Sitting at home, I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate what I’ve been through in my life. How I’ve come to the place where I’m at now, where I’m going and what happened to make me feel like my future is sliding out from under me. It’s a frustrating feeling; it made me think about the last time my life went through such a drastic change.
I’ve made some mistakes; I’m doing what I can to fix my life. Mostly what I feel during the day is regret and I wonder what I should do now. I had a hard time getting through the night last night. I ended up waking up around 3:30 and staying awake until 11 this morning. I miss having that friend to talk to. I ate some breakfast at around 5:00 and finished my little painting project. I should paint the other trim in the rest of the house. At eleven I fell deeply asleep, taking a five-hour nap. This sleeping twice a day can’t be healthy—it feels terrible. I thought I was switching back to a normal Alberta sleeping pattern but when I’m sleeping more in the day than the night I guess that’s just not the case.
I’ve been thinking about Anna-Maria. I’ve been thinking about how much my life has changed for the better since that sunny day in June 2002 when we met outside the church building in Medicine Hat and how it’s changed since our break-up. But I love thinking about the day we met. It wasn’t long until we sat together with her brother, Jakob, at Moxies enjoying dinner. It was the first time we really talked. I felt compelled to relate to her a very personal story. The story of the last big change in my life—how I ended up being expelled from Salt Lake City one early morning on the 20th of May, 1999, but I never told her all of the details. So now I’ll relate it to you—like Paul Harvey might say, here is the rest of the story.
But before I tell you what happened that day, I think it’s important to move back in time almost a year earlier to May 27th, 1998. I apprehensively entered the doors at the Mission Training Centre in Provo, Utah. I was about to embark on a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—known colloquially as the Mormon Church. I was apprehensive for many reasons. I had been feeling tremendous pressure to go on this mission and I didn’t feel deeply ready. I was heartsick for my girlfriend at the time and the strange rituals performed in the initiatory Temple ceremony that all new Missionaries are forced to take part in before they leave freaked me out. I am not going to go into details but suffice it to say it didn’t sit well with me. Though always coupled with a companion, that next year would leave me feeling more alone than I’d ever been in my life. I constantly missed my home, my family, even my cat—most of all I missed my girlfriend, Sharon. She was so proud of me for “serving the lord”.
I decided to buck up and became a hard working role model. From the start I studied relentlessly, I really felt what I was doing was right, I began to feel good about what I was doing, I believed that I belonged to the one and only true church and that I was about to go out and save the lost souls living in Salt Lake City. Though to be honest, I remember when I arrived at Salt Lake City, only a one-hour drive north of the training centre, I was still deeply troubled.
I met my Mission President, David A. Christensen. I felt more love from that man than anyone I’ve ever met. He kissed me on the cheek. I’m not sure if he read through to my concerns, if he was trying to freak me out, or just trying to show me how much he cared. I think he did all three at once. I think kissing me on the cheek had a lot to do with his exposure to the culture in Brazil (Previously he had served there both as a missionary and then later as a Mission President). I immediately felt that I would do anything for that man. Unfortunately I wouldn’t get the chance.
His three-year term was up and within a week a new Mission President arrived. James A. Stephens, a man that would make decisions that would forever change the way I reflect on my mission.
President Stephens was an awkward looking man. Although he was tall, his features seemed small on his face, small eyes, small ears, a particularly small chin. He was from North Carolina and despite the sunshine there, he was a sickly pale colour. With his strong southern accent, he had a way of speaking that just exactly failed to move me. I tried hard to love this man; I tried hard just to like him. We were told that the new Mission President would be a great orator and a spiritual giant. Even though I’d only met President Christensen a couple of times it was immediately clear that President Stephens was not a hundredth the man.
Nevertheless I pressed on. I knocked on doors I converted people to “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ”. I was good at it. We baptized seven people the first month! Getting people to commit to baptism came naturally to me and of course the companions I had were very dedicated as well.
