIST biological father.

You are to apologize to your mother
, tell everyone you lied and are sorry, put your awful husband in his place or leave him, tell Ramona where you are, and send her pictures of her grandchildren. You have until the end of the week to do what I say!!! Or I will tell everyone about your evil husband and a few of your dirty secrets. I can always find you and I will.

Aunt Brenda

I am not going to lie, the part about how I should have been aborted was painful enough to bring me to tears. Most of the rest of it is bologna, but I can't deny that it hurt. Especially since I didn't do anything to provoke her cruelty. I hadn't spoken to her in at least 2 years. (I edited her email to me because of some of the things she said were unforgivably perverted.) I spent some time thinking about what she wrote, I called my husband at work to hear some kind words, then wrote a response...

Hey Brenda!

Okay, so I am no longer in the family. I will delete Samantha, Bonnie, Mauro and Kris from my facebook friends. (And cousin Kristen, Bobby and his wife Amy for good measure.) If I am no longer in the family, your sister is no longer my mother and no longer my children's grandmother, so no worries or obligations there. Thank you for my freedom.

You should have fought harder for that abortion. You failed your sister in that aspect. Such a shame, hindsight is always 20/20. There are three kinds of truth; your truth, my truth and universal truth. I choose not to believe your sister's truth. If that makes me evil, fine. I have known my husband for over 18 years. I know him better than anyone, and what you said is just disgusting. YOU don't need to know more than that about MY loyal, trustworthy husband.

Confess all the 'dirty secrets' you know about me, the evil child you helped bring into fruition, I don't care. Lie all you want about my husband. You have no power over me. Thank you for showing me your true colors as well. I was really enjoying getting to know Bonnie
(her daughter) as an adult and fellow mother. I had no idea when Kris emailed me to see how I was doing, it was just you fishing for information.

I love how you didn't come to me with the spirit of Christ in your heart. I love how you cast judgment on a man
(my husband) that you don't even know. I love that you think you are a worthy defender of your sister, but you come with such hate. "You are living proof that 'we' were right." (You didn't specify the others in that witch hunting party.) Wow, no need to sugar coat that.

If I am the embodiment of evil, why in the world would you even care? Shouldn't you be happy that I am gone and shouldn't you be licking your sister's wounds telling her 'we told you so'? It's amazing how someone evil like me can respond to such a hate filled email without lowering myself to your level with name calling and accusation throwing.

What happened at church yesterday to fill you with so much of Christ's love to make you come at me like that? Must have been a moving talk during Sacrament Meeting...

I admit that my response was written with a tinge of the pain I was still feeling from her message, but I still stand by what I said to this day. She came at me, unprovoked, on a mission to hurt me at any cost. She didn't live by her religion when she decided that something needed to be done about her sister's relationship with me, her sister's daughter. Her hypocrisy astounded me. She was so angry because she felt I was hurting someone she loved, so she was out to hurt the person her loved one loved. Baffling. Even a year later, after all the emotions have subsided, I still don't understand why she emailed me that Sunday night.

Pretty sure Jesus said something along the lines of, 'As I have loved you, love one another'. It's sad that a 'grown' 55 year old woman can't even abide by a simple Primary Song.

Picture: Disabled person crossing sign we pass on the way back from the lake.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Year of Atheism

Well, it's official. I have been referring to myself as an atheist for an entire year.

On August 12th, 2009, I stopped calling myself an agnostic theist and fully embraced the term atheist.

This past year has been amazing. I have learned so much about science, religion, myself, Earth, who my true friends are and how much I love life.

From finding the atheist forum on where I found irreligious humor that really got me thinking, to following Mr. Hemant Mehta and his Friendly Atheist website which got me talking. I have changed so much this past year.

As shocking as it may sound, once I admitted my atheism, I wasn't overwhelmed with the urge to start killing babies, raping sheep or lying whenever I got the chance. I didn't start being a horrible mother, a person with no morals or a disloyal friend. I was the same shy, dorky girl I had always been. A funny thing started to happen though. The more I educated myself on religion and science, the more confidence I gained. I started growing a back bone, I started being able to find logic and reasoning in my arguments and I began to be able to back up what I believed with proof.

I had never been part of a group who so willingly shared their points of view, even if they were unpopular. My fellow atheists gave me links and things to look up on my own to support what they had said. Everything was open and on the table. No question that I asked was taboo and no one ever told me that I shouldn't be asking so many questions.

