Sunday, September 16, 2012

To be continued. . .

I've struggled to keep up with this blog, for a variety of reasons. The biggest being my dislike of feeling 'vulnerable'. The idea of putting my thoughts and experiences out there for strangers to see, as well as family and friends, makes me anxious. I fear not being good enough. I fear that I won't be able to express myself well enough to be understood. And I fear that my feelings will not be respected, but mocked instead. I've tried to keep in mind my reasons for writing in the first place, my original intention of telling my story, in my words, for my posterity. But the praise I've received for my writing gets in the way, and my ego gets involved, and I develop writer's block from the anxiety, and months go by without a word from my pen (or computer!). And I get more anxious. Arghhhhhh. . . . I need to push through the anxiety and vulnerability, and just be. Because it's not about you, and it's not about me. It's about the story. It's about the journey.

I was born of goodly parents. Isn't that how most Mormon stories begin? Good, kind, earnest people, who wanted only to live according to God's plan. And to bring their offspring along for the ride, kicking and screaming if need be. My parents both suffered difficult childhoods, with alcohol and abuse playing a big role. They were both descended from original Mormon pioneers, but their own parents were not particular about following the plan, and my parents both learned at an early age the lesson that church = stability. Relatives who had fallen by the wayside suffered a variety of social ills, and their lives generally did not end well. My parents decided that they would hold tight to the iron rod, and benefit from the safety of the fold. They married in the temple when my mom was 17, my dad 21. And to my knowledge, neither has experienced any doubts about the path they chose to follow.

My family was the quintessential Mormon family of the sixties and seventies. If there was a meeting, we were there. A potluck dinner, a cannery assignment, a temple trip, we attended them all. Attendance was so important to my parents that I can remember a Sunday when I'd been throwing up all morning, and they left me on the couch by myself while they attended Sunday School. I was 10. I needed and wanted my mom to be with me, but it was Sunday, and church came first. Always. My older brother fell head first off his bike one Sunday, and after taking him to have his face stitched back together, my parents went to sacrament meeting. They weren't cold and heartless, they were just faithful and active. They were Mormon to the core, testimony-bearing, tithe-paying, temple-attending, hymn-singing, faithful Latter-Day-Saints. To this day, I don't think either one of them has turned down a calling. Saying no has never been an option. They believe the church to be headed by Christ himself, and the prophets and apostles are His voice to His people. And that extends all the way down to the local leaders, so when the Bishop extends a call for service, it's as if the Lord has spoken. My parents are true believers.

Being raised by such righteous, gospel-loving, church-attending folks should have led to a testimony of my own. And that notion has led to one of the great puzzles of my life. Why couldn't I believe as they did, immersed in it as I was? Why was it not as simple for me as it was for them? Granted, I don't know for sure that they have never doubted, but they have certainly never given voice to any uncertainty about the church. And it was expected of us, their children, that we would follow in their footsteps and continue faithful, as they have. Alas, as it stands currently, their offspring are at 50% and falling.

There are eight children in my family. Two older brothers preceded me, then five more boys followed. I'm the only girl. Three of those younger brothers left the church in their early twenties, soon after each returned from serving a mission. In talking with them since my own disaffection, the reasons they gave for becoming inactive was a combination of laziness, the desire to sin (that old devil, alcohol!), and a general inability to convince themselves to believe in the truthfulness of the church. Their falling away was very painful for my parents, especially my mother, who internalized the saying, "No success can compensate for failure in the home". In her mind, she had failed with these sons. If she had done a better job, been a better example, loved them more, they would have continued faithful. I heard her say on several occasions, "Where did I go wrong?" She agonized over their apostasy, cried many tears, doubled down on her efforts to strengthen her own testimony. She expressed to me her heartbreak that her family might not be together in the next life, and found some comfort in the teachings of past prophets who said that children who have been sealed to their parents in the temple will not be lost, but are bound to faithful parents. I personally find this teaching to be manipulative and slightly creepy, and in blatant violation of one of the basic tenets of the religion, the agency to choose. But, to my mother, it is hopeful. And I understand her need to cling to hope when faced with her sons willful rejection of religion, at least as she sees it.

I also have an older brother who left the church for several years during his young adulthood. He came back in his late twenties, a joyous occasion for my parents. He has proved to be one of the most stalwart of the bunch, but the particulars of his story are unknown to me as he and I don't share details of our lives with one another. We are content to be siblings who get along for the sake of our mother, nothing more. I suspect that if he were aware of my current religious leanings, he would be less than accepting, judging by his generally self-righteous, condescending personality. No love lost there! ;)

As a child, I remember sitting on the pew with my mom and brothers, my dad on the stand serving as a member of the bishopric, struggling to maintain any level of interest in the proceedings. Church was, and is, boring. And I frequently felt my mother's fingers pinching the tender skin on the underside of my arm in an effort to bring my attention back to the service. It worked momentarily, then my mind would wander again, or I would pester one of my siblings, or be pestered, or find some other way to pass the time. I was never very moved by what was being said, or the tears shed in the bearing of a testimony, though I always enjoyed some of the wackier stories told by the few regulars we could count on feeling the spirit and desiring to share. I remember once, a friend and I put Vick's Vaporub underneath our eyes to make them water, and we pretended to be moved to tears by the sharing and bearing of testimonies. The only draw church had for me was social. I loved seeing my friends, sitting with them rather than my family once I became a teenager (this was not discouraged back in the good 'ol days), giggling at the boys, passing notes, mocking our elders. But the spirit never testified to me that what was going on around me was 'true', or that it had any value beyond the fun of hanging out with my peers. And that didn't worry me as a youngster. Maybe it was a clue of things to come.