At this point I should mention how mistreated I felt here by my companions. There were four of us living together. Two new missionaries and two Zone Leader companions. We weren’t allowed to buy bed sheets for the first week. I remember one instance when I wasn’t allowed to stay up past 10:30 to eat a steak that I had just cooked because even though my companion asked me to cook us each one for when we got home, it was past our bed time. Instead he told me I should eat it in the bathroom. As if God wouldn’t mind me staying up to eat it as long as I pretended to be taking a dump. I understood the point of the rules, we were only to do our shopping on Tuesdays to prevent wasting time loitering around the mall, so I would have to wait a week for bedding but I couldn’t understand how freezing my ass off each night or choosing between going hungry after skipping supper for a baptism and eating in the bathroom was what a mission was supposed to be about. It was an unhappy time.
Behind the scenes, the nightmares from my childhood had returned. I jolted awake to the sound of myself screaming. It was a premonition, someone was going to die. My companion slept silently beside me not noticing a thing. I didn’t mention it to anyone.
A month later, I’m not sure if it was the flu or if it was even related to the revelations I was having and was about to have. Whatever it was, I remember not feeling well and going to bed early that humid August night in Utah.
My companion and I approached a child of 9 years old. A kind of ironic twist given my aversion for baptizing kids of inactive Mormon parents. Have you been baptized I probed? Even in sleep I was on the Lord’s errand. Suddenly another missionary approached us. He was alone which was odd—missionaries always travel with at least one companion. We greeted each other and suddenly I recognized him, it was my old friend Kris from Medicine Hat. He asked if I had heard the news about Greg. No.
“Yeah, he shot himself”.
I began to sob, and to run. I found myself approaching my house in Medicine Hat from the rear. Greg lived across the street. He was my first “best friend” in the world. I was so upset. I yelled for my parents, for someone—anyone, but nobody was home. I huddled into a ball on bed of my childhood room, weeping.
Suddenly I was awake—after a few moments of figuring out where I was, I realized I was in Salt Lake City and Greg was dead. He wasn’t really dead, I assured myself, it was just a bad dream brought on by the flu. I wish that were the case.
What happened next, was probably the very worst handling of the situation you can imagine. For days my mother had been calling the mission, trying to get a hold of me to tell me the news. Instead of contacting me immediately, President Stephens looked at his day planner. He noticed that we were already scheduled to meet next Monday and decided it would be best to wait until that meeting (three days after the funeral) to tell me what happened. (As an aside, after this event I made sure my parents always had my phone number and could contact me directly though they never did).
In his mind he prepared a speech for me. Why People Commit Suicide, by James A. Stephens. (I think the A stands for Asshat). He never counted on me getting sick. I missed our appointment. Using no logic that I can understand he decided that since I was already ill, he wouldn’t add to my burden by telling me about my childhood best friend’s suicide.
Instead I found out the next day. Once a week missionaries were allowed to check their email. My mother had written 5 times. The latest email hung ominously on top of the list of emails with subjects like, “Please Call”, “Where Are You”, and “Important”. It was adorned with the simple subject of “Sad News”.
Devastated, I wandered back to the missionary apartment. What I wanted most in the world was to call home, to find out what happened, to make sense of the strange situation I was in, to consider the option of attending the funeral. At this point of course, though I didn’t know it, I had already been robbed of that option.
The story goes on and on, and if you can believe it, it gets worse. The other missionaries insisted that I not call home until first getting permission from our inspired leader President Stephens. I phoned up the mission office, and after holding for some time, “the man in charge” came onto the phone. I told him that my friend had died and that I wanted to call home. Somehow he didn’t hear my request. Instead he wanted to know how I knew about that, and I explained that my mom had written me an email—which this being our preparation day I had read. I was confused because it sounded like he knew about this. He couldn’t have known though—otherwise why didn’t he call? I put such thoughts out of my mind. “Oh, well”, he mumbled, “I want you to come down to the Mission Office right away.” I felt a wave of frustration cross over my body, I just wanted to call my parents, was it really that big a deal? I would ask myself that question a lot that day.
It took forever to get into the car. The other missionaries would drive me to the office but since they had been playing basketball they needed to shower and change first. It was frustrating, but the frustration was just beginning. When we finally arrived at the office, the President was in a meeting with another missionary. I waited another 45 minutes. I kept wondering why calling home was such a big deal?
Finally I entered the room. I was sad. President Stephens went into the speech he had prepared. “People commit suicide for a lot of reasons”¦”
I don’t remember if I was even listening. I looked at my watch. Another 45 minutes past. Is calling home really that big a deal? It must be. I finally interrupted his speech. I was scared to ask, but maybe if he knew how much it meant to me, he would change his mind. “Can I call my parents?”