It was a year of firsts. I first started calling myself an atheist. I first started calling my children freethinkers. I first told my husband that I didn't believe in god. I had my first Christmas and Easter without a half baked belief in a supernatural being. I wrote my first letter to the Mormon church, and after they took their sweet ass time I received the confirmation letter of my resignation from their organization. I celebrated my first birthday (the big 3-0) as an atheist. It was my first year as an atheist mother.

I have gained so much this past year. I have learned so much, that I know I would have never been open to learning if I were still Mormon. I have gained a true joy of living. I have started to be genuinely thankful for the little things. I have been able to stop using heaven as an excuse to be a shrew, as an excuse to put important things off, as an excuse to live irresponsibly towards Earth and as an excuse to judge everyone for everything.

I have found that it's not true, what many god believing people say about atheists, how we don't have joy and how we don't believe in anything. At least in my situation. I still have many beliefs, some new beliefs, and many things that I hold so very dear to my heart. It's just now I can back my beliefs up with facts.

I believe in the power of love, the calming sense of peace, and Earthly beauty. I believe that kindness can be contagious, and so can knowledge. I believe in humanity. I believe in equal rights, freedom and honesty. I believe in science.

I have fallen deeper in love with my husband and my children, and I haven't been restricted by an obligated love of a deity. Without years and years of guilt to weigh me down, I have been able to look at myself in a more honest light. I have begun to finally love myself, which has allowed me to speak my mind.

I love how Penn Jillette put it, "Believing there is no god gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that makes this life the best life I will ever have."

My girls as faeries on my big 3-0 at the Faerie Festival.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Guilt Sandwiches

In the Mormon church, all girls from ages 12-18 attend Young Women classes on Sundays. They also go to Mutual on Wednesday nights. The Beehives are the girls who are 12-13 (Jr. High), Mia Maids are 14-15 (Freshmen/Sophmores) and Laurels are 16-17, sometimes 18 (Jrs and Srs.). My mother was called to lead the group of girls one age group older than me when I first entered Young Womens.

We sometimes had a class together on Sundays, so instead of separating into our age groups, we would all gather together to hear one of the Young Women Leaders give an all encompassing lesson.

One random Sunday it was my mothers turn to give the lesson. It was on chastity. She had placed a beautiful long stem red rose in one of my grandma's vases from home, in the middle of the table in the front of the classroom.

She started her lesson, talking about how we were all so precious. We were all loved by our Heavenly Father and how we were all princesses. She spoke of how we would all marry a worthy priesthood holder in the temple one day and how we would be able to stay on the path of righteousness and one day have our own planet, a flock of sisterwives and the love of many spirit children.

She spoke of how we were beautiful, just like the rose in the vase on the table. She then took a step towards the rose and plucked a petal from it. She held the petal in her hand and said that it takes away from us, if we make-out with a boy. She plucked another petal and said it takes away from our worth (to a potential worthy priesthood holder) if we allow a boy we are dating to touch our breasts.

She continued pulling irreplaceable petals from this poor rose until the last one, which she 'labled' having sex before marriage.

A few girls who had gone kinda far with their boyfriends had tears streaming down their faces. A few who were rumored to have gone all the way were stoic. I was dumbstruck. I couldn't believe that my mom ripped apart a rose from my grandmothers garden, just to guilt us into staying chaste.

The room fell silent. My mom made the point that our Heavenly Father loves us, he doesn't want this for us... (a barren rose with it's sexual organs displayed for all to see, sticking straight out of my grandmothers vase.) I felt so sad. There should have been a way for repentance. But there was no coming back from that.

We ended that lesson with a song and a prayer and went home. I hate to think that my mother's point was that without our virginity we were worthless, but I think that may have been the moral the church wanted our teachers to put forth to us.

It didn't stop a lot of the girls that went through Young Women's before me and after me. It didn't stop me. All it really did was give a weight of guilt. A feeling of never being able to be whole again. Every Mormon boy I dated after that, I felt unworthy for, even if he had 'given' himself to someone else before meeting me.

I know most religions teach repentance, but the guilt they put on the children, even before the sin can ever be committed, lingers. I struggle with my self worth even to this day because of what I learned in church. What I learned at home from my mother. Even with regards to what beauty is.

