"The Devil is a wily one, and, until an hour before he fell, even God thought him beautiful in Heaven." -Arthur Miller, the Crucible
This will undoubtedly be the hardest post I've ever written.
And I've written some pretty heart-ringing, soul-wrenching posts in the last few months.
I have a confession to make. Something that I have kept hidden for a while now. That I have danced my way around in conversations. That I am too terrified to tell even the people I have professed to care about profusely. That I can't bring myself to admit to those who I admire, or to those whose admiration I seek. That I'm not even so sure as I write this that I really want to write in the first place.
I have not been an active member of the church in over a year.
And I don't just mean one Sunday I slept in late and it kind of became a habit, though I wish it had been that simple. I mean that one day I made the conscious decision that I was not going to go back. One day I came home from church, kicked off my heals, plopped down in the chair in my office, and decided I was done. I was done with squirming through Gospel Doctrine classes. I was done with adding my painfully-earned insight to every Relief Society discussion. I was done dragging myself around after third-hour to collect sign-up sheets, done spending hours setting up and cleaning up enrichment activities, and done feeling burned-out and misguided. I was done ending my Sunday evening even more spiritually drained than when I'd started. I was done wondering what business I had even being there in the first place. I was done trying to make up for my mistakes.
I was done being a hypocrite.
"If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that people will forgive. But they'll rarely ever forget."
You see, I'd screwed up. And I mean bad. The kind of thing that lands you in the Bishop's office kind of bad. And though I knew that I wasn't the only girl who'd ever had to go confess the error of her ways, it was certainly the first time I'd ever had to do it. In fact, I distinctly remember only a few years before sitting through a brief family interview with the new Bishop and ensuring him, "Trust me, we're good. We're not one of those families you have to worry about. This isn't our first rodeo." No, we were auxiliary leaders and priesthood leaders and teachers and mentors and member missionaries and one of the strongest families in the ward. We didn't just attend, we were somehow responsible for nearly every activity and project from food storage lessons to Girl's Camp to the Fall Hayride to the Ward Christmas Party. And that wasn't all. Even within our own family we were doing everything we were "supposed to," from regular Family Home Evenings to scripture study to family prayer to feeding the missionaries weekly to pictures of Christ plastered on every wall. We were an inspiration to other people. I was an inspiration to other people. Not just because of what I was doing--not just because of the lessons I taught or the activities I threw together--but because of what I believed. I believed and understood and had a deep personal testimony of concepts that people spend their entire lives on the earth and never learn.
And I didn't just believe. I knew... I had seen and I had felt and I had been there.
Then, in the blink of an eye, it was all just gone.
Looking back on it now, I couldn't describe to you the path that led to my ultimate demise. I couldn't tell you the exact moment where it all went downhill, or even how long the adversary had been working on me before I ended up there. You might say that it had taken years. More likely, it had been a lifetime. But in the end the result was the same. In the end, through a series of small choices--through a dark chain of misdirection, rebellion, laziness, and pride--I fell.
I fell. And I hit hard.
At one point, I had a decision to make. I knew what I was doing was wrong and I couldn't continue on the path that I was on. At least, not in the direction I was going. But I had to make some choice about which way I would head next. Thankfully by the grace of the Almighty I still had enough of the Spirit left with me to want to make the right choice. So I prayed. I attended Stake Conference. I listened. I got my answer. I acted on it. And that's where the real work began.
The repentance process was grueling. From having to come clean with my husband to meeting with the Bishop to skipping the Sacrament. Every moment was heart wrenching. Every week a reminder. Every day I would wake up and, for a split second, forget and then suddenly be washed over and drowned by the weight of it. Some days I didn't want to get out of bed. Most days I didn't want to wake up at all. But I tried. My God, did I try. I knew that this--all of this--from the loss of the Sacrament to the rift I'd caused in my family, was my doing and I was bound and determined to fix it. I threw myself into my responsibilities. I recommitted myself to my family. I took on the role of homeschool mom again. I did anything and everything I could to keep my mind off of the guilt, off of the pain of knowing what I'd done and how badly I'd hurt everyone, from building bookshelves to color-coding crayons. And I did it with such a fervency that I was sure I would earn my forgiveness. I was SURE I could make it right again.
