Burying our Weapons of War

The newest installment in July’s “Up Close” series on Inactivity and Faith struggles is Kim, a mother of four daughters and seven granddaughters. To balance things out her husband has been involved in Boy Scouts for 20 of their 36 years of marriage…so they have many wonderful young men in their lives. Now that all the girls are raised, Kim has returned to college for her dream degree, a BA in English. Her favorite calling, and she thinks she’s had about all of them, is teaching early morning seminary; but right now while she finishes her senior year she’s happily teaching the 11-year-old girls in Primary.

The problem I used to have with tongue and nose piercings is that they were distracting. When I tried to have a conversation with a pierced person, I would think, “I wonder if she’s ever swallowed a tongue decoration” or “What happens with that nose ring when she catches a cold?” I didn’t necessarily judge people; it was more that my imagination would get the best of me.

I never thought I judged families who suffered with an inactive child. I felt sorry for them. I never in my wildest imagination thought I’d get up close and personal with a pierced, tattooed, non-church attending daughter. Sometimes it renders me speechless. But when she brings home a dinner guest whose tattoo stretches from his collar bone to his wrist and you run out of conversation, you can get a good twenty minutes out of that topic.

I find myself wanting you to know who I am… wanting you to know that our family loves the Savior, loves the gospel, loves the church, loves the social structure of the church… wanting you to know that I’ve been a ward and stake Relief Society president…wanting you to know that we held Family Home Evening, read our scriptures, and for heaven’s sake, wanting you to know that we taught our children not to even drink Coke. The list of things I want you to know goes on, because somehow these are the things I think should have made a difference. Somewhere in that list should have been a talisman to prevent this heartache from entering our lives. I don’t want you to judge our failure to keep the youngest of our four daughters from walking away from all that we hold dear. I don’t care if Lehi lost Laman and Lemuel. It doesn’t seem pertinent to me that Heavenly Father lost one-third of his spirit children. I have temporarily lost one-fourth of my children to the adversary and it breaks my heart.

We knew her testimony wasn’t developing as our other girls’ testimonies had. We came face-to-face with that reality when we climbed into the family car at 6:00am to head to the temple with our mission-bound daughter and found it filled with cigarette smoke. I hope you never know what it feels like to search your daughter’s room for illegal drugs, to check her purse for cigarettes, to find a journal filled with foul language, to have strangers show up at your door to discuss vandalism in which they suspect her involvement, to have relatives tell you what is on her Facebook page, or to spend a night in the Emergency Room wondering if she is going to make it through the consequences of her choices.

When our daughter left the church, we experienced the deepest grief of our lives. As we have navigated these previously uncharted waters, we have solicited the help of several different counselors. When children engage in self-destructive behaviors, parents seek help. One of our counselors described his initial contact in this way: “A little girl walked in my office with secrets and she couldn’t get them out fast enough.”

A sister hugged me after a Relief Society lesson on adversity one Sunday. She singled me out, I think, because I was one of the “walking wounded.” I was a mother struggling with a child wandering off the path.

One of the keys to the survival of my world-shaking trial has been my walking buddy. Though she never experienced a wayward child first-hand, this dear sister has helped me find perspective and refused to allow me to denigrate the successful mothering I have done. Her greatest gift, however, has been the love she has continued to show my daughter. This has been a priceless and eternal gift.

There are times when I slip into self-absorbed pain and I find myself ranting that this is not the life I was promised in my Laurel class years ago. This is certainly not the life I expected as I held this beautiful girl in my arms 23 years ago.

When she was 21, she wrote a letter telling me she regretted that the path she had chosen was not one that her dad and I could accept. She said that she longed for our respect and wished we could see what she felt – that it was the path God wanted her to take. I go back and forth about how to take that statement. It is easiest to believe that Satan has deceived her. Heavenly Father would never want a beloved daughter to turn her back on the gospel and experience severe debt because of worldly choices, the pain of substance abuse, and countless other consequences of breaking commandments. Yet over time I have stepped back and viewed her plea in light of the incomprehensible value Heavenly Father places on his children’ s moral agency, and a new understanding has come to me.

I have come to understand that what she has asked of my husband and me is that we show her the love and respect that Heavenly Father extends hourly to us. Painstakingly I have practiced burying my “weapons of  war” – my conditional love, my manipulation, and my demands. I have tried and failed and tried again to offer my pure love and unconditional acceptance of this beautiful daughter of God. There are moments when I feel peace. There are moments when I even thank Heavenly Father for this journey in his footsteps of unconditional love. There are moments when I think that it is possible that my daughter’s mission was designed to open my heart to understanding and love that I could have found no other way.

Now when I look at a nose piercing, I don’t see the stud, I see a person whose mother loves her and whose Heavenly Father cares deeply that she find her way home again, whichever path she has chosen.

22 thoughts on “Burying our Weapons of War

  1. Thank you for this, Kim. what a great way to start the sabbath. My children are still growing up, but we raised a niece for several years who breaks my heart and makes me question all our ‘talisman’. I must admit I’m not where you are–but I am starting to really want to be there :-) Posts like this, and reminders of how ‘big’ the picture really is, helps me chisel off one more little piece of anger and self-doubt. Thank you for your candor and good luck with school!