Instead of educating us on safe sex, or the horrors of unprotected sex, we got guilt. No actual education of any kind, no real facts or knowledge... just guilt, served up Mormon style; sweet words of praise first, guilt in the middle, then sweet words of warning, like a guilt sandwich. Looking back, that is really all I ever truly learned. How to handle guilt, how to work my way through it and how to not pile it onto my children. Which is a much better lesson to take away, in my opinion, than the actual lesson given.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Root Beer laced with Vanilla Vodka

I rarely see our letter carrier. But I happened to be outside, tending to my garden when she came by with our mail. She handed the two letters directly to me, and I thanked her. The letter on top was junk mail. But the one on the bottom was from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

My stomach fluttered. I figured it was my release letter, but a piece of me wondered if they were excommunicating me, or if it was another plea to come back to 'the flock'.

I started opening it as I walked around to the backyard, looking for my husband. I slowly pulled out the letter and read aloud the words, "This letter is to notify you that, in accordance with your request, your name has been removed from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints."

A feeling of comfort came over me. I was seriously starting to prepare myself to be able to deal with never getting it. But here it was, in my hand, and it was the greatest gift the Mormon church ever gave me.

I got a big hug from my husband, and he made me some celebratory drinks. An alcoholic Root Beer Float. Nothing beats Root Beer, Vanilla Vodka and some milk. Nom Nom Nom...

Now I can no longer be counted as a member of their church. When they use their numbers to seem believable to potential converts, or to help members stave off their cognitive dissonance, I am no longer a tool in their armory of deceit. And it feels really, really good.

Picture: My two daughters on Halloween 2008, dancing to the carousel music at Knott's Berry Farm... that's how I feel now...

Friday, May 14, 2010

My husband got his letter...

Where the hell is mine??

I was born into a Mormon family. My husband was baptized in 2004 out of pressure from my Mormon family. He didn't have a set religion before and figured that Mormonism was just another Christian religion. To find out why it's not please visit SmithBusters.

Did they let him out sooner because of his lack of 'tenure'?

I started sharing my doubts with him over the course of our marriage and in November 2008, I told him I was done. He had no problem walking away with me. A little over a year later, in January 2010, I wrote our formal letters and mailed them together. We both got a little 'guilt' packet, pleading with us to give the church one more try. It came with a mild threat of church members showing up on our front door step.

Well, no one ever came and we didn't get a letter releasing us, so I set out to write another letter.

The letter formally releasing my husband from the church showed up a few weeks ago. I figured mine would be close behind. It's been two weeks since my husband received his letter, and I am still standing here empty handed.

I can't help but wonder if my 29 year 'membership' vs. his 5 year 'membership' has something to do with it.

I feel the need to point out what they are doing is actually all their own drama. Legally, the second they received my letter, I was no longer a member. It's only my own desire to actually hold the letter, that is forcing me to continue to write letters requesting to receive my freedom in written form. (I checked the Mormon No More website and it is no longer up. You can get the original information by going here.)

Even if I never receive a tangible letter to frame or scrapbook, I know that I haven't been Mormon for a long time. I haven't had a testimony since I was 17. I haven't fully believed since I was 21. I haven't gone to church every Sunday since I was 20. I haven't prayed willingly on my own since I was 26. I haven't wanted a temple marriage since I was 27. At 28, I stopped referring to myself as Mormon. It's been a slow process, but it's been steady.

I will celebrate liberally the day I receive my letter. Though I know that if I never get a letter releasing me from their records, I will be okay. By using my own logic and reason, I have saved my children from years of guilt, years of not feeling worthy of life or love and a lifetime of cognitive dissonance. The Mormon Church has stolen so much happiness and self worth from me that I could not, in good conscience, let the same thing happen to my daughters.

But honestly, I celebrate a little every day that I wake up. It's one more day as a mother, a wife, and an atheist on this wonderful rock, spinning through space.

Picture: Sea stars at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Fransisco.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A letter from a stranger

The following took place through facebook messages. I don't know this lady, but she felt comfortable enough to email me. (I changed her name a little.)

Carrie Lutz Grant January 13 at 1:34am Report

Why did you leave the church? Why are you denying your children the chance to grow up with the gospel? It can only bring good into your life.

Leilani (Me) January 13 at 11:34am

Sister Grant,

It's always odd getting an email from a stranger asking me questions that are, quite frankly, none of their business.

I understand your concern for me, a lady whom you've never met, as I have been on your side of the story. I appreciate you keeping your email so short. I, unfortunately, won't be able to keep it as 'to the point'.

It was a very difficult decision to leave the LDS church. I was born and raised in it. And I can't say one decision led me to leave. It was years and years of pain and truth that one day, I could no longer bear, nor deny.