But it didn't work. I didn't feel better. The pain didn't go away. For anyone. It just got worse.
So that's when I gave up. After months and months of trying, after working myself to physical and emotional exhaustion, after giving up on my writing, and after walking away from everything that made me me with little to no results, I was done. I had come to one conclusion:
Some bones will never set.
Some wounds will never heal.
And, no matter how hard you try, some mistakes can never go back to the way they were before.
It was over. The damage--on a grand, eternal scale--was irrevocably done. I had failed my personal mission, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had to accept my reality...
"You can't do this, Misty.
You aren't good enough.
And you never will be."
I walked away from everything I believed in. If I could put my trust in faith and make the "right choice," then why did it continue to hurt so badly? Why were things still so very, very messed up? Why, when I was doing everything I had been told and everything I was supposed to do, wasn't the repentance process working? What was wrong with me? That's when I decided I had been entirely too much of a disappointment. That I had fallen past the point of no return. And that's when I quit. I no longer had a testimony. Of anything. I had no idea who I was, what I was doing, or why I was even here. I gave up, not just on the concepts I'd known and believed in my entire life. I gave up on me. I gave up on mortality. I was done.
My love for my family was the only thing that kept me going. Regardless of what I believed, I had still made commitments to them. So I tried my best to keep myself, my home, and my family together. But I had to do it with little to no motivation, little to no faith in myself or anything else, and eventually--like an engine running on nothing but fumes--I burned out. I sputtered and I choked and, through a downward spiral of unrealistic expectations, depression, anxiety, and uncontrollable mood swings, landed myself in an Intensive Care Unit for three days. That's when I had to admit I wasn't just emotionally and spiritually done. I was physiologically done as well. I'd literally ran myself into the ground. Into a deep, dark, dingy hole. And there was no where left to go but up.
It was then that I finally began to heal. The ultimate diagnosis? Severe panic disorder, spotted with bouts of high anxiety, and exasperated by radically fluctuating hormones. I'd become so preoccupied with living up to everyone's expectations (including my own) that it, quite literally, terrified me not to meet them. I somehow talked my way out of inpatient care, promised to see an OB, a therapist, and a psychiatrist. I scowled my way through sessions, subjected myself to rather uncomfortable testings and treatments, showed up religiously (sometimes several times a week) to therapies to discuss my "sordid childhood" and "just how it made me feel" and practice hippy-dippy "coping" techniques, and endured roller-coaster results. I acquiesced to letting others make decisions for me, put on a happy face so as not to tip anyone outside of my husband off to my struggles, and took my various medications like a good little patient.
And eventually, to my great surprise, it began to work. Slowly I got my life back. I had to make sacrifices, alter my lifestyle and diet, change perceptions, and let go of expectations, but it was working. I was feeling better than I had in a very, very long time. After a few months the panic attacks had all but stopped, there were very few triggers left, and everything seemed to be coming together.
Well, almost everything.
Something was still missing. No matter how much better I felt, my husband was still miserable, and we still struggled to get back the dear, sweet connection we once had. Not that I didn't know deep down inside what the culprit was. Josh had expressed several times his desire to go back to church, to have that spiritual reinforcement. But as far as I was concerned, I was doing better than I had ever been as an active member and the last thing I wanted to deal with was more obligations and expectations, especially when I had finally found a balance to the ones I already had. Or, at least, that's how I thought I felt.
The truth was, I still didn't feel worthy. Sure, I could run a house like a well oiled machine, "mother hen" like nobody's business, and look smokin' h0t in curls and a Wonder Woman t-shirt for date night, but I was no longer "Molly Mormon" enough. I could no longer get through a Relief Society discussion without crumpling into panicky fits of hyperventilation. I could no longer feel the Spirit during Sacrament. I was no longer one of the "elites" that the Bishop "didn't have to worry about." Inside I had accepted the fact that I was never going to make it to the Celestial Kingdom. As far as the outside world was concerned, however, I was Super Woman, and I didn't want to have to admit I really wasn't.
