My arms ached. My back would feel it tomorrow. My fingers frozen from the nip of the wind. Tears welled in my eyes as I began to feel sorry for myself and the pathetic situation I was in. Again.

As a single mother, snowfall doesn’t mean hot cocoa, snowmen, and sledding. It means worry, work, and a reminder of just how alone I am. I was faced with the task of shoveling my driveway by hand, alone, and figuring out how to travel safely in 2 ft of snow and ice in my soccer-mom minivan without 4-wheel drive–all without a ready made community of support to fall back on if needed. My nearest family lives 2000 miles away and the church community I once called family has been severed. I usually do just fine: proud, in fact, at my independence and at my strength. I have learned how to operate a very intimidating industrial riding lawn mower, repair my fridge twice, build homemade headboards for my children’s beds, and have watched countless YouTube videos on how to safely use power tools. Of course I can shovel snow, even 18 inches of it.

So I geared up, started shoveling, but soon realized this task was nearly impossible, even for me. Thoughts of just how dire my situation seemed to be made me cry. An ugly cry. I sat down on a field of white and seeing red, I sobbed. I could not think of one person I could ask at that moment for help. No community means no support should I ever need it, like right now. I poured out my frustration to Diety, whoever they are. Thoughts of hopelessness dashed across my mind. I’m so very tired. So tired of people who see me in town and act like I don’t exist. So tired of the awkward exchanges at my children’s activities. So tired of the defaming that I hear about myself frequently. So tired of the hypocrisy, the blame, the shame, the judgement, and the “we-just-dont-want-to-get-involved’s.”

Naturally my thoughts wandered to why this has happened. Why have I lost my community? Why is this petty informal shunning and harmful tribal shaming directed towards me? And why are people still insisting on telling me that this was my choice and these are the consequences?

The answer is easy. I know exactly why this happened. Exactly why I am a non-existent ghost to most of the ward. Because I said “Me too” and I meant it. I refused to enable abuse. I set healthy boundaries that were safe for me and my children. I started to speak about how we must make room for the marginalized and oppressed.

Are these things not worthy? Are these things not good? Are these things not what Christ taught? Are we not are taught to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places.” Where are the members who have covenanted even this? Where is the righteous wheat that is to be separated from the worldly tares? Where are those who hold fast to the iron rod? Where are the fishers of men? The Shepherds? The Good Samaritans?

And before I am inevitably told it must have been something I said or did: It was not because I *did* something awful, rather it was because I didn’t do something awful: I didn’t remain quiet.

My story is not unique. I am a divorced single mother of four young children. I am a lifelong member of the church. This is the church that I love and hold dear and the church I gave everything for. This is the church that determined many of my life decisions. This is the church that I have willingly given my time, my money, my talents, and my service to. This is the church comprised of members who were my friends. This is the church with members who speak frequently of choosing the right. This is the church with members who I considered to be salt of the earth.

Then it happened.

I was abused by a church leader. My safety was compromised in unimaginable, unethical ways at a time I was most vulnerable and broken. Other church members have caused very real harm to me and my family because, of course, who is going to believe a lay-member woman over a priesthood-holding man? The trauma I have from this situation still haunts me in the form nightmares, night sweats, and night terrors. Seeing a church causes me to have a panic attack. Sifting through this pain is tedious and tiresome, but it is work I do because I am committed to health and healing. In the course of this healing work, I have:

-Shared my story because I it is important to my healing.

-Decided not to attend church right now because it is not a safe place for me or my family.

-Started to advocate for healthy and safe change in the church because there is and should be enough room for everyone to belong here.

-Connected with countless other survivors whose stories are far worse than mine: people who have been shunned, shut out, and shamed by their church community for standing up, speaking out, and simply surviving.

-Followed the path that this journey took me on and met some of the most inspirational people who were also discarded by this church community.

Why have I done these things that some may consider unnecessary or even unimportant? Because these things are right. These things are true. These things are good. And these things are human. In fact, the humanistic-centered principles of the gospel are what I still cling to with all my might, mind, and soul.

Why is it that when someone rightly speaks out about a wrong, that limitations and restrictions are placed upon them? Why is it that the reputation of the church is more important than the safety of it’s members? Why is it that one single church leader is believed even when there are multiple survivors who say, “Me Too?” Why is it that we treat those that want healthy change like they are leprous apostates? The response I receive time and time again, from those who both mean well and those who do not, is “Why do you even care? If you have such a problem with it, why don’t you just leave and find a new church community?”