His face went blank, and then after a pause he replied, “Oh, yes of course!”
What? Of course? That’s all I had to do? Just suggest that I might like to call my parents and “Oh, yes of course!?” If it was that easy then why have I been waiting all day to be able to do it? The surge of emotions twisted inside me. On the one hand, I was elated after the past few hours of agonizing to finally be able to call home but at the same time I was confused and horrified that the reason I hadn’t been able to before now, wasn’t because it was such a horrible thing, but because, even though I had asked him on the phone, it hadn’t occurred to him that that might be something I would like to do.
This next part might make you sick. My mission president, the man supposedly called of God to make decisions on my behalf, dialled the phone for me. Nobody was home. I held my contemptuous thoughts that maybe if I had called earlier in the day I would have gotten in touch with them.
“Maybe they are at Greg’s house,” he suggested. The idea of calling the Nielson’s house so soon after his death frightened me, but I felt a strong desire to make contact with someone. I agreed and he dialled again. My parents weren’t there.
“Hello, brother Nielson, this is President James A. Stephens, I’ve got an Elder Milner in the room with me. A friend of his that grew up across the street from him just committed suicide the other day and he’s quite upset”.
I’m not making this up. My face went pale. I can only imagine what Greg’s dad was thinking. I hope he was thinking, I’m talking to the biggest dick in the whole world. He asked whether the Elder Milner in the room was Jeff or Gary. My brother and I were both serving concurrently, Gary in Argentina and myself in Salt Lake City.
He didn’t know my name. Even the Zone Leaders knew it. Not only had my mother been calling for a week, not only did I call him several hours ago to tell him I would be coming down there, but he had a list of photos and names of missionaries hanging on the wall right beside us, and he still didn’t know it. I would have thought with all of these things the least he could have done was bothered to learn my name. I can’t think of any good reason why he didn’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if President Christensen still remembers me, and I only met him twice. I don’t know why this shocked me, by now I should have expected it.
I held a lot of resentment for James A. Stephens after that incident. Every encounter with him was much like the ones I’ve already described here. At one point he suggested I try “Prozac as a vacation from my worries”. He also suggested I try it only on a trial basis, “Just try it for a week or two”. He has no idea.
“Hey Stephens! Heroin is a vacation from your worries too, think I should try that?” I kept my very loud thoughts silent.
I was happier the farther away from the Mission home that I got. I dreaded the required monthly meetings with him. Of course there were other deaths back home, no one so close as Greg though, and the Happy Birthday audiotape from Sharon that also doubled as a Dear John added to my sadness. Things were rough on me. I went to the doctor about my depression.
He didn’t ask me why I was depressed. He instead gave me a prescription for Prozac. “The reason I would give you Prozac, over some other anti-depressant, is because they give the mission free samples”. Luckily I’m not an idiot. I requested a new doctor and eventually found myself in a room with the Church psychologist. Why the church employs a psychologist, I don’t really know, but there I was. I told him about Greg, and about Sharon, and about how I missed home. He was very understanding. He said what I was feeling was normal. NORMAL. and that whenever he meets with a new patient he has a policy of always meeting at least three times. But, he didn’t think we needed to meet again.
Which brings me back to the morning of May 20th, 1999. A rap on the door signalled visitors. It was around 7:30am. I had been up for over an hour, studying, and currently I was ironing my white dress shirt. It was the Assistants to the President, missionaries whose main job had turned from that of converting non-mormons from their heathen ways to that of helping other missionaries become better teachers or dealing with other problems. Today they would help me by telling me to pack my things. I was about to have an “emergency transfer”.
They didn’t tell me what the emergency was, or where I was getting transferred to. After all the BS I had been through, I decided to call home. I hated this kind of treatment and I wanted to discuss the possibility of throwing in the towel with my parents. As the phone rang, I thought about the fact that even though I wanted to go home, I didn’t really want to go home. I figured my parents would tell me to suffer through it and things would be okay. But oddly enough nobody was home.
I called my uncle. Not knowing it was still a secret, he spilled the beans. “Do you know where my parents are?” I asked. “They’re on their way to Calgary to pick you up, where are you?”