It wasn't until I was inadvertently forced by a dear friend to take a long, hard look at what it was that I was still so desperately seeking--that I was inexplicably reaching out to find. It wasn't until I had no choice but to analyze his perceptions that I ultimately had to face my own. And as I did so, two words continued to ring out from the very Stake Conference talk that President Keogh had gotten up to give nearly 18 months before. The very talk that had answered my prayer, and inspired me to make the right choice in the first place. "Let go of what you think you want," he'd said.
Two simple little words that, for me, held so much meaning. It was time to finally let go. To admit that I had been right so many months ago. That I wasn't good enough, and I never would be. That no matter how "together" I thought I was, I couldn't really do this.
And that was ok.
"You can't do this, Misty
You aren't good enough.
And you never will be...
At least, NOT ON YOUR OWN."
I once read that the reason that Satan is so good at deception is because he uses the truth to deceive. The truth, sprinkled with one simple, little lie. For me, that lie was that I had to do it on my own. That if I couldn't stand on my own, that if I couldn't get through mortality by my own devices, then I was a failure. That I was good enough...that I was special enough...that I was elite enough...and that I was different enough that I could "lean on my own understanding." That I--in my fallible, flawed, prideful, mortal thinking--knew better than He did. That I was in control.
What. Was. I. Thinking?!
I do need Him! I do need the Gospel. And I ABSOLUTELY need the Spirit. I CAN do this. But not the mortal me. Not the one that thinks she's so awesome and knows everything. The divine me. The eternal me that's trapped inside this imperfect body and waiting desperately to be spiritually fortified. The me that I was always meant to be.
And to get there, I first have to let go. I have to let go of what I think I want. I have to let go of my vision of the way things are supposed to be. I have to let go of my expectations and inhibitions. I have to let go of my understandings and interpretations. I have to let go of my imaginary control. I have to let go of how I think things should play out and trust that the person who is in charge knows what He's doing.
I never understood until the moment I came to that realization, what it truly meant to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Because of my prideful and rebellious personality, I quite literally had to be slammed against the shore before I'd ever figure it out. Ultimately, I left the church because I thought I wasn't good enough. What I didn't know was, I wasn't there because I was a leader or an inspiration. I wasn't there just so that others could learn from me. I wasn't there to share my vast knowledge and insight. I wasn't there because I was perfect.
I was there because I wasn't.
And I was there because, through Him, I still could be.
"They say that you always hurt the ones you love the most. It's because those that love you the most have the most potential to get hurt. When you open yourself up to caring about people, you also open up to heartache. It's easy when you have those walls of defense up, to shield yourself from the pain of rejection or betrayal. It's only when you bring down those walls, when you bring in the Trojan horse, that you leave yourself most vulnerable to attack."
-Journal entry, 30 April 2012
I used to think that relationships weren't worth it. Then, I met these people. I can distinctly remember sitting through one particularly painful therapy session, in which I got off on the subject of this amazing group of friends I had that were more like family than my own family had ever been. My therapist was baffled. "How could you have ever gotten so low," she asked, "when you had such an amazing support system behind you?" Maybe, I thought, it was because regardless of how close I was to these people and how much I knew they cared about me, I never really let them in.
You see, I'd been burned. A lot. I grew up with people and in situations where, if someone couldn't get something out of you--if you'd passed your usefulness or outworn your welcome--they would just leave. Simple as that. And the leaving hurt. The giving up hurt. So one day I decided that it just wasn't worth it. Why bother holding on to people who just pulled you down? Why bother wrapping up your happiness in someone else who doesn't care nearly as much about your own? Why even make the effort? What in the world was I getting out of it but heartache?
So, eventually, I learned to do the same thing to others as had been done to me. When things became sticky, when situations got hard, I'd just walk away, too. I'd give up and move on. I'd find some other friends, or retreat inside myself and become a hermit, and then I wouldn't have to deal with the pain of disappointment, or betrayal, or rejection, or unmet expectations, or hurt feelings. If I never got close, then as soon as it got uncomfortable I could leave, no strings attached.