My mother lied to my biological father. After she had me, behind his back,s he told him she was only 16 when they made me, and that she would press charges if he didn't sign custody over. He only got to hold me once. She denied him his daughter his whole life. He died in April of 1998, 3 months before my mom told me that she, my dad (step dad), and EVERY other Mormon family member intentionally lied to me for 18 years. They denied me my birth father, my two older brothers and a little sister.

I believe in equal rights. The Mormon church does not. Blah, blah, blah about how the LDS church doesn't hate gays. I am not accusing hate. Separation of church and state is very important. The church's stance on marriage equality sickens me. No matter what one's spiritual beliefs are, our country is separate. Marriage equality has not ruined any marriages or children in the other countries it's already legal in. It will only strengthen families. I couldn't be a hypocrite believing one thing and belonging to an organization that believes another.

As I have done research, I have found that Joseph Smith's claims were not true. I am not going to detail it out. I am not looking to offend you or rip you apart. I have had a testimony. I have been to the temple to do baptisms for the dead.

I have found that there are no gods. All we have is the wonder of science and knowledge. The only time we have is now. And it's a beautiful wonderful thing. I was lied to my whole life. When I told my
mom about my pain, she told me that I was just being melodramatic (something she has always called me, so that she never had to take me seriously.)

I hope you have a wonderful Wednesday. I hope you raise your c
hildren in the real love your Christ taught. I still have LDS friends who are active, who ask the same questions of me. But your statement that it can only bring good into my life is untrue in my case. Because of the LDS religion, I was lied to by my entire family for no good reason, I lost my identity at 18 and was never consoled by my mother, or my father, I was only comforted by my Aunt who wasn't Mormon. Everyone else felt so uncomfortable with me knowing, they didn't offer me as much as a hug.

I am not denying my children anything important. They have unconditional love (something I didn't have), science, wonder, mystery, truth, adventure, a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. You and I both know that come the end of days, they will not be punished for my decision if the LDS church is true.

Sorry I have rambled for so long. If you've gotten to this point, I am amazed. :o) A lot more than this led to my leaving the church. I just don't know you and don't want to waste anymore of your time. You have at least two beautiful children to spend your time with.

Thank you again for your concern. I am sure you found me through the ex-Mormon facebook page and I wonder if you have emailed more people. There is always the possibility you are a friend of my mothers, if that is the case, you have no idea how much pain she has caused me, up to wishing my first child was born with a birth defect. And when my first child was born with a cleft, she told me it was because I wasn't going to church often enough. Then she would make it 'sing' or 'talk' by opening and closing it. Mocking my child's facial deformity...



Carrie Lutz Grant January 12 at 6:55pm Report

I was up late one night and found the ex-Mormon site. I don't know your mother. I saw that you wrote you left the church and took your kids out of it. It made me cry. I know I have never met you.

I cannot believe what you have been through in your lifetime. I am sorry your mother treated you so poorly. I am sorry you did not get to meet your father. You must be a very strong person to have endured what you have.

You really need to be able to separate bad people from the gospel. Heavenly Father did not do any of that stuff to you. Nothing bad comes from him. Jesus has been through everything we have been through that is why we need a Savior. This life is hard and it comes with so many trials. We need God in our lives. My friend just lost her second child in a freak accident. She needs Heavenly Father and is feeling so much peace right now from his love.

That is why we are here on the earth to overcome hardships.

I really want to thank you for sharing your life with me. I am not judging you. I just want you to be happy. There are so many good LDS people out there and there are also LDS people that are not living the way they should. It does not mean the church is not true it means people make mistakes and your case you have seen people make huge mistakes and really hurt you.

Leilani (Me) January 14 at 12:31am

I appreciate your sincerity. But it's not just the pain. I touched briefly on how I found major dissonance with what Joseph Smith claimed as well as Brigham Young. I can speak freely of my pain, because I doubted it would offend you. But I cannot bring myself to rip someones belief system apart, just to explain why I left.

I have overcome what life has dealt me. And I can't tell you how wonderful it is having settled my cognitive dissonace. I know I cannot shake your faith, and no one can 'give' me back mine. Once you stop believing in Santa, it would be impossible to believe in him again. That's how I see god now. (Not trying to offend, just explain.)

But if you ever have a question for your 'Friendly neighborhood Atheist', feel free to email me again. I have nothing but love for my fellow human beings.

I felt like sharing this letter. I respond the same way to most of the letters I have received from nibby nose Mormon mothers who 'ache' for my children, 'cry' for my children, and 'get sick to their stomachs' because I chose to take my children out of the church. I guess that is what I get for joining Ex-Mormon facebook pages. This wasn't the first email, and it probably won't be the last.