I was being sent home. Even though my intention in calling home was to discuss the possibility of leaving, I never actually wanted this. The decision had already been made; there was NOTHING that I could do. It didn’t matter—no amount of logic or reasoning could fix this problem.
A day or two previous to this I told another missionary that I was deeply depressed and that I had suicidal thoughts. Suicidal thoughts, not that I actually planned to commit suicide, just that I thought about it. I visualized it, going through the motions, but what I didn’t mention to that missionary and the message that failed to get to my Mission president was that after I thought about it, I thought how glad I was to be alive, how I didn’t actually want to be dead. I guess when I told him how I was feeling, I was just upset and being dramatic.
I could tell you about the trip in the car to see the Mission President one last time, the way it felt like a visit to Don Corleone’s summerhouse where, if this had actually been the mob he would have just shot me in the face because it was easier than dealing with me. Instead the bullet he used was an airplane ticket. Earlier I told him, I didn’t want to go back to the psychiatrist because I wasn’t really depressed, I wasn’t really suicidal, I was just down and as the doctor had told me before, my feelings were normal—I guess I didn’t want to give him a chance to change his mind. I did mention that I would go if I didn’t have any other choice. He said he would consult with the Church’s missionary department and get back to me. This was him “getting back to me?” Agreeing to go to the doctor now was too little, too late for me. I was going home.
I felt ashamed for being home a year early. I wanted to go back but I was so happy to see my family and besides, I convinced myself, I hated it in Salt Lake. I went to a doctor (who happened to be Mormon) in Medicine Hat and told him the whole story. He confirmed that what I was feeling was normal, and he confided in me that my inability to get along with the mission president was probably the reason I was there. Not getting along with him? It’s true that I didn’t like him, but the only thing he ever asked me to do that I didn’t comply with was to go see that doctor again. Sheesh. I used to think that if a missionary couldn’t get along with his mission president it was obviously because he was a bad missionary; someone that never followed the rules; someone who never tried to baptize people. I don’t feel that way anymore. I know from first hand experience that sometimes they don’t get along because the Mission President is an idiot.
I wasn’t the only one he sent home. In fact I heard rumours that he sent home more missionaries than any other mission president before him. It was his one-stop solution to problems he didn’t understand. I don’t know if the rumours are true, I do know that he sent a lot of missionaries home before me.
I was given the option to continue my mission in Calgary. As if—after all the propaganda I had been fed about how the location of your mission is inspired by God I couldn’t see how me being in Calgary really fit with some kind of greater purpose. Then when I refused they changed their minds and said I could go back to Salt Lake City, but I had to leave the day after tomorrow. I declined.
I was never told what the exact reasons for my being sent home were. I was given an honourable discharge and that was pretty much the last thing anyone in the church ever said to me about my mission.
I attended church regularly for the next three years. I still believed in it all despite the people, despite the absurd claims, despite the fact that attending three hours of service on Sunday was the most depressing part of my life. In the spring of 2002 I got engaged to a new convert of the church. She and I planned to get married in the Cardston, Alberta Temple. It didn’t work out, but that’s for the best. I started to date Anna-Maria that Fall, and together we attended the University of Lethbridge. We both quit going to church at the same time, though we were both at the same place with regard to the church and would have made the same decision on our own.
As the weeks turned into months, I fell deeply in love with Anna-Maria. I loved the trips we went on together. Disneyland became a special favourite of ours. She was often away for long periods of time following her dream of being an actor. I missed her deeply, but I never let her know how much I thought about her while she was gone. She felt unappreciated.
Where am I today? Well after another failed engagement I’m feeling pretty lost. I’m confident in my decision to leave the church—that’s not what this post is about. But as an ex-mormon I still carry a lot of guilt about what mistakes that I make. I have a strong belief in the importance of family and I think it’s important to be a good person. For that I’m grateful, despite my negative feelings for the church, it’s made me who I am today.
17 replies on “My Story”
I don’t know what to say. I wish I had something to say, but my jaw is touching the floor and nothing is coming out.
My heart goes out to you, Jeff. I wish there weren’t so many idiots in the Church. I tell you, if I don’t leave southern Alberta soon, I’m going to have to go on Prozac.
Oh. And thanks for posting this Jeff. I mean it. This was a great read. Disappointing, but I’m glad I read it.