I could try my best to explain why I cannot just find a new church community, but that operates on the premise that I should have to. Why should I have to leave? Why is my safety not as important as the accountability of unethical, untrained leaders? Why is the solution for me to leave rather than for the church to change? Mormonism is what I know. It is a part of me. Am I just to erase that? Am I to cut off the fabric of the quilt that is my tapestry of heritage? Am I to forget the childhood memories of primary, ward socials and girls camp? Am I to blot out this make up of my soul and this slice of my culture? Is my mormonism less valid than someone else’s?

Expecting, merely suggesting, these things is uniformed, obtuse, and impossible, like telling me to change my blue eyes to brown.

False dichotomies should not be flung in my face in order to coercively force me to leave. It is not helpful to tell someone who has experienced abuse to just stop caring. It is not helpful to suggest to a survivor that they are the problem. It is not helpful to tell someone to leave if they have real concerns about safety and ethics, especially when our church buildings display the phrase, “Visitors Welcome.” There is no shame in saying a system is not safe and wanting it to be.

Why do I feel so strongly about this issue? Because our covenants and principles are based on love, acceptance, and belonging.

The most beautiful part of baptism is not a rainbow cake or a pinterest program or even a white dress. It is the promise that is made to mourn with those who mourn, weep with those who weep, comfort those who stand in need of comfort, without placing parameters on who. 

The most beautiful teaching that we gift to our children is not to Follow the Prophet or Keep the Commandments. It is to Choose the Right, regardless of the situation

The most beautiful part of our doctrine is not that it is constant and steadfast, but that it is free to evolve and change.

The most beautiful part of the story of Adam and Eve is not that they brought forth life, but that they represent the common origin of all of humankind.

The most beautiful part of the Word of Wisdom, is not that we don’t drink coffee or tea, it is that we can consent to what we choose to do with our bodies.

The most beautiful part of our heaven is not that only those who wear garments and have a valid temple marriage get in, but that everyone does.

The most beautiful part of the gathering of the lost tribes of Israel is not what lineage we come from, but that everyone has a place no matter what.

The most beautiful part of our rich history is not that we were pioneers, but that we know what it feels like to be persecuted and unaccepted. 

I hope for a church that practices what they preach each Sunday. I hope for a church that leads and lives with limitless love. I hope for a church that knows that service can be more than just a choice from a vending machine. I hope for a church that actually lights the world in ways that are not used for a self-aggrandizing PR campaign. I hope for a church that accepts gay people into their heaven. I hope for a church that can be transparent and honest in their dealings just like they expect from their members. I hope for a church that knows and understands that Christ’s way does not mean the “white way.” I hope for a church that honors other cultures and rejects ethnocentric values. I hope for a church that upholds the safety of every single member above anything else, even its own reputation. I hope for a church that continually strives to develop safe policies and a church that can take suggestions from it’s members on how to improve as a ministering body. I hope for a church that leaves the ninety-nine to seek after the one. I hope for a church that truly likens itself unto the Savior who is central to the tenants of our beliefs.

This is not about missing or even yearning for a community that seems foreign to me now. It is about the constant reminder that I am no longer considered a part of it at all. This is about living the love that is the gospel. This is about those who are considered not worthwhile because of who they are or what they do. This is about those in our flock who need someone to tell them they are loved, they are enough, and they are worthy of everything good. This is about those in our flock who need a community to tell them that who they are is more than ok, it is wonderful. This is about those in our flock who are driven out by abuse and shamed even more if they talk about it. This is about those in our flock who are engaged in the wrestle and have nuanced beliefs in every effort to fit in, even though they are constantly reminded that they do not. This is about those in our flock who have no real community left in the church and struggle constantly with that pain.

So please: Don’t tell me leave. Don’t tell me to find another community. Don’t tell me to stop caring or go away. Don’t tell me I don’t belong. If this is Christ’s church, then we can do better. We should do better. We must do better.

Because I am not leaving. After all, where will I go? I am not going to find another community. I don’t want to find another community. This is my community. I am not going to stop yearning for the church to embody the love that is the gospel I know.

But most of all, because I do belong; everyone does.

 

 

 

 

Lesley holds an RN, BSN from the University of Texas. She functions as a survivor advocate for victims of abuse and aims to raise awareness of the effects of trauma. Lesley has certifications and training in Trauma-Informed Care, Community Advocacy, Faith and Spiritual Development, Familial Mental Health, Culturally Competent Care, Domestic Violence Awareness, and Resiliency Development. Lesley lives in Virginia with her 4 children and her really hyper chihuahua, named Chaos.

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