Last night my dad hugged me.
It was in a dream of course.
But I needed it. I woke up, wiped my wet cheeks, and stared out the window to the streetlight that glared into the midnight hour. And I knew, right then and there, why I had been given that hug and that consolation that I’m loved.
My divorce was finalized just a week and a half ago but the journey isn’t over, of course. Far from it.
It’s been a trek of hearing people’s opinions, digesting what matters and what does not, reading messages that either make me sad or make me smile, and figuring out who is meant to stay in my life and who fell away. It’s been an experience unlike any other, an experience that has been refining me, strengthening me, and testing my weaknesses and my boundaries. I’ve felt pure joy for the first time in my life, watching as my heart grows strong and my smile a little more permanent. I’ve also felt what despair is.
I’ve looked in the mirror to see a better version of Kayla–regardless of the downpour of rain that’s hit my world within the past few months. A better Kayla formed from the fire.
And yet–even when you have found the life you love–there will be those who say it’s wrong. There will be brick walls that stand in your way and try to stop you completely.
Through this, most of all, I’ve learned a lot about my Mormon faith.
I’ve had people tell me that I should just leave my church because I’m changing so much. There have been those within the church who look at me sideways when I say I’m still Mormon, because my lifestyle no longer includes a temple marriage or a cute house on the corner of an Idaho street or a perfect life framed by perfect smiles. It’s unconventional now.
I’m not the “perfect” blogger with a “perfect” life and a “perfect” story. I’m not arm in arm with a priesthood holder husband or leading a cute primary class with him. Things have changed drastically and I’m walking a path that nobody expected Kayla to walk. I’ve had people say I’ve let them down, that I’m a disappointment–that the changes in my life weren’t expected from “someone like me”. And the judgments–oh the judgments. They have surely come…let me tell you.
And yet–I have come to love my religion more.
That might not make sense and at times it doesn’t even make sense to me. But it’s something that needs to be said and needs to be talked about. Since joining the Mormon church seven years ago I was on the side of the fence that never got judged or talked about. My life could be measured in visiting teaching visits, cute Sunday dresses, monthly temple trips, and fulfilled callings. I was one of the people looking out at those who struggle, those with addictions, those who are divorced or single parents, those who are homosexual, those who have lost their way in life–and although I felt a level of compassion, I never understood what it’s really like. Part of me, at times, would even judge. Just like those who are now looking in at me.
Never, not until now while I’m standing with those who are set apart from the status quo, have I realized that I haven’t truly understood my religion until now, when everything has been stripped from me and I’m working from the ground up again. Never have I truly understood until now the TRUE meaning of what it means to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It isn’t about fitting in or dressing the part. It isn’t about being the perfect housewife or raising the perfect kids. It isn’t about swallowing your struggles and wearing the smile that everyone expects from you.
It’s about the atonement. It’s about the moment that Jesus Christ cried to his Father in Heaven and carried a splintered cross up a hill just to cover your scars in his blood. It’s about carrying those who cry out for help and not being afraid to cry out yourself. It’s about serving–not because you’re fulfilling some monthly duty–but because you know how it feels to need help. This religion is about the basic truths that lie in the pages you continue to read, even when you’re completely alone and doubt every word. It’s about the prayers you say when no one is listening and the resolve to believe when everything in you wants to give up.
And it has nothing to do with anything else.
One of my favorite stories involving the prophet Joseph Smith is when he was helping an elderly woman in her yard who needed help. She said to him very sternly that he and his people are very kind, but that she’d have nothing to do with his religion. With a smile he simply said, “Well ma’am, you can say kindness IS my religion.”
We need to remember that.
We need to remember each other.
Since writing about my divorce I have been so blessed to have had countless people write to me about their own struggles, reaching out to not only uplift me, but to ask for advice or a word of encouragement. And although I fall short for giving the perfect advice, I know without a doubt that we can never fall so far away that we’re distant from the Lord’s love. Regardless of what people say or how you even feel about yourself, the Savior is real and He loves you all the same–exactly where you’re at.
The people within our churches–not just mine, but of all kinds–need to revamp their perspectives. We need to be better. We need to remember why we’re there and refocus on what it’s all about. We get so caught up in the culture of our congregations and the events and the responsibilities and the people we see every Sunday and although those things are positive and needed as well, we tend to forget the basics. We have a habit of forgetting that churches are hospitals for the sick and not meeting places for the perfect. And each of us are on our individual journeys that require love, attention, refinement, and lots and lots of grace.
I’m grateful for a struggle and a change in pace that opened my eyes to this. I wouldn’t have seen it any other way and I wouldn’t have recognized that I was so disillusioned and not truly getting the point.
Be careful with one another. He has entrusted us to each other. Just like my Dad offered within a dream that will probably always stick with me, we need to embrace one another more and set aside differences. We need to love.
THAT is the reason for your church and that’s what I’ve quickly discovered about my own.
HE is the reason I want to be better every day. HE is the reason I want to love better.
And HE is the reason that I stay.