I found your story to be a positive, life affirming approach to a system that does not support the needs of individuals seeking a way to celebrate life in alternative modes not sanctioned by the “powers that be” who rather control you than let you think for yourself. Family influence is hard to let go of, forgiveness is hard to give yourself and the unknown can be scary. But remember that you have the power inside of you to manifest all your dreams. Be the dream that you are.
Ok, so I have to admit—I’ve been reading your blog for a while and I don’t even know you! But that was probably the most emotional blog entry I have read in my entire life. I felt like crying after, and I am not a cryer! I am proud of you for not going the way of prozak. It has destroyed my family. I bet it felt good to get your story out. I felt sad and relieved at the same time as I read your story. Sad because of all the hard things that have come your way, but relieved as I could relate to many of these same emotions. Life is dang hard sometimes. No girl will ever solve your problems. I suppose you have already figured this out. It is important to deal with feelings though. I think your blog-therapy session is a great idea. It’s important to get those emotions out, instead of keeping them inside till they explode.
I couldn’t help but notice from your photos that your countenance has changed—the light in your eyes seems to be dimming. I hope you find it again, and wish you the best.
I’ve just come though 2 years of disillusionment with the “church” – (different story same result) – but having come through this much I came to the conclusion that I originally decided to become Mormon and am still Mormon because – I love the Book of Mormon; I love and believe in Joseph Smith’s vision and teachings (inspite of all his infirmities) and am still blown away by the amazing Doctrines of Exhaltation which otherwise I’ve found unfulfilled elsewhere. As for the members and leaders – quite honestly, I don’t have time for their infirmities and mistakes – they are not my focus anymore – other than in doing good to all people, being charitable and forgiving.
I know for myself that within the sometimes mess of the institution called the “˜Church’ is stored vast wealth of God and Jesus’ love, and truth. Hidden mainly within the true struggles and sincere pleadings of the Lord’s sheep just trying to make our way here on this lump of rock. Found in the atonement and the Masters promise: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Salvation is not for the earthly Church, Salvation is for God’s people.
-ps- Love the backmasking series – you got me into Reverse Speech now (http://www.reversespeech.com/Simple_Examples.htm)
Somehow, your website came up this morning, and for the first time I have read your story.
WOW! I’m so sad for you, I know your mission was a long time ago, but feelings run deep.
It has been some time since you were sitting in my kitchen talking to me about your mission, but you didnt go into details(now I know why) and all I can say is”¦”¦remember the Love of Your First Mission President, Christiensen, and remember how you felt loved by him, forget the DUDE!, even though he messed your mission up, ( would like his email and to send your story to him)”¦some people are really stupid and need to have a wakeup call. He’s one of them. I could go on, but I am in a sad situation myself at the moment, but PROZAC isn’t the answer.
Good Luck to you, keep positive, good things come to good people. You’re one of them.
Hey, go to AUSTRALIA!!!!!
The Church of Jesus Christ need not be blamed for all the things that have gone wrong in you life. Sometimes one need only to sit back and realize that the decisions that they have made in their own lives have lead them down paths of unhappiness and disillusionment. The ‘Church’ isn’t to be blamed for the mishaps that have happened to you; things just happen sometimes. It’s the way we react to them that makes us who we are and turns us into the people we become. Dwelling on past events doesn’t help you deal with the future or make you a better person. Suck it up buddy and take a little responsiblity for your life. You are the one that decides how to react when life hands you lemons. You decide! Stop trying to blame other people for you negative experiences and situations. You’re 27 years old not 3.
What makes you think I blame the church for “all the things that have gone wrong in [my] life”? Do you think because I had one bad experience that I wrote about here that I’m really not taking responsibility for my life? Or that I’m dwelling on the past? What makes you think that my decisions in reaction to what happened have not made me a better person?
I find your comment insulting and typical.
I have lots of Mormon friends and I consider myself a friend of the church—but aside from my real concerns with the church, it’s uninformed and judgemental comments like yours remind me what kind of people the church so often creates and it give me one more reason to be glad that I’m out.
Who’s to say that I’m a member of this ‘Church’ you have made reference to? The point I was trying to convey in my response was that people these days seem to always look for something to blame their crappy lives on when really they need only look in the mirror. I’m glad to hear that you still consider yourself a friend to this church in which you once belonged, but I need not remind you that these so called ‘people’ that you think it ‘creates’ are your, according to your response, so called ‘friends’ too.
