The House on the Rock Got Redecorated
As I sit here writing this, I can hear my mom in the bedroom upstairs sawing an absolute log. She’s probably dreaming about Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or some other famous white man, and I’ll probably hear all about her fantasies in the morning as she dolls herself up for church.
In the living room, I can hear my dad yelling at the TV about some baseball game—I think the Dodgers are playing. That always gets him riled up. It’s like he feels some sort of spiritual connection with Clayton Kershaw that takes over the inner workings of his mind and doesn’t allow him to think about anything else.
The dog is panting and out of breath, lying next to the air conditioning vent of my bedroom floor trying to recover from the overwhelming warmth she just accumulated on our nightly neighborhood stroll. She’s looking at me like I’m the only person in the world, but I think she might be biased because I gave her a cheeseburger this afternoon.
And then there’s me. I’m sitting here, slouched in my bed in the basement, wearing a hoodie, sweats, and fuzzy socks, wrapped up in my five-years-old high school spectator blanket. I’m trying not to let my blood get so cold it runs stagnant while simultaneously feeling lukewarm tears stream down my cheeks.
While we haven’t lived in this house my whole life, we did spend all of my most formative years here. This has been what I considered home for so long. When I moved to college, I was uncomfortable in my apartment because I wasn’t hearing my dad constantly talking about sports or taxes or my mom telling me all of the gossip about the members of the ward. For a while, every time I came back up north it was a wonderful break from the stress of school and living on my own. It was an escape from the unknown back into familiarity. Until it wasn’t.
See, when I’m in my parents’ home, I have to play a specific part. On my own, I’m allowed to be the “bitter, gay ex-Mormon” that all my Sunday school teachers always warned us about. I’m allowed to swear and critique the church, to drink alcohol and smoke a little weed, to make out with pretty girls and fuck cute guys. But when I’m home? When I’m home, I’m that girl that reads her scriptures and prays every day, the girl that listens to every word the prophet says and follows it to a T, the girl that physically cringes hearing that her friend got pregnant out of wedlock or even that her other friend had a sip of coffee. I see myself here and don’t even recognize that this is who I once was.
I don’t really know when home stopped feeling like home. Maybe it was when I kissed a girl for the first time. Or maybe when I had my first real taste of happiness outside of the church I had grown up in. Could it have been the first time I said “fuck” and realized I wasn’t going to get struck by lightning? I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but what I do know is that this is no longer where I feel most relaxed and at ease. This is not where I feel at home.
In the two and a half years since I’ve started distancing myself from religion, I’ve felt a lot of pain, confusion, and even a bit of remorse. After 19 years of heavy activity in the church, my identity there was such a big presence in my life that having to learn who I was outside of that religious home I had made for myself turned into the most painful thing I’ve ever been through. Building a home for myself from my beliefs required abandoning what I had been taught God wanted for me and discovering what I actually wanted for myself. That process HURT, because as I realized that what I wanted was the complete opposite of what I had been told God wanted, I began to feel like God would never forgive me for having “different” hopes and desires. Though I’ve always believed in a God that just wants us to be happy, that belief was formed when I was conforming to the “Mormon norm,” when there was no reason for God to be unhappy with what I wanted. As I drifted from that “norm,” though, I began to wonder if God would even allow me to build this home I wanted to create for myself.
Something they never tell you about when you leave the church is that you’re going to be confused all the time. Like, you probably won’t ever be sure of anything ever again. I think there should be some sort of warning besides an old, problematic white man saying that “lazy learners and lax disciples” will always struggle to have even a little bit of faith. Like, trust me Russell—I was not a lazy learner or a lax disciple. And yet, there I was, in the middle of a faith crisis. I was constantly confused because I still felt like I was feeling a divine presence in my life, even as I was distancing myself more and more from the so-called source of that divinity. As I ran farther and farther from the church, it was like Jesus Himself was chasing me down like my grandma does when I forget the plate of cookies she made. It was such a weird thing to feel because all my life I had been taught that Jesus wanted nothing to do with liberals, homosexuals, or people that doubt His church, and at this point, I was not only a double but a triple whammy. So I didn’t understand why He was trying so hard to bring me back to a home in spirituality that I was obviously trying so hard to get away from.
