It was Saturday May 2nd, 1987 — 34 years ago today — when as an eight year old I joined the LDS church. Even then I remember being a skeptic but intense pressure to “make the decision” meant I didn’t have much choice. I ping ponged between not feeling worthy and insecurities about the “truthfulness” of the whole operation. The evening itself was nice and the conversation I had about it with my dad in the change room was memorable.

My memory of the night isn’t perfect but I remember a few details. Danielle MacNiven and Dan Baugh were both scheduled to be baptized that night too but I’m pretty sure Dan was a no-show — which thinking about it now, it’s bizarre that he wasn’t there. I wonder if he had cold feet? Or maybe I can’t remember the details right and it was someone else that was the no-show.

Anyway, the physical experience of the baptismal font surprised me. It was warmer than a public pool and cooler than a hot tub. I’d never worn clothes in water before so that was new and the too tight jumper they forced me to wear was not comfortable. I stressed that the water would make the white outfit transparent but I don’t remember that being an issue in reality.

In my experience, what happens in a baptism is that the dad (assuming he’s in good standing — which he was) takes you down into the lukewarm water of the baptismal font, holds their arm to the square, says a ceremonial prayer and submerges the reluctant joiner under the water. It doesn’t take very long, but then you come up out of the water to an overpowering crowd of eager lookie-loos only to be told that the dunk didn’t count because your elbow wasn’t quite below the water line and that it needs to happen one more time, for full sin washing potency. So we did it again.

Back in the change room, while we dried off, I told my dad that I was reluctant to go through with part 2, the confirmation blessing. He asked why I didn’t say something sooner. I’m not sure what I said but I remember he told me that, “now, it’s too damn late.” Geez, Dad, swearing in the church about baptism? — even then I was a judgy kid. He went on to tell me about the first time he went through the temple — an even more esoteric ceremony within the church — and how at the end of it all he had to get married to someone he DID NOT WANT TO GET MARRIED TO (His first wife). So, he could relate.

Nevertheless, as far as he was concerned my fate was sealed and we went to the primary room for more prayer, singing, and a bunch of old men putting their hands on my head while one of them gave me blessings of happiness so long as I stayed worthy — I think it was my grandpa that did the honours. Being baptized meant I got a clean slate but from this point forward anything I did wrong would be permanent points against me on judgement day — seriously, how is this healthy for an eight year old?

So that’s it. That’s what I remember about my baptism. Coincidentally, May 2nd was arbor day and on the same day, my family and I planted some trees in the coulee behind our house. I don’t have any regrets about the trees we planted that day. They are big now.

family history

Esther “Elizabeth” Yardley Thurman Milner

Last month I found myself hunting down family history about my great great grandfather, John Brewitt Milner (1830-1912), and learned a great deal about his life and especially his life changing decision to join the newly formed Mormon religion — the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (though it wasn’t called that back then) — and come to America to be with other Mormons in Zion.

What occured to me this morning was that it’s a distinctly patriarchal way to think of my ancestery only in terms of grandfathers and so after some quick web searching, what I discovered is the life history of John Brewitt’s first wife, my great great grandmother, Esther “Elizabeth” Yardley Thurman Milner (1825-1911). Pasted here for posterity:

Life History of Esther Elizabeth Yardley Thurman Milner

Esther Elizabeth Yardley was born January 24, 1825 at Tanworth, Warwickshire County, England. Her parents were Thomas Yardley and Mary Rose of Tanworth. She was the oldest of 12 children. The youngest were twins. They lived and died the same day.

Tanworth stands high midway between the two main roads which run to Birmingham from Strutfar on Avon on the east, and Alcester on the west. The church is a conspicuous landmark seen for many miles by the traveler on either of these routes. Tanworth was originally a clearing in the Forest of Arden. There is still to be seen an old oak at Beaumonts in the parish, said to be one of the old oaks of the Forest.

The Yardley family is an old Tanworth family living there as far back as 1557 and many descendants are scattered all over the world. A number of the family of Yardley have become distinguished people, such as George Yardley, First Governor of Virginia in America.

Elizabeth Yardley was born and educated in Tanworth and had much the same girlhood experiences as other girls at that time. Most everyone in the community belonged to the same church. When a young woman she went to take charge of her bachelor uncle’s household and servants in Birmingham England. She became acquainted with and married Thomas Edward Thurman in 1848.