I have found your website interesting but a little bit pathetic. You seem to wallow a lot in your own self pitty and that, to me, is very sad.
I don’t think you know the first thing about me; you’re comments are hurtful and uninformed. I can’t help but think maybe you’re projecting.
I was surfing around tonight and found this essay. Heart rending.
You can find the long version of my story re Mormonism at the website I linked. In a nutshell, Mormonism is a manmade religion. No more. No less. It will gouge as well as help, depending on whether the person in question is in its way or not. It is simply a social organism trying to survive. The best intentions of its mostly good hearted members cannot change this and they are generally unconscious of the harm they do.
The best way to deal with our Mormon experience is through the lens of social psychology. See http://bobmccue.ca/?s=social%20psychology (particularly “How Denial Works”) and http://www.exmormon.org/Why%20We%20Believe%20-%20The%20Edmonton%20Series.htm.
The best way to heal from a negative experience with Mormonism is the same way. See http://bobmccue.ca/?s=recovery (and particularly the first essay there) for some ideas.
You sound like a bright, interesting young person with a wonderful life ahead of you. I like to use people like Isaiah Berlin as my models. He said that his experience with Judaism, and the stance of permanent outsider this gave him, shaped his academic career. James Joyce (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is one of my favorites) had a similar relationship to Catholocism. Good artists work with irony. If nothing else, working one’s way out of Mormonism engenders the ability to appreciate, if not do, that.
If you come through Calgary and want to chat, let me know. I was raised around Lethbridge and have lots of friends in The Hat.
Crazy thing, I was looking up a talk tape by my old mission president David Christensen and came to your blog. I served in the SLC mission 94-96 and felt so sad for you and your experience. It seems as if any time you are out doing something good, everything bad is trying to stop you. Why is that? Your blog tells me you must have been a great missionary to have had so many forces working against you!
I loved my mission (and my mission president Christensen like you), however it did overwhelm me sometimes, and I did not have any of the extra stress that you did. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be on your mission and learn of a good friend who committed suicide. I remember in college I found out that a good friend of mine from home had done the same, and I felt so helpless and far away. I couldn’t attend the funeral either and the pain is real-I remember. I could hardly function due to my sadness. But one thing I think- a person who has not felt the pain and loss of a close friend committing suicide will never quite understand what it feels like! It is just one of those things.
I just hope that a misunderstanding of your sorrow hasen’t led you away from the thing that will bring you the greatest joy. Just think about it.
I wish you the best in your woman persuits! Just remember where you found your past favorites-at church!! :) Hope you find it in you to come back-reading between the lines it just sounds like you still know it is true!
And it is!
It really is too bad that you didn’t get to serve under Pres. Christensen for longer. I too, like Stacey was Googleing his name and came to you blog. I’m not going to preach to you or reprimand, you seem to have it all together already. In reading your post I felt your emptiness and loneliness. I don’t know if it will make you feel validated or comforted or what, but I have had those same suicidal thoughts, the same deep depressions that make you want to pull the covers over your head and just disappear. And I don’t need Prozac to deal with them either. I didn’t know Pres Stephens, but Pres Christensen embodied love. I guess some people are more like the Savior than others. I just have to keep the “church” and the “Gospel” separated. The Gospel is perfect, the church is not. Partly in thanks to me. I’m no Cain but I’m also no Nephi, at least I don’t feel that way on a daily basis. You are a good person. In different circumstances I only hope that Pres Christensen would have given you the support you seemed to be looking for. You had some tough times and I think that a truly inspired leader would have provided that.
Well, you are at a different station in your life now but I wanted to give you a snapshot of my life. Our experiences don’t compare but I identified with your feelings. Just know that I am one more Human Being that has felt everything you described here for completely different reasons, and I am normal too. I still go to church, and always will. I know it makes me a better person regardless of the frustrations I have with it at times.
Anyway, I hope you are able to bring things around. Overcoming these types of situations and dealing with these types of feelings will make you a better person.
All the best,
Wow, what a brutal situation. I can’t imagine that situation doing anything but eroding belief in, at least, the church structure and hierarchy. Your next few years with the church must have been strained. I’m obviously not an expert, but my understanding of the LDS faith is that members believe church leaders to have been divinely called to their positions, that must make it difficult to disagree with the teachers while attempting to maintain faith in the teachings (Unlike Catholicism, where most non-Italian Catholics just ignore the pope and do their own thing).