  2. Leslie, as I lie here cradling my five week old baby girl, and thinking of my four other kids and our to teach them the gospel, my eyes are full of tears. My heart aches for you as I think of the path chosen by your daughter. But I also think your daughter is so blessed to have you. I have two sisters who have left the church and can only imagine the pain my parents feel. But they have been less successful showing love or acceptance to them…at times. Maybe they have been able to improve as the younger of my two older sisters is back on speaking terms with them.

    Thank you for sharing your story so openly. I mourn with you and have learned, I hope, to look more lovingly on those who have chosen differently despite the path their parents taught.

  3. My story is so similar. Some of the hardest times in this trial with my son have been longed-for milestones…when he should have been graduating from high school, going on a mission, going to college. Now all his old friends are returning from their missions…

    What has pulled us through? A wise counselor told us, “Preserve the relationship, because at the end of it, that’s all you will have.” so that’s what I’ve focused on. Not always easy, but I am now seeing the fruits of those efforts.

    Thank you for sharing. It helps to go through this together.

  4. Thank you for this beautiful post. I, too, have been a ward and stake Relief Society president and my husband has served as a branch president and bishop. After our younger daughter was sexually abused, she started on a path of self-destruction. We, too, have sat in a waiting room, wondering if our daughter would live. Once strong in faith, she has left the church.

    Although her lifestyle breaks my heart, my love for her continues to be strong and unfaltering. I know she is a precious child of God, and although my love could not protect her from pain, I pray that it can reflect God’s perfect love for her.

    Sadly, there is too much shame and blame in the church when a child strays. I know that God loves all of his wandering children and that he waits with open arms for their return. I also believe that many of them will return to him, like the prodigal. I pray that I may be included in that group.

  5. I have a similar story, only with my sons. It is good to know we are not alone. I feel like you, I wouldn’t have chosen this trial or the lost potential due to wrong choices, but I am grateful for the lessons I have learned about unconditional love and the gift of agency. I now see Heavenly Father as not only an omnipotent Being, but also as a vulnerable Father who waits patiently for us to choose Him.

  6. When I first started working at the temple 2 years ago, I was amazed at the number of people on my shift who had inactive children… as do we. I want to know the perfect thing to say or do to reach them. Maybe there is no such thing…

  7. Bless you for writing this, Kim. I especially love the last three paragraphs. God will lead her on her own path.

    My brother just came back to the church and our family after a 24 year absence. That’s right– I hadn’t seen him in 24 years. We had written him off as a lost soul, but God knew better. Much love to you and your family.

  8. This was very good. So often we talk so much about free agency but seem to think we have the right to demand that those we love choose what we want. Heavenly Father loves us all, and accepts us where we’re at. None of us are perfect, we all need help. Just keep loving, sounds like you’re doing a great job!

  9. I read your post this morning, before church. After welfare meeting (where I always emerge physically drained, stressed, and worried), I headed to the chapel and saw a pierced-and-tattooed sister sitting by herself. I said hello and introduced myself, and she explained that she was coming back to church for the first time in years.

    When I sat down, I said a quick “thank you” prayer for your post, because it opened my eyes and prepared my heart to reach out and see her as someone’s daughter. I hope to remember that in the future.

    Thank you for sharing…wishing you more moments of peace.

  10. It is incredibly difficult to look at everything you have done, which is everything that has been asked of you, from prayers to dinner to visiting teaching to accepting callings to realise that after all of it, someone else made a decision to do something other.

    There is no talisman, no promise, no money-back guarantee. No option but to recognise that agency was given, and given to be used.

    Thank you for sharing.

  11. So beautifully written – a post that will touch the hearts of many. Thank you for sharing and for teaching us all.You are a remarkable mother,daughter,and sister to so many.

  12. More information like this will help all of us get out of the “perfect little world” we create for ourselves and see how sometimes we are so misinformed. I love your for sharing this. Thanks.

  13. My heart goes out to you. It was good to read this from your perspective and see the love you have for your daughter. We could all use more love and less judgement. My children are still young and I can only imagine what challenges lie ahead.

  14. Thank you for for this raw and tender post. You are amazing. I’m constantly humbled by the way Heavenly Father uses all things for our good. None of our suffering is EVER wasted.

  15. I have 2 children. My daughter is a returned sister missionary, master’s degree, temple marriage, home when her kids are home. My son is a drop out, has done some drugs, homosexual, agnostic (at best).
    I don’t take credit for my daughter’s choices and I don’t take the blame for my son’s.
    I always pictured the Prodigal Son in his late teens or early twenties. My son is now in his late thirties. I’m thinking the Prodigal may have been a little older.

  16. Your post was beautiful, honest, and must have been difficult to write. I appreciate that you did. I love your point of view.

    I look at half of my siblings who are active in their testimonies of the Gospel and half who aren’t and I think, mostly, of how it affects my mother. I can’t imagine how she really feels about it all.

    As I am raising a young family of five children, it is painful for me to consider I have no control over their choices and that my diligence as a mother doesn’t guarantee anything. But it’s important for me to remember that while I’m raising them. So, thank you for adding to that perspective.

  17. Thank you for sharing this, it is wonderful.

    It is hard to continue loving someone when they hurt you. Sometimes we want to separate ourselves from them because we want to avoid the pain. You are doing so well by continuing to be in your daughter’s life and trying understand her. Becoming Christlike is a difficult process to say the least. In similar situations with my siblings I pray alot to feel greater love for them, it helps me put the judgement aside.

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