I proved to her that the gospel doesn't only bring good into your life. Because of the gospel, my mother felt she needed to find a 'more worthy' man to be my father. Because of the gospel, my mom felt comfortable piling on guilt for years, and "knew in her heart" that god punished me for only attending church when the bouts of morning sickness subsided long enough to leave the house.

I could have ripped into her about how she believes the members of an organization don't reflect the organization. Because they do. I could have gone into the blood lineage of the Nephites or pointed out all the mistakes in the Book of Mormon, but she would have been prepared to claim that a human translated it and humans are flawed. I have found that you can't argue with crazy.

You can't reason with someone who's beliefs aren't based on reason.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nothing like an honest child

I was going through some Brain Quest flash cards with Katie and Maddy a few weeks ago.

One card was a picture of a church with a large cross on the top of it, with the question "What is this?"

I saw it, considered skipping it as I didn't want to have to get too much into it, but figured I'd ask my daughters anyway.

So I asked Katie, "What is this?"

She looked at it and said, "That's where people go to die."

I couldn't really argue with that.

It amazes me how much children absorb. It reminded me of how I accepted everything that was handed to me as knowledge and fact from my parents. Their 'hand-me-down' faith that I struggled to accept killed me a little inside. Church was where I started to die inside, every Sunday for 3 hours. (Not to mention Firesides, Seminary, Institute, etc.) It's where all the wonders and beauty of Earth, the Universe, science and nature were sacrificed and replaced with myths to explain all my questioning and reasoning away.

It wasn't until I accepted this wonderful Earth as the only place I will live, this family is the only family I will ever have and now is the only time to do good things and enjoy life, that I started to feel alive again. My children bring so much more beauty into my life. They are the only children I will have and now is the only time I have to love them. That doesn't diminish life, it adds to it.

And I am pretty sure Katie was referencing cemeteries, but it still made me smile.

I don't have any pictures of churches, so I posted a picture of Ruby Falls in Tennessee. Just something pretty to look at.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Still Waiting...

So it's been two months since I received the letter from the LDS church stating that I was going to be visited by members of the priesthood. And I am still waiting.

I actually forgot about it for a while. With my daughters birthday, a bout of sickness, and Eostre, I honestly admit that it escaped my mind for about 4 weeks. But I have yet to receive any form of contact from the LDS church. I drive by the local LDS church building every Sunday and have yet to be able to fight the urge to flip it the bird.

So now I am a little upset. It's difficult to explain the way this whole process has made me feel. They wanted me to reconsider leaving, without knowing my reasons why. They said they were sending folks over, but no one showed. And even though it seems so transparent now, I am starting to think that they have a kink in their system. Do they send that letter as a way to hold onto their numbers as long as they can? Do people just 'give up' when they don't receive their resignation confirmation? Or is this whole charade just another flaw in a flawed religion?

So I am off to write another letter. One that reminds them that I know my rights, that they failed to send me the confirmation I requested and that I am getting upset by their pious attitude and complete disregard for my rights. I want my name off their records. I want my children, if my parents blessed them behind my back, off their records as well.

I still don't understand how something that should be so simple, has to be so complex. I have actually considered going down to the LDS church, and handing another letter straight to the bishop. Sitting through their pointless interview and jumping through their silly hoops. But I know that it is against the law for them to refuse to take me off their records, I know that technically, the second they received my letter I was no longer a member of their church. All this added stuff is drama that they apparently need to feel better and I will not be a part of it.

One of the most wonderful things about being Atheist is the lack of drama and guilt.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rainy Afternoon

Before my girls go to bed each night, we brush our teeth, read a story and take a moment to say one thing we are thankful for. That moment of thankfulness is the closest we get to prayer or meditation. We don't close our eyes or fold our arms, we just say a few things we are thankful for, which is usually ice cream, our bicycles or each other.

As an Agnostic Theist, who became an Atheist, I have never taught my girls to pray, and they have never heard of Jesus or a god, that I know of. So it caught me off guard when, as we were getting into the car at the grocery store, I caught Katelyn with her hands clasped and with her eyes closed, head towards the sky.

I do have to admit that it peeved me a little bit. It was starting to rain and now I had to deal with her talking to imaginary people. I kept my cool and asked my beautiful 4 year old what she was doing. I felt if she explained to me what she thought she was doing, I could easily promote healthy questions. She opened one eye, smiled and said, "Mommy, I am wishing really hard for the rain to stop, because I want to play outside."

