A few weeks ago I was driving my 4 children home from the best playdate ever. I mean this really was like the best playdate ever. There were horses and baby kitties and juice boxes. I mean, what could be better? And as we drove I assumed my kids were just in the back reflecting about all the blessing in their lives. But then I heard some bickering and eventually actually had to stop the car. I saw that each girl had a pen in her hand. And I said, “Wait, what?!” And no joke, this is what Quinn, my 8 year old said to me, “McKenna wanted to write I hate you on the back of her seat in the car. And she was talking about ME, that she hates ME, and then she asked me how to spell hate, and I was like, ‘I’m not telling because you are just going to write I hate you on the car about me.’ But she wrote it anyway, and she wasn’t even spelling it right. So, I scratched in out, and I wrote POO.”
In Quinn’s world, she had been wronged by mean words. In McKenna’s world, she’d been wronged by a mean sister. And in mom’s world – you do not want to know what was going on in my head or what I wished I could do about it. But in that moment it was never more clear to me that while truth and reality may be relative, feelings – no matter how crazy – are real. And they feel so real.
Today I’d like to share a testimony with you some of the very real feelings that brought me to be part of this congregation, and a little of what my family has gained from communing with you these past 6 months.
I had my first spiritual crisis at age 5. I started young. It’s in me, I guess. I couldn’t figure out what would happen to my thoughts when I die. I verbalized my worry with the question, “What is life?” I asked it all the time. My sweet mom gave me a beautiful UU answer. She said – “Life is Love. It’s you and it’s me. It’s the Love we have together.” She did a good job, right? Except we were Catholic and so her answer seemed totally insincere. It seemed simple. It felt like a 5 year old answer – and I wanted the whole truth. We never talked about religion in my home. So I never felt like I got answers, and I eventually just figured my family didn’t have the answers.
And then in high school, I found the Mormons. And, man, did they have answers. Lots of them. For everything. They had a right way and wrong way to do everything and pretty stories to explain all of it. Most importantly, I was told that all of the stories and doctrines were 100 percent true, and I never had to think or worry again. So I rolled with it. I was ALL in.
In 2013, I had been married for 10 years, and had 3 beautiful Mormon children, who could mostly sit perfectly in church. But it turned out that our 3 year old was coming out of a serious episode of depression. She couldn’t find joy, and she hardly ate for several months. And in a blink our whole prospective on life and parenting and church changed. We didn’t know what was wrong from McKenna, but we did know that the gloves were coming off and we would spend our lives fighting to protect her. Suddenly we saw and heard the world from HER little eyes and HER little ears. What stories did we want her to hear? Who did we trust to teach her or to love her unconditionally? Where would she be safe to be who she needed to become? And suddenly it occurred to us that our current faith was not safe for McKenna. And then we came to the very powerful and life changing conclusion that, if it wasn’t safe for her, then it probably wasn’t safe for any of us.
Having an ex-religion is complicated – I’m sure many of you are familiar with it. And certainly, being post Mormon was complicated for us. We both lost many friends. And almost every relationship we had was changed forever. But at its root for my husband being Post Mormon was freeing and authentic. It was peaceful and filled with hope and opportunity. And I felt a lot these things too. But for me, at its core, being Post Mormon was also confusing and lonely and stressful. It’s life without pretty stories. It’s scary. When baby Charlie was born in August, he almost didn’t survive childbirth because he was ginormously awesome. And in that moment, brief, but real, I was paralyzed with fear. I lay there without my pretty stories for the first time and it was dark and scary and powerful. I may never fully heal from that moment and that fear. But that’s ok, because life as a post Mormon gives me the freedom to feel all things more deeply. The pain, yes. But also the joy. And the love. When we left, I felt a flood gate open with love for my children. And of course this makes me all the more committed to helping them find peace in life.
I crave new language to give my children about life and love. I really do. I crave hope. I crave celebration and community. I crave healing. And so I find myself here with you.
We got to Nashville less than a year after the big change. I took a faith quiz online that told me that I was a Unitarian Universalist (yay). And I knew one Unitarian Universalist who used some language about the spirit of love that resonated with me. And so when we got here, I knew where I wanted to be.
It is different for me here. You don’t have many rules or absolutes. Since you don’t tell me what to do, I have to do all kinds of work on my own. But I feel safe and there seems to always be something new for us here. Something to do or something to think about.
A few months ago I brought my husband to the church for the first time to come to the FUUN auction. Before I knew it he was bidding and cutting checks. What are you doing? I asked him. Well this is your church, right? This is your place? So, let’s do this. He gets that I need a place and a space to grow and to change. A place to inspire me. We are kind of all in or all out people – did you get that yet? – so like I said, sometimes it overwhelms me that there are not concrete answers here, that I do not have to show up every week, and that no one is going to guilt me into doing what is good for me. One time a UU friend told me they were not coming to church that week. And, no joke, I picked her brain like 4 times about how she came to such an interesting and unusual and independent conclusion. I wanted to know here process. It had not fully occurred to me that this was an option. But it is a beautiful option. I choose to come. Or not come. I want to be here. What an empowering message for my children. “Please get your shoes on and get in the car, Mom really wants to go to church.”
For now, being with you gives me the space to try new things and truly pay attention to my own joys and concerns. It gives me the space to feel accepted HERE but to also email back and forth with an episcopal minister in Colorado who helped me see hope again in December when the promise of Christmas seemed shattered. Being here gives me the space to sing my baby a Mormon song I used to love called, “I’m trying to be like Jesus,” and to hear it with new words and a new dream for his life and for my life. Or to just change the words all together if I want. (That’s a nice perk, too.)
So, this is me and all my real feelings, doing all I can to give my family that new story, a safe story, a new tradition. And with you, I am learning every day. So far, I’ve learned that in many ways each person is a sum of their joys and their concerns. And in this, they deserve my love and attention. They deserve for me to know their history and their worth. And this changes how I see people and it moves me to care more. And it moves me to action. And it’s the new root for how I do my job with college students, how I care for my little family, and it’s an important tool I hope you use as I coach 8 year old girls soccer, as I host a Nashville playgroup for other UU moms, and as I fight for progress in our local school – all things I feel inspired to do through the mission of this church.
And as a family, we’ve been learning to validate each other when we speak. To give each person a voice. And then to really hear each other. To see each other. Each night the girls and I light a candle at dinner. The girls have learned from church school to call the candle a chalice. And each night the child who had the hardest day leads us as we recite together these beautiful words from Mahatma Gandhi — I offer you peace. I offer you friendship. I offer you love. I see your beauty. I hear needs. I feel your feelings. My wisdom comes from the highest source. I honor (Salute) that source in you. Let’s work together. (For unity and peace)
This is the testimony of me and my post-Mormon UU family. Thank you for having us.