Sunday, September 18, 2016

I Committed Adultery: Marriage and the LDS Religion

I committed adultery.

The words repeated in my mind several times.
It was strange, the way I reacted.

My mind was a little numb. Words evaded me.
Again, I stared at my bishop as he read from the manual regarding the Church of Jesus Christ's policies.

My bishop looked at me, quoting a passage from the manual.
"Five years," he said. "In five years you can be sealed to your husband and daughter."

So it goes for someone who commits adultery in the LDS religion. The added bonus: if you want to marry the person you "commit adultery" with, you must wait a MINIMUM of five years to be sealed in an LDS Temple. They were calling me an adulterer.

I wasn't mad.
Because it wasn't true.

I knew, in my heart, I did not commit adultery.
My bishop and stake president reaffirmed their faith and support in me by helping me write a letter to the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We, together as loyal members of the Mormon religion, entreated the Prophet of the church to take a closer glance at my situation that he might decide for himself, on a personal level, whether I should indeed be included among adulterers. My sweet bishop and stake president validated my concerns and expressed, in their own separate letters, how they felt an exception should be made for me. Not every circumstance is black and white.

I've always been a good, "Mormon girl", and even amidst a few setbacks, sexual sin has been something I take seriously. As a matter of fact, the whole reason I was divorced in the first place was because my husband at the time could NOT remain faithful. A sex and pornography addict, my ex husband strayed in every manner of sexual sin, and ultimately became verbally, sexually, and physically abusive. After a year and a half of enduring this, the Lord told me to "guard my womb". This revelation came through the authority of a priesthood blessing, a prayer offered by worthy Mormon men. This man who blessed me didn't know me, or my husband and our trials. But he gave me the answer I had dreaded hearing...LEAVE.

Five years after that horrific nightmare, I was remarried, temple worthy, and holding a paper in my hand that confirmed the First Presidency's stance on my transgressions.

The word that best describes how I felt about this "label" would be flummoxed.
I was also the recipient of some judgment...devout family members demanding an explanation to why I hadn't already been sealed to my new husband.
I felt slightly alienated.
I'd been so faithful in my first marriage. I'd tried SO hard. I wanted to do things right the second time.

I'd tried everything to fix my first marriage, EVERYTHING. I was not the one who wanted a divorce. The Lord asked me to do it, and after refusing for many months, I finally obeyed. It broke my heart. I would've stayed forever and endured what I had committed to endure. That man could have killed me--which he threatened to do once--and I wouldn't have left. I take the marriage covenant seriously.
Nine months had gone by between the time I left my ex husband and the time of my indiscretion. I was living in an entirely different state, and had not seen my ex husband... For nine months. Was this new person an influence in the dissolution of my marriage? The manual asks.
I firmly told my bishop and stake president, No. Absolutely Not.
They agreed.

It was perplexing enough to know without a doubt God told me to end my first marriage, but to be called an adulterer, years later, as I sat married to a new man, was bewildering.

My decision to be married civilly this second time was no concern of anyone else's, but in the Mormon religion marriage outside of a temple is a topic for gossip. When you're not sealed a year later, the "customary" time frame for LDS couples married civilly, that gossip intensifies.

Five years after the date of your marriage, the letter read.

It was signed by the prophet and his counselors.

Five years until I could be sealed to my new family.

I was a little stunned. And then relieved.

I've never told this story to anyone, other than my bishop and stake president.
The story I shared with the prophet of the Mormon church and his counselors was a gruesome one. I wrote in detail what happened during my first marriage and the months after I left my husband.
Due to the extreme abuse and heartache, I turned away from the church and sunk into a dark depression. I was consumed with hatred toward my ex husband. I felt abandoned by God. I was a good person. Why was this happening to me?
My ex husband was refusing to sign the divorce papers, and intended to drag out the legal process, emotionally crippling me along the way. My world was in utter upheaval.

Nine months after I left my ex husband, I met Glen. We began dating and it was clear things were getting serious. Glen knew I was going through a divorce. He was not currently active in the LDS religion, but neither was I...temporarily. I didn't care what religion Glen claimed, as long as he was a good man. Credentials, I'd discovered, mean little when not aligned with a golden heart. A resume of righteousness did nothing to keep my ex husband faithful, and the result was a morbid pit of despair. I told Glen I was never getting married again, and that I would literally break things off with him if he said the "M" word. However, my feelings for Glen grew rapidly and I couldn't deny that I loved him.