It made me smile.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Bittersweet Memories of Georgia

It was 9 years ago this week that my mother kicked me out of the house for the last time. She told me I was an evil spirit, and she didn't want my negative influence around my three younger brothers. I spent that night on the phone to my long distance boyfriend, crying. He offered to come get me and bring me back to Atlanta, Georgia, to live with him. I had nowhere else to go, so I accepted his offer.

I quit my 3 jobs, dropped my college courses and packed most of my things. My mother ignored me the rest of that week. He arrived in California the first week of March 2001. We visited Disneyland, the Griffiths Observatory and a few other tourist places before hitting the road in my 1998 Chevy Metro.

We took the 40 through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee. Driving into Georgia, we hit traffic and sat for 3 hours because a Tractor Trailer carrying logs overturned. I remember listening to his mix CD and Cyndi Lauper as we sat enjoying each others company.

I still remember pulling into Atlanta. I remember how the sun was shining and how open I felt. We had driven all night from Memphis to make it to Atlanta. I remember parking and going up into the dorm rooms. He was a student at Georgia State University and lived in the dorms that were built for the 1996 Olympians. We were a short walk from Centennial Olympic Park.

As time carried on, I realized that I was alone in a new city in a new state. The first time I met my boyfriend was when he walked off the plane in California. And I did have him in Atlanta, but I was still getting to know him. That April, I was able to get a job at the Dave and Buster's in Marietta, Georgia. Shortly after that I got another job at the Cracker Barrel. We moved out of the dorm rooms and into our first apartment. I was working two jobs and he was going to school full time.

Our relationship was strong, but at times, awkward. I was in a transitional place in my life and it seemed as though he knew what he wanted to do with his life, but he wasn't sure how I factored into that.

No matter how I feel about him now, no matter what happened in the two years I was in Georgia, one night he did something that I will be forever grateful for...

He had done some research on the Mormon religion. And he found some things that didn't add up to him. I don't remember everything he brought up, but he pointed out the flaws regarding the referencing of horses, coins, and the blood lineage of Nephi. There are no traces of Jewish DNA in anyone native to the Americas. He challenged me, whether out of love or frustration, to question my beliefs. He asked questions I couldn't answer, it brought me to tears. He kept me up all night, showing me things online, asking questions, offering answers. When I told him I was done and didn't want to talk anymore, he kept on going.

Honestly, I was mad at him. I couldn't believe he could 'attack' me like that. I was supposed to be the love of his life and here he was, making me cry. I was surprised that night didn't lead to a break-up; we stayed together a year and a half after that.

I never attended a Mormon church while I was in Georgia. I did, however, attend a Baptist church every Sunday that we spent at his parents house out in Evans, Georgia. I never told him, but I really enjoyed it. I found it easy to question that Pastor, I wrote down things I didn't agree with. I looked up the scriptures he referenced and read and reread them. It became easier over time to start looking at the beliefs that were handed to me as a child, forced down my throat as a teenager, and to question them.

My relationship with him ended on uncomfortable terms. But my time in Georgia, my experiences there, I wouldn't trade for anything.

When I came home from Georgia, my parents welcomed me into their home. In order to live there, they required me to go to church. Their church... the one place I knew I didn't belong. I struggled to attend church for years after coming back from Georgia, but in the end, I knew that Mormonism, with all the guilt and the shame wasn't for me.

I miss Georgia. I miss the Magnolia trees in full bloom, I miss the friends I made there. And I sure do miss Pikachu, my one eyed cat. Because of my experiences in Georgia, I finally had the strength to question. And I will be forever grateful.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mormon No More

I did it. I sent in my resignation letter. As of January 28th, 2010 I am no longer a Mormon. I walked away more than a year ago, but it's so nice to know it's official.

Wow. I am so relieved to be free, but there is a soreness I didn't expect to feel. It's weird and difficult to explain. I don't miss the blind faith, but I feel like the last piece of me that lingered from youth is now gone.

I wish they would have sent me a letter saying something along the lines of, "Hey, It was nice knowing you! We took you off the records of our church, have a great life. Best Regards, The LDS folks up in Utah."

Instead I got a letter stating that they "consider such a request to be an ecclesiastical matter that must be handled by local priesthood leaders before being processed by Church employees." WTF? Really? I mean, really? So now they are sending complete strangers to my house to talk to me about my personal decisions?

They also sent a cute little pamphlet called "An Invitation". A short little page of guilt, wrapped up like a loving request for my return. I think it's funny that they don't even know why I want to leave, but they are pious enough to think a small little request for my love, strength, loyalty and devotion is going to magically change my mind. Actually, that's probably why they are sending strangers to my house.

