It’s midnight and I can’t sleep.
That’s because just an hour ago my phone buzzed and I saw it was a message from you. I was excited to hear from you, but after reading it, my smile fell.
You see, it was a really good day. I had a successful day at work, I have a four-day weekend up ahead of me, and I just got done posting some fun pictures of my wonderful boyfriend and I on Facebook and I was excited to show them off because he makes me super happy. It was all around a good day for lots of simple reasons.
But then I read your message. To protect your identity and not give away who you are or what you mean to me, I won’t share it word for word or share any details about you. But in your message you said that in a couple of my pictures I’ve posted recently you’ve noticed that I’m not wearing my temple garments. You said my light has gone out and it makes you “immeasurably sad”.
“I looked up to you,” you said. “I saw you as this strong, spiritual woman who had faith like the iron rod, strong and true. Someone I can look up to and say ‘If she can make it through these crazy hard trials, then I can make it too.’ It breaks my heart to see another dear friend who was so strong in the church to only fall away…”
I’m not sharing your words to bring you shame. In fact, your message isn’t the first I’ve received from other well-meaning or not so well-meaning people within the church. But your message broke the camel’s back because I care about you and thought that I should share my thoughts on this when I usually just don’t respond because of my fear of hurting feelings or creating a deeper problem.
The thing that makes me the most sad about this message and others messages I’ve gotten is you put me in the past tense.
I want to assure you, dear friend, that my worth, my character, my strength, my passion, and my love is not past tense. It is anything but.
You’re correct that in a couple pictures I’ve posted you can tell I’m not wearing garments. Although that’s a personal subject that shouldn’t be speculated upon by anyone other than the person wearing them, I will tell you this. You’re right. I suppose I could go into the reasons why I’m not wearing my garments in those few pictures, what I was doing at that moment, or detail my church attendance to put your mind at ease–but I won’t. Because I’ve learned that proving myself is a waste of time and I don’t believe in fighting back to preserve some fractions of “worth” that I feel might have been stolen from me.
My dear friend who I have loved for many years–I know you’re disappointed in me. You’ve watched my life change drastically, witnessing my divorce within a church that doesn’t often have them. You’ve watched me move states and change jobs and expand my horizons with new friends and experiences and a new love. You’ve seen me go through a lot and it’s probably set you on edge and you believe that now I’m a lost cause, fallen away like some others that you’ve seen before. Suddenly the woman who propped you up, inspired you to be better, loved you through your own hard times, and showcased strength in the past is just a shadow now in a hollow grave of the past. You probably believe that I no longer love my church. You probably feel sadness that the golden image I once portrayed is somehow tainted in your perspective–and part of me empathizes with you simply because I used to have that same mindset.
I used to want to be the golden image and not let anyone in to the corners of myself, where maybe it’s not so pretty. And I used to judge those who showed those dark corners themselves.
But I want to put your heart at ease by reminding you of what I still believe, regardless of the past tense Kayla who suddenly crumbled beneath you.
I believe in being honest. For too long I had to smile my way through pain, all the while saying “I will endure to the end” and not realizing that the Savior intends for me to have joy too. I was a martyr rather than the protagonist of my own amazing story. And all along I didn’t realize that I was being deceptive. Not only to those who saw the smile–but to my heart and a Heavenly Father who had a greater plan for me.
I believe in being brave. Taking chances. Saying the things that need to be said and doing the things that need to be done, regardless of fear or retaliation. Stepping out of your comfort zone to embrace your beautiful life and to find your plan and your joy.
I believe in real love. Not the kind of love that takes and takes and demands and selfishly controls, but the kind of love that gives and shares and fills every fiber of your being until you realize your face might crack with how long you’ve been smiling. I believe in the kind of love that is founded on friendship and loyalty and chemistry and selflessness–not the kind of love that is matched together based on similar religion, obligation, a timeline, or some self-made map.
I believe in simplicity. Simplifying the things we stress over, the things we let ourselves get worked up over. I believe in finding joy in the small things that so many overlook and overlooking the things that too many people bury their noses in while their lives pass them by.
I believe in freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of choice, freedom to discuss opinions and embrace those who are different. Freedom to discover new cultures, new ways of life, and to live according to one’s conscience without fear of judgment. I believe there is so much beauty that we quash and tune out simply because we wish to chain others to our ways of thinking or living rather than to watch them and appreciate them in their own elements.
I believe in friendship. In your letter you mentioned I might never want to talk to you again, and that’s okay but you’ll pray for me. I don’t believe in being that kind of a friend to you. I believe that regardless of our beliefs, regardless if you agree with how I’m living as a church member–we are meant to be friends. I am still the Kayla you used to look up to and gain inspiration from and I’m trying every day to be a better version of that. I love you deeply.
I believe in Christ. Above all, without hesitation. He is the reason I was able to make it through the darkest, most malicious storm of my life. He is the reason I smile a little bigger now and have a little more courage to speak up. He is the source of my blessings, my laughter, my dreams, and the deepest love I’ve ever felt in my life. He has given me hope when it felt desolate and has comforted me when others turned away. I believe in Him above all else.
I want you to know, my friend, that I’m grateful for your prayers. But I want you to be happy for me that I’m so happy.
We all have our own journeys, our own setbacks, and our own triumphs and we can often be mistaken if we misjudge or jump to conclusions on the heart or the goings-on of the lives of those around us when we don’t even have the whole story. We can damage those around us by putting their worth or their character in past tense or by expressing such disparaging disappointment when changes come or their lives become unconventional. You just never know what’s really going on. You never know what kind of tears they had to shed or what kind of thick skin they had to build to get to the point they’re at.
Don’t set them back.
We need each other. Let’s uplift, and cheer, and rise to our feet when we see others rise above the ashes. Let’s be better friends–the kind of friends who don’t step away just because of differences. The kind of friends who seek understanding rather than judgment, and who sit alongside each other rather than striving to stand above.
It’s a good reminder for me, too.
With all my love,