Then, I became a member of "the group."
We were really just a random bunch of people, with connections ranging from casual co-workers to long-time best friends, from spouses to siblings, that got together anywhere from once a week to once a month to game and have fun. But over the years it began to include surprise birthday parties, getting sucked into random projects, group holidays and celebrations, healthy challenges and pumpkin growing contests, and getting each other through tough times and heartfelt, teary conversations. Over the years, it evolved into so much more. I'll never forget the exact moment I knew how much I really loved these people. It was the day I got the call that Danny (my best friend's husband who I'd met through the group) had lost his job and that they were going to have to move four hours away. I remember being completely devastated, but it wasn't in a way I would have imagined. I wasn't just sad for me, for losing them, I was sad for them. I imagined how much Danny must have been heartbroken for the entire situation--how bad he must have felt--and I hurt for him. I hurt for them. I wanted to do everything and anything I possibly could to help them, to fix things so they didn't have to suffer no matter what it took, and there were very few people in my life that I had ever had that kind of selfish consideration for. As many times as I had told these people how much they meant to me, I never really understood it myself until that moment. I had no idea I really loved them that much. But I did. And I still do. A lot.
"Oh, but how were we to know? That these are the days that bind you together, forever. And these little things define you forever, forever." -Bastille
It's been about a year now since my best friend and her husband moved too far away from the group for them to join us for our regular get-togethers. But we're still just as close. And though the rest of the members of the group have had their own good times and bad, and though there have been instances where I've just wanted to walk away from everyone (or thought everyone would be better off walking away from me), I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Not completely. And it's taken me some time to figure out why. The truth is, each member of the group is what makes the group so awesome. It's the dynamic we have together and how we each contribute to it. Like the individual members of a family, we each add our own outlooks, strengths, quirks, and values in such a way that, as a whole, we're just better off than we ever were separately. We're a team. We need each other. Because it's our own individual attributes that support, that uplift, that entertain, and that make us each a little happier. It's the reason we keep coming back week after week for more. And it is these attributes from which we are able to learn and grow. It is each of these amazing characteristics--the individual perceptions and perspectives and personalities--that makes the group so awesome.
It's these traits that I love so much.
"When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know; but when you listen, you may learn something new." -Dalai Lama
From Alisa: tradition, respect, and order
Alisa holds dear standards that are not often seen in the western world today, that still should be. Things like professionalism, manners, etiquette, and order are all concepts that reflect the respect one holds for oneself as well as others. Though I'm not always so good at it, these concepts are important to me as well, because they are reminders that we are all of a noble birthright, and as such should act and treat each other with an equally high level of diplomacy, consideration, and respect.
"Vulgar means to do poor things in poor ways and be satisfied with it." -unknown
There is an order and a way to everything in the universe for a reason, and it's always refreshing to be friends with someone who appreciates that just as much as I do, and to be occasionally reminded and reinforced of the importance of it. (Not to mention, having someone to scream silently and cringe right along with me, in a world that is shrouded in chaos and disharmony.)
From Nhan: inclusion, acceptance, goodness
Nhan, who I'm pretty sure brought us all together in the first place and is usually the one to facilitate, or at the very least coordinate, every game group activity we have is a constant reminder to me of how everyone should feel welcome and included. Though I tend to be somewhat cantankerous as times, and will occasionally insist "you guys can play such and such game without me, I don't mind," he never seems to settle for that answer and always tries hard to suggest something we can all enjoy together, even my 11 year old who occasionally asks to play as well. He's also super accepting of those who have similar standards, even if they don't believe quite the same way he does. Though not of the same LDS faith as half the group, Nhan has participated in more baby blessings and baptisms and volley ball games and Christmas pageants and enrichment activity set-ups as some who've been members all their lives. Though completely comfortable in his own Christian faith, Nhan will always respectfully welcome the missionaries into his home and even accompany one of us for home teaching lessons when needed (though he may not realize that's what he's doing at the time). Part of it, I think, is because Nhan appreciates the same high standards that we as members do, which is another thing that is so awesome about him. I don't think I've ever met someone who was quite so "black and white" when it came to right or wrong, and Nhan's "lawful good" combined with his sense of inclusion and acceptance helps me remember that no matter what we may believe, whether Mormon or Catholic or Baptist, we're all essentially on the same team and fighting for the same cause.