My “mission” was a secular one, I lived in Malaysia for a year as a youth exchange student with Rotary Club, but I think I understand some of your struggles. I’ve told you before that out of all of the female exchange students in my area, I was the only one to make it a whole year. Our problem, like yours, stemmed from our Youth Exchange Coordinator. He would regularly sit us down to tell us how backward and barbaric our countries and our people were, and that he really couldn’t expect anything civilized of us. He would take our confidential complaints against our host parents, and then turn around and tell them what we had said. He found no problem with families which chose to keep us locked in the house any time we weren’t at school (while our male counterparts were making friends, travelling, and experiencing the country), and he, a gynaecologist, was known for asking female exchange students to drop their pants for unscheduled check ups. So, take the fact that we were dolls to be dressed up and paraded about when it would add to the club’s status, and thrown in the closet at other times, and add to the fact that our ally hated us, was unreliable at best, and might just sexually harass (or more) us, and we were pretty unhappy too. When a friend of mine committed suicide and I got depressed, I got a talk about how I was ungrateful to my host parents and didn’t deserve anyone’s sympathy. Sigh.
When I got back from Malaysia I was a shattered mess. I refused to talk about it for awhile, I refused to go back to my Rotary club for years, and it was only years later, in another city, that I sought reconciliation. A professor of mine was a Rotarian and invited me to speak to her club about my experiences, which I did. I talked about all the things Rotary did great, all the things I loved, but also how they let me down. I don’t think a Rotary club had ever had anyone say these things to them before. They thanked me for the criticism, which made me feel a hell of a lot better about the whole thing.
Whew! This is turning out to be a bigger comment that I had anticipated. If you skipped ahead to then end, here is my executive summary: The abuse that you suffered at the hands of a church leader (and the church structure/hierarchy) is heartbreaking. I am sorry for what you experienced. As one of your godlessly heathenistic friends, though, I’m glad that this experience at least pushed you out of the grips of the institution that wronged you, rather than further into its grasp.
You’d be amazed what you come across searching your grandpa’s name. David Christensen is my grandpa and it warms me so much to see all the people that loved him and enjoy him as much as I do.
Pretty sad little piece of self pity there.
The predominant theme in that cry for attention was a lack of personal responsibility, if we run through our lives expecting things to work out perfectly or for people to respond to us in the way we deem appropriate, Prozac will be necessary! The only way to be happy is to understand that suffering and misunderstanding is the majority of human experience, it makes us appreciate the small moments when things work out perfectly. I was lucky enough to know David Christensen and I also knew president Stephens; both men are human but David has the ability to connect with almost everyone he meets on a level that makes them feel loved and accepted, Stephens does not possess that ability. There is no proper way to deal with personal tragedy or other pitfalls in life, but I think you could benefit from trying to be more like david and less of a child who expects everyone to treat him perfectly according to his feelings at the moment. I admit I am basing my comments on your blog Jeff, but what is a blog other than an attempt to garner attention and comment from others. If you want to feel better, don’t use Prozac, focus on helping others and less on your own hurt feelings! You will find that you take less offense and will be more even in your happiness regardless of the current state of situations around you. I only hope that you have grown over the last decade to the point where you know better who you are and what it is you are here to do. Good luck Jeff
I was searching David A. Christensen when I came across this piece. He was my mission president. I started in the mission shortly after he came in. He was truly the embodiment of love. You were right.
My brother ended up being called to the same mission, but served under Pres. Stephens. I met him once and found him to be a cold man. I don’t think he was mean, but just not emotionally available for those around him. Maybe it was just his personality. My brother went less active shortly after his mission. I think Pres. Stephens was more about protocol and what he thought was best. Completely different than Pres. Christensen.
Pres. Christensen rules, gives and loves with his heart. Pres. Stephen’s ruled with his brain. The Gospel of Christ is never felt with someone’s brain….. Always with the heart.
Christ covers, fills and heals emptiness, pains, sorrows and mistakes. It is His Gospel that brings light and life into our life. He will guide you where you need to be to bring you closer to Him. No Human is perfect, but He is.