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Redemption



When I was young, my grandparents home was not overly warm and inviting to many of the grandchildren in my family.  I was one of them.  But my grandparents had a large atlas and I spent hours and hours flipping through the pages, tracing my fingers along rivers and roads I had never seen before.  The maps were my favorite plaything during the times I visited their home in the Ozarks.  Sitting cross-legged in the middle of a circle of trees that my cousins and I nicknamed “the grove” I loved to open up the atlas to states like New Hampshire and Oregon, imagining the names of the people I would meet in towns like Bend and Londonberry.  I faced a stern scolding from my grandmother if I was caught with the atlas outdoors, but it was always worth the risk.  Besides, I knew without a doubt that I would never cause harm to come to the map.  I knew that I was trustworthy even if they did not. 

When we were younger, my older sister and I had a silent pact.  We never got along very well, but we were both soldiers in the same war.  Neither would betray the other.  Although unsaid, we had each other’s back, especially for the sake of our younger brother.  The time came, inevitably, when that changed and I felt the bitter sting of her betrayal.  Once after I had received a severe tongue lashing from my grandmother for using words she felt were too big for me at my age, I sought refuge in the atlas and a quiet corner on the front porch of the house.  My sister knew where I was, and she knew that for once, I had been called to task for my different and quirky ways.  By this time, jealousy and misunderstanding had crept in and clouded the unspoken truce we once shared. 

Knowing I was already down, my sister found my hiding spot and, grabbing the page I was turning ripped down the center of Minnesota.  I sat in disbelief for a moment, staring at her and wondering why she would do that to me.  Her revenge was complete, and as my grandmother stepped through the front door and found me sitting there with the ripped atlas in my hands, every last accusation she had ever thrown at me came true on the spot.  I was not one of her favorites.  I came to realize many years later that she had a special dislike for any of the blond haired girls in the family. 

From that day forward, my place in the family was determined.  My guilt was set in stone.  Though we have spoken very little since the days I stepped out on my own, my grandmother always found a way to preach the gospel of my guilt to me through cards and letters and lectures, even through third parties.  I was never redeemed in her eyes.  I stopped trying.  My grandmother passed away more than two years ago.

Redemption has become a theme in my life, and I never understood how much until my faith compass shattered into a million pieces.  Walking away from the fold  and in front of the faithful masses left me in a state of vulnerability unlike anything I had ever known.  Belonging to the group is safe.  Walking on the outside is dark and cold and lonely. 

For a little while refuge came in the collective anger of others like me.  But that went against my own true nature and I found myself once again on the outside looking in.  For a little while I clung tightly to God and all that I had come to think was wrong with the Mormon worldview, but that soon fell by the wayside, too.  My place in the world was no longer clear.  I was without a map and a grove a trees in which I could hide and find the stillness of refuge.

By now, I honestly thought that this quest would be a thing of the past.  I was wrong.  I still find myself yearning for pearls of redemption.    I face the test of my resolve constantly.  It happened again just the other day, but in the trial  I was handed a gift.  I came face to face with two of my harshest critics; two people that at one time meant the world to me.  I was a guest in their home and had a constant place at their table.  When my faith collapsed that place closed, and so did their hearts.  When met  the familiar coldness was evident with one, but the other of the pair embraced me with opened arms.  My quest has taken me over many miles of rivers and roads to a place where I have begun to understand and accept that my personal values and ethics are okay.  I’m still quite the newbie, but I’m learning, slowly, that living a life in authenticity requires a kind of vulnerability and a ramrod straight backbone.  Maybe it is starting to pay off. That meeting the other day netted two small victories for me.

The first victory came with the bit of respect I received from this former ward member.  My life looked sunny and happy and hopeful to him.  I believe his reaction was sincere and genuine; he seemed glad for me. 

The second victory came more from within.  His companion was nowhere near as warm and gracious, the coldness and rejection were clear.   But I was able to leave the encounter with a smile on my face.  I want the approval; I still seek to remove the scarlet letter from my chest.  Only now, I am learning to weigh the costs against my own integrity.  Words still sting and rejection inspires tears and hurt, but there is a freedom in the acceptance that it is a losing battle.  I am learning to move forward, to move on.  And like the atlas, there are some conclusions cemented in the hearts and minds of others that I will never be able to live down. I might as well walk my own path and be happy with the few who are content to walk alongside me than to wring my hands over those who take exception and offense to the road I am on.  

2 comments:

Julia - Finding My Way Softly said...

I hope that as you find more confidence in yourself and your choices, that you will continue to find, and recognize, those who have not left the faith and who still love you. Just as it is hard to have those who you love and crave time with shut you out, many of us who do not leave still love and crave time with people who have left, irregardless of the fact that they have left. It may not always be one out of two, or even one out of twenty, but there are those who care about you and want to be your friend, as long as you are willing to let them.

Stephanie said...

Julia, thank you for your words and the reminder that there are those whose hearts are open. What a beautiful comment.

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If you have ever experienced a period of doubt or questioned your beliefs in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you know that this is not a minor thing. It is tantamount to a crisis, and one that can be life altering.

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