So now I sit and wait. I don't want to be mean to the poor folks they are sending into the lion's den, but I am livid that they would think I could be dissuaded. Like this isn't an issue that I've been debating within myself for the past year. Like the time and energy I put into my own research and study wasn't good enough. Or do they believe a perfect stranger wrote in on my behalf? Someone who knew my children's full names and birth dates? Someone who has a notary on payroll to be able to get it notarized in my name with no problem? I don't believe that.

I feel like they are trivializing my pain and intelligence. Do they think I don't know my rights? I don't do well standing up for myself in face to face situations. I am going to suck at telling them to go the fuck away.

This wasn't an easy thing for me to do. I know a lot of my Mormon friends who have fallen away from the church are still on the records. They may have embraced a new religion, or just don't believe in much of anything, but they never bothered to or even have wanted to have their name removed. That's their choice and I don't blame them. Honestly, some folks don't care if they are on the records of a church they don't support, it's just paper and holds no true meaning for them.

It's a bit different for me. I was reluctant to get baptized. When I was interviewed by the Bishop at 8 years old, I had to say I wanted to get baptized. My mother would have killed me if I said no thanks. Now as an adult I can go back and revoke that action that I gave into because of peer and parental pressure. It's not often that we can go back and set things right in life. And I needed to.

It was a difficult thing to do. I know that my Atheist friends may not understand how can it be hard to send in a letter to a pseudo-religion and resign. Looking at it logically, it shouldn't hurt, it shouldn't bother me and it should have been easy. But it wasn't. And there is a tenderness because of it. I just cut my family off on a new and more personal level. I just guaranteed that no matter what, my relationship with my family will never be the same. I think I may have pissed off some of my devoted Mormon friends.

I know I will heal and move on. I know this is what is best for me and my children. I know my husband respects me more because of it. I know he understands why I had to do it. I know that in the end, I will be stronger because of it. I already feel like I can breathe again, I no longer run the risk of excommunication. Which is also a silly thing to dread. But knowing that they have no power over me and I can sue if they try to take action against me, gives me a sense of calm.

I thought it would be like a birthday. You know, it comes and you don't really feel any different. But I do feel different. I felt a change in me when I walked away from Mormonism in November 2008, I felt a change in August 2009 when I came to the realization that I am an Atheist, and sitting here, now being free of Mormonism, I feel a change.

I love not being Mormon. I love being an Atheist. I love being a mother and I love being a wife. I love everything I am now. Last week I couldn't say that wholeheartedly. And now I can.

And I know when those unknowing gentlemen show up on my front porch, that I will be able to ask them to get off my property and never return in a kind and respectful manner, because that's the kind of person that I am, always have been and always will be.

My grandmother, my mother and I on my baptism day September 1988. (Thank you April for fixing the color on this photo for me!)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Losing my Religion

I have thought about my journey many times over the past few months. I have been trying to figure out where or how to start telling my story of loss. Many people say that people don't really ever truly believe in religion. They are tied to the traditions, pressured by the testimonies of their families and ofttimes their duality just gets the best of them.

I would hate to admit that I was ever gullible enough to ever believe in the pure crap the Mormon religion piles on you, but I am afraid to say I must admit I was.

It didn't help that the grandparents that I lived with until I was 12 were Mormon. It didn't help that all my cousins growing up were Mormon. All 52 of them, some through marriage. My 7 Aunts and 7 Uncles on my mothers side were Mormon and both my parents were Mormon.

It didn't help that I went to church almost every Sunday until I was 20. I went to Seminary every weekday from 6am- 6:50am, from my Freshman year in high school until Senior year. I went to Mutual every Wednesday night for a few hours. Went to Saturday morning service projects for a few hours each week, went to Sacrament Meeting and Sunday School for 3 hours every Sunday and Firesides Sunday nights for up to 3 hours.

In college I traded Seminary and Mutual for Tuesday and Thursday night classes at the LDS Institute of Religion. By which they just mean their religion.

I was a devout Mormon all through high school. I believed. I testified. I passed out Books of Mormon to my unsuspecting friends and fellow band members. I mocked people for not being righteous and I lectured my friends on their potty mouths. I was a pain.

How could I not believe? To hear the same thing over and over as fact. To hear adults testify to their truth. To be told that anything other than what the church writes about the church is Anti-Mormon Propaganda. It was difficult to be a doubter when surrounded by family, friends and leaders who were there at a moments notice to tell you that the devil was making you doubt.

