Inspired by Froggie's Apostimony, I'd like to write mine.
When did it all begin? In retrospect, I'd have to say the first tiny seedlings were planted during my mission, to Fukuoka, Japan.
No, maybe it started even before that. It started when I realized how unhappy my own mother was, and that this was probably my fate, too.
My name is Keri McEntire Anderson, and I am the oldest of seven children. My parents moved to Logan, Utah, early on in their marriage, and Logan is where I spent most of my childhood. I hesitate to write about the unhappiness of my mother. She would undoubtedly internalize it as a failure on her part, rather than the product of a church whose structure largely exists at the expense of the women.
My parents always struggled financially. They paid their 10% tithing faithfully, and with anything remaining, they attempted to feed, clothe, and educate a family of nine. We quickly learned to stay away from Mom after she had been grocery shopping. Her attempt to feed our family with $100 a week usually failing, she would come home frustrated and brooding and angry. Mother stayed home, as was her righteous duty, while Dad worked long hours trying to make the needed income, and also as an escape from the chaos and overwhelm that was our home. On Sunday, Dad would get up early to leave for bishopric meetings, while mom was left alone to get all seven kids ready and fed, and on time to our 9:00am sacrament meeting. Finally having made it to the car, mom would scream at the top of her lungs, "I hate Sundays!", and off we would go to church to learn about eternal family happiness. At night I would sometimes pray and ask God if I were really supposed to be a guy. I didn't understand why I had all these desires for a career, why I liked science and math so much, if I was never going to be able to pursue them.
Mom was constantly depressed, except when she was angry. That is the mother I remember. This is so sad to me now, because my mom really has a great sense of humor and talents and skills she sacrificed to raise us. Now, a mother myself, my heart just breaks for her as I realize that for twenty-five years straight she was in constant child care, with very little support, and with rarely a moment or dollar to spend for herself. I look back at some of our family pictures - she was so tired. So worn out. It wasn't fair to her.
Fast forward to early adulthood years. I had to get out of Logan. The only real option? BYU.
I loved school. I loved learning, I loved the environment, the challenge, the intellectual stimulation. Being analytically minded, I finally committed to a major in Mathematics. Deciding upon a major was particularly challenging for me, because whether I could consciously identify it or not, the thought in the back of mind was always this: "What does it matter? I'm supposed to be a stay-at-home mom anyway, right?" I couldn't quite stomach the thought of majoring in home ec, and I rationalized that children would need help with their math homework, right? So math it was.
I turned 21. I had just sabotaged a relationship with my boyfriend because I did not want to get married. I wanted to prolong the inevitable, the dark cloud of eternal motherhood that was to be my future. What better way to prolong it that to go on a mission? This way, even God couldn't claim I was shirking my religious duty.
After the initial shock of being called to Japan, excitement began to fill me. A whole new world and country! I had won the mission jackpot! No state-side mission for me.
Yet, it would be during the mission that things would start to conflict. The first time through the temple I almost started to hyperventilate, especially when we started chanting and making all of these funny hand gestures. But I talked myself off the ledge and moved passed it. Then doctrine would bump up against reality here and there. "Why does God make the test so hard?", I would ask my mission president. "Why does he set a whole people up in culture and tradition that makes it practically impossible to accept Christ? If families are so important, why do so many of the Japanese converts have to sacrifice their families to join? How are we supposed to teach the Book of Mormon to the Japanese, whose skin is a little darker, when the prophets claim dark skin is a curse from God?"
"Some questions will not be answered in this lifetime, and you need to shelve them for later," came the reply. "For now, don't waist your time trying to figure them out. Just do your duty."
I did my duty. I returned home with honor, and back to BYU. But there were no more distractions. No more diversions. Marriage was the only thing left. My window of self-based life was closing, and it was time to face what God really wanted from me.
I continued to flounder in a few here and there relationships, and often wondered if I were even capable of falling in love or someone falling in love with me - I was so disillusioned with the dating process. It didn't help that my younger sister was now engaged, and standing in her line as a bridesmaid, relative after relative gave me their condolences and told me they knew several women that were "older" before the got married (I was 23). I wanted to throw up.
But then, in a math class, I met Jeff. Jeff was so different. He was so smart, so whole, so together, yet so humble. He loved to think, express ideas about religion, God, exitentialism. He wasn't scared of my math abilities; I guess he didn't need to be, as his trumped mine hands down. For the first time, the idea of marriage started to seem, well, palatable.
To this day I am shocked he married me - I told him up front I didn't want to have children. To his credit, he never pressured me into having them. But 18 years of primary and MIA had produced a wellspring of guilt, and I pressured myself. If I had to have kids, I was going to have them fast, and get it over with. So I did - 4 kids in 5 1/2 years. This is when the undoing of my testimony really began to escalate.
