Sometimes I admit when I think about where I was a few years ago…I can’t help but laugh at the fact that my life has done a complete 180. Seriously though I mean I’m now the Young Women President, I live in New Jersey and my closest friend out here is my ex husbands wife! I mean you have to laugh at that! I’ve had so many friends ask me what changed me? I don’t know that I have “changed” really. My environment changed and the people around me changed, and this has allowed me to change my perspective. So now my priorities have changed. I have come to a point and age that being a mom and teaching my kids good values and principles and relying on God to guide my family is more important than a night of drinking, is more important than being a territorial mom, is more important than being bitter, is more important than what others think of me, is more important than literally any worldly thing.
However, being a divorced Mormon woman is not easy. Being an active church going Mormon single mom is even harder. I vividly remember the feeling sitting in church shortly after getting divorced and the talks in sacrament were on the Priesthood in the home. “Shoot me now” I thought. Please please put me out of my misery. As the talk went on about all the good a worthy Priesthood holder in the home can do, I wanted to get up and leave. I looked at my beautiful girls and wondered how I would explain that we don’t have the Priesthood in our home anymore. I got so angry at this point. How can a church only give Priesthood to the men?! What about the single women? I wanted to go full Beyoncé on them and start a single lady revolution!
I felt so inadequate as a mom, and as a woman at that moment. After that Sunday it felt as if every “happily” married woman was either judging me or felt bad for my situation. And I know that it probably wasn’t true ALL of the time, but when you grow up in a church that preaches the Priesthood is the most important force in the home for protection and direction, ya tend to really get down on yourself when that’s not happening in your home. That feeling of inadequacy is another part of my inactivity in the church.
I’m going to be blunt with you. We (I include myself) as members of the LDS church really suck at not judging. If you want to argue with me about this that’s fine, but I will just tell you how in denial you are. We are raised with the mindset that women grow up, marry a “worthy” Priesthood holder (preferably a returned missionary) most often at a young age (18-20) in the Temple, and then life is just rainbows and butterflies. It’s not of course because we become babies raising babies, and yet we put on this social media show that everything is perfect in our life! Then when that perfection comes crumbling down for a friend or FB friend (yeah you know what I mean, the people we just creep on but never talk to in public) we instantly judge the situation and the rumor mill begins, yet forgetting that maybe our lives aren’t so perfect either. I can not tell you how many random messages I got on FB from people who I hadn’t spoken to in years wondering what happened to my marriage and happy to lend their two cents about it!
The LDS church can be a beautiful place to go and grow in the gospel, but it can also be extremely intimidating to a person who has had major struggles and trials or doesn’t have that “picture perfect” life. I think this is why God knew in order for me or my husband to embrace the church we had to get out of Idaho/Utah area. I am here to tell you right now that the church is the same everywhere you go, but the members are not. If you are easily affended please do not read on because I may say something you don’t agree with. I wont apologize though for my own opinion, and this is solely based on my experiences…so get your thick skin on and read at your own risk…
After my divorce I was surprised how quick those around me picked sides or bashed on my ex or me. I lost people close to me because of this, family I loved, friends I treasured. The further I fell from the church the worse it got. Instead of those in the church that had known me for years reaching out to just show love and acceptance they said hurtful judgemental comments or completely shut me out of their circle. “Jessie had fallen off the deep end” which sure I had a little, but wasn’t that allowed considering my circumstances? Aren’t we all just on the edge of a mental break down? I even moved into a ward that never even reached out to me in Pocatello. Hello?!? For heavens sake I was surrounded by LDS members there?! Yes I understand that it is on me too but we all need someone to kinda give us a boost when down. I don’t mean the required visiting teaching or home teaching, I mean being genuinely interested and concerned about a person. I don’t limit this to just church members either. I truly feel that many members (not all of course) in these highly populated LDS areas walk around with an “I’m better than my neighbor” attitude, specifically their nonmember neighbor. I don’t think we as members mean to or purposely ignore those that aren’t of the same faith or inactive, but it’s easy to forget about “them” because well there’s an overwhelming number of active Mormons to interact with, it’s almost like LDS members seclude themselves in a big bubble. I have even heard stories about not letting your kids play with non Mormon children. To that I say shame on us!
