Chelsea and I went to high school together and were in the same Homecoming group one year but that was about the only interaction we had. I am grateful I have gotten to “know” her a little more through social media. She recently posted about her daughter’s baby blessing and how the decision to have her blessed was not an easy one. So, surprise, I asked her if she would write about it and I’m grateful she did because her story has its own stigma that needs to be ended.
Chelsea is a full-time videographer, wife, and mother to a 4-month-old baby girl. Both she and her husband quit their full-time jobs to start businesses the same month they got married. Goodbye insurance and company benefits. Their most recent project is fixing up an old motorhome so they can travel the country (if they can ever finish it, that is). While Chelsea would love to currently be running around the world chasing interesting stories to be filmed, she’s currently working on figuring out motherhood and loving on Ellie every hour of the day.
Last week, I found myself sitting in the back of a room of a stranger’s house listening, tears in my eyes, feeling so confused and hurt. This room had grandparents, husbands, wives, bishops, young women presidents, neighbors, all of whom were there to find relief. This house is home to a monthly support group for “faith challenged” individuals who are still trying to stay connected to, and positively participate in the LDS faith. Whether it’s policies, church doctrine, personal offense, historical problems (or all of the above)… something brought all of these people in a small town home on a Friday night in south SLC to talk, to listen, to find hope. Never in a million years would I have put myself in this home. Never would I have imagined marrying someone who doesn’t identify with the truth claims of the LDS faith. Never would I have imagined that I would be in a dual-faith marriage… and happy.
So rewind a few years. Nick and I met in a BYU ward my senior year of college (Nick had been graduated several years at that point). He was the life of the party. My first impression of him was walking into a motor home that he co-owned with a few buddies, surrounded by 30+ other students listening to him belt Celine Dion at the top of his lungs as we drove to a neighborhood pool party. And that was just a glimpse. From owning five go-karts to creating one of the biggest ongoing Provo Halloween parties to date (Harry Potter Halloween)… he was a Provo legend. Honestly, he would be SO embarrassed that I am describing him this way, but there’s no other way to put it. He was something else.
It was love at first sight, followed by a trail of anxiety and hesitation (on my part). We dated for two-and-a-half years before marrying. There were good times. Hard times. And LOTS of indecision. One thing is for certain, we communicated about EVERYTHING. My mom, a therapist, coached me about things to discuss prior to marriage: lifestyle, sexuality, education, religion, childhood, hobbies, love language, goals, etc. I only say this to point out that I assumed there wouldn’t be any monumental surprises following marriage… but boy was I wrong.
We were married in the Bountiful Temple July 18th, 2014 and living the “Mormon dream” if you will. It was only about three to four months into marriage when Nick approached me and said he had some questions he put on his “spiritual shelf” that he’d like to try to find answers to. Of course, I supported him. I’m a believer in seeking truth. Fast forward a few months later, and everything started unraveling, FAST. With an attempt to find answers came more questions. It was all-consuming. We were knee deep into podcasts, meeting with BYU professors, church history books, and publications. Long story short, we were in wayyy over our heads.
I was serving as Young Women’s President at the time and it was very difficult. I would go to church trying my hardest to help these young girls find a testimony of Jesus Christ and enjoy their experience at church all the while coming home to pick up the pieces of what was left of my husband’s testimony. I was devastated, exhausted, and very discouraged.
However, Nick was 100% transparent and open with me the whole time. We walked through this together (I know not everyone has that same experience). Though we have different needs and beliefs, it was beneficial for me to be so close to him at this time that was rather divisive in nature. Don’t get me wrong, it was DEFINITELY a challenge, and there were times for both of us where we didn’t know if we were going to make it through this alive. But no matter what we strove to be open, communicative, and to understand where the other was coming from.
One misconception I had before this experience was thinking people who left the church were lazy, sinful, or simply not committed. None of those describe Nick. As much as this was devastating to me, it was heartbreaking for him. We’re talking about a man who had dedicated his ENTIRE 31 years of life to learning and preaching the church. We have family home videos of him, just three years of age, giving the first discussion (name tag and all). Nick was the kid who would skip out on high school classes so he could attend seminary lessons from more than one seminary teacher. A boy who heard a John Bytheway talk to not kiss a girl prior to serving a mission and FOLLOWING that counsel. I still can’t believe it. His first kiss was AFTER his mission because he wanted so badly to be the best missionary he could possibly be and to leave any distractions aside. He was an amazing missionary…. the stories I could tell. Throughout my husband’s faith transition, I’ve been told by several people that Nick simply wasn’t dedicated enough… and that’s a lie. He could not have been more orthodox/TBM/100%committed/whatever term you’d like to use. Again, I’m not saying any of this to talk Nick up. I’m saying this to show just how much he lost and mourned through this faith transition. How much I have mourned this new reality we both are living. Neither of us anticipated our current reality.
I didn’t tell a soul for almost a year before I turned to my family because I needed the support. It’s been a lonely journey. After about two years, I decided it was time to talk about it. The only complication was in order to talk about my struggles, I’d have to “out” Nick. He was reluctant. He didn’t want people to act differently around him or treat him like a project. I was scared. I was worried what people would think, and I didn’t want to throw him under the bus. I was also scared that somehow vocalizing it, that our situation would be permanent. That this nightmare of a reality was all a dream and I would wake up soon to the life I thought I’d live. But that’s no way to live. Secrecy only breeds fear and shame.
Once I accepted it was not just his story, but ours to share, it became easier to be more transparent. In being open about this, we discovered that some of our long-time friends were in a very similar situation too, we found the support group that I mentioned above, I joined a few FB forums, listened to podcasts, and tried to learn from other women (and men) in my situation. As with any trial, people in a similar boat came out of the woodwork. It’s like getting a new pair of eyes. I started noticing people sitting in the church pews who I never thought twice about, struggling. It was a weird feeling when we became the “project” if you will and full-well knowing what others might be saying about Nick, about us.
We’re three years into navigating this faith journey. Though, I’m fine thinking and believing differently than my husband, once Ellie (our little girl) came along on June 1st of this year, we knew we’d have to compromise on a lot of things. Her baby blessing was the first of many church landmarks. We had countless conversations about what to do. We met with our bishop many times regarding who should give the blessing and where. We came to the conclusion to ask my dad and to have it at our house. What was initially a highly anticipated, but reluctantly approached event, turned out to be a very beautiful afternoon.
There’s so much I could say about feelings of disownment, judgment and shame that have accompanied this journey. Some people have been understanding and others terribly cruel. I could dwell on the fact that I will most likely not be entering the temple with my husband any time soon. Or that Ellie will most likely be taught at some point that her dad is sinful, lazy, or unworthy. It’s safe to say, our marriage, and small family will be met with new challenges at each new stage of life. I won’t pretend for one second that we have it all together because we don’t.
However, for those reading this who may relate on some level, I will say I’ve found peace. My husband and I are incredibly happy. I have found being open and transparent has brought so much support and love. I’ve met so many women and men in my shoes. We all live different realities because not everyone’s spouses are as understanding, willing to communicate, or even compromise. I love that Ally is providing a platform for women to talk and find camaraderie in hard life experiences. These experiences don’t define us but help give empathy, understanding, and knowledge. I won’t pretend to know how someone’s faith journey will go or to provide any answers. But I will provide a listening ear, all judgment aside. Whether we acknowledge it or not, this camp that Nick and I find ourselves in is growing. I see it. I hope that we can come together and find strength in numbers. I hope we can wrap our arms around each other, physically and figuratively. Just know you’re not alone. Wherever you may be on your spiritual journey, I hope you know there are people who love and support you. I support you.