In trying to leave this home Jesus was seemingly trying to pull me back into, I was left feeling contrite and remorseful. While I finally felt safe from the constant, unknowingly targeted homophobia spewing from my leaders’ mouths, I almost felt guilty for making Jesus chase after me like He did. I mean, hasn’t he already done enough for me? Getting the hint that I needed some space, it seemed like Jesus backed off and left me alone, leaving me to feel both homeless and hopeless. I was sad literally 25/8, and nothing seemed to be going right for me. I didn’t know who I was, where I belonged, or how to fix either of those problems, but I knew something was missing. And as much as I hated to admit it, I think I knew that something was Jesus Christ.
Realizing you’re wrong is hard. I thought I could get by without Jesus in my life because I had been taught that He could get by without me. It was honestly a little embarrassing to even think about praying again. What was I supposed to say? Like, “Howdy, God, it’s me . . . the one that said I’d be fine without You. Well, it turns out I’m not actually fine. Anyway, love ya, xoxoxo!” Literally so embarrassing. But I knew I needed something to change, so in true prodigal son fashion, I went to my Divine Dad and said, “Look, I’ve messed this up and don’t even think I’m Yours anymore. Help.” But unlike the prodigal son’s father, I think God and His Son must’ve been tired from all that time They had already spent chasing me because nothing happened. Even when I was closer than “a great way off,” there was no compassion or running toward me, falling on my neck and kissing me. The moment came and went without even the suspicion of a divine dash to come to my aid, and I was convinced God was giving me the silent treatment because I had just made out with a girl the night before. I thought He had given up on me completely and that there was no hope to ever have a relationship with Him again, so I went about my day feeling red-faced, humiliated, and discouraged.
Over the course of the next week, I felt shitty. Like really shitty. At least before I tried to pray again, I had a hope that I might be able to find my way back to the peace that Jesus Christ brings into a person’s life. But now, I had nothing to look forward to. I had convinced myself that this feeling was going to be what I had to live in forever. And then my roommate invited the missionaries over.
My first thought when opening the door to two teenage boys dressed in white shirts, ties, and black name tags was “oh fuck this.” I was not about to let these two representatives of an organization that had done so much harm to me in the past waltz into my home and berate me for leaving the church to protect my sanity. But something possessed me to let them in and listen to what they had to say. The lesson went okay; they said things that I agreed with and things that I didn’t agree with, but they listened to my concerns and didn’t discount any of my experiences. They didn’t really say anything I hadn’t heard before, but they did say things I hadn’t heard in a while, which gave me a feeling of nostalgia for that feeling of home I used to have in the church, allowing me to feel a Spirit I hadn’t felt in way too long.
Through feeling this Spirit again for the first time in a long while, I realized what had been wrong all along. The darkness I was feeling stemmed from not feeling like I had a “home.” When I was active in the church, living with my parents felt like home because they perpetuated the ideas that I was hearing in the place that shaped my entire identity: the church. But since leaving the church and losing that integral part of who I was, I no longer feel like I’m at home when I’m with my parents. I have to put on a mask around them. But as I’ve started accepting myself and coming to terms with my new identity, I’ve found where I feel most at home, and it’s not a place.
I feel most at home with Jesus. Not in the church, but with Jesus Himself. In the church, I have to pretend to be someone I’m not; I have to be the “house on the rock” that stands still, never changing or getting redecorated. On that rock, though, I am comfortable with my refurbished beliefs. I can be who I actually am—I don’t have to wear any sort of costume, and there are no conflicts in my identity. I don’t believe Jesus really cares if I occasionally kiss a girl or if I drink alcohol from time to time. I don’t think it really matters to Him if I go to church every Sunday or if I can recite scripture mastery verses like they’re written on the back of my hand. I think what really matters to Jesus is that I am comfortable in His presence and that I know and have a relationship with Him. He just wants me, whether I’m active in the church or not.
And that is why He feels like Home.