From Heather: unconditional love, friendship, sacrifice
I LOVE Heather! I mean, like, I would give her a kidney if she were ever to need it, AND take care of her while she recovered. Why? Because that's just the kind of thing that she would do for me. There are few people I have ever known who had the kind of selfless love that Heather has for those she cares about, no matter what. Heather has done more for me than some members of my own family have. From spending an entire day babysitting my children to helping me hang 3 rooms worth of chair railing in just a few hours, to being a shoulder to cry on, Heather is one of my dearest and most sincere friends. I couldn't imagine life without her, and it has been insanely hard to have her living so far away. Heather is a constant reminder to me to always show those in your life that are special to you just how much you love them, because sometimes that's exactly what we all really need to hear.
From Daniel: humor, resilience, family
Daniel, cracks me up. Every time we hang out, whether in the big group or just he, Heather, and the kids, he always has such a refreshing light-heartedness that just makes everything a bit more fun. Not that he doesn't also have a serious side--he's highly intelligent and creative--but Daniel has learned the hard way the importance of enjoying the moment. Though coming from a less-than-sheltered upbringing, Daniel shows an admirable level of resilience as he has not only overcome obstacles to get where he is, but continues to display an admirable strength of character and ethics even as he continues to face challenges. Danny often even looks towards the bright side of those challenges, such as being able to be closer to his family since the move. Family is important to Danny, and not just his own, but those around him as well. He loves my kids as if they were his own and would do anything for them, I know. Daniel is a constant reminder to me that we choose who we are and who we want to be, no matter what circumstances life throws at us.
From Christie: compassion, humility, patience
Christie is the woman I want to be when I grow up. She has the sweetest spirit of anyone I have ever known, and has developed a level of patience and humility that most of us can only ever hope to achieve. I've seen it displayed over and over again, not just with her own amazing children, but with the adults around her as well. From her missionary attitude to her everyday interactions, Christie reminds me that we are all beloved children of God and should treat each other accordingly.
From Dane: flexibility, faith, dedication
Dane...drives me crazy. Mostly because I know deep down he's usually right. And I really, really hate when other people are right. Dane has an outlook on life that forces me to take a long, hard look at my own. Where I insist on order and control, he's perfectly comfortable with simply "going with the flow." Unfortunately what I ultimately have to admit is, in a Pinterest-Mom/SuperWoman/Micromanaged world, his "come what may" and "fly by the seat of your pants" attitude constitutes an incredible act of trust and faith, and is exactly what we--and especially I--could use a little more of. "Life is short," he'd say. "Sometimes you have to do things that don't make sense practically or fiscally...to stay sane." And that is where he is absolutely correct. Life is too short to hold grudges, stress over the little things, or worry about the moment. Dane is a reminder to me that, sometimes, you just have to "let it go" (and, at bizarre moments, burst into song--come on, you know you just did it) put faith in the fact that you're doing the right thing and everything will work out in your best interest, and cling to the smallest sources of joy until it does. Dane is an inspiration to me as he remains unfailingly dedicated to his vast array of demanding commitments, from friends to family to work to church, and yet has still somehow figured out a way not to lose his mind. He's managed to learn what it has taken me years to fathom, and what I have yet to accept: I'm not in control, and I need to learn that the person who is knows what He's doing. Because when it's all said and done, eternity won't be dependent on what your house looks like, how many points you earned during the healthy challenge, or whether or not you spackled before painting the bathroom wall. It's about surviving the journey with your integrity, your relationships, your sanity, AND YOUR TESTIMONY still intact.
