I suppose it happened before last summer if I’m really being honest.
I mean, the summer is when the big change happened. That’s true.
Most people would say that’s when I started to change.
It was June when I packed my bags into the backseat of my little Suzuki, my dog in the passenger seat, the windows rolled down to let in the scent of the barley fields we passed because my AC had broken just a week before. It was June when I cried fourteen hours straight as I left Idaho behind, my heart crippled and my hands clenched so hard on the wheel to prevent myself from turning around. I swear I stopped at each exit, trying to convince myself to go back and make it work. But somehow I summoned the power to pull onto the freeway and keep going toward the Washington border.
It was June when the divorce was finalized.
But it started long before that–the summer is just when others started to take notice. June is when the talk began about me. It’s when people started to murmur about how I was wandering and becoming someone else all because I wasn’t married anymore. The teenagers I had loved in my home ward told me their parents didn’t want me talking to them anymore because I was turning into a bad influence. I didn’t have anyone ask me directly what had happened, but everyone assumed what they wished and that was that. June was when I lost half my friends and it was in July and August when the rest followed. By fall the life I had been leading for the past decade became a story that seemed more dream-like than anything and I had times where I wondered if it had happened at all.
That was in June. But it started before that.
I suppose I can trace it back to 2008 when I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or to 2009 when I started BYU-Idaho. Or I can fast forward to 2012 when I stood at the doors of the temple on my wedding day, my hair perfectly curled and fastened in a rhinestone barrette, wedding dress hung and ready to go–mascara ruined by the tears. I can talk about the anger or the control or the pain–the way my bishop smiled and told me to be submissive and kind and things would get better when I confided in him. I can talk about the way my mind had become controlled to think I deserved it all.
I can start in so many places that my mind is racing on what to say first. I’m speeding down the timeline, adjusting the pieces, wondering where to even begin. Do I tell you about the way the Mormon religion fit me better when I was single and younger and unattached? Do I tell you about the way my marriage stripped me down and bleached my spirit and painted on a smile that didn’t even resemble my own? Or do I talk about the way I did everything right, from keeping the perfect house to saying the right things to singing in the choir and teaching the children and cooking all the right recipes all the while locking myself in the bathroom at night to soak in a tub and cry and wonder when it would all be over. I was a closet case–a smiling, happy, put- together person who was absolutely falling a part all for the sake of being as perfect as I could be.
Or do I talk about the blog that gave me the limelight in the Mormon religion? That might be the ticket. I wrote countless blogs that gained attention by people from almost every country, encouraging them to keep on keeping on, encouraging them to be brave and strong and to endure–all the while simply justifying my presence in a broken system and convincing others to do the same. To find joy in a joyless marriage, strength in a hopeless situation, kindness in a group of bigots, to nestle yourself into a system that spits you out because you’re different but to embrace them anyway.
I preached on a mountain top, convinced that I belonged and that enduring to the end must mean accepting my life for the way it was, being happy anyway, and lending a hand to those who shared in my misery. I was allauded for my words, loved by those who shared my ideals and who didn’t fit with the status quo, boosted up by the ones who rejected a broken system too but stayed all the same because of a common love for God.
And all the while my soul–oh, it was so far from where God really wanted me to be.
Sure, I was surrounded. I had an entire culture at my back. I knew all the words and all the lines to every song and I cried on Sundays when I’d hear the sermons about having children and being a mother while my own body was suffering from an ailment and unable to manage that. I did everything right, and the things I couldn’t do I simply mourned over. It was my life, after all. My religion was everything.
But it wasn’t until I was so utterly broken down by a faith that turned its back on me in my time of ultimate need that I was forced to turn and face the wind and that’s when I found God. And I found that He hadn’t turned His back.
But he was trying to change me.
I’m not here to preach anti-Mormon propaganda and you’ll never hear me speak against the wonderful people who taught me, loved me, and enriched my life. I mourn over those I’ve lost. I still read my scriptures and believe them to be true. I still feel thankful for the morals that buoyed me up in a time when I needed them most of all. I don’t regret the degree I got from a beautiful university that changed my life and I don’t regret the twists and turns that led me to here all because of those choices I made and that lifestyle I had.
I’m here instead to speak about where you’re standing tonight. Is it where you really belong?
