I was raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Between religious manipulation as an excuse for devastating parental behaviors, and what I now see as a misunderstanding of love and law, I wanted nothing to do with the Church – or any religion – by the time I was 17.
I remember sitting in sacrament meetings and hearing leaders teach about the promises the Lord makes in the scriptures to the faithful – happiness, peace, joy – and questioned the truthfulness of His words. The home as a “heaven on earth” was a laughable suggestion. When I heard people teach of outer darkness and the weeping, whaling, and gnashing of teeth, that I could believe.
From the perspective of a child who knew nothing else, the fear I lived in was the direct result of all the Holy Habits we practiced, prayer, scriptures, church attendance, Family Home Evening. They were, to me, the building blocks of hell.
I reasoned my biological mother would have stayed had she not believed in divine revelation. Per my understanding, her second husband convinced her that God wanted her to abandon me and my two older siblings, to begin another family elsewhere. Before my ability to reason I was convinced that even the Lord Himself must think me unlovable if He told my mom – the woman who seemed to adore me and think me her most cherished blessing – to leave.
I thought perhaps my father would have been kind and happy if he wasn’t being suffocated by the idea of God’s love existing on the other side of exacting attempts to achieve an impossible perfection from himself and his children. The details are unnecessary, but I think he spent his life feeling worthless and unloved. I often wonder if his compulsion for control and excessive punishment were attempts to make right something broken in his soul.
At 19, I can recall exclaiming, “If I ever have children, I will rather die than take them inside one of those church buildings.” The predictable architecture and inner decor sent fire and panic up my spine.
Questioning God’s Love
I remember sitting in a Starbucks around the same time writing a list of questions. I wrote,
“Is there a God? If so, why does He stand back as His children rip each other apart and prey on the young and helpless? How can a loving Father in Heaven send a child, whom He claims He loves, into a place void of love or anything close to it? And then, give that same child the added burden of a mental illness that makes every joy hoped for nothing more than a lovely mural in empty and haunted corridors?”
I came to the conclusion,
“If this misery, this “Refiner’s Fire,” is evidence of God’s love, then I rather He hates me.”
The Journey Home
A miraculous series of events followed that led me back to God, back to the arms of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, the events were not lovely happenings I had the privilege of looking upon or playing a minor supporting role in. No, these events placed me on center stage with radiant light above and heckling demons beneath. There was no corner to flee to, no opinion to borrow nor a distraction to look at.
Both knew my name. Both seemed to gather their forces to engage in a battle for my soul. I felt 80 years old and some days did not care if I ever saw another day. And there were days I did not want to.
One night, as I lay in my bed pleading for relief, I felt the love of Jesus Christ in a way I hadn’t imagined possible. I felt His words,
“Tessa, I love you. I will always love you. You cannot convince me otherwise. I suffered for you. I died for you. I am not going anywhere. I will not go anywhere.”
I wish I could say within those sacred moments my struggles ceased and I walked on sunshine clouds made of glitter and marshmallows from then on. If anything, the battles became more severe and heart wrenching as I examined belief systems, memories, what it means to forgive, and most of all, my pride.
My Redeemer Lives
My Savior walked through what felt like eternal damnation with me. He sent – and still sends – angels on heaven and earth to help me. He teaches me through the scriptures, the sciences, the arts, and other people. As I set aside time to spend with Him each morning, He changes me so that I may help those around me like He would. He knows what to do because He is the Master Healer, the Mighty One of Israel.
His single purpose is to bring all souls unto Him so that He may heal them and bring them home to live with Him on the right hand of Heavenly Father.
I testify that Jesus Christ lives! He earnestly awaits the opportunity to pour down miracles on our behalf. Miracles, I have learned, are often wrought on the tables of our hearts rather than circumstances. He is not waiting at the top of the highest mountain and watching with mild amusement as we flail around trying to find our footing. His ears are ever listening for our sincere prayer. As soon as we raise our voice, He comes. Whether we are at the foot of the mountain or oceans away, He meets us where we are.
His Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been restored. Church members make mistakes, grievous sins that have generational implications while using the gospel as an excuse. Please, lay those sins at their feet, not at the perfect feet of the omniscient, omnipotent, loyal, and loving Savior of the world.