But even with all that 'support', with all the indoctrination and peer pressure, my cognitive dissonance won out in the end.

My doubting began when my high school boyfriend broke my heart. I hadn't kept morally clean while dating him over the course of a year and a half. When he dumped me the summer after our first year at college, I was shattered. I dropped weight and chopped off my hair.

I went into the bishop to repent of my sins. He couldn't see me at church, so he asked that I come to his home. He was cold and preoccupied, even though I had made an appointment. He told me that I could never see my ex-boyfriend again, that I couldn't take the sacrament and that he needed to speak with me every Sunday for at least 3 months.

I called his clerk that week and set an appointment for the following Sunday. Sunday came, I skipped partaking of the sacrament and headed to the bishops office after the meetings and classes were done. He told me that he couldn't meet with me that Sunday, and that he would see me the following Sunday. So I went to the clerk and made another appointment.

The next Sunday came. I didn't partake of the sacrament and waited after church to talk with the bishop. I was doing really well on my path to forgiveness. I had started dating a Mormon guy and he was prepping to leave on his Mission to Galveston, Tx. I was reading my scriptures and praying daily. I even started writing poetry to deal with my pain and guilt. I was disappointed when the bishop blew me off again.

After 4 Sundays of being ignored by the bishop, I started sinning again. Not as bad as before, but still sinning. I didn't feel that my progress was being supported the way the bishop told me it would be. The 5th Sunday of not partaking of the sacrament, my mother noticed. When the bread and water (body and blood) are being passed, the chapel is silent. My mother took that opportunity to loudly whisper "You're not a virgin anymore are you?" after her face had contorted in disgust when she noticed I hadn't taken the bread. I just stared blankly at her. I was 19, felt it was none of her business, and I had no clue how to handle her. So I kept staring blankly. She stood up, grabbed her purse and scriptures and left. Yup, she left me and my brothers at church with no ride home.

It didn't surprise me. She had kicked me out of the house for being 5 minutes late for curfew. Then 5 days later asked me to move back in because my younger brothers missed me. When I had turned to her for comfort when my boyfriend of 18 months dumped me, she said, "Well, now you can date a nice Mormon boy.", then went to bed. No hug or comfort. And now she was punishing my brothers for my personal decision.

Walking home from church that Sunday, I started to realize how much perfection was expected in Mormonism. God made us with imperfections, why would He punish us for them? He made us with the ability to rationalize and think, why would He punish us for using said abilities? By the time my brothers and I got home, my testimony was shattered. My mother never comforted me or supported me through trials, pain and tribulations. Her love felt conditional. The bishop, who was supposed to be there to mind God's flock had totally ignored me for over a 1/3 of my repentance process. My mother and father were divorced at the time, so my father was absent and distant.

How could a God that loved His creations, His children, be absent as well? I felt ashamed for doubting God's love. But that walk home, with only my own reasoning in my head started a snowball that would continue to roll until 10 years later, when I walked away from Mormonism, then finally Theism altogether.

I attended church from that point on with my closest friend. We went to a singles ward. We stayed for sacrament meeting (which I never partook of the bread and water), then left to break the Sabbath by eating at a local restaurant called Islands. It became our tradition. It was honestly the only reason why I went to church for the next year, to hang out with her, talking about life and sharing some of the best hamburgers around.

Then my mother kicked me out for being an evil spirit and bad influence on my brothers and I moved to Georgia.
(The picture is my mother and I outside church one random Sunday in the mid-late 80's.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

New Year's Resolution

I normally don't make New Year's Resolutions. Mainly because I like to be a woman of my word, and I never keep them. It just gives me more reason to be disappointed in myself for no real reason.

But this year, I am making a few lifestyle changes. I am eating healthier and I am hoping to eventually get to the point of cutting out all white flour and sugar.

I am more aware of my community and hoping to volunteer more. As an Atheist it's sometimes tough get involved. So I have made myself a list of websites that offer some volunteer opportunities. I couldn't help but share.

One day each year the non-religious participate in the National Secular Service Day.

Please also remember that one pint of blood can save up to three lives. You can also donate platelets...

And it doesn't hurt at all to get on the National Marrow Registry. If you can't register, you can always donate financially.

I donated blood for the first time as an Atheist, and joined the National Bone Marrow Registry as an Atheist.

I know I have become a better person because of my Atheism. I love my country, my fellow human beings and my family so much more.

What could be better than a Sunday morning spent in the service of your fellow man?