Soon after marriage she and her husband heard the Mormon Elders preach the gospel. They were converted and joined the new church. She was baptized in March, 1850. Her people were very much against this new religion and did everything they could to persuade her against joining the Mormon Chruch, but she was steadfast in her belief. When they found out they couldn’t change her viewpoint, they disinherited her and from then on had nothing to do with her. Later, I am told, a sister joined the church and came to Utah. (Mary Ann Yardley)

Esther’s husband, Thomas E. Thurman, was born December 21, 1821 and baptized in the church in May, 1849 by Elder Godsal. He had a confectionary store, and also worked as a sadler. Three years after their marriage he was stricken with smallpox. When he knew he couldn’t get better he called her to him and his dying request was to take their son, Thomas Edward Thurman and go to Zion. She was pregnant at the time of his death and a child named Victoria was born soon after.

She prepared for her journey to America. Her oldest uncle was sympathetic with her and assisted her in getting ready for the trip. She sold all her household articles and only took what necessities she had to have. This was a great trial for these noble pioneers to leave their families and friends and embark for a strange new country. She secured passage on one of the sailboats of that day. They sailed from Liverpool April 19, 1853. they were seven weeks on the water and while out to sea the baby, Victoria, died and was buried at sea.

I also found another version of her life events from this source by Jeff Von Ward. (Again copy/pasted for record keeping purposes):

24 Jan 1825 – 29 Sept 1911

Esther is my third great grandmother on my mother’s mother’s side. She was born in Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwick, England. She was the oldest of thirteen children born to Thomas and Mary Rose Yardley and learned early on how to help her mother with the duties of raising a large family, becoming a good cook and pitching in with the housekeeping. While still a teenager, Esther moved to Birmingham to run her uncle’s household.

In Birmingham, she met Thomas Edward Thurman. The young couple married on 6 Nov 1848. The two had heard of the Mormons through visiting missionaries and agreed to attend their services. Legend has it that when Esther heard the hymn “O My Father”, she immediately formed a testimony for the truthfulness of the Mormon church. Esther and Thomas were both baptized on 7 Mar 1849.

The couple had two children, a boy and a girl, but their daughter died just a few weeks after she was born. Shortly after, Thomas himself died of tuberculosis. Esther, forced to make her own way, opened a pastry shop and ran a boarding house. One of her customers was Charles Dickens, who was said to have later portrayed her as a pleasant and plump matron of an inn in one of his novels.

A few years later, on 5 Feb 1853, Esther and her son left England aboard The Jersey and, six weeks later, they arrived in New Orleans, before making their way north to Keokuk, Iowa, a staging ground for immigrant Mormon pioneers. Here, Esther outfitted herself with a riding horse and a cow for milking. It is said she walked the whole way across the plains so her son and others could ride the horse.

While on the journey toward the Utah Valley, she met John Brewitt Milner. The couple married the following spring and settled in Provo, Utah.

They had seven children, including one daughter who died in infancy. Their fourth daughter, Sarah Ann Milner, my second great grandmother, was born on 29 May 1862 in Provo, Utah.

I couldn’t find much anything about Esther Elizabeth’s later life. Many years ago my dad went to John Brewitt’s gravesite and was shocked to discover her grave was not beside our grandfathers, instead, it was explained by a cousin, “oh no she divorced John Brewitt Milner and is buried some other place”. The story about why they divorced was at least partially about her feelings on polygamy and not being too happy about/with the other wives.

Update: January 3rd, 2019

Esther Elizabeth Yardley Milner

Written on Facebook by Tom Milner

I’ve always enjoyed stories from Charles Dickens, and of all the many memories versions of “A Christmas Carol, I prefer the 1970 Version Scrooge the Musical, only the British could have caught and preserved a certain spirit in that wonderful production.

I hesitate to share this next story because it is deeply personal but I think it’s time others know a family history story.

The woman in this picture is Esther Elizabeth Yardley Milner, my second Great Grandmother.

Esther had been married previously to a man other than my grandfather but, coincidentally I happen to have received his name, he was Thomas Edward Thurman and her first son was appropriately named after the first husband Thomas E. Thurman, upon the death of Thomas E. Thurman Sr, Esther married John Brewitt Milner and many years later I was named Thomas Edward Milner.

Esther Yardley Milner has a unique history, when her husband died, she moved to London and opened a Sweet shop close to the London residence or at least working area of Mr. Charles Dickens.

Mr. Dickens came in to the little shop daily and would visit with Grandmother he would unload his problems to her and others know of this but I will not disclose them here 

But it was clear that he had a friendship but not at all in a romantic way she was simply his friend.