I’m here for that girl somewhere out there who was told again at church today that she should start having children because after all, she’s been married for two years. I’m here instead for that woman in an abusive marriage who covers up her bruises with two layers of cover up and a smile because she thinks she has nothing if she doesn’t have him. I’m here, speaking out, for the man who is gay and in pain because of a group of people who tells him they love him as long as he’s celibate, reminding one another under muttered breaths that he’s broken. I’m here for the pregnant teen who had “whore” scribbled on her front door in permanent ink, rejected by a society who shares in her same sin yet doesn’t have the outward scarlet letter of a swollen stomach like she does.
I’m here for the unemployed, the mentally ill, the religious and the atheists, the ones who have nothing figured out and the ones who seem to have it all figured out and still can’t find a reason to wake up smiling. I’m here for the fake smilers. The ones who cry in bathtubs. The ones who lie to avoid telling the truth about what they’re really thinking. The people who justify why they’re standing in a room full of people so unlike them all because they hope to go to Heaven on the same train. I’m here for you.
I write to those who are at the foot of a mountain that seems impossible to climb, not because I’ve reached the other side by any means, but because I’m climbing my mountain too. I want to speak out, even if it means destroying my reputation in front of a culture that raised me up–a culture I still feel bonded to. I know it will draw criticism. I know it will push some to think far less of me. I know I will read comments and messages that will break my heart. But I stand here in complete honesty, asking others to do the same no matter what that might look like.
When I decided to live according to my conscience my optimistic side told me that those who loved me would cheer me on. My prideful side said some would thank me for being an example. I couldn’t be more wrong.
I fell in love with my best friend of three years and became like a second mom to his (our) little girl. I decided to dress the way I wanted to and to not be afraid anymore to show my shoulders in public. I started speaking up when I felt wronged or had a different opinion and I wasn’t afraid anymore of being belittled because of it. I made friends with people I never would have spent time with before and I tried wine for the first time in my life. I took the time to not only listen to those with different opinions and backgrounds, but to realize I had felt similarly all along but could never say it for fear of being “out of line” with the higher authorities. I began to unwrap myself, layer after layer, uncovering this girl who lay dormant for so long, handcuffed to a way of life that inhibited my ability to feel, empathize, love, and live to the full capacity I actually had within me.
I found myself on my knees far more often to pray for those around me, not out of duty but out of a desire to talk to my Heavenly Father. I found myself reaching for my scriptures for answers because I had a steadfast belief in them and not out of some perceived obligation. I found myself grateful to a God who gave me the things I’d been praying for for so long, not realizing until later that he was just waiting to hand them over when I decided to trust more in Him rather than a community.
He had been there all along.
And yet, so had I.
I didn’t run from my life. I decided to change it. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
You see, you were not created to fit in to a certain cookie cutter shape. You are not supposed to be a certain prototype, a certain color, a certain stereotype. You weren’t created to cry with heartache on your wedding day or to go against a gut feeling because a church leader tells you to feel a certain way instead. You weren’t born broken and afraid and messed up–something or someone taught that to you and somewhere along the way you decided to believe it. You decided to conform.
Don’t do it anymore.
You weren’t called out upon the waters to drown.
You were called to walk on those waters. To be brave. To listen to the still small voice that tells you what to do. To live a life you’re proud of.
I had to lay it all down to find where my faith really lies. I had to strip myself of everything I had become–I had to lose absolutely everything and wince as my lifelines and my very foundation that I had trusted for so long gave out from under me–in order to find my faith again and to rise up from the ashes that I had become.
My name is Kayla. I still love a church that I can no longer be part of–but I love my Savior even more and find more joy there.
My name is Kayla. I smile for real now, even when things get harder than ever. Because I have been given much.
My name is Kayla. I love with all my heart and I’m in love with a man who is the most compassionate, thoughtful, hilarious, and kind man I’ve ever met–and he’s never been a member of any kind of church. I wasn’t told to find him or to love him or to marry him quickly. I just did.
My name is Kayla. I’m a spit fire. I can be opinionated. I fear rejection. And I have more quirks than I care to admit. I’m also the clumsiest person you’ll ever meet–hands down. But I’m Kayla. I don’t cry in locked bathrooms anymore and I don’t look toward a Heaven that blocks me–or anyone else– out. Instead, I choose to live out loud as the person I was created to be.
I choose to be a child of God.
I choose to be authentic.
I choose to be me.
And who would have known that all it took was walking away from the very things that I thought loved me more than anything–when those things really just made me hate myself while becoming a slave to it in return.
All it took was trusting in only Him, and leaving everything else behind–and a fourteen hour drive through the summer.