I could spend paragraphs describing how miserable I was - Jeff was in the process of completing several degrees, we were poor, I was isolated, and knee-deep in poop and spit-up. And oh, the dreams. The dreams. I dreamt of being free, of never marrying. I dreamt of being back in college again. Jeff was and is as wonderful as they come, but it took a while for us to communicate, and for me to express how unhappy I was. While he was living his dream life - graduate school, research, constant intellectual stimulation - my only gratification came from the occassional compliment of how cute the kids were, or how clean my apartment was, or how great my Relief Society lesson was, or the latest candy bar. I began to put on weight. I dove into more religion - read the Ensign faithfully, listened to conference talks that I had recorded until they were practically memorized, I studied the RS and SS lessons before I went to church, even if I was not teaching, and of course, scripture study. I still put on weight. I volunteered for more church callings. Put on more weight. The day Jeff graduated was a bitter-sweet day for me. I was tremendously proud of him, as he had done amazing things in his education. But I was also deeply, painfully, envious.
But alas, I'm doing it. I'm starting to write several paragraphs of my unhappy years. in the middle of this misery Jeff noticed that the one thing I showed any passion about was yoga. He signed me up for yoga training - hence the yoga avatar. Maybe I should be grateful for those unhappy years. If I hadn't been that miserable, I would never have been driven to find answers like I was. I was determined to figure out just what this plan of happiness was really all about, because I certainly was NOT happy. And was it true? If I did end up faithful and doing my duty, was my reward really going to be meeting the other 39 women I was going to share Jeff with for all eternity? Was I going to be raising children....eternally?
I began to question everything. I hated conference talks on member missionary work, because they stressed me out of my mind. I could not make myself paint on a smile and tell my non-member friends how happy and blessed I felt because of the church. It tormented me that my non-member girlfriends seemed to have so much ownership and control and choice in the lives, while I felt chained to a script. Finally, after one October conference where I spent most of it making snide remarks after many of the speakers, I realized I was in a very bad place. I was questioning everything, Satan must have a hold on me, and my testimony was as fragile as it had ever been. I committed right then and there to completely start over - to rebuild my testimony - from scratch.
Most of you know what came next. Oh, the mountainload of evidence against the church. How had the church been so successful at hiding this from me? How had I been so blind as to not see things that were right in front of me all along?
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I was determined to only read church sanctioned books. I didn't want to read anything "anti". I knew I wanted to start with polygamy, because if that really was what God had in store for me, I had better start to come to terms with it. I suspected that there may be a few troubling accounts here and there, as church members were trying to live a celestial law under telestial conditions. I knew it wouldn't all be pretty. What I wasn't expecting, however, was that NONE OF IT WAS PRETTY! Fanny Alger? The twins whose names I forget but Joseph married and then squandered their inheritance? Joseph marrying women who were ALREADY MARRIED and to LIVING HUSBANDS? What was happening?
I showed some of this to Jeff. Unbeknownst to me, Jeff was having his own testimony crisis as well, but for academic reasons. He threw himself into study of everything he had shelved, and one day in a fit of notable agitation, he just blurted out, "It's not true. Mormonism is not true!". I was stunned. I wasn't ready to go that far. I told him I needed some time to do some more of my own study. It only took a week. And one additional day to dismantle my testimony of Christianity altogether.
You would think that I would have been completely relieved, to find out the church was a fraud. The problem is, that the church was the very foundation of my whole life, major life decisions, and community. It also meant that there probably wasn't an afterlife, after all. The first year out of the church was a mixture of depression, anger, disillusionment, and the constant sensation of the "twilight zone" music playing in the background. I can only imagine how my whole brain must have been under reconstruction, with neurons literally dismantling old connections and building new ones. I felt the eyes of relatives, neighbors, and friends looking at me with distrust and pity. I felt my character being slandered throughout the ward, rumors spreading. We were completely upfront with our bishop and his counselors about why we left, hoping to dispel at least rumors of infidelity.
It is amazing what one year can do, however, and after that point life started to get much better, and has continued to do so. We have since moved to a new place, where no-one knew us as active members. We feel we have a much more realistic and reality-based view of life, and of raising children, without religion. My children are now all school-aged, and I am in the process of re-creating my life, finding my own passions, and even building a career. I am so thankful that my children will grow up free to create their own lives. They will make mistakes, but at least they will be their own mistakes, rather than something imposed on them. I continue to work on undoing years of guilt-training, and judgement-making. I continue with yoga, and have started going back to school, taking classes through the U of U. Life still has it's good days and bad days, but I own them now. I'm free of the script.