From Nikki: competition, determination, strength
Nikki is a bowl of kick-butt with a side of awesome! Refusing to settle for anything less than what she knows she's capable of (plus a little extra) Nikki is the epitome of Wonder Woman, if ever I've known one. She is a reminder to me to keep trying, to not give in, to aim for nothing short of excellent, and that if you never push yourself to the limit, you'll never know just how far you can go.
From Josh D.: discipline, structure, planning
Honestly, sometimes I think Josh D. is the only member of the group that doesn't have a teenager trapped inside of him. Ever the voice of reason, Josh is perhaps the most down-to-earth out of all of us. Usually the final word on rule interpretation on whatever games we may be playing at the time (when he's able to join us), Josh is a necessary reminder that we are all adults, that we do have responsibilities, that there has to be a balance to those responsibilities (which sometimes has to include actual planning and forethought) and that no matter how much we want to lock ourselves in the game room with Doritos and Mt. Dew and play Diablo for 3 days straight, we can't. Or, at least, not as often as we'd like.
From Casey: consideration, detail, teamwork
Casey has no idea, but he is actually one of my favorite members of the group. Mostly because he is an example of everything that compels people to come together as a group in the first place. Though we sometimes tease him relentlessly over his attention to detail (he feels the need to talk out and analyze every move he makes when we are playing as a team), he only does so because our expectations of him, and how his actions will effect everyone else, is so very important to him. Out of consideration for how it will effect the rest of us, Casey plays through every possible scenario, looking for every viable advantage or loophole in order to help the team as a whole. I've also watched him barrel into "virtual" danger and use himself as a human shield in order to protect those of us who were slightly squishier--all in the name of teamwork. He is a constant reminder to me of why we need others in the first place, and why no one should ever have to "do real life" alone.
From Joshua: excellence, honor, virtue
Finally there is my own dear, sweet, amazing companion. The man that I have learned more from than anyone in my entire life. Though what I've gleaned during our 13 years of marriage would never fit within even a thousand blog posts, I can sum almost all of it up into a single concept. Joshua is a constant reminder to me of who I am and what I'm here to do. Refusing to settle for mediocrity, Josh continually strives for excellence, honor, and virtue in every word, action, and thought. And though he sometimes falls short (for which I am grateful, because if he really was that perfect he probably wouldn't need to be here anymore and I'd be devastated), he continues to try his best and, for some reason, has chosen me to go along for the ride. My rock, my supporter, and the one who has the unfortunate pleasure of keeping me grounded, Josh reminds me that I am of a noble heritage, that nothing in the entire universe is more important than the connections that we forge together, that we've been charged with a divine mission and purpose, and that even the smallest distractions and detours have the potential to cause us to lose sight of that.
There have been so many, many more people along the way who's personalities have touched me in one form or another. From Shayla's loyalty, to Kim's insight, to Michelle's vision and inspiration, to Jennifer's unwavering strength and compassion, to my father's perseverance, they've all meant something different and something dear to me, and I could never have gotten through this life without them. I once heard of a study done in which sociologists concluded that people who end up homeless all have one thing in common. It was not that they were down on their luck, met unfortunate and uncontrollable circumstances, made poor decisions, or were even derelict. The one thing that they all had in common, that landed them without food or shelter, shivering on the streets, was the lack of a support system. When things got tough, they simply had no one to turn to, and most of the time it was due to their own determination to shut people who cared about them out along the way. I know how it feels to try to shut people out. To think that you would be better off without the world and that the world would be better off without you. I can promise you, it doesn't work. Human beings were never meant to live in seclusion. No man's an island. We NEED each other. To share backgrounds and upbringings. To gain perspective and understanding. To love and be loved. To learn and grow. To become the people we were meant to be.
We can't do it alone.
So if you've found those people in your life that are special to you, whose faces light up when you walk into a room, who call you to unwind or who you'd enjoy spending a one-week vacation in another country with, then embrace them. Remind them how much you love them and how dear they are to you. Learn from them. Listen to them. Be there for them.
Because in the end, forging those connections that bind us all together is what life is all about in the first place. And without those people, without those connections, you just wouldn't be you.
Why I Left the Church
The Importance of Friendship
Secrets to Staying Sane
Fighting the Rain