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.