Once upon a time, an LDS woman wrote a blog. Within in a few days, that blog became viral with close to a million views. Because of that one blog, she went on to write more blogs, which led to bumping elbows with some of the more “popular” Mormons of her generation. This led to speaking engagements which followed with a book deal. She would go on to write one Amazon’s top selling book of the year 2016 for the Mormon faith-a book that landed on the shelves on Deseret Book, gained her an article in LDS Living and Desert News….
…and as abruptly as it started, she ended it. Without anyone knowing, she sent in her resignation papers to her local bishop thus ending not only a her “popular image,” but also her membership. At the ascend of a successful place within the Mormon culture, she turned around and walked away.
Fast forward to present day, on December 29, 2018, that same woman enters the waters of baptism for the second time. The prodigal has come home.
How does that happen? How does one fall amazingly from such a “high” and “important” (terms used very loosely) position and land, albeit clumsily but safely, into the arms of Grace? What happens in between? How does one come back home?
This blog is not the response as to why the resignation happened in the first place. “Falls” happen often and for various reasons to a lot of people. To speak about my own resignation is to breathe life into events that neither weight me down, distract me or hold me back anymore from growing into the person that God has set me apart to be. The only thing, my dear friends, you need to concern yourself with is the “in between” and “the coming home.” The story of a Saint was never about describing the trials and tribulations of life over and over again. It is to name and describe God who preserves, strengthens, accompanies and guides our every step of the journey.
I refer to my time spent away from Church as part of my wilderness journey. It’s safe to assume that for anyone who wishes to embark into a deeper relationship with God, they will spend time in the wilderness so it’s good to get to know it now and understand that if you are in it, you’re not alone. Nephi did it. David did it. Jesus did it. For most of us, the wilderness isn’t something that is geographical, but a circumstantial. One moment, we are going along fine. We are in control. We have mapped out our life and our plans seem to be going swimmingly. Suddenly, we are knocked off track. We don’t know whether we are coming or going. There’s a change in our relationships, jobs, bodies, lives. Welcome to the wilderness. Welcome to exile.
During this time, I found myself in a Spiritualist Camp for my job. I camped out several miles from the nearest town, tucked into the Sierra Mountains with no cell phone or television, neither of which were permitted on the grounds. There were long periods of intended silence (we weren’t allowed to talk to people for long portions of the day) and with literally no form of communication, there were little distractions which quite honestly, when we weren’t preparing food, cleaning and attempting to meditate, there was little to do except explore in solitude and silence the lush green forests that overwhelms that part of Northern California. I spent most my afternoons wandering the landscape, navigating my way through the pine trees, dipping my feet in the creek, exploring and attending to the sounds and sights of nature that surrounded me. It didn’t take long for my perceptions to start to sharpen. With little to distract me, no appointments to keep, blogs to write, people to attend too, I started to feel more like myself-uncluttered and alive. This is exactly what happens in the wilderness. We see more, we hear more and often, we find that we can believe more. In the wilderness, we have only the basics so that we can lean into The Basic-God-more effectively as ourselves. We are vulnerable before the Creator who was the first to see us vulnerable and called us good (Jeremiah 1 and Genesis 1). Of course, the wilderness for all its splendor, proposes danger as well. There were often reports and warnings of bear sightings and it was easy for one to lose your sense of direction if you traveled too far off the paths mapped out throughout the campgrounds. For the all the radical encounters Nephi had with God in the wilderness, Laman and Lamuel experienced frustration, anger and rebellion. Same wilderness, two different reactions. The wilderness, itself, produces nothing, it is our reaction to our time there is what makes the difference. So, for my friends, how can we make the most out of our time in the wilderness?