Grandmother spoke of these things and the stories were passed in our family, about forty years ago one  of my cousins was in London doing family history research and located the deed with Esther’s name on it and even as she had stated it was near to Mr Dickens.

The entire world knows that Charles Dickens portrayed his friends and associates in his novels, and Esther was portrayed in the novel Martin Chuzzlewit, she never bragged but simply said in reference to the novel that he treated her well.

She is portrayed as the character Mrs Lupin, but what is really funny is the description of Mrs Lupin presented by Mr Dickens as follows..

“The mistress of the Blue Dragon was in outward appearance just what a landlady should be: broad, buxom, comfortable, and good looking, with a face of clear red and white, which, by its jovial aspect, at once bore testimony to her hearty participation in the good things of the larder and cellar, and to their thriving and healthful influences. She was a widow, but years ago had passed through her state of weeds, and burst into flower again; and in full bloom she had continued ever since; and in full bloom she was now; with roses on her ample skirts, and roses on her bodice, roses in her cap, roses in her cheeks,—aye, and roses, worth the

gathering too, on her lips, for that matter. She had still a bright black eye, and jet black hair; was comely, dimpled, plump, and

tight as a gooseberry; and though she was not exactly what the world calls young, you may make an affidavit, on trust, before any

mayor or magistrate in Christendom, that there are a great many young ladies in the world (blessings on them one and all!) whom

you wouldn’t like half as well, or admire half as much, as the beaming hostess of the Blue Dragon.”

The Blue Dragon spoken off is an inn  and when Grandmother established herself in Provo, she in fact did run an inn, (talk about life following art)

Grandfather Milner had been an attorney and became a judge, he was counsel to George Albert Smith and accompanied him to Washington DC when we’re trying to establish statehood.

So, people had become acquainted with Esther’s history as  the character Mrs Lupin and these dignitaries would stay at the inn when visiting Utah. 

With the knowledge that Grandmother had the little sweet shop and Mr Dickens did in fact frequent it, there is a statement Charles Dickens made when the Latter-day saint groups were leaving England and Grandmother did in fact leave with those groups. 

It has been noted that when these people were leaving he said 

“There goes the cream of England” 

I cannot be certain of this but I think he was making a pun which would have been well understood by those whom knew and we’re well aware of his daily visits to the sweetie shop where his treats were most likely cream based for the greater part.

And now you know, but read the description of Mrs Lupin and look at Grandmother’s face!

BTW this picture was taken approximately 50 years later so her hair followed accordingly.


Here is a picture of her as illustrated in Charles Dickens book Martin Chuzzlewit:


Why Are They So…

What people search for says a lot about the collective perspectives on things.

It’s worth noting that these results came from and are created via what people are searching for, not necessarily what any one group is actually like.

(Inspired via)

documentary movie religion

The Mormons

“I find the whole business of religion profoundly interesting. But it does mystify me that otherwise intelligent people take it seriously.”

-Douglas Adams

Twenty years ago today, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That’s right, the Mormons. At this time, I won’t go into any detail how that’s worked out for me.

I will point out though, that a couple of days ago, the American channel PBS aired a documentary titled “The Mormons” which offers at least a relatively fair look at the church, its inspiring history and many of its blemishes. If you’ve ever wondered what the Mormons are all about, this documentary is a good place to start.

The Mormons (PBS Documentary)

I believe the author and producer, Helen Whitney, tries to come off as impartial, however, she did make the impression to one of her interviewees that she really didn’t want to hear any negative comments about the church, even if they are true. In an off camera pre-interview he asked her, “If you love the church so much, why don’t you join it?” She responded, “well maybe if I were younger.” It gives cause to wonder at her true impartiality.

Still the documentary will probably show you whatever you are looking to find, whether it’s support for the church or evidence that Joseph Smith was a con man who was so convincing that he even had himself fooled.

You can view it online in its entirety at

psychology religion

Subliminal Messages in “On The Way Home”

I’ve always possessed a fascination with optical illusions, subliminal messages, the unconscious mind, and cognitive psychology in general. I think that’s why I found the idea of messages in music when played backwards so fascinating.

Back in 1998 I went on a mission for the LDS church. I was serving in the most unlikely place of Salt Lake City, Utah. Using the line, “we were just in the neighbourhood” seemed a little disingenuous when the temple marked the skyline behind you. There are a lot of Mormons there so we had to be a little more creative.

There are, however, a lot of people that are not members of the church. One of my favorite things about my mission was meeting people from all walks of life and from every imaginable social and economic backgrounds. The diversity of people I met ranged from those that were on the verge of being homeless, to literal billionaires.