When we came to our New Jersey ward it was like a melting pot of people from all different backgrounds. People have to travel up to 45 minutes to church and the ward is spread out over an hour from each other. Many, actually probably most are converts to the church (meaning they weren’t born into an LDS family). This true conversion has made them stronger than many members I have met growing up that do it because it’s all they know and are riding on the coat tails of their parents. Going to church and living the Gospel takes more of an effort in sparsely populated LDS areas because typically not one neighbor or friend outside of the ward is LDS. It has also made the people in our ward more accepting of those whose faith may be waivering, or who are fighting addictions, who are gay, who practice another religion or no religion, and who have married their ex husbands wife’s ex husband (oh yeah that’s me!) etc. They welcomed me and Brandon, and my ex and his wife with no questions (well maybe a few questions!). As a result we are all now active members of the LDS church. I honestly don’t think we would have received the same kind of welcome in Idaho. I would hope now we would because we have shown through social media and to our friends that we are an amazing duo of parents who are raising our kids in the church. Yet, why should it be necessary to be accepted only if we are all members? We were pretty awesome parents without the church too, our kids are proof enough of that.
If you think I’m off my rocker, then fine, let’s just put that on my “tab”, but I also ask you to look around at those people in your ward or neighborhood who maybe you avoid because of their background or current living situation, maybe they have tattoos that cover their body (gasp!), maybe they drink alcohol (oh my!), maybe the single mom down the street wears shorts so short her booty sticks out (go mama!). I speak to the adults here when I say these things are not contagious! You can say no to a beer at your neighbors BBQ. As my husband would say, “I’m pretty sure God would rather see you drink a beer than mistreat one of his children.” Seriously though, I want you to think, what would God say about your treatment of them? Maybe you haven’t avoided them all together but are you actively engaged in helping them or getting to know them and becoming their friend? Are we considerate as we talk or give lessons that maybe someone in the room is truly struggling or is an investigator to the church and we could stand to be a bit more sensitive? It isn’t always black and white people. If it was, would God of said “you without sin throw the first stone?”
During a talk in my New Jersey ward before Brandon was baptized, someone was in tune with the spirit as He spoke about the Priesthood. He said that the Priesthood is available to all worthy members. That we can pray to our Heavenly Father at any time and ask for help through the power of the Priesthood and that women can protect and help their family through Him. I perked right up from the sacrament trance I was in. It was exactly what I needed to hear after I had been so discouraged years before, and it was a truth that I think we forget to tell our young women or single momma’s. It won’t always be rainbows and butterflies, but we as women in the church are just as capable of blessing our families even if their isn’t a Priesthood holder in our home.
For those reading this and have no idea what in the heck I’m referring to here’s a brief summary on what the Priesthood is and why it is important to us at Lds.org .
So let’s fast forward past the part where my husband obviously was baptized (insert angels singing hallelujahs). You can refer to my earlier post, We Are Never Getting Back Together for all those juicy details!
My parents came to visit this past Easter and we took a trip to the sacred grove. The spirit we felt was indescribable, and it’d take a whole blog post to even begin to try. However, as I walked around with the kids I looked back and saw that my husband had sat down on a bench with his hands folded and was praying. Praying in the same place Joseph Smith came looking for answers. Think about how everyone treated him? The persecution he endured and how everyone looked at him a bit differently and quite frankly many thought (and still do) that he was crazy. We’ve come a long way as a church since then but we of course have a long ways to go, yet we won’t get there by secluding ourselves in our own Mormon bubbles.
That day in the Sacred Grove, I didn’t bother Brandon as he prayed, except yes I snuck a picture because what he didn’t realize was how much this touched my heart and I wanted this moment captured forever. We never talked about it, he just quietly got up, took my hand and continued walking through this sacred place, but deep down I knew what was in his heart because it was in mine too.
The next Sunday it was Easter. The holiday we remember what our Savior did for us. ALL of us. Not just members of the LDS church. There was a quite stillness in the room as men that had made an impact in not only my husbands life but mine, stood in a circle with their hands on Brandon’s head. These men were the same ones from all walks of life, many converts themselves, many the only members of their families, and all of them never once looked at Brandon’s tattoos, or past, and walked away but each took turns sitting in on Brandon’s discussions and got to know him. Genuinely. They never judged. My Dad stood tallest among them and spoke so gently and yet with authority as He gave my husband the Melchizedek Priesthood.
I didn’t think FINALLY I have the Priesthood in my home, because I knew it was there already, but I was just proud of Brandon. Probably the most proud I’d ever been of him. Not because he changed. He didn’t. He still had tattoos, He still cursed a little or a lot (sorry babe), He was still the man I fell in love with. Why would I want him to change? He just took all the Christ like attributes he already had in him, the ones I saw in him and fell in love with because of, and was magnifying them in ways that will continue to bless our family for generations.
So this brings me back to our judgement of those around us. It would have been easy for those people in our NJ ward to cast us aside and think surely this family is a lost cause. I mean seriously think about how crazy this all is?! Instead they opened up their arms and embraced our crazy mess and loved our imperfections.
I know if it wasn’t for the people in the place we live now none of this would have happened. Again, look around you, who in your church, your neighborhood, or work, could you be a bit more accepting of? By changing your perspective, you could change their life. My family is proof of that.