When I think about where I was a few years ago, I can’t help but laugh at how my life has done a complete 180. I’m now a Young Women President in New Jersey and my closest friend out here is my ex-husband’s wife! Seriously, you have to laugh at that! I’ve had so many friends ask what changed me? I don’t know if I’ve truly “changed.” My environment changed and the people around me changed, allowing me to change my perspective. My priorities have changed accordingly. I’ve come to a point and age where 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, being a territorial mom, being bitter, what others think of me, and 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 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 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 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. I know this probably wasn’t true ALL the time, but when you grow up in a church which preaches the priesthood is the most important force in the home for protection and direction, you tend to get down on yourself when that’s not happening. The feeling of inadequacy was 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 thinking 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! When that perfection comes crumbling down for a friend or FB friend (you know what I mean, the people we creep on but never talk to in public) we instantly judge the situation and the rumor mill begins. We forget 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 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 the church is the same everywhere you go, but the members are not.
After my divorce, I was surprised how quick those around me picked sides or bashed on my ex or myself. I lost people close to me because of this, family I loved and friends I treasured. The further I fell from the church, the worse it got. Instead of those in the church who had known me for years reaching out to show love and acceptance, they said hurtful, judgmental comments or completely shut me out of their circle. Comments like, “Jessie has fallen off the deep end.” Sure, I had to an extent, but wasn’t that allowed considering my circumstances? Aren’t we all on the edge of a mental break down? I even moved into a ward who never even reached out to me in Pocatello. For heaven’s sake, I was surrounded by LDS members there! Yes, I understand it’s on me too, but we all need someone to kinda give us a boost when we’re 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 just to church members either. I truly feel many members (not all, of course) in these highly populated LDS areas walk around with “I’m better than my neighbor” attitudes, specifically their nonmember neighbors. I don’t think we as members mean to or purposely ignore those who aren’t of the same faith or inactive, but it’s easy to forget about “them” because there’s an overwhelming number of active Mormons to interact with. It’s almost like LDS members seclude themselves in a big bubble. I’ve even heard stories about not letting kids play with non-Mormon children. To that I say shame on us!
When we arrived at our New Jersey ward, we discovered 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. 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’ve met growing up who 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 effort in sparsely populated LDS areas because typically not one neighbor or friend outside of the ward is LDS. The people in our ward were more accepting of those whose faith may be wavering, 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 Brandon and I, and my ex and his wife with no questions (well, maybe a few questions). As a result, we’re all active members of the LDS church. I honestly don’t think we would’ve received the same kind of welcome in Idaho. I would hope we would because we have shown through social media and to our friends we are amazing 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 of that.
If you think I’m off my rocker, 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 or becoming their friend? Are we considerate as we talk or give lessons where 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. If it was, would Jesus of said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone?”
During a talk in my New Jersey ward before Brandon was baptized, someone was in tune with the spirit as they spoke about the priesthood. He said the priesthood is available to all worthy members, we can pray to our Heavenly Father at any time, ask for help through the power of the priesthood, and 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 being so discouraged years before, and it was a truth I think we forget to tell our young women and single mommas. 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 there isn’t a priesthood holder in our home.
For those reading this who have no idea what the heck I’m referring to, here’s a brief summary on what the priesthood is and why it’s important to us. Let’s fast forward past the part where my husband was baptized (insert angels singing hallelujahs). You can refer to my earlier post 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 begin to try. However, as I walked around with the kids, I looked back and saw my husband had sat down on a bench with his hands folded. He 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 differently. Quite frankly, many thought (and still do) he was crazy. We’ve come a long way as a church since then, but we have a long ways to go. 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 to sneak a picture because he didn’t realize how much this touched my heart. 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. Deep down, I knew what was in his heart because it was in mine too.
The next Sunday 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 who had made an impact not only in my husband’s life but mine as well, 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. 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. 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 curses 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 took all the Christlike 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 which will continue to bless our family for generations.
This brings me back to our judgement of those around us. It would have been easy for those in our New Jersey ward to cast us aside and think our family was a lost cause. Instead, they opened up their arms and embraced our crazy mess and loved our imperfections.
I know if it wasn’t for these people, none of this would have happened. Again, look around you, who in your church, your neighborhood, your work, could you be a bit more accepting of? By changing your perspective, you could change their life. My family is proof of that.
About the author:
Jessie was born and raised in Idaho. Being raised Mormon, it was no surprise she was married at only nineteen years old. Two children and nine years later, she was divorced. Trying to navigate the Mormon culture as a divorced, single mom gave Jessie a new perspective on life, love, and religion. After being inactive for a time, she now shares her unique story about how she found her way back to the gospel, in the place she calls Zion…New Jersey.
* This post was originally published at JessieInJersey.com and has been republished here with permission. *
Cover photo credit: WanderingtheWorld – www.ChrisFord.com (Photopin.com)