It's been almost three years since I came out. As an unbeliever, that is. I don't mean to hijack the phrase from a group of people for whom it has deep meaning, but there are parallels. Telling the people closest to you that you aren't who they always thought you were, whether straight or religious, is painful, and potentially life altering. Looking into my husband's eyes, and revealing to him that I did not believe what he believes, felt to him (as he told me later) like I was asking for a spiritual divorce. The eternity he had envisioned for us disappeared in an instant, and he was left trying to figure out who we were without our joint Mormon identity. No easy task.
We had many emotional, painful conversations over the next few months. He pleaded with me to endure to the end, to pray more, to read my scriptures as I'd been commanded. He struggled to understand how I could not believe what was so clearly true to him. How we could look at the same evidence, and come to completely different, and opposing, conclusions. How I could contemplate giving up my eternal glory with him and our future spirit children for the sake of 'authenticity'. He even wondered if our marriage could survive my change of heart. He thought since I'd changed my mind about the church, I might change my mind about him. Once he spoke those words out loud, I quickly put to rest that notion. I didn't change my mind about the church; I simply allowed myself to accept what I'd deep down suspected, that I wasn't a believer, not in any religion, and I had no desire to worship deity of any kind. With that acceptance came peace, the first real, true peace I'd ever felt, and it resonated deeply within my heart.
I had no intention of changing my mind about him. Marrying my husband was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Maybe the best. He is home to me. He is the calm at the center of my stormy life. He stills my soul. He provides a peaceful place to rest when all about me swirls frantically out of control. When the world is just too much. When I don't think I can tolerate another tragic news story, or crappy day at work, or disrespectful child. Whatever comes my way, I can take it, so long as I have him to lean on. He is my rock.
I'm still not sure what he is getting out of this relationship. Sex? Yeah, but I'm not convinced that what he is currently getting is enough to put up with the crazy. I'm not sure if any amount would compensate! So, why does he stick around? It's a puzzle to me, but he assures me that he loves me, is still in love with me, and wants to be with me forever. Whatever forever means. But, I think it took awhile for him to reach that conclusion. I made sure to express my love and appreciation for him frequently and fervently, and I tried to show him through my actions that I still valued our marriage. And we briefly consulted a counselor. I wanted Daron to hear me say some difficult things, with a third party present to soften the blow, and I needed him to know that this wasn't a mid-life crisis, or a passing phase. And, slowly, he seemed to get the message.
His heart attack, in the middle of that first year, served as a catalyst for both of us to re-evaluate our priorities, and to determine what mattered more: shared religious beliefs, or the bond we'd forged through two decades of married life. Yes, we married each other partly because we'd found someone who presumably shared our faith, someone worthy to marry in the temple, someone who wanted to raise a family in the gospel. Those things were all factors in our desire to be together. But, there was more to our relationship than the common bond of church. From the beginning, he was my best friend, the one person I most wanted to see first thing every morning, and the last one I wanted to talk to every night. And I know he felt the same way about me. I don't pretend to understand mortality or eternity, what came before this life or what will follow it, but I do feel very strongly that Daron and I were meant to be together for this period of time, and that has not changed. Not even a little.
After that first year, Daron seemed to find some peace regarding my religious leanings. I'm not sure exactly what it was that changed in him, but he came to accept me as I am, not as he'd like me to be. When asked by the counselor how he was able to make this work, as a change of faith seems to be a dealbreaker in many marriages, his response was that he believed in a loving, kind God, one who would not punish him for loving his wife by sentencing him to an eternity without her. And he said, and I quote, "I'd rather go to hell with Verlyne than to heaven with anyone else." Pretty awesome words. Pretty awesome man.
So, when all was said and done, he chose me. He chose our life together, imperfect as it is, rather than start over with someone else, someone who might see eternity as he sees it. He chose to support me as I've questioned some of our deeply held religious and moral convictions, even holding my hand as I got my first tattoo. A tattoo he helped design. Which, incidentally, is a four-leaf clover with the word 'lucky' in the center, placed over my heart, chosen as a symbol of our life together, which started on St. Patrick's Day, 1989. And I feel 'lucky' that he chose me. And that he continues to choose me. Lucky. Yep, that's me. Lucky.
Today, December 16, 2012, is an auspicious day for Mormon Feminists. It is "Wear Pants to Church" day. This event was created to give Mormon women, those who struggle with patriarchy, a place to begin a dialogue that many hope will lead to greater equality within the church. All that has led up to this day, and the many reasons it is needed, would take more words than I have to spare in explanation. I have stated my feelings on patriarchy elsewhere in this blog; suffice it to say that it was the last nail in the coffin that held my testimony. I walked away from the church, and all it represents, and have not looked back. No regrets. I can identify with those women, my sisters, who stay and hope for change within the ranks, but for me, it is done.
That being said, I have struggled this week as I have contemplated returning to church, wearing pants, showing solidarity with my sisters in their struggle to be heard, to have their pain acknowledged. Many of the women who have spoken out on facebook, and through other social media, I consider to be my friends. Women who love the church, who believe it to be the church of Jesus Christ himself, a divine institution led by their Savior. Women who know it isn't all it could be, as long as it continues to deny women the voice they believe their God intends them to have. I love these women, and I want them to see their hopes fulfilled. I want them to have what they want, what they need, to assume their rightful place next to men of God. As women of God, divinely inspired to lead and govern with all the power available to their male counterparts.
But as much as I want to support my sisters, two things hold me back. First of all, I do not share their testimony of the church. For me, patriarchy is a clear indication that religion is man-made, and simply reflects the greater society. And the social mores of the mid-nineteenth century, when the Mormon church got it's start, dictated that women assume a secondary role. So, even if the church decided to level the playing field and allow women to serve alongside the men, (truly alongside them, not presided over by them), it wouldn't change anything for me. It wouldn't make the church any more true. As a non-believer, I'm afraid that my support will not lend credence to their cause.
My other reason for staying home today: my husband. He has lovingly supported me as I have looked for answers to life's big questions. And he has continued to stand by me in spite of the fact that I have found my answers outside of his chosen faith. As stated above, he chose me. So, today, I choose him. I choose not to enter the sacred space he has carved out for himself to worship his Savior in peace. I choose not to make his pew a place to make my stand. I choose not to call unwelcome attention to him and our still-active children, to place them on the radar of those who would punish them for loving me. I have made my exit quietly, without fanfare, out of respect for them and their desire to worship how, where, and what they may. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience reenter their world in protest, even though my decision to stay home hurts a cause I believe in. Hurts women I love and respect.
My thoughts have turned frequently today to the many sisters who chose to worship clothed in their 'Sunday best' pants. I truly hope they get what they most want, and indeed deserve. But I'll have to be content to support them from the vantage point of the unbeliever, and hope they'll understand my decision. And support my choice, as I support theirs. Long live Pantsapalooza 2012!