It’s a common fact that if Satan can’t burn out the fire you have in your heart for God, he will burn you out with service. When our doing for God replaces our being with God, we are living badly. We are most human when we are with God. Any other way of life leaves us living less human, less ourselves. The wilderness provides an opportunity of stillness, a scriptural not-doing, that is far from lazy or passive. There are moments, far more frequent than you may assume, when doing nothing is exactly the gospel thing to do. As soon as I stopped writing, speaking-MY DOING-and sat down before God, then the real work in my life could begin. For the last two years, God has been ministering into my life and it’s from that overflow of His love, I’ve could build a testimony from the ground up, stand and journey back home. “Standing up” was not an option until He told me I was ready go. The wilderness gave me the opportunity, without the callings and the overwhelming pressure to perform for others, to give all my attention to a Party of One-who says that I’ve captured his attention from the very beginning and I will continue to have it until the very end. No amount of writing, speaking or highly edited Instagram pictures will ever be the right avenue for obtaining a testimony of the Gospel in your life. Your testimony must begin and end with God or it’s all smoke and mirrors. All truth must be experienced personally before it ever holistic and before it will ever be authentic. And stripped of all that I thought once gave me meaning (idols), God became God to me.
Though a week into my trip, for all its beauty and much needed silence, I began to feel restless and anxious. Homesickness enveloped me. I was ready to go. We suffer when we are separated from what it is vital to our wholeness and though painful, homesickness is a powerful motivator for a prodigal child. A person must be disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to to come back to God. God consciousness (as it was said in the camp) begins with the realization that what we assumed to be the true was lie. For me, my lie started when I believed that true freedom existed outside the Church, outside of Jesus. Of course, when I stepped outside the Church, I found that the majority of ex-members couldn’t stop talking about a God that they claim they didn’t believe in and a Church they claimed stole their life (oh, the irony). Sin is boring. After a while, it all sounds the same. Centuries roll on and yet here we are still wanting to be our own gods, taking charge over our lives or the lives of others. Repentance is the first word on our journey back home. Repentance is a rejection of the world’s lies and an acceptance of God’s truths. It is a leaving that develops into an arrival. Repentance is not an emotion, it’s a decision. It’s deciding that you have been wrong in trying to manage your own life and trying to be God. Repentance is a change that is often painful and the process to come back into the Church feels lengthy, but any discomfort or time spent working through repentance so that clears a path for peace and puts us on the path for eternal life is worth it. Yes, repentance allows us to travel light.
Our lives ebb and flow. One minute we are riding the wave with ease and the next we crash on the shoreline. Dazed and confused, we stumble around. We stumble into one another, creating friction as we bump up against each other’s testimonies. And yet, for all the ebb and flow, there is a constancy underneath of it. We belong to God. All of us. Your mistakes do not condemn or define you. They are accepted. God isn’t saying to you,
“Pity party for one? Get over yourself. You got what you deserved. You have it coming. Now stop being a sad sack and act like an adult.” Though that may be right in fact, it isn’t the Gospel. Every square inch of our lives is accounted for regardless of how we may or how often we may stumble. Nothing that has happened to you and none of the future troubles you may encounter have any power to get between God and you. Nothing can pollute or dilute His Grace in and over your life through Jesus Christ.
It says in John 1 that Jesus came in truth and grace. I believe that my first baptism was one of truth. I believed then, and I believe now, that I have found the truth. However, I am human therefore I am a sinner. I have not always lived like I knew the truth. My second baptism was one of grace personified. A living breathing human example of someone who has not always lived the way she should have, but mercy claims me as her own regardless. (Alma 42). I believe in this Church. It helps me meet each day of my life, and one day meet my Maker, with courage and confidence. I believe that the Book of Mormon is the Word of God and that it stands together in unison with the Bible to testify of the divinity of our Savior Jesus Christ. I will try to not give up when times get hard and to not get complacent when times are good, both equally destructive. I promise to not live a life that is anemic, individualistic and self-enclosed, bored and trivial, but one that is a bonfire of a Creation-Salvation Revolution so that people know that they are never too far gone, too far below or too far behind for the hand of God to move boldly and powerfully in their own lives.
For my friends in the wilderness, listen! God IS ministering to you. Be still. Be encouraged. We all end up there at some point. For my friends on the journey back home, stay encouraged! Remember “[Mistakes] are not monuments, but footprints. A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says, ‘This is where I was when I moved again.’ (William Faulkner) Follow the footprints of those who have journeyed into the wilderness and ended with a God-sized testimony. I found a lot of them.
This is the blog I was meant to write. Now, that I have been ministered too by God, I can minister to others. I can tell others that your sins are forgiven. The internal war is over. Repent. Come home.
Jesus was born for this.