Regardless of background, we (as missionaries) wanted to get our message out and influence people in as positive a fashion as we could. One of the methods of sharing our beliefs was the use of cheesy promotional videos that protreyed value of the family/church/good morals, etc.
On The Way Home Movie
One specific movie that I showed to investigators of the church was the movie, “On The Way Home”.

It’s a quaint little movie about a family who goes through the pain of the loss of their daughter/sister and meet some sister missionaries who teach them about God’s plan, The Plan of Salvation™.

The interesting thing about this movie is a rumour that I heard from another missionary about it containing subliminal messages. I was pretty sure it was just one of those missionary urban legends, because OBVIOUSLY the church wouldn’t buy into subliminal messages, not to mention the fact that even if they are “positive” messages, it sure leaves a bad taste in ones mouth to think I was being used as a pawn to subconsciously brainwash people. (Not me! I was there to help people.)

“What kind of subliminal messages?” I probed. The other missionary explained to me that near the start of the movie, when one of the main characters is jogging home for his baptism there is a bike race and someone watching the race holds up a big cardboard sign that says, “don’t do drugs” which flashes across the screen says the words, “don’t do drugs” but it’s muffled and hard to make out on a conscious level—unless you are specifically looking listening for it. So while that message didn’t seem like something you would expect, I still wasn’t convinced.

The message I remember him telling me about most was (and there may be more, but it’s this one that I remember) during the sister missionaries discussion, as they are teaching the family a lesson, the soft lighting and relaxing music which are in themselves creating a very serene and peaceful environment suddenly appear bubbles floating around behind them.


“Bubbles? What? Why?” I couldn’t imagine that this was actually true. Surely I would have noticed bubbles. What would be the point of bubbles anyway?

Well the explanation went something along the lines of, “bubbles are supposed to induce feelings of peace and tranquility. They remind people of their youth and are relaxing. People subconsciously see the bubbles and it makes them feel good. When they feel good about your message they are more likely to act on it.”

I had to see it to believe it. I will always remember the next house I showed that video to. They were a super family that had just moved in to Utah and seemed quite interested in learning more about the church. As we sat there watching the movie I could hardly believe my eyes as tiny little bubbles started floating up in the background. I looked over at the others watching the movie intently. They didn’t notice.

They did however decide to get baptized. I wouldn’t try to say that the movie was the reason for it, I mean come on, bubbles? But nevertheless there you have it. Subliminal messages in “On The Way Home”.

Update (October 2022): I found a copy of the film on Youtube. I’ve updated the part about a sign that says don’t do drugs to reflect that it’s actually the sound of someone’s voice saying “don’t do drugs”. It’s hard to make out and one can’t ignore the power of suggestion when trying to decide what you hear. The sound happens at 18:29.

As for the bubbles, I do see something, but now I think it might have been dust floating around in the room where the film was shot. See 16:50.

There may not be anti-drug sound bites or calming bubbles intentionally placed to remove our agency, but the movie is manipulative. The grieving family is promised that if they join the church, follow the church’s rules including 10% of income for the rest of their life, they can see their dead daughter again. I hate admitting it but I can’t help but miss the message of hope it provides. Watching it now still gives me tingles—but it’s so manipulative!

family friends life religion

My Story

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.


All About Mormons

South Park ran a hilarious episode in November titled “All About Mormons”.

From the South Park Studios Website:

“A Mormon kid moves to South Park and Stan has to kick his ass. But when Stan and his dad meet their new Mormon neighbors, they become fascinated with how genuinely nice they are. Meanwhile the other boys mock Stan relentlessly for wimping out.”

If you’re in the United States (or have an IP address in the United States) you can watch the episode here:

Or if you want, you can check out the “audio only” version in 4 parts:

  1. SouthPark – 712 – All About Mormons1small.mp3
  2. SouthPark – 712 – All About Mormons2small.mp3
  3. SouthPark – 712 – All About Mormons3small.mp3
  4. SouthPark – 712 – All About Mormons4small.mp3

I think pretty much the greatest thing about this episode is that is gives people who don’t know anything about the church a background into how the church started. As someone that knows from personal experience, they tell the Joseph Smith story pretty much just like they do if you were to have the Mormon Missionaries come into your house and tell you the story, except for the part where they call Martin Harris dumb. Mormon Missionaries would never call him dumb — unless they were calling him dumb because he gave his wife the unpublished transcript, then they might but other than that — no way. This episode also portrays what nice people Mormons are — based on some of the Mormon families I know it’s so accurate it’s scary.