We discussed a future together.
Honestly, my heart was shattered.
My divorce, and the pain it caused, was like gangrene in my heart. Divorce is like death, they say. And it is true. I was dying. The only way to survive it was to cut it out and move on. That part of my heart was dead and gone. I didn't know what I had left to offer a new man, and I felt fairly worthless as a woman. Even with Glen's love, I didn't feel like I deserved happiness, nor did I think I'd ever achieve it forever. I was a broken woman, but something inside of me whispered, You're going to be a mother. And he is going to be the father of your children.

The flame in me that dreamed of being happily married sparked anew at this chance for revivification.
"Your future is as bright as your faith."
President Monson.

I told Glen I would only consider marrying him if we lived together first.
This was a contemplative decision, as we both had deep Mormon roots. My fear compelled me. I was desperate for love, and totally afraid of it. I cannot describe in words the fear I lived in every day. Even though Glen had never given me a reason not to trust him, and we were living under the same roof, I ached from past betrayals. I was careful not to project that onto my new relationship, and we discussed our relationship's progression casually, openly, and lovingly for years to ease my discomfort. After two years of dating, I actually mentioned to Glen my feelings of wanting to go back to church. We took the necessary steps toward civil marriage, and became active in our local ward immediately after.

Just not quite "ever after".

My divorce was not final for over a year after I left my ex husband. The man I had been married to dragged me through the mud, let our home foreclose instead of selling it and KEEPING the profits, he wracked up over $10,000 in debt on a joint account, and was finally excommunicated for his actions. For two years after the divorce was final, I was harassed by creditors, subpoenaed to court, almost bankrupted. My credit, and spirit, were in tatters. This man was evil at its finest.

But, because I moved in with Glen, chose to start a new life together, pleading fervently that my heart could heal and love-and- be-loved-again, all BEFORE my divorce was final, I was considered an adulterer before the LDS church. It didn't matter that I had legally separated from my ex husband, which is all I could legally do without him signing the divorce papers. The church policies considered me a married woman. I committed adultery.

I didn't react with anger or even bitterness towards the church, or my ex husband, when I received this news. Heck, in today's world, nearly everyone is committing adultery. It's hard, especially for older generations with really straight Mormon values to absorb, but it's the truth. Couples either know about the infidelity and don't care, hide it, or live in constant shame and judgment.

What is ironic about my situation is the five year rule only applies to the people if they married the person they "committed adultery" with. At first, I thought this was silly. Isn't it better to be in a monogamous relationship? I dated Glen EXCLUSIVELY for four years. We were married civilly and held active church callings AND TEMPLE RECOMMENDS when we reached out to the First Presidency about being sealed.

Others might assume I had the right to be resentful. Some friends of mine even claimed the church had no right to revoke my "agency" or "determine" who/when I can marry. I've born the brunt of a few "unfair" proceedings from the church. The bishop who presided over my first marriage erroneously ignored our situation, allowing my ex husband to carry on in his ward callings. Our bishop never revoked his temple recommend or encouraged church discipline.
I've had several reasons to "turn away from the church" as some friends have claimed.

But being told I have to wait five years to make an eternal commitment...this was such a weight off my shoulders.
Let me explain.
I'm so grateful for that five year rule.
My husband and I have two kids.

My daughter will be four and my son will be two when we enter the temple to be sealed. They will both remember that day.
I will get to hold them in the sealing room and look at their faces and tell them about all the wonderful things we did to prepare for that ceremony.
There's a reason the Lord wants these children to know this day, to experience it, and to remember it.
Marriage as we know it is vanishing. My children will have the opportunity of witnessing for themselves what it is, why it is important, and what a temple sealing implies.

Glen and I have been together almost eight years now. If we had gotten the answer that we could be sealed right away, you know how I would've reacted? 

Because of my first experience, I have a slight temple aversion. Being sealed for eternity absolutely terrifies me. Even now. 
I admit, I live under an invisible cloud of "what if?"
Glen and I have had some struggles. We have hurt one another. We have laughed and cried. We have shared much joy. Our journey will not be a perfect one. It won't even be an easy one. I know divorce is not the "solution" to a problem. Every marriage has its set of trials. You can give one up, but you will sign up for another. I see my second marriage as a second chance. A second chance to live, to be a better woman, to have a better future. Glen and I have been GIFTED five years to prove to ourselves, to God, that we are ready to make an eternal commitment. 

To me, there is no need for the "gray area" I was striving for, because the church has set guidelines for a reason. They protect us.

People may declare, "Religion is another word for rules."
My response: Perspective.

I have wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. Having a good family is all I've ever dreamed of. Being a good wife is part of that. Nothing has taught me more about marriage and motherhood than these experiences. What has the Lord permitted me to go through? Why is it painful? Has he set boundaries to guide me in these decisions? Have I stepped over them at times?

Do I set boundaries for my own children? "Rules" to keep them safe? Will I let them fall so they may learn to stand back up? Will I comfort them when they do so?
Religion is not a set of "rules". It is a REMEDY in a wicked, wicked world.

It doesn't matter to me if the Mormon leaders say I have to wait five years--ten years--fifteen years--to be sealed to my family. Five years is NOTHING in the Lord's time. I don't even care if people think I've been treated "unfairly". Glen and I spoke with our bishop three years ago. We confessed our sins and were made clean. We have temple recommends and go to the House of the Lord together. We have made monumental progress from the paths-and pains-we've endured.

Perhaps I would have even said no if church leaders said we could be sealed sooner. Truly, I'm that scared of being hurt. I take marriage THAT seriously. Maybe five years isn't enough!

Thinking of entering into those covenants with Glen causes trepidation to course through me. I don't mean that as a reflection on him as a man. I mean it as a reflection on the celestial promise a person makes inside the temple.
But I'm also scared of not being sealed to my family forever.

I understand marriage is not just some fairytale. It also isn't just about the husband and wife. It is about the FAMILY. An eternal unit. What is best for the "family" will be best for the marriage. It can require a lot of effort, sacrifice, patience, and prayer. Marriage is a covenant between spouses and God. It is an eternal commitment. It comes with blessings...and consequences. I've had three years to ponder the meaning of marriage and what I am going to do to make it work. No. Matter. What. 

Two years from now, I will lead my kids by the hand into a sacred room and tell them we all get to be together for eternity.
*Not because I made a decision on a whim.
*Not because it is popular for Mormons to get married in a temple.
*Not because I want to salvage some reputation.
*Not because I think Glen is Prince Charming and I am Princess Perfect.

But because I was privileged to have a five year opportunity to make a conscious decision of my own free will and choice (AKA Agency) to set an eternal goal, take upon myself an everlasting covenant.

I committed adultery.
Those words do not apply to me, even if the five year rule does.
I paid the price for my sins, and have long since moved on.
I love the LDS church and know the First Presidency has divine guidance when making decisions regarding their members.

I've made some poor decisions, but I am still a good Mormon girl.
I am obedient by nature and have never acted out without pain as my number one instigator.
We will all face pain in this life. It is my ambition to touch those lives and help those pained individuals. Don't give up. A "No" from the Lord is always a bigger "Yes" in disguise.
I am honored to live righteously, attend the temple, and worship freely.
I'm so thankful for the atonement, that I may be forgiven of my trespasses. I've had moments of doubt, and will continue to. I have a past of sin. I'm human. But my sins were no worse than the person sitting on the front pew, judging me. I've humbly learned not to judge anyone else's situation based on what I see from the outside. My own struggles have softened my heart and given me more compassion to God's children. We don't set out to make mistakes, we are just doing the best we can in a world full of chaos.

I know everything happens for a reason. I know my testimony cannot be shaken. I know I am being blessed for having repented, for trying, and for sharing my experiences with others.

I'm learning invaluable lessons and have gained a deeper understanding of God and His eternal principles--namely celestial marriage--through these experiences.

The Lord knows me. He knows my path. He DIRECTS my path. What others have judged and misunderstood, I hope to clarify. And I hope to lend s u p p o r t and l o v e to anyone who goes through something similar. Heaven